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« urban ku # 34/35 - history in the making? | Main | urban ku # 33 »

civilized ku # 12 ~ godzilla gets knocked on his ass

A pause to adjust my bearingsclick on photo to embiggen it
Jeff Wall, the artist who uses photography, has stated; "Believing in the specialness of what you are photographing is a disaster. Then you think that the photograph will be good because of what is in it. Cezanne taught me that is not true. He expunged any attachment to the subject matter, except what he brought to it. In the painting he would bring it back to life. Only by believing that his painting it would enliven it could he make it happen."

As I was reading this in yesterday's NY Times Magazine's cover article - The Photographer's Ambition: Where Jeff Wall has taken the photograph, godzilla fell off his perch and warm late-day sunlight streamed in throught the window. Confused and conflicted, I set down the magazine, grabbed my constant companion - my camera, not the wife - and pictured.

The pro-filmic moment possessed no particular specialness. Yes, there was nice warm light striking one of our new chairs (in the tv/family room) but I expect that to happen at least 100+ times in the coming year. Sure, godzilla had rearranged himself to a postion of unexpected prominence and the wife's jacket will probably never again hang on a dining room chair in exactly the same manner. And true enough, this particular moment of Hobson-Kelleher-McGannon household detritus truthiness will never be quite the same, but, at that specific moment, I was looking for specialness, I just needed to conceptualize and hold on to something real.

Why? Because I knew that no matter how large I make my prints (Wall makes his, rather fittingly, wall-size) I will never sell them for a $1,000,000 a pop - Wall's current gallery price. To be more precise, the bulk of Wall's work consists of wall-sized cibachrome transparencies which are displayed on correspondingly wall-sized light boxes.

I also knew that I will never have the luxury to construct a reality (apparently one possessing no specialness) like Wall's The Flooded Grave - Wall described the 'event' of this work as "a moment in a cemetery. The viewer might imagine a walk on a rainy day. He or she stops before a flooded hole and gazes into it and for some reason imagines the ocean bottom. We see the instant of that fantasy, and in another instant it will be gone."

The Flooded Grave 1044757-693638-thumbnail.jpg
The Flooded Grave 1998–2000 © The artist
was completed over a two-year period, and photographed at two different cemeteries in Vancouver as well as on a set in the artist's studio. It was constructed as a digital montage from around 75 different images.

I also now know that I will never be educated as an art historian (as Wall was) in order to make photographs that conceptually and by the physicallity of their sheer size pay homage to and imitate the medium of painting. Thank god. Although, I must say, I envy Wall's ability to make a very fine living from producing only 135 photographs over a span of about 25 years.

Now, to be sure, I like some of Wall's stuff, but I really deplore the underlying premise that to make it big (pun intended) in the Art world, photography must mimic painting. Haven't photographers, as opposed to artists using photographic apparatus, toiled for generations to establish photography as a medium with its own unique vernacular and one worthy of its own unique standing alongside the "traditional" arts?

Sure enough, Wall is using much of that vernacular to create an illusion of photography's ability to render a reasonable facsimile of reality. And, sure enough, by his controlled fabrication of the pro-filmic moment (rather than "finding" it in the "real" world) he sets the mind a-thinking about photography's truthiness conventions - oh my, oh my, the conceptual irony of it all - but 25 years and a million bucks a pop to figure that out?

Hell, for a mere $9.95, Steve Edwards will set you straight on that notion in his book Photography: A Very Short Introduction.

See more of Jeff Wall's work, and/or, you can read about his current show at MOMA.

Addendum: The more I view A pause to adjust my bearings, the more I am drawn to Steve and Ana's give and take on urban ku # 32; Steve wrote: "I want to make photographs that I would appreciate even with no memory of the time or place they were captured."

Then Ana wrote: "That remark resonated with me in an interesting way because one of the wonderful things about photographs or any art, really is that the work may have no relation to my personal experience and yet when I see them they become symbolic of a time and place in my life. They're like a passage in a book that was written by someone else and yet upon reading they encapsulate perfectly something in my own experience."

Why does this exchange come to mind? Because, although A pause to adjust my bearings is a "passage" in my book, I think that I have pictured a moment which, while it has specificity for me, captures a "unviversalness" (dispite the referent's lack of specialness) that others might "appreciate even with no memory of the time or place [it was] captured".

Featured Comment: this comment came via the emailman - C. Butler wrote; "Blov'
I took a look at one of Wall photos at his site.
The one with the torn or sliced bed.
My quick response is this - "HUH?"
Not to massage your ego, but, the composition
of the photo that you took on a "whim", {godzilla gets knocked on his ass}
is far better than that thrown sh-- I saw on the the 'Wall'.

publisher's comment: Thank you, Clarence. The ego has so noted it.

Featured Comment: this comment also came via the emailman - Lee Bacchus wrote; "Personally,I feel Wall will one day claim equal space in the history of art alongside Breughel, Bernini, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Valesquez, Manet, Goya, Cezanne and many other "masters." The criteria here being (other than his own artistic rigor and craft) the "wholeness" of his experience (by that fuzzy term I mean his faithfulness to "what he has seen" — or "the painter of modern life", as he borrowed from Baudelaire) and his large role in changing the course of art following the advent of modernism and the avant-garde."

Reader Comments (1)

Can I borrow your Godzilla? As soon as I'm done with my MFA, I'm going to painstakingly recreate a replica of your living room in my studio. The twist is, everything will be a replica of your house except for the Godzilla, which will actually be your Godzilla.

In the meantime, I recommend that the future viewers of this work get an advanced degree in film, with a specialization in Japanese monster movies. That way you can understand the exact placement of the Godzilla in my photograph. It really wasn't until I read Baudrillard that I was able to grasp the complexities of Mothra's role in Destroy All Monsters.

The images will be presented on a Godzilla like scale. The transparencies will be printed at a size of 100 stories tall and mounted to the side of skyscrapers. They will be backlit by having all the lights in the building turned on. Special bulbs will be used in every lighting fixture.

Every person in every office will be replaced with someone from central casting who looks startlingly like the person they're playing. I will hire a photographer that looks like me to take the photograph. When my hired replacement says "Action," the actors will turn on all the lights in the building for exactly 15 seconds.

February 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Reifer

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