The Endless Allure

“It would be marvellous if this were the case, if the place itself, and not merely the pictures, were the work of art”

Photography is an inherently problematic medium, and to me this is its endless allure. Photographs can be uncompromising poetical descriptions of complex cultural facts. Or scientific evidence. Photography is both so damn easy and so damn difficult. And as different as a William Eggleston photograph from Memphis is from a Michael Schmidt picture from Berlin, both evoke the inner and outer world of the photographer, while also being, quite simply, a two dimensional description of surface and light.

There's also practitioners such as Christopher Williams or Roe Etheridge. And there's phenomenons such as Instagram and the camera phone. All which needs to be talked about and discussed and critiqued. Because without conversations and reflections we’ll be at risk of finding ourselves totally adrift in a sea of images (if we aren't already). Photographs can help us to come closer to understanding ourselves and the world in which we live.

“The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different.”

At a basic level we teach students to be literate in words but not images. Without a rudimentary understanding of image literacy we will forever be lingering in Plato’s Cave, looking desperately at a blank wall, while the ocean of images pass unsuspectingly over our collective shoulder. Us, too numb and dumb to do anything at all.

With all the images that are thrown at us daily, (not just photography but painting and drawing and film, as well) we need to be given the tools to unravel, unwind and decode what is in front of us, staring us straight in the eye. To be able to ask: What is this? What is it doing? and Why?

Images and words make up the fabric of our modern society and they can be complex and unsettling and difficult to read. Slippery and confusing, oftentimes there are no straight answers. Take for example George W. Bush’s painted portraits of war veterans. Sometimes pictures raise more questions than answers. To me, that is what teaching is all about. To be given a language in which one can, at some point, contribute to and engage in.

Quotes by John Szarkowski, William Eggleston’s Guide, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.