Photography is Dead Again, Says Newsweek.

This week’s issue of Newsweek includes an interesting essay on photography by critic Peter Plagens, and it’s worth reading, even if Plagens's points aren’t terribly new. The headline asks “Is Photography Dead?” I’ve heard the demise of the art predicted so many times that I’ve given up worrying. But I’d like to hear your opinions. Plagens’s comment come as a response to two new exhibitions: the first, “Depth of Field,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Mo

This week's issue of Newsweek includes an interesting essay on photography by critic Peter Plagens, and it's worth reading, even if Plagens's points aren't terribly new. The headline asks "Is Photography Dead?" I've heard the demise of the art predicted so many times that I've given up worrying. But I'd like to hear your opinions.

Plagens's comment come as a response to two new exhibitions: the first, "Depth of Field," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography, includes work by Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky, and Adam Fuss. The other show is "The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978" at the National Gallery of Art. After looking at the two exhibitions, the critic wonders whether photography has lost its soul by embracing art that isn't based on reality:

Yet wandering the galleries of these two shows, you can't help but wonder if the entire medium hasn't fractured itself beyond all recognition. Sculpture did the same thing a while back, so that now "sculpture" can indicate a hole in the ground as readily as a bronze statue. Digitalization has made much of art photography's vast variety possible. But it's also a major reason that, 25 years after the technology exploded what photography could do and be, the medium seems to have lost its soul. Film photography's artistic cachet was always that no matter how much darkroom fiddling someone added to a photograph, the picture was, at its core, a record of something real that occurred in front of the camera. A digital photograph, on the other hand, can be a Photoshop fairy tale, containing only a tiny trace of a small fragment of reality. By now, we've witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction. It's hard to say "gee whiz" anymore.

I personally have been in search of the photographic soul for many years now, and I find that it keeps turning up in a variety of styles and approaches. I suppose it might be easier for a photographic artist to misplace his or her soul these days, especially given the enormous amounts of money being paid for photo-based contemporary art. But I think it's also necessary to give artists the leeway to use new technology and explore where that technology takes them. I think that Plagens is wrong in assuming that photographers using film could only photograph the reality in front of the camera--many artists used film photography in other ways, very successfully. But fundamentally, I look at the pieces in the contemporary art show at the Met, and I think, "What is He Talking About?" There is a lot of reality to be seen there--though not always framed in the classic 35mm way of Life magazine. The photography of Rineke Dijkstra (above, her "Kolobrzeg, Pland, 1992") and Adam Fuss couldn't be more photographic. In essence he seems to be covering old ground about the validity of work by artists like Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, who comment on the self-sustaining power of modern commercial imagery itself.
--David Schonauer