Photography: Art’s Unsung Hero?

posted by – 02/23/11 @ 12:47pm

Duncan

Sometimes I feel as though photography suffers from middle-child syndrome in the art world. Its haughty older sibling, painting, has long enjoyed praise and recognition, and its younger sibling, sculpture, rebelliously bends the rules, and its contours. I realize that I am being a bit anachronistic: as one of the more recent art mediums, photography is the “younger child” and, arguably, one of the more misunderstood techniques. Oftentimes, we dismiss photography as a hobby, or Sunday afternoon activity–any Joe Schmoe can shoot a tear-streaked young woman on his Canon, convert it into sepia on Photoshop, and call it “art photography.” Likewise, because photography permeates so many different realms of media–magazines, family reunion slide shows, even TwitPic–its role feels oddly undefined in the art world.

I’m not here to crusade for photography, per se. Rather, I’m just an observer, looking to remind you that photography is–at its basis–about the fleeting, the ephemeral. A seemingly mundane moment in time becomes a psychobiography, or a glimpse into the unapologetically real. By looking at a photograph, we can wander down avenues of dialogue we never imagined possible. All of this from a single instance, immortalized. Or, is photography not about verisimilitude? Is it, in fact, an exercise in “point and shoot?” I won’t argue that it’s a flawless medium, but the tricks and treats it plays on the human mind are fascinating.

Last winter, we featured Sharon Lee Hart’s stunning series of farm animal stills. Her photograph of a goat, “Duncan,”–peering quizzically into the camera–was uncanny. One felt as though he/she was experiencing a chance reunion with an old friend, or crazy Uncle Duncan. The viewer may have even felt a little punch-drunk, oscillating his/her vision between the blurred background, and the stark frontality of the farm animal.

Or, maybe, the photograph was just a goat.

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