Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Baron Googlian: Photography without a photographer

1379 Elgin Ave -Jon Rafman
Betrayal Film Portrait - John Stezaker
Chicago IL - Doug Rickard

In Lebanon, photography had long been dominated by the Armenian community which fled here after the Turkish massacre, so much that every person dabbling in photography was called "baron" - or "sir" as Armenians use the term. Since Armenian families end with "ian" (or son of - which means Kim's family is the "son of Kardash" - hence Kardashian) it was appropriate to call this post "Baron Googlian" as it celebrates a new kind of photography, the one where the photographer is not present.
First let's start with this news: "Deutsche Börse photography prize won by John Stezaker" something which phography purists are having a heart attack over. How can you give such a prestigious prize for someone who is not even a photographer? For someone who did not even take the original photos? After all Stezaker body of work relies on existing photographs (the body of work that won him the prize was taken from Hollywood promotional photos from studios) and slices them through and gives them a new context and narrative.
But it seems Stezaker is not a lone breed, as other photographers (and I am responsible for the use of the term) are heading to Google Street view to capture their photos - Doug Rickard and John Rafman are some of those leading the pack. Once more, the whole idea of photography seems in jeopardy if seen from a puristic angle - what happened to shutter speed? What happened to picking the correct lens? What happened to the exposure? What happened to picking the right film (sorry Eastman Kodak!)?
What happened is that we moved on. Because, as much as I appreciate technicality (and I do so as much as the next man), the photographs that linger in the memory are those that tell stories, that ask questions, that leave a moment hanging in time - shutter speed, lens, exposure and film (smile) be damned.
I am reminded of this quote from "Mona Lisa Smile" by Mike Newell where Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson and shows students in her art class a photo of her mother:

"Katherine Watson: Next slide. This is my mom. Is it art?

Susan Delacorte (played by Laura Allen): It's a snapshot.
Katherine Watson: If I told you Ansel Adams had taken it, would that make a difference?"

So, by the same token, "If I told you Google Street view took it, would it make any difference?"
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