Saturday, August 2, 2008


Once, while visiting the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, i had the pleasure of seeing David Robbins' "Talent" (1986), a collection of 18 "headshots" of artists emerging in and through the 1980's. i did not know if these were "actual" headshots (one features Cindy Sherman, looking strangely eager and fresh, much less so than the fierce Sherman i knew as an artist).

Today, my photographer and i were contemplating the headshot and what it is/does/means. in the course of our chat -- i don't think she intended to offend, and i was not offended -- she said, "famous people don't need head shots," and it recalled Robbins' piece for me, Sherman's freshy newness . . . a kind of desperation, a tragic desire . . . it seems impossible to elide these implicit readings within the constraints of the genre.

... and i hadn't known this, but a little research reveals that the headshots were staged, that Sherman, Jeff Koons, and others pictured had posed for the piece that Robbins, their friend, assembled. so that's interesting.

In a 1989 New York Times piece, Andy Grundberg wrote disparangingly of what Robbins' "Talent," and other self-conscious art/photography projects implied for the status of (ostensibly "real" or "superior") photography as art by artists who "go out into the world to find their subject matter", art that radiates "emotional credibility." Huh. Grundberg explains: 

The message of this new approach is significant, albeit disconcerting. It suggests that we live in a society thoroughly encoded by photographic images. And it suggests that these images are not the innocent, natural products of an objective lens but vestiges of human consciousness. As such, they can be exhumed and examined like archeological shards - ''appropriated'' is the art-world term - to yield evidence of the culture from which they come. For today's artists, the ever-expanding world of photographic images is a more important subject, and a more meaningful one, than the world we experience first hand.

Grundberg goes on to argue that

Given the current fascination with mass-media photographs as cultural signs, and the widespread dissatisfaction with the traditions of fine-art photography inherited from 50 years ago, one has to wonder whether the celebration of the medium's sesquicentennial might better have been conceived as a wake. For if photography survives into the next century, it will be as something more overtly fabricated, manipulative, artifactual and self-conscious than the photography we have come to know. It will, in short, look less like the world and more like art.

So, images are fabricated and this is what makes them art, but it is also what makes them "look less like the world." There are so many questions. One involves the question of just how much "fabrication" is required to create the uncanny "pop" of a headshot (said "pop" ostensibly a sign of some "real" quality the "talent" possesses).

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