Bollocks to James Elkins

Posted by Michael Szpakowski | Sun Aug 21st 2011 10:41 a.m.

Hi
If you make still images of any sort with the intention of making art and post them to Flickr, please join the new Flickr group:

Bollocks to James Elkins

and add a single image...

I'm pasting the rationale ( which is also on the group page) below.

If you don't use Flickr but see what I'm on about consider joining and posting an image....

cheers

michael

PS if it takes off I'd like to think about organising a physical show of the same name, no promises of course, lets see what happens...
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In his new book on photography (‘What Photography Is’, London and New York 2011 ISBN 978-0-415-99569-6) James Elkins, a writer always worth reading and to some extent an art world iconoclast ( though at every critical instant perhaps a little less so that he imagines himself to be) gives vent to a magisterial rant about those who post on Flickr, which is characterised by both a sad lack of imagination and an unpleasant vein of snobbery.

It climaxes:
“If you are active on Flickr, if you read popular photography magazines, if you enjoy National Geographic, if you use Photoshop to create effects, then this is a critique of your work. It may not seem pertinent, buried as it is in the middle of a book on many other things, but this is what a critique of your work looks like.”

I particularly relish the idea that anyone who chooses to use Flickr or Photoshop, merely by that choice, is not only cast out from the photographic/art world elect but is implicitly also rendered incapable of recognising the majestic subtleties of Elkin’s thought without some nose rubbing... Remember, just so you know, “this is what a critique of your work looks like.”

The banality of a criterion that is solely based upon the use or otherwise of a technique or channel (a bureaucrat’s delight: “Photoshop!? Tick the box here: not art!”) won’t be lost on anyone with a little bit of wit, academic or no, even we plebeians, above whom Elkins floats , Zeppelin-like, in such majestic and Olympian disdain.
The criteria for rejecting a putative work of art cannot be solely how it is made and whether any technique employed has at any time been clichéd or abused. Such shortcuts are no substitutes for extended and fearless looking, thinking and argument. The mark of artistic innovation is often precisely that it elevates the previously unnoticed or despised technique, format or subject.

In the Goldberg Variations, after some of the most sublime and intellectually demanding contrapuntal writing ever, Bach finishes with what? - A drinking song.
But there’s more to it. Elkins doesn’t really believe that the ignorant Photoshoppers &c will really be reading his book and hence being directly addressed by him. The diatribe and its climactic paragraph are a nod and a wink to those on the inside, an invitation to join in a sneer at the intellectually unwashed.

What is also manifested is a fear of pollution by rubbing shoulders too closely with those non-insider masses. Despite Elkin’s brave words about the breadth of his address to photography (and of course, implicitly, the signal failure of anyone else to see why this matters or to do likewise effectively) there are places he fears to tread. In the book he coldly contemplates, at length, the foulest images of execution by torture but runs away from the snapshot and the network.

Those of sterner stuff, who consider themselves to be making art and who use Flickr as a conduit for that work are invited to join this group and post one single example of their work. (You may replace/rotate but only one at any one time). Photoshoppers and fans of National Geographic alike are welcome as is anyone who photographs with the intention of making art and who feels that the networked environment of Flickr is a useful place to post and share their work.

The only criterion is, I repeat, ‘Do you consider yourself, in any fashion, to be attempting works of photographic art?’ If so, post one here and join us in saying, collectively, ‘Bollocks to James Elkins!’.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/bollocks_to_james_elkins/
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