On a whim, more or less, I went to an artist talk at Ryerson University two weeks ago next Thursday. I was skeptical when I first heard who was giving the talk. Alec Soth, a Magnum photographer I’d never heard of. I’d been to Magnum talks before and they’re often interchangeable: “Here I am with the president of Botswana. This tank shell hit me in the face. I spent four weeks living on gravel in the alleys of Kuala Lumpur.” I’m not saying there isn’t anything of merit in this cream of the crop of documentary & editorial photo, more just that it isn’t my bag. Look at this thing isn’t a very compelling reason to look at a photography, and then there’s the whole issue of aestheticizing documentary photography – more manipulative, less objective.
But I’m just going to touch on a few things he said about the ongoing changes in photography.
He spoke about the difficulties in editorial photography, and the problem with the internet and stock agencies providing so much material for so cheaply. His solution to the fact that there are millions of photographers out there who would work for less than he does is interesting. His work was already pretty far from the boilerplate documentary work I expected from a member of Magnum, and he plans to take it further; relying not on the strength of sole images, but on storytelling and the interaction between each image in a series. This also plays into the current popularity of curation in photo (and, I guess, art?) circles – it’s even less about one great image, one decisive moment, more about the body of work as a whole. Photographs must be judged by other merits than straight aesthetics and technical proficiency. As to which merits?
Fucked if I know. If I knew that, I sure wouldn’t be telling you. Well, maybe some of you.