Friday, 12 December 2014

Exercise Part 4 - Words and Pictures - Essay Review

Part Four of the module and this part is designed to hone our skills towards Assignment Four - The Critical Review.

Within the course reader the essay Words and Pictures: On reviewing photographs by Liz Wells is to be read and a number of questions answered.

1. What is the basic argument of Wells' essay

Her argument is that although the pictures are the essence of any exhibition it is not possible when preparing a review to include all the images. There may be a space for one or two and that would be all. There is therefore a requirement from experienced writers, reviewers and critics to use words to describe what was there and how the experience of being at the exhibition can be transmitted to an audience. It is possible that the words will outlive the images and in the long term act as a testament to the broad cultural discourse appropriated by the images.

2. Is the essay's title a fair indication of the essay itself

The title is in two parts, almost a title with a sub title.

On reviewing photography

I feel that it should be written the other way around.

Words and Pictures

The essay is essentially about her work as a reviewer and its contemporary practice, with reference to her early work and that of others, so the "reviewing" element is the dominant word. Beneath the title she quotes Edward Weston from 1930.

"Art is an interpreter of the inexpressible, and therefore it seems a folly to convey its meaning afresh by means of words."

By using this quotation from Weston she is saying that her work is (maybe others too) is a poor equivalent to seeing the work for yourself.

3. To what extent does the writer rely on Post-modernist doctrine

Post Modernism is a way of thinking, a movement incorporating the theory and practice of art from around the end of the second world war that treated all art with the same value. It removed the hierarchy and work was taken at its face value. Wells does talk of the changes in photography due to PM influences hijacking modernist ideals and how that PM freedom of debate included the work of writers. Her essay was written in and around 1992 and as such is contemporary with PM thinking and methods. Her work shows no signs of pandering the Modernist way of thinking, nor is it overtly PM. So, to the extent that she relies upon PM doctrines I wouldn't say it is no more or less PM any other contemporary essay.

4.The essay raises the issue of the qualifications and duties of a critic. How important do you believe it is for a critic of photography to have a deep knowledge of the practice of photography.

I don't believe a critic needs any "deep knowledge" of the practice of photography. The reason I say this and highlight deep knowledge is another question. What is deep knowledge. Photographers (including myself) have only a basic grasp of the technical aspects of how a digital camera works, or how film emulsion is applied to film. If the critic knows too much it distracts them from their real work. This is to see the finished art and interpret it, describe it, become emotionally aware of it and write about those aspects. I wouldn't think it necessary for them to comment on the process or technique, other than to say it has worked for the image or not. The detail of what paper, ink, camera format, developer etc. is for the judges of camera club competitions (where the author is waiting for praise of technique) but not in the world of fine art photography.

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