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The Judgment Seat of Photography
Transcript of The Judgment Seat of Photography
This was an essay published in the MIT press. I think Phillips could have used another mode of publication to get this more popularity/ cause more controversy.
Phillips' essay basically looks at how photography has changed in the eye of art's institutional guardian, the museum. he does this by looking separately at each of the MoMA's curators of photography, their differing definitions of photography as an art, and how they each preceded each other. He does this by looking at the stark difference in Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
- Essay is too long.
- Focuses too much on the past, not enough on the future.
- Phillips doesn't really offer any solutions to this dilemma.
-Can a photograph have an "aura"?
-What makes an original? Can they exist?
-What is the "language of photography" today? How do we approach it? How do we see it in a museum?
-How has technology changed photography since Benjamin? How would he feel about it today?
1982- Many cultural and technological changes were happening in the early 80's. The first satellites were being deployed, Reagan was in the prime of his presidency, and equal rights were at the forefront of politics.
Szarkowski, the MoMA's current curator of photography had been in his position for twenty years (the same amount of time that the previous two had been) but was still in the role for another ten. I believe Phillips thought a new person would be stepping in soon.
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" - Walter Benjamin 1936
As fine artists we need to be able to also know how fine art, especially how photographic art is looked at in the art community. In a way, we need to be able to cater to a curator's definition of art if we want to have our art hung in a museum. Also, it's important as artists to be able to understand trends, visual language, and the ever changing definition of photography.
Christopher Phillips -
American author and writer of Socrates Cafe, idea of having open-invitation meetings in a cafe to discuss philosophy was inspired by Marc Sautet, whose Café Philosophique Phillips joined after reading an article about Sautet in 1992.
Curators throughout the years
The Photographer's Eye - John Szarkowski 1966
-Can photography survive outside of the context of a museum?
-Do we have to cater our work to changing trends?
I believe Phillips was trying to start a bit of a "call to action" to the current curator of Photography at the MoMa. This essay was a bit of a slap in the face to the museum world. Phillips ends with a very biting paragraph, "Thus endowed with a privileged origin - in painting - and an inherent nature that is modernist avant la lettre, photography is removed to its own aesthetic realm, free to get on with its vocation of producing "millions of profoundly radical pictures." As should be apparent, this version of photographic history is, in truth, a flight from history, from history's reversals, repudiations, and multiple determinations. The dual sentence spelled out here - the formal isolation and cultural legitimation of the "great undifferentiated whole" of photography - is the disquieting message handed down from the museum's judgment seat.
- Essay very detailed into every aspect of the museum's stance on photography and how it changes.
- Phillips does a wonderful job of bringing Benjamin's words to light 50 years later.