I Photograph, Therefore I’m Dead

Copyright 2008 Jens Haas - www.jenshaas.com

I think it was Magnum’s very own Donovan Wylie who ten years ago stated publicly that “Photojournalism is very dead.” From the context it was clear that he made his judgement both regarding subject matter and style. There have been many others who said the same thing – reaching back to the 1960ies, when photographers in Vietnam saw the same images they took earlier in the day flicker on television in the evening, their unprocessed film still in the camera. Fast forward to 2008, and the otherwise relentlessly encyclopedic “Conscientious”-blog complains that we we have seen grainy black and white pictures of suffering individuals before (here, discussed here).

Here’s a question: Perhaps it is not just photojournalism, but also all the well-cartographed “fine art” photography of today that is dead? If Wylie’s criteria hold, it probably is. “Conscientious,” for better or worse maybe the best summary of contemporary photography “as-it-is,” might be living proof of that. Fine art photography may be as ubiquitous as it is today *for the very reason* that it has moved on such well trodden paths for a number of years. When you look closer, as has been suggested in the excellent discussion over at Magnum, there’s much to admire in lots of fine art photography, as there is in lots of journalistic photography. But the deadness comes with the relentless repetition of narrowly guarded subject matter and style, I guess, and the sense of familiarity one feels even with some very recent work. It’s probably easy to get sucked into that – get yourself some MFA degree, buy a fake beard and a large format camera, then read blogs about it all… It’s like in the stock market, when the hockey moms start buying Google shares, and you know there is a problem…

Speaking of crashing markets: Mysteriously, there are now empty apartments in Manhattan, and last week I looked at one of them. The sight was so unfamiliar that I felt the urge to document it.