A Jeff Wall photo on display in an art gallery

Above: A Jeff Wall photo on display in an art gallery. Credit: Goodman Gallery.

Image+silence

With traditional contemporary-art-based photography encountered in the art gallery setting, one basic equation is: art photo = image+silence. It is the specific muteness of the image on the wall which tends to lend the photo its profundity, aura, gravitas, grandeur, yearning, etc. The art photo-image stands isolated, aloof, remote surrounded by no sound--and this effect allows the visual component of a scene to rise to a privileged emphasis. (Jean Baudrillard: "In the greatest turbulence it [the photograph] re-creates the equivalent of the desert, of the stillness of phenomena. It [photography] is the only way of moving through cities in silence, of moving through the world in silence.")

By contrast, in video and film, this silence factor is usually not the case, as the sound component typically remains included. Text captions (+text captions) are another definite factor in the "sums" of the art-gallery photo. The introduction of a text panel or caption tends to work against the gravitas-aura effect quickly bringing an image straight back down to Earth (as Walter Benjamin did note in his Short History of Photography).

It is very difficult to get the basic equation functioning at all on Instagram. This new environment is so alien to the gallery setting that normal rules don't apply. People call it a platform: on a digital platform the basic initial equation for photo-art does not function ... a photo on Insta never has any trace of remoteness, aloofness.

(4 December 2018)