Photography in the museum or in the gallery?
Read Rosalind Krauss’s essay ‘ Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View ’ in Art Journal Vol. 42 (1982) Pg 311-319, available here:LP&E, p.31
[Link last accessed: 17/09/2020]
Summarise Krauss’s key points in your learning log (in note form) and add any comments or reflections.
The essay is also printed in Bolton (1992) pp.287-303.
Page 29 of the cmat notes Tod Papageorge’s “thorough rebuff of Krauss’s argument” in Core Curriculum (2011).
Krauss – Crimp – Papageorge
Rosalind Krauss, Photography’s Discursive Spaces
Discursive has a number of contradictory meanings: 1. rambling; 2. presenting an argument in logical steps; 3. concerning discourse (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Krauss’s essay, Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View (1982), is largely the first of these, rambling, although it is assumed that the intention was a combination of the other two definitions.
In her conclusion, Krauss questions the merits of breaking up nineteenth century photographic archives to conform to 1980s gallery categorisations and practices, ending “[it] is not hard to conceive of what the inducements for doing so are, but it is more difficult to understand the tolerance for the kind of incoherence it produces” (p.298). Her route to that conclusion centres on the past popularity of stereo photography and the creative industry that grew around it. The work of Timothy O’Sullivan and later of Atget are the threads running through her narrative.
The essay begins with two images of the same subject, the volcanic Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Navada. The first is captioned “Timothy O’Sullivan, 1868” and Krauss (p.287) describes its “silent beauty … hallucinatory wealth of detail … [and] mysterious beauty”. The second is captioned “Photolithograph after O’Sullivan”, used in a geological survey and its attributes described as, “insistent visual banality”.
Krauss contrasts the aesthetic qualities of the two (although, ironically, because of the production standards of the Bolton volume, they are all but indistinguishable), then goes on to clarify that the most important difference is the “two separate domains of culture” in which they take their places, “two distinct discursive spaces, as members of two different discourses”. The lithograph inhabits the world of science, specifically geography.
As for the photograph, this was created initially for aesthetic reasons (the photographer regarded this location and viewpoint as worth the effort of recording), but then, if accorded the status of Art, becomes subsumed in the domain of the gallery and is ascribed a quality that Krauss terms and italicises as “exhibitionality“.
The attributes and requirements of the gallery space (or domain), as it developed in the later nineteenth century is examined, in essence, large walls for art.. Krauss turns to Galassi’s analysis of this effect in his 1981 MoMA exhibition and book, Before Photography: the development of exaggerated perspective representation in painting from the Renaissance through to the eighteenth century gave way in the nineteenth to “a flattened and compressed perspective” (p.288) (see Exc. 1.3) and thus when “photographic societies organised exhibitions on the model of Establishment salons” (p.289), this encouraged the same aesthetic as that for painting.
Returning to the opening issue of the differing expectations of photography for scientific and artistic purposes, Krauss asks which aesthetic O’Sullivan and other landscape photographers were serving. At this point, she pivots the essay, noting that O’Sullivan’s images were hardly published at all in the nineteenth century other than in pairs and sets for stereoscopic viewing and so served an entirely different aesthetic and format and furthermore often manifested a specific compositional imperative with an item of foreground interest to emphasise the three-dimensional effect (p.291).
The essay continues with an extensive description of the Stereograph market and the experiences of viewers, notably Oliver Wendell Holmes who wrote on this subject in some detail. The preference within the Stereograph commercial community for the term “view” rather than “landscape” is noted (it is suggested that this is a way to de-emphasise the role of the individual photographer, p.293). Krauss considers the role of galleries and contrasts their requirement to deal in the works of specific, named artists and how this resulted in photographic histories being configured accordingly. The required amount of time spent as a photographer in order to establish an artistic career and an oeuvre is discussed. The shortness of Auguste Salzmann and Roger Fenton‘s service to the medium is compared to the decades of devotion by Eugène Atget.
This leads to a consideration of Atget’s rise to Greatness, largely through the efforts of Berenice Abbott and John Szarkowski. Krauss quotes Szarkowski writing about Atget for his four-part MoMA exhibition (1981-1985) and his “intentions [being] so perfectly withheld from us” (p.295), in other words, Atget’s lack of, or Szarkowski’s failure to discern a coherent oeuvre. Atget’s negatives were numbered but at the time, his system was not understood: it was eventually deciphered by Maria Morris Hambourg and Krauss lists some of Atget’s categories as, ” Landscape-Documents, Picturesque Paris, Environs, Old-France”, elements of a oeuvre Krauss labels “a collective picture of the spirit of French culture” (p.296). Krauss sees as ironic the need to systematically catalogue Atget’s work in order to understand his artistic drive and suggests it represents the tension between those who favour a prosaically-catalogued archive of Atget’s workmanlike output and those who would prefer to find an overarching aesthetic. This leads Krauss to her conclusion quoted at the beginning, that the mercenary gallerist instinct distorts the photographer’s intentions.
In summary, then, a rambling and partial account of the differing aesthetic requirements and expectations of several display domains, the milieu they serve and the ambitions that drive them and how this has influenced the medium, its presentation and the writers of its history.
Krauss – Crimp – Papageorge
Douglas Crimp, The Museum’s Old / The Library’s New Subject
The venal, commercial gallerisation of photography is better and more succinctly illustrated by the opening essay in Bolton (1992), Douglas Crimp’s The Museum’s Old / The Library’s New Subject (1981, pp.3-13). Crimp describes Julia van Haaften’s work in the New York Public Library. van Haaften became aware that the Library’s unacknowledged, abundant holdings of early photographs were housed by subject throughout the institution. She eventually organised an exhibition taken from the library’s collection and this was in the late 1970s when institutional and gallery attitudes to photography (and to individual photographers and, crucially, to the prices their work should command) was changing. The result was that books of photographs previously filed under Egypt never returned to those shelves and the photographs themselves were not returned to the books.
What Julia van Haaften is doing at the New York Public Library is just one example of what is occurring throughout our culture on a massive scale. And thus the list goes on, as urban poverty becomes Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine; portraits of Delacroix and Manet become portraits by Nadar and Carjat; Dior’s New Look becomes Irving Penn; and World War II becomes Robert Capa; for if photography was invented in 1839, it was only discovered in the 1960s and 1970s — photography, that is, as an essence, photography itself.Crimp, 1981 in Bolton, 1992, pp.7-8
Books about Egypt will literally be torn apart so that photographs by Francis Frith may be framed and placed on the walls of museums. Once there, photographs will never look the same. Whereas we may have looked at Cartier-Bresson’s photographs for the information they conveyed about the revolution in China or the Civil War in Spain, we will now look at them for what they tell us about the artist’s style of expression.
Krauss – Crimp – Papageorge
Tod Papageorge, Eugene Atget: A Photographer’s Photographer †
[29Oct] Papageorge is a great admirer of Atget.
“The inventor of modern photography” is how the plaque on the Montparnasse apartment house where he lived sums it up, as just a description of his contribution to the medium as any I could imagine.Papageorge, 2015, p.19
He attacks (and it is an attack, not merely a challenge) Krauss’ Photography’s Discursive Spaces and its treatment of Atget on two main grounds, wilfull ignorance and misjudgement, the second a consequence of the first.
Krauss’ essay was first published in 1982 the Art Journal and then reprinted and anthologised elsewhere. MoMA’s four exhibitions and associated catalogues of Atget’s work and life began in 1981 and ended four years later. This means that Krauss could only have seen and read the first part when she wrote the essay. Papageorge asserts that Krauss “encourage[s] the implication that she owns an informed of the whole [four volumes] even as it begins” (p.24).
But Krauss, Papageorge states, must be at a disadvantage in not seeing volumes 2-4 as they contain biographical details and the later, post-WW1 photographs which are essential to a real appreciation of Atget’s qualities — “Rosalind Krauss, however, is less interested in pictures than she is in concepts, which, in Atget’s case, centre for her on questions concerning what she calls the photographer’s oeuvre” (p.25).
It’s difficult not to dismiss this out of hand, given the unique nature of photography and Krauss’s apparent unwillingness to consider it.Papageorge, 2015, p.25
As a result of Krauss’s ignorance of Atget’s life and later works, she includes Atget with the list of nineteenth century photographers that are central to her essay. Papageorge takes particular exception to this,
despite Rosalind Krauss’s assertion that he was a “nineteenth-century photographer” (a claim that … her essay rides on), Atget was, in fact, categorically the opposite – or, more precisely, an avatar of something new and original-both in technique and poetic spirit.Papageorge, 2015, p.19
This is Papageorge’s central point, that Atget led photography into the early twentieth century and Krauss failed to recognise his contribution,
how widely and profoundly Atget’s work influenced many of the strongest photographers of the generations succeeding him, beginning with Berenice Abbott and, following right behind, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Bill Brandt, Manuel Alvarez-Bravo, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who all acknowledged the power of his pictures in the decade immediately following his death.Papageorge, 2015, p.24
Here, I think, Papageorge might have overstepped the mark. In The Flame of Recognition, Nancy Newhall’s selection of Edward Weston’s diaries and letters (1965), Weston wrote in 1938,
My industrial period was over by 1922. My facades, ( “Immobile surfaces”) were done in Mexico from 1925-27 ( when I was accused of being in N. Y. copying another photographer’s work). A large collection of pulquerias ( only two ever printed for myself) and done before I ever heard of Atget.Weston, The Flame of Recognition, p. 62
Atget was a great documentary photographer but is misclassed as anything else. The emotion derived from his work is largely that of connotations from subject matter. I have a deep respect for Atget: he did a certain work well. I am doing something quite different.
Papageorge does an effective job of undermining Krauss’ essay, establishing clearly that she reached her conclusions about Atget and published her work before reading all the material that would soon become available.
While he is quite entitled to rate Atget as highly as he thinks appropriate, he does seem to exaggerate the support he claims for his stance, at least as regards Edward Weston.
† Second hand copies of Papageorge’s Core Curriculum sell for upwards of £50. Google Books have an online copy for £10.99. It might be available online for free at OCA, but I am still waiting for my course material.
There’s an online copy of the Weston’s Flame here at MoMA.
LPE Exc 1.2 References
Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment[LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Bolton, R. (1992) The contest of meaning. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Crimp, D. (1981) The Museum’s Old / The Library’s New Subject, in Bolton, R (ed.) The contest of meaning, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.3-13.
Galassi, P. (1981) Before Photography. NY: MoMA.
Gassan, A. (1972) A chronology of photography. Athens, Ohio: Arnold Gassan Handbook Company.
Krauss, R. (1982) Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View, in Bolton, R (ed.) The contest of meaning, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 286-302.
Merriam-Webster (n.d.) discursive [online]. merriam-webster.com. Available from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discursive [Accessed 27 September 2021].
Papageorge, T, (2015) Core curriculum, writings on photography. NY: Aperture.
Weston, E. (1971) The Flame of Recognition. New York: Aperture