hmmm... musings about the mundane
was in a book shop the other day, idly leafing through one of those books, much like the ones discussed in a recent post, meaning to analyse various photos, each supposedly a masterpiece representative of a certain genre or period.
one of them was a bog-standard airport scene, an airplane docked at an airport terminal, under a greyish sky with completely uninteresting light, and nothing much going on anywhere in the frame. its only unusual feature was perhaps its large size - though that's become something of a cliché for this type of photography, and indeed for much art in general that seeks to substitute size for quality.
supposedly a very great masterpiece (well, I may be exagerating just a little, but I'm sure you get the gist) of contemporary photography belonging to the genre of "bog-standard, uninteresting scenes", somehow meant to rub our noses and consciousness in the boring normalcy of things.
first thing came to mind is, given this particular genre, what exactly sets any one dreary photo apart from billions of others ?! (apart from slick marketing, that is)
second thing came to mind is, it might sometimes be healthy to rehabilitate the phrase: my 5 year old kid could've done that.
a disclaimer before I go on: I'm actually a huge fan of any art form that pictures and somehow sublimates the ordinary, not least because it takes a great eye or sensitivity to see the mundane afresh. I love Depardon's photography for instance, or Shore's, or (some of) Eggleston's. Depardon in particular has this uncanny ability to make the mundane compelling and beautiful. Also a great fan of Edward Hopper, and anytime I happen to be out photographing at night (actually quite seldom), I'm always on the lookout for a shot in the style of Nighthawks. Thing is, though, all this stuff has fairly evident depth, power, beauty ... well, something, however you wish to call it - something that, besides providing a catalyst to think about the mundane in any number of ways, makes for an aethetically compelling work that you enjoy looking at, not just thinking about.
the photo I saw in that book, on the other hand, didn't have this quality - and nor was it apparently meant to, according to the text beside the picture. That's all it was: a bog-standard, boring, dull picture. The photographer couldn't even claim, as support for a deeper meaning, that he'd expended huge, concealed technical effort in reproducing this mundane scene.
then is struck me that such a dull photo might actually have a claim to higher meaning after all (though not necessarily in the way it was meant), as a trigger or catalyst for the following musings:
well, first, it's evidently got me thinking about something, else I wouldn't be writing this post.
beyond that, this photo - and this whole genre - is a testament to the skill of marketers in passing off as highbrow (often by way of supersizing), supposedly rich with subtle meaning and commentary on our time, what is, in fact, mundane drivel without an inch of depth.
that photo is also an unwitting commentary on our frequent unwilingness to question the artistic merit of stuff promoted by such or such a gallery, or stuff that, through dint of chance, finds itself on the current bandwagon.
and a commentary on the laziness and contrivedness of all this stuff: what's so special about supposedly getting people to think about profound stuff with a snap that's simply just dull ? and what's the merit in causing this reflection only by way of explanatory text ?