Photography in the 60s and 70s


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, Photographed by Francisco Kjolseth/
The Salt Lake Tribune, September 2002

Notes from: Wall, Jeff. “‘Marks of Indifference’: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art” in Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975. Los Angeles, CA: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995.

p. 254

Using Bruce Nauman’s photographs as examples, Wall describes the two styles of photography that were able to co-exist in the late sixties and early seventies that had been at a divide previously – the documentary and the fake.

“The two styles, reduced to a set of basic formulae and effects, are signifiers for the new co-existence of species of photography up to that time. It is as if the reportage works go back to Muybridge and the sources of all traditional concepts of photographic documentary, and the color pictures to the early ‘gags’ and jokes, to Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, to the birthplace of effects used for their own sake. The two reigning myths of photography – the one that claims that photographs are ‘true’ and the one that claims they are not – are shown to be grounded in the same praxis, available in the same place, the studio, at that place’s moment of historical transformation.”

p. 261

Non-art as art

“Sometimes the early years of Pop art seem like a race to find the most perfect, metaphysically banal image, that cipher that demonstrates the ability of culture to continue when every aspect of what had been known in modern art as seriousness, expertise, and reflexiveness had been dropped. The empty, the counterfeit, the functional, and the brutal themselves were of course nothing new as art in 1960, having all become tropes of the avant-garde via Surrealism. From the viewpoint created by Pop art, though, earlier treatments of this problem seem emphatic in the adherence to the Romantic idea of the transformative power of authentic art. The anaesthetic is transformed as art, but along the fracture-line of shock. The shock caused by the appearance of the anaesthetic in a serious work is calmed by the aura of seriousness itself.”

p. 266

Photography as viable art (origins)

“dragging its heavy burden of depiction, photography could not follow pure, or linguistic, Conceptualism all the way to the frontier.” “In this light, it could be said that it was photography’s role and task to turn away from Conceptual art, away from reductivism and its aggressions. Photoconceptualism was then the last moment of the pre-history of photography as art, the end of the Old Regime, the most sustained and sophisticated attempt to free the medium from its peculiar distanced relationship with artistic radicalism and from its ties to the Western Picture. In its failure to do so, it revolutionized our concept of the Picture and created the conditions for the restoration of that concept as a central category of contemporary art by around 1974.”


Vik Muniz, Spiral Jetty after Robert Smithson, from the series Brooklyn, NY, 1997; Collection SFMOMA



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s