introduction
The earliest essays in this volume were written at a time when photography
was generally, but not universally, considered to be a discrete artistic medium.
However, the most recent essays, including this introduction, were completed
at a time when the boundaries that separate photography from other forms
of artistic production are anything but clear. These essays span about twenty
years of photography criticism, and all were written after the publication of my
previous book on photography (Photography at the Dock, 1991). As originally
conceived, this volume, like the previous one, was to be “about photography,”
but many of my essays written in the 1990s and after (particularly those dealing
with contemporary art or women artists), are not medium specific, even if the
artists discussed often used photography as one of their mediums (e.g., Ana
Mendieta, Birgit Jürgenssen, Walid Raad, and Alfredo Jaar). Necessarily, then,
these were excluded from consideration, but in keeping with larger changes in
the art and photography world, it is clear that medium specificity is no longer
an adequate organizing principle in contemporary visual culture. For these
and other reasons, compiling a collection of essays that respects the category
“photography” as the object of criticism seems itself anachronistic, even if the
essays seek to engage with larger questions that arise in a given body of work.
Clearly, there are those who deplore the eclipse of medium specificity as
the foundation of artistic practice, but whatever the nature of the various ar-
guments, there can be little dispute about current “facts on the ground.” As
abundantly demonstrated in current practice, “medium” has become variously
hybridized, problematized, or even dematerialized. Which is not to deny the
enduring presence of those whose work remains rooted in formalist paradigms
or other modernist forms of art photography. Such work does not seem to
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