The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Book

As this book by Charlotte Cotton (coincidentally interviewed in the April 2017 issue of British Journal of Photography) came with the course materials, and appears in the list of essential reading, I thought I should probably read this before anything else.

It is a bit of a breathless read as it careers full pelt through the very wide field of what amounts to art photography.  Whilst it clearly seeks to be comprehensive it came across to me as unfortunately somewhat shallow, perhaps inevitably as a result of trying to cram so much into a relatively short book, hampered all the more by the decision to include just one work for each artist (apart from a few who get a couple more), and none at all for some of those that are mentioned.  That latter aspect I found particularly unhelpful – it would have been interesting, and no doubt enlightening to see there work as well but it was rarely possible to sit in front of a computer while reading to check up on the ‘unillustrated’.

At times I found the reading a little heavy going because of the use of what I still regard as a somewhat strained form of ‘art speak’.  Whilst I understand that certain forms of academic discourse can aid clarity I did wonder from time to time why some of the concepts and ideas being discussed could not be expressed in more straightforward and less tortuous terms.  Perhaps this is a result of my background as a lawyer where clarity of expression is all important and is more usually achieved by keeping things simple.  (I know that a lot of legal documents can appear to be impenetrable to the layperson, and yes, I do have a grievance with that!) Maybe it is something the I will get used to over time.

Why some work appears under one category (some of which I felt a little arbitrary, if not contrived, but that is I guess an inherent problem whenever trying to taxonomies anything) rather than another puzzled me a little.  Perhaps the constraints of the chosen format of this book make it difficult to deal adequately with and do justice to works that cross boundaries and categories.

(A minor quibble but some of the sub-editing leaves something to be desired, not least the reference at one point to “astrological” that should clearly have been “astronomical”.)

I think the most important thing for me about this book, which is very much a positive, is that it does in a relatively short book give a good overview of the bewildering diversity of contemporary approaches to photography as art.  It is definitely going to be worth dipping back into from time to time in search of ideas and inspiration.

Cotton, C, (2004). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London:Thames & Hudson.

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