Photographic Perplexity

Lately my brain has been grappling with questions surrounding photography and artistic practice. No, I’m not going to say ‘photography isn’t art’, but I do wonder ‘when is photography art?’ 

In part this came about after browsing through the catalogue for the Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Photography Award. Among the shortlisted entries was an image of the work Full Bloom by Queensland artist Mari Hirata. The photograph is a composition of repetitive sculptural forms that are constructed from white high-heel shoes. The forms themselves are intriuging – the shoes not instantly recognisable, resembling the petals of strange flowers floating against a black background.

It took me by surprise – isn’t the subject itself the actual artwork? The clever sculptures could easily hold their own as objects and I wonder why the artist takes the further step of photographing them. Is it ease of transport? Salability? Or does the photograph somehow validate the objects and the process?

It is a similar situation with the recent work of Maria Fernanda Cardoso, seen at Grantpirrie in Sydney. Alongside her spectacular sculptures and wearable forms (made entirely of emu), Cardoso presented photographic images of those same pieces, as worn by a model. These slick images are effective documentation and in an exhibition setting they do increase the audience’s understanding of the work, but are they artworks in their own right? Apparently so, being that they are sold as such.

I always believed that a good photograph should cause us to acknowledge something that we may not otherwise notice. It should be able to stand alone, without explanation. It should alter our perception of a person, place or thing. I should  isolate and illustrate  a moment in time that will never pass again, for in the right person’s hands a camera can capture the imperceptible.

So when a photograph is a reproduction of a place, person, object or a performance that exists or existed without consideration to the camera, is that image purely a record, proof of that occurrence? Or is it art?

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