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The farce of photography’s limits

Have you ever seen or read the claim that photographer X is pushing “photography to its limits by…” title? Has it ever frustrated you? It seems to be a trend with most galleries and art critics who are advertising a photographer’s new body of work, and it’s completely frustrating.

Photography, in retrospect, is still quite a new language. Its position in the art world is still shaky because there are so many emergent forms of photography that it’s challenging to place the entirety of photography into the category “art” the same way you can paintings.

There will always be the delineation between a landscape painting and a landscape photo, but the difference between them is, one stems from the imagination, while the other supplies you with fact via choice. It’s this limitation of photography which causes the offset of the definition “art”.

Photography’s limits will only be pushed when we uncover something that transcends its current state and ability, not a new technique, or some unique style of the photo which take our breath away.

Something, however, which is becoming totally intolerable is as photography works to establish its foundations in its various sub-genre, many may feel that we’re already finding stagnation in what we can do. Each sub-genre of photography has established its benchmarks, its idolised ‘greats’, and the associated following. As such, the following works to maintain or achieve the standard set by the acceptance of mastery.

Now, I’m not saying this is all we can do with photography, instead, we are still finding our feet with it and what is and isn’t acceptable at various levels. Photography doesn’t have the rich history that painting does, and as such needs time to settle as it has yet to find its great place among the other arts we fascinate over.

On a daily basis, however, I see the following articles and posts appear about on media and social media; “Photographer X is pushing the limits of photography with this new…” which nearly always turns out to either be a continuation of current or even a sub-par attempt at photography but defined as ‘new’, or a very contemporary attempt to celebrate photography within its present limits. This isn’t pushing any new boundaries of photography, it’s actually a continuation of the foundations being built for photography currently. Photography doesn’t yet have the history available to it for anything to be “pushed beyond its limits.”

Photography doesn’t yet have the history available to it for anything to be “pushed beyond its limits.”

Now, I’m not here to argue semantics, or defend the “sanctity of photography” — needless to say, the concept of the definition is a farce no less, but I do want to ensure the following is established. Photography doesn’t yet have the history available to it for anything to be “pushed beyond its limits.” Anything that’s being done now is still part of the establishing foundations.

Don’t get me wrong here either, I love photography dearly, but photography remains at best, in the words of Sontag, “loose cooperation between photographer and subject […]mediated by a machine.” In recognition of the previous definition, I merely wish to enhance peoples understanding of this matter and argue against the notion that the limits to photography are being pushed because someone added a new technique to the photo-development process which obtains the label “new”.

This is not accurate and is frustrating to read as it dilutes the truth and maintains an omission to the truly arbitrary nature of photography and its critical requirement in our society. Photography’s limits will only be pushed when we uncover something that transcends its current state and ability, not a new technique, or some unique style of the photo which take our breath away.

Two Sides — Ed Fetahovic

Furthermore, there is a fundamental and underlying issue with the reality of photography and its limits, in that, we reward photographs taken by photographers which represent a component of the humanistic condition which we can anthropomorph into this abstract notion we have called “understanding”.

But the fundamental issue with photography in this sense, is the photographer did not create the human, or structure, or flower or animal that he photographs. Why therefore are they/we rewarded with this notion of glory? Do we really value the ability to represent objects in omission and presence as a transcended skill? Until this issue is resolved, photography will not progress, as it stands merely as an individualist interpretation of anthropomorphised ambiguity of our known human condition.

When a photo is taken, the outcome is an argument that the picture represents an object of importance and value and needs to be shown, in contrast to everything else around it

But beyond that, we must recognise that the function of photography and the behaviour of a photographer is to selectively omit and display subject matter of occurrence (rather than of composition) and in line with their choices. That is to say that photographers function under the self-illusion of choice.

When a photo is taken, the outcome is an argument that the picture represents an object of importance and value and needs to be shown, in contrast to everything else around it. In short, photography has no limit to be pushed, because, in a holistic sense, photography stands for nothing but the definition of behaviour. The photographer, in existence, defines his photograph through their selective creation via a machine, and displays them in so choosing how and where; so what limit is there to push?

If one argues that the subject and narrative of photography is limited and needs to be push, I merely say that photographing or displaying photographs beyond the elements of what exists around us is pointless, because we only know that which is around us. Humans can only define themselves by the constructs of our history and society while traversing the ever-moving present. So if photography where to be pushed beyond it’s boundaries, our existence itself would need to transcend beyond its borders to further the choices photographers can make about the reality we’re surrounded by. Beyond this, the limits of photography do not exist as the definition of photography falls to behaviour and choice of an outcome; the photo choice itself.

~ Ed

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