A Random Walk: Some Reflections on Photographic Research
A Selection of Photograph Research Centers
COLIN L. WESTERBECK, JR.
When a colleague and I were doing research recently at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, we began by going through the entire catalogue of photographs. Each card represents one photograph, and affixed to the upper right-hand corner is a tiny photostat of the image itself.
The content of a photograph is like the content of a poem: its objects are of the world, and cannot be absolutely abstracted from their meanings within the world. At the same time, they make up new content, a fiction, one that will not be described by saying, for example, that "this is a picture of three people on a bench in Central Park.
I carry an image—no, a whole gestalt, with sight and sound and smell and sense of time—around with me. It's the mid-1950s in Los Angeles. My father is a jack-of-all-trades commercial artist, and he has learned from his education at the Cleveland Art Institute and from his experience in the trade that all good art shares common denominators: compositional balance, color harmony, and technical competence. The first means a sense of framing or cropping, the second, modulated colors contraposed in hot-cold dichotomies, and the last, neatness and detail.
"Formalism is everything," Jan Groover says, and confuses us. Can she be serious? Her medium is as wedded to content as language is. Photography is too specific, too descriptive to reduce the world to pure form without looking forced or faked.
Much about Laurie Anderson's presentation of her work, which combines photography with printed and spoken words as well as background sounds, distracts the viewer from the photographs themselves and, seemingly, from the problems of photography.
Private notations. Beaton: infatuated with beautiful things. Some would say this is his weakness; maybe it is. The photographs are soaked in nostalgia. What kind of nostalgia? A nostalgia that draws us in. A nostalgia full of nuances, shades of meaning ... Beaton's photographs deserve another look; but the case for them must not be argued too hard.
No longer does an object, by crossing the trajectories of its outer edges within the iris, project a badly inverted image on the surface. The photographer has invented a new method: he presents to space an image that exceeds it, and the air, with its clenched fists and superior intelligence, seizes it and holds it next to its heart.
Laurie Anderson. A performance artist living in New York, Laurie Anderson is currently at work on her piece United States, Parts 1-4, which will be performed in New York in late fall 1981 and throughout the United States thereafter. In mid-February 1982 the Cologne City Orchestra and the Stuttgart Opera Orchestra, in conjunction with the German-American Festival, will perform a new piece she is now composing.