Concrete for Young Curators
Most of the photography curators are dead or, at least, retired. They were the people with a deeply studied perspective on photography, its history, its traditions, and its possibilities. They could look at a photograph and know how to read it, or they would figure it out. In this, the curators were not alone. Viewers at large were capable , even eager to study a photograph and satisfy themselves as to why the photo existed, be it for emotional, informative, or esthetic reasons.
All that seems to have changed. Today’s curators are too young to have experience with photographic traditions and too accustomed to mass media and marketing to take the time to read a photograph. To a person, these youthful gatekeepers are not interested in photographs but in story. Stories of disaster, injustice, or deep seated traumas, be it the subject’s or the photographer’s. Without that accompanying story, these people are lost, and so is the path from creation to public attention.
I came up in a tradition of getting it right or doing it over untl it worked. Doing it right meant no explanation was necessary. Requiring explanation was failure. To me, explanation is synonomous to apology, as in, “this isn’t my best work, but…” I also learned about levels of abstraction. The thing is concrete; a picture is abstract, and words are more abstract. Why, therefore, would I want to explain a photograph with words? To quote Milan Kundera,
“What is essential in a [work] is precisely what can only be expressed in that [piece of work], and so every adaptation contains nothing but the non-essential.”