Reflection: The Emperors New Clothes

For this exercise I am going to use the example of Bloomberg & Chanarin. As they represent much of what I have been exploring more in Part 2. Namely confronting art or artists that initially aggravate me. When reflecting earlier on the examples from the genre Conceptual Photography, I saw the response of Sean O’Hagan, art critic for The Guardian and Observer to B&C’s work The Day Nobody Died (see fig. 1.). Like O’Hagan my threshold for self-righteous grandstanding was crossed when I learned the concept behind the work. Writing later in The Guardian, he sums it up perfectly saying “The phrase "when viewed from the right perspective" is crucial here, suggesting that there is only one "right perspective" – their own.” (O’Hagan, 2011).

 Fig. 1.  The Day Nobody Died  (2008)

Fig. 1. The Day Nobody Died (2008)

Amongst the arrogance is a lack of self-awareness. For whatever their intentions to critique ‘the system’, in using it before finally leaving it with egg on it face, did they consider the fallout of that for others with more honest intentions of change? Institutions can become more entrenched when embarrassed. Was this narcissistic? Pretentious? Or like O’Hagan’s question; “is the work they produce a serious critique of traditional photojournalism or another example of how photography is in danger of disappearing up its own postmodern backside in its attempts to interrogate itself?” Thinking a minute, to me both.

I didn't expect to find myself pivoting on this view. And in a way I haven’t. I still disagree with the execution of The Day Nobody Died but on one hand, having variation in points of view and execution of a subject; artistic - technological, photojournalism - citizen-journalism, right-wing - left-wing is while challenging, ultimately more informative.

On the other, for the greater general public, B&C would benefit from using less pretentious language which only serves to further alienate the viewer. And their own institutional embedding within the art market evokes further thoughts of self-serving provocation rather than philanthropy. Maybe the institutions they align with expect shock and awe. Maybe it is expected of B&C so in the end are they any more free of Plato’s Cave than the average Joe?

Now climbing off my soap box, like O’Hagan I can separate my opinion on one piece of work and not allow myself to so easily dismiss B&C outright. Some of their other projects such as the recent Spirit is a Bone I find interesting. They worked with facial recognition engineers on what they call ‘non-collaborative portraits’, a process of surveillance in which portraits are constructed, both without consent of the model, nor are we aware of them being composited. The results are a contemporary digital ode to August Sanders’s people survey’s with a creepy Orwellian subtext.

 Fig. 2.  Toyota, Gap, Honda, Hummer, American Landscapes  (2009)

Fig. 2. Toyota, Gap, Honda, Hummer, American Landscapes (2009)

The series American Landscapes (see fig. 2.) is personally engaging at a time I am working in my own studio space for my shadowgram studies. This series is not provocative regarding photojournalism, war or religion, subjects B&C have confronted with critical acclaim (and criticism). But it does resonate with me in a contemporary context. Which in my own conclusion of B&C, is the real benefit of a broad portfolio. I may not like all of their work but there is still something intriguing within their career that helps me get the point of it.


References

Broomberg and Chanarin (no date) Available at: http://www.broombergchanarin.com (Accessed on 27.10.18)

O’Hagan, S (2011) ‘Turning photojournalism upside down’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/19/broomberg-chanarin-photojournalism-war (Accessed on 27.10.18)

O’Hagan, S (2013) ‘Negative humanity: the birth of the digital death mask’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/05/digital-death-mask-photography-broomberg-and-chanarin-spirit-is-a-bone (Accessed on 27.10.18)

Tate (2013) ‘Points of memory: Broomberg and Chanarin’ In: Tate Etc [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/points-memory-broomberg-and-chanarin (Accessed on 27.10.18)


List of illustrations

Figure 1. Broomberg, A & Chanarin, O (2008) The Day Nobody Died [Photograph] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/points-memory-broomberg-and-chanarin (Accessed on 27.10.18)

Figure 2. Broomberg, A & Chanarin, O (2009) Toyota, Gap, Honda, Hummer, American Landscapes [Photograph] At: http://www.broombergchanarin.com/#/american-landscapes/ (Accessed on 27.10.18)