Reflection: Conceptual photography

My interpretation of the genre terminology 'conceptual photography' is that of an artistic theory that acts as a framework to which a photograph (or series of) adheres to. Conceptual frameworks have at heart the desire to explore singular ideas; be it to subvert an existing theory or to illustrate a new one. This is in contrast to the desire in other genres to pursue or create narratives. The theory underpins everything and takes precedence over craft and story. Positives for conceptual photography include the evolution of ideas and helps to distill them into a into a concise format to explore, essentially setting ones own boundaries. Conversely it can be perceived as displaced from daily life and narcissistic. Conceptual photography can also court controversy in striving for attention or deliberate provocation. Its place in art history coincides with photography increasingly entering the museum place and thus falls into the realm of "...the machinery of art history and museology,” (Crimp, 1993, p.107). This creates an elitist or hierarchical view that the concepts need intelligence to be understood.

I believe concepts to be as simple as conscious choices. One beneficial use of a concept as an artist is to be able to articulate your vision and not have it retrospectively assigned or misrepresented by 'specialists'. I would regard this as an important point. It is an individualist genre that does not have the artist situated amongst a period or movement such as Picasso and Cubism. Being conceptual places the individual photographer in the position of author of his/her own manifesto. A causality to being individualist is that in order to be seen amongst the crowd, it becomes more necessary to be different, controversial or provocative.

I enjoyed looking into Suzanne Mooney's work. Her series The Edge of Collapse makes me recall the work of Alexander Rodchenko and the collage of the 1920-1930's. Mooney is a positive response to a concern raised; that previous styles and genres could be 'consigned to the dustin', that they can be re-contextualised for a contemporary subject in a conceptual way.

Fig. 1.  In Praise of Shadow 980726  (1998)

Fig. 1. In Praise of Shadow 980726 (1998)

At the risk of repeating myself I site Hiroshi Sugimoto as a contemporary conceptualist. Again my main take away from Sugimoto is the balance between theory and craft. Amongst the array of works that Sugimoto has produced, they embody the standard use of genre, such as portrait, still life or tableaux with a specific interest. The series In Praise of Shadow (see fig. 1.) is a still life study on the life of a candle. The overriding theory of his work is the understanding of time, but the ability to consider it from a variety of subjects and points of view is what draws me to works that I might not find initially engaging.


Crimp, D (1995) On the Museums Ruins. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Moore, S (no date) Available at: (Accessed on 03.09.18).

Sugimoto, H (no date) Available at: (Accessed on 03.09.18).

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Sugimoto, H (1998) In Praise of Shadow 980726 [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 03.09.18)