I'm getting sick of picture-perfect pictures. Slickness is not a virtue. When I was an undergrad and studying photography, I had perfection and rigid rules rammed down my throat. It was like being a goose whose liver was being fattened for foie gras. There we all sat, young and impressionable artists, while they stuffed this and that down our gullets. It pretty much ruined me for photography for about twenty years. I'm just now recovering.
SFMOMA currently has a photography show that, when I saw it a couple weeks ago, significantly affected me. Called [New Topographics: Pictures of a Man-Altered Landscape], its roots were in a show of the same name that was held at George Eastman House, in Rochester, NY back in 1975. That was when and where I was studying photography, learning how to make the picture-perfect picture. I remember this show when it first debuted. I remember being befuddled by it, not understanding how it was changing photography. Sadly, I was stuck in the paradigm of advertising, fashion, and portrait photography. For me, it was the status quo, the classic structure of the academy vs the avante garde. In my world, the avante garde was losing. The academy had me by the throat.
No longer under the spell of the strutting, tenured professors of my youth, seeing the show at this point in my life was a revelation. This was photography on the edge of something new. It was the end of the classical, structured theme, and the start of Conceptualism. The images are still fresh and vital some thirty-five years later, so much more interesting and provocative than the photography we see on a daily basis.
There is this tree in our local park that I photograph regularly. Each time I look at it, I try to see it in a new way. After viewing the New Topographics show I realized that the tree and I were in a rut. I needed to look at it from a new perspective. I needed to go to the other side. So, I walked away from it, far away from it, and looked back. The result is not picture-perfect and, today, it is just what I wanted. It really has nothing to do with the theme of New Topographics but that show broke something wide open for me. It showed me a new way to see. That's what great art can do for us.