Renata Bartusevičiūtė, 2011-11-15

In brief: The death of photography, its decline and extinction were discussed many times but all those talks were empty. Photography participates in public and personal life so actively as never before. It documents the face of society and also creates its identity. What is contemporary photography and how could we find art in it?

The artistic value of photography is doubted in public space when the concept of romantic, realistic and modern photography is questioned. According to Skirmantas Valiulis, ‘modernism grew in Lithuanian photography very slowly and postmodernism came late, only after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The strong impulse to go deep into life, observe the human beings and their environment, search for a sensitive relation with the photographed object remained in the subconscious of the classics of our photography. The postmodern aesthetics did not put the shade on that attraction.’ (From Valiulis S., Žvirgždas, S. (2006). Fotografijos slėpiniai II. Vilnius: Lietuvos fotomenininkų sąjunga, p.123).

This could be one of the reasons why postmodern works are often rejected or non-perceived by the lovers of photography. Contemporary photography tries to demolish the conventional virtues, traditional hierarchy of cultural values. Postmodern photography speaks about the non-perfect, the available, local, temporary and onetime.  It provokes us deliberately and aims to deny the definition of art, formulated institutionally.

Trying to answer, what the contemporary photography is, postmodernism and its influence cannot be avoided. The postmodern attitude towards photography is formulated as an opposition to the concept of art’s authenticity and oneness. The question of representation is analysed, related to reproduction, copy and copy of the copy. A photograph is perceived as an image, a repeated representation of what is already seen. It means that the original cannot exist. This assumption is one of the biggest challenges to the lovers of classical photography because it negates the existence of the ‘aura of art’. A photographer is understood not as a creator of original art objects but as a recorder of cultural forms and representations that already exist. Phenomena of postmodernism still have a lot of influence on the concept of contemporary photography, though its realization changed dramatically since the 80s.

Photography is related to the depiction of reality and perceived as a reflection of the real world rather than imagination, besides this genre is tend to lay claim to objectivity, compared to any other kind of art. True, the word ‘reality’, talking about today’s photography, has expanded its field of meaning. Contemporary photography was integrated into the market actively and the abundance of images has overfilled our conscious and unconscious. It becomes harder and harder to determine, which photographs have artistic value and which ones just try to imitate it.

No matter what trend the artistic photography belongs to, its characters are always individualities, while promotional or commercial photography creates a global portrait and images that are understandable and acceptable by everyone. In artistic photography the social portrait is presented, where the belonging to the society, one or another culture, subculture is more important than individual features or emotions, experiences of human beings. Social photography is now very popular and it affects those viewers, who crave for art that would not only harmonise and meet the expectations of classical aesthetics but also would make us analyse and evaluate ourselves and the environment, would ask new questions and leave us to search for answers.

Artistic photography is characterized by the originality and novelty by the author in the period of postmodernism. New technologies let these attitudes develop and escape the concept of classical photography, experiment with new techniques and create a new aesthetic reality. Postmodern photography reacts to the social and cultural artefacts much stronger than the classical one.

Mindaugas Kavaliauskas, photographer and organiser of Kaunas Photo festival, agrees that photography is different compared to the one ten years ago. ‘Melted in the multimedia, it gave a part of its identity to computer art, installations, performance. Photography is less dead than reproduced; also many spheres of life and creation are reproduced into photography. Everything is repetition, usage, imitation, cloning. Reproduction became a norm; mixed techniques, diluted outlooks result in images attracting the eye and thought. All the beauty of contemporary photography is external’. (From Kavaliauskas, M. (2009). Kaunas Photo Recycled: Devynios fotografijos pamokos. Šviesos raštas - LFS Kauno sk.).

It is hard or impossible to define contemporary photography in terms of classical aesthetics and there are not many categories or concepts that could analyse it. Sometimes it seems that contemporary photography aim to negate all the aesthetic qualities, peculiarities and forms of art. That is the new aesthetic reality of postmodern photography.

The representative of Lithuanian photography school, photographer Romualdas Rakauskas admits that photography has changed beyond recognition: ‘It is natural but painful that there is no humanity and warmth anymore. No basic aesthetic qualities, no spiritual virtues. Alas, every time requires it language: some period needed humanism and warmness, another one – aesthetics of boredom.’

All the pure arts, including photography, assimilated and fused into other forms. Many criteria no longer fit artistic photography. It justifies almost all shapes and means; conceptualism is superior.

To conclude, postmodernism came into Lithuanian photography and asked the same questions that have been tried to be answered in the West for three decades already. Contemporary photography is considered to be as a reproduction, it aims to question and demolish the concepts of authenticity and the ‘artistic aura’. New and radical strategy of postmodernism shocked everyone in the 80’s and 90’s but now it does not look so innovative in the global context. The question is raised, how long the postmodern photography will try to deny the possibilities of originality and novelty for, how long the creative strategy that repeats already discovered and realized conceptions, will be interesting to the world of art.



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