After reading this interesting article by Arthur Danto about the MoMA Jeff Wall show it occured to me what really confused me about discussions like this one (and many others I’ve seen recently): Reviewers and writers often spend considerable time on explaining why certain photography in fact isn’t really photography but, instead, painting or cinema. It’s almost like these reviewers and writers restrict photography to something that, in essence, is really quite mundane, and whenver a photographer falls outside of that mundane, then it’s not photography any longer. So we are told we are looking at a photo by Jeff Wall, but it isn’t really a photo, because a photo can’t possibly have the complexity that we see (some of the discussion of Andreas Gursky’s work falls into the same category). I can’t accept this, and I think part of it might be a generational issue: I never grew up thinking that photography’s role is restricted to the mundane.
It’s interesting how this whole complex has so many facets - just look at how people use “photography” and “painting”, with the latter always treated like a true art form, whereas the former still always can’t really be because… Yes, why? Maybe it is not because there is something inherent in photography that makes it more simplistic than painting but, instead, because we think there is.
Having said this, I think the one big step that is still missing for contemporary photography really to become an established and accepted art form is to get full acceptance for it, so that people might say how similar some photography is to painting (just like a movie might be poetic, or a symphony might evoke images), but they won’t write any longer that some photographer’s work really isn’t photography but painting or cinema.