Charlotte Cotton in conversation with Aaron Schuman


General Photography




There is a wonderful piece over at FOAM’s What’s Next?, Charlotte Cotton in conversation with Aaron Schuman (now re-published on Aaron’s Seesaw Magazine). (more)

You definitely want to read the full piece, but here are some selected highlights:

Here’s Charlotte talking about the idea of photography and democracy:

“One way that you could define photography in terms of democracy is that anyone can make a picture; billions are made every year, so it’s clearly very easy, and I’m happy to admit that photography is very democratic in terms of its rendering. But as a meaningful cultural force it should not be described as being democratic, because culture is a process of defining what’s good - what’s resonant - and that’s not determined by a democratic or even an empirical system. So I’m not happy with the idea that, just because it’s easy to render a photographic image, anyone can make a great, culturally resonant photograph. Those processes are not democratic; at some point there is an elitism involved, and I think that such elitism is only a problem if you think in terms of its high-art version, in which there are millions of reasons why you might not be allowed entry into that world. But a group of people who all really get the same thing - whether its photography, or music, or skateboarding, or whatever form of collective culture - if that’s elitist, it’s in an entirely different league. It’s about self-elected elitism rather than the elitism of an establishment.”

Aaron about photographic genius:

“The super-ego-driven, ‘genius’ aspect of photography seems to be evaporating. Yes, people are still canonized - which I’m just as guilty of participating in as anybody, and there are certainly figures in the medium whom I think are deserving of such a distinction - but the notion that canonization is the primary driving factor for living, working practitioners is becoming irrelevant. To be honest, I think that phase in photography went by pretty quickly - before 1965 it wasn’t really an option, and now it’s collapsing, so it only really lasted three or four decades. And to a certain extent, that’s a relief to me, because I feel that people can now get on with the business of making work that that is really important to them, rather than trying to satisfy a very narrow marketplace, or chasing fame and glory.”

Aaron on photography itself:

“This medium is rapidly becoming one that parallels the written word in many ways - it’s embedding itself within culture, and within digital culture in particular, as an important form of communication, with its own vocabularies and variations, its own visual languages, dialects, grammars, accents, applications, and so on. But when people choose to study subjects that centre on the written word […] their intention is not always to be the next great novelist, philosopher or epic poet; their interested in trying to understand how a particular medium has been used to communicate ideas. If this approach could be applied to the photographic medium, both in terms of its historical and critical studies and in relation to students’ own practice, it could be incredibly liberating. Instead of it being a discipline, photography could become a fully-fledged subject. I think that expectations would change dramatically if it was approached in this way, but of course it’s scary for institutions to promote a visual medium as something other than ‘Art’. For me, it possesses incredible promise as a subject - just because it’s a visual discipline doesn’t mean that it has to sit exclusively within a fine-art educational construct or context.”

Charlotte on success:

“The issue of, ‘Where’s my round of applause?’ or ‘Where’s the reflected glory?’ is something that we answer very differently depending on who we are. They’re questions that we all ask ourselves, but we each find solace in different places. So ultimately, if your solace comes from a paternalistic structure - ‘Dad’ - that is going to pat you on the back, than of course it’s a shocking to think that Dad might no longer exist. But if you’re like me and don’t give a shit about Dad, then it’s really up to all of us who still care about photography to give ourselves a pat on the back, firstly for simply being here at this amazing moment. For people who make experimental work or like pulling out a really funky edit of found images, the thrill is not that some esteemed museum might put it in a display case. It’s about the twenty people that you meet who go, ‘I totally got what you were doing.’”