More Surveillance

Another artist’s work I came across at the Tate Surveillance show was that of Oliver Lutz.  Lutz, like Pechlan, calls himself an artist rather than a photographer.  He works in several media, from drawing to installation to photography.

Detail of CCTV image of The Lynching of Leo Frank © Oliver Lutz 2009

His work is participatory though.  And I thought it was absolutely brilliant.  When you walk into Room 10 of the exhibition, you are overwhelmed by a gigantic black shining flat piece on the wall.  Whoa!  I thought.  I had to back up and see what I could see…nothing.  Wait…it has to be something!

Then as you turn around, away from the black canvas, err, painting based on a photograph, you realize the entirety of the work.

Now I met Sandra Phillips, the curator of the show that is at the Tate, and lead curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  I met her in Madrid at PhotoEspana.  I showed her my work, including the miniature version of the opening frame revealing the landmine underneath.  Her impression of the work, to me, was that she didn’t quite get it.  Maybe it was jet lag or maybe she needed to see a full scale version instead of the miniature (15″ x 12″) version I brought with me.  At any rate I got an impression from her that she didn’t think of it as photography.  She claimed it was participatory, which, yes, it is, and that it was performance art, therefore not photography.  “But these are photographs?!?!”  She then asked if I came from a theater background.  Huh?  Then my 20 minutes were up.  Great.

That led me to think, why the label?  Why must photography have to consist of a picture hanging on a wall and that’s it?  Obviously she felt that Lutz’s work, however participatory it is, was photographic enough (even though on the surface it’s a black shining surface, and the actual seen image is a painting that is based on a photograph) to be in the same exhibition as photographs from more traditional artists that click a shutter, develop an image (whether it be digitally or analog), and hang that image on a wall.

And this brings me back to what Lutz and Paglen say about themselves.  That they are “artists” first and photographs are the medium they are using in this instance.  Great.  I get it and I think that’s fantastic but I felt from speaking with Sandra that because I have yet to be accepted as an artist I have to declare myself a photographer first?  Isn’t this backwards?  It is only until the public accepts your work as “art” that you have the ability to transcend the medium, photography, and be an artist?  And that, makes my head hurt thinking of things in that regard.  Aren’t we all artists first and foremost and photography is the medium we use?  Many of my friends will use other medium to portray their thoughts.  I already know plenty of writers that play music, photographers who write and photographers who paint and painters that sculpt.  So why the label dammit?



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