A Biennial in a Book

100 Photographers Share a Virtual Exhibition Space

At the end of the book, each of Blink's curators is given space for a brief personal statement. To help "locate the photographers' work within current debates," according to editor Carver, they were also invited to select a pertinent text—"a recent piece of writing which has struck a chord with their experience of photography." Since the curators annotate each of their selections with descriptive assessments, readers will have already had a taste of their prose style—sometimes punchy, sometimes pungent, rarely off-putting—but those short paragraphs don't really prepare us for the shock of confronting their more generalized opinions head-on. To be fair, most of their statements are modest and thoughtful, full of enthusiasm for the work they've brought to the mix and optimism about the state of the medium. "This is a golden age for photography," Watriss asserts, comparing current "dynamism" with the fervor of the '20s and '30s, when Bauhaus, constructivism, futurism, and surrealism coexisted with engaged photojournalism and classic modernism. "We live in uncertain times," Alasdair Foster, director of the Australian Centre for Photography, begins, but that's a good thing: "In an age of uncertainty, ambiguity becomes insight; reality is found in paradox; and truth becomes relative." Fontcuberta argues that "in an age marked by the predominance of . . . images conceived in terms of spectacle, propaganda or consumption, it is well worth restoring a certain ethical sense to the image."

Multiple, ambivalent, contradictory: Samuel Fosso's The Pirate (1997)
photo: Blink/Phaidon Press
Multiple, ambivalent, contradictory: Samuel Fosso's The Pirate (1997)

But however direct and appealing their approach to these personal statements, many of the curators go on to choose texts of such dismaying opacity that few are worth reading all the way through. Frisinghelli's selection—an essay by Christian Höller whose title, "Image Work: The Symbol-Political Dimension of Contemporary Image Production," should be fair warning—is perhaps the most egregious, but far too many of these pieces are exercises in the academic absurd. All the jargon and slippery thinking I was relieved not to find in the previous 418 pages erupts here in a thick sludge. Freedman's choice—succinct excerpts from Arundhati Roy's vividly written The God of Small Things—is a welcome relief, but Watriss provides the best antidote to all the self-important nonsense in the form of a conversation between photographer Vik Muniz (one of her 10 choices) and curator Charles Stainback. Even though Muniz is talking primarily about his own work, his remarks are illuminating and instructive. "Reality or representation?" he asks, touching on a key concern for contemporary photographers. "As soon as I discovered how similar these two notions are once they become visual information, I began to feel more comfortable using this polarity to my advantage." Rather than tangling us up in cant, Muniz connects impulse to image, and helps put Blink back on solid ground, where it began.

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