Contemporary Art Photographers Mess With the Medium

Anxiety? Fetish? Picture-prone artists are loving themselves some process.

Sometimes, however, the boundaries get blurred. In his show at Greenberg Van Doren (730 Fifth Avenue, through October 24), Tim Davis includes a photograph taken with a large-format camera of a scratched up, graffiti-riddled fresco in Italy—reminiscent, interestingly, of Ruby's digitally collaged images of Italian graffiti at MOMA. Both seem to circle around questions of image, inscription, history, and artifact. And yet Davis is an artist who works very much in the peripatetic, social-critique tradition of Frank; he even did a road-trip project that resulted in his own version of The Americans, titled My Life in Politics.

The photography of cruelty, perhaps: Sterling Ruby's Artaud, 2007
Sterling Ruby
The photography of cruelty, perhaps: Sterling Ruby's Artaud, 2007

So does it matter how either of these artists made their photographs? Or has process become the new (or revived) fetish of photography, something to occupy us now that the bickering over whether photography is art has died down? Except that another question looms, both on the pages of Words Without Pictures and elsewhere. Actually, it's an old one, but it's carrying new, post-digital baggage: What, in 2009, is a photograph?

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