Christopher Healey

Some thoughts on the art and idea of photography

One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.

For example, I read some very compelling arguments about how everything from the 1939 British Monarchy visiting Canada shaped the CBC’s style, to an eccentric French nobleman from 1583 invented the way we use social media today. I have now seen an overview of communications theory that I recognize in the art world. I have researched new media art work and community projects that I never knew existed and push me to deeper into the rabbit hole of my own studio ambitions. I’ve learned new words and have had some great conversations. Sure beats making animated gif ad banners for blogs.
Research at this level is very rigorous and any sloppy or unfounded  aspects of your argument can be met with, at best, derision and mocking to, at worst, expulsion and scowls for life. Good. I mean, we must be paying all this money for exactly this sort of thing, right?
However, it is a good thing to have a blog in these cases so one can just spit out some ideas that 1) have no references or basis in demonstrated fact that appear in a lazy top 10 results on Google 2) are more speculative and initiative than even “East Sweat Sock U” would allow and 3) probably has already been written about by someone, and that someone is probably smarter, a better writer and better looking than me. Certainly slimmer. Not may giant academics out there but I imagine there are a few in Viking countries, but I don’t know why. This is an example of a statement that belongs on a blog rather than in an assignment or conference paper. Maybe.
Anyways. I have had some thoughts about photography since I am in a photography class and am hearing a lot of what photographers are telling about what photography is. Those who know me know I don’t think the experts in any field are the best judges of what they are doing or why. Forest versus the tree thing. Those who come fresh to a scene can see things others can’t, often quickly.
So with that faint justification, I’ll jot down a few thoughts I’ve had about photography recently.

1. There is no such thing as photography

We are not talking about the same thing when we discuss photography. What your grandparents had in the family album is not the same thing you see uploaded to Facebook. What Edward Burtynsky hangs in a gallery is not the same thing as the selfie someone uploads to Twitter, in the same way War and Peace is not the same thing as a stop sign. The technology, uses, functions and underlying philosophies differ so greatly, we may as well refer to anything that arrives through the post office as “mail” as opposed to what it is i.e. a cheque or a book or birthday card. Yet at one point these all arrived as the same thing (mail) through a certain frame (postal service), as do photos through a lens.

2. Imagery is primarily physical

I thought this when learning about what the fashion magazine and advertising industry does when treating photographs of models. I realized that this treatment, which is a controversial topic of oppression by unnatural body proportions, to me makes these models look almost identical, at least without closer and sustained scrutiny. Maybe this is because I am exposed to this imagery in places like grocery store check out lines and highway bulletin boards. I don’t have a TV and I don’t go to shopping malls very often. But for those who do, I think they see a great amount of difference in the subtlest of differences or adjustments. I think their physical proximity to these images shapes their relationship to this certain philosophy of lens and computer graphic work. I also think our brain plasticity is affected by what ever media and environment we are in and so people who buy into this world, which I think is most people where I live, are literally hard-wired for sensitivity to this. Or perhaps they are de-sensitized to it and simply don’t notice that there is no difference.

3. No one cares about digital imagery. Not really.

If you cared about it enough you would print it out, and print it on super fancy archival musuemy paper. If others cared about your work enough then they would do the same. Every image you have out there in the cloud will be gone in a hundred years because that is longer than our best digital archiving technologies allow for. This does not even take into account how current media that somehow may survive will be able to be viewed in the future. Have a gramophone player handy? Or how about a telegram clacking machine? Third party websites are not your fans, guardians or sponsors. They are tenuous apparatuses that at the moment are storing your shit on servers they are paying for. Not only that, but a lot can go wrong with our telecommunications platforms for a variety of economical, political and natural reasons.
Don’t believe me that only physical imagery matters? Think about this: would you rather buy 3am commercial time on your local TV station to present a slideshow of your lens based work or would you rather have show at your local gallery?

4. If you call yourself a photographer, then the imagery you make is already pre-defined.

I’ve previously made this same argument about calling yourself an artist. Just use a camera as a tool to get somewhere else, and stop worrying about an audience. Unless you want to be a commercial success, then by all means call yourself a photographer and tell people who’re looking at it that this is, indeed, photography. But if you want critical success, then you need the confidence to wait for others to label what you do.
skulls 020

I am very disappointed in my Kindergarten class.

I remember, I really do, looking at my young classmates and thinking “Great, this is a no-brainer, we can stop this bad behaviour”.

Well, maybe not those exact words but that is a honest paraphrase of my assumptions in during my early public school years. For me, I did not know what racism, environmentalism, sexism or even classism was. I only learned about these “ism’s” when a special adult visitor would present to us the definition and told us about these issues and we can grow up in a world without these problems.

Sure! Sign me up! Where do I vote?

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one left from those years who holds onto these early directives. You see, Rob Ford is of my generation and he’s an asshole. Stephen Harper is in my generation and he’s an asshole. Danielle Smith? Asshole. Rona Ambrose? Asshole. Hell, Vladimir Putin is of my generation and he’s most definitely an asshole. It’s not that these people are assholes per se that alarms me, but they are the tip of the iceberg for the asshole generation my Kindergarten class turned into.

We see my generation reflected in the urban sprawl, the environmental death by a thousand paper cuts, the derision of students who demand affordable tuition, by any concept that does not somehow sound like an economic formula. We see it in hating second-class people who get health care or the hatred for homosexual love. More than ever, as a whole, we have slid back into a dark and selfish place where extreme hatred, conservatism and short-sighted gain are the only currency.

Fuck you my Kindergarten class. You had a chance to stop this madness before it go this bad and you fucked it up. You know that mean, stinky neighbour who would scowl at us whenever we were having too much fun too close by? You are worse than that adult now. You will be the generation that is remembered that way forever or at least for however long we have left on this planet. You became a larger and scarier version of your parents.

I should not have said that about the planet. I now realize concepts like “planet” are too large for my Kindergarten classmates to grasp and provides the dismissive point they need to escape from my entire argument. I need to keep my arguments within the confines of the local mall, soccer field and vague economic platitudes.

Sometimes, when I think back to those adults educating us about social issues, I wonder if this had the opposite effect of imposing these negative attitudes onto us. I did not realize my friend was a visible minority until it was pointed out me and that we should not pick on my friend. So, of course, we did. Look at the amount of propaganda we suffered at the hands of the dairy industry about “the four food groups”. That was a chart for life long health problems.

I am much more hopeful about the millennial generation. They have access to ideas outside of the confines of their households and remote education industry bureaucracies. They see more of the material effects of the previous generations on the world around them and the world everywhere. They understand there is a world because there was instant news of the world as they grew up. Best of all, they treat things I say and things anyone from my generation says with innate scepticism and doubt.

Yes! These are the tools I was missing from my early school years. This is why, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve mentioned above, I am certain that we are living in conservatism’s last grand gasp. Though through my entire lifetime I will be squirming under the thumb of assholes I now know this is likely the strength of a death’s grip. It is already fading because the forces of progression, smashed into a million pieces by corporate hammers, are quietly still working away and changing that one thing that defies all right wing philosophy: culture.

I thought of this while listening to a Pete Seger interview on the radio.