Aaron Schuman: One thing that I find fascinating about what’s happening right now – and I suspect that this will gain importance in the future – is that rather than photography represents the capture in culmination of something, it’s becoming a form of investigation. For me, the most interesting works coming out right now even if they’ve been formalized in the form of a book, an exhibition, a print or a website – represent the beginnings of something. They’re not simply an end result, or the remnants of somethings that has past and been preserved in silver gelatin, emulsion or ink; they’re starts, sparks or seeds from which many other things might grow.
Charlotte Cotton: Perhaps that’s something that could be credited to this digital phase in our culture – not just in terms of the web, open-sourcing, or crowd-sourcing, which all present dynamics that offer participation – but even on a rudimentary level. For photographers no longer have to self-censor or edit themselves because of analogue limitations, such as the number of frames on a roll of film or the cost of a sheet of film. The endlessness of digital capture is actually loosening photography up and allowing it to be lots of different things, rather than simply a culmination or condensation of something.
Aaron Schuman: Absolutely. The technology has shifted, but also the way in which people encounter and engage with photography has shifted. Rather than there being a limited supply of information and images, there’s this overwhelming torrent that we all have to sift through on a daily basis and the process of editing itself is becoming internalized by everyone. Just within the last years, there have been so many incredibly complex and original photographic projects and books, rather than simply more typologies and traditional narratives. Photographers are cobbling together loads of information in really intricate and often open-ended, non-linear and puzzling ways, but they’re not solving these puzzles for the reader or viewer; they’re entrusting their audience with that power. I was so excited, and surprised, by the recent success of a number of these very challenging projects. The fact that these kinds of works are being embraced indicates that there is a burgeoning audience for these sorts of photo-involving puzzles, which I find incredibly encouraging.
Charlotte Cotton: I think that we are finally getting over the notion that photography is democratic.
Aaron Schuman: Could you explain why do you think that photography is democratic?
Charlotte Cotton: 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. These 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 it’s photography 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. ( … )
Edit from Aaron Schuman and Charlotte Cotton’s dialogue which is published in WHAT’S NEXT? publication from FOAM (Fotomuseum Amsterdam) as part of their recent project that critically examines possible future in the field of photography. More info on WHAT’S NEXT forum.
Related post: Joan Fontcuberta’s essay for ‘What’s next?’ forum