Stezaker has won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012 for his collages of found images. Get ready for grumbles from those that consider themselves Proper Photographers and Proper Photography to be all about taking pictures “out of the house”, as Foto8 put it.
I’m not going to enter into this debate and I will tell you why:
- Photography is not owned by any one group whether they consider themselves to be following the ‘true path’ by photographing social happenings, processes and crises, or consider themselves to be following the ‘truly artistic path’ of reconstituting found images and sequencing shots off google maps, or any of the other forms of camera related expression that lie in between. Of course many people who undertake the aforementioned activities don’t do so in order to mark out ‘true’ forms – which is all the better.
- I don’t care if you sneezed your stand-alone image / narrative / photopoem / image dialogue / collage / mixed-media photo piece / snap / print / blog out of your big toe as long as it is in some way engaging, challenging and authentic. Artistically, let’s keep it ends over methods. (‘Ethically’ is another question.)
Therefore, it is wondrously irrelevant whether or not Stezaker’s pieces were taken with his own shutter finger. They are his work, his idea; pushed forward into germination over many years. I am not interested in semantic games about what other words can be synonymised with the term photography. I am interested in the many roads and rivulets the practice, concepts and nature of photography can run down in order to expand and evolve. Collage and reproduction is surely one such rivulet. Every stream feeds back into the large pool of ideas. Challenging formats and methods are healthy and refreshing.
What I will say about Stezaker’s work is I’m a bit nonplussed. I am bored by reconstituted, collaged, ripped up, pixelated or partially hidden images, but I am more bored by the old debates about it. It is not beyond these mediums to become newly surprising and engaging, but right now I feel like I see a hell of a lot of it and a hell of a lot of arty types wetting themselves over how exciting it is and a hell of a lot of ‘Photographer’ types wetting themselves over how ‘not Proper Photography’ it is. I’m starting to think this is a feedback loop. Some photography editors and arts professionals seem to think this collage stuff is exciting because the ‘traditional’ Photographers are getting in a huff; some ‘traditional’ Photographers seem to think this stuff is meaningless anti-photography because the editors and arty types are getting all buzzed on it. Come on people! What a small visual world you are living in! Didn’t this reconstituting / processing / collaging of the photographic image start sometime early last century? When were the [anti-]tracts of postmodernism written? I can assure you it was not 2012.
To be fair to the Deutsche Börse Prize, this debate is not their agenda or outlook as far as I can tell, and the award for a lifetime’s worth of work takes a decent long view which removes them from the terms of such a debate. Stezaker didn’t win the prize because he is ‘controversial’ (which he’s not).
My criticism of the work is surely largely subjective and nothing to do with any perceived injury or challenge to Photography. When I first saw Stezaker’s work at Saatchi’s Out of Focus exhibition I thought: Hah! Neat! A lot of these half faces do rather eerily match up. A few minutes later, upon finding nothing more than a surfacery visual pun, I moved on and kind of forgot about it. I mean, I remembered the images, they are quite catchy, as puns, jokes and jingles tend to be – so far, so trademarkable – but they failed to remain in any emotional or intellectual sense. They did not move me. I can’t tell you whether they may move you or not. I can only defend their right to win a photography prize and be considered as another ingredient in the pot of photography. And this, regardless of the fact that I feel I’ve seen these twice matched faces, vintage hairstyles and faded postcards a million times before, in one reformed form or another. Actually, thinking about it, perhaps this jaded nowheresville of repeated smooth cheek after repeated wet eye after repeated bow tie is the deeper narrative to these collages after all… If I yawn it’s ‘cos Stezaker wanted me to, so congratulations to him on a hard won award.
I’d appreciate all your thoughts and debates on the awarding of the prize and Stezaker’s work in the comment section!