W. o’ W.: Tod Papageorge

“I think that one source of the frustration I’ve always felt about the eventual supremacy (at least for a moment) of postmodernism, and even about staged photographs—which was something nobody seemed able to understand (outside of Szarkowski, but certainly no art historians and certainly no editors at October magazine)—is that we knew we were making fictions. We knew we were creating something, in many cases, out of nothing. Or nothing more than the conjunction of objects and people in space. The unspoken expectation was that an intelligent person would look at something like what you described and say: ‘Well, obviously that never happened. The photographer has, in effect, through perception and response and training and whatever else (such as poetic presentiment), created this, this made thing, this piece of art.’ Now, perhaps you’re not interested in it as art. Perhaps you don’t think it’s as wonderful as a James Rosenquist painting or something else. Yet it is art, something fabricated out of the unfabricated dross of passing life (while, paradoxically, still trading on the indexical heft of that dross). Unfortunately, however, it turned out that most people needed to see the literal lineaments of fabrication—the studio effect—to recognize that art-making had occurred. I’ve always believed, in fact, that it was a terrible relinquishment on the part of the so-called “intelligent audience” not to be hard enough on itself to understand that, but of course I would believe that, given my position as a photographer-in-the-world. It’s been a decades-long frustration, though, and I guess always will be one, because people tend to see photographs as simple, literal recordings of the way things were at a particular moment unless—these days through scale, color, and a certain residual sense of the embalmed that the studio and Photoshop often lend to them—they effectively brand themselves as having been deliberately manufactured.”

Read the entire interview in the current issue of Aperture.

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