The Plight of the Image
Susan Sontag wrote in ‘On Photography’, that everything today exists to end in a photograph. John Berger in Ways of Seeing told us that reproduction had reinforced an agreed canon of images and given us the expectation of what we see and its worth before we see it. Giacometti in his thinned out, sculptured busts brought sculpture near to the moving image as they follow you around the room. We have coloured our world in gloss and matt, silk and shine and now we carry it around in our pockets wherever we go on our phones. The first people who wandered the Serengeti were lost in a landscape and we are lost in a sea of images.
Photographs, like all our inventions, can be used for any reason – to reveal and to hide from sight; to portray or create an event; to affirm or deny a point a view; to enhance or obscure a truth. Without reference points outside the image, we are as lost looking at it as if we had no knowledge whatsoever of the world around us. So polluted has the image become in our hands that only the banal carries any honesty because hardly anyone is interested in manipulating the uninteresting. The filters and choices of those who create news are so heavily imbued with agendas, we can no longer wholly trust them.
One thing we know is that no image carries with it the whole story. That every individual image is a starting point for gaining an understanding. And this is as true for exhibitions of contemporary art as it is for the personal photographs we take of our recent encounters. The image reinforces the culture even when it attempts to comment upon it. Banksy is now mainstream, absorbed into the ocean of images, appropriated by the agendas of those who buy art. The most revolutionary thing an artist can do today is not to produce art. Not to engage in disposability, celebrity, the chauvinism of liberals who still want to engage in the fascism inherent in capitalism – that decision to put money-making first in the order of society’s priorities because we have come to believe without money there is nothing. In fact all one needs is human energy to achieve anything.
Modern societies more and more, could not function without the image makers. As more and more people become inured to their original, imaginative impact, and sceptical as to their honesty, the heart of society itself will stop beating. Brexit is the heart-attack that should warn us to change our diet.
Volume 32 no. 1 September/October 2017 p 2