Musings on Photography

More on Wide and Deep

Posted in aesthetics, process, the art world by Paul Butzi on April 5, 2007


In this comment on this post, Mark Hobson writes:

One man’s ‘wide’ is another man’s ‘deep’ and, of course, vice-versa

In concentrating his ‘view’ on the ‘wide’ surface of things – his referent (subject) – Shore has, IMO, opened up a very ‘deep’ level on the conoted – the inferred – in his views.

In the postmodernist tradition, I don’t think that Shore’s visually obvious referent is his intended ’subject’ matter. Without going into great detail, I don’t think Shore is commenting on the state of American toiletry. Rather, toilets and greasy food are metaphorical vehicles for his true intentions- commenting on the rather shallow – residing on the surface – nature of American culture – it’s homogenized and banal nature.

Sure, sure.  The very intentional shallowness of Shore’s American Surfaces work is actually really a cunningly concealed deepness, because Shore’s work is supposed to work at a deep metaphorical level and is actually a commentary on shallowness, so it’s deep because it’s shallow.  I’m sure there are people who are still fascinated by this intellectual masturbation but I’m afraid I’m not buying.

Here’s why – if Shore’s work is, despite its shallowness, actually deep because it works metaphorically, then Plowden’s work is even deeper because not only is it superficially deep, it’s metaphorically deep as well.  And to add even more weight to Plowden’s work, it can actually be viewed as a a meta-metaphoric commentary on the shallowness of Shore’s metaphoric commentary on the shallowness of American culture.  This is obviously the case, because not only is Shore’s work so shallow that the metaphoric deepness of it is obvious even to the oblivious, but the profound lack of shallowness of Plowden’s work can only be be interpreted as an intentional metaphoric side commentary on the shallowness of the metaphor of Shore’s work.

And my work is even deeper still, because by being deep in reference to Plowden’s work, it becomes a meta-meta-metaphoric commentary on the relative value of Plowden’s work in the Modernist tradition and Shore’s work in the post-modernist tradition, and the folly of work that is merely metaphoric or meta-metaphoric.

So, it turns out, my work is the deepest of all, until someone makes work that is meta-meta-meta-metaphoric commentary on my work.  Actually, I think the work of Lewis Hine, which is so incredibly deep and so obviously a commentary about shallowness, deepness, and metaphoric commentary, is incredibly enough work done in anticipation of my work, and is best read as a text that actually comments on my work done 8 decades later.  Unless, of course, my work is, at a further metaphoric level, actually a commentary about Hine’s work, in which case the depth of both my work and Hine’s becomes infinite because of recursive descent.

And that’s why I’m not a post-modernist.  You get really great payback on minimal intellectual investment, but you end up with conclusions that at first seem incredibly profound and in the end are empty of meaning.  The conclusions are always like those amazing revelations you have when you’re using recreational drugs and come up with some astounding, shattering, incredible revelation that you think will alter the course of humanity, and so to preserve the entire future history of humanity you frantically write the revelation down lest you get hit by a bus and it is lost forever.  And then when the drugs have worn off, you find the piece of paper and it reads “Bob’s hat is really ugly.”

3 Responses

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  1. Christoph Hammann said, on April 5, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    > I’m not a post-modernist.
    What then would you call yourself?
    I find this whole discussion totally post-modernistic, and you’re driving it.
    Connections as construed as in your satiric post reveal themselves to be rubbish to every thinking reader with a bit of insight in the field. Not many people in the art world who are taken seriously use such drivel, at least not here in Germany.
    Best regards, Christoph

  2. Steve Durbin said, on April 6, 2007 at 5:11 am

    I copied the following down last night, thinking it would be a good note to self:

    Thought, I love thought.
    But not the niggling and twisting of already existent ideas
    I despise that self-important game.
    Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness.
    Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience,
    Thought is gazing into the face of life, and reading what can be read,
    Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to a conclusion.
    Thought is not a trick, or an exercise on a set of dodges,
    Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.

    -D. H. Lawrence 1929 (shortly before his death)

  3. Paul R said, on April 11, 2007 at 6:56 am

    I think you’re wildly misunderstanding Shore’s work, looking at it through a dark lens of skepticism. Personally, I don’t even see his work as an example of postmodernism (for what it’s worth, I don’t think Eggleston has a postmodern bone in his body, either … they’re both late modernists working in an American subtradition).

    Shore’s Surfaces work, more than anything else, is personal. It’s about sharing a personal experience of America, much like his Uncommon Places work. The difference is that the Surfaces work trades the epic sweep for a more microcosmic view. In Places, the closeups of plates of pancakes and motel t.v.s punctuates the landscape pictures; in Surfaces, they ARE the landscape.

    If you’re looking for a profound intellectual model here, then you might be the one guilty of empty intellectualism, not Shore, He’s just sharing pictures of his experience.

    For some of us, those pictures demonstrate elegance, wit, hope, sadness, and a breadth of questions that suggest the American experience. And I know that for others, they’re uninteresting … but this doen’t make their maker a failed postmodernist.

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