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The thought train that would not die. I added the following paragraph as an afterthought to my essay on Jim Lewis' Slate piece on William Eggleston (that's four prepositional phrases in sequence!):
It may well be that Eggleston's "breakthrough" enabled photo departments to collect color photos for the first time, but this is really a minor achievement, important only within the rigid, internecine structure of the contemporary art museum, since color photography *was* being collected a few doors down the hall, in the painting department. Thus, what he really did was give photographers who wanted to use color permission to do something, a handful of years early, that artists were already doing. But to be important, we expect artists to rewrite the rules of the game, not just a few intramural regulations.
If I had to pick a "great man" it would probably be [Richard] Prince, for finally, belatedly extending the logic of Duchamp and Pop art to photography (and being a malicious wit). The reason breaking the color barrier was important was that at last photography could be as permeable to the everyday (commercial, media-defined) world as painting had become under Warhol. More than a color progenitor, it might be interesting to think of Eggleston as a proto-appropriator, photographing banal commercial subject matter in a landscape setting before Prince et al came along and just removed the setting. But that's a stretch--I still think Eggleston is mainly an art photographer, whose principal contribution is injecting the poetry of color field painting into mechanically produced images.
And what comes after Prince? Found vernacular photography, culled from the internet and smartly curated. Highly recommended is a book series called Useful Photography. It's some Dutch curators (artists?) compiling photographs taken from a wide range of sources. Issue #2 is all pictures of things people are selling on ebay. It's mostly abject crap lying on blankets--stereo speakers, model kits, old shoes and hats--but the photos are magical, and all they seem really sophisticated in this context. Here's what the authors wrote on the back cover (the book's sole bit of text):
MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE NOW OWN A DIGITAL CAMERA. MANY THOUSANDS MORE SELL THEIR PERSONAL ITEMS THROUGH EBAY EVERY DAY. EVERYONE IS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND ALL THEIR HOMES ARE STUDIOS.
The folks behind this project are Hans Aarsman, Claudie de Cleen, Julian Germain, Erik Kessels, and Hans Van Der Meer. Buy the book! Eschew photo fetishism!