Another day, another link to a post on the La Pura Vida blog. This time it’s to a guest post by Blake Andrews, who is almost definitely the most cogent “recognized photoblogger” of our time.
His post is about the reaction to a stimulating essay by Paul Graham which attempts to find a place for “straight photography.” Blake’s post, and the original essay, are both well worth reading.
I’m interested in the concept of a “straight” photography. For a while I was trying to think of a word that would describe the kind of photography we are naming with the word “straight”—as Paul Graham puts it, “photographs taken from the world as it is.” I thought “natural” might have fit, but that seems to go against the nature of photography, as it were. “Straight” seems accurate, although problematic, but let’s get to that later.
I think a lot of the photography in Japan could be considered “straight.” A glance at the past year of exhibitions (Japanese only, sorry) at the Tokyo Museum of Photography shows that almost everyone is working with the things in front of them—Ihee Kimura, Cartier-Bresson, Sebastian Salgado, Keizo Kitajima, etc. (One notable exception is the Yasumasa Morimura show which is up right now.)
And if Paul Graham points to Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman as figures dominating the Western photo scene, consider the two largest figures in Japan, Araki and Moriyama, both of whom are working in a tradition that could definitely be called “straight.”
Many words from foreign languages are forced into Japanese, sometimes taking on different meaning. “Personal computer” becomes “????” (“pasokon”) and so on. The word “straight” is rendered in Japanese as “?????” (“struaato”) and means “direct” or “frank.” I actually like the idea of describing a photograph as being “?????.” Sexually, the phrase “straight photography” is backwards, and for a type of work which claims to be fighting for a place at the table it can’t help to come off as reactionary.