The shape of the pictorial in contemporary photography

Hilde Van Gelder
2009 Image & Narrative   unpublished
Certain contemporary photographs, most prominently by Jeff Wall, are considered to bring to life the absorptive tradition of painting. Taking that finding as its starting point, this paper scrutinizes work by another photographer today, Allan Sekula. Although Sekula"s images visibly engage similar absorptive motives, his work is not championed by the defendants of the current revival of the tableau tradition. But nor does it testify to the ambition to do so. From a discussion of dramatic and
more » ... of dramatic and compositional elements in images by Wall and Sekula, the essay finds that their work is marked by either a classical or a vernacular pictorial style. Stylistic differences account for diverging opinions concerning art"s function. Classical or neo-realist style stands for an ambition to create a pleasurable and peaceful moment to spend with the image presented as a singular artwork. Vernacular or critical realist style does not eschew caricature nor is it averse to provoking a physically strenuous experience of multi-image installations. These issues are traced back to paragon debates that emerged at the very origins of modern art itself, in the late 16 th Century. Résumé: Plusieurs photographies contemporaines, exemplairement celles de Jeff Wall, nourrissent l"ambition de redonner vie à la tradition de l"absorption picturale. C"est à la lumière de cette tendance
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