Charlotte Cotton Photography is Magic


Another big book, another game-changer. I bought this a few months back, but wasn’t really ready for it. It intimidated me slightly, rather like Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now did when I first bought it. The work is such a long way from what a part of me still expects photographs to look like. When I started playing with Polaroids and die-cutting it felt like the right time to take another look. It’s stuffed with work, and a fairly dense introductory essay. I’m going to start with my notes on the essay. These are rough and designed for my own quick reference rather than a formal critique.

Charlotte starts by drawing parallels between close-up magic and photography. Both are multi-sensory triggers that give the viewer the opportunity to construct their own virtual reality. It happens in the viewer’s head, nowhere else.

“Photography is Magic” privileges the potential of ideas over the virtuosity of individual authors or the perfection of techniques and mechanisms”

(p3). This is reassuring for someone who has plenty of ideas but not always the technical skills to realise them fully. The work has an increased awareness of “materiality” – how it’s constructed, how it’s presented, what materials are used to render the ideas.

“a critical mass of artists is widening rather than attempting to isolate the idea of photography”

p5. Yes. This resonated with me. I want my work to be more concrete than the possibilities offered by a bunch of jpgs.

“Ideas repeat and morph over the course of an artist’s practice…. explicitly iterative processes”

Again yes. I find it intriguing to look through my paper log and see the way that polaroids are there almost from day one, the recurrence of the physical and the constant variations on a theme.

Most of the works in Photography is Magic have been made since 2010, less than a decade ago. These works show how advances in digital hardware and software technologies have altered what we make and how we make it. DIgital capture, Photoshop and pigment printing; social media and mobile phone cameras. p8.

“Purposefully destabilised photographic practices are coming into play.”

p9/10/11 This is exciting, the idea of shaking up the processes, that the final result may not be of a “complete object”. The artist gets to make the “agnostic and strategic” choices. There’s some consideration given to the idea of “camouflage” too though I think this is more about perception. Magicians used to wear top hat and tails but now they would do so as a knowing reference to their heritage. We could consider artists who use analogue media and/or black and white in the same way – they are reactivating the medium’s heritage in the present. Long established predictions of digital causing the demise of analogue have not come to pass, at least not yet, and analogue and digital processes continue to cross-fertilise one another.

p13 I like the idea of photographer as sculptor

“renderer of objects – exerting control over images as materials and cultural artifacts”

It often feels to me as if the image is just the start of where I want to go with it, not the end of the creative process.

p14 – the idea of the rhizome – a non-hierarchical flattened structure that allows us to link and organise concepts in our own way. Also – comparison of photography with early 20th century art concepts such as the “readymade” (eg Duchamp’s Fountain) and Cubist collages.

There’s still a lot here that I’m not in a position to understand so I will be returning to this blog post. The next step is spending some time with the >80 artists’ work and their artist statements through a phone-book sized book. I want to build my background knowledge without explicitly steering my A5 work, rather I wish to build the contextual knowledge within which I work.

Photography is Magic, Charlotte Cotton, Aperture 2015.






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