Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
2 min read

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More from The Cruel Radiance:

In 1986, the critic Andy Grundberg observed that postmodern photography "implies the exhaustion of the image universe: it suggests that a photographer can find more than enough images already existing in the world without the bother of making new ones."

Perhaps telling is that a list of Grundberg's articles for the New York Times is dominated less by art criticism and more by obituaries: Irving Penn, Julius Schulmann, Arnold Newman, Gordon Parks, Avedon, Ellen Auerbach, Carl Mydans, Eddie Adams.

Which brings us to his difficulties with the very much living Robert Bergman (PDF):

...there's a temptation to dismiss Bergman's pictures as latter-day Bowery Bum photography... Perhaps the ambition is for our regard of the pain of others to make us more attuned to human suffering in general (come back, Susan Sontag, please), but this aim is attenuated by our prior experience of pictures in the same vein. We might expect anyone conversant with recent photographic practice to know this as an existing critical problem, which leaves us with a far less ennobled idea of what is afoot here: that Bergman is out to convince us that he is a great photographer. Unfortunately, he has appeared a half-century too late

My italics.

Since when is a critical problem part of "photographic practice"? Grundberg seems to be thrashing about in his cage, unable to take in the idea that Bergman's photos are full of beauty and power despite the fact that Grundberg can't place them anywhere in his neatly compartmentalized Theory of Photography save to call them "untrained" and "fifty years too late."

Hang it up, Andy, if you can't see the pictures but only their place on your org chart.

And Bergman is a great photographer. Too bad you think that's so, like, Over.

In the immediate world, everything is to be discerned..with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is." - James Agee

PS: In writing this entry I found this response to Grundberg's review, from David Levi Strauss: "Grundberg's main complaint is a bureaucratic one that this artist should not be recognized because he was not vetted by the proper authorities."

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