Civilisation over politics*
Saturday, November 15, 2008 4:56:20 AM
On realising the total win of a pretty random modern portrait over something that I had extolled as being better than the Mona Lisa I agonised over what was going on. Although I don't deny that straight photography is a superior art form to painting or pictorialist photography, I had a gut feeling that something else was going on here.
By itself, the Kasebier photo is still a great work of art, and I still believe that it wins over Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. But the fact is that sharp photos have an ability to draw our attention over unsharp ones (hence, I think, the modern obsession with digitally sharpened photos). But the ability to draw our attention is not the same thing as being better. A train crash will always win out over a beauty contest, because the blood and guts makes the beauty contest seem irrelevant in comparison. But in the grand scheme of civilisation it is the eternally beautiful things that define our values, not transient carnage.
It occurred to me that this sheds light on something that had been puzzling me, that the people of my country would seemingly choose a police state (complete with Sir Ian Blair's death squads) over the values of civilisation that have evolved over the centuries. But just as the sharp photograph wins out when juxtaposed with the artistic one, so the sharply defined calamity can seduce the unwary into thinking that knee jerk facism is more "right" than woolilly defined virtues such as liberty and freedom of thought.
In the end I hope the sanity of civilised values will prevail over the current propensity for repressive facism being espoused by both the politicians and the media. In the meantime I will continue with my own struggle to reconcile the ideological purity of straight photography with more eternal aesthetic values.
(The great irony of this is that straight photography is currently the most persecuted medium of the new millennium, with photographers regularly being harassed and even assaulted by the police and government-approved vigilantes who have decided to brand all photographers as would-be terrorists etc, in Britain at least).
*The title of this post was inspired by the Japanese saying "Hana Yori Dango" - lit. Dumplings over Flowers, though perhaps Pearls Before Swine would be a more apt analogy here!