Spectacle and Substance
It’s spring and the CONTACT festival is in (nearly) full bloom in Toronto. ” Nearly” because a number of big shows are starting later in the month. That’s good.
Going from gallery to gallery as I am, I can’t help but be hyper-aware of the chasm between the imagery in the galleries and that which surrounds us. Something’s bothering me about it, and it’s not the crush of imagery – I regularly use that imagery in my work – Product Man (below) is a good example.
Something entirely different is going on, and that’s because our “surround” now includes imagery from within, creeping insistently into our lives from the digital tools in our pockets, like our instagram feeds. And that’s not all. While working photographers around the world are grasping at the meaning, power and use of public art, advertisers and instagramers have fallen in love with fairy-tale narratives.
Take these three images – the middle from an ad for a beauty magazine; the first and third from my instagram feed. Each of these photos is enormously popular. But really, they’re all average photos with little to recommend them, other than the fantastic application of various post production procedures. They seem to be valuable because they’re other-worldly. Their value is all about spectacle.
John Doyle put his finger on the phenomenon perfectly in today’s Globe & Mail. The divide, he said, is between the spectacular and the substantial. And he described the substantial perfectly in the television context as “textured drama that has a concreteness in its purpose and transcends escapist storytelling to find a moral purpose”.
I couldn’t have said it better. Just substitute the word drama with photograph.
A hearty thanks to Mr. Doyle for the clarity of his phrase. Now I’m ready to get blogging about some of the wonderfully substantial work on view this month and well into June .