October 23, 2013KR OnlineNonfiction

Taking Pictures

In a recent debate regarding arts funding, presented by New Dramatists in New York and organized by the playwright J.T. Rogers, economist Eric Helland noted that on a recent visit to MOMA he realized something startling; people were there to take pictures, not look at them. I had recently returned from a trip to Spain, where the policing of the patrimony by guards at both the Prado and the Reina Sofia keeps cameras in the bag, so Helland’s comment reminded me how unusual it is to see people contemplating visual art work without the automatic (almost autonomic) response of the digital salute; the camera snapping up the task of looking.

Cameras are wonderful things. My partner is a professional fine art photographer. I dabbled (absolutely the appropriate word) with photography as an adolescent; the process, like adolescence itself, featuring darkrooms, timed exposures, and things developing in solitude. I think that aspect of time might have interested me the most, being alone with an image while it develops. Though my responses to the world now tend to be verbal, not visual, I depend on visual art to provide something I cannot manipulate quite as confidently as I might words. For the past twenty years, I have chosen to not take photographs, forcing myself to remember events, objects, and people, or not, and to allow that filing system to arrange itself internally.

I look at pictures all the time, often in museums and galleries. Yet the responses of other viewers whom I see in those places increasingly cede to an apparatus the process of remembering, giving over human perceptual responses to an all too easily ordered series of pixels, flattening the dimensions of the work into a one-dimensional, delayed reminder of something never fully regarded. Or so it appears to me, as I watch and worry and snap judgments only a bit slower than everyone else is snapping photos.

Jane Mayer, in a recent article in the New Yorker, acknowledged that modern technology excels at forming loose connections quickly. Mayer was writing about the Occupy Wall Street protests, a movement which, like those in the Middle East, have been ascribed to the ubiquity of social networking. Quick connections allow for the flash mob, the response to an injustice unmitigated by the dampers of reflection, caution, patience, or perhaps long-term strategy. We are connected to a more reactive version of ourselves, and in political/social life, this can be a very good thing, especially in a calcified body politic. The political/social efficacy of being able to “capture” a confrontation between a demonstrator and a police officer can be interruptive and proactive; people change their behavior because they are being recorded, and they just might pull that punch.

But the work of art is hopefully a bit less directly threatening, and the trap and release reaction made possible by ubiquitous recording causes the work itself to recede. We have come to this work, so shouldn’t we spend some time, savor and switch our positions, slow down and just look?

When museums and galleries become so informal (the favored word is “democratic”), so generous with their offering, need we pay the work the respect of deep contemplation, actual looking? Why shouldn’t our ubiquitous smartphones allow us to hold onto an aesthetic moment, democratically sharing it with friends and colleagues long after we have returned to our homes, which for most of us will never be adorned with the originals? What is so wrong with hooking up with these artworks and stowing their image away to retain the moment a bit longer? But why would we want an acquisitive connection with art, our cameras gobbling and storing images, if we can’t be bothered to closely and intimately examine what is right in front of us? What do we gain by this time shifting? Museums and galleries are, for most of us, far removed from the cause-and-effect marketplace of our daily lives, though they may function in fact as microcosms of larger social/economic forces. We, the majority who cannot afford in most cases to own this work, perhaps wreak revenge on elitism by lingering, taking time, consuming without acquiring (or, in the case of galleries, paying admittance). And our cameras prompt us to take it all home.

Had there been cameras at the ready at Guernica, would Picasso have painted the scene the way he did? This is perhaps a ridiculous attempt at alternate history, but Partisans toting iPhones would have been recording as much as reacting. Now, if someone whips out their camera to capture the enormity of that painting (before the Reina Sofia’s guards swoop), have they both failed and violated the work, made the act of recording the equivalent of a caricature?

My experience of seeing Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia was accumulative, influenced by the preceding galleries in which examples of Falange posters are displayed, fascist propaganda that lacks the imprimatur (or distribution) of “great art.” We can also look at Picasso’s drawings and studies prior to seeing the big work, then double back and look again after viewing the cumulative work. This is a physical as well as an aesthetic/intellectual decision. We are there to get close to the work, and a lens would assert its own intrusive primacy. Looking at art is not a forensic examination but a distinctly physical act of peering into something. The important evidence is what lingers in the mind during and after that encounter. The snapshot works against that encounter, capturing and keeping content but not context, limited to the device’s picture plane.

Perhaps the issue here is the relationship between the artist and audience, a relationship that has become increasingly casual to the point that many, especially the young, are unwilling to pay for someone else’s creation. They want to be able to “grab” “capture” “burn” a song, a video, a photo, an image, a story, to distribute and reuse. As a creative artist who wants to make a living off of his work, this trend worries me. As a teacher, I worry that my students’ productions won’t support them. I actually kind of like paying money for other artists’ creations, and allocate my income so that I can do that. That kind of choice seems a critical part of the respect we bring to something in a materialist world. Is this thing we want to see, to hear, to read, to experience, literally worth it?

The vagaries of ownership in the digital age arise whenever a camera pops up. What honor do we owe another’s creative work? If our first response is the desire to “capture” something made by another, is that not simply encouraging the bleed of our acquisitive and hyper consumerist culture into our social and aesthetic lives? Grabbing a frame, a photo, an image from someone else becomes like fishing for Facebook friends, feeding the stats in a race with what, who, and to what purpose? We indicate respect through payment, so what are we saying when we expect all of this work for free, from songs to movies to images of visual art?

We see things increasingly through the supposedly sharp eye of megapixel cameras and HD video, but what does that sharpness share? Has electronic visual acuity become the new realism, a document of our mania to see everything indirectly, yet absolutely clearly? Do we, as Billie Holiday put it, “want more, and then some”? Is this not a contradictory gesture; we want to see deeply, but cannot spare the time, so let our camera do that work for us?

I’m looking at a photograph someone took of a group of my colleagues, as we are climbing down a hill in Andalucía. For this brief moment we were rather dramatic and elegantly composed, and so one of our group, a young Polish media artist, took a picture. I look at this photo to remind myself of what we were doing at that particular time and place, so that I don’t get too far away from the “truth” of that particular outing. The photo has meaning to this viewer, taken a few moments before one of its subjects broke the heroic pose (68 year-old woman+formal shoes+uneven terrain=twisted ankle). So the photo serves me, keeps a memory close to the event. But it does not record “truth,” since it is a photograph of a moment bracketed in time in a way that moments do not actually stop. I never saw this actual moment. I wasn’t looking, being part of the action. This photo is a rendering, an arrested pause in an active continuum. And the person taking the photo is present only in the way she selected and framed this moment. John Berger, in About Looking, suggests that we reached a point (he is writing in the 1970’s) where “the taking of a photograph ceased to be a ritual and became a ‘reflex,’” and that “the camera records in order to forget.” Memory and reflection are discarded as no longer necessary. But of course it depends on who is looking at this record, and their relationship to the original event.

Initially the camera opened up the world, caused us to think of things we had not yet seen and to be grateful for them being brought to us so magically. Now we instantly and easily “capture” something we have already seen so that we no longer have to think of it. We are not grateful to photography or the photograph, using it to avoid the direct glance of the very art we profess to value. We deflect not only our glance at the original, but in effect its look back at us, in which of course lies all its power.

I am talking specifically about photographs taken of artwork in museums and galleries, photographs that do not feature the photographer or friends/family. Once someone stands in front of the work to be recorded, posing stiffly or acting out some faux-interaction with the work, the references and the agency changes. In such cases, we are aggressing (this isn’t necessarily bad) on the work, integrating our friends and family and sometimes even ourselves into the work. Who gave us that right? We did. Or perhaps our ubiquitous devices did, as a sort of subliminal advertisement for itself. Like many acts of intrusion and interference, the transgression is transient. That unique moment of digital interference, casual culture jamming, has long passed. Now we seem to not have time to confront or ponder, replacing reflection on the work with pasting ourselves onto the work, without working very hard to do so.

So the artist and the art consumer are now operating on very separate assumptions and systems of desire. The artist returns to the scene to work out a problem, a disturbance, a nagging something that brings her/him back to the thing to be drawn, painted, photographed, written about. The art tourist/consumer need not return; photo taken, the thing has been captured. Move on. In some cases, the photo as memory aide might approach Proustian levels, but it is a flat placeholder, holding little of the sensorial information of the original, remaining less than an imitation and more of a bookmark.

I asked a friend, the photographer Bill Jacobson, about the practice of such casual capturing of art in galleries and museums. In addition to his own fine art photography, Bill documents the work of well-known painters and sculptors. In his recent show at Julie Saul Gallery, he included a photograph he took in the late 1990s of a detail from a Vermeer painting, having been given permission by the Met to photograph works from the collection in the creation of his own work. I was standing in front of the result of this exploration when I opined to Bill about the unthinking tendency of modern museumgoers to digitally snap up everything they see. I didn’t see the irony, but Bill did. He gestured towards his Vermeer detail. “I bring forty years of picture making and a knowledge of art history to this process. Our goals are different; I am making art and they are making a record.” Bill also brings a level of generosity, “We are both doing it to remember something or somewhere.” He recalls a recent trip to the Arizona desert which resulted in his series, Some Planes. He would spend an hour or more looking at a vista or a detail, then take a photograph with a 4×5 view camera, having been looking and figuring out just what about this place, this view, might be refocused through his action. During this waiting, watching, pausing, busloads of tourists would arrive, snap pictures instantly, and depart. What did they see? You would have to ask their cameras.

Jacobson’s recent exhibition investigates this attention, this looking. Several of the photographs in his “A Series of Human Decisions” are details of the constructed work environments of other artists and professionals. What makes these photographs art and not documentation, beyond their formal beauty, is Jacobson’s guidance of our attention; we pay attention to a series of choices, both by the unseen “owner” of the space and by Jacobson himself as he reframes those prior decisions.

I am looking out my window as I am writing about photography. I think, “what a lovely tree. If I take a photo will it then become a product?” So deep am I in this intellectual reframing that it takes me far too long to notice that there are a series of evenly spaced holes running around the upper main branches, circling them so evenly that this imposed pattern seems part of the bark. It is the mark of the woodpecker, and now that I have noticed this detail I can’t stop looking for it. My sense of the tree, and the theoretical photograph I wanted to take, would be of this detail, not of the tree in its entirety. This detail has, for me, become the fundamental aspect of this tree. But it took my looking, paying attention, for this to emerge, prompted by my thinking about how Jacobson might look at this tree. Art withholds, just as nature does. You have to spend time looking into the camouflage of the surface.

Artists increasingly intervene in the modern process of looking, using the museum itself, and the ordered, focused gaze it promotes, as a way of studying the looker and giving us back to ourselves. Francesco Jodice, in his “El Prado por Francesco Jodice” turns the viewers themselves into the art to be contemplated, using two variations of portrait. Supported by the Prado’s “Otras miradas / Other looks” initiative, he filmed and videotaped 480 visitors, “willing participants,” as they looked at the Prado’s collection. Viewers now watch the five-minute film Jodice made of these museumgoers. One of the more moving aspects of this film, and what allows us to really watch the people looking at art, is that they are not reflexively lifting a camera to their eyes. In this, they seem almost from another time. They are instead lifting their unaided eyes to the work on view, exhibiting what Jodice says is their “accumulation of emotion, desire, reflection, joy, rage, or silence that each person experiences inside the museum environment.” Jodice’s own camera doesn’t invade microscopically; it wanders through crowds, sometimes focusing entirely on the art being observed and then on one or two people looking at it, and then a semi-static portrait of one or two people standing in front of another of the museum’s works. Only at the very end does someone turn and confront the camera directly, prompting us to wonder just who was the subject and who the object of this interference. We hear the rather pleasant cacophony (buttressed overmuch by music) of commentary (in a mix of languages), ambient sound; the sound of an active room. It’s stimulating, reflective. Elsewhere, in another hall is Jodice’s Spectaculum Spectatoris, five large single subject video projections of people in the Prado. Isolated in formal portrait style but otherwise casual, they linger in front of the camera for an extended period of time. Some are close-ups, others shot so that we can see the Prado’s galleries behind them. We can study them almost as if they are subjects that we are going to paint or photograph. Jodice speaks in an interview of wanting to create a human atlas, an archive of the people who look at the work in these museums. He asked his subjects, when making the individual video portraits, not to laugh or smile. He speaks of the photographs immigrants would send their families once they had crossed the ocean to America, “they would never have laughed then, there was nothing to laugh . . . it’s a witness to your standing still in an important environment.”

Jodice’s film is to be distributed to more than 400 cinema screens across Spain. Will people watch a feature film differently after they have watched a short film watching other people looking at paintings and sculpture? When we observe the poignant act of someone else looking, might our own process subtly change? Jodice originally trained as an architect, and his work functions, as the best architecture does, to make us pause and consider the manner in which we are going about our business in a particular space, while making us somehow more present in that attention. Jodice’s respect for his subjects allows them to look at themselves, but also to look at others, the group, the context of their gathering, without judgment and yet not without an aesthetic point of view. It’s an encouraging act of incorporation. Seeing this work about the Prado in the Prado itself, when one is oneself a viewer, deepens our own involvement in viewing, interfering in that perceptual act without degrading it. Our attention is heightened. He “takes” a picture but gives something back.

Thomas Struth, in his exhibit at the Clark Art Institute, is examining similar territory as Jodice, but he brings something else into it. Is it irony? Struth brought an 8×10 view camera into the Prado and other museums, making still photographs of people looking at magisterial paintings. Struth’s work makes you more aware of the relationship of painting to viewer in a less sympathetic manner than Jodice, perhaps because he focuses more on group than individual. While Jodice’s portraits barely moved, his video records the vibration and subtle shifting of people consciously trying to be still, to not smile, to be serious. Jodice’s camera waits, while Struth’s snapped. There is something slightly more forensic in the results (and no music). However, installed as they were in the Clark, their massiveness matching the paintings in adjoining rooms, they offer commentary on those works, and the environment in which they are seen. There is the ironic smile of the viewer who recognizes the ploy and enjoys it, along with the awe at technical mastery that such a large photo still inspires in us. Struth’s work, perhaps by its very monumental quality, makes us feel small in comparison. Unlike Jodice’s work, especially the short film, the subject to object relationship seems quite set; this again may be a feature of the video/still photography divide. While Struth’s work gives the viewer pause, and might cause some reflection on one’s very position as a viewer, we don’t feel much different than we do when viewing Las Meninas or any of the other “great works” that serve as background and context for Struth’s photographs. We are looking at big art whose subject is big art, the very scale of which startles and amuses us. But we’re not at the Prado. Viewing the work at a museum such as the Clark, with its rather antique galleries and the profusion of work that often does not merit close reexamination, it is perhaps all the more compelling to use such works as a context, and not as “the thing itself.” It’s a postmodern strategy in a place that leans more towards the old masters.

Susan Sontag, in her On Photography, asserted that the taking of pictures has become mostly “a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.” Sontag wrote this long before the ubiquity of the smartphone. When an artist uses photography to question that defensiveness and anxiety, as I think Jodice is attempting, the continuum is interfered with. Some museum/gallery goers might retort (I don’t know, I didn’t ask them), that they are making a blow against power by reducing the heavily valued commodity of commercial and/or historicized art, increasing their own agency by capturing it. OK, I’ll suggest they read Walter Benjamin, but I get the point. A question remains; then what? You make the effortless decision to take the picture, transferring ownership to your device. But when does the real encounter with that work happen? If the art you snapped didn’t merit your time in the flesh and blood of its oil/canvas/watercolor/marble/steel/inkjet/silver nitrate gum bichromate realness, why would you study the flat, recorded pixel fest at home on your flat screen HD monitor? Are we simply indulging in a time-shift, a sorting/storing process awaiting the ideal viewing time/place? What is a museum and gallery if not that place? Is everything on the path to take-out/take-away now? Removing a piece of art from its original context changes its meaning. Yes, many famous works of art were in fact not made for a museum at all but for a wealthy king/collector, and the hope of a contemporary gallery is to get that work up on another wall, at a price, but all of these are somewhat controlled environments that inform the work itself. And they are in three dimensions. Would we rather own and contemplate the representation of something than the thing itself?

A young Cuban friend, recently arrived in the U.S., told me how stunned he was to finally see the Dalí painting, The Persistence of Memory, at MOMA. He had always imagined it so much larger. Seeing it “live” it looked like something “every teenager could draw in the back of his notebook.” He suggested, only half in jest, that it was better to never see the original if one has become over familiar with the reproduction. Of course this led into a discussion of Walter Benjamin, but I think he hit on something.

It’s unusual that in the case of the Dalí, the original is smaller than its reproductions. One of the oddities of digitization is that so often the reproduction is smaller, contains less information, is sensorily inferior to the original. Downloaded audio files are compressed; they don’t sound as full as the ancient LP. But they are portable and easily accessible. So does the downloaded file become a placeholder, a suggestion of the real thing, not the real thing itself, just as video delivery systems (YouTube, tiny screens, bad audio and delay) are degraded? When do we return (if ever) to the fountain, the original immersive experience? The analog commitment of time, expansive and trackable, has spaces the digital random and compressed moment does not.

Perhaps the concept of art being something you have to engage in an effortful push/pull with has been displaced. But then what fills that void? Chatter, surface judgment, snap opinion, distractions announcing themselves as “feelings?” During my slow walk through the Prado, I found a large group of students listening to their very animated guide narrating and explicating a large Hieronymus Bosch painting. Something seemed quaint and old world about the scene (the group, not the Bosch). What could it be? Ah, no one was taking a picture of it, no one was fiddling with a digital device. They were united in paying attention to the painting and the pedagogue. Their focus was palpable, traceable in their very eyes. They were trying to conform what he was saying with what they were seeing. And he was saying it in castellano to a group clearly not native Spanish speakers, adding another track of effort. The students’ attention made me pay more attention to the painting. Instead of the digital de-couple, they were struggling to connect, in realtime. This moment would not be repeatable or replayable, but, as does a really good lecture or presentation, it pulled us into the excitement of the now activated through details from the past. The students were engaged in translation, with nothing between them and this painting except someone pulling them closer.

Digitization infiltrates our sense of time and space, offering a complex non-linear connection to information. It’s intoxicating at times, and occasionally disorienting. We never fully understand most of the tools we have created. At the beginning of the digital era, we were just beginning (maybe) to fully understand the power of a camera. Now it has merged with the phone, with the computer, with the web, with the grand placelessness of postmodernist progress. Multiple streams of information, the ability to record almost effortlessly almost everything; such a promise, but we have to notice when this aspiration becomes aberration. Our brave new free market of consciousness too often addresses who we think we are, what we think we want, and not what we are and what we need. “Only connect” has been digitized and diverted into distractions about plugging in and downloading, but the desire waits. Desire has always been good at waiting, growing as it lingers. Is desire itself the focus of these efforts at owning, at sidestepping immediate attention for delayed gratification? Are the casual photo snappers exploring their desire or simply offsetting it, avoiding the messy commitment and short-circuiting intimacy? Can we only understand something now if we “own” it, make it ours through some kind of digital grab?

The initial desire in the act of looking is simply to be allowed to look, to contemplate, to stare, to break into the one-dimensionality and find the subtle depths of the work. The history of photography is based, of course, in initially making something very still; early camera technology demanded that the subject not move, as exposures took several minutes. Of course all that has changed, but have we paused to consider how this has affected the way we look at things, with the now omnipresent lens of a camera replacing our own eye? San Francisco-based John Chiara, in his recent “Fort at Lime Point” exhibition, returns to the effort-based school of photography. His super-sized, hand built cameras use photo paper, not film, erasing that interim process, but requiring a one-to-one relationship between scale of the photographed and the photo itself. The results are at times literally sketchy, with the landscapes and monuments damaged optically in their translation. Perhaps the longer we look at something, the more we change it in our attempt to “get it down,” yet in Chiara’s work the very elements of the apparatus imposes all sorts of extreme colors, “flaws” in recording, and the damaging of the record of the real. There is something poignant in the inability of this deliberately cumbersome technique, and something quite beautiful as well in the refusal to make it easier. We have to think about how we see what we see. Chiara’s camera refuses to see what we see, and thus forces us to re-view and consider what it is we are seeing. While special effects may frequently do this, the goal of such effects is usually blatant. In Chiara’s work it is not. The prints float in their frames, asserting their refusal to be typically flat prints. A snapshot of this work would only barely indicate what they might be.

Nan Goldin, in her recent show at Matthew Marks, “Scopophilia,” has the audacity to blend her own photographic portraiture with “great” (in some cases “near great”) paintings and sculpture from the Louvre. Invited to take pictures of the work in that museum during a series of Tuesdays when the museum is closed, Goldin employed multiple strategies to bring viewers into a mediated relationship with the older work. The result is both very different, and somewhat similar, to what a camera toting gallery goer might do. Goldin’s work has always been about ennobling that which (or who) may not be traditionally considered noble or even worth regarding. Her earlier photos and slide shows took the Warholian blankness (blandness) and self-fascination and brought it closer, by placing herself (sometimes) in the picture in ways that were not necessarily glamorous or flattering. Gallery-goers try to do this in their own way, perhaps, when they are snapping shots of art, but I think Jacobson’s comment about intent comes into play again. Do these casual captures provide any critical distance, any reflective pause; is the relationship between the photographer and the photographed at all examined? It’s a somewhat archaeological issue; how do we implicate ourselves and change the thing we are photographing when we take a picture of it. This is something Goldin’s show attempts.

In the press release for her show, Goldin says, “Desire awoken by images is the project’s true starting point. It is about the idea of taking a picture of a sculpture or a painting in an attempt to bring it to life.” This is a quite different goal than that of the snapshot taker. While Goldin pushes herself and her milieu literally onto the surface of the art she has photographed, sandwiching two eras, she also juxtaposes images; a portrait from the Louvre by Ingres, Corot, Zurbarán, Delacroix, or Ary Scheffer hung next to one of her portraits from the 1990s and 2000s. For example, Goldin’s “Swan Like Embrace” paired with Scheffer’s “Paolo and Francesca in Hell,” the shapes of the embracing couples balancing each other across (implied) Eros. For some of the photographs, such as “Origin of the World,” she divides the 48×58 print into four parts, with each quadrant a close-up (or is it her version of?) Courbet’s still refreshingly frank painting of female genitalia. It’s an infamous image, which she both de-centers and deconstructs; Goldin, a postmodernist, looks carefully before reframing.

Goldin’s work at the Louvre came about through guest curator Patrice Chéreau’s “Faces and Bodies” program, a project Goldin’s press release refers to as “Patrice Chéreau at the Louvre.” Perhaps it is the province of curators, artists, and critics to insert themselves into visual work so aggressively, and the only recourse for the average viewer is to take a photo of the result. While Struth and Jodice ennoble the average viewer by making them exceptional (and exceptionally large), Goldin reminds us that she has a very particular access to the work we are looking at, in the way that her prior work suggested that her friends and colleagues have an entrée into a demimonde we do not inhabit. This is not a criticism; democracy also implies an elect. What was once a rather aggressive and deliberate act, that of swinging a camera up in someone’s face, has now become so expected as to be banal. One does not comment upon that capture. It is simply part of our life now. And so Goldin takes it upon herself to remind the viewer that art is more than simply capturing and comparing; there is in fact an “art” to this positioning. Goldin’s slide show, itself called “Scopophilia,” is a twenty-five-minute HD video projection that curates most of the images hanging outside on the wall, while adding music and Goldin’s narration and contextualizing. Perhaps because it is video, with music and narration, this part of the work seems the most accessible; a tone of edification along with the elucidation. But it’s still powerful, as Goldin’s camera is a known thing now, and her subjects know this. They are ready for her.

Goldin dedicates the slide show to Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz. While a fitting tribute to these two peers, both now dead, such a dedication also says something about market synergy. Right across the street, at another of Matthew Marks’ galleries (will future galleries simply take over entire streets in Chelsea?) a show of Hujar’s photographs of himself, Wojnarowicz, and Paul Thek. Her tribute also says something quite important about the aesthetics, artistic friendships, affinities, and the act of seeing. How is Hujar’s work, his scopophilia, different from Goldin’s? So much of Hujar’s work focused on portraits of men, while Goldin’s just as often foregrounds women and couples. What struck me most powerfully in Hujar’s show is how essential it is to see his actual prints. I have seen many of Hujar’s portraits reproduced in books and magazines, but was startled at how rich and detailed many of these supposedly “familiar” prints were when viewed in the gallery. The shadows and light in his portrait of Wojnarowicz smoking, for example; the depth of that vintage silver print from 1981 draws your eye, and your sympathy, into its subject. Hujar’s portraits are more formal than Goldin’s, but they also seem more considered, deliberate, posed in a pre-Warholian sense. Where Goldin’s friends and lovers so often seem to be posing for the camera, albeit beautifully and evocatively, Hujar’s seem to be studying the camera, deciding if they really want this attention. There is a dialogue (perhaps more appropriately a series of glances) going on back and forth across Twenty-Fourth Street and it’s gratifying to oscillate between the them.

It is not only “static” art that is subject to the acquisitive camera. In performance artist Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” at MOMA last year, many people were taking photos of the live performers. Abramovic, whose work seldom fails to question our tendency toward forgetting, earns our attention through physical presence and endurance, yet this rigor is often intensely communicative, requiring great endurance and focus from the audience as well as the performers. Snapping photos of that attempt at communication communicates very little, but it does interrupt our implied responsibility to deepen that communication. An extended moment is over in a snap.

Exhibitions cited:

Bill Jacobson,
 Into the Loving Nowhere (1989 till now),
 Julie Saul Gallery, New York, October 20-December 10, 2011

Francesco Jodice, El Prado de Francesco Jodice, The Prado, Madrid, October 5, 2011-January 1, 2012.

Spaces: Photographs by Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, June 12-September 5, 2011.

Nan Goldin, Scopophilia, Matthew Marks, New York, October 29-December 23, 2011.

Peter Hujar, Three Lives: Peter Hujar, Paul Thek & David Wojnarowicz, Matthew Marks, New York, October 29-December 23, 2011.

John Chiara, Fort at Lime Point, Von Lintel Gallery, New York, October 17, 2011-January 7, 2012.

Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present, MOMA, New York, March 14-May 31, 2010.

Jeff McMahon is a writer whose performance work has received numerous fellowships from the National Endowment on the Arts. His work has been published in Threepenny Review, the New England Review, TDR/The Drama Review, PAJ/Performing Arts Journal and elsewhere. He is an Associate Professor in the School of Theatre and Film, Arizona State University.