Sunday, 26 January 2014

9: Elizabeth McCausland

Elizabeth McCausland was an American art critic. A quick skim of Google suggests she argued strongly for art to be engaged with society at a time when it was – especially in the US – driving more and more to abstraction.

This exercise requires that I summarise the key points of this article and explain, in a paragraph, the relevance of the article to this section of the course. The article certainly supports that rather minimalists description of McCausland I gave above. In a nutshell it argues that:

  • documentary photography, unlike previous photography movements, is not an intellectual dead end because it is reality that is interesting.
  • photography needs to communicate – it must convey a message.
  • photography should show us the truth – devoid of the prejudices and tastes of the photographer.
  • photography is ideally suited to capturing reality and its task should be not to create art – which is of no concern to a documentary photographer – but to show us that unmediated reality.

As this part of the course covers the development of black and white documentary photography the relevance seems obvious. The McCausland paper is almost a manifesto for documentary photography as it was practised for much of the 20th century. It is the philosophical basis for what is usually regarded as the documentary style – plain, straightforward, show it as it is, with a clear message.

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