John Stezaker, Pair IV, 2007
British artist John Stezaker has won the £30,000 Deutsche Börse photography prize, run by London’s Photographers Gallery. Though not practising as a photographer the judges deemed his work photography and awarded the prize arguing that “he has found his way to use photography to reveal the subversive force of the image.”
As an art student, Stezaker read Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious and thought there might be a social version of it within the media. “I needed to evolve an art that was engaged with the momentous circulation of imagery. I found a way of intervening in that and revealing something about what had become a sort of collective unconscious.”
Stezaker, who lectures in art history at the Royal College of Art, sees his work in the context of Duchamp and his idea of ‘found’ art. He scours markets and secondhand bookshops for old photographs and postcards and collages them to create new meanings. His work is an “interruption” in the flow of media images in society,
“I see the cut as a decisive interruption in that flow. How do you inscribe on this flowing away of the world around you? How do you do something that’s fixed and has the quality of ‘contouredness’ that art requires for an image to become an imaginary possibility?”
Greg Neville: Donald Judd, untitled (1975), Art Gallery of NSW
There is a T-shirt going around that takes the old philistine exclamation about modern art “I could have done that” and answers it with “Yeah but you didn’t”. The sentiment might apply to these images I took recently in Sydney. Above, the orderly row of Minimalist boxes by Donald Judd, seen in the art museum. Below the coincidental find the next day of similar crates in an empty shop. Well, what is the difference?
Greg Neville: empty shop, Oxford St Paddington, NSW
Judd didn’t actually make his boxes, he commissioned them from fabricators under careful direction, so there’s no actual craftmanship from the artist. The materials are fairly common pine ply, so there’s no precious ‘aura’ there. The boxes sit mutely on the wall…
“… presented neutrally so as to refute any symbolic connotation. In some cases a number of boxes were attached to the wall in the form of a stack of alternating solids and voids of equal size. Many of the works embodied seriality, either as a simple mathematical progression or as a repetition of a standard unit. He used unpolished laminated wood and had his works made in a factory in order to obtain a perfect finish.” – Moma.org
What is this? A close-up of burnt metal? A landscape painting of a fiery sky? Or a photograph of a chemical spill?
The answer is curious. Since about 1983 I’ve been collecting discarded prints from darkroom bins. Frustrated students throw a developing print straight into the rubbish, without fixing or washing it. It sits there dripping in developer and gradually oxidizes – the silver reacts with the air and tarnishes, as silverware does. I have a couple of boxes of them, collected when particularly interesting ones appear. This is something unique to the photo-chemical photography, impossible with digital technology.