Embracing Banality

So much discussion lately about photography being boring...

We have reached the end of photography! 
Everything has already been photographed! 
There is nothing new to experience!
Where is the avant-garde??

Photography is boring... always has been, is now, and always will be. The enabling factor of digital imagery and the mass production and availability of images for our insatiable consumption has temporarily allowed us to believe that photography is exciting. Exciting like Television and Video. Sorry, It isn't.  Photography requires us to slow down and look for subtle nuance. The internet, like television, does not encourage or allow for nuance. Everything is built for speed and impulse. Instant satisfaction and rapid eye movement. The false reality of our times. When people spend the greatest part of their lives living on the internet, the internet becomes the greatest part of people's lives.(1) We naturally want to include photography in our internet lives, however disappointing that relationship may be. We very quickly get the sickening and disheartening feeling that we have seen all there is to see. 

Photography is a lot like nature. Nature can sometimes be very exciting, but for the most part it is extremely  boring. Spend some time in the wilderness. Nothing much happens. Trees move in the wind. An animal might make a noise. The sun moves slowly across the sky. In order to experience what is really going on requires us to slow down and tune into human perception skills that we have lost connection to. We no longer observe and feel the weather forecast, we rely on someone to tell us the weather forecast. We get angry when the forecast is wrong.  We no longer observe and feel photography on our own, we rely on curators and blog-urators to tell us what is good photography. We rely on artist statements to explain it all to us, and we get angry when the statements are confusing or pretentious. We get angry and frustrated when we no longer see something new and different every day.

We label common and ordinary photography as Banal.  Meaning boring, nothing new. Ho hum. Not artistic. Not exciting to our senses. Maybe we don't know how to react to banality. It makes us feel uncomfortable and anxious in the exact same way we would feel out in the wilderness without a smart phone. We don't know what to do with all the slow. Nobody to tell us the forecast. Lost without a compass.

Ellen Jantzen wrote to me last week about the subject of boring photography. Ellen's work is remarkable and most definitely not boring. She uses a variety of digital techniques to push visual interpretation in a unique conceptual language all her own. Ellen was included in my 2011 exhibit and book My Own Wilderness, and I considered her images to be among the most interesting photographs submitted.  So I found it interesting that Ellen was exploring her inner banality. Admittedly, this is, as Ellen describes it, slightly satirical. If you have seen this type of work before, please direct your anger at the internet.

BANAL by Ellen Jantzen (2012)

"This is a series of things I have always ignored but now notice". 

In art (photography), Modernism explicitly rejects the ideology of "traditional" forms of art and makes use of works of the past, through the application of reprise, incorporation,rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms. The poet Ezra Pound's 1934 injunction to "Make it new!" was paradigmatic of the movement's approach towards the obsolete.

A salient characteristic of modernism is self-consciousness. This self-consciousness often leads to experiments with form and work that draws attention to the processes and materials used.

With that in mind, I took a walk around my studio in St. Louis. I saw a lot, but noticed little. There is not much to look at, normal sidewalks… signs, nothing interesting. But then I began looking at things I had previously ignored, uninteresting things, just stuff on the ground. So on my next walk, I took my camera along and started shooting...

Ellen Jantzen from the series BANAL (2012)

Ellen Jantzen from the series BANAL (2012)

Ellen Jantzen from the series BANAL (2012)

More images from Ellen Jantzen's BANAL series

Ellen Jantzen's website

(1)  Paraphrasing the great writer, Jerry Mander, from "In The Absence of the Sacred" (1991 Sierra Club Books) I have substituted the word 'internet' for Mander's word 'television'.