Now what?

Painting erupted once its burden of depiction was lifted. Maybe as photographers we can do our own lifting, realizing what it means, for example, to say that every photograph has already been taken. Seen in that sense, photography could maybe be the first medium to move forward because it has made itself obsolete, at least to some extent.

—Joerg Colberg: Photography After Photography?

Let’s shift from the emphasis on finding “new” elements to how we can combine elements with increasing sophistication.

—Fototazo: Responding to Colberg

As much as I’m an advocate of it being necessary to keep the function of art in mind, this does not mean that I am biased against non-functional art. If any thing, what I’m asking for is for museums to keep context in mind. If the art has a use, please let me know. If the art has no use, there’s still a purpose which I’d like to be informed of.

Photography, both because it’s still emerging as an art and because it skews majorly toward function,* has yet to really take the leap into the non-functional realm which other, older media have taken. It’s still very much about taking pictures of new things and it’s still very much about what the photograph is of rather than what the photograph is.

*Whatwith the misconception that photographic truth exists.

There’s a point in art where provoking the medium and exploring different elements of it become more interesting than just excellence of craft. Painting, sculpture, and music are already at this point—admittedly with a massive head start—and it seems like photography is reaching it.

There’s a sense in looking through new photo projects that we’ve kind of reached a point where documenting something—no matter how well it’s done—is no longer enough. It turns out that while the standard complaint is “now everyone is a photographer,” the real complaint should be “everything has been photographed.”

Which, of course is all crap. Photography, by coming into existence in parallel with modern art, has always had people who were pushing elements of it into sophisticated areas where the subject of the image isn’t the main point. Much of Edward Weston’s work, for example, can be seen as distinct explorations of the concept of texture and pattern. William Eggleston meanwhile is best seen as an exploration into color.

But we’re due for more of this. Less taking picture of things; more taking pictures of concepts. And more experimentation into realms which may not be thought of or immediately recognizable as “photography.”* It’s time to start exploring the toolset of photographic elements we use and really push our understanding of what those elements can do.

* To the three examples Colberg gives (do read his piece first), I’d add Jessica Eaton.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

7 thoughts on “Now what?”

  1. Pingback: Blinders | n j w v
  2. I agree on both counts. Of course everything has been photographed. Maybe everything was photograhed before but with Social Media so large and mobiles/cameras omnipresent you get to see that everything has been photographed already.

    So, the way I look at it or try to photograph is to make my (some of my )photos stand out from the bunch; if photographing a famous landmark I might try to make it more abstract, shoot from a different angle etc.

    It reminds me of the South Park episode Simpsons Already Did It


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