Modernism can begenerally seen in two ways- the era of experimentation and seeking to transformculture and insights; or as a period of intense elitism.
Postmodernism can bedistinguished from modernism as it moves past the self-inclusive world of previousmovements and back into the territory of everyday life. Postmodernism is arepercussion of modernism and, put simply, it is anything beyond modernismwhich was normally situated on idealism and an equilibrium view of human lifeand society and expectation of progress. Scepticism is one of many aspects ofpostmodernism, suggesting that there may be infinite truths. It has veered fromwhat is seen as the traditions of art, for example, what is depicted in highculture, and breaking past cemented rules regarding style. Postmodernism allowscreators to express themselves and give them the sense of freedom, expressionand power that other things in life may not offer them, however, this may becontroversial to many who are not as compliant to this newly found flexibilityof expression.
This movement is an attitude that cannot be defined, as thereare many different approaches and interpretations as to what it is. There isoften the question of the original and the copy, and whether postmodernism is initself unique, as the history of photography and its creative processes can sometimesbe lost or overlooked. Is there still originality in photography?In the book titled ‘Simulacraand Simulation’ by Jean Baudrillard, written in 1994, he writes that there arefour successive phases of the image; the first is that it is a “reflection of abasic reality”, it “masks and perverts basic reality”, it “marks the absence ofbasic reality”, and finally, it “bears no relation at all to reality- it is itsown pure simulacrum, a copy where there is no original” (Baudrillard and Glaser,2014). According to Wikipedia.com, simulacrais an image or representation of someone or something- they are “copies thatdepict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer havean original”, whereas a simulation is the “imitation of the operation of areal-world process or system over time” (Simulacra and Simulation, 2017).The postmodernistmovement has been explored using mediums such as philosophy, the arts,architecture and literature. This exit from the modernist era is known to holdirony, and protest against the ideological state apparatus and social development (En.wikipedia.
org,2018). It indulges in comedy and praisesthe essence of parody and play. Those who follow the postmodern movement maythink that claims to knowledge and truth are products of social, historical orpolitical discourses or interpretations, and are therefore contextual orsocially constructed (En.wikipedia.org,2018). Postmodernism offers a “provocativeand often critical view of those sign systems by recombining, appropriating andre-presenting familiar images”, and the themes that are often portrayed by theartists include that of “consumer culture, the art market, history, gender and race”(Phaidon, n.
d.).According to the Tate art gallery,Postmodernism in art was “specifically a reaction against modernism which haddominated art theory and practice since the beginning of the twentieth century”(TATE, 2018). Traditional belief systems that occurred in Westernsociety and culture from the 1960s were tested by this movement. First usedaround 1970, the term ‘postmodernism’, in relation to the art movement, doesnot confine itself to a set style or theory, thus becoming the opposite of whatit is defined as.
There are various ways to express this genre through artmaking, however it may have been said to have begun in pop art in the 1960s,embracing conceptual art, neo-expressionism, feminist art, and the YoungBritish Artists of the 1990s.In1967, political theorist, filmmaker and author Guy Debord wrote a book titled,’The Society of the Spectacle’ which included the work of philosophy andMarxist critical theory. Debord brings forth and develops the concept of theSpectacle. This book became a crucial piece of text for the Situationistmovement. It explores subjects such as the ‘Degradation of human life’, ‘Massmedia and commodity fetishism’, ‘Comparison between religion and marketing’ andthe ‘Critique of American sociology’ (Wikipedia, 2018). In the book, Deborddescribes the world as becoming a ‘Spectacle’, “In societies dominated bymodern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulationof spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into arepresentation”.
He also states that the “spectacle is not a collection ofimages; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images. Thespectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual excess produced by mass-mediatechnologies. It is a worldview that has actually been materialized, a view ofa world that has become objective” (Debord, 1970). Therefore,contemporary visual culture was viewed as a “spectacle disseminated throughphotographic forms, reproductions of reproductions, simulacra of a reality thatnever existed” (Willette,2012). The spectacle of popular culture starteda connection with contemporary visual culture through photography, thuscreating a certain type of social relation.With postmodernism, itcan sometimes be a question of the original and the copy. Originality consistsof being ‘new’ and the ‘first’, however in this current postmodern world, it isharder to find true, authentic pieces as there is so much history, specificallywithin the arts. Many things may not seem original in this age, and there is alot of regurgitation of work from the past.
Some artists, such as Jeff Wall,have been caught in the act of appropriating previously created artworks- in Wall’scase, a woodcut by painter Katsushika Hokusai titled ‘Travellers Caught in aSudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832)’ was interpreted by Wall through a photographwith the same compositions and elements. Other notable postmodernistphotographers and artists include: Robert Rauschenberg, Douglas Kellner,Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard and Kevin Sonmor, among many others.
Bornin 1946, Jeffrey Wall is a Canadian artist who was a key influence in the artscene of Vancouver since the early 1970s- his “large-scale back-lit Cibachromephotographs and art history” are also very well known (Wikipedia,2017). In hisphotography, Wall explores aspects of Vancouver, and in doing this he createsbackdrops using the city’s “mixture of natural beauty, urban decay andpostmodern and industrial featurelessness” (Wikipedia,2017). Whilst Wall was an undergraduate,he began experimenting with conceptual art- many of his artworks are staged.They indicate the “history of art and the philosophical problems ofrepresentation” (Wikipedia, 2017).In his photographs, the compositions draw attention to the work of artists suchas Hokusai and Édouard Manet, orto writers like Ralph Ellison and Yukio Mishima,.
Completewith crews, sets, cast and digital postproduction, some of Wall’s photographsinclude complex productions- being labelled as “one-frame cinematicproductions” (Wikipedia, 2017).Wall becameintrigued in still lifes in the early 1990s and can be recognised for hislarge-scale images of contemporary everyday genre scenes that are often timesresiding with figures. In his early photography, Wall had focused on themessuch as conceptual art, alongside aspects of appropriation art of the 1970s and1980s- he did this by “investigating the assumed, required elements of fine artand borrowing narrative and visual details from outside the established artworld genres” (The Art Story, n.d.
). Throughhis work, Wall addresses issues from moments that he has witnessed, read orheard in his own life, however, he does not blatantly copy the art, instead he “changessome visual and physical elements as he pleases and depicting scenes as frozenmoments in the middle of an event” (The Art Story, n.d.).
His work titled ‘A Sudden Gust ofWind (after Hokusai)’, 1993, required a mixture of actors, sets and specialeffects. In this specific piece of work, there are four people standing on brownfield with what looks like a canal behind them. Two skinny trees tower over thesubjects and are bent from the wind’s force. The person on the far left seems to have losttheir papers in the wind, creating an interesting design formed by both the papersand the trees’ leaves. The sky looks cold and grey, and all of the colours withinthe images are dull, however they work well together to create this type of ‘earthy’tone. The overall atmosphere looks gloomy and cold. This photograph was basedon ‘Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (1832)’, a woodprint createdby Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai. ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind’is Wall’s own recreation of this 19th-century Japanese era, howeverit takes place in British Columbia- it took more than one year to create 100photographs so as to “achieve a seamless montage that gives the illusion ofcapturing a real moment in time” (Wikipedia, 2017).
To createcollages of various individual negatives, Wall has used digital technology,blending them to look like a single photograph.Although both art works are extremelysimilar, they may portray different meaning. Hokusai’s woodprint looks moretraditional with the simple, natural landscape, whereas Wall’s interpretation containsa much more modern setting and environment due to the electricity posts in thebackground and the models’ clothes.Richard Prince is an Americanphotographer and painter born in 1949. In 1977, Prince started to mimic thework of other photographers. According to the New York Times, he is viewed as”one of the most revered artists of his generation and a provocateur whosometimes rattles people by freely borrowing imagery from pop-culture sources” (Kennedy, 2017), and he decided that his work wouldbe focused on pop culture. He then went on to re-photograph four photographsthat were featured in the New York Times previously- Prince continued thisre-photographing process into 1993.
One of his most famous works is ‘Untitled(Cowboy)’ (1989) in which he re-photographed a photo taken previously by photographerSam Abell.The original image wasfor a cigarette advertisement, and to create this work piece, Prince simplycropped the original image to cut out all logos and text- he re-photographedmany more of Marlboro’s advertisements featuring cowboys. This was to be soldfor over $1 million at an auction in 2005, making Prince a millionaire off ofsomeone else’s work, however Abell did not gain any financial earnings fromthis. In an interview with ‘diyphotography.net’, Abell addressed this situationalongside the “art establishment’s attitude towards stolen art” very calmly (Samuels, L., 2015). He states that he is not angry or particularlyamused, but Prince’s actions were legal, however he feels that “it’s obviouslyplagiarism” (Samuels, L.
, 2015). On the other hand, Prince feelsdifferently. He states that “the pictures I went after, “stole”, were too goodto be true”.
He then says that, “they were about wishful thinking, publicpictures that happen to appear in the advertising sections of mass-marketmagazines, pictures not associated with an author…It was their look I wasinterested in”. He finishes off by stating that he “wanted to represent theclosest thing to the real thing” (Guggenheim, n.d.).The meaning of the image of acowboy riding a horse in a western landscape varies depending on the context inwhich the image is placed- the cropped image hung in a gallery would have a completelydifferent meaning and story to the image being placed in a cigaretteadvertisement or on a cigarette packet. The cowboy portrays masculinity, andcould be a signal to the frontier culture and the “American dream”.
It couldalso be argued that advertisements like these are glamorizing smoking becauseof the images that the cigarettes are often associated with- giving off theimage of masculinity through portraying strong, independent, adventurous men(cowboys). The fact that the subject is alone in an empty field, surrounded by whatdisplayed as nothing but fields and sky, and is riding the horse could portraya sense of freedom on the mind. Both Jeff Wall and Richard Prince are similar in thatthey both copy or directly take another artists’ previous idea/image, however,whilst Wall mimics the exact scene, compositions and elements of Hokusai’swork, Prince literally takes the same image from the cigarette advertisementand simply crops it. They are different, however, as they both created theirworks in different ways, therefore giving them both different results- Walltook the effort to recreate an image, complete with models, location and a set,whilst Prince lazily cropped and enlarged a photograph, something any otherordinary person can do.To reiterate, postmodernismin photography is both controversial and beneficial in that there is a questionof originality, however at the same time it provides creators with the freedomto make whatever they please- even if it means copying someone else’s work.
Itis hard to place a strict definition on postmodernism as it varies and can beinterpreted in so many new and different ways. It may be hard though forcreators to continuously make new and unique art because of the lack ofauthenticity that sometimes exists within the art world.