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No Photos Allowed

You may have read or at the very least be aware of the comments surrounding the recent article by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian on 13 November titled’ Flat, soulless and stupid: why photographs don’t work in art galleries’.
The piece has been circulated on social media, particularly on Facebook with 9467 shares (to date 26/11/14). The article itself attracted 385 comments.
So much has been already written and commented on directly about the article so I am not writing a response to, or commenting on the content. However I am far more interested in how photography got to this point in time.
Since photography was announced to the world in 1839 there has been a continuous debate on is it art or is it science. Linked to this debate is the place of photography on a gallery wall. The Victorians were quick to start exhibiting the new medium and a variety of photographic salons sprung up across Europe, and by the early 20th century many rival Salons were established. (The term and format of the Salon taken from the painting salons, which date back to 17th Century France.)


However it is to America that we look for the establishment of a canon of western photography. Starting with Alfred Stieglitz in his independent gallery, and then taken through a succession of curators at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Photography’s passage from the European art world into the museum can be tracked starting with Alfred Stieglitz, to Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen and John Szarkowski.  The establishment of the Curator of Photography at MoMA allowed for a development of a distinctly American canon of photography and in turn was hugely influential on establishing photography as a distinct field within the art world.  There is not space here for a full discussion of this progression from Stieglitz and its impact on photography.  For further reading do look at ‘The Judgment Seat of Photography’ Christopher Phillips, this is a key text for any photography student to read and is included on several reading lists.
It is important to remember that museums and galleries do function differently as gatekeepers to the establishment of photographic art.  It is by being placed on the museum wall that often confers the final status of allowing the images to enter a photographic hall of fame.  The function of the gallery is to introduce these images for possible selection.   The Paris Salon’s of the 18th Century sparked much debate and comment and that is the place of our galleries now.  It is through this debate that art (of all forms) moves and evolves.
The social historian of art knows that the values of a society can be gained from cultural references. In our modern age these cultural sources need also to encompass social media.
The quick proliferation of comments reacting to this article tells us far more about our attitude to the subject than the content of the article.

Posted by author: Andrea Norrington
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