Harry Cory Wright is just another one of a remarkably undiverse bunch: "contemporary" photographers.
The world of photography is constituted into two parts and Johannes Faber, dealer in Vienna specialising in classic Modern photographs, has put it as well as anyone: “Collectors of classic modern photography are a different group. They focus on the image, quality, and surface of the print (sic), whereas the contemporary market is about content and size.”
The Art Newspaper, Issue 3, The Year in Review 2004
In general the driving energy for contemporary photography comes from curators, gallerists, dealers, and artists on the make. Of course there are exceptions but most of this cohort are not knowledgeable about photography and could not be considered friends of the medium. Their agenda is more about career advancement, job security, ego stroking, and pecuniary gain.
These custodians of contemporary photography tend to be oblivious of the conundrum posed by the number of curatorially lionised photographer who have no active contact with the photographic medium? The conceptual element of the picture is the quality stressed rather than the actual execution. Again when the putative artist is not the actual maker an unasked question remains. If the “photographer” is merely the guy who clicked the camera and the thing on the gallery wall is the work of an anonymous artist down at the processing laboratory then who is the real creator, the actual thinker?
The contemporary genre seems to embrace a trend, uncritical, uncaring, or ignorant, to declare any picture originating from any camera-work a photograph. This includes such diverse species as a press print, ink-jet print, or a monitor display. And it doesn't seem to matter how far downstream the picture is in the chain of production. If there is a camera at the front end then everything down from there is a photograph.
Sometimes not even a camera is relevant. I recall a conversation with a very "contemporary" senior curator of photography at the Australian National Gallery. I asked "What is a photograph?" And the reply came without any perception of irony or doubt "A photograph is whatever I say is a photograph".
As predictable as clockwork the "avant garde" of contemporary photography seems to speak only one visual language: large size colour pictures displayed as if they were paintings. Maybe this trope has particular appeal to hopeful collectors who do not have much taste but can afford a big one if not a good one.
The virtually universal preoccupation with big colour, I believe, hints at a coarsened aesthetic. Robert Hughes, the famous arts writer put it this way "In colour photography nothing is easier to feign than the marks of intense emotional or intellectual experience".
The picture making arts have many pretenders to authorship particularly under the banner of "photography". These "photographers" tend to be supported by an industry, both commercial and academic, that remains allergic to genuine scholarship. Again I recall an opinion from a senior curator, "Jeff Koons is acknowledged as an important contemporary photographer. I'm not going to question that. My department is going to run on world's best practice."
Jeff Koons, or even Harry Cory Wright, may or may not be worthy photographers but their status as such might garner more credibility via critical assessment than through uncritical acceptance and curatorial gush. I am cynical enough to opine that contemporary photography is often a circus where pretenders to photographic accomplishment are acclaimed by pretenders to scholarship. And it is not a given that a photograph about which an academic can write many words is worth even passing attention. It may not rigorously defined what “Contemporary Photography” really is but it appears to have the characteristics of a self healing belief system that is unaffected by criticism or objective analysis. It could very well be that those big, empty colour pictures with high "meaning-less-ness per square metre" quotients will become an embarrassment that museums will hide in the basement long before they fade to cyan or magenta schmutz.
If you have read this far you will know which side I am on.
Classic modern photography, by way of contrast with the contemporary stuff, is close to what fine photography has always been. It offers a rich experience for people who love rarity, singularity, fully realized handcraft, precious materials, archival durability, coherent scholarship, and interesting content. It remains worth looking at.