After seeing 'Landmarks: The Fields of Photography' at Somerset House in London, I came away feeling overwhelmingly indifferent. Firstly, the staff weren't exactly friendly - a great ordeal for them to point me in the right direction in a confusing building with no directions.
I was most eager to see Nadav Kander's prints, but apart from the fact that they were significantly peeling away from the mountboard, they just didn't have any impact on me as 'photographic objects', 'original artworks'. They were C-prints, which I'm sure many on APUG have opinions about, and even the small size prints by others (displayed on the same 'media') had little substance. There were a few optical prints, most notably Thomas Struth's El Capitan - a wall sized chromogenic print, the detail of which held up pretty well from about a foot away. Smaller prints on the other hand by Simon Roberts and Mark Power (whose work I greatly admire) were softer - they were C-prints. It was hugely dispiriting seeing many images I've had strong responses to in reproduction, as large, soft, underwhelming prints on the wall.
The thing that baffles me a little bit, especially in regard to Burtynsky (also on display) and Kander, is that their images are some of the most defining of this period in photography. I just wonder, if in 20 years, looking at their soft C-prints will be like watching a classic film on VHS is now. As artists whose work sells for great sums, I don't see any excuse for them not to make optical prints. I know for a fact Nadav Kander and Mark Power shoot 4x5 colour neg.
I really think this is an issue that needs to be discussed (however controversial), especially in relation to some of the biggest names in art photography. Why are they compromising (technologically) with their prints? How will they hold up to posterity, if in my eyes, they don't today? I should say that I had been unaware of Robert Bourdeau's work until seeing this exhibition, whose toned silver gelatin prints of industrial ugliness were like jewels on the wall - for their great substance, detail and tonality. They were out of place as photographic artworks, in a good way.
I came away from the exhibition more certain that photography's natural and best presentation format today (and legacy as an art form), is in reproduction - books. So why waste time and energy to see the same reproductions in a gallery, just because they are larger and framed?
Disclaimer: I ask this on APUG because it's probably the only place on the web where people are incredibly knowledgeable about both traditional and 'modern' photographic printing, and some even recognise the names mentioned above! So as much as it ultimately appears like 'another one of those threads', this is in relation to photography as art at the highest level.