Photography Is Most Definitely Not Magic

Charlotte Cotton’s “Photograph As Contemporary Art” had me believing that she could do no wrong. And then I read “Photography Is Magic”. I find myself inclined to agree with ASX’s scathing review*, and so I say Photography Is Most Definitely Not Magic. Cotton's essay just left me with a sour taste in my mouth, having learnt nothing new and wasted my time reading pages and pages of the same information reiterated too many times and in as many ways as possible.

Aside from following a very lame analogy to performance magic tricks, which are honestly something I would rather forget from all those over-crowded screeching unpleasant sticky children’s birthday parties, the essay also seems to assume that the reader is an absolute idiot. Flashy words like “Cubism”, “post-internet”, “Marcel Duchamp” are thrown around to attract the attention of a widely shallow consumer group. Come on, Charlotte, we go deeper than that. Give your readership some credit.

Although the essay was divided into several sub-headings – Photography Is Magic, Constants Become Variables, Camouflage, and Channeling Histories – they all seem to have the same crux. The very same one we are all familiar with already – that photography is a highly self-reflexive medium. It folds back on itself, it refers to history, and it is all about the shift from analog to digital. Yes, Charlotte, we know, thanks. You didn’t have to tell us in 9 different ways.

What is hilarious about the whole thing is, the section I found most interesting to read wasn’t actually authored by the writer of this book. Oops. The artist statements at the end of the book are quite an interesting collection of thoughts; I believe they manage to say a lot more about photography than Cotton’s essay could. 

Walead Beshty’s statement resounded strongly with me. “When we use categorical words or we begin with such broad terms, we’re aggregating the historically evolving relation between technology and application, generalizing about it, smoothing it out….I don’t think there’s an ontological dimension to the media, and I think it’s a waste of time to try and assert one.” It almost seems like a cheeky rebuttal to everything Charlotte Cotton spends her life doing – shoving photographs into neat little categories – and I thoroughly enjoy that she opted to have it in her book.