I saw a billboard for the Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present exhibition at the National Gallery in London in the Tube the other day and thought, 'Ooh, that would be good!' and mentally earmarked it for suggestion to a friend to catch up to see this weekend, as I've had to rain-check twice on catching up with him.
I went to look up details just now, and though I will still probably check it out, it irked me no end that:
a) it is the National Gallery's first major exhibition of photography. Camera photography is not a new art. The process has existed for almost 200 years in some form. Why has it taken this long for the National Gallery to recognise it as such?
b) by 'recognise' I use the term loosely. The description of the exhibition states: It takes a provocative look at how photographers use fine art traditions, including Old Master painting, to explore and justify the possibilities of their art. Le sigh. Photographers still have to 'justify' the 'possibilities' of their art? I'm surprised the word 'art' in this context isn't within quotation marks to clearly indicate the National Gallery's view that photography's claim to being art is a spurious one, at best.
c) the National Gallery's first major exhibition of photography is actually not an exhibition of photography. It is an exhibition of photography and painting. Drawing attention to one particular and rich strand of photography’s history – that of the influence and inspiration of historical painting. From that description, I would assume the exhibition indicates photography is only valid as an art form in its relation to painting, and will be viewed as such, not as a stand-alone art form in its own right.
d) the opening gambit for the exhibition is View Old Master painting through a new lens with the National Gallery's first major exhibition of photography. Even in the blurb photography takes a poor second place.
I haven't even been to the exhibition and I'm already riled up about it. I hope it isn't as patronising and insulting to photographic artists as it sounds. Arguably the contemporary photographers it mentions including are not my preference, but to indicate showing their work is only valid in the context of showing how they have been influenced by painters from times past (and not even contemporary painters) feels like a complete negation of their work to me.
I'm not arguing that art from one time or one medium doesn't influence art that follows or art in a newer medium. I would be naive to disregard that aspect. But surely if you are going to stage the first major exhibition of an art form, you would concentrate on that art form, not on how it references / is derivative of another form of art / art medium?