A couple of people have asked me to respond to Susie Linfield’s essay, The Treacherous Medium, Why Photography Critics Hate Photographs. While the title is provocative and the essay is well written, I’ve had a hard time mustering up much of a reaction. Linfield’s essay is talking about (and for) the world of academic critics: Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Victor Burgin, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, John Tagg, Martha Rosler. While I brushed up against this world in college, it is pretty remote from the material I read now. (I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, not October).
Where Linfield’s essay falls short is in her comparison to critics of other media. After a paragraph describing Victor Burgin’s condemnation of the activity of looking (ah, postmoderism), Linfield writes, “Compare all this – this obsession with victimization and predetermination, this utter refusal of freedom, this insistent moroseness – to the opening pages of Pauline Kael’s essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies.”
But it seems to me that Linfield has an apple/orange problem. Kael wrote for the New Yorker, not for the Yale Journal of Criticism. Linfield doesn’t mention the New Yorker’s current photography writer, Vince Aletti. Nobody loves the ‘trash’ art of fashion photography more than Aletti. And where are the other non-academic photography critics in Linfield’s essay: A.D. Coleman, Jean Dykstra, Vicki Goldberg, Andy Grundberg, Bill Jay, Max Kozloff, Richard B. Woodward. Certainly these writers don’t hate photography (a couple of them are even practicing photographers). Perhaps Linfield should explore another topic: Why Academic Photography Critics Ignore Popular Photography Critics.
Note: Forgive my quickie list of popular photography critics. I could use help coming up with more names & links.