“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.
It is a well-known running joke that photographers are merely failed painters in disguise. Drawing with light has been dismissed as less artistic than brush or pen in hand since the days of Daguerre and Talbot. Photography was still in its infancy when the father of modern art criticism, Charles Baudelaire, penned his 1859 essay The Modern Public and Photography with this haughty denouncement: “… the photographic industry was the refuge of every would-be painter, every painter too ill-endowed or too lazy to complete his studies …” There is a tiny kernel of truth in this critique and I am usually wary when presented with alternative process prints touted as “painterly” and expressing the “hand of the artist.” But when I find exceptions to Baudelaire’s rule, I am excited.
The work of Thomas Condon is a fine exception. Condon was a successful young painter when a freak accident left him with two broken arms and the shattered wrist of his painter’s hand. Unable to paint pain-free after the accident, he reinvented his artistic path through photography. Tom’s expressive silver-gelatin chemigram prints blend superb painterly technique with the mysterious alchemy of photographic chemistry and light sensitive materials. He describes this as “imagining of the simultaneous impossibility of the abstract and the familiarity of the real.” In Baudelaire’s essay, he went on to lament how this “invasion of photography” is a disaster and with “each day art further diminishes its self-respect by bowing down before external reality; each day the painter becomes more and more given to painting not what he dreams but what he sees.” Condon’s painterly prints feel much more like dreams than reality adding to the continued defense that photography is not the art world scourge Baudelaire bemoaned.