Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ai Weiwei : On Photography

...some thoughts for the holidays.

(originally posted on his blog on February 11, 2006)

If we reflect on the history of photography, we realize it has been widely accepted as a medium of artistic expression only for roughly twenty years. Prior to that, it was treated as a purely technical means of recording history.

In recent years, in the development of the photographic arts, various elements such as plot, color, chiaroscuro, and compositional narrative have maintained a parallel development relationship to the methods and characteristics of Western painting. It remains difficult for photography to break free from being habitually recognized as an arbitrator, but this historical misunderstanding originates from much deeper ancient and enduring philosophical issues, such as: what is reality, is it possible to record reality? Or, what is the nature of the relationship between truth and reality?

Evidently, such conclusions lean towards the interpretation of photography as merely an illusion, something that falls short of reality's reflection. The material existence of such an illusion furthermore becomes another kind or irrefutable reality. It doesn't matter if this material's features are dynamic or static, black and white or color, large or small, or realized via chemicals or binary code- whenever photography occurs, it is endowed with all the characteristics of an independent material, proving that photographs as objects themselves are identical to any previously existing object. Despite the fact that photographs appear to have originated in the process of documenting the object that is being photographed, the real documentation of this so-called objectivity has a greater attraction and a dualistic nature. It is even more unfaithful to reality, calling our physiological feelings and fundamental means of expression into question.

Photography is a deceitful and dangerous medium; and medium is method, it is significance, a ubiquitous feast of hope, or a hopelessly impassable ditch. In the end, photography is unable to either record or express reality, it rejects the authenticity of the reality that it presents, making reality even more remote and distant from us. People from East Asia are inclined toward another possible aesthetic attitude: they rarely see artistic activities as a means for understanding, or they rarely show an interest in the topic; instead, the process of achieving understanding itself and the means of expressing this understanding are seen as the ultimate essence. This essence is precisely our mental outlook on the world, and as for the reality of the outside world, that is even more of an illusion.

The universe's reality is limited and ruthless; humankind's reality is comparatively psychological and emotional, indeterminate, difficult to ponder, idealistic, and self-centered. As for a familiarity with the self, isn't being cognizant of one's own personal feelings and psychology even more perplexing and fascinating?

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