Donovan Wylie, Sloppy America, location over quality

I would not be the first person to enjoy American Photography, and to want to go there myself to make-work. It is a country that has helped preserve photography in both an art and documentary context. It has validated it as a celebrated form of expression and with such a phenomenon it has inspired some of the most exciting Photographic series in in the history of the medium. With that in mind, it has inspired a lot of young photographers to continue its documentation. In a text by Andy Grundberg, Crisis of the Real, he discusses the idea of America inviting visual reproduction but defying it at the same time and the location has become so famous it can override the content of the photographs.

Let’s say I have made a series in America, instantly people are impressed, they’d say ‘oh America’ and be involved straight away before viewing the series. With this creates a love for the location and we will settle for any project made in America to please our love for photographs, even if it is shoddy in production. We would look over it because it is America after all, nothing can go wrong there visually, surely. It is incredibly difficult to create bad pictures there if you don’t look hard enough, but it does happen and quite frequently. Back to Grundberg’s point about an invitation of documentation, it inspires everyone to photograph there and what comes from these escapades is usually more disappointing than great, new and challenging work. An example of this is the Postcards of America project, a trip I was excited to see, considering the names they were sending out there. It was on a par with the FSA photographers at the time but from the contemporary world. And what we got were bad pictures, pictures that relied solely on the location to do all the work, and try hard techniques of photographers repeating their usual routine. This does not apply to all these photographers out there, and in particular Alec Soth and Donavan Wylie created outstanding work reshaping their practice to produce something exciting, working with some great writers along the way. What I saw from the other photographers were images with no weight to them, as if it had been a rushed trip, making pictures/taking pictures in America for the sake of American pictures and this is referring to Bruce Gilden’s incredibly repetitive street work and Martin Parr’s shambolic attempt to revitalise the quality produced in ‘The Last resort’. They were too reliant on America to produce the goods and forgot to actually think about Photography.

This is common in projects made out there, as the place has become bigger than any photographer out there. This is not true for native photographers making work in their backyards, as it is just their hometown not a place of phenomenon. They treat it like any other, do not give it a ladder to stand on, they think about photography and how they can create exciting, visually and tactically, work in a place they know well.

To consider America as a place to create work is a fantastic idea, and this article goes no way in discouraging that, merely it attempts to highlight issues surrounding lack luster work, that is considered a hit despite its poor photographic qualities. The work gets away with being poor, because it has Minnesota, 2012 written beneath it, we are instantly impressed.

When Robert Adam’s ventured into the west. When Kerouac scribbled his way across America it was all done for a burning passion but now it seems as if it is a tourist resort for photographers to create work with a supposed ‘instant hit’ when brought back, when in fact it is beginning to look more like a desperate attempt to experience a phenomenon, just they forgot to think about the ‘taking pictures’ part.