Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Larry Fink’s “The Democrats”

@t the PACE/MACGILL Gallery, New York (July 4 -15 August)

A Review by John Benton-Harris

I told myself, being that I’m a socially and politically minded observer, that I couldn’t leave town without taking this one in. I suppose I was hopeful that Mr. Fink would reveal some degree of criticism, understanding and feeling for these candidates, their entourages, the press, and possibly even the political process, that would further enlighten and motivate me, simply because that’s what I aspire to do when looking in on “My America”.
Sadly I was disappointed, but equally not surprised; for it takes a kind of distance from the everydayness of American life, and new American Photography, to begin to see and catch this nation, its people and its problems, with a minded timing, and from a perspective that has relevance. It also takes a certain kind of freshness, deceptiveness and tenaciousness, that no stay at home American photographer ever gets to develop. That is why no one since Robert Frank in the mid to late 50’s has managed to articulate a more lucid and complete visual account of the growing complexities of today’s America, for my fellow American photographers are all much to obsessed now with establishment career objectives (obtaining their “Pulitzers” or their “One Person Show at MOMA”) to truly focus on this subject and a meaningful chronicling of it.
I believe that Frank’s stab at this kind of (here hinted at) critical analysis only failed because Robert committed too little, in terms of thinking, analyzing, researching, and seminally never questioned his actions and motives, before during and after his road-running across my native land. He also relied too much on momentary feelings and his innate bitterness towards cold war America, to achieve the exceptional goal that could have been his. If he had only spent more energy and a greater period extending the unique story dialoguing that “The Americans” intermittently revealed, he would be even more regarded the he is today.
Now, if I can say that about Frank, you can guess what’s coming after looking at Fink’s big scale small offering. Let me start by saying, if someone wants to win my vote for being an artist they are going to have to offer up something more then a casual snapping of these candidates and covering all the angles at what is essentially a staged event, especially if they are attempting to market there results as “Art”. Now I do realise it’s not easy to work within a limited time frame and with limited access, but from the look of these 29 large well finished images displayed over two rooms at New York’s PACE/MACGILL Gallery located at 32 E 57th Street, Mr. Fink (to my eyes) made no attempt to use this small opportunity to bring anything interesting or remarkable to our attention, as an able journalist or as a significant artist; he merely looked, shaped and shot when he had line of sight. Then he selected, ordered, finished and presented these outtakes from this wasted opportunity, to conform to his art world signature.
It’s difficult enough to seize on a meaningful moment, when one presents itself, even when you’re regarded, as I am, as a constant pricker of the human condition. But if one hasn’t the quintessential qualities for satirical commentary or something even better to aid and guide one in their expression, then one should steer clear of a explosive subject like this, especially in today’s political climate. But if you’re going to stand up and ask to counted, you had better have something worthy and relevant to offer. Otherwise you and those who represent you will rightly be seen just as opportunists, trying to hop a ride on the political bandwagon, for some quick personal profit. In closing, Mr. Fink’s view of the Democrats may declare his support of this party and candidate, but it offers up nothing in the way of commentary, criticism or optimism, for it poses no questions, offers no answers, and also does nothing to entertain us.

Copyright © John Benton-Harris - 2008

The author's eye-alogue

Manhattan, New York, 2009

Stroudsburg PA, USA, 2010

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