Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before


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Michael Fried

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A renowned critic and historian offers a radically new account of the meaning of ambitious art photography since the Bechers

From the late 1970s onward, serious art photography began to be made at large scale and for the wall. Michael Fried argues that this immediately compelled photographers to grapple with issues centering on the relationship between the photograph and the viewer standing before it that until then had been the province only of painting. Fried further demonstrates that certain philosophically deep problems—associated with notions of  theatricality, literalness, and objecthood, and touching on the role of original intention in artistic production, first discussed in his contro­versial essay “Art and Objecthood” (1967)—have come to the fore once again in recent photography. This means that the photo­graphic “ghetto” no longer exists; instead photography is at the cutting edge of contemporary art as never before.

Among the photographers and video-makers whose work receives serious attention in this powerfully argued book are Jeff Wall, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, Luc Delahaye, Rineke Dijkstra, Patrick Faigenbaum, Roland Fischer, Thomas Demand, Candida Höfer, Beat Streuli, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, James Welling, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Future discussions of the new art photography will have no choice but to take a stand for or against Fried’s conclusions.   

Michael Fried is J.R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and the History of Art at The Johns Hopkins University.

"Fried . . . selects particular pictures to address and teases out the ways in which their meanings are created and transmitted. In these cases his writing is engaging, intriguing, and often delightfully paradoxical."—Andy Grundberg, American Scholar

"Fried's book—more than any other I have read—challenges its readers to interpret more cogently the resurgence of the tableau in photographic form. The gauntlet has been tossed."—Robin Kelsey, Artforum

“A powerfully argued book, this is the new benchmark against which future discussions of photography must stand.”—Ottawa XPress

"Mr. Fried trains his lucid mind and prose on the work of Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth and other contemporary figures. The knotty arguments here call for a reader's undivided attention, but they reward it."—Richard B. Woodward, The Wall Street Journal (Holiday Book Guide: Photography)

". . . well-observed, conceptually ambitious, and beautifully written. . . .The great importance of Fried's book lies in the fact that he presents a radically different understanding of the significant characteristics and concerns of art photography than has previously been offered."—Matthew Biro, College Art Association

Selected as a best book about photography and art for 2008 by Alan G. Artner of the Chicago Tribune

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine

Chosen for the Holiday Book Guide: Photography, Richard B. Woodward, The Wall Street Journal 

Shortlisted for the 2009 Sir Bannister Fletcher Award presented by the Authors' Club
ISBN: 9780300136845
Publication Date: December 1, 2008
420 pages, 7 1/2 x 10 3/4
70 color; 90 b/w
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