In her recent show at Angles Gallery (2006), Judy Fiskin showed a grainy, black and white Super-8 film titled The End of Photography (2006). As the declarative title suggests, much is at stake in this project. At only two minutes and fourteen seconds long, this poignant, elegiac work is pragmatically conceived to ensure that the viewer can stand comfortably for the duration of the film without losing interest or suffering from distracting fatigue. This is essential since the argument Fiskin makes is as simple as it is radical and therefore requires clear, concise substantiation: the hundred and fifty year history of photography as we know it has come to an end. Fiskin's argument does not hinge on the same arcane ideas that have accompanied the multiple deaths of painting since the 1970s, but rather on an easily observable fact: the formal processes that once defined photography as a medium are nearing obsolescence.
Judy Fiskin, The End of Photography, 2006, Super-8 film transferred to DVD, 2.28 min
The film is unapologetically plaintive and nostalgic, but these rather unfashionable traits do not detract from the persuasive effect of the piece, largely because the quantitative claims made throughout ring true. Over the faint crackle of static, a dry, raspy female voice introduces the film with a simple question, 'What was
lost?,' implying, of course, that the loss in question is complete, and what we are about to witness is a eulogy. Accompanied by trembling, uncannily emotive shots of residential neighborhoods in urban Los Angeles, the same arresting voice provides an inventory of the objects, processes, and experiences lost with the slow disappearance of conventional photography: 'No more film, no more canisters, no more reels... No more enlarger, no more timer, no more safe-light, no more negative carrier, no more dodging tool.' As flickering images of washed out 1950s era apartment buildings, untended hedges, and unremarkable architectural details play across the screen the somber voice continues, 'No more apron... No more tongs.' The faintly agitated, obviously manual camerawork ensures that no frame is ever completely at rest, and so the stillness that distinguishes photographic images is evoked only through absence. 'No more squeegee... No more darkness... No more radio,' the film continues, before drawing its inevitable conclusion, 'No more photography.'
For Fiskin, photography is constituted by its nuts and bolts, by its medium specific processes and materials. Digital photography, the unnamed shadow presence throughout the film, should not - it is implied - be classified as photographic in the truest ontological sense because its materials and processes are of an entirely different order - there is no water, no darkness, no tongs, no trays... no radio. To appreciate fully Fiskin's film, one must set aside a number of widely held prejudices instantiated with the rise of postmodernism. The End of Photography is a work fueled by single-minded conviction, by nostalgia, by sentimentality, and by the notion that photography should be distinguished from all other media. Fiskin's is not an reactionary argument but one driven by the simple assurance that the methods we understand as photographic today are not comparable to the methods of the past century and a half, and in the silent shift from one process to the next, something - in fact many things - have been lost.
- Christopher Bedford