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The Functionarization of Photography


Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle

I grant you, this word is really heavy, relatively indigestible, perfectly dissonant, bordering on banishment. Why am I offering it to you as the title of this column? Because its form and content truly invade and suffocate our entire societal space. Photography, often at the forefront of developments in our social structures, is not deceived after the encounter with this ogre devouring creation. This shapeless and brainless mass which is not adverse to offering itself small treats, by greedily swallowing many of our manifestations, in other times, so prestigious.

At the start, as in all tales, everything went well in this brave new world. All around our planet, a few photographers with more or less talent and some legitimate personal ambitions, imagined events (festivals, meetings, gatherings, etc.) as large as possible to make their works known to as many people as possible. This idea worked well for creative expression, since at the beginning of these trials, photography, still little recognized for its cultural usefulness, took hold and invited itself with recognition and panache into our lives. Objective representation gave way to creative representation, which was overwhelmed by photographic creation. All this worked well with photographers as enthusiastic as they were unconscious, with volunteers as dedicated as they were admiring, with audiences of connoisseurs as eager as they were passionate. A small miracle to discover all these genetically individualist photographers who offered prosperous atmospheres for the development of techniques and their appropriation by enthusiasts. They even ended up imposing some among themselves in the armchairs of the French Academy of Fine Arts (a bit logical for someone wearing a suit made of lights!).

But the great administrators of the well-being of our Worlds do not see it at all with the same lens. Throw me this wide angle with the wide vision that we won’t be able to accept, and close this angle too permissive for our way of life. Let’s put this bunch of photographers back on the right road. How could all these “eggheads”, with or without feathers, succeed in such a public operation to annihilate photography? Quite simply, with a technique that is familiar to them, that of the so-called “ladder”, with the fundamental knowhow of politicians.

When the initial little party, with the festival of friends first, took on a little importance in a society which was slowly returning to leisure, after the war, danger appeared. As anything likely to generate electoral votes (from nurseries to homes for the elderly), the photographic demonstrations attracted politicians who hastened to make many promises. Our initial organizers and managers, a little naive, did not understand that a promise only binds those who hear it. Without realizing that these promises were not lost on everyone. Administration, on the lookout for anything likely to make it indispensable and make it gain weight, rushed into the breach. Certainly, the public authorities were going to release some funds (always much less than the promise); but it is obvious that our happy unconscious photographers had been declared totally incompetent to manage these funds with the lot of procedures and forms, as useless as they are essential to implement. It had become essential to appoint a manager (director if possible) experienced in the workings of this administration, since he came from it. The rungs of the ladder were thus climbed, no longer according to the interest of the event for all, but solely according to the career plans of all those parachuted into the initiate circle. It should be noted that the first responders, other than photographers, were often truly passionate people who took real career risks. Unfortunately, we cannot see the same enthusiasm from their successors, much more attentive to their personal ascension.

The development became comical when our brilliant administrators found themselves confronted with financial problems. The resources of States are not inexhaustible, even by pushing public borrowing lines, the budgetary concepts of our uneducated managers had to find other sources of income. As always in these cases, the original heart of an event became an accessory pretext to operate a gas factory which no longer had a soul.

The lifeguards are the emperors of finance, these heroes who come from the same mold as the administrators, but in a version less limited by scruples. This is how the biggest international photographic events arrive at the last rungs of their ladder and find themselves in a very unstable balancing. Everywhere, communication replaces photographic interest in highlighting kind sponsors who clearly display their omnipresent presence.

The height has now arrived with a significant number of conferences, meetings, breakfasts, or press conferences focused on photography (its future, its sustainability, its societal place, its role, its ecological function, its social obligations, etc. ). All these essential discussions, more or less subsidized, forget the photographers (the real ones who know how to make a photograph that looks like a photograph) who are never solicited. It must be said that there are fewer and fewer of them, and if they know how to do all this, it is because they are old. But still, it is not acceptable, a little decency is required, I know also excellent young photographers (under 40, too old ?).

Civil servants (more on the financial side), curators (the same, on the cultural side), lawyers (necessarily specialized), exhibition curators (for ten years, they have grown like mushrooms after an autumn rain), journalists (a round table without a journalist is a day without bread), gallery owners (who confuse Indian ink and solarization), they are all invited to speak of nothing, except the end of photography. Some, a little vicious, actively participate in this disappearance of photographer troublemakers.

Let’s return to our photographic scale, professional cultural scale, from top to bottom, it is abundantly stocked with a significant number of specialists  who little know the realities and wonders of the photographic know-how.

Should we accept submission to all these diktats, let people walk all over us, or step on the feet of our colleague? Must we hunt for this so-called comfort (I will take care of everything for you) which looks like an authentic deception. I would rather have told a tall story

Thierry Maindrault, September 08, 2023

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