CCTP725-Week 10
Seminar Discussion

Comments after seminar class discussion:
This was a really good week of discussion and comments. Bravo on taking on some big questions and good examples to think with!

An important question and discussion about the "post-photographic" emerged at the end, and I wanted to capture some thoughts here.

Rebecca and Saaret, and others, left open the question of how to think about or describe the "post-photographic" era we are now in. This is a compelling and very interesting question. As we noted, we experience as film and photography hundreds of images and cinematic works that may be either hybrids of lens-based camera imagery edited and composed with digital imagery in a hyperreal seamless continuum (the Matrix series, almost all Hollywood "green screen" production), or images and film/video productions that we read as photographs or cinema/film even though the images were never created with lens-based equipment, without any kind of camera (many of the scenes in Avatar, other fully CGI productions). We are now familiar with hyperreal or photo-realistic images presented under the codes of the photograph or film, but not produced with traditional lens-based image-capture equipment. With virtual camera effects controlled by software with digitized imagery from any source, we now experience "point of view" and camera angles that imitate any position in 3D space around the content of a shot. The virtual camera is detached from any physical location and the properties of any physical camera apparatus.

In the experience of photo-realistic and hyperrealistic digitally composed and edited images (images that are not, and don't need to be, "photographs" in the sense of light-inscriptions through a lens-based apparatus), we see a new disclosure of what was always already there in film and photography: the photographic image is a social convention, a conceptual artifact, maintained by a set of cultural beliefs, ideologies, desires, rituals, and codes, not a medium generated by the material properties of a technology, not the simple mechanical effect of a camera-technology cause.

This recent socialization into post-photographic effects re-opens important questions posed by Bourdieu and others on the social, cultural, political, and economic embeddedness of photography as a medium. We believe and read post-photographic images as film or photography because they are produced to fulfill the medium's codes and social expectations, and are presented to be received as photographic images or film. For example, hyperreal anime (Appleseed Ex Machina) uses all the stylized editing techniques of other cinema along with the virtual camera, and we experience the movie as cinema. But in every case we interpret a highly layered digital montage image as a photograph or a scene from Avatar and beyond, we are reading through social conventions and photographic/filmic codes that are independent from the properties (physical or logical) of any equipment and technology used in their production.

Further thoughts, references, sources, examples?

--Martin Irvine

Postmodern Portraiture: David LaChapelle
One of today’s most celebrated photographers, David LaChapelle toes the line between high art, pop culture and fashion. A disciple of Warhol and former contributor to Interview magazine, LaChapelle followed his teacher’s path from commercial to gallery artist. He certainly “makes a photograph”, charging his pieces with semiotic clues that reveal aspects of the sitter’s nature. The mise-en-scène of his portraits – lighting, props, poses, costuming, makeup and facial expressions – work in concert to illuminate the subject’s personality or more notable traits. His trademark bold colors and bright lights underscore his commentary on celebrity culture. It’s bright, showy and attention grabbing, but there’s not much else there. In this way, LaChapelle highlights the fetishism (to use Metz’s term) inherent in photography and in popular culture. He invites us to gaze at the figures – to critique their bodies and stare in a way that would incite a swat from our mothers. Tapping into our scopophilia, his photographs force us to objectify the figures before us. Through these portraits, we observe the subjects as fixtures of a cultural network as opposed to people with ideas or particularities. Warhol’s influence jumps off the picture plane.
LaChapelle, Kirsten Dunst with a teacup, 2002
LaChapelle, Kirsten Dunst with a teacup, 2002
With this image, LaChapelle highlights the tension between childlike innocence and sex appeal that marked Dunst’s public image in 2002. The whimsical costume and oversized teacup suggest Alice in Wonderland – a visual trope used to recall distinctly indulgent, fanciful coming-of-age imagery. At this point, Dunst was transitioning from child star to action movie heroine; Spiderman was coming out and producers needed to position its female lead as an adult woman in order for the film to succeed. If the studio offered a gangly teenager as a fetish object, the film would alienate the mainstream audience. This image, featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine during heavy publicity for Spiderman, positions Dunst at the appropriate intersection of sex appeal and purity.

LaChapelle, Luxury Item, 1999
LaChapelle, Luxury Item, 1999

LaChapelle’s portrait of Lil’ Kim functioned in a similar way to Kirsten Dunst’s. 1999 was an infamous year for Lil’ Kim – remember the purple jumpsuit incident? With this portrait, Lil’ Kim was able to claim ownership on her trademark outlandish outfits, and turn herself into a “luxury item”. LaChapelle’s portrait transforms camp and vulgarity into avant-garde fashion.

LaChapelle, Paris Hilton, 2004
LaChapelle, Paris Hilton, 2004
In an interview with Artnet, LaChapelle notes that his practice of celebrity portraiture ended for him “with Paris Hilton. [He] loved the superficial emptiness, the blonde hair, the extensions, the contact lenses, the spray-on tan… she’s so perfect.” Indeed, Paris Hilton in 2004 was the pinnacle of all that is Pop in pop culture – vibrant, sexy, colorful, superficial. Celebrity personified, she gained notoriety through a sex tape and proceeded to stretch out her fifteen minutes through carefully choreographed club appearances and shopping trips. While most fixtures in American celebrity culture have some redeeming talent, perhaps acting or singing, Hilton is rich and famous merely because she’s rich and famous.
In terms of fetishism and spectatorship, Hilton dares us not to stare. She directly engages the viewer, looking at us straight-on. Her pose is provocative, and much like her celebrity, there is no semiotic code suggesting a deeper meaning other than sex! flashy! pop! Imagine what Warhol could have done with her!

-Liz Kneuer


“For me, the camera is the sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant -- which in visual terms -- questions and decides simultaneously." -- Henri Cartier Bresson

“To preserve, artificially, [man’s] bodily appearance is to snatch it from the flow of time, to stow it away neatly, so to speak, in the hold of life.” -- Andre Bazin

“Today the making of images no longer shares an anthropocentric, utilitarian purpose. It is no longer a question of survival after death, but of a larger concept, the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny.” -- Andre Bazin

Image as Representation, Image as Re-Presentation
Photography begins with the image. The selection, revision and capture of an image. The art of photography then becomes a question of meaning and significance. In his essay “Rhetoric on the Image,” Roland Barthes pronounces the ad as “frank” in the sense that its message; its subject and priori are essentially obvious. Barthes enumerates this point regarding advertisements by outlining the nonlinear messages displayed in a commercial photograph for Panzi pasta sauce:

Panzani advertisement, date unknown

1. Linguistic message: Caption, labels, brand name communicate connotational “Italianicity”
2. Coded Iconic message: “Italianicity” through denotation
a. Freshness and domesticity signified by half-open bag of newly purchased ingredients
b. Tomato and pepper, along with red, yellow green color scheme draw on French tourist knowledge of Italian culture
c. Composition brings to mind a still life painting; “nature morte”
d. The Other sign -- contents in tin are assumed to be as natural as produce by virtue of their presence together
3. Non-Coded Iconic message: The photograph as the message, itself

Thus, the literal message of the photograph supports the symbolic messages within the image. Barthes goes on to discuss the interplay between text and illustration, as they are frequently paired: caption, title, film reel, comic strip, etc. In that our civilization is based on writing, text becomes the the mode to filter image through; a reference for representation.

Waterbearer, Lorna Simpson, 1986

The relationship between text/image touches on a sort of dysfunctional stream of signifiers called the “floating chain” in which the viewer receives some signs but ignores others. The linguistic message then serves as a directive for the image, answering the question “What is it?.” Linguistic messages within an image can act as an anchorage and/or as relay-text. The former serves to repress or control the message within the image while the latter fills in for a message that is lacking in the image alone.

Advertised images, though emphatic in meaning, can never be encountered literally. There exists no pure state for ads because a coded or symbolic message is always present. Photographs, on other hand, convey a literal message of documentation; recording and transition rather than transformation. A perceived naturalness is connoted with a photo despite man-made mediations (framing, lighting, staging, etc.). Barthes makes an interesting observation, in this regard as well, defining photographs as markers of “having-been-there” rather than “being there.” This descriptor indicates a “fictional consciousness” that contributes to the unreality of photographs. He also makes a distinction between the structure of an image and the flow of imagery -- what is shown vs. what is seen -- to further indicate the polarization and polysemous dialogue occurring within the image.

La Dolce Vita, 1960

Moyen: The midway between pop culture and high art
Rosalind Krauss’s “A Note on Photography and the Simulacral”

One photographer aptly expresses the replication -- and repetition -- possible with photography:

“ … in the end all these photographers find themselves in the same place, at the same moment, under the same light, before the same subject, and one could say that they all want the same photo. Yet, even so, among these hundreds of photos, perhaps there will be one or two good ones.”

In producing a photograph, our aesthetic choices have structural consequences. Krauss speaks to the tendency for assumed subjectivity in discussions about photographic images. She scrutinizes responses that refer to a photo’s message through blanketed references (“It’s this … it’s that.). In this sense, “the depicted object might be nothing but a pretext for the accomplishment of a formal idea.” (Krauss 55)

Krauss makes reference to Pierre Bourdieu’s thesis on photographic discourse in which the ultimate judgement of an image is determined not by value but identity, essentially how the objects of the photograph are stereotyped. She uses Bourdieu’s concepts to evaluate claims of photographic objectivity (which Bourdieu outright dismisses) pointing to the ubiquity of the camera and its utility to project rather than simply document.

Realism as One Code Among Many
“Only a naïve realism sees the photographic representations of reality as realistic; if it appears objective, it is because the rules defining its social use conforms to the social definitions of objectivity.” -- Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: a middle-brow art, 1965

Early Daguerreotypes (positive image on glass, Niagara Falls, courtesy of Irvine's "Introduction to Photography" powerpoint

Since the invention of the camera, the photographic image has become the model for almost all image making, an ideology of sorts. Historically, the photograph has been seen as a passive recording of a ‘true’ external world. Postermodernism took photographic codes of image making and questioned/broke the assumed relation between photographic image and “reality” or “truth”. Developments in technology mean that the photographic image can exist without any of the traditional tools of its origin. Do we live in a post-photographic era? (Irvine, “Introduction to Photography”, Powerpoint)

David LaChapelle, “Cat House,” 1999 (staged studio shots, digital montage)

Pierre Bourdieu placed the photographic image within the context of social function and questioned claims to realistic precision and fidelity (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 73). The qualities of the photograph as object could only capture the visual qualities from the standpoint of the individual and technology. Its transcription reduced the scale (generally) of the ‘real’ image, projecting it onto a two dimensional plane. The very process of producing photographs removes it from the realm of the real and reveals photographic realism to be one codified genre among many. It was therefore a “conventional system”, a “natural language” we take for granted as being true. Herein lies the social use of photography as recorder of truth, as undisputed fact (74). The interpretation the photograph (or used to take the photograph) as reality is rooted in the representational role that paining has for over five hundred years. The photograph coincided with the break from representation that occurred within painting, and this is no coincidence. Photography, according to some views, allowed painting to spread its creative wings, to experiment in form and content—for example: Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism. Photography now played the role that painting had played for so many years.

Because of this, photography has had a tough time being recognized as a legitimate art form within the institutional selectivity of the artworld. Historically, it has been seen a mechanical tool for the recording and reproduction of objective reality. Some have considered it a liberator of Western painting, saving it from the trappings of realism and opening the door to the recovery of an “aesthetic autonomy” (Andre Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, Summer 1960, Film Quarterly, vol 13, no. 4, p. 9).

Early proponents of photography as a creative medium, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, rejected the view of photography as representing ‘reality’ (“Statement on Photography”, The Decisive Moment Theory, 1933). Mediums are by definition channels through which the world is perceived. Therefore, how can a medium be said to capture the world “out there”, precisely as it is? Is the premise of objective reality a false one to begin with? Cartier-Bresson was, I think, correct in arguing that the photographer gives his/her own particular meaning to the world. In other words, s/he creates –does not recover—the world.

Contributing to the debate, for Walter Benjamin the photograph challenged the notion of authenticity, artistic vision, and aura because of the proliferation of so many copies in the age of mechanical reproduction (Crimp, 94). As a result, photography was seen a main player in the demise of aura—the mysticism of one-of-a-kind paintings, for example— indicative of a wider shift toward mass production and commercialization beginning around the1850s (Crimp, 95). The decline of aura threatened the museum, a reified structure founded upon the dense web of values and beliefs within which notions of authenticity, originality and authorship were and still are embedded. There were other, perhaps more concrete worries: that photography might become competition for other artists in terms of acquiring museum funding and wall space (Crimp, 97). The photographic community thus strived to legitimate photography in order to guarantee its place in the museum by way of the subjectivization of photography, or the promulgation of photography-as-art. The meant the re-imagining photography to include the Unique Vision of a photographer-artist.

Postmodernism and Photographic Realism
Photographic postmodernism took this notion a step further:

“The photographic activity of postmodernism operates, as we might expect, in complicity with these modes of photography-as-art, but it does so only in order to subvert and exceed them. And it does so precisely in reclamation of the aura, not, however, to recuperate it, but to displace it, to show that it too is now only an aspect of the copy, not the original.” (Crimp, 97-98)

Postmodern photography is always a rereproduction, “always already seen”, always a hybrid within remix culture (Crimp, 98). Sherrie Levine is an excellent example of the appropriaton and remaking of already existing images, such as Duchamp’s readymade sculptures. Levine expanded upon Duchamp’s “critical gesture” in order to address issues of commodity fetishim and gender. Her work questions the notion of authorship and originality by blatant rephotography and appropriation of works from well-known artists such as Duchamp. Her work is controversial because it brings into focus issues of copyright, an issue so prevalent within hybrid and remix culture. Who owns of the image? This is one of the more prominent themes of much of postmodern photography.

Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P.) Sherrie Levine 1991, bronze, Walker Art Center

See also Cindy Sherman's work:

Cindy Sherman, courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Cindy Sherman, "Marilyn", courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Discussion Questions:
What role do you think the camera has and, ultimately, the photograph in "authentically" capturing a moment?

How would you describe the relationship between text and image. When coupled, is one more dominant than the other in forming your perspective?

What is required of photographic practice for it to be considered art?

Given that technologies can remove the photograph from the original tools of production (CGI, Photorealism, Anime), do we live in a post-photographic age?

How does photography legitimize itself within artworld? (hint: photography-as-art)

What is the role of so-called postmodern photography? What is its social function?


The demystification of the photograph can only be a good thing For a long time photography had this assumed relationship to some sort of “real world.” The phrase, “the camera never lies” somehow entered the public’s lexicon in spite of its glaring falsehood. Like Magritte’s painting, “Le Trahison des images,” a photograph is certainly not what it represents. Not only that, there is no necessary connection in the photograph to any external reality. More importantly, this is nothing new. Photographs have never had any necessary connection to the outside world they appear to represent. Yet, for most of a photograph’s history, quaint homilies and the judicial system have both considered the photograph as something empirical, something true.

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It’s in black and white!
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Photography in its first several decades was a purely black and white affair. Yet, in spite of its instant demarcation from reality in terms of color alone, photography was still often seen as a truthfully representative technology. Photography later added color but still remained a technology that represented fluctuations in light using an emulsion of crystals on a strip of film. Still, the physical makeup of the photograph was often invisible/irrelevant to the viewer because it appeared to be a window, not the construction it is. Of course, now digital photography is the technology of the day. It uses light to activate the charged coupling device of a camera which converts the image into digital data (a gross over-simplification) that exists merely as a series of ones and zeroes. Ones and zeroes and pixels hardly have any necessary relation to reality, and the ease of manipulation that digitization has enabled is finally leading to the demarcation of photography and reality.
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In fact, talking about photography in terms of truth/falsehood is a false dichotomy. A picture can not be “true” or “false.” It merely is. Just like a painting or a poem can not be reduced to such silly binaries, a photograph exists on its terms, not as an ersatz reality to be judged by its accuracy.

Hybridization of art and technology is the perfect way to describe the work and aspirations of my friend Jim Darling, a DC photographer who lives in my building. Jim’s most recent engagement has been __iPhone photography__, and often these iPhotos could also fall under the genre of street photography as well. While he grew up shooting with film (and still does), the digital age, and new and emerging technologies, have become huge influences in Jim’s everyday exercises in art.

Bourdieu would argue “that any work of art reflects the personality of its creator...the photographic plate does not interpret, it ‘records’.” But what this limited definition of photography does not take into consideration is that there is a person creating the shot - capturing the image of beauty, in just the right light, or the right outfit, or the right mood. The work of art (in this case a photograph) often does reflect the work of the artist behind the camera. And while it’s easy to point to recent examples of the overt studio portraits, the stuff of magazine covers or wall hangings in pediatricic and dental offices (see Ann Gedde’s ever-popular babies in flowerpots) not all portraits are taken with such extrexternal image geddes-anne-sunflower-trio-6600037.jpgeme staging as a part of their process. But even in simpler modes, a photographer capturing a portrait works much the same way that portrait painters worked in the renaissance, baroque and romantic periods. It still requires that the work of art tell a story, evoke something in those who view the end result.

One of Jim’s projects through 2008-2009 was the “100 strangers project” which illustrates the importance of finding an inspired subject or character, but also the artist’s ability to produce the right presentation, or re-presentation as Crimp and others might suggest, to an audience that otherwise would not have been privy to the moment that has already been. In Jim’s quest to photograph strangers and turn strangers into friends, he has unfolded narratives through interviews. And somehow, even divorced from the narratives that accompany his 100 shots, you see the __characters__ through the shots Jim creates. These honest portraits of individuals in their element, not perfectly lit or made up in a studio, represent photography as art. I think Jim works with Cartier-Bresson’s imperative in mind, “One must always take photos with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.”

Jess Perlman

Cindy Sherman- Femininity and the Multiple Selves

Jessica Gesund

Out of the works mentioned in our readings for this week Cindy Sherman’s work particularly got my attention for a
variety of reasons. Her work seems to condense the traits of post-modernism by reflecting not only the exchange of
the aura of the artist for that of the subject in a work of art, premise that Crimp says is what characterizes photography and towards which pop-artists were moving as well, but also the contestation of that subject itself, the idea that the subject itself is composed out of copy’s, as Crimp says: “the fiction that Sherman discloses is the fiction of the self”(Crimp, 99). And of course her presentation of herself is based on the stereotypical Hollywood females, and thus already a copy.

sherman_1.jpgsherman_7.jpg sherman_2.jpg


Her work thus leads us back to Debord's concept of the society of spectacle, where one lives to create an image and in that image looses track of the self, but it also particularly reminds of Mary Anne Doane’s concept of the Masquerade of femininity , which argues that the woman is always made to stand for the lack, but that she constructs hyperbolized femininity in order to distance herself from that lack, from the image, from herself. Thus femininity itself is but a masquerade it is performed through spectacle, the creation of an image. By enacting a different drama for each of these pictures Sherman seems to be recognizing femininity as a masquerade and thus as Crimp says she is using her art to show the self as a construct. But she moves beyond Doane in her idea that there are multiple versions of femininity that a women must enact, but that they are not together taken to constitute a sum, but rather taken as separates opposites, they create the sense of a shattered identity.

by Alicia Dillon

In many ways, photography itself is the ultimate hybrid; sustaining itself in the realm of the fine arts, media, advertising, and the mundane.

Not only does straddling these distinct realms activate ideas of institution with respect to its reception in each space, the photograph’s active role in shaping ideas of reality, possibilities of the medium, and complications of defining its own space contribute to a complex discussion of what photography is and the way it shapes our visual lives.

Today, with the democratization of the camera (with price points readily accessible to the everyday consumer and their omnipresence in cell phones) and digital editing tools, photography is no longer in the hands of the upper-class, and I would highlight this very fact as one of the ways in which perceptions of photographic “reality” have become increasingly complex.

That said, today there are many photographers whose work exemplifies the inaccessibility of photography. Particularly interesting in activating this conceptual use is Tina Barney. An upper class female photographer who only shoots using large-format film (non-portable 8x10), her photographs are very much located in the narrative of upper class; photographing her friends and family who are amongst the social elite in New York and New England.

Tina Barney, Jill And Polly In The Bathroom, 1987
Tina Barney, Jill And Polly In The Bathroom, 1987

Photographer Juergen Teller is possibly one of the more well known artists who engages fine art, advertisement, and editorial work. Currently heading Marc Jacobs campaigns, with work often featured in W Magazine, his instantly recognizable blown out pallet and distinctive style has been lauded by the fashion crowd in recent years.

Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs
Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs

Juergen Teller: Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs
Juergen Teller: Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs

W Magazine itself is another example of hybridity, and an excellent space for discussing the ways in which fine art/ media/ celebrity/ and commerce interact. Particularly evident with their new redesign under editor Stefano Tonchi, W has increasingly blurred the lines between art and fashion.

Juergen Teller for W Magazine, February 2007
Juergen Teller for W Magazine, February 2007
Juergen Teller for W Magazine, February 2007
Juergen Teller for W Magazine, February 2007

In a previous analysis of their 2010 November ‘Art Issue’ featuring an image of Kim Kardashian by Barbara Kruger I stated:
“ The appearance of an artwork on the cover of a fashion magazine proves problematic in choosing an approach for visual analysis in any clear cut manner. As I have developed in the previous passages, when it is a vehicle for art, the fashion magazine’s position as both commodity and aesthetic object complicates an art historical reading. ..... An image reading is complicated when something is a physical object; for instance there is a temptation to read a painting not just as a contained marked surface but rather as a whole object, such as to take into account the color and texture of the back of the canvas (Dicke 1894: 90). And, while this serves to address the physical constructs of the image, inasmuch as it also takes these factors in to account, such an analysis will tend to concentrate on the image as object more so than the image itself. Immediately, one can see that in the case of Barbara Kruger’s piece for W, where the placement of an image is on object, to ignore the life of the object would be to miss a central analysis.”


Films of Photography: Hybridization Continued
Ideas of death, of family, of social distinction, of uniqueness, of reality versus illusion—all these threads wind around the photographic art, weaving a web so thick it seems impossible the lens can gather enough light to capture another image. But it does. And the significance of that photo—a mother’s photo of her newborn baby —can be the result of lengthy philosophic meanderings, or the literary interpretations provided by commentators in Agnes Varda’s Une minute pour une image. In any case, any photography is a recording—or as Metz says, “…an instantaneous abduction of the object out of the world into another world, into another kind of time…”(84). In this sense, the new mother effectively kills her baby, or at least that instant of its life which will never be again, but which lives on in the photograph. Thus death is held at bay, while simultaneously created, as the baby, as it was at the instant the photo was taken, is no more, and never will be again.
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The film essay "Ydessa, The Bears, and Etc" from the collection, //Cinevardaphoto//, by Agnes Varda encompasses all these threads within the confines of one documentary. Varda, intrigued by an art exhibit entitled “The Teddy Bear Project” investigates its creator, Ydessa. “The Teddy Bear Project” is a collection of some 2,000 black and white photos with one common image among them—a teddy bear. Ydessa’s exhibition demonstrates not only the social aspect of photography postulated by Bourdieu, but a
lso photography’s strange and enigmatic relationship with death. The artist has created her own family album, an album of strangers—most deceased—to fill the walls of her memory. The installation creates the feeling that everyone part of one giant family, grown together through the years, and in the end lost to one another through time.

In the decades since photography has began to flourish and find its grounding as a reputable, bankable and formal medium, it has continued to break down the boundaries that we ascribe to creative manifestations of reality. This idea has been touched on many times before, both in our readings and this week's postings, but the actual "attributes" that we judge artistic works, such as aesthetic, form, color, tone etc. changes dramatically with photography, with the introduction of purpose, moment in time capture, exclusivity, etc. From my perspective, photography can fully stretch its creative muscle when its context, placement and subject matter are more precisely conveyed, whether directly or indirectly, to the viewer. Take for example, Richard Avedon's work:

Photography, as a direct derivative of reality, is still more confined than its other artistic counterparts. However, because its subjects are bound to reality, that phrase that movie producers love to use haphazardly "based on a true story" is what generates such a visceral or powerful artistic reaction to the photo. This relationship is one that perhaps very few other mediums can boast.
Much like LaChapelle's dive into celebrity culture, the fragility and superficiality of many of his portraits are directly tied to the real. This is a relationship that hopefully we can continue to explore and bend as time goes on, not only as a cross-category medium, but also in a formal art setting.
Lian Han