Camera Work

10.06.13

When Bad Photography's Best

The Daily Pic: At MoMA, Annette Kelm channels past mediocrity, and excels.

This is a recent photo by Annette Kelm, now on display in the "New Photography 2013" show at the Museum of Modern Art. I've been following Kelm's photos since her appearance in the Venice Biennale, and I remain pleasantly puzzled by them – which as far as I'm concerned stands in their favor. They are clearly not meant to be "good photos", in anything like the standard sense: They look like really crummy commercial photography from the 1970s. (In photography school in 1979, I took a shot that was remarkably similar to this one, complete with badly prepared striped background.) So I guess this is a kind of skilled restaging of an earlier photographic moment, with its virtue and interest lying not so much in the photographic end product itself – which is no better than its crummy prototype – but in Kelm's act of staging, which is virtuosic. (Especially since she's managed to channel a form of incompetence that almost predates her birth, as executed at a lousy photo school in Montreal by someone who luckily left the profession behind.) I like the idea that the excellence of a photograph could be, or maybe always is, as much in the act and moment of making as in the image produced by it. 

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