Here we are, in 2011, and most of the photography in 60 Fotos by László Moholy-Nagy will strike us as incredibly old-fashioned and/or dated. Over the course of the 80 years since the book’s original publication, photography has evolved a lot (our thinking about it a bit less so, of course). But there is something, actually a lot to be gained from going back to the book and from looking at photography with the eyes of and guided by this well-known Bauhaus artist. (more)
Of course, this is where personal bias enters, something which I cannot – and will not try to – escape (Art criticism without personal bias is not criticism, it’s merely a description. Art without opinions is not art, it’s entertainment). Two things have always fascinated me about the way Bauhaus artists approached photography. First, there was an unwavering willingness to explore the medium’s possibilities. Second, photographers worked hand-in-hand with other artists, such as designers. We might have a lot of new photographic opportunities right now, but are photographers as willing to embrace what the medium has to offer as their Bauhaus progenitors? I don’t think they are.
We might smile about many of the very basic photographs, exploring depth of field or whatever else – but the photomontages look dated and fresh at the same time. Experimentation in this day and age often just means to see how large an image can be printed or how to smartly sharpen an image. And ironically, while very old photographic techniques are being celebrated, artists pushing the boundaries have to deal with questions like “Is this photography?” It’s not hard to imagine how Moholy-Nagy would have reacted to that question. Just look at the images in 60 Fotos to see whether or not he was willing to be restricted by criteria what photography might be.
The book is a manifesto, showing what photography can do when you’re willing to take it anywhere it might go. It is fearless. Maybe we need a little bit more fearlessness in contemporary photography.
60 Fotos, photography and photomontages by László Moholy-Nagy, essays by Franz Roh, David Evans, Jeffrey Ladd, 92 pages, Errata Editions, 2011
Spreads from the book kindly provided by Errata Editions – thank you!