Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alex Webb, "Mexicans arrested while trying to cross the border to the United States" (1979)

This week I have decided to discuss the importance of the role of photography in American art. Whilst a painting or sculpture has the ability to capture a spectators attention in terms of aesthetics it cannot necessarily be viewed as being real. An artist has a certain level of artistic licence, utilising the ability to pick and choose and alter certain aspects of an image to communicate a specific reading.

However this is not the same for photography, as by creating photographs as an art form a sense of "truth" becomes evident, in that rather than replicating a reality through a learned skill such as painting, an individual is capturing an image that was an actual occurrence (and it is a process that can be replicated by anyone). And as such photography has earned a respect as an art form in America as it reflects the virtues of American life, an existence saturated in a popular and mass culture, whilst retaining the ability to capture the majesty of the American landscape and the ever present frontier.

One particular aspect of the American landscape that has always fascinated me is the US-Mexico border - an area of utter transience that is surrounded in myth and mystification. I feel that Webb's work manages to execute a combination of representig the beauty of the American landscape, whilst paying explicit attention to social issues that face the nation.

In this particular image a group of Mexican immigrants have been apprehended whilst attempting to cross into the USA. I believe that it encapsulates the collision between the "Artificial" - The prescence of man-made machinery such as helicopters and weapons, and the "Natural" - the landscape. The use of such bright and vivid colour also gives the impression that the incident pictured is almost dreamlike and fictional, perhaps reflecting how the American population believe the struggle of Latino immigrants to be that of fiction and an unreal issue in society.

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