It seems that photography has become an important tool in the paradigm shift taking place in various facets of our civilisation. The term paradigm shift was introduced to the realm of thought in the early 1960s by Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and was no less than a breakthrough. According to Kuhn, scientists at any given time reach a consensus on the new tasks and issues of their disciplines and the scope of their applicability. While Kuhn’s primary focus was the natural sciences, he wanted to know if revolutions of thought are present or make an impact in the social sciences too. In the past six decades scholarly men coming from all areas of science, which together cover the entire spectrum of human civilisation, have accepted Kuhn’s definition of paradigm shift in their respective disciplines but mainly in philosophy and historical sciences.
Approaching the subject of photography from a broad time perspective, the history of mankind can be understood as the history of paradigms. The first great shift was the agricultural revolution that followed the era of hunting and gathering. The second one was the revolution of the natural sciences, the desacralisation of existence, during the Enlightenment. The resulting loss of spiritual knowledge rapidly made consumption the main goal of life. The consequences of this, posing a threat to our entire civilisation, are increasingly coming to the surface. People in previous eras lived in harmony within the limits of their free decisions because they respected tradition and the social framework. Today it is our shared experience that greater freedom gained by demolishing limits results in the loss of values and that overconsumption can disrupt the ecological balance of the whole planet. We are slowly realising our responsibility: for ourselves and for the entire earthly world, determining us as a global network.
Possibly the most obvious change is the drastic transformation of access to what we refer to as the Gutenberg Galaxy. The revolution of our consciousness is now framed by digital communication and robotisation. While literacy and knowledge through reading are being pushed to the background, visual communication is filling in the resulting space with sweeping force. Horror vacui. My question is thus not unfounded: Can we harness this new, unleashed worldview and shift in perspective with a new kind of visual wisdom?
For a rather long time, image- and photography-based ‘learning’ progressed at the slower pace of the 19th and 20th centuries. During the earlier paradigm shift, spanning generations, the new photographic and printing processes developed in harmony with the lifecycle of their users. More or less the same visual language was used for three or four generations in the sphere of education too.
However, digital technology accelerated at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries to such a degree that those speaking a new visual language can be called X, Y, and Z ‘generations’ in name only. In reality, the age groups of children socialised in the latest technologies should be denoted with a new letter every four to five years or so. Life experiences, initiation into adulthood and real life wisdom are separate from ‘visual wisdom’ (in the ironic sense of the phrase). In the meantime, the age groups participating in education today will have to deal with the revolution of robotisation as well as the growing vulnerability resulting from the post-human and threatening process of algorithm-driven decision-making. The past year of the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated, to an as yet unknowable extent, the process of the ever growing hegemony of virtual images and technologies.
When we realise that the myriads of photographs – divorced from the traditions of image-creation – exceed our ‘visual capacity’ and plasticity, which developed during evolution, the urgency of protecting the traditional values of photographic art is bound to arise. A significant proportion of image-makers realised this need and insist on passing down the values of artistic photography.
The number of visitors to photographic collections, exhibitions and albums has grown to an unprecedented degree. Amateur art appreciation means a lot. We often talk about the differences between digital and analogue photography. The replacement of the traditional viewfinder by a display screen has introduced factors not yet studied on scientific grounds, such as the impact of using the left and right brain hemispheres on image creation, i.e. on the mental compositional process. And what about human creative skills that can be described with the symbolic pair yin and yang? This year’s exhibition of the national salon of photography, Images of Light, touches upon this aspect of visuality too. Photography is like the Petri dish of ideas; the use of this lab term is justified by the need to cure the afore-mentioned negative diagnosis.
Arriving at the 2nd National Salon of Photography, in light of the changes previously discussed, it can hardly be overestimated that the key to art photography and the growing interest in the genre of photography is a dialogue with images: this is guaranteed at salon exhibitions like this one, as visitors have the opportunity to engage with the displayed photos. The pictorial discourse with such high quality photographs might inspire diverse patterns of artistic perspectives and creative image making, which I earlier described as visual wisdom. Such a process deserves to be celebrated by the public and the profession alike.
I owe my gratitude to the curators of this year’s Salon, László Haris, Balogh Rudolf Prize laureate photographer and meritorious artist and András Bán, Németh Lajos Prize laureate art historian, as well as to the curators’ assistants, Júlia Szerdahelyi and Szilvia Reischl, and thank all the contributors for designing an exhibition based on an open submission and taking their concepts all the way in order to realise this exhibition even in these virus-ridden times.
György Szegő DLA