Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Brothel Without Walls

That's how McLuhan characterized photography as a medium, as a brothel without walls!  Well, perhaps then turnabout is fair play, as it seems that a Canadian photography festival is turning into a kind of McLuhan with walls.  Here's the write-up from the Toronto Star's website:

Marshall McLuhan's writings, which explored the effects of mass media on the public in the 20th century, resonate through the works showing at this year's Contact photo festival, the world's largest event of its kind. (April 30, 2010)

This is from an entry entitled Photo festival focuses on McLuhan, which accompanies a short video narrated by art director Bonnie Rubenstein:

Here's an article on the same subject from the Canadian Press, courtesy of Yahoo!Canada, written by Victoria Ahearn, also dated April 30, and entitled,  Contact Photography Festival focuses on Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan:

A shot of a seductive pair of legs is among the images kicking up attention at the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, which begins Saturday in Toronto and is billed as the world's largest event of its kind.

The gams are seen standing in white knee-high stockings and tan heels as part of German artist Josephine Meckseper's "Blow Up" photo series, depicting models in retro undergarments. It's showing at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

Contact artistic director Bonnie Rubenstein says the photos — particularly the one of the legs — are poignant as they're very similar to those in the 1951 book "The Mechanical Bride" by late Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan. His writings inspired this year's festival theme: pervasive influence.
"I actually don't think that the artist was aware of that," Rubenstein, who curated the MOCCA exhibition, said in an interview. "But it's common for a work to be contextualized in an exhibition in a way that the artist didn't imagine.

"I think it's quite fascinating for everyone to go back and look at Marshall McLuhan's book because I think it can tell us a lot about what images say in today's society."

McLuhan's theories surrounding the effects of mass media on the public resonate through the works in the month-long festival, now in its 14th year.

 I interrupt to interject a point I should have made earlier--McLuhan did not identify himself as a theorist, and did not want others to do so, often noting that theorists have something to prove (specifically, their theories and hypotheses), whereas all he wanted to do was probe.  Anyway, back to the article, and the question of why McLuhan, and why now?

Organizers put the focus on McLuhan after discovering that this year marks the 30th anniversary of his death.

"The issues he identifies around photography appear all the more relevant in the age of digital communication and the Internet," said Rubenstein.

Contact organizers expect over 1.5 million visitors to attend this year's festival, which features over 1,000 artists in more than 200 venues.

"The Mechanical Bride" show at MOCCA, which also includes works by renowned celebrity and fashion shooter David LaChapelle, is one of the three primary festival exhibitions, all of which take their titles from McLuhan's writings.

At the University of Toronto Arts Centre is "The Brothel Without Walls" show, which includes images from acclaimed Vancouver author and artist Douglas Coupland.

And in "Through the Vanishing Point," at U of T's McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, the media theorist's presence is constructed in his former seminar room by Canadian artists David Rokeby and Lewis Kaye.

"Marshall McLuhan is part of the way we negotiate and think about media in the modern world," said Canadian artist John Armstrong, who co-created images for the MOCCA exhibit with his longtime collaborator, Paul Collins.

"I think we're a little proud that he's Canadian."

As well you should be, and more than a little! Oh, and for an interesting little essay that takes "Brothel Without Walls" as its title, written by Christine Rosen, and addressing the rise of Photoshop and the decline of writing, here's a nice link for you:  Brothel Without Walls.  Rosen brings in media ecologists Daniel Boorstin, Susan Sontag, journalism scholar Mitchell Stephens, and popular writer Steven Johnson, as well as McLuhan.  And here's a quote from the essay that's especially relevant for this post:

Marshall McLuhan, the Sixties media guru, offered perhaps the most blunt and apt metaphor for photography: he called it “the brothel-without-walls.” After all, he noted, the images of celebrities whose behavior we so avidly track “can be bought and hugged and thumbed more easily than public prostitutes”— and all for a greatly reduced price.

 So, what do you think he would say about all of the digital images available for free here on the web?

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