The age of doubt?

Instead of the term 'postmodernism', which has fairly rigid limits, a famous American scientist Thomas McEvilley used, in analysing the newest sculpture, the notion of 'the age of doubt': briefly stated, there are no certain fixed values. This definition could very well be applied to Estonian photography as well.

There are those who claim that neo-conservatism rules and, as a result, photography has returned to the modernist values of the 1980s; there is also the opinion that contemporary photography (again) lacks intertextuality, that photos are again limited. Contemporary photography has also been accused of not asking critical questions, neither about itself nor about society — unlike the photography of the 1990s. Due to these claims it is usually concluded that the language of photography has become more restricted and the meanings have withdrawn into themselves.

If the developments of the turn of the millennium are to be seen as regression, we should first ask ourselves what the reasons for those kinds of processes are. It seems that the decrease of fascination with photography in the 1990s was caused both by the increasing popularity of photography and its penetration into all areas of life — something that previously had not, for both technical and ideological reasons, been possible. Another obvious reason was the fact that society and the world of art focused on video art and film. Digital and audio-visual means that made it possible to montage 'your own film' became central in the world of art. Against that kind of background, photography seemed as old-fashioned as graphic art had seemed to photographers.

A third reason for the devaluation of photography as art seems to be a tendency to 'live beyond one’s means', which in art meant the active import of new means, trends, aesthetics etc. from abroad. Overall, the import of culture in the 1990s seems to have been so rapid that everything that was offered could not be organically attached to our cultural background and habits.

Following examples of European contemporary culture too fast and often with no sense of criticism has created a situation where only the visual, 'decorative' part of international art is taken over. This often results in mannerist, local versions of chrestomatic international art works, an indirect result being 'design-like empty form', which dominates art.

Despite what has been stated, there is no reason to see the future of photography or art in general as being in decline. A short period of rest after establishing itself institutionally is probably unavoidable. Furthermore, as of 2001 artists with a higher education in photography have begun to appear on the art scene. It is most likely that the new, broad-based and interdisciplinary education will solve most of the current problems of photography and art.

Everything points to the fact that the worldview of the new generation will be neither 'negativistic' nor 'optimistic', but above all operational. This prediction is based on the newest works: at the same time beautiful and critical, sensual and intellectual, affirmative and deconstructive. A living photograph is argument enough to prove the blending of previously opposing categories, and it also gives us the impetus to find new interpretations.

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