Learning from Las Vegas

Article excerpt

* Fact or Fiction: Photography and Mediated Experience

* Society for Photographic Education National Conference

* Las Vegas, Nevada

* March 21-24

An annual gathering, the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) National Conference offers the photography aficionado several days of presentations, a well stocked and spectacularly attended Exhibits' Area, hundreds of portfolio reviews, student seminars (reserved for volunteers and scholarship recipients), a gallery bus tour to take In local talent and regional meetings of SPE. Within this lively hub of events, a few talks were singled out and presented in plenum without competing scheduling, including the keynote address by Tracey Moffatt, Bart Parker's decorated limelight as the honored educator, the guest-speaker slot allotted Reverend Ethan Acres and a grand feature starring the inimitable Las Vegas local Dave Hickey. [paragraph]

Presentations and lectures form the core curriculum of the conference, and the program was filled with several choices for each time segment. The brief bios and blurbs introducing the sessions consequently served to attract or repel participants, and quite predictably panel titles like "Under the Radar: Pornography and Academic Freedom" drew capacity crowds long before the advertised XXX videos by students were screened. Hearsay reports did little to resolve why these exercises in timid porn deserved SPE attention or, perhaps more pertinently, academic accreditation (consider the authoritative instructor/adolescent student relationship), and truth be told the dare appears hopelessly insular in its claims to be controversial-even the Catholic Church is wearing a far more litigious and troublesome cloak of sexuality these days. [paragraph]

The majority of talks actually attended were generally either surprisingly uneducated or straightforward regurgitations. Richard Gray, for example, quite progressively proposed to explore "Human Factors: Photography and Identity in the Age of the Human Genome." After initially acknowledging a debt to Allan Sekula's essay "The Body and the Archive" without a coherent articulation of Its, arguably most relevant, normative aspects, Gray proceeded to show work that delved into a semiotic soup of references without brewing anything of consequence. It quickly became apparent that images with scientific overtones were vacuously intended to fill the imagination with a human genome component, and the talk did ultimately not fulfill what should be considered the fundamental professorial obligations of professional research and its dissemination. [paragraph]

Other talks offered contentions that were presented with a gist of disclosure, but they largely failed to surprise or enlighten: Through David Bate's approach to the "surreal" we basically learned that early members of the Surrealism movement did not consider their expressions a "style;" Sara-layne Parsons knocked on the door to Nick Waplington's Living Room (1991) and the social documentary paradoxes of representation and exploitation that have become such a drag that Richard Billingham, another protagonist covered, now flatly refuses to give interviews (apparently to avoid hearing this argument again and again); Sara Northener and Nancy Wride entertained the crowd with a wealth of tech-tools to recreate a visual culture phantasmagoria under the title "No thinking Required?," but the dissonant result, which was not at all unpleasant but intentionally hard to follow, did little more than erase the question mark from their opening statement; Lynn Cazabon gave a thoughtful introduction to her "The Body of Film: Artifact or Garbage," utilizing the acquisition of the Bettman Archive by Bill Gates's company Corbis to raise important questions relating to history's selective depositories and attendant accessibility, yet her recent and accompanying project, "The Story of M," which consists of the anonymous M's belongings (primarily pornographic videos and films that were purchased from the Courts and subsequently photographed in the manner of evidence), did little to surpass the standard project of an identity configured by other means than the headshot; and Christine Shank's "Out of the Frame" rather plainly introduced the work of Pantheon artists such as Bill Viola and Gary Hill with two repetitive superiatives--beautiful and interesting--in a performance that would marginally have passed for credit at her home institution (Shank is a graduate student but did not present as one). …