The course notes ask for a paragraph on our understanding of the term “conceptual photography”. The trite answer would be it’s about photography with ideas, but simple reflection suggest that even the most humble snap is covered by this category – the idea was that I wanted a photo of my cat to load up to Facebook!!
A more useful answer…to me at least…is that it is photography where the content of the photo, and the technique, are subservient to the idea.
So Ansel Adams is not conceptual photography…yes , he had ideas about conservation and grandeur, but his images were about mountains or lakes, and his photography was about technique. Note that I’m not suggestin gthis is in any way bad…simply not conceptual.
On the other hand..if we take Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills series the work is obviously about something other than taking a selfie while acting out a movie role. The critique of women’s typical film roles is the driving force – not the images themselves, technically excellent though they are.
An even more extreme example can be found in BJP Dec 2015, which shows one of Eric Kessel’s “In Almost Every Picture” series. Featuring a series of beach portraits with the heads and upper bodys neatly removed the images invite us to explore other ways of understaning portraits than the face alone, and Kessel argues that it should even question where the end of photography lies.
So to summarise..conceptual photography…it’s first and foremost about the idea not the image.