How authenticity came to be mistaken for spontaneity

One Paula Riebschläger writes about photographer Arnaud Ele‘s work:

Far away from orchestrated photo shoots, Ele’s pictures are filled with authenticity expressed in pictures of dreamy landscapes and intimate portraits. He graduated from film school in Geneva and was recently commissioned by Urban Outfitters to create an ad campaign. Although, Ele is already a successful photographer, he keeps steadily reinventing his work. Through the process of taking pictures, he captures special moments and keeps them from being forgotten.

As I see it, Riebschläger’s words about Ele’s photographs are a good example of how the term authenticity is now commonly used as a mere synonym of sincerity, genuineness or spontaneity. So usually when one reads about the “authentic character” of a given work of art, what the writer means is that certain qualities of the work evoke a sense of truthfulness that has been somehow lost. I think this sense of having lost something incredibly important to the way we understand and relate ourselves as human beings, is transversal to every generation. Although “what’s lost” changes, it always seems to allude to some ethical standard that “used to” guaranteed a certain harmony and stability.

In the case of Ele’s photographs, what Riebschläger apparently recognizes as authentic is the intimacy, which she contrasts with the “orchestrated photo shoots”. Yes, consumers don’t like to acknowledge they’re consuming, so these new wave of urban street fashion shoots are there to let the viewer feel more comfortable, because it feels truer, more spontaneous, real, unpretentious, honest, etc. In fact, most of theses productions are just as orchestrated as they “used to be”, they just have different aims and different functions.

So how does this market of spontaneity translate into a photographic style? Precisely by evoking something that “has been lost”, namely the rawer qualities of the analogue: the grainy structure of the silver crystals, the less vivid colors, the lack of sharpness, the blur and so on an so on. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t see any problem in Ele’s photographs (more can be seen here). They highlight every day moments and they all have a certain vitality to them. The problem seems to be the rhetoric that grows around them, a rhetoric that tends to turn them into something they are not: namely authentic and highly out-of-the-box original creative works of art.

© Arnaud Ele.
© Arnaud Ele.
© Arnaud Ele.
© Arnaud Ele.

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