Document or Art?

A friend is making an art project by shooting each flight of stairs in a five story building. There is a quiet, haunting quality to the work that struck me as quite impressive. It made me wonder if this casual, random shot I took of a new stairway railing to document its existence might qualify as art?

Does intention matter? Might something done for one reason fulfill another? Did Mr. Campbell think his soup cans would wind up in museums?

Heady questions and perhaps unanswerable, but there’s something worth pondering in all this.  Anyway, here’s the photo I took; what do you think?

stair railing


2 thoughts on “Document or Art?

  1. I have been aware of this dilemma for years … decades, and have long concluded that it’s a false though seductive opposition.

    Intention does not necessarily determine whether a result is recognized as an art object. Art can erupt spontaneously, only

    to await a human to notice and brand the result as art.

    I consider the opposition (documentary cf art) a reification of the insecurities of the dubious artists, theorists and hangers-on who are threatened

    by the intrusion of realities exposed by the generous eye or ear of the documentarist, and the apparent lack, (an illusion of course) of intervention in this revelation.

    It’s a seductive area for myself since my best documentary work (BABY HOME) is also my best claim to art, and therefor the status of artist …

    … as if that actually matters. Well it once did, I admit.

    I am reminded of a British art film in which the filmmaker – was he Tony … X … I’m terrible with names … takes a single still photograph of a metal ascending stair in some exterior environment, a black and white photograph. The inverse square law of lens-optics means that as the steps rise up the frame they get smaller and closer together. Decades earlier, that unquestioned artist Norman MacLaren (sp?) employed a comb in the construction of an optical soundtrack which approximated a series of quasi digital / electronic belches of differing tone to likewise make a material soundtrack of ascending scale amid a forest of random glitches which werethe BW scratches on the hand-processed footage (I think). Now this was celebrated unquestionedly as film art, and I remember being impressed with the enterprise. But that was forty years ago and the film carried the imprimatur of the Arts Council … so it just HAD to be art.

    And I am driven to document that looking at your image I found the thought that the art was on the wall above the stairs messing with my thoughts on the subject. And why not. It has a frame and art requires a frame … doesn’t it? But don’t hold me to much of what I’ve written please ‘cos I’ve had a fall and the bulbous eruption on my lower right leg is causing great throbbing pain as blood attempts to re-enter the arteries / veins, and all this the result of my determination to continue my documentation the Blackbird Turdus) parents to protect and nurture the second lot of eggs / babies this Spring …. In the bush beneath my bathroom window.



  2. I love stairs of all kinds and I too have taken photos of stairs. The angular geometries in this photo enchants me and somehow means something strangely mysterious and ephemeral to me. It’s as if Stairs are suspended animation portals between the worlds of the upstairs happenings and the downstairs happenings. A place of quiet where you can perceive both worlds at once and yet remain apart. If both worlds happen to be devoid entirely of happenings, then the stairs are places where you can sense the resonance of the building itself and of its connection to the outside forces, like the rest of the building(s), the streets and the city, or the forest and the winds. Stairs have been magical places to me… as a child it was the place to listen to my family’s activities objectively, or a place to be still and meditate, to play guitar and sing (sometimes where a special echoing resounds that is sublimely penetrating) or to simply linger awhile and dream.

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