“Sontag talks of photographys ‘zeal for debunking the high culture of the past … its conscientious courting of vulgarity … its skill in reconciling avant garde ambitions with the rewards of commercialism … its transformation of art into cultural document. (1979: 131)”
Photography doesn’t have zeal. Or anything else. If we have a zeal for debunking the high culture of the past there may or may not be valid reason for us doing so, and it may be made more or less effective and convincing by the uses, or not, of photographic reproductions of those works or photographs of not reproductions of those works.
Photography does not court vulgarity, we court vulgarity. There may even still, just, exist more drawings of penises than dick pics.
Photography has no skills at all. Photography is a method by which any ambitions may be approached, more or less succesfully depending on the willingness of an audience to be convinced that the photograph contains evidence sufficient to a change of heart/head/spirit. This relies on understanding that the subject to which the photograph is shown has a heart/head/spirit, of course, contrary to the sociologists standard mode.
That commercial gain can be made from anything is an interesting criticism of the thing, the medium. One could and still can, in terms of the art object, expect to make radically more money for a work made with clay, paint, ink… than with a camera and some chemicals. The argument seems to be that materials as such are inherently whoreish, then, in that they can be used to produce an exchange of capital, being traded.
That one can make a profit using photograhs tends to be far more related to the use of the photograph to sell something else, a holiday, for example. The profitability of the photograph used to sell that holiday is laughably small in comparison to the profit made by the tour operator, flight operator, hotel etc etc.
Of transforming art into a cultural document… is this not, in fact, backwards and lacking the requisite quote marks – “Photography is capable of producing and then transforming purported ‘social documents’ into ‘art’”.