I nearly did not write this entry inasmuch as I thought that it might get to be too much artspeak-ish. Nevertheless, my mind starting ruminating yesterday afternoon about the content, re: the topic, after reading a blog commentary which stated flat out that, in a picture, content trumps all.
Consequently, I also spent the better part of this AM contemplating (and re-reading Sontag's Against Interpretation essay) the notion of content and form. I ended up that trip through the recesses of my mind by concluding that, while I agree whole heartedly with Sontag's premise, her idea of content-the interpretive meaning "hidden" in a work of art-differs from that of the author of the content trumps all's content-the visually depicted subject in a photograph.
With that distinction clarified, I nevertheless continued sliding down a mental rabbit hole, re: wrestling with art "stuff", until I planted my feet on solid ground and figured out a way to deal with expressing my thoughts, re: the fact that content trumps all is a stupid idea.
There it is. I wrote it. It's stupid idea. However, an ameliorative caveat is in order. iMo, the primary photographic genre in which content does, indeed and in deed, trump all is that of the amateur-made snapshot. Those picture makers make pictures, almost exclusively, of subjects-the possibities are nearly endless-that are near and dear to him/her self ... fyi, no criticism intented. Snapshots are, on a personal basis, the most valuable and memorable of all pictures.
That written, let me get back to "stupid" (the idea not the author) ... the depicted referent (aka: the subject, not, in art world, the "content") to be viewed on the surface of a picture is there for all to see. And, as far as the author is concerned, the more obvious, attention grabbing, visually dominant the better. And, if you have that, voila, you have made a "captivating" photograph. Accordingly, since the author gives short shrift-"...even if you screw up the composition, the light sucks and there is no moment at all... to any need (although he writes that it would nice) to have any significant display of form, I would consider the author's opinion to be straight out of the "how-to" book of person-jumping-from-a-burning-building school of photography.
Form, created with exquisite use of the formal properties of art-line, shape, value, color, et al-is the characteristic, independent of the depicted referent, that defines good art (of any kind) inasmuch as the generally accepted theory of fine art is to create an aesthethic experience. The best examples of such, to my eye and sensibilities, are what Sontag described as "the sensuous surface* of art".
It is at this point where I completely disagree with the author's implied premise that good/great art can be created without good/great form. I disagree simply because, iMo and to my eye and sensibilities (and I am not alone), I believe that good/great art-i.e. and aesthetic experieince-can be created with good/great form alone. That is, without the requirement for a "captivating" referent.
To further clarify my premise, a good/great photograph can be created without good/great form. However, and once again iMo and to my eye and sensibilities (and I am not alone), it will not cross the divide into being fine art.
*Sontag's use of the word "surface" applies very fittingly to photography inasmuch as photographic prints are 2d objects with an image on its surface.