The Art Institute has an exhibition displaying the photographic work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. The collection is being called "Dolls and Masks" and it mainly depicts people in grotesque masks and arranged doll parts. While I can appreciate the formal elements of the collection (balance, composition, deep contrasts in value, etc.) I have always questioned the content of deliberate or staged photography.
At its best, photography focuses on truth--the act of capturing a moment in time. A painting can also depict this moment, but it lacks the immediacy of a photograph. Some of the most powerful photographs I have seen capture fleeting moments, as if the photographer possessed the right amount of talent and luck to get the image on film.
When I see photographs, for example, of children wearing masks with distorted faces in abandoned houses, it produces a definite response. It's strange and unsettling in its content, yet it is content that was prearranged. Like a film, I can recognize the expressiveness and thought that went into its creation, but it remains a single, two-dimensional image. So, the question I always ask myself when I see staged photography is: would it be more poignant or powerful as a painting?