Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Two Styles

Jun 09, 2019 - Mike Osborne

Federal Triangle fuses a couple of manners of thinking and looking. On one hand, the photographs generally adhere to the essential conventions of the “documentary style,” as Walker Evans described it many years ago. In the manner of documents, the pictures render sites and situations unfolding in front of the camera with minimal intervention. At the same time, they reflect what the American historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style”—a tendency in American politics to sense conspiracies lurking around every corner.


A documentary-style picture foregrounds the facticity of the scene or situation. A paranoid style picture conjures the darker fantasies that pervade our political landscape. What I have tried to do in this work is to synthesize these two ideas, to inject elements of each into the frame.


In the 1964 essay where Richard Hofstadter first articulated his theory of the paranoid style, he wrote, “If for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination.” Fifty-five years later, this commingling of “errors,” “acts of incompetence,” and “treason” seems remarkably current. Is this an age of errors and incompetence? Of treason? Both? In Hofstadter’s time, the “paranoid imagination” was confined to the margins. Today, no one is at a loss for “points of fascinating interpretation.”