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Discussion in 'Photographers' started by GraemeMitchell, Oct 17, 2006.
Just thought I'd share, nice little personal blog.
I've been following it for a while. He is very well spoken and well read. It's part of my daily routine.
read it every day, very cool guy - he uses film too! thats always a plus in my book.
I read his blog too, and enjoy his posts. And got his book Niagara in the mail a few days ago. Have him on a RSS feed, so I always see when there are new posts.
Saw this on JM Colberg's blog... See the reception Alec's work got on another forum.... ugh.
He's been spotted on APUG. Maybe he'll drop in on this thread and say hello.
Regarding that I was a bit annoyed by some of the comments on Soth's blog about the comments on his photo; not his, he was actually very neutral and gentlemanly about the thing, as he should be, but there was some air of "how can they fail to see it's a masterpiece, it's so obvious" in the comments. I think some of the responses on dpreview are fair game, given that this photo is part of a series, and works better as such. To have seen it in isolation hindered its interpretation.
His photo raises the same problems as were raised in the Eggleston discussions we had on APUG in the Discuss a **** photo forum. I don't think one should laugh at people not "getting it" the same way one shouldn't see things only technically and by-the-book-rules.
For my part, when I saw people laughing their head off at others not "getting it" I thought there was some kind of inside or subtle joke in his picture (e.g. you have to look at it in a certain way and suddenly a dirty thing appears, etc.). I didn't "get it" for a long time, and eventually figured out that the photo works out of the tension between the flat surrounding colors and the "angel picture" the woman is holding. But I could hardly blame people for missing that.
Actually, I never got that far. All I saw were the common sharks circling and biting without provocation and quite frankly, couldn't bring myself to read on. I continue to be amazed at how threatened people can be by a piece that they feel the need, with no knowledge whatsoever of the artist or their work, to speak of "pretentiousness", etc. What is it about not "getting it" that causes so many to lash out? Is art that threatening? Or could it be something as basic as jealousy? The "I could do that.." mentality? Anyway, I never laugh or make fun of this type.
While I do not agree with the attack dog mentality that some people have towards certain genres of work, I do agree with their general view of this rise and acceptance of boring mundane work as having real value. Maybe I'm just too old school and just don't "get it" but I find it hard to understand how work done with the lowest degree of effort, least amount of visual interest, and requiring a a lengthy essay to explain it's meaning and value, to be forwarding the art of photography.
I would not criticizes Soth's interest in photography, clearly he is extremely interested if not as obsessed as the rest of us on APUG. But I can understand why the image he posted would get strong negative reactions. It is very reminiscent of the work that most beginning photographers did, in their first efforts, and then moved on from. However today anything goes, anything. And usually the more out there the idea behind the image, the more intentionally shocking, or intentionally maudlin or intentionally mundane, the more acceptance it seems to get. Mundane being a very popular choice today. It's funny but I thought one of the ideas of photography was to take something mundane and make it special, something which takes skill and talent. It seems that now the idea is to take something mundane and make it more mundane. That doesn't require talent or skill. I guess in a day and age where someone with a cell phone is a "photographer" it makes perfect sense.
But maybe Bill is right, maybe I'm jealous. After all I have to travel tens of thousands of miles a year, be away from home for 4-5 months, spend significant resources on travel and gear, put myself in some degree of physical risk to get about 10 shots a year that I feel are good enough to add to my portfolio. Instead I could be taking quick, poorly lit boring images and be the dandy of the museums. All I need to do is write a few thousand words explaining why my work is so significant.
In terms of "getting it" I guess I must be a member of the crowd who upon viewing the Emperor's new clothes, thought he was merely undressed.
While I can agree to the words alone, I fail to see how they can apply to Alec Soth`s work. There are tremendous efforts behind his photographs.
I stumbeled upon Alec`s website by chance and looked at his photographs and "got it" almost instantly without reading a word. Were are those lengthy essays?
I guess it boils down to personal taste, this time too...
Amund my first paragraph was more about the general trend. I did not address Soth's work until the second paragraph. However if one has to view someone's whole body of work in order to "get it" doesn't that mean that each photograph individually does not communicate its meaning?
The biggest problem I have with the school of mundanity, is that in a time when countless billions of images can be created a day, and when we are bombarded with these images in an ever increasing rate, shouldn't there at least be some desireable standards or attributes? Is merely volume the goal, expediency the means today? Whatever happened to the goal of creating an image that was "special", was that just too hard or too time consuming for so many contemporary photographers? I really want to know, because I struggle with keeping the all out effort I do when I see that the accepted standards seem so far below that.
Whose work are you referring to in that paragraph? Could you give us an example?
Good grief man! What makes you think he is any less "obsessed" than anyone here on APUG? Because he doesn't make pretty and "special" pictures like you? Because he doesn't drive thousands of miles and suffer your hardships to get a mere 10 shots a year? Do you think you have the market cornered on effort? Can you elaborate further?
And I am sure you understand that there are those that would look at the work you or I create and think it is boring and mundane?
Helen, I won't name any particular photographers as I tend to travel in the same social/business circles and also share the same representation as them.
Bill, I didn't say that Soth is less obsessed as anyone on APUG I said he is AS obsessed. Maybe the way I worded it wasn't clear. I tried to say that he is (at least) "extremely interested" if not just as just as obsessed as APUGgers.
You want me to elaborate on my comments about what I feel is a declining quality level of some contemporary photography? OK, I feel that the majority of people related or portrait type photography that I see nowadays is not as good as film tests that I saw in my 25 years of advertising photography. I'm sorry but having grown up with the work of Newman, Penn, Karsh, etc I am not impressed with what I have been seeing.
The majority of still lifes I see are at a level below that of my former assistant's work, or that of my students at SVA in the mid 80's. And this is work appearing in galleries and museums.
As for people finding my work, or yours, boring and mundane, that's fine with me. I have no intention of pissing on images of Christ, throwing elephant dung on pictures of the Pope, or standing by and photographing people suffering ( in order to show the world just how much compassion I have, by standing there aiming a camera at those in distress instead of actually helping them) in order to get a rise out of people who have been overstimulated and ultimately insensitized by shock photos and and the vast bombardment of imagery.
Sorry Brian, my mistake.
Yeah... Well you kind of already did.
I'm interested though. By saying you don't criticize Soth's "interest in photography", it is apparent the same doesn't go for his work. I mean, you kind of equate it with something your assistant could do better. This is much the same as I saw on the other site. Is it just the fact that there aren't elaborate lighting schemes and pretty people in provocative poses? Your statements seem to assume there is some accepted formula of perfection we should all be striving for. Could anything be more mundane and boring than that?
I want to be clear that the point of my comments is not Alec Soth, all I've seen of his work is one image but it is representative of a type of work I am seeing a lot and do not appreciate.
Elaborate lighting? No, lighting does not have to be elaborate for it to be good. Something as simple as window light, candle light, dappled light through leaves, etc are about as un-elaborate as you can get. But they're also beautiful, define form, shape and texture, can clue you in to the surrounding environment, can set a mood.
Pretty people? Where do you think I believe that photos of people require that those people be pretty?
As for formulas, I don't believe in them. However I do feel that giving thought to content, composition , lighting, texture, timing, etc is a good place to start.
Personally I'm just tired of seeing photos that seem to have been executed randomly by a robot and then justified with an essay long legal brief justifying their merit.
If you want to see someone whose work blows me away check out Fan Ho.
Fair enough Brian. Thanks. Thanks for the link as well.
also Fan Ho's B&W work, my favorites
Thanks for the Fan Ho links Brian. More great work to study!
Time to stand up for our hometown hero.
I stumbeled upon Alec`s website by chance and looked at his photographs and "got it" almost instantly without reading a word. Were are those lengthy essays?
I'll tell you where they are NOT. They are not at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts or the Walker Art Center -- his shots hang with your typical 3 sentence artists bio. And those shots do all the explaining you need.
As to the "banality" of contemporary narrative portraiture, who says that life is always "interesting?" Who says that great shots always have to capture some magical definitive moment? Life doesn't have to be about that one image that makes your soul sing, it can be about the million little mundane moments every day. It's about lunch at the kitchen table instead of Thanksgiving dinner.
So Alec has the cojones to cut across the grain and show you shots of unattractive people looking perfectly normal in shots that make you think you could be there right next to him. I say damn right. Give me 1 of Alec (who by the way, has taken the time to answer an email or two about his work, speaks at MCAD and MnCP -- and not just to sell his latest work, and goes a long way to not be an "artiste") instead of 1000 HCB or AA clones.
Don't like his stuff? Perfectly fine. People turned their noses up at Renoir and Monet, too. People thought Picasso was f'n nuts. People thought Ray Charles was blasphemous and thought Hemingway couldn't write his way out of a sack. No accounting for taste.
If you're doing the counterpoint work to Alec's, rock the F on because every Next Big Thing needs a Next Next Big Thing. I hope you get hung at the MIA and the Walker and the MOMA, Guggenheim, etc right next to his stuff. But if all you're doing is saying "that sucks -- this other stuff rocks!" then what's the point of the commentary?
Very, very well said.
First let me be specific that my comments are not about Alec Soth in particular but about a general trend I see of extremely boring mundane work. It is nice to hear though that Alec Soth answers emails. He's not the only one who does this.
Doing work that is different, doesn't make it good. It just makes it different. The hard part is being different and good.
Zenrhino you mention that life is composed of a million little mundane moments everyday. That is very true. However maybe it's just me, but I really have no desire to see "a million mundane moments" from someone elses life. I would rather see the exceptional moments. When they succeed or fail, when they experience a challenge, when they find satisfaction or enlightenment. I feel the same way about landscape photos, I don't want to see some scene at it's most common and most disinteresting, I want to see it when the planets have aligned and it is amazing to behold. And that may not even be a scene of excitement but one of serenity and beauty. Can you imagine sitting down and reading a book about a million mundane things in someone's life? Or watching a movie about a million mundane things for 3 hours? I can't, so why is it acceptable in photography?
This million mundane moments thing is just like reality TV. At least they edit out the truly boring stuff and only show the more unusual moments.
If you can take a mudane scene and make it captivating and magnetic, that's something, taking a mundane scene and keeping it mundane is a security camera.
"Don't like his stuff? Perfectly fine. People turned their noses up at Renoir and Monet, too. People thought Picasso was f'n nuts. People thought Ray Charles was blasphemous and thought Hemingway couldn't write his way out of a sack. No accounting for taste"
It's very easy to use that argument. But for every artist that truly is like a Renoir or Picasso, there are 10,000 who use that argument to justify why people don't "get" their work. As for Renoir, Picasso and Monet, their work while being different for their time, still held to the foundations of painting, that is good composition, good color use, a sense of light, good design, and serious visual interest. People may have thought that they didn't understand their work, but they found it interesting to look at. Ray Charles still used rhythm, harmony, composition and his work was stunning to hear, not boring. What did Hemingway write about? Were his works mundane or heroic in their scope?
Don't get me wrong here. I hope you don't think I'm coming down and saying, "Dude, your opinion sucks!" If you're running with the big dogs and even have representation (let alone in the same group as Soth, et al) then your experience and opinion are greatly valued and I thank you much for your engagement in the dialogue.
What I'm saying is that often, it takes a long time for taste to catch up to contemporary work. Maybe art history will relegate Soth, Deutsch, Hilliard, Strassheim, etc. to the same sad place where Mortenson is -- forgotten and reviled for over-reaching and trying to force the medium to do things it was never meant to do.
You're not the only one who holds a negative opinion of contemporary phototgraphy. My own mentor (who is a straight documentarian and studied with Jerome Leibling), considers contemporary photography to be nothing more than "pretty, affluent people sitting on a bed and staring off into an uncertain future" and pretty much holds the Yale MFA program in contempt for forcing this upon the art world. But you know, art reflects its era. We live in an uncertain world where people do sit on their beds and stare off into the future. Maybe the current trend reflects a retreat from the hyper-realism of Fox News and reality TV and is trying to dial "reality" back a notch from roadside bombs and plastic surgery-enhanced "bachelors" to shots of actual people.
What does all of this mean? That there is a great gaping void where a countermovement can go. It's perfectly fine not to like an art movement. Let's just come up with the Next Next Big Thing(tm), preferably using film. Then WE can get into the Whitney Biennial, sell prints for a cubic buttload of cash, and get invited to join Magnum.
Me, I happen to like taking pictures of people sitting on beds staring off into an uncertain future. I also like pictures of places that people see every single day but never find beautiful because they don't take the time to see the beauty there. Mundane? Banal? Sure. But I like that kind of stuff. Notice that George Slade and those guys aren't banging down my door to get prints to hang, either.
By the way, I LOVE that we get to have this kind of discourse and dialoge here. So much of shooting gets into dilutions and emulsions and which lens has the highest LPM, etc. It's a ton of fun to get to comment on the passing clouds of art trends. And really, that's all they are. Art trends are like the weather, and you know what they say about weather up here in Minnesota: Don't like it, wait a few minutes and it'll change.
Which begs the question: Where is hyper-contemporary photography? Where is the bleeding edge? Or is there one? Maybe photography as an artistic medium has been explored as fully as possible and all that's left is retread and use of photos as documentary images. This whole discussion makes me want to find my copy of Crisis of the Real and give it another read.
Get a copy of "A Moveable Feast." Read about what he thought of trains, cheese, booze, horse races, his neighbors, the clothes that Gertrude Stein's girlfriend wore, hanging out with other artists and trying to be an artist while holding down a day job. Mundane? Sure. But it's mundane filtered through Hemingway. Great stuff.
I enjoy reading threads like this. The only thing I can add is that ultimately, history, and the market, together, sort it all out quite nicely in the end.