Bad Art & the Untrained Eye

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by bpm32, Jun 25, 2005.

  1. bpm32

    bpm32 Member

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    I'm trying to figure out how to put into words what I'm thinking - hopefully this will come out right...

    I've been working on a collection of 12 - 16 prints in memory of my late Grandfather. These prints are meant to remain as a whole - not split apart to hang on walls, etc. I decided I would enlist the help of my Grandmother to help me weed out the "lesser" impactive prints before I present them to the rest of the family.

    I had in mind the prints I did and did not want included - though I kept this opinion to myself. One by one, I handed the prints to my Grandma, and I was shocked at her reaction to them. The ones I believed to be the best (due to composition, exposure, printing - you know - all the "technical" things) effected little reaction from her. The ones I thought were the worst she just made all over about. Why did I think they were the worst? Lack of definite subject, distractions from the main subject, bad exposure, lack of details, it just wasn't catching, too busy, etc.

    It was obvious she wasn't paying attention to any of that. What she brought to the table was a lifetime of memories with her - and that's how she viewed the photographs.

    Now I come from a family (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) that do not have a well defined artistic eye. Neither do I for that matter, but I've read so many books on photography and studied so many prints (like all of you) that I have developed a definition of what I think is a fine print. None of this mattered to my Grandmother. I have a strong feeling the rest of my family will be the same way.

    Now I feel I'm stuck between a rock and hard place. I don't know how I'd feel about including pictures I'm not happy with, but at the same time, I don't know how I'd feel NOT including pictures that help her (or others) recall fond memories.

    Why am I writing this? Hm. Probably because I need to get this off my chest. I'm also open to any words of wisdom.

    Thanks for letting me rant.
     
  2. shyguy

    shyguy Member

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    will this be a collage to hang on the wall, separate framed pictures? or all on one matt board.

    If it's all on one and it's for the family then go with the grandma picks. these are memories not art. Folks want to have happy thoughts and that will go farther then composition and exposure in this situation.

    S.
     
  3. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Just my opinion,

    When dealing with family photographs that help tell the story of the family, or the history of a family, or just brings back memories of times that have past from out lives, even as a photographer, I feel that we need to let go of our definition of photography and let the emotion of the photograph that has such strong feeling to the family take the lead, I learned this when working in the photography shop, where we did many duplications of very poor pictures by definition, but were the best pictures in the world in the eyes of the family, our training of photography has little impact when dealing with these family mementos..

    Good luck on your choices, and may they bring the memories flooding into the hearts of souls of the family they effect so much.

    Dave
     
  4. papagene

    papagene Membership Council Council

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    Now you know why Disc, 110, 126 and cheap digi-gizmo cameras were/are so popular: it's not the artistic/technical qualities that people are looking for, but the strong emotional responses and memories the image(s) elicit.
    My suggestion - make a scrapbook with the photos in plastic sleeves and include them all. I know it is a lot of work, but you will be satisfying your artist urge and the longing for those wonderful memories your family looks for.
    Best of luck.

    gene
     
  5. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    I've done projects somewhat like this. I always find myself wishing at some point that I had chosen the photos entirely myself, but then in the end I usually feel that the input was valuable. Sometimes, the more I ask for input the more I find myself understanding how I feel about the images myself. For example, if there are two photos showing a relatively similar subject, and I can't decide which to include, my family will usually choose one when asked and in looking at it I will then understand all the reasons I knew they would choose it, and the reasons I probably would actually rather they chose the other. If it is more than a passing irritation to learn that I prefer the other, I'll print them both. But for the most part, I have found that the difference is really only there on a few images out of a portfolio of many, and it doesn't hurt me to let somebody else have a bit of influence over the finished product if it is to grace their wall. If it is for mine...different story.
     
  6. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    In pictures of families people don't SEE the photographs, they FEEL them.

    In my field of portraiture, I have a built in acceptance factor because people aren't really looking objectively at anything. They are feeling all the emotions that members of a family illicit.

    However if you can achieve good composition etc you will probably get respect from both the family as well as someone with no direct emotional attachment.


    Michael
     
  7. jjstafford

    jjstafford Inactive

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    Indeed, so true as to be worthy of being engraved in gold.
     
  8. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    My opinion:

    First off - I am not an artist - as I've said before, I couldn't compose a duck on water.

    Michael got it right - families "feel" the memories that the photos bring to the front.

    Why not make the book a bit bigger? Include at least 1/2 of what your Grandma thinks are important and the rest select yourself to satisfy your own emotions?

    just my $0.02

    cheers
     
  9. bluetexasbonnie

    bluetexasbonnie Member

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    If you are making an album, I'd go strictly with Grandma's selection and call it "Grandpa in Grandma's Eyes" or some other semi-poetic nonsense that includes both of them.

    If it is for a collage or multi-windowed mat, then I'd select half of Grandma's and half of yours. IMHO, a unit collection of all technically poor photos looks tacky and uncaring. A collection of 'good' photos mixed with 'loved' photos makes the loved ones stand out as special.
     
  10. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    I have to say, I don't know of any 'technically poor' family photos, and after going through the death of my mother and putting together a collage for her memorial, there is no such thing as semi-poetic nonsense when your dealing with family memories...

    Technically poor refers to someone having training in art photography or some other definition of the photographic field and having the ability to tell the difference between a so called 'Good' photo and a bad photo, I can assure you, to the people that do care about the family memories, it is not tacky and it is certainly not uncaring..

    Just my .02

    Dave
     
  11. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    If you think of your family as 'clients' then this issue will go away. At the end of the day, you can influence a bit, but happy clients pay the bills and spread the word.

    Additionally, I would discredit your family so harshly. I have seen photographs that don't break any of the 'rules' yet were sterile - emotionally devoid. It's often the ones that have the 'flaws' that convey the greatest sense of lasting and communicate the best 'words' about the subject. Now isn't that true photographic art?

    Art.
     
  12. jjstafford

    jjstafford Inactive

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    True. So many commercial portraits are like photographic emblamings. *shudder*. When a picture isolates a subject from an environment that he lived in, hopefully loved, it's more like cataloging, instutionalizing. That's exactly how I took Avedon's pictures to be.
     
  13. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Who is the intended audience for these prints?

    If it is only family, I would give individuals the ability to choose which prints they want. Let your Grandma have the prints that have the most meaning to her.

    Anytime you deal with images of someone who hassed passed emotion will always trump aesthetics.

    One of my best friends passed away a few years ago. I compiled a large collage of images (mostly snaps) from all his friends. I don't think any of them remotely were of any real artisitc merit, but even 7 years later I can look at them and my memory sees the image for a split second and then goes back to that time or place that the image was made. Such images are really a time machine for our memories, maybe the greatest gift that photography can give us.
     
  14. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    The title of the thread is faulty. Grandma is the one with the trained eye, which is just the point. You're only looking at superficial formal qualities.

    Perhaps they should be presented with text if they are really so visually impoverished without the backstory.

    Who is the actual intended audience? That's not clear.
     
  15. bpm32

    bpm32 Member

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    Let me begin my extending my deepest thanks to all of you who have responded. You have my greatest appreciation.

    So... my original line of thinking was to present a finished "product" to the family. I still haven't decided whether it will be a portfolio box or a bound book. I don't plan on doing a photo album (so to speak) as it's just not what I had in mind. This will not be a collage that will be hung on the wall. I envision this to be given to Grandma, and anyone who stops by her house will be free to look at it (friends, family). I wanted to have this assembled for my Grandfather's one year memorial. Perhaps I should offer all my photos and have the family select 12 - 16 they like most. From there, I can make those the feature photos, while the rest would be printed in a smaller format, or not have anecdotes of the man like the feature photos would. Then, I'd prepare the finished "product" at a later time.

    As far as the art and the untrained eye... you all are probably right - it's definitely more the untrained photographer than anything. I've never done this - so I certainly don't know how to approach it. I appreciate the direction you're giving me - forget concentrating too much on the art as that's not what is important here.

    This could also be a product of one of my biggest problems in life: I tend to make everything way more difficult than it really needs to be.

    So again, thanks for listening to the situation.

    Brian
     
  16. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    I might be missing the mark on this, but it seems possible that your own definition of what makes a good (or well composed photograph) might be a little restrictive. Have you ever looked through much of Robert Frank or Lee Friedlanders work for example? What you are describing sounds much closer to their sort of work - and work that is more than recognised and acceptable - it's just a different sort of photography.

    Kevin said it best - Grandma is the one with th trained eye in this case. The best photography is inexorably tied to memory.

    ‘All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this — as in other ways — they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers.’