Can we still break ground?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Tom Stanworth, May 11, 2005.

  1. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

    Messages:
    2,027
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2003
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Looking at many photographers' work (incl my own), from landscapers and 'life' photographers to those who prepare 'soulful still life', the parallel between music and photography is clearer to me than ever.

    I cannot remember seeing any work for some time that really breaks new ground. Maybe this does not matter a bit? 'people/reportage' photography allows us to provide insight into the human spirit/disposition, then it is irrelevant if the photographer is walking a well-worn path as long as where he is going is in some way still entralling? Arguably the fiirst uses of photography for this sort of insight was a novelty and everything since distilled to the message? Since landscape photography reached the highest standards of technical brilliance some time ago and the same locations are shot to bits, we see much the same images from many different 'names' and only rarely a style which forces us to rethink. I guess certain locations have their own emotional 'profile' and therefore images from different photographers may be visually different, but somehow end up just the same.

    Personally there is nothing I recoil at more in art more than faddish attempts to do something 'new'...as if everything else is old and not to move on means being passe and irrelevant. As pretty well every corner of photography has been staked out long ago, perhaps this is the reason for the uprise in 'fine art' photography. Perhaps because it is so hard to do something new and 'worthy' (without being faddish) we have to do the same things using weird processes and give them some intrinsic value as a result of blood and sweat (as well as using gnome charmed dyes and dragon tooth textured papers from Mars). It gives them some form of rarity, once offorded to more run of the mill work, years ago, which was unique because of what it represented in time as much as anything else. There also seems to be a global challenge for the pointless artistic use of cameras too. Perhaps this also represents deperation, in a bid to claim new original artistic territory by 'bagging' it with a camera, even if there is no apparent (to me) point to the act.

    The problem of going to Yosemite (which IMHO has been shot to death) seems in my eyes to have been extended to many other corners of photography. I know this is hardly news but I have taken 6 weeks out (working overseas) and it has really hit me between the eyes. Maybe I needed it, but dont know right now whether it depresses or excites me. Maybe I will enjoy my work more now that I know that it is just a labour of love. A personal vision which another either connects with or does not, one of millions and nothing more. Its in this context that this forum becomes even more important. Maybe given a week with a camera and I will be back, charging for the horizon again, striving (misguidedly) to produce truly great work?

    Maybe our work is in some way much more focussed on us as individuals than it was for those such as Ansel and Co. They stood few in number, their work being of global importance at the time. Did this somehow reduce the importance of the individual and focus it on their work. Do we today suffer the opposite - the photographer and their 'mystique/aura/image' becoming more important, because the work is not as ground breaking and cannot be? I hate to use the word 'lifestyle' but now things seem to be so much about that. People buy into lifestyle (a sense of direction for a flock of sheep?) and it is the biggest factor in the marketing/advertising of just about everything. Is photography going to become another victim - is it already? Was Ansel a fairly every day sort of chap ? What about Edward Weston? Would the humble purity of what they did be marketable today if produced today or would they need some of Britney Spear's PR people to help them along?

    Am I being narrow minded, closed off to exciting photographic developments as a result of early experiences? To me there is traditional, beautiful photography and noisy pointless trash. I m just concerned that the traditional beautiful stuff is now on a 'loop'. Maybe I am in a rutt, orr breaking out of one.

    Have I missed something, lots of things?

    I'll get my coat....
     
  2. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

    Messages:
    3,042
    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Sadly Tom I think you have hit the nail on the head and except for personal goals there is nothing really left.

    I think that many of the icons of photography would not even get into print these days, they might even be laughed out of most camera clubs for not observing the rules of composition. Even in the theater of war they are the same old pictures but with different faces and flags.

    Maybe I'm a miserable old g*t but I do believe that breaking new ground is only now on a personal level and not a public one.

    Good topic it will be interesting to read others views on this one.
     
  3. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,196
    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2005
    Location:
    North Coast,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    If I'm not mistaken, Ansel did have a PR guy. (Really good navel-gazing thread by the way!)

    Things may appear to be insubstantial because of how many galleries are bellying up to the trough trying to cash in on the photography-as-investment boom. They would be the ones driving the New Is Better philosophy.

    Just because there are more and more wineries opening doesn't mean all wines get thinner. There has never, and there never will be, another photographer who has my way of seeing, or has a relationship with the north coast of BC environment the way I do. They might be just as passionate about it, but their relationship to it would be enriched by their life experiences and expressed through their way of seeing.

    There will always be another great poet, writer, actor, musician, composer, scientist, philosopher, teacher, and yes, another great photographer.

    Murray
     
  4. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

    Messages:
    3,242
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Milwaukee, W
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Can we break new ground...dunno? Who cares? My photos occassionally break wind.
     
  5. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I don't even know what it means to "break new ground". From my perspective many are trying to emulate known photographers and their techniques, or they are going to an extreme to be nothing like anyone else and to the point of not producing a product that has any appeal.

    It would seem to me that the only way to break new ground is to just not care one way or the other. I also wonder how anything can be "ground breaking" when you come up with it today and tomorrow everyone else has access to and is using the method. Part of the problem may very well be that in the internet age people expect that new ground will be immediately available and as such don't place so much value in something that is ground breaking.



    I haven't a clue what I'm saying, but it sounds good in my head.
     
  6. Will S

    Will S Member

    Messages:
    717
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2004
    Location:
    Madison, Wis
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Every moment is unique. Every eye is unique. What you do may be similar to something done before, but we are the result of our antecedents. If you go to the museum and look at paintings for an afternoon something will seep into your personal vision. And if your inspirations are so strong that they wind up consuming your own personal vision, then at least you have made a fitting tribute to your sources.

    I'm always amazed at the way photographers (especially academic photographers) tend to think of photography as a separate form of visual art completely divorced from the other visual mediums (including dance and architecture.) If photographers were musicians/composers it would be as if they only studied Western art music produced by wealthy white males of European extract from around 1600 to 1920 and completely ignored everything that happened in the rest of the world, or by non-white European males, or before 1600 and after 1920 in the western world, or popular music, etc. Oh, wait...

    never mind.
     
  7. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Location:
    Milan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Or maybe, are we ever breaking new ground or just finding newer or less traveled ways of saying the same thing? When photography or any 'new' media is first introduced to the creative mind, experimentation, and exploration of the medium will bear a lot of fruit and this, I guess, would be 'new ground.' Traditional mediums have seen 'revolutions' that are similar when old paradigms are broken, such as modern art as applied to painting.

    I suspect there is always the opportunity to break new ground. I wonder if it is preferable to do something that hasn't been done before for the sake of the newness, which seems to be a major part of the post modern and post post modern art world or if it is better to simply find your natural voice and learn to speak more clearly.
     
  8. alien

    alien Member

    Messages:
    226
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2005
    Location:
    England
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Claire, it might be time to change the old stopbath and developer....:smile:
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,351
    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2005
    Location:
    Montréal (QC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I tend to believe that broken ground appears by accident, and is sometimes not understood as such before a while. Someone doing things instinctively may end up later as a major photographer--think Nan Golding for example. Erik Satie was not a star in his lifetime, but we can't avoid him now.

    Another portion of "breaking ground" is also constructed: if you are doing X at a time Y you might be just following the others. I'm sure doing wall paintings in the Lascaux way now would be hot--oh wait, they recuperated that idea to talk about graffitti... But for the sake of example, coming back to photographers, the people in the Boston group around Nan Golding did a lot of what would have been considered Pictorialism at the beginning of that other century. Now they get to be hailed by a Taschen book, and I don't see an AA or a Stieglitz standing up and forming group f/256 against them...

    I think the genres may lose steam at some point: instrumental orchestral music frankly hasn't been that exciting after WWII, except maybe for Arvo Pärt. Lots of film music, but few new and original composers that tear down the walls. But guess what? It's popular music, jazz, rock &c, that makes people cheer up and stand on their toes the way the audiences were at a Beethoven concert in his time. So even though the genre may have lost ground, music in itself still evolves and breaks ground.

    Who knows, maybe digital will save photography? :wink:

    *ducks and run as fast as possible!!*
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,351
    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2005
    Location:
    Montréal (QC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Also, even though a lot of things don't break ground anymore, we still like them a lot: Beet's 5th, 9th, Rembrandt, Lascaux, Elvis, and bubble-gum ice cream.
     
  11. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    5,888
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well said...

    Aren't we always breaking new ground? Breaking new ground is an evolutionary process that's not always obvious right away. FWIW, this international community of like minded folks, called APUG, is a rather new concept in the grand scheme of things. Isn't that breaking new ground in a way?
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,985
    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2002
    Location:
    Wine country, N. Cal.
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I think at times we do too much navel gazing.

    We aren't partying enough.

    Enjoy what you do.

    Try to throw off the yoke of those that went before.

    Be happy.

    Take some pictures.

    Before you know it you're dead.





    MIchael
     
  13. George Losse

    George Losse Member

    Messages:
    325
    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2003
    Location:
    Southern NJ
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Ground breaking is not all its cracked up to be. When most of the greats were breaking new ground their work was not widely accepted. Only later, when the work had an audience was it really considered ground breaking.

    Why is it so important to break new ground?

    I think its more important to stay fresh in your own vision, allowing that to evolve, grow and mature as you do.

    Don't worry so much about how the work ranks on the "photography ground breaking scale," that is for others to add or not add that classification to your work. Just keep working and growing..
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. f64'ed-up

    f64'ed-up Member

    Messages:
    19
    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I can only add that after an early introduction to photography, I did not photograph for 20 years, mostly because of the reasons you stated. I felt, maybe correctly, that although I showed a modicum of "talent", I had nothing new to offer in the area of photography that I enjoyed. A few years ago, during a "lull" in my "career" I reintroduced myself to photography again and reignited a long latent passion. It was clear that the wet prints (negatives) and chromes I was making - some from 20 year old negatives, but mostly new, were at a much higher level than the facility I used could support academically or aesthetically. It was "suggested" (i.e., I was literally forced - not nicely) every week or two over the period of a year that I was there that I should go elsewhere. Upon leaving, I evaluated the work of others who were making or had made photographs during my hiatus inferior to what I felt I could make. In other words, it hadn't bothered my "peers" that they weren't breaking any new ground - and they were making livings off of something they loved to do. I committed part of my house to my passion recently and will be having my first show in July (PhotoSF).

    With regards to Ansel Adams, I would suggest reading his autobiography (Ansel Adams - An Autobiography), The Elegant Light (Nancy Newhall), or any number of tomes written of him. You might discover, among other things, that much of Adams work was self-admittedly "derivative", his "PR guy" was former student William Turnage, and he felt that the only reason to make photographs is because you truly (and realistically) know you can do it better than anyone else.
     
  16. Bill Mobbs

    Bill Mobbs Member

    Messages:
    156
    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Michael, as we say in my part of the world... You hit the nail right on the head. Its not about shovels, its about cameras, film, and the chemicals to do them. Take pictures! have fun!
     
  17. f64'ed-up

    f64'ed-up Member

    Messages:
    19
    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That should be The Eloquent Light by Newhall. Must be the Plavix.
     
  18. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

    Messages:
    1,627
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2003
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Digital tecknology breaks new ground every week. Does that make the images cutting edge or new ground as you put it? I think Blansky's got it. Just have fun. Don't quit, stay in focus then let it deal with itself. Whatever "it" is.
     
  19. blaze-on

    blaze-on Member

    Messages:
    1,430
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2004
    Location:
    Riverside, C
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    my quote says it all for me...
     
  20. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

    Messages:
    2,297
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2003
    Location:
    Floriduh
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Great thread, and when I read it I immediately thought of the Lomo camera and many people returning to try the old processes. I think in a way that digital puts a spin on things opening new possibilites in exploration thru manipulation and incorporating graphic arts, which reminds me of modern art in some ways.... Outside of that, I got nuthin.
     
  21. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

    Messages:
    6,242
    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Tom,

    An excellent thread. I came to the same impasse some time ago. I think that, for me this a pivotal point that some of us reach. We will either bridge the gap or fall by the wayside.

    What I think, again for myself, is that photography very often is limited more by the photographer his/her self then any other factor.

    For myself, this impasse is the point of departure from the world external into the world internal. By that I mean that most photographers whether they want to admit it or not are involved in producing illustration as opposed to art.

    Illustration is the depiction of the external world...art departs from this and brings the internal experiences, understanding, and awareness into physical representation.

    How many more waterfalls, trees, darkened passageways, slot canyons and cathedral interiors do we need to photograph? No matter how technically proficiently those may be produced they are still purely and simply illustration.

    When I take a look at the work of Jerry Uelesmann or of Misha Gordin I see art being produced because their work is conceptual and sometimes deeply symbolic. It is about an idea or an ideal. It may not have anything to do with external reality but it does represent those individuals' view from their internal orientation.

    I am sorry but when I look at the work of Ansel Adams today I am left cold...technically beautiful photographs that might as well have been produced for someone's advertising campaign.

    Edward Weston...had more artistic ability then Ansel Adams because he knew more about composition from the standpoint of lines, shapes, and patterns. Brett Weston was again better then his father, in my opinion.

    So do we keep replowing old soil? For many of us that is the greatest heights to which we will aspire...for others there will be a new quest, a new vision, and new art produced.

    If all that I will do is to copy what has been done before in some new and slick way then I might as well throw my Deardorff into the fireplace because at least there it will produce some heat. Heat that I refuse to produce in an artistic sense when I simply re-photograph that which has already been done ad nauseum.
     
  22. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Location:
    Milan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Donald ship the Deardorff to me first. I'll pay a month's heating bill (you live in AZ right?) and split the shipping.

    Otherwise you raise some excellent points.
     
  23. noseoil

    noseoil Member

    Messages:
    2,898
    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2003
    Location:
    Tucson
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have to agree that "breaking ground" has more to do with a personal vision than an attempt at "new and improved" style or vision. There are so many types of work to be done that a new vision is always possible. Granted, few of us are up to a challenge which will change the world, but an accomplishment made in personal growth is as good as it gets.

    I continue to hear that opportunity is now lost, nothing is new and there are no frontiers left. Rubbish! As an example in commerce, tell that to Bill Gates. If not for him, we wouldn't be in communication in this manner.
    Are we looking for personal growth or public approval?

    "The average man seeks agreement in the eyes of others and calls it perfection. The man of knowledge seeks impecability in acts and calls it humility." Juan Matus

    "Some times it makes me humble, when I think how great I am." Bob Curry
     
  24. Will S

    Will S Member

    Messages:
    717
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2004
    Location:
    Madison, Wis
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Not really. The Internet, or internets as they are now called due to the cluelessness of our president, was initially developed for military purposes - specifically a network that could withstand the sudden molecular evaporation of some or most of its nodes. Congress, some other governmental agencies, and especially Al Gore (who recently received an award for his work), set out to expand that network to include educational institutions and eventually commercial entities. The http protocol (what drives the web) was invented by Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland.

    Even with regards to the windows platform, as someone who worked with the first person to write a windows-based web browser I can tell you that Bill Gates had nothing to do with it other than we were using Windows 3.1 as the OS.

    I don't know what APUG runs on, but if the hardware and operating system are what most web sites of this ilk use (Linux, PHP, and MySQL) then they definitely had nothing to do with Bill Gates and were specifically created in some instances as an alternative to Gates-owned technologies.

    Most if not all of the innovations in technology that now allow the web to work were created by students and scientists working at universities or at government sponsored entities. The private sector had very little to do with it. (With the exception of Xerox PARC maybe. I'm not sure how much government funding they had. And Bell Labs I guess. But they were working for the government a lot too.)

    Now you might argue that desktop computers wouldn't be ubiquitous without Windows/Gates but, again, there were plenty of desktop computers and operating systems before DOS. Something would have become the standard. Even now I use a Mac running a form of unix (BSD) and a browser that has nothing to do with Windows/Gates.

    What Bill Gates is an example of is how to create and control a monopoly - which is hardly a groundbreaking idea. Many did it before him, just not with personal computers.

    Sorry, couldn't let that go by uncorrected.

    Will
     
  25. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

    Messages:
    348
    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2005
    Location:
    Vermont
    Shooter:
    Medium Format

    Amen, and Amen. Tom, you have articulated something I have thought about for years. Thanks.
     
  26. omalley

    omalley Member

    Messages:
    35
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    NYC
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I agree with much of what Donald has said here. As Gordin says 'do you turn the camera out, to the world, or inward to the soul' (Not an exact quote). I think the problem is not so much one of people doing the same thing over and over, but a lack of emotional content or "idea" as Donald put it. David Vestal said in a really good article that I can't remember the title of, that photographers go through three stages:
    During the first stage, we have a shopping list of interesting ideas that we want to do. We don't have technique yet, but our honesty sort of redeems us.
    In the second stage, we become involved with advancing our technique, usually at the cost of those interesting ideas we once had. We can make technically acceptable photos, but often they are well-made nothings. Vestal says that most people become stuck in this phase.
    In the third stage, we start remembering why we were interested in photography in the first place, and now we have some of the skills required to do those interesting ideas.
    Many people do not come out the other end of stage two, and end up making lifeless imitations of what has been done before. Or perhaps they never find their "voice" to begin with, they just enjoy the technical aspects of making a photograph.

    To add to this, I believe that in regard to modern art, the pendulum has to swing both ways before it can come to the middle. Ansel Adams and the "old masters" had craft. Some contemporary artists have interesting ideas, but often they are gimmicky or overly academic. They take cheap-looking chromogenic prints and call this art photography. As I've said many times before, postmodernism is as good as dead, and it's only a matter of time before something new takes its place. So let's hope that something will be a marriage of interesting ideas and craftsmanship. We already have some excellent examples of contemporary photographers who are doing this, Misha Gordin, Gerald Slota, Joel-Peter Witkin, are all (relatively) famous artists. Ideally this type of photography will become a popular benchmark, but first we have to overcome peoples' love of all things tacky and commercial. The person who eats at McDonalds, shops at WalMart, and thinks movies like Dumb & Dumber are film at its best are not as likely to appreciate works of art that require reflection or analysis as they are an attractive picture of some nice looking place.