Film and the bobo ethos

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Aug 3, 2007.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    So we like independent movies on a giant flatscreen TV, buy whole grain organic cereals at the supermarket, and drink fair trade coffee in a multinational-cum-bookstore like Starbucks. We have successfully capitalized on the guilt of consumerism, and we have created an elite of egalitarians, all in the name of bleeding authenticity.

    Will there be, or is there already a Starbucks of film? A shop where you can delect yourself with HCB monographs and buy the latest Efke products, debate the aesthetics of Soviet photography while fondling the new Leica? Will there be a mass-market production of black and white film for that "authentic" and vintage look? Would that even be a problem?

    I think the civilized consensus of APUG is that we like film. We also like it for a variety of other reasons, but the whole point of using film is that it is unique, something the modern daguerreotypists or wet-plate collodion practicioners also say about their medium.

    But have you seen somewhere in magazines, in stores, or in the people's general attitudes toward film something that may indicate that an educated form of coopting is developing along the lines of gentrification and Starbucksization or Ben & Jerryfication of consumer products? Is film and film equipment already a token of one's status towards authenticity and consumerism?

    Yeah, I know I've been reading "Bobos in Paradise" and I'm rather late to the debate, but I can't help asking...
     
  2. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    God, I hope not! It'll only drive up prices of materials. :rolleyes:
     
  3. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Here's something I got in my inbox today from the MIT press newsletter:

    "Analogue
    Photographs by Zoe Leonard

    The photographs in Zoe Leonard's Analogue trace the "layered, frayed, and quirky" beauty of a fading way of life. Zoe Leonard documents the vanishing face and texture of twentieth-century urban life, as seen in the shop windows of mom-and-pop stores. Lacking the glamour of the shopping mall and the digitally manipulated perfection of mail order catalogs, these fading objects tenaciously hold on to their disappearing place on city streets. Recognizing that digital technology has transformed traditional photography just as chain stores and multinational corporations have changed the face of urban life, Leonard attempts to preserve the photographic realm of the analogic--the photograph's distinct ability to record physical data into a corresponding image. Analogue is a testament both to vanishing city storefronts and to the endangered status of photography itself."

    http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11241&mlid=639

    Hm, anti-glamour, prestigious publisher, mom-and-pop urbanization model, analog hip, there's something in there...
     
  4. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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  5. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    The use and linking of a medium in decline being analogues to the decline of mom and pop's and therefore important and justified is marketing poof. The idea that there is something organic and authentic about mom and pops and choosing a medium that works well with the imagery and is maybe in someway physically linked ( “painted in the morning as they opened the shop and the light was just so and the time limited nature of the illustration was so like the urgency of the morning routine...”) might have similar marking value plus actual substance that might be felt in the finished product. As it is the mind and or heart doesn't say "barber shop shot on film: like ham and eggs" as the image is viewed as a halftone representation on the printed page.
     
  6. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Upon reflection, the LOMOgraphic Society strikes me as a particularly Bobo type of photographic ethos: "experience the thrilling authenticity of unabashed creativity given by the chaos of cheap re-badged Russian gear and cross-processed film." At the price they sell their creative cameras, there's a strong correlation with the rest of the bobo ethos.

    Regarding the "Analogue" book I am going to look for it when it's published, because that strikes me as exactly the hip, urban equivalent of the cowboy portraiture done on tintype. Dying way of life => nostalgic medium.

    It appeals to the same values of authenticity, anti-corporatism, strong individual ethos, and bleeding heart teaming with the minority that go hand in hand with gentrification. The cowboy photographers may not have the exact same urban goals in mind, and probably do not cater to the same audience, but my point is that authenticity is in fact a very regulated and contrived notion.
     
  7. fschifano

    fschifano Member

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    What???
     
  8. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    Dying way of life => nostalgic medium is to me forced sentimentality. Is it the death or the uniqueness that is being captured? It may make visual sense to use a medium that has 'passed' to record something that is passing, but it doesn't describe the cowboy. The same doesn’t apply to the mom and pops as our minds don’t equate film to passing (assuming we are talking about today’s films). Using film because it is passing to depict the mom and pops and the motif is the passing of mom and pops is a contrivance. You have to have it drawn out for you because it would not be readily apparent. Very few if any will look at a photograph and first have their mind analyze the source (film or sensor). Film is not so unique as to be recognized and its iconic/symbolic value or meaning is far different to a tintype . If the images are printed in a book the medium becomes even less of a factor.


    I'm not familiar with the Bobo ethos and so I'll leave it at that.
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Well, I agree that film does not have as much of a recognizable presence on page than the tintype does, however, the artist's insistence on its use forces the equation of dying way of life/minority medium. I think in both cases there is an idealization of the past because of a presumed stronger sense of authenticity therein.
     
  10. JHannon

    JHannon Member

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    I see a lot of film edges added to photos in magazines and a lot of B&W stuff added to make things stand out. We are told film is obsolete, yet the film presence is still there in advertising as if to make it all valid.

    Sorry, I can't find my beret and bongo set... :smile:
     
  11. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    Are we talking about today's film/mom pop as the foil or counterpoint to our 'knowledge' of an idealized past where mom and pop's were intrinsic to the culture and film was like cambell's soup? If the artist forces us to see it as film (as in: shot on 16mm enlarged so the grain is apparent) and we are able to connect in our minds the state of each then I'd agree. It is easy to do with a tintype (although I have issues with cowboys on tintypes) not so easy with modern film. If we need to read the prologue to know that we're looking at film then it fails in my mind.

    Idealization of the past may not apply. We are talking about the state of these things today.
     
  12. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    Yes......:

    http://www.potterybarn.com/shop/acc/accnew/accnewart/index.cfm?page=4

    What's more, they have imitation LF cameras on little tripods somewhere in that catalog. Bill Schwab was writing about this sort of thing some months ago (he'd been asked if he would like to have some of his work marketed in this way). If you find the thread, it'd be interesting in terms of your thesis to revisit that discussion. Of course the irony is that all of the B&W prints in the PB catalog are inkjet reproductions of mostly gelatin silver originals. It's like Ralph Lauren's invention of the rugged, gentleman westerner living in luxury in rural Connecticut. ( I can't believe that RL didn't start marketing tasteful little cans of genuine prairie dust to sprinkle on your boots....in fact...now that I think of it....hmmmmm.) :surprised:
     
  13. glbeas

    glbeas Member

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  15. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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  16. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    I think the "extra grain" approach and the "I'm specifically using film for this project" can be in fact similar when they apply to the photography of mom and pop stores. Not in all cases, granted.

    The "extra grain" approach uses a material cue to strengthen the association between the medium and the subject, but the particular artist I linked to, even though she might be using modern T-grain films, also highlights the relationship between her medium and her subject. So it's a conceptual cue, an association that is enforced by the artist's statement, but I think in her case it's similar to the "extra grain" approach.

    On the other hand, I don't see the fact that William Eggleston uses film strongly linked to the fact that he photographs decaying stores or odd slivers of rusty things. At least, there's not that "I use a so-called old medium to photograph the relics of the past" attitude. His use of film might be correlated to other aspects of his practice, perhaps mere technical reasons even, but it does not have that simplistic and redundant link between medium and subject.

    I think that both the "extra grain" and the "modern film materials+artistic statement" approaches toward these subjects are a failure because of the thinness of thinking behind them. The extra grain might make the communication of the artist's statement clearer, but highlighting the use of film as a fundamentally appropriate medium for photographing old things is short-sighted. Sally Mann does not use collodion for the purpose of looking vintage, or for photographing vintage things.
     
  17. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    I agree with the thinness of the thinking, but I'm not grasping how the artist "highlights the relationship" of the medium. I need to see the work and stop trying to imagine how it might work or in my case failing to imagine
     
  18. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    I know, I want to see her work as well for fear I might be full of hot air! :wink:

    Anyway, the way I see it, you have two possible cases:

    Case 1: I cross-process and push E200 (can you even do that?) in my box brownie to take picshures of the barbershops around my neighbourhood. They're going away, and the huge artefacts in the 30"x30" blowups I then make call attention to the nature of the medium. They scream "I am film."

    Case 2: I put E100G in my C330 and go around taking the same pictures. I do small 10x10 cibas, but in the writeup I provide to the visitors of the exhibit, I write over and over about film and how much it is meaningful to me, and how much it is so appropriate to my subject, because you know, film is dying, and so are the barbershops.

    Case 2a: same thing, but instead of photographing barbershops and making a big writeup, I photograph old mom and pop photo shops. The content of my work calls attention to the medium of film through its content rather than through its form.
     
  19. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Well, did a quick Google on Zoe Leonard, and she's mostly a B&W photographer, so I presume the B&W is enough to make a Case 1 type of reference to the medium of film.

    http://csw.art.pl/new/99/zoeleo_e.html

    Nothing earth-shattering in her work, but I'd be curious to see more, and the particular book in question, when it comes out.
     
  20. Mike Té

    Mike Té Member

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    Hi, Michel.

    I'm not sure that we all know what you mean by "bobo". The short form for "bourgeois-bohème" is pretty much a European term.
     
  21. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    A store with Efke would be a Real Deal.

    Starbucks is a manufactured simulacrum of the Real Deal -- thus its uniformity from Shanghai to Seattle.

    Next you'll start telling me about the brilliance of Anne Geddes
     
  22. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    And what makes you believe I am such a person to do that?
     
  23. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Oh c'mon, try! It builds character (maybe).
     
  24. thebanana

    thebanana Member

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  25. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Eh? Thanks, I'll pass. Anybody who takes "beautiful" pictures of Céline Dion is tapping into the unlimited reservoirs of revulsion I feel for her as a Québécois.
     
  26. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Back on the bobo ethos thing: the book which Thebanana referred to pretty much sums it up. The Bourgeois-Bohème, also called Gauche Caviar in France, is this semi-fictious entity that synthesizes all the converging values of bourgeois capitalism with the socially concerned and authenticity-seeking romanticism of the Bohemia.

    The ethos revolves around the ideas that we should be the most accomplished persons, but in the best and fairest possible manner to the weaker ones (the oppressed, the poor, the foreigners, etc). It strives for both pluralism, diversity, and strong communautarian spirit, rootedness. It wants to achieve new career summits while building at the same time a more harmonious self. It despises luxury but adores spending the price of a diamond on an antique woodstove. It refurbishes, renovates, redecorates, reclaims, revitalizes, re-empowers, and restores. It admires the strong, so profound authentic life of simple peasants in Tuscany, but only for the two weeks it spends there before returning to their Silicon Valley corporation.

    It wants to have its cake and eat it too, admires all sorts of things but at the same time forgoes any sacrifice or stepping back from the pursuit of success.

    The "bobo" is a kind of caricature, but it's a type that unites the kind of schizophrenic social-conscience-cum-consumerist approach that has acquired a lot of visibility since the nineties.

    In relations to film photography, it would admire the authentic, picturesque tools of the craft, the long and patient work one must go through to master it, but couldn't care less about actually applying that knowledge to the mastery of their own Leica MP à la carte. The camera as decoration from the Pottery Barn just screams Bobo. The faux "Fine Art Prints" as well.

    Eventually, I suppose everything can look Bobo, even if you stop at Starbucks just because they have coffee instead of Tim Horton mouthwash, not for the transcendental experience of communion with the honest folks who handpicked the fair trade brew of the day (it would be true Bobo in the latter case).

    But it just goes on to say that I'm warning you that the barbarians are watching APUG and will find a way to redecorate their condos with a few Retinas here and there, and modern prints of HCB while waxing philosophical on the authentic virtues of film photography. When someone who is not a photographer starts to ask you about why you use film, run! Or jack up your prices...
     
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