Fine Art Status

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by cliveh, Oct 14, 2012.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Will the continued use of digital photography elevate more film photography to a fine art status in the future? I’m thinking here in terms of a comparison to painting when photography came along. I would like to think so.
     
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Generally, people's perception and value of anything now is a lot less than it used to be.


    Steve.
     
  3. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Most people don't care how the image was taken - film or digital. It's a photograph - not a film photograph and digital photograph.

    Most people also don't care if it was taken by Nikon, Canon, Hasselblad, or whatever else brand. It's a photograph.

    I think it's just us, the enthusiasts, put so much emphasis in equipment and method.
     
  4. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Would that it were so. It hasn't yet, and any objective evidence, as in a visit to virtually any gallery, indicates exactly the opposite is the case.

    Ironically (frustratingly?), the outgoing photography curator of the Getty (Weston Neff) advised newcomers a couple of years ago to "get into the darkroom", but the new staff doesn't seem to have much appreciation for contemporary photography other than that which employs digital process.
     
  5. Vincent Brady

    Vincent Brady Subscriber

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    Surely photography is not that highly rated among the general public. At photo exhibitions guys visiting it are inclined to think that they can do just as good as the photos they view if they only took their time when shooting. With more photographers than ever taking part in the hobby it is hard to see it gaining extra appreciation.
     
  6. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    I don't know about "fine art status" but, I think there is a new appreciation for traditional photography. I've been doing art festivals for about 2 decades. In the last few years, I've seen an increase in people looking for darkroom produced work. In talking to my buyers, one of the reasons they give for purchasing is the hand-crafted manner in which it was produced. As it becomes more rare, there's an increased perception of its value.
     
  7. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Film/analogue photography of a very high technical, aesthetic and overall production standard will always be considered as bespoke fine art, but how it is produced, via digital or analogue, will be the tipping point. There is no evidence I can see that digital prints have been assigned "fine art" status, and those produced in traditional wet darkrooms, colour or monochrome, have a higher appreciation in the public eye, even if the means by which they are produced does not 'register' as modern/fine art. Ilfochrome Classic prints, conservation frramed, are analogue in their production from start to finish and not just speaking of my own sales but that of fellow professionals when we were all printing to this media, it sold very well and consistently high values (all things else being equal, it was not just the media, but the holistic 'vision' of the image) and remains the benchmark for photographic fine art. As Ilfochrome no longer exists, people owning these images are treating them as an investment that will likely appreciate in time because the image cannot be made again to that liking, only via alternative digital means. Of course, B&W darkroom-produced work can also have a high value, but everything must come together to be able to present it as fine art to an increasingly naive public hoodwinked by this digital crap.
     
  8. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    You got that right, Tkamiya. These arguments are the life and blood of internet forums but reality is much different. The value is in the image and the print. It may be from film, digital, but printed traditionally on silver, or using any hybrid process. The craft is in making a good print, of an image that moves someone. That's where value is, and not in the medium used to record it. As a personal example, this weekend, one the galleries with my work, sold three copper plate photogravure prints of mine. None of the three buyers asked, or was remotely concerned with how the image originated, what camera, film, whatever, I had used. They loved the images, and they loved the prints. I, of course, use a hybrid process to arrive at the film positive required, but again, in the real world, who really cares?
    To answer Clive, digital photography is, and will be, increasing the distinction between those who are willing to commit time and effort to create a quality print, and those who don't, therefore elevating the value of analogue prints, also using hybrid processes. Of course, we can argue about whether a fully analogue print, one that was created with sweat and tears in the darkroom, dodging and burning, is more valuable. To the artist it may be, but again, potential buyers don't really care. Let's face it, as Vincent pointed out, photography, with very few exceptions (if any), is not in the same realm as paintings when it comes to collectable value, and probably never will be, simply because the skills required to "take" a decent photograph these days are pretty low. So, assuming one's goal is to actually invest time, money and effort into selling art, the question to ask is whether you feel film or digital would make a difference. My answer would have to be no. It is simply a choice at this point, and, in my opinion, time is better invested in finding what to shoot and how to shoot it (nurture creativity), instead of worrying about what to shoot it WITH, and more importantly bring the image to life with a beautiful print that is unique and handmade, not an inkjet. This is, of course, my opinion only, so feel free to throw rocks :smile:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 14, 2012
  9. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Coincidentally, this article just appeared on CNN:http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/14/opinion/hernandez-mobile-photography/index.html?hpt=hp_c1


    "Smartphones have democratized photography, and Instagram, in particular, has given us an unprecedented platform for our snapshots. But instead of marveling at all the choices, there's some grumbling. Some professionals feel threatened as they see the playing field leveling; they interpret it as the end of skill and craft in photography. They should have no fear of such a thing.
    Photography is rooted in the rich culture of amateurism. What's happening today is similar to the original proliferation of Kodak's Brownie camera starting in 1900. An inexpensive and easy-to-use camera in every hand didn't usher in the end of photography or automatically turn everybody into Richard Avedon.

    Photo apps won't magically give Jane the smartphone photographer a better sense of composition, or lighting, or framing. The apps and filters only change a photo's look and aesthetic feel. That doesn't make it a better photo. If you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig."
     
  10. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Well said.
     
  11. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    Of course "a pig is still a pig". Great work (as well as poor work) can be done using any medium. But, as traditional methods cede further space to digital, it becomes rarer, more alien, and (in the mind of the general public) more collectible. This will only increase as "idiot-proof" cameras, and better, cheaper, larger printers become available to the amateur user.
    Quality issues being equal, people are drawn to things they find exotic. Analog has crossed over to the exotic.
    There are reasons people buy antique dressers, or dressers made by an expert woodworker, rather than IKEA.
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    From the commercial portrait studio perspective, the proliferation of camera phones, cheap digital cameras and computer programs to enhance them, is decidedly not the same as the era of the Kodak Brownie being introduced.

    The quality and ease of use has actually turned the commercial portrait studio on its head due to the acceptability of the photography and prints that is attainable with these new cameras and the number of people who have them. Add to that is the fashionable style of informality, and the recession, and you have a perfect storm that professional studios are now dealing with.

    With regard to the "fine art print", it wasn't long ago that a "giclee" print was an interesting fine art selling tool. Now perhaps darkroom prints will feel a resurgence because it's "different" but in reality the consumer probably can't tell the difference anyway. A sharp dealer could tell them it was achieved with fairy dust and they would believe it.

    Top collectors have and always will be familiar with darkroom processes and seek these out but like I said, most people could not tell the difference between a digital or a darkroom print.
     
  13. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Eddie, yes, but we are talking about the end product here, which is a print. What becomes rarer and more collectible? Film negatives? Buyers are not interested in negatives, or Instagram files. They buy prints. To make the statement that "film photography" may attain fine art status because of the proliferation of digital is really incorrect. Film photography doesn't guarantee quality or marketability and cannot be, in itself, "fine art". I don't believe that being a film photographer elevates anyone, or the art, to a higher status. There is A LOT more going on than just that. A great image, on film (or digital) skillfully printed on silver or various alternate processes is where intrinsic value is placed upon, and not whether it was recorded by film or a sensor, a 35mm camera, a giant 11x14 or with any crazy expensive lens. Some here may not agree but it's really a choice of whether we want to live in a dream world or reality.
     
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  15. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Blansky brings up an important point. Top collectors with education about the process and means to buy the very best may prefer traditional prints - assuming both versions are available for the given image. But most consumers, including wealthy consumers who wants to adorn their house with expensive and nice pictures aren't likely to care. They will buy what appeals to them or what their gallery suggests to them. So we are talking very small number of people who will hold higher value to traditional photographs and something that will only matter when same image is printed using both methods. (Clyde Butcher does this... he offers both types) For vast majority of consumers, it's well beyond their understanding. They couldn't care less about the fact that film has a superior dynamic range or that archival processed prints are going to last 150 years.

    If we can put our prejudice towards digital products aside for a moment, I will have to say well prepared digital prints are just as good as well prepared traditional prints. Crappy prints are crappy in either method.

    I'd say the quality of the image comes first and the process comes distant second.
     
  16. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    Max- I agree that a darkroom produced image isn't necessarily "fine art". It can suck as much as any other image making medium. Prior to digital, most film photographs didn't attain that status. I do believe that, all things being equal (i.e.- an equally good darkroom vs. a digital print- Yes, I know... hard to quantify...), the darkroom print will have a marketing advantage, due to it's relative rarity. I think this trend will continue as analog becomes even more rare. I do agree that an excellent image, regardless of how it's produced is the bottom line. However, I've seen a renewed interest in analog at my shows. The ubiquity of digital on canvas (which was the "hot thing" not too many years ago) has led to this renewed interest.
     
  17. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    Perfect timing for this thread, as I was one of 50 photographers to participate in the Atlanta Celebrates Photography Portfolio Review yesterday. Out of that 50, only 7 had any film/alt processes (there were palladium prints, wet plates, gold-toned albumen, and silver prints), the rest were purely digital. Of those seven, three were using film, then scanning the film and outputting either digital negs or inkjet prints, two were wet plate, and two were film/silver (including myself).

    The people who used film or alt processes were much more attuned to the craft of photography, in my opinion, and their work was on a much higher level. With very few exceptions, the work of the digital crowd was a nightmarish pile of over sharpened, hyper saturated prints.

    (I use digital every day, and I believe I do so with the same care and craft that I put into my personal work. One of the quickest ways for me to blow a sale in my portrait studio is to start talking about what paper or process I use to produce the prints. Nobody cares. I send that work to a pro lab, let them do the work, and it's done.)

    The reviewers I met with, however, almost all asked about the prints and seemed delighted to be looking at real silver! In terms of credibility, I felt that it gave me an edge of seriousness about my work that I care enough to print it that way. After the event opened to the public, I spoke with many people who had similar reactions. It really is about the audience; people who love the art and craft of photography will be much more interested in the physical qualities of the print than your average consumer.
     
  18. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Absolutely true.

    Photographers must still be able to produce quality work right from the start (to build reputation) before debating endlessly on what printing methodology their work will be produced; when they decide on that, there can be no deviation from the methods by which the photographer is known. Breaking into the production of fine art and upholding the standard expected of such is bloody hard work. Too many photographers think it's a piece of cake and wonder why people skip over them for the lesser known, but bigger name, low output artist-photographers.

    A photographer may have outstanding visual/conceptualisation skills in bringing an scene/image to life, but his printing and/framing and post-production can let the whole show wanting. People with cash to splash vary in their assessment of artists (photographs are rarely purchased as investments as opposed to the traditional brush art works which accumulate value). They can be aloof, distant and out of touch, or empathetic, interested, engaging and bond instantly to the photographer, his/her work and the quality level, resulting in a long-lasting business relationship (which should never carry personal overtones when dealing in fine arts). I have experienced both extremes over 25 years. The wealthy are easy to deal with, but never ever take them for granted.

    I don't know of anybody now doing wet darkroom colour printing to a fine art level. In Australia I'm sure a very, very small few do exist. Occasional stories surface of horror jobs home printing RA4 and Ilfochrome Classic (for those who can afford the exhorbitant residual roll material cost). RA4 was never a fine art level process to start with, as opposed to the many very high quality variations of B&W darkroom produced works). I can put my prejudice of digital aside to the point of what and when I should (not need) to use it. A-to-D (analogue to digital colour printing) is now very common, though technically labour intensive and offering exceptionally fine tuning to the end result (assuming the skill base is there to start with, otherwise the best job can be totally stuffed). It is the only form of colour printing available to me and others which is pushed to a very, very high standard — not to the archival longevity of Ilfochrome, but it's certainly catching up on that.

    We must look to the future developments of colour media beyond what we have now. There have really been a number of eye-opening developments for post-analogue media with exceptional archival longevity. The only problem is the cost: with greater take-up the cost will come down, but the high-end media will always be a premium and today's photographers must skill up and be ready to integrate.
     
  19. scheimfluger_77

    scheimfluger_77 Subscriber

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    Generally I would agree with you. The client is purchasing primarily the end product, so any process that produces that desired end product is "relevant." I think what eddie and the others are implying is that analog photography is becoming a "desired" medium not because of the materials used of themselves, but because of the worker wrestling with the disappearing materials, rising costs, and relative difficulty of obtaining, and maintaining a darkroom. Perhaps those who choose to work this way are becoming perceived as people who can be trusted to produce important and collectible work because they choose to struggle with these limitations and excel regardless. Don't get me wrong, junk is still junk and fine work is still fine work. This is a lot like the "blue sky" a business creates over time. It's those intangibles of integrity, diligence, craftsmanship, customer service, value, etc. that lead a person to do business with company X and not company Y. Not every business has it or can create it on demand, but it does have monetary value.

    Steve
     
  20. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    the backstory sometimes sells an image as much as the image itself ...
    but it isn't the only thing that sells it ... unless it is a photograph
    made by a celebrity, or of a celebrity or historically significant event
    there are plenty of bad images of or buy noteworthy people and situations ...

    i don't know if doing chemical photography will make things more rare or impressive
    or noteworthy, but chemical photography seems to picking up right where it left off in about 1910 ...
    and 2012
     
  21. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    But the point is how many people know anything more about "process" than what the sales person bullshits them with.

    And the mythological characterization of the hours spend toiling in the darkroom for the "perfect" print has no more credence that a digital photographer working on his computer for the same thing. Even though in digital, the print is relatively effortless, the post production is not.

    What I'm saying is that the same amount of time and effort can go into the process of making an end print, from the time the shutter is tripped, whether it's analog or digital.

    And I seriously doubt 1 in 10,000 could look at a print and know how it was made, digital or analog.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 15, 2012
  22. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Steve,

    I see what you are saying, and in a perfect world, that's just the way I'd want it to be. My feeling is that we are talking about a very tiny crowd of people who are able to appreciate, and willing to buy, a print of an image that originated from film and processed in a fully analogue environment, just because of it. There is no denying that today, some of the most beautiful prints are produced using hybrid processes. Sandy King's carbons, Paul Taylor's, Jon Goodman's, Lothar Osterburg's photogravures are just a few examples. Whether any of the images were shot using film is almost irrelevant to the prospective buyer. So, what I really see, is a market dominated by committed photographers who are using film AND digital, to create handmade prints, in a fully analogue and hybrid manner, that are beautiful, relevant and collectable. The important distinction, for ME is: analogue/hybrid printing and fully digital printing, not film vs digital photography/capture.
    From my personal standpoint, and as an example, I am now exclusively focusing on copper plate photogravure, using a hybrid process. Why? Because even with some digital thrown in, the process is a bitch to master, unique, and the prints absolutely beautiful. They stand out and that's not something that anyone wants to or can do. From a marketing perspective, it matters. Most of the images are from film and some from digital. NOBODY could tell the difference on paper, and NOBODY really cares. That's reality. What they are buying is an image that moves them, printed on beautiful art paper, using a process that is laborious, time consuming, frustrating at times, expensive, but again, the end result are gorgeous, unique, handmade prints and that's where a lot of the value lies.

    Best,

    Max
     
  23. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    It's tough to predict the fickle art market. But I would think that handmade prints from negatives will hold it's value better than digital photographs. All it would take to spoil a fine art photographer's value is to have a digital file and print up more Giclee' prints. Yes analog methods can be counterfeited to, but it's much tougher. My girlfriend and I were at a gallery looking at Giclee' prints and asked me what it is. I said "inkjet". She was surprised. She expected something complicated explanation like the Fresson process which is somewhat a secret.
     
  24. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    This was an observation I made yo myself some time ago. When the first "family portrait" packages were available right off the printer, and Grandma needed a magnifying glass to tell if it was "real" or not, then the scale was tipped for the commercial world.

    The rest of us chemical afficinados became hobby practitioners.

    Nothing wrong with that in my mind. I'm a hobby guy, not a pro.

    Sure a few high dollar portrait artists still work in oil professionally. And sure there will be folks pouring glass plates by hand. But the mainstream won't look back or shed a tear.
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    As I alluded to on my previous post that on this site there seems to be some sort of mythology of the master printer spending countless hours toiling over a hot tray in his darkroom making his one off masterpiece, which he may or may not decide to cheapen himself by offering it for sale.

    The other myth is that digital is the process of snapping off a hundred shots, to get one, and then downloading it to his computer and hitting print and making a hundred identical soulless inkjet prints to flog out to an unsuspecting public.

    Any fine art or even decent printer in analog does almost the same process as does a decent or fine art digital photographer. As has been said here many times, the process is just "different".

    In both cases, he has to expose in the camera properly. He has to develop properly and in digital, developing /processing is more intertwined than in analog where the developing is a different and separate process.

    The process in the computer is not much different that what the printer in analog does. He burns and dodges, he manipulates exposure in certain areas, and he executes the decisions that he first made in the viewfinder and on the "contact sheets". I've often spend many hours on a single image in photoshop, sometimes going back the next day to change it again.

    Now for printing, with a computer you have to balance your computer screen with your printer and keep and maintain this relationship. You have to have different setting for different papers, and test often for taste. Your first print is rarely a keeper. Often you go back into photoshop and make changes to the image and you tweak printer settings.

    This same process in analog is making test prints, tweaking contrast, tweaking burn/dodge, tweaking exposure.

    But now comes the big difference. The earth shaking moment. The holy dipping of the fingers in the fluid filled trays. The sliding of the rigid paper into the wet welcoming receptacle. Is this it?? Is this the magical moment, that transcends digital, in fact life itself. Is this the critical element when one medium attains the cherished level of "art". I'm feeling faint.

    As for making multiple prints. In analog I could make lots of prints that were identical one after the other, in not much of a different way than I do with inkjet. The only real difference is that if I were to go back in a week or year, the digital file would be closer to the original than an analog print would be. But in both cases, I'd probably tweak them slightly because I'm not the same person I was back then.

    So maybe we should quit kidding ourselves that the processes are much different at all. They both are a manifestation of a vision we had when we looked at our original subject.
     
  26. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    You make perfect sense, and you are indeed correct in your views. The question though, and that's where things break down, is the "perception" of value by collectors/buyers. We are talking photography within the "fine art" (hate those words) realm, after all. Reality is that an inkjet print, for as beautiful as it may be, is simply not as valuable. I'm not trying to minimize the work that goes into or be a snob, because I have printed plenty using Piezography inks and the best from Epson, but it just isn't the same. Personally, I have always felt that I wasn't accomplishing anything, which also made it difficult to market and present myself properly. Trust me, I wish it was different so I wouldn't have to dip my fingers (with gloves) into potassium dichromate, but it isn't. It may change, but I seriously doubt it.