Is "alternative process" and excuse for boring subject matter?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by VoidoidRamone, Jun 30, 2006.

  1. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    I have been looking at a lot of alternative process work lately and often wonder how the same subject matter would look if it were shot on "standard" b&w of color film and printed "regularly." It seems to me that a lot of people get so caught up with the process itself that they seem to forget to actually take a picture of something that is interesting or something that has meaning. To a lesser extent, I find this to be true with a lot of large format and more so ultra large format shots, too. It seems like sometimes when people take a shot of anything, no matter how mundane it is or whatever it is, as long as it was exposed on a sheet of film that is 12x20 it is a 'masterpiece.' I understand the technical qualities are usually better with larger film, and that sometimes an alternative process is more archival or looks appealing- but is that an excuse to neglect the subject matter within your photo? I'd be interested in hearing anyone's opinion on this...
    -Grant
     
  2. donbga

    donbga Member

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    Generally I would have to agree with you on all counts. However, what one experinces by viewing an image on a computer screen can be quite different than what one experiences visually by looking at a print in the "flesh".

    And one more point, I personally find it difficult to make scans of prints, especially ones made with an alternative process that comes close to looking like the one I'm holding in my hand.

    Still there are times when the pursuit of the process or format seems to diminish the importance or impact of the photographed subject.
     
  3. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    You have just been looking at the type of photography that does not appeal to you. With digital negatives alt processes have have far beyond what is the usual type of photography like the one I do. Look up Burkholder, Foko, the digital work from Clay and many others and you will see there ar eplenty of styles and subject matter where the important things are both the content and the process that makes that content more special.
     
  4. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    Some photographers are able to achieve both mastery of the process and clarity of vision. It does not depend on format. I would retort that an overwhelming number of the uninteresting, poorly-executed photographs are done in smaller formats compared to larger. There are probably a hundred thousand frames taken for each large sheet exposed. The dedication and logistics of doing large format and alternative work tend to sway the results toward a higher percentage of success IMO. True, some of it will be boring but most will have merit if only in the execution of process. But when everything comes together, the LF/alternative process has it all over the smaller stuff IMO.

    Ever notice when photographers get together they go on and on about equipment or process? You don't hear that so much in other artistic circles. Painters rarely talk about which brush or canvas or paint they used. Perhaps true photographic artists discuss the content more and the pieces they have under discussion are not what we typically see surfing the net. But then there are those images we stumble upon that just blow us away.

    For me, part of that requirement has to do with mastery of process. I can enjoy well-executed alternative prints even if the subject matter might be a bit mundane, boring, or overdone. Compare that to the Holga crowd taking snaps of their dog or car and printing it on crappy RC paper. I'll take the alt prints anyday.

    Joe
     
  5. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    You could rephrase your question to "Is photography or art an excuse for boring subject matter". I think this is more reflective of you the viewer, and what you like, rather than of the medium or the format itself.
     
  6. reggie

    reggie Member

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    I tend to agree. I look at a lot of ULF\alternative process work online, in books, galleries, etc. I rarely see a great image, or even a very interesting one. I see a much larger percentage of good images in 4x5 thru 8x10 and MF printed in silver. I know of one 'name' photographer who can fill up and entire book of 8x20 prints and they are all boring. It's like the use of ULF or some alternative process is the point instead of the image being the point.

    I'ts rare to find someone who can use ULF or some alternative process and when you look at the image, you don't even notice the format\process.

    Having said that, I did just see some work by Dick Arentz and his Pt\Pd images are beauitful images in their own right and would look great in silver, too.

    One thing I can't stand is a 7x17 or 8x20 vertical image printed in some alt process. I have NEVER seen anything good produced by turning one of these things on it's side.

    One possible explanation for this is that alt process may attract those who are technically inclined and are fascinated with the process but who are not good artists and cannot make good images in any medium. There are a lot people like that who work in silver, too. They may make technically fine carbon prints, but the images are not interesting or good art.

    -R
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 1, 2006
  7. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    I totally agree Voidoid,
    the image should be a good and interesting depiction of the subject, the subject is the most important thing, everything else is secondary

    a poor image in a great/ interesting/hard to do/highly technical process taken with exotic equipment on unusual film/dev combo is still a poor image
     
  8. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    As is one done with common tools and materials. And there are BILLIONS of those.
     
  9. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Kerik,

    You are without doubt right, but I think Grant has a point. Anyone who has mastered an alternative process (or who uses ULF) should, in passing, have mastered enough artistic ability not to take boring pictures, or at least, not to inflict them on other people. The percentage of alternative process users and ULF users that displays dull pictures with pride does however seem significantly higher than one might reasonably expect.

    It's also fair to say, though, that most of these pictures -- alternative processes or ULF -- HAVE to be seen as originals, where they may have a charm all of their own. In repro, or on a computer screen, most alternative process shots look like bad, low-contrast, poorly-toned silver gelatine enlargements, even if they are gorgeous as originals. Somewhat the same is true of a ULF print when it has been shrunk to fit a page or a low-resolution monitor.

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com -- where one of the reasons there are so few alternative process pictures is that they don't look good on a screen...)
     
  10. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Image making and appreciation is very subjective and those of us who are not excited by some alt process images probably would not enjoy them as a silver gelatin print. However, that is not a reason to brand them as boring. As image makers we all have different reasons for chooing our subject matter, memories, emotions, recording a piece of history, and yes, the subject matter being photographed is an ideal vehicle for the process we use.

    In other threads relating to digital imaging I have consistantly said that the process is of secondary importance to the content of the image. (Please don't let's start another digital v analogue debate) I passionately believe that, but at the same time I feel that in certain circumstances the sheer beauty of the process alone can bring an excitement to the viewer. For example, I've seen only one of Jorge's platinum prints and whilst the subject matter was not something I would photograph the image was outstanding largely because of the expertise and vision applied by the man when making the print. Kerik's work has always excited me even though he sometimes chooses fairly predictable mundane subjects but his combination of subject and process make the piece an exciting image. I have also seen silver gelatin prints that have elicited the same response from me.

    I can understand the comment about boring subject matter but please let us look beyond the image and consider the craft of our collective passion for that is an art in itself.
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Les,

    I think we're saying the same thing about having to see originals.

    Even so, I can't help wondering how far an unusual approach can 'rescue' a mundane subject. There's no doubt that it can, but equally there is always a temptation with an alternative process or ULF shot to persuade yourself to overlook shortcomings, where you wouldn't in a picture that was easier to reshoot/reprint. At least, I feel that temptation.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  12. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    This seems to me to be a provocative statement aimed at dumping all alternative printers into one large basket. I could just as easily say that people who tend to use 35mm cameras take boring undergraduate 'art school project' photos that show nothing more than overconsumption of caffeine and a looming deadline. And clearly, I could find plenty of examples of some really pretentious but overwrought and unoriginal work in this vein. But that does not mean that anyone picking up a small camera is a self-absorbed, shallow-thinking juvenile dripping in teen angst. It just means that some are. I think it is the same with the alt-process world. There is some really good work and some really unoriginal work.

    I suggest looking at the pictures. If they work for you great. If they don't, move on.
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    I don't think Grant says everyone does this; I wouldn't have agreed with him, even on the limited terms that I did, if I had thought this was his thesis.

    But how about this for an argument:

    We all know Sturgeon's Law, in response to the assertion that 90 per cent of science fiction is rubbish. He famously replied that 90 per cent of anything is rubbish.

    Well, even is alternative processes and ULF score better than this -- half, say -- then they stick in our minds more. We see endess bad conventional pics, and ignore them. But we hold the alternative process and ULF users to a higher standard. To have gone to all that trouble and STILL produced a bad picture (and then to show it to us) is more memorable than if a 'happy-snapper' does it.

    And again, I'll repeat: the difference between original alternative process prints or ULF contacts, and reproduced or on-screen versions of those prints, is often immense.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
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  15. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    We know the scene/photo/final print wasn't boring to one person. At least I hope the person who took the photo and printed it didn't think it was boring.

    Why in the world would we want to like everything? Isn't that the road to wonder bread and fake cheese? The fact some people or even most people hate something isn't bad. How many of the classic works in any field were hated when they were new?
     
  16. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    I think Roger best understands my point in saying that sure there have been many, many bad photos taken with 35mm/MF (small format). That's not my point. Sometimes I feel that people who are shooting ULF or Alt. Process are almost shoving it down your throat that "this is good, look how beautiful my image is." And a lot of times I think by someone writing "bad scan of a technically beautiful image" is sort of a cop out. As photographers we all experience bad scans and I think we can all understand that basically any image on a computer screen doesn't look as good as the print itself. That's a given. I don't think that I'm grouping all the Alt. Process photographers in a basket in order to be provacative- I just feel that my point is most prevalent in this vein of work or it seems to be the most consistent with my feelings. By writing my first statement I was no way saying "I think smaller, basic forms of photography are better." I was saying that it seems to be a reoccuring trend that ULF and Alt. Process work lend itself to a few different genres of photography- whereas smaller format photographers and people shooting tri-x or kodak portra seem to be able to shoot a myriad of different subject matters/or genres in photography. Many of you are right when you say that I'm speaking on a subject matter that just doesn't interest me. But it is the fact that people shooting in smaller formats cover more genres of photography and more varied subjects- and therefore there is a greater chance of everyone finding something of interest to them. Basically I'd like to see more ULF and Alt. Process photographers step out of the box and make some images that are not expected of them.
    -Grant
     
  17. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

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    granted I cant help but comment. I work in ULF and (gasp) I sometimes even tilt it vertically.
    but regardless, all of this is so subjective. Comments like "bad picture" and the like (not meaning to finger you roger just that it was in the last post) these comments are so relative to the viewer.
    I recently was asked by a fellow artist to tell her some of my favorite photographers, people's work I admire. I listed off a few of the books I keep handy for those stale moments when I need inspiration. Then also listed off some of the photographers websites I visit fairly often. Carl Weese was one of them. A few days later this same friend was very suprised that I listed Carl Weese. Saying "its so boring uninspiring and with a total lack of creativity". Really nothing to reply other than its relative to the observer. Thats the freedom we all are afforded just by choosing to look at something.

    that is sort of a long post to say "good is subjective" but the point being its all subjective, every format, process chosen, all of it. Imagine like clay says you can find pretty much bad work in any combination of process/format.
     
  18. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    I certainly understand Voidoid's point, but I think awareness of 'boring' photographs from alternative processes and ULF is more acute because the folks who use them rarely fail to acknowledge what they are. Small, medium or 4x5 large format silver printmakers may not cite the process or the equipment as often because they're so ubiquitous, even though their results may be no better than what's being decried here.

    Seeing the work of Cy DeCosse recently (platinum prints, photogravure, and gum dichromate) reminded me of just how glorious some of these alt processes can be. I think I'll stick with judging each photograph or group of photographs on their own merit regardless of the way they were made.
     
  19. Grady O

    Grady O Member

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    I think that most of you are missing the point. Yes there are MANY bad photos with 35mm on traditional papers, but it just seems that when that same photo is taken with some obscure ULF size and printed on a paper that was dicontinued years ago and is only special order over the internet that same photo magically becomes a work of art. I think it's time to stop hiding behind your processes and start making photos that stand up equally as well regardless of their format and printing.
     
  20. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    Don't get the idea that I am offended or totally disagreeing with your statement: there is a lot of alt-process work floating around that is remarkable only for the process used in printing it. My point is that there is just a lot of ordinary work being done with all the methods, conventional and 'alt'.

    One of the things to consider is that alt-process work is generally contact printed and requires a negative the same size as the print. This, in and of itself, imposes some working method constraints: big cameras on tripods. I think one of the liberating things about some 'unmentionable' developments of the last three years or so is that we now have the ability to take pictures with any sort of equipment and quickly and easily make negatives that can be printed in many of the alternative processes. In fact, when I teach workshops now, I don't even mention the need for large negatives. I just tell people to bring good images and we can print them.

    Nowadays, I think the alt-world has fewer image acquisition constraints than does the 'zone, tone and moan' silver gelatin contact printing world. But in the end, you like what you like. If the mere sight of a platinum print brings an uncomfortable mental image of some bearded guy in a Tilley hat standing next to a monstrous tripod, then I would say avoid platinum prints at all costs.
     
  21. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    Your premise here is that all alt process printers are 'hiding' behind process. I reject that premise as being nothing more than sloppy thinking. Some printers do indeed, as you say, 'hide' behind process. Others make some damn nice work.
     
  22. wilsonneal

    wilsonneal Member

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    I think the thread is stating the obvious. Of course VoidoidRamone is correct, some alt process craftsmen do take boring pictures, and the point of their images is the technique.

    I think Photography historically has had practitioners that were more interested in technique over content in probably the same ratio as those who are interested in gear over content.

    In the Jan/Feb issue of View Camera, writer Ted Harris has an essay on "Why Large Format" that talks about the different personality types drawn to LF. You could easily substitute "Photography" or "Alt Process" for "Large Format" and much of the article would remain true, as it focuses on the different personality types that are drawn to the medium: math and science types, artists, technicians, etc. And like most things in life, most of us have a little of each of these in our makeup, and that's why traditional photography captivates us.

    Neal
     
  23. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    I have to agree with Clay on this. Certainly, many of us choosing to print our work be they transparencies, color negatives, B&W through such equipment as a LightJet, Chromira, or Lambda machine have done so for many reasons. Much of the work certainly would print well through conventional methods, but some of the work can actually be prepared equal or superior to a conventionally prepared image.

    Rich
     
  24. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Rich,
    Are you saying that digital c-prints are an alt process?
     
  25. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    John,

    I do not believe so; but so many here at APUG have suggested that the hybrid printing process is lumped into Alternative processing.

    Rich
     
  26. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I will start out by bluntly stating that if someone have never seen a ambrotype, dagguerotype, platinum, carbon, AZO contact, up close (yes, the actual physical print) then they really have no business discussing the merits or subject matter of such processes. Basing judgements on a computer monitor jpeg is comparable to saying you like or dislike a new CD not by listening to it but by listening someone hum or sing it for you. To make judgements in such a way makes the person a fool.


    I will agree that it is easy for the practitioner of alternative and ULF photography to get trapped into a box as far a subject matter is concerned.

    However, it is the process that adds a certain dimension to the subject matter that allows a platinum print or ambrotype to be unique and in many ways exceptional to their silver gelatin cousins. And of course its all subjectve. I can find an enormous amount of pleasure in a simple still life collodion of a flower in a vase or a paltinum print of a row of hats hanging on an ancient wall.

    ULF and alternative processes are just variations on a medium that lend themselves more to some ideas then others. Done well, even with what may be considered by some boring subject matter the prints can be stunning.

    But like I said it is all subjectve. I can go to flikr and find thousands of really bad photographs. They all want to be Kertesz, Bresson, Frank or Winnogrand. I mean have we not covered all the bases already? It's all boring when considered in the context of 150 years of images that have come before.