Loss of fine art photography tradition

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by davidkachel, Mar 13, 2013.

  1. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    I can't find a better heading to put this under, so I hope it is appropriately placed here.

    Those few remaining of you who remember my name may recall that I have something of a track record as a Zone System expert and that I started the transition from analog to digital about five years ago; am working completely digitally now. (This is in no way a digital vs film topic. I couldn't care less how anyone chooses to work.) Having made the transition, I believe I am observing something most here may not have noticed, simply because someone still working with film might have no reason to notice.

    What I believe I am seeing is a near total abandonment of photographic tradition and history among new photographers, who of course work digitally (in large part). This concerns me greatly. Without tradition and history, the future is bleak.

    I have a gallery here in west Texas where from time to time, young photographer wannabes come in to show me their work, or at least talk about showing me their work. When I mention ANY historical figure in photography I get a blank stare from them. When I talk about using archivally adequate materials or presentation appropriate to fine art photography... same thing. Even the most obvious basics appear to be missing.

    I also have noticed that on discussion boards they talk at great length about using materials and methods that I, and most here, would consider anathema.

    My concern is this: since new photographers have no need of seeking knowledge concerning analog materials and techniques from older photographers, they are therefore no longer immersed in an atmosphere conducive to acquiring knowledge of other aspects of photography from those same people. They do not learn the history, aesthetics, the various schools or even familiarize themselves with any of the work of the past. It is as if, for these new photographers, all the greats and what they had to teach us have simply vanished from the Earth.


    I would like to hear the opinions of others on this. What have you seen? Do you agree? What can be done?

    I mean, c'mon, a wannabe fine art photographer who never heard of Stieglitz or Weston? Let alone having seen their work?

    NB: I picked APUG for this discussion because there appear to be no people on digital photography forums with the depth and experience needed to participate in such a discussion: i.e., They never heard of Stieglitz or Weston either.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2013
  2. chriscrawfordphoto

    chriscrawfordphoto Subscriber

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    The problem is a culture that doesn't care about history in general. I'm a high school teacher, and though I am a professional artist, I am teaching English too (I have an MA in history and literature in addition to my BFA in photography). My students did not know what Communism was when I mentioned it in regard to a piece of literature we were discussing! The Soviet Union fell before any of them were born, but still....Communism is not ancient history; it is still pretty recent, and a few countries still call themselves Communist (Though I'd argue that China is now Capitalist).

    If teens today do not know what the USSR was or what Communism was...recent history....then how can you expect young photographers to know about Stieglitz or Weston, who were early pioneers in fine art photography.

    Another thing is that the world has simply changed to radically for Weston and Steiglitz and their concerns to have any relevance to young artists. I see my English students taking photos all day long with their phones; its instant imagery, immediate and relevant in a world with no attention span. Yesterday, a Mexican kid in one of my classes called a black kid a N----r and made a racist joke about him. The black guy ignored him at first, but the other guy just kept saying stuff. Finally, the black kid says to the Mexican one "Hey I may be a N----r, but at least I'm not a dumbass with two kids when I'm in high school!" Whoa! Two kids? Yep, the guy that started the fight already had TWO kids. He's a junior in high school. Finally, it became a fistfight that I had to break up. EVERY kid in that class crowded around us snapping away with their phones, and they probably had their photos of the fight on Facebook before the guys reached the principal's office! That's the world these kids live in.
     
  3. Pfiltz

    Pfiltz Member

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    It's the insta gram generation. Most don't even use phones to talk anymore.
     
  4. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    David,

    Interesting question/observation. I want to think about it before responding. Can you explain what you mean by, or give some examples of: "I also have noticed that on discussion boards they talk at great length about using materials and methods that I, and most here, would consider anathema."

    Allen
     
  5. ToddB

    ToddB Subscriber

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    It is pretty sad to think that no one know who the greats are and our society really cares about knowing the pioneers of art. It's a convieance over quality generation.. On everything. Thats why I stuck with my guns on film photography and what it has to offer. It's slowing down and taking your time and making sure on what your looking at is worth exposing your film too. Not blowing 200 images and them forgetting about them later. BTW.. Weston was awesome.. and his girlfriend and model Tina Mondotti from Mexico was great too.

    ToddB
     
  6. BainDarret

    BainDarret Subscriber

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    I teach a photography composition course, part time, and I find there is a real age divide. My students range in age from late teens to retirees. The first 3 evenings they are briefly exposed to Daguerre, Fox Talbot, Fenton, Samuel Bourne, Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Weegee, Salomon, Brassai and several other of the big names from photography's past. You can just see that the younger students are bored, this stuff just ain't cool for them. The older students, in some gratifying cases, become enthralled. I always try to instil in them that photography has a long and glorious tradition. One approach I take is to show them how easy they have it now. They don't need dozens of porters humping 10x12 wet plate equipment through the Himalayas to get a good landscape photo as Samuel Bourne did. I also acquaint them with the hardships that Hurley and Ponting went through to get shots in Antarctica a hundred years ago. Sometimes that gets the attention of the younger folk. But history is not valued by many these days. I think that is disempowering.

    Mike
     
  7. mark

    mark Member

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    You got my curiosity up. What are these materials and methods?

    As to the original question. Give a man some brushes and paints and he owns brushes and paints. Give him a camera and he is a photographer. Give a man some black and white film with that camera, show him how to process it and enlarge it and you have created a "fine Art" photographer. Kind of the nature of the game.

    I honestly do not believe one needs to know the history of photography to be a fine art photographer their talent should define that. Does it really matter if someone does not know who Dorthea Lang, Imogen Cunningham, etc...are? I don't think so, just as I don't think it is necessary to know who Picasso was to paint. A person's talent should not be judged by the history they know.
     
  8. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    Chris Crawford,

    That was enlightening, and discouraging at the same time.
     
  9. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    Allen,

    Sure...
    They are printing on canvas and aluminum, and trying to make photographs look like paintings. Never heard of cotton rag. Have no idea what resolution or sharpness are and have no interest in pursuing it. Do not know what makes a photograph different from other art forms and therefore do not pursue those aspects.

    They seem determined to make all the old mistakes all over again.
     
  10. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    I started my interest in photography some forty two years ago after accidentally stumbling on to an exhibition of 100 vintage Edward Weston prints. Last year and just recently the Lowe Museum on the campus of the University of Miami (Florida) Sally Mann and now Mary Ellen Mark spoke to very large overflowing audiences where people were actually turned away. The majority of the audience were students. While not of the Weston generation they both have their most noted work on film. I think an interest in the icons of photography can be nurtured. the young photographers are growing up in an age of different technology and I think that Weston, Stieglitz, Adams and others would dabble in digital as well as maintaining their roots in film as they no doubt used the technology of their eras.

    If the new generation has a chance to see actual images made by the old masters they may change their tune. One day iphone images will seem old fashioned to another generation. Perhaps someday a hacker will destroy all the digital images stored on hard-drives and film will find a place on top.

    I still use film, a traditional wet darkroom and print on photographic paper and with pt/pd even went to pinhole capture recently. A gallery owner younger than my children has given me a one person show opening April 10th so all is not lost especially if some of the prints sell.

    Cheer up!

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  11. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I'm 25 - still fairly young??? :sad:

    I've actually observed the opposite - that many 'Zone System Experts' are lacking in the history and art department or at least, that their self-satisfied expertise is somewhat narrow.
    It's also a crime, in my mind, to be ignorant about the current movers and shakers, which many of the old boys are. They have a strange pride in that ignorance.
    This thread is about a generation gap, nothing more.

    You might be surprised to hear that Harry Callahan barely knew who Stieglitz was, until he met him.
     
  12. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    mark,
    I strongly disagree with the notion that talent is simply genetic or that zero knowledge of the history of one's medium makes no difference.
    These kids I see coming through here have no skill set at all. The fact they have never seen a good image shows terribly. You're suggesting that working in a vacuum is OK.
     
  13. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    Todd,
    I had the same concerns you mention. I found they were baseless. I still take the same time with everything. I do make more exposures because I don't have to worry about film expense, but I usually end up using the first exposure and archiving the rest. A serious photographer is a serious photographer. The hardware is unlikely to corrupt, at least in my experience.
     
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  15. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    Good.

    And I really hope every generation to come does the same thing, rather than just listen to the "old men" and be told what's good for them ...
     
  16. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    batwister,
    I may have phrased things poorly. I was not referring Zone System experts, but to fine art photographers. Sorry if I confused things.
    I have to agree, a lot of technical "experts" failed to see the forest for the trees.
    Callahan knew nothing about the Zone System as I recall, but I am shocked to learn he knew nothing of Stieglitz. However, since the art elite have taken over fine art photography a lot of the prior history has been put off to one side. They like to teach history their way.
     
  17. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    pdeeh,
    You are missing the point. I am a firm believer in taking off on your own path. But striking out in a random direction without looking at the map is likely to lead nowhere.
     
  18. mark

    mark Member

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    If time travel were possible I guarantee that no matter what time period you chose you would find the same age divide. Boredom is part of the definition of being young. Instant gratification is what the young have always wanted. As a youngun I HATED history and everything to do with it. I knew about Ansel Adams because of his images were of places I wanted to go. Old Weston had Charis and she took her clothes off. Honestly I did not need to know any more than that and did not want to. As these young folks who are bored now age they will become more and more interested.
     
  19. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    mark,

    Are you politely trying to say I am a grumpy old fart, worried about nothing?

    HARRUMPH!

    (I hope you're right.)
     
  20. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    I believe this was also the case before digital. Someone had a camera and wanted to do "fine art." I seriously doubt that most of them knew the history of the medium. Showing pictures to professionals was probably the first time they heard of any historical figures in photography.

    Some even had the nerve to show how good they were by subjecting their families and friends to slide shows!

    Or, put another way, my parents were wrong to criticize the music I listened to when I was young. Now, the music of today is a completely different story. :D
     
  21. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I would disagree with this in part, as the technical effort put into a shot, in the form of a wet plate or a digital snap is only important from a fine art context, or painterly view. What makes some of the shots taken by these photographers is the historical and social context. My younger students appreciate pictures by Weegee when I explain the photograph in context of the situation, or HCB in terms of MO to get the shot.
     
  22. davidkachel

    davidkachel Member

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    I have always had contact with fine art photographer wannabes. In the past they were seeking knowledge and skills. I started this thread because I have noticed a striking change.

    I would be DELIGHTED to be proven wrong.

    OH, and, WHAT music of today? You mean THAT'S supposed to be MUSIC!!??? ;-)
     
  23. batwister

    batwister Member

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    We're all 'fine art photographer wannabes' until someone in the know gives a sh*t.
     
  24. horacekenneth

    horacekenneth Member

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    Of course it's true that when you're young you're foolish and when you're old you get wiser, but the problem goes deeper in that I think nowadays we teach foolishness to the young. I've seen so many people talking about science/history/you name it who basically teach that thanks to science we are rational, logical creatures in the 21st century and we understand the world and in the rest of history everyone was religious and stupid and they killed one another and hated their kids.
    We teach our kids that anything before now is bad. We teach them that anything that is the status quo is bad. They don't learn to understand the difference between principles and boundaries, boundaries being the limits we get to push as we get older/smarter/further and principles being the things that allow us to push the boundaries (for instance w/o basic math principles like 2+2=4 we would never have had calculus).
    I agree with the OP that if this continues many things will indeed be lost. If we teach our kids not to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before than they'll be reinventing the wheel eventually.
     
  25. mark

    mark Member

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    Then, as a gallery owner and one who is concerned with the future of the medium have a responsibility to inform them of this when you turn them down.

    And you seem to assume knowledge of the past dictates talent. Knowledge of the history of the craft as well as training in the craft does not in anyway dictate talent. If it did then I think I need to schedule my opening at your gallery. I can be there next week as I have a week off and we can hang my images. I have a pretty solid knowledge of Photography's past, at least in the area of photography I practice, and can discuss it at length.

    Yes that is absurd. Yes I do believe a person can be as talented as the greats, or more talented, having never seen the works of the greats. Call it a diamond in the rough.
     
  26. mark

    mark Member

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    We are just not going to see eye to eye on this HorceKenneth. Your opinion does not coincide with my daily experience. Granted, I have only been teaching for 13 years, but I have never seen nor heard any thing resembling what you talk about.
     
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