The concern with 'rendering power' and photographs as objects...

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Jun 21, 2012.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    What strikes me again and again when looking at contemporary art photography - large format colour neg work in particular - is that many photographers seem to have a self-consciousness about the hyper-reality and perhaps optical character of their large format cameras. This is a prime example of what I'm talking about - http://www.harrycorywright.com/photographs.php?catId=2. I won't pass my aesthetic judgement.

    Those who value composition, form, tonality, colour relationships and quality of light in the creative photograph are often quite cynical about this type of contemporary work, deeming it banal, detached and cooly objective - smug even. Something that exists simply to allow the elite of the art world to intellectualize. I've certainly felt that way myself for a long time. Recently however, I've started to think that these photographs (like the above images) which have very little concern with any of the ideals or conventions of the art photography that came before, are actually, in quite an innocent way, purely about the simple beauty of the photograph as an object. Is this playing up to the materialistic desires of the art buyer - the photograph giving up on artistic excellence and simply screaming "collect me!" - or is it perhaps an aesthetic embrace of the physical end product of traditional photography? Somehow I feel much of this photography, which consistently receives a great deal of exposure and acclaim (especially amongst hipsters and art students) is a very evident reaction to what appears to be the demise of film. The work strips away any artistic conceit, allowing photographer and viewer alike to directly embrace the medium merely for what it physically is and has been. For anyone who loves photography as photography, is this such a bad thing? Letting go of any artistic ideals, forgetting about how it would stand up next to Paul Strand or Minor White, isn't this fetishisation of the traditional photograph a good thing for the continued interest in film? When the photographer succesfully taps into this popular aesthetic trend it almost seems to get into galleries by default and as a result, the influence on university curriculums, that it's become a very identifiable strand of contemporary photography, means for my money, film will continue to remain in the consciousness of future generations as a viable, even cool way to make photographs.

    As a lover of traditional photography, my cynicism about the so called 'banal aesthetic' rife in art photography is starting to wane for this reason. It depends on and for me, celebrates the very essence of traditional photography. Very rarely have I seen digital photographers clearly play to the physicality of images in this way.

    Threads about contemporary work don't often appear on APUG, but sometimes I'll see the odd snooty comment - I know I'm guilty of this myself, here and elsewhere.
    But anyway, that's my new standpoint on the type of popular contemporary photography linked above... for the consideration of other cynics.
     
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  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I've done a lot of work very similar to this.

    Most of the time while stepping out of the car or in my film days while advancing the first few frames while loading.

    Stupid me. Never thought of selling it.

    As for your thesis, remember the saying " this too will pass".

    Using what is "selling" as a criteria for what YOU should do is probably a bad idea.

    We are in photography's transition phase as digital and analog are competing to be noticed and I've no doubt that a tradition print would be attractive to some collectors for its nostalgia/collectible vibe rather the merit of the image itself.
     
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  3. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Banal is just banal and I don't think it's got anything to do with the medium or self-awareness. Some people do it with little P&S digital things, some people do it with large format; the difference is that galleries ignore the former group because they're proles. At most, I think there is just a lazy reaction against the ultra-dramatic imagery that seems to be a greater part of contemporary photography/art - go see the "top" listings on photo.net sometime.

    I have some very unkind things to say about gearheads* who seek "the best" despite having not any artistic use for it. Without reference to any particular photographer, I think that LF colour is a natural destination for technology- & resolution-fetishists and as a format, it's therefore unduly burdened with such people.



    * I think I can say this because I sort-of was one and still have to try very hard not to be. The perils of being an engineer before getting into photography.
     
  4. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I'm happy to see pictures like these which seem to serve no other purpose but to celebrate my favorite color - Green!

    So many LF photographs are used to represent specific places like Machu Picchu that once in a while it is refreshing to rest your eyes on something that could have been taken anywhere.
     
  5. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    I do not see anything to get excited about in the work of Harry Cory Wright. If it is large format, good for him. The crux though is a lack of technical finesse: the images of a medley collection of scenes and subjects are unremarkable for the chosen format.

    Wright states:

    An obsession with "resultant level of detail" is a common trait among LF users seeking the holy grail of detail, detail, detail, often at the expense of technical, visual, compositional and artistic strengths.

    Every once in a while it is very good to see common subjects photographed with many different types of camera, from pinhole to ultra large and not making too much broo-hah of "whopping great resolution and finest possible detail" just with LF. Of the many, many formats and photographs, I like to see a vision splendid, a commanding understanding of the subject, emotive quality, refined technical skill and cogent post (matting, framing, presentation) work to bring the image to life. Aesthetic trends vogues come and go, some stay, but a beautiful image that reaches out and touches the viewer is the best thing of all. Never mind about the equipment.
     
  6. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    Usually I am the ones who defends this kind of image. I liked the Gursky Rhein II. I am a big fan of Stephen Shore and defend his work often.

    Not this freaken time!

    Seriously. All the resolution in the world couldn't make these pictures interesting.

    Aesthetically, there is nothing at all to hold my interest. I couldn't even imagine that at a massive size they would be interesting. Are they art? I am sure someone thinks so, but not the even above average Joe.

    BUT, that is my opinion. If some intellectuals want to have a w..k fest over these - they are welcome to it. If Harry Cory Wright can sell these for a lot of money, good luck to him.....but it won't be to me!
     
  7. batwister

    batwister Member

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    That's the thing yeah. If this kind of image is simply 'holding ground' for film, keeping it in people's minds, even if it means stunting the growth of art photography for a time, it's difficult for me to fault it - it has purpose. No, I don't see any artistic merit, but perhaps it occupies an important space in contemporary photography - where we and the next generation are concerned. I'm going to give curators the benefit of the doubt and say, if only subconsciously, they recognise this and continue to show it for that reason. Let's be honest, if you were the curator first presented with this work, would your first reaction be "THIS will fly off the walls!" There's certainly more to it than that.

    Of course, I'd rather see a Thomas Joshua Cooper exhibition and it frightens me a little that his work may be fighting for gallery space with Mr. Right... I mean Wright. But, I'd prefer to see a show made up of blank sheets of RC paper than Gursky.

    To offset Wright's images, here's one by another Harry that has always beguiled me - http://www.ebay.com/itm/Harry-Callahan-Brown-Grass-Horseneck-Beach-SIGNED-/320746625796
     
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  8. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I love this.
     
  9. batwister

    batwister Member

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    At the moment I'm of the mind that if it isn't on my bookshelf, it's not art. I'll take your word for it and ignore photo.crap. That perceived reaction to drama has always been there I think - William Eggleston and what Ansel Adams said about his work. But Eggleston, if you've seen the documentary on him, is just an incredibly simple person - reaction isn't in his vocabulary I don't think. For me Cory Wright's work doesn't seem to be reactionary, just naive, like he's never tried or wanted to move away from his amateur sensibilities. I doubt he picked up a camera thinking "f*ck sweeping vistas!", he probably just did his thing quite intuitively. Gursky's vision however is bound to the school he belongs to and it's all cerebral and deeply calculated. Harry Cory Wright just doesn't strike me as that kind of photographer.

    Couldn't agree more. Thanks for saying that.
     
  10. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    I found the link posted in the OP exciting in composition, form, tonality, colour relationships and quality of light. But, then I do that type of photography in B&W.
     
  11. PeteZ8

    PeteZ8 Member

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  12. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    From Harry Cory Wright's site:
    Now, then, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
    It seems that being a Cynic is a good thing, while being a cynic is a bad thing.

    As for the "banal" esthetic, it's been with us since the beginning of photography. Remember, the first photograph was of a bunch of roofs. The "problem" I see is when somebody photographs something banal and mundane in the most banal and mundane manner using equipment that is grossly overkill, and then somebody buys it. I wonder, what is it with both parties? Can't the buyer go outside with a camera and create a similar photograph with similar aesthetic value? And can't the artist create something with better aesthetics?

    Of course, we may be thinking this way too deeply, and Mr. Wright just likes burning off expired film instead of letting it rot in the freezer.
     
  13. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    From the Devil's Dictionary. CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Harry works with a large format Gandolfi 10 x 8 inch wooden plate camera. He uses just a single 240mm lens, which is a medium wide angle. The tripod is the heaviest manfrotto studio tripod available. The apparatus is very heavy and moving around too much is difficult and often unnecessary. Photographing with this camera requires a combination of anticipation and patience. The film is standard negative emulsion, mostly Fuji. It is much the same as is used in standard small film cameras. The difference of course is in the size of the negative and the resultant level of detail.

    Love this. (the bold part)

    In other words "fuck it, this bloody thing is too damn big and cumbersome so I'll just shoot it at the ground"
     
  16. batwister

    batwister Member

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    He solves that problem with the print sizes. There's surely something in just ONE square meter worth looking at.

    Am I being cynical again or is it just plain old innocent sarcasm? More definitions please...
     
  17. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    While I don't want to comment on the cited work specifically, I think there are reasons we're seeing a proliferation of banal images. First (and related to the second) is that we're being inundated with more and more images. Digital has brought about a democratization of image making. Anyone can document anything these days. No special intent is required. In fact, all you need is a phone.
    Second, we live in an age of instant communication, instant news, instant gratification, 500 TV channels, "on demand" everything... Under the circumstances, for some, banality may be a welcome respite.
     
  18. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Harry Cory Wright is just another one of a remarkably undiverse bunch: "contemporary" photographers.

    The world of photography is constituted into two parts and Johannes Faber, dealer in Vienna specialising in classic Modern photographs, has put it as well as anyone: “Collectors of classic modern photography are a different group. They focus on the image, quality, and surface of the print (sic), whereas the contemporary market is about content and size.”
    The Art Newspaper, Issue 3, The Year in Review 2004

    In general the driving energy for contemporary photography comes from curators, gallerists, dealers, and artists on the make. Of course there are exceptions but most of this cohort are not knowledgeable about photography and could not be considered friends of the medium. Their agenda is more about career advancement, job security, ego stroking, and pecuniary gain.

    These custodians of contemporary photography tend to be oblivious of the conundrum posed by the number of curatorially lionised photographer who have no active contact with the photographic medium? The conceptual element of the picture is the quality stressed rather than the actual execution. Again when the putative artist is not the actual maker an unasked question remains. If the “photographer” is merely the guy who clicked the camera and the thing on the gallery wall is the work of an anonymous artist down at the processing laboratory then who is the real creator, the actual thinker?

    The contemporary genre seems to embrace a trend, uncritical, uncaring, or ignorant, to declare any picture originating from any camera-work a photograph. This includes such diverse species as a press print, ink-jet print, or a monitor display. And it doesn't seem to matter how far downstream the picture is in the chain of production. If there is a camera at the front end then everything down from there is a photograph.

    Sometimes not even a camera is relevant. I recall a conversation with a very "contemporary" senior curator of photography at the Australian National Gallery. I asked "What is a photograph?" And the reply came without any perception of irony or doubt "A photograph is whatever I say is a photograph".

    As predictable as clockwork the "avant garde" of contemporary photography seems to speak only one visual language: large size colour pictures displayed as if they were paintings. Maybe this trope has particular appeal to hopeful collectors who do not have much taste but can afford a big one if not a good one.

    The virtually universal preoccupation with big colour, I believe, hints at a coarsened aesthetic. Robert Hughes, the famous arts writer put it this way "In colour photography nothing is easier to feign than the marks of intense emotional or intellectual experience".

    The picture making arts have many pretenders to authorship particularly under the banner of "photography". These "photographers" tend to be supported by an industry, both commercial and academic, that remains allergic to genuine scholarship. Again I recall an opinion from a senior curator, "Jeff Koons is acknowledged as an important contemporary photographer. I'm not going to question that. My department is going to run on world's best practice."

    Jeff Koons, or even Harry Cory Wright, may or may not be worthy photographers but their status as such might garner more credibility via critical assessment than through uncritical acceptance and curatorial gush. I am cynical enough to opine that contemporary photography is often a circus where pretenders to photographic accomplishment are acclaimed by pretenders to scholarship. And it is not a given that a photograph about which an academic can write many words is worth even passing attention. It may not rigorously defined what “Contemporary Photography” really is but it appears to have the characteristics of a self healing belief system that is unaffected by criticism or objective analysis. It could very well be that those big, empty colour pictures with high "meaning-less-ness per square metre" quotients will become an embarrassment that museums will hide in the basement long before they fade to cyan or magenta schmutz.

    If you have read this far you will know which side I am on.

    Classic modern photography, by way of contrast with the contemporary stuff, is close to what fine photography has always been. It offers a rich experience for people who love rarity, singularity, fully realized handcraft, precious materials, archival durability, coherent scholarship, and interesting content. It remains worth looking at.
     
  19. batwister

    batwister Member

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    This just about sums it up.

    Though, if this is a passing phase - and what isn't these days - I still can't help thinking it's an important one for anyone using traditional materials. I would guess that most people on this forum who have artistic tendencies in regard to photography, consider those 'precious materials' you speak of paramount when it comes to the presentation of and perhaps joy in making, their work. What I was proposing in the original post was that this contemporary aesthetic would be nothing of worth without the materials. You have to remember how much of a visual impact grain structure, tonality and colour has on the viewer at those mammoth print sizes to realise that the aesthetic depends on film. That, if anything, is what it has going for it and us - taste and opinions aside. If the work didn't receive acclaim and contemporary photographers stopped using film, where would we be? How many millions of Flickr photographers shoot film because they and their middle class hipster friends are exposed to this work and the process at art college? I believe the consistently increasing interest in this work is providing continued interest in film during a critical time.
     
  20. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Nah. I don't it's film that supports huge prints because it's easy to make a huge print from digital, even to give it a look as if it was shot with a nice grain structure. All of that is trivially fakeable, including the resolution.

    And likewise, I don't think it's art schools, most of which have closed or are closing their darkrooms, that gets people into film. You mention flickr: it and its competitors are much more important; people get into photography, they get online, they see what everyone else is doing and they gravitate towards what they like. This whole "internet brings the disintermediation* and democratisation of X" where X can be nearly anything: it's not actually bullshit.

    As ever, 90% of everything is crap. It's up to you to find the 10%.


    * in this case, the internet is disintermediating photography by taking away the art-school barrier to good technical skills, and it taking away the role of galleries in getting work shown. I have an offline friend who has been doing B&W film for 30+ years, he's amazingly good at it and he does a couple exhibitions a year. I get two orders of magnitude more eyeballs than him, just through flickr, and I can't claim to be anything special.
     
  21. batwister

    batwister Member

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    It is fakeable, but transparently so. Being bound to technology (as the critics will always point out to us) art photography can rarely keep secrets about process (note Cory Wright's website info) and the Gursky manipulation 'scandal' with the Rhine image was a prime example of people getting up in arms about this stuff. Critics have a hard time accepting photography that isn't anything but completely authentic - technically and subjectively, today more than ever I think. Film effects are almost solely an amateur phenomenon, from what I've seen. Instagram has made it a real problem for any serious art photographer to even try this now also. The American landscape photographer Michael Fatali always made a point of letting his viewers know there wasn't any technical trickery - he knew his wider credibility in the art world depended on it.

    I think Flickr is pretty close to being a complete vacuum, with it's own trends in representation and aesthetic, but there's definitely that outside influence from the 'proper' art photography world. I've often seen streams and sets from photographers not even hiding the fact they are ripping off a big name artist - they know they can almost get away with it. Not when I'm around however :cool:


    As a side note, I think Flickr is largely made up of people who pick things up - concepts I mean - without knowing and there is a massive amount of creative naivety and general ignorance about the lineage and history of art photography. I've been scared away from it because it's a world unto itself and it influenced my 'visual vocabulary' in a way that made me uncomfortable, stunting my growth. Sitting down and really assessing my images one night, this was almost a grand awakening. But you do see hints at ideas and visual styles, unconsciously appropriated perhaps, from the 'real' world of contemporary photography and classical work. It does get filtered through, but very rapidly recycled into superficialities.
     
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  22. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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  23. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    I think we may be getting all worked up for the wrong reasons. Mr. Wright sorely needs to apply some Scott's fertilizer to his lawn asap and get himself a self-propelled mower. When he's got his backyard in order he can employ the mower to carry that heavy camera over to something more interesting, like the fire hydrant or the curb.
     
  24. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    Its interesting to read others views on Flickr. I see Flickr as a constant source of inspiration - of finding things that interest me and things that I think I might like to try. Is it copying? If we didn't copy we don't learn. And if that is theft, the only true photographers out there must be blind.
     
  25. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The Wright photographs would be an attractive addition to any large, currently unadorned wall.

    Decorative photographs have their place.
     
  26. SteveR

    SteveR Member

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    ...I think they'd look great printed on lino and used as flooring... my wife loved it when we had astro-turn inside for a while, but I hated how our dog would pee on it... this would be a good compromise.

    (...id just have to stop myself from pee'ing on it :tongue: )