The schism in "fine art" photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by laverdure, Feb 13, 2007.

  1. laverdure

    laverdure Member

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    Forgive a few generalizations.

    In my experience of serious (art) photographers' websites, there are roughly two kinds:

    One is that produced by APUG type photographers- mostly b/w, heavily influenced by the big names of the first century&odd of photography, somewhat chatty, usually offering direct sales, and usually featuring the words "Fine Art Photography" (or -er) somewhere prominently.

    The second kind, belonging more often to art school trained or else "urban," for lack of a better word, photographers, who almost always shoot color, seem to take little interest in any photography before 1960, say nothing about themselves except their showing/publishing resume, never offer direct sales, and never, ever, use the words "fine" or "art."

    Clearly, culturally these are worlds apart. Clearly, there are successful and famous artists working in both camps. Why the disconnect?
     
  2. HerrBremerhaven

    HerrBremerhaven Member

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    Marketing.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
     
  3. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Good question. I suggest you read first Charlotte Cotton's book "The photograph as contemporary art." It's one of the best and simplest introductory book I've seen about all the post-Shore / post-Eggleston photography, i.e. color, ordinary life, intimacy, deadpan, etc. You'll find lots of people doing large format, but none of them doing contact prints on Azo, so to speak.

    There are many fundamental rifts. One is of course the B&W/color divide. (I always blame it on the fact that none of these people managed to print a decent B&W print, and only produced soot and chalk crap in their art school years. But I'm casting aspersions, and I don't really believe what I'm saying anyway. :wink: ). But there is also the aesthetic/conceptual one; the objective/subjective one; the conservative/avant-garde one; sharp/fuzzy, etc.

    I think that to explain the post-1970 rift, one has to look at it in terms of what happened before. Even though we all admire the great B&W photographers of the 60s, they did not have then the recognition they have now. In fact, the status of photography as a bona fide artform was still in question.

    The color photographers did something interesting: they wanted access to the rarefied realms of the gallery, but chose the language that was as far as possible from it (color), instead of the one that was closer (B&W). High art always like to reinvigorate itself from a healthy dose of blue collar rightenousness. But it does so in its own terms: the photographs were not snapshots, they were using the forms of it. The vernacular was made self-aware.

    The huge tension between color photography (valued as cheap, disposable, mass-produced prints) and artistic attitudes probably more contributed than countered the acceptance of color photos in the artworld. When you enter the artworld, it's always better to do it with a lot of noise than gradually.

    Of course, you also have to add to this the role of Pop and conceptual art in the process of changing the attitudes towards the artefacts of artworks. Pop and conceptual art play down the value of the artwork as precious, exciting, and rare by presenting the banal or the unfazing. The status of color photograph made it a perfect candidate for appropriation by that attitude.

    So why did the color photographers shook the artworld more than the B&W ones? To me, it seems that they took more risks, but at the same time played correctly the potential of changes in attitudes.

    In a way, this is somewhat similar to the rift caused by the f64 people at their beginnings: they were avant-gardist, throwing sharp prints in the face of pictorialism and making all sorts of monkey noises. Our attitude towards them have changed, and they don't feel as edgy to their public now than they did before.

    The same thing will happen with the colour enfants terribles. Alec Soth once had a cool post on his blog about the use of photos like his or Nan Goldin's for book cover. Of course, when you end up as a book cover, that does not mean that your art is worth squat, but it means that its shock value has been partially absorbed.

    So perhaps the processes of history more than the processes of aesthetics can explain this current rift. There is nothing about it that makes it essential, it's only a produce of circumstances.
     
  4. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    It will be very interesting to see what will hang on the temporary wall panels at the AIPAD show this spring (April, I think) in NYC. I couldn't attend last year, but I did for three years before that, and the overwhelming majority of what was being shown was black and white in black frames and not usually, although sometimes, very large.

    In the interval, articles even in B&W magazine about dealers have stressed that what's current is large and in color. Visiting some of those gallery sites bears this out...what's on the walls is, compared to a typical LF contact print for example, huge! .....and often extremely boring.

    Color work seems to either be Velvia style saturated Western or other iconic landscapes and sunset/sunrise golden hour cliches, or urban/suburban unsaturated, city/suburban/ manscapes with little emotional warmth and a helluvalotta oversize attitude. Irony abounds.

    It's not hard to see why galleries are championing the new color photography. Their black and white inventory of new and interesting work must be getting desperately small...too many repetitions of the overdone imitations of the modernist masters.

    Oh well....the pendulum swings slowly, but inexorably!

    Edit: I just realized how grateful I am to not have to make my living as a fine art photographer. Even though I may fantasize such a life, in fact I don't have to deal with the extraordinary vagueries of such a profession. I have nothing but unfettered admiration for those of you who do.
     
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  5. Markok765

    Markok765 Member

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    I am a "Urban" photographer, but I like older photographers.
    My favorite is WeeGee, for his striking street\documentary photography of NYC.
    I also shoot almost exclusivly B&W, exept for a D****** SLR, and Kodachrome 64, and Velvia 100.

    -Marko
    markokovacevicphotography.wordpress.com
     
  6. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    I personally think it's because contemporary gallery-art photography is inextricably tangled with magazine fashion and editorial photography. The both ape one another -- even the landscape crowd.

    BTW, you can still have your B&W prints hung as a featured show at the Fraenkel, but it will help a lot if you were already famous before 1962.
     
  7. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Basically, it really comes down to the fact that all film photographers are Luddites.

    However, that distiction is not fine enough. So within this grouping there are the uber-Luddites and the neo-Luddites. The former group solely uses monochrome photograhy because until around the mid-1930's the entire world was monochrome.

    You might find this to be hard to believe, but if you look at the historical record. there are no true color images prior to the development of Kodachrome.

    With the development of Kodachrome - people suddenly realized that there was really color in the world - we know this because it could now be documented on film!*

    This was a startling discovery because people understood that film images were ultimate determinant of reality. If it couldn't be captured on film - it didn't exist. So the world was definitely monochrome until Kodachrome proved it could be viewed otherwise!

    If you do a careful study, you will find that the world remained in B&W through the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the onset of the Second World War. But contemporaneously, the early discoveries that there really was color in the world was slowly seeping into human conciousness.

    Certainly by the end of World War II most of the world had become colorful! This is proven by the fact that many more color photographs began to appear - thus documenting the "coloring" of the world.

    Consonant with this discovery of color - certain photographers, the neo-Luddites began to use film to record this changed "colorized" world. Obvioulsy, since it is mankind's plight to become tribal, these neo-Luddites found themselves at odds with the uber-Luddites who reject the concept of color and believe it is an illusion and not reality.

    This rift within the film photography world continues to this day.

    *BTW: Some of the earliest studies in the evolution of the the world from monochrome to color took place, ironically, in Kansas! One time secret film studies exist that show that sometime during the 1930's, perhaps fostered by a then young lady's singing and the presence of small, humanoid creatures, (possibly color bearing aliens?), there was a paradigm shift. This unique footage of film actually records the shift from monochrome to color as occurred in a part of Kansas, known as Oz, on that day!
     
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  8. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i dunno george ....

    since the photographic image was invented people have been hand tinting them, painting them &C and showing the world in color. maybe the process wasn't color film but plenty of color images appeared before the advent of color film ( slide or print ) ... :smile:

    -john
     
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  9. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    "I don't know why people continue to shoot color now that black and white film has been invented."

    Read it somewhere. Maybe someone's tag here on APUG?
     
  10. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    John,

    You have been sadly decieved by the Pre-Raphaelite Film Luddites!

    As you note, reseach has shown that prior to the creation of Kodachrome - early, so-called "visionaries" claimed to have discovered that the world was actually colored by "tinting" monochrome film images.

    However, these folk were rightly dismissed as crackpots and lunatics since it was evident that they were attempting to alter the reality of monochrome film images. Since, as we know, film images are the sole determinant of reality, these charlatans were fortunate only that they practiced their sorcery in the more enlightened era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In earlier times they would have been burned at the stake for such paranormal activities! :wink:

    BTW: there remain pockets of these atavistic "colorists" but they have been relegated to the status of "curiousities" since their supposed "discovery" of color before it really existed is seen as akin to those "branches" of the homonoid evolutionary development tree that ultimately proved to be dead ends....
     
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  11. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    Albumen, Van Dykes, POP, and all the what is now called the alternative processes had all kinds of color in them, straight b&W came later.

    It's all good, as to the f64 folks, closing the lens way down, was supposed to be a rationale for a rejection of pictoralism, to me, these folks were simply shooting the same landscapes/pictorials as the pictorialists with a lot of depth of field.

    I don't know why anybody would have a 'cut-off'/time frame for significant work, seeing the work of Andre Kertex, W. Eugene Smith, Weston, Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, in person is/was/always will be a wonderous experience for me. The first time I saw the Kertez shot of dancers in mid-leap, suspended there for all time, the expression, the framing, the timing, on a shot he CAUGHT, as opposed to setting up, made the hairs on the back of my head stand up.

    Take a look at Alvin Langdon Coburn's portrait of Ezra Pound, how do you classify it? I don't think you can, how many people today including some of the other 'dead legends' could pull that shot off? I'd like to see someone try that shot, anybody, without photoshop, and if you pull it off, I will get out pencil and paper and take notes.

    Some folks dismiss the work that came before the sixties/seventies, and it still work they'd have a hard time matching/anybody would have a hard time matching today.
     
  12. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've seen a huge diversity in colour work as well as black and white. What I don't see much of at the galleries I visit are nature landscapes in colour or black and white. I have seen the over saturated and under saturated colour images, but my take is a bit different than what is stated here. Much of this work is trying to utilize the colour to reinforce an often allegorical, metaphoric, iconic and or ironic message. Which is to say the object depicted is not always the subject of the photograph. The fact that these images show things we see in our physical world is one of the sad limitations of the medium.

    There are, of course, those who use the medium to dipict something new. These can be straight up abstracts or abstractions to invented scenes. These may be somewhat fewer, due to the fact that invention of this type is often more easily done with pen and ink, paint or computers. These images often suffer from the same tendencies of the colour photography in that these images tend to use the imagrey to push a message, opposed to the image being the message.

    The schism may be that some think of landscape photography as decorative and the pursuit of a craft by those trying to stuff *something extra* in to their images and those who look at landscape photography as art can't see any craft or decorative value in de-saturated images of bland suburban housing.
     
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  13. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    Yes, folks tend to dismiss the work of folks, who work differently, if they don't like it, it's no good/passe', here's a link to the Alvin Langdon Coburn shot I was talking about http://web.ncf.ca/ek867/coburn.pound.jpg it amazes me to no end, done pre-photoshop, it isn't a fuzzy dreamy photograph, and like any multiple exposure shot as anybody knows whose tried one, you can do it a million times, doing everything right, and it can still look like a MESS.
     
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  15. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There is also misha gordin who combines multiple negs in the darkroom. I doubt his work would work as well in colour.

    I have always felt and approached colour as being something that more readily speaks to one's emotions and b&w as something that more readily engages the intellect. This doesn't appear to be how others see it so I could be dead wrong.
     
  16. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    I was just going through my Art history books trying to find out when easel paintings went from black and white to color.

    I just picked up a copy of Focus magazine and on page 39 is an article titled "Speaking of Trends..." , one author said "The biggest trend I see is the disappearance of black-and-white photography. Of all the new work I look at, I see very little good new work being produced in black-and-white. He goes on to say that he thinks there is a continuing push towards larger and larger-sized prints made feasible by technology and the buoyancy of the art market and there is a great deal of interest in work from the '60's and '70's.

    The big complaint is that nothing new is being done and it is all just boring. Thirty years ago in college we were told "if you can't make it good, make it big". It was a standing joke. It appears that it may have come true.

    Moon and rocks on mountains at sunset in color or back and white large or small, it might be fun to try to do it again and again but don't expect the audience to sit through it again and again. There is no growth in repeating the past just to say you can do it as good as it was done the first time.
     
  17. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    I know a woman, the mother of a friend and she's a textile artist. She raises rabbits for angora fibers, she spins yarn, she weaves her own cloth. She isn't a luddite. She doesn't do any of this because smashing the commercial looms was a failure. She didn't take up her practices because the available textiles are unsatisfactory to her. She wears clothing produced by automated procedures.

    I practices "wet" photography and I am not a luddite either. Nothing about what I do is motivated by rebellion against technology. I have and use digital cameras, imaging software and inkjet printers. That's like a shirt from a department store to me. They function well for certain purposes and I don't demonize them. When I "spin"and "weave" my own it's for entirely different purposes and not a rejection of anything.

    Greetings from Kansas.
     
  18. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I think my former roomate is onto something then, because he does huge B&W prints on high-end inkjet, stitching together scanned 4x5. And he exposes in art galleries as well. But he's got to be one of the few I've seen.
     
  19. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    My posts were mean to be amusing - sorry if you thought otherwise. :sad:

    BTW: I think many of us here wear the "Luddite" label proudly. IIRC correctly, isn't it even in Ole's signature "tag line"? :confused:
     
  20. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    I'm just presenting a point of view. Whether in jest or in earnest, the term "luddite" is used frequently and I just thought I'd share that for me and perhaps others, it misses the mark a bit. I'm not going to war over it. I think there *are* some luddites around here.
     
  21. michaelsalomon

    michaelsalomon Member

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    Curt, where does the growth in photography come from? Cant we say that repeating the moon and rocks photographs could be or is as stale as repeating any particular type of style?
     
  22. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Growth or variety is inherent or should be. We are all as different as we are similar. What people don't seem to do, is give themselves license to explore uncharted or uncharitable territory. The goal of the vast majority seems to be the measurable aspects of photography or focusing on objects with the widest acceptance or objects in general. It is a lot tougher to shot an idea than it is to shoot a wonderfully lit canyon. It is tougher to understand and use contrast, grain, saturation, density, focal length to impact the emotive aspects of a scene than it is to pick something pretty and expose it *correctly*. The evocative aspects of one good landscape are not much different from the next. Even though landscape 1 is shot in NZ and landscape 2 in the USA. The repetition may not be the subject but the simplicity and similarity of the reaction to the photograph.
     
  23. PhotoPete

    PhotoPete Member

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    I think one big problem inhibiting the growth of photography as an art form is the ubiquity of photographic practice which is not of artistic intent. People in most Western societies are subjected to a by the constant barrage of images coming from the propagandist (e.g., advertising) and documentary (e.g., newspapers) sectors of photographic practice. This is compounded by the fact that photography is the dominant means of visual expression on the planet by several orders of magnitude. All of the millions of vacation photographers and camera phone users make photographs that mean something to them, and that influences their perception of what makes a good photograph in a way that does not necessarily affect their ideas about what makes a good painting. These two forces alone could produce the extremely conservative appetite for photography that exists today.
     
  24. michaelsalomon

    michaelsalomon Member

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    I agree, and I think you make excellent points. As someone who photographs mostly in color and makes photographs of the landscape, it gives me alot to think about.
     
  25. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    On another forum there was an interesting comment (paraphrasing) we try to achieve perfection in what we do until a new methodology comes along that makes perfection easy. Then we begin to value the evidence of hand of man in the making of the artwork, including obvious imperfections. Painting during the 19th centruy is a good case in point with realism giving way to impressionism. In photography, a Jerry Uelsmann image was valued for its realistic surrealism. Now with digital any kid with PS skills can do the same. We then return to the f64 group's value of technical superiority of LF especially for B&W. We've also seen a resurgence of interest in alt processes such as Gum Bichromate. But, from a recent gallery tour, its evident that PS users can easily create the almost garish aspects of Gum printers. No real solution for this conumdrum but we do need to emphasize the hand-crafted aspect of fine art in order to differentiate ourselves.
     
  26. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Photography and contemporary art (painting, sculpture, video) have always been intertwined. Early in the last century painters emulated various aspects of photography in their work. Today, if you walk into most galleries of contemporary photography you will find that photographs emulate the other arts. First almost all the work is color. Second it will most assuredly be political in nature. Finally, it will usually be anything but the West Coast, Adams/Weston/F64 type images. Besides, being political it is much more related to pop culture and reflecting the photographers perception of society.

    I think contemporary photographers are very interested in making what they consider to be beautiful photographs. I don't think they have any interest in making photographs of beautifull things.

    Some of it is very good, most banal and self-absorbed crap. But that is the way art has always been. It's up to the audience to sift the good from the bad.