What age do photographers produce their best work?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Recently started reading Alec Soth's Little Brown Mushroom blog and this question is something I've thought about quite a bit recently.

    http://www.littlebrownmushroom.com/age/at-what-age-do-photographers-do-their-most-influential-work/

    Personally, I think the lack of stamina that comes with age has little to do with it - particularly thinking of Paul Strand, whose later work, for me, is his best.
    Not mentioned much on the blog, but how productive we are at any given age surely has a great deal to do with external influences - the people you come into contact with, how inspired you are by your environment, MONEY! Living a life of uninhibited experience might be the most important factor in producing great creative work. Four walls in a one horse town don't stay inspiring for long.

    I've decided to substitute 'influential' for 'best', since there are plenty of photographers working on the fringes, producing great work - and by that, I don't mean the guy you know from the local gallery, but photographers with status, who seem to have little impact on other photographers. Thomas Joshua Cooper is one of my favorite oddities, in that I've never seen any real reference to or imitation of his work. Same with John Blakemore - who incidentally, produced his most notable pictures on his kitchen table in his later years. You can tell by now, I'm trying to keep some of the older guys here a little hopeful!

    Thinking of my own demographic, Stephen Shore produced a lot of his work for Uncommon Places at 26. Lewis Baltz started his Prototype Works at 24. The funny one Soth mentions is Lartigue, who hit his peak at 11. :D
     
  2. newcan1

    newcan1 Subscriber

    Messages:
    560
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2011
    Location:
    Chattanooga
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm planning on creating my best work starting in my '50's -- I kind of have to.....!
     
  3. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,264
    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2009
    Location:
    Rome, Italy
    Shooter:
    35mm
    It's for photographers as for everybody else. Experience improves with time, energy diminishes.
    Somewhere the two lines cross and the diminishing returns from diminishing energy outweighs the increased experience.

    Verdi wrote Falstaff, probably his masterpiece, when he was 80, in 1893.
    Years later he accepted to work on the libretto Tosca, but after a while he gave it back because he couldn't work profitably any more. The libretto was proposed to Puccini who, as widely known, accepted :smile:

    Il Gran Capitano, Prince Eugene of Savoy, fought his last battle at 72. With less than 30.000 men he brilliantly kept at bay a French army strong of 90.000. Age is an illusion of the mind.
     
  4. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

    Messages:
    494
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    The most productive period is before a person dies. After death, people don't do so much.

    "I'll be mellow when I'm dead,
    I'll be mellow when I'm dead,
    I'll be mellooooowwww....
    When I'm dead!"
    -- Weird Al Yankovic
     
  5. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,710
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    I don't think age should be even considered with regards to art. Latigue produced some of his best images in his teens, others were much older. I do know that any one over 50 is not eligable to enter for the Turner Prize. Why? What would Turner have made of this rule?
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think somewhere in their 40s and 50s, varying a great deal depending on stamina, luck with health, and an ability to keep it fresh and exciting. Experience of course matters a great deal.
     
  7. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Nearly every photographer I've discovered over the last few years happened to be in their 40s. In the UK, this might be due to a certain lag - British acknowledgement of photography. Regardless of whether they're natives, American or 'immigrants', add ten years pending recognition?
     
  8. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

    Messages:
    809
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2002
    Location:
    Cary, North
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    It really depends on what type of artistic person you are. You can create your best work in your youth, or you can create your best work within a few years of your death. David Galenson did a lot of research on this topic, albeit in the world of painting, (later he investigated music and poetry). He plotted painter's ages and when they did their best work. He determined "best" work based on auction prices and how many times a particular painting was shown in art history text books. The two ends of his spectrum were "conceptualists," artists that peaked early and "experimentalists," artists that peaked later in life. Google is your friend if you want to learn more about this concept.
     
  9. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,536
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm in my seventies and still waiting.
     
  10. kbrede

    kbrede Member

    Messages:
    273
    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Location:
    Nebraska
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well I'm closing in on 50 and in my third year of photography. I've been into film photography for around six months. I'm hoping my peak is ahead of me. :smile:
     
  11. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Yes, this is mentioned in the original blog entry - old masters and young geniuses. Photography and painting aren't the same discipline - one is an art medium, one is many other things as well as an art medium.

    Wait a minute... SIGH. Here we go, things have become confused. His study is on 'painters as artists'. I understand painting is used for many other purposes other than frescoes and a painter and decorator, arguably, may only have one success in one small bathroom in a terraced house. This question is about 'photographers as artists' and their successes. We need a new study.

    I don't think anything can be drawn from studies which omit photography as an art medium. This question is specifically about... published art photographers... let's just use the word influential. Art photographers who have published or exhibited bodies of work which have influenced photography as an expressive medium, internationally. :pinch:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2013
  12. coigach

    coigach Member

    Messages:
    1,589
    Joined:
    May 23, 2006
    Location:
    Scotland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    :D:D:D
     
  13. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,957
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm 50 and I'm still waiting :wink: . I technically competent since my 20s but had nothing to say. As I grow older, I'm less likely to reject photos I hated when I was younger. Always do your best work you can at any age.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,367
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2010
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Based on reading his thoughts over the years and a brief chance to speak with him after an Atlanta event, Soth strikes me as a bit of a Gloomy Gus.

    Strand was amazing at the beginning, middle and end. Very few people maintain that high level of excellence, although Strand took about ten years off to work as a film maker, during which time he did very little still photography. Szarkowski said that Ansel Adams had about a 20 year peak before he began to fall into repetition.

    Emmet Gowin (whom I met last week :smile:) did great work at a young age and has been consistently very good. He's now 72 or so, still making great photographs and obviously very passionate about it. (His wife is lovely and looks nothing like the classic images would suggest.)

    Sugimoto and Izu are doing amazing work in their 50s and 60s. Keith Carter, too. Carter didn't actually become known until about 40. Frederick Sommer was great right until the end.

    Don't forget Avedon's "In the American West" which he started at age 56 and completed around age 62. Robert Adams didn't even pick up a camera until his 30s, and he's still going strong past 70.

    I would argue that Shore pretty much peaked creatively around that time. Baltz is not one of the more memorable photographers in the history of the medium.

    Physical stamina is one thing. Mental stamina is quite another. You can get someone to carry your camera for you (like Izu, his 14x20 camera plus all the trimmings weighs 300 pounds) but it's hard to have someone see for you, although Richard Prince has that figured out! I think it takes a very strong mind and incredible willpower to work at the highest levels of photography. At what age you find that is probably irrelevant.

    At 44, I personally refuse to believe that my peak years are behind me. Maybe someone needs to slap me. :confused: So much of what you see out there in PDN or American Photo tends to focus on the youth of photography, but most of it is uniformly uninspiring 35mm digital crap. It all looks the same.
     
  16. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,899
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I hope it's in the seventies and eighties, else, alas, it's passed me by! :laugh:
     
  17. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,984
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I was going to say an artist produces their best work in their elder years. Unfounded opinion, I was just going to say.

    I like seeing Weird Al quotes, I have lots of stories I can tell... from the time when I went under the alias Beefalo Bill
     
  18. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I can only suspect that working at his level, in that world and specifically, having to interact with Martin Parr :devil:, you need to at least have a facade of cynicism to survive. Not met him, but he certainly strikes me as very conflicted about that in lectures and interviews.

    Definitely agree about Shore. I only mention Lewis Baltz because of his fully developed visual sense and critical facility at such a young age.

    Absolutely. By stamina I meant, quite generally, maintaining the will to get up and do it consistently. But the will to do anything is determined by your environment and people that surround you. They say the creative urge is dormant within us all, but maybe for most of us actively engaged in some form of artistic endeavor, we just about get by with the odd creative refuel, through chance encounters with the right people and places.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2013
  19. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,305
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I was reading a while back that there are two types of genuises (and I suppose artists). Those who at a relatively young age come up with breath-taking ideas, concepts or art, but then never quite reach the same peak of creativity again. Then there are the late-bloomers who consistently put in the time and effort and reach a peak way into their later years. The rarest kind would be those who peak early and stay there.

    Perhaps it was the same writer that Joe refers to above.

    Dang -- I did not realize there was a second page of posts. Some great comments! I like to think that I am just getting started -- or restarted after slowing down a bit raising three boys. It is nice having three 16-year-olds to help haul an 8x10 or an 11x14 camera around...and to use as models.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2013
  20. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    19,982
    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2003
    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    it makes me wonder if the folks who "peaked" at a young age
    were still photographing and making photographs their entire life
    or if they got busy with other thing and tapered off ... and the people
    who "peaked" later in life, if they started late, or just continued photographing every chance
    they got until the very end.

    photography like anything else is a something that requires
    practice. people often times get good at what they do, sometimes they venture out
    and do something "new" and their comfortability with a camera ( or darkroom, or stylistically )
    bleeds into everything they do, and others well, they just take a photograph from time to time while they try to do other things
    to makes a living. a lot of people who are commercial photographers, assignment photographers, portrait photographers
    their "art" becomes their work, or the other way around, but they do it day in and day out ... and they get great at what they do ...
    do they peak early or late or they just plateau ?
     
  21. Patrick Robert James

    Patrick Robert James Subscriber

    Messages:
    624
    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    It is different for everyone. To make a blanket statement would make no sense. I am in my early 40's and although I don't have the energy I had 20 years ago, my mind is in a much better place now. I find it easy to look to the future. To think that anyone really cares whether I have peaked or not is a different story.....
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2013
  22. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

    Messages:
    4,207
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2008
    Location:
    Richmond/Geelong, AUS
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Your best work will be created when you have mastered your own particular style and the technical / photographic nuances that make the images you create so special.
    I think I reached this point, in 35mm, around 12 years ago, when I was ... let me see ... 52 minus 12 equals... 40! Yes! With the 6x7 format, the best images came about a year after I migrated to it, and they are still coming. That would be... hmmm, 52 minus two = ... 50! So around my 50th birthday things got quite thrilling staring watery-eyed at glowing Velvia trannies on the lightbox. Oh... I still live for that moment when the best works, often requiring the best of efforts and best of planning, come to life with the flick of a switch. :smile:
     
  23. hdeyong

    hdeyong Member

    Messages:
    326
    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2009
    Location:
    Central Cana
    Shooter:
    35mm
    After 25 years with film, I spent about 6 years, starting at age 52 in di""""l. Having now switched back, it's like starting over to a degree. New ideas, more enthusiasm, more desire to get out there and take pictures. I hope with this attitude, I'm yet to do my best.
     
  24. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,536
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hey, on further reflection of this topic, if I knew at what age I have"produced my best work", I would have given up photography by now :wink:
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,985
    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2002
    Location:
    Wine country, N. Cal.
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    And adding to the question is when do the ARTISTS think they do/did their best work, which can differ from the opinions of critics and others.
     
  26. abeku

    abeku Subscriber

    Messages:
    436
    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2005
    Location:
    Sweden
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As long as you are eager to explore, you will be able to make great pictures.