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  1. #1
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Thoughts on New Color Photography

    After looking at several websites and blogs over the last few days I have noticed that vary many new color photographs, by several different photographers, look very much the same.

    The color photographs of previous generation—Eggleston, Shore, Sternfeld, Misrach, etc., are all different, and in most all cases, you can tell one photographer from the other by the choice of subject and print quality. With contemporary color photographers, I find myself hard pressed to keep them strait in my mind.

    I am talking mostly about young photographers (of my generation and a little older) who are approaching every building strait on, and maybe including objects in the foreground and sky that break up the space. It seems that nearly every one of their pictures is a formalist exercise in depicting the industrial landscape. If they are attempting exhibit the typologies of all the things (industrial parks, shopping malls, row houses, tract houses, McMansions, construction sites etc.) then they are succeeding. If they are making statements about the homogeny of our modern society then they are succeeding. But isn't the work itself is also becoming a part of that homogeny? To me though, it is just beginning to be boring, and not at all beautiful.

    The Bechers' work however, is very beautiful, and does not have the same feeling as these new color photographs. Is that because when they began their work it was an original idea? Lewis Baltz's work of similar subjects is very beautiful and not at all boring, Can that also be attributed to it being an original idea?

    Or, is the difference inherent in it being a black and white silver print? Could it be that the realism of color photography doesn't allow for the individualized interpretation of tones that black and white photography does? Or that the fact that being in black and white takes the subject one step into the abstract-- separating it one step further from our experience of the real world?

    Then there are all the other photographers who are making large format portraits of adolescent angst, old people, the disenfranchised . . . but that is for another thread altogether.

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  2. #2

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    I believe several factors are at play...

    -- Insistence on consistency of style and vision from photographers. When variety has come to be considered bad form within a portfolio, the safest route is to say, "f__k it, take this..."

    -- Large scale prints, as are the rage and expection now, often require LF cameras which lend themselves, quite insidiously, to "lining things up." It's a trap I often find myself struggling against.

    -- The "dead-pan" aesthetic so popular now favors an uncompromising straight-on type photo.

    -- A highly structured shot can use the crutch of that structure to support an otherwise weightless subject.

  3. #3
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poco View Post
    I believe several factors are at play...
    -- Large scale prints, as are the rage and expection now, often require LF cameras which lend themselves, quite insidiously, to "lining things up." It's a trap I often find myself struggling against.
    I was thinking about the economic factors when I was writing the OP. But what is the benefit to a gallery (or the Artist) if all the photographs start looking the same?

    I know the that there are "no original ideas," and I don't want to advocate that people go "be different" just for the sake of being different. But I would like to see photographs are some way more personal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Poco View Post

    -- The "dead-pan" aesthetic so popular now favors an uncompromising straight-on type photo.
    Where did this "dead-pan" aesthetic orginate? Yale? Duseldorf? Minneapolis? I looked at a Thomas Struth book earlier today, and while it could be described as that, I don't think it is. There is some life to his work, but not so in what I have been seeing lately, and I can only really attribute that to the work not coming from an organic place in the photographer. That they see what is being published and exhibited, and they jump on the bandwagon.

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  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Poco View Post
    I believe several factors are at play...

    -- Insistence on consistency of style and vision from photographers. When variety has come to be considered bad form within a portfolio, the safest route is to say, "f__k it, take this..."

    -- Large scale prints, as are the rage and expection now, often require LF cameras which lend themselves, quite insidiously, to "lining things up." It's a trap I often find myself struggling against.

    -- The "dead-pan" aesthetic so popular now favors an uncompromising straight-on type photo.

    -- A highly structured shot can use the crutch of that structure to support an otherwise weightless subject.
    Brilliant analysis! Thanks!

    Cheers,

    Roger

  5. #5
    Struan Gray's Avatar
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    There is a school of bleached Becherdom which is - surprise surprise - strong in Germany. But then here in Scandinavia we have the sickly-green documentary style pioneered by J.H.Engström. And the USA has it's static documentary school of Alec Soth, Brian Ulrich et al, which has adopted the deadpan German look, but with a lusciousness of tone borrowed from Eggleston and Shore.

    Jem Southam and Simon Norfolk are more suble than most, without descending into deadpan.

    If there is a problem, it is that strong, bold colour seems to have been co-opted by the sentimental and commercial worlds. But there are exceptions even to that: Julian Thomas, Eric Fredine, David Maisel and Cig Harvey are all rather formal in their concerns, but all very different.

    So I think you are wrong about what is out there. You may be more right when it comes to what is the current darling of the top-flight art scene, but that's more about fashion and the desire to sell a branded product than a reflection of the wider photographic world.

  6. #6
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Struan Gray View Post
    There is a school of bleached Becherdom which is - surprise surprise - strong in Germany. But then here in Scandinavia we have the sickly-green documentary style pioneered by J.H.Engström. And the USA has it's static documentary school of Alec Soth, Brian Ulrich et al, which has adopted the deadpan German look, but with a lusciousness of tone borrowed from Eggleston and Shore.

    Jem Southam and Simon Norfolk are more suble than most, without descending into deadpan.

    If there is a problem, it is that strong, bold colour seems to have been co-opted by the sentimental and commercial worlds. But there are exceptions even to that: Julian Thomas, Eric Fredine, David Maisel and Cig Harvey are all rather formal in their concerns, but all very different.

    So I think you are wrong about what is out there. You may be more right when it comes to what is the current darling of the top-flight art scene, but that's more about fashion and the desire to sell a branded product than a reflection of the wider photographic world.
    I am sorry, I should have stressed that the focus of my original post was on younger photographers--Mid 20's-early 30's-- basically people that are out of school and trying to make a place for themselves in the market-- unfortunatly that is what it is coming to be- just a market.

    By the way, I have Jem Southam's Painters Pool and think it is incredible. And the other photographer you listed are what I mean by working from a personal place, but there are relatively few of those when it comes to younger photographers. But maybe, it is because they are just that-- young.

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  7. #7
    Struan Gray's Avatar
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    It's hard to innovate in a medium as staid as photography, and when you do you will often be accused of 'not taking photographs'. This whole site is a proof by demonstration.

    I suspect that a lot of the innovators you seek are working in mixed media, particularly mixed electronic media. Photography - even digital photography - increasingly resembles writing sonnets or playing period brass: the limitations are part of the attraction, and skill and taste are demonstrated as much by showing an awareness and mastery of those limits as by whatever you do within them.

    And as you say, the age group you are intereseted in are young. That doesn't just make them callow, it also makes them numerous. My impression of the photo universe is that it is incredibly diverse: there really are people doing all kinds of work in all kinds of ways. Identifying people whose work is distinctively enjoyable is an exercise in needle-hunting. You are also dependent on your own taste and judgement in a way that is less necessary when viewing reputations through the filter of history.
    Last edited by Struan Gray; 06-15-2007 at 03:39 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  8. #8
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Boutwell View Post
    I am sorry, I should have stressed that the focus of my original post was on younger photographers--Mid 20's-early 30's-- basically people that are out of school and trying to make a place for themselves in the market-- unfortunatly that is what it is coming to be- just a market.
    I hate to pick on my own generation, but it's rather hard to be good and original when you're still wet behind the ears. And many wunderkind never grow up to more solid work.

    That said, I would have a bit of a bone to pick with your original argument: mainly that the old colour photographers were different. Although I like them both, I don't think, for instance, that Eggleston and Shore are really that different. The fact that they are friends is perhaps already a sign, but the fundamental underpinnings of their aesthetic are very similar: apparent "nothingness" or "banality" of their subject, extremely adroit use of composition, bright sunshine lighting, focus on the decayed, distance, underbelly of america, fascination with material culture, vernacular design (cartons of milk, home interiors, etc).

    All of which in fact harks all the way back to Walker Evans. Who himself harks back to Eugène Atget. If there is one photographer more visible than any other nowadays, it must be Atget. He is the original incarnation of deadpan, the original "Uncommon Place," the original "seemingly banal picture with a fantastic composition", and the chronicler of little life. There is no bigger looming figure in modern photography in my opinion.

    The Becher were some of the first (we're talking the 60s here) to develop a radically minimalist aesthetics, and many of their students (like Andreas Gursky, Candida Höffer, IIRC) went on to pursue the same approach in their own way, but even the Bechers themselves owe something to Atget in the way they put their eyes on inanimate things.

    In fact, I would go so far as to argue that there is not in fact a big rupture between the deadpan aesthetics of Atget/Evans/Shore/Becher and the deadpan aesthetics of more recent photographers. If anything, the deadpan aesthetics is now just another popular trick of the trade, rather than an original vision, or a radical statement.

    Witness for example the amount of "deadpan series of..." that get published nowadays: US Marines, celebrities without their makeup, pornstars, 9/11 heroes, football players, ordinary people from across the world, people who did horrible things, people who did ordinary things, etc. The surest way to being published these days seems to be to do a deadpan series, of famous people, as much as possible. That's what I find annoying: the publishers and the artists are still trying to milk a shtick to death. And it's not limited to colour photography: even Chuck Close did a rather deadpan series of people he knows on Daguerreotype!

    To me that's just rehashing a formula. In contrast, Lee Friedlander, in "At Work" did something similar but much more interesting: he did take series upon series, but instead of posing people, he took their picture while they were working, to show that they were all doing almost the same movements. It's dizzying, and gives a sense of industrial labour much better than just another boring flat picture whose purpose is to shock you by not presenting anything.

    And finally, caveat emptor: as the recent thread on the apparent lack of craft among youngsters have shown, it is in fact very easy to belittle any current state of affairs when you weight it against its entire history. We all know that the canonized artists were seldom popular in their days, and so today's unknown artists might actually be 25y down the road the ones with which we will look back to in awe of how great the early 00s were!
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  9. #9
    loman's Avatar
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    I would just like to mention one photographer, who I think has found his one voice (an inspired one ofcouse, but a voice none the less):
    Eric Baudelaire
    He is born in 1973. Great french photographer, and another large format shooter if I remember correct. you can find examples of his work on this site:
    http://baudelaire.net/

    Best Regards
    Mads

  10. #10
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    as a young photographer (28), currently shooting mostly color, i find myself shooting formalistic industrial landscape (see the newest image i posted in the critique gallery).

    in art school i shot very personal work, all diptych or triptych, focusing on interpersonal relationships and exploring what emotion / story could be created or the viewer could create in a series of images. of course this wasn't original as it was heavily influenced by the work of michelangelo antonioni, cindy sherman, david lynch, and philip lorca dicorcia.

    at the time what was in vogue was the environmental deadpan portrait. i found these interesting and i even remember reading in an ansel adams book recently (i think...) that dead pan was the way to go, the way to see into a person.

    since leaving school i have found myself more and more interested with the industrial landscape. now i haven't been following contemporary photography at all, so to be honest i wasn't aware that this was the current fad. most likely my love for fomalism came from repeaded viewings of kubrick's 2001 and tarkovsky's stalker.

    one of the major things that influence me are the current state of building and production of the things all around us. plastic, fake, build to break. in minneapolis newer condos (which are all over the place and are part of destroying many of the older industrial landscapes) are either rather modern or build to look like they were 100 years old. everything is so empty, devoid of life. older industrial complexes in contrast are so beautiful and seem to be disappearing at a rapid rate.

    in america, at least this is my perspective, there is so little history and to reiterate everything is so fake and empty. the industrial landscape is where i find beauty, feeling, history...perhaps it is even an escape from the current state of affairs.

    now i am not selling my work, nor am i trying to create images to be published, which seems to be part of this discussion.

    as far as how this fits into history, i don't know. i know i am not doing anything original. at times i have set the goal for myself to try to do something different but forcing it never seems to be the way. i just try to see, react, feel in response to a scene, or set out from the start with an idea / feeling and try to create that in an image.

    and maybe art school is the problem as many have said in all the differnet disciplines

    in an art 'school' you can't teach someone to be creative but you can teach how to be formalistic and how to compose.

    i may be wrong about this but this is probably the largest generation (20's - 30's) to have been involved in art school...

    and what am i trying to exhibit? i don't know. for now i am reacting, feeling, experienceing. perhaps i am young and mis(or un)directed but i am just growing as an artist

    ...i think...
    Last edited by ethylphenethylamine; 06-16-2007 at 12:01 AM. Click to view previous post history.

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