I find his work interesting, but I was only using him to clarify my idea of where I think the 'documentary aesthetic' originated, which is very prevalent in contemporary work. Have a look at anything in the British Journal of Photography - the only real magazine we have on contemporary practice over here and how most keep up to date. I believe this kind of photography to be a direct response to the critic, rather than a natural progression of the medium. More an intellectual defensive, rather than a continuation of creative exploration with light sensitive materials. Personally, I don't think the photograph is the best format for a thesis.
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
I wonder if Minor White's statement means anything to this wave of photographers '...an unexposed piece of film [sensor], static and seemingly inert yet pregnant with possibilities.' Because I believe for anyone who enjoys making photographs, in spite of the statements they want to make, this pretty much sums up the basic love of the medium. It's something they would do well to remember, because people only pick up a camera with joy, yet most of the work I see is devoid of it, in favour of an imposed intellectual position. Somewhere along the line the photographers became the critics and the curators became the artists.
If you look at popular music you'll see that producers and DJs are the new singer-songwriters, the artists. It's not a problem confined to photography, but more, in today's culture, that taste equates art. The increasing masses of work produced seems to be simply raw material for the curator's game.
To this outsider this is true. John Szarkowski was a conspicuous example. His own photographs are bland. His comments in Ric Burns' film on Ansel Adams were superficial when compared to the more knowledgeable contributors in the earlier Ansel Adams film directed by John Huszar. His Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art smells more like an attempt to justify some acquisitions of his museum rather than a perceptive analysis. Perhaps I would enjoy some of his other books more, but time spent on this site is more productive.
Originally Posted by Maris
Curators with artistic ability can be a powerful and positive influence: Steiglitz, for example. Rarely can such artists afford to be curators. Rarely can curators be such artists.
It's interesting the high degree to which personal taste can colour one's perspective though. For example, I too find myself being quite down on curators, publishers, critics and galleries when it comes to photography. But I am actually coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. I see it in totally the opposite way! I love Shore's pictures. He's one of the photographers I enjoy most, along with Tice and others. The photographs are about time and place, and for me they are perfect for that. The compositions and renderings of detail allow me to get totally lost in them, as though I were standing there. There is so much to look at, over and over again. I never get bored, no matter how many times I pour over the images. They render the vernacular in an exquisitely real way and I simply can't get enough of them. From my perspective, it always seems like people have little interest in this type of thing, and way too much interest in so called "boundary-pushing". That is all I see when I read magazines, go to shows etc. If your pictures are sharp, you're boring. If you fix and wash your prints, you're boring. If you use a lens, you're boring. And on and on it goes. I flip the pages and see people heralded as expressive geniuses because they burn holes in paper negatives with aerial lenses, find old stained unfixed prints in a shoebox, take pictures of dismembered old dolls (there's at least one of these in every issue of every magazine), use 15 toners on one print etc. People fall all over themsleves for this "progressive" stuff because a gallery owner knows how to spin a ridicuously profound story. To me, this is the stuff that's boring. I look at it and all I see is either a deliberate effort to do something different, regardless of the outcome, or a cover-up for a total lack of vision and/or technique.
Originally Posted by batwister
So there you have it. Same frustration, totally opposite experience. Interesting discussion though.
Originally Posted by batwister
There is a duplicity to this, however. I agree with the idea that pop music and DJ performances are generally weak compared to the musicians of yesteryear, but there is a coven of extremely high-end musicians and artists out there who use the same tools to make vastly superior works.
My father quit shooting film in 2006, and now uses a Leaf back on his Mamiyas and Hasselblads. His photography falls far, far, outside the realm of "digisnapping". My brother, too, is a musician, composer, and producer. He's classically trained, but does all of his production work in the digital domain with an Avid ProTools rig. The likes of popular house music and techno pale in comparison to the production values he maintains in his work.
The issue of taste is not due to any changes in technology, explicitly, but due to changes in accessibility and distribution methods. In days past, music would only be released en masse through a label, which would have an A&R team approving any new releases. Photographers needed agents (or would serve as their own, occasionally) to sort out publication and exhibitions.
I would actually say that the vast majority of bad, muddled photography I see, is done on film. There is a concept that because one has used film, the intrinsic artistic value of an image is arbitrarily higher than one created digitally. I scan my film on a high-end scanner so that my lab can make large Lambda prints for me, does the use of a digital intermediary make my photographs less "analog"? Am I devaluing my work by using the (wonderful) assets available to me? Curators don't give a hoot about content because their not trying to show, or promote "work", they're trying to promote a person via their creations. This is why we have Ryan McGinley and Terry Richardson at the forefront of the hipster scene. Terry's pictures are, by and large, awful, yet I love to look at the pictures because they exude his personality. I can't stand Ryan McGinley, but enjoy seeing what he manages to pull off.
The implication of digital technology sapping "soul" out of a work of art is completely, and utterly false.
Curators, too, are aware of this, and in all honesty, the only "bad" show I've seen in the past 12 months was the MoMA's New Photography show back in November. Their "Emerging Women Photographers" show was god-awful, as well. Aside from that, I've seen fantastic exhibitions at ICP, of WeeGee and Magnum's Contact Sheets. I saw a jaw-dropping Walker Evans show in Connecticut, and look forward to seeing the new Francesca Woodman show at the Guggenheim in the coming weeks.
The standards of art are not bound by curators strictly, because you have to remember that we artists keep sending them the same old shit day in and day out, hoping to bend our images to their perceived preferences...
For clarification's sake,
The song Avalon by my brother, Matt Lange
Matt Lange - Avalon/Griffith Park
My father's website:
Paul Lange: Photographer
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
This "as though I were standing there" I hear often and I can only say, perhaps you should get out more! I have the same fantasies looking at holiday brochures.
For me this is the defeatist attitude of contemporary photography and harks back to Atget and his 'documents for painters'. The difference is that these modern survey images are supported by art speak. Photographers become their own personal critics, defending their 'documents as art' like a curator might speak of Atget's. If the photographs strike you because they are of a time and place, then their true value is nostalgia. This is what art snobs will tell you is the only value of any photograph, but they are just as ignorant as the photographers making these images. In a family photo album nostalgia is fine, but in a gallery, first and foremost I expect the visual arts to be visually stimulating.
If we all had the same tastes the world would be a very boring place, but I feel this kind of work and those who defend it are ignorant of photography's power to transcend illustration, through transforming subject matter, and revealing something of the world that we wouldn't have seen, had we been stood there. I also think there's something to be said about the perceived ease with which the images are made appealing to unskilled amateurs, who might then pursue such an approach and get overly defensive about it, taking an elitist position. When you're aware of this, I find it's too painful to make or appreciate banal illustrations. As somebody who was once enticed by this contemporary aesthetic, I can say photographing empty parking lots feels like such an intellectually cold and joyless procedure, knowing what is really possible with a camera.
I agree about the 'pushing boundaries', but these photographers never seem to get very far. As far as I can see it's the prolific auteurs with conservative, safe and constant visions who are seen as mature artists, regardless of content. If you make the same bland image over and over again, at some point you will get the press.
Last edited by batwister; 03-10-2012 at 03:14 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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Originally Posted by Chris Lange
Thanks Chris, appreciate your informed perspective and like your father's 'Langescape' title.
My point wasn't that the DJs and producers are weak, but that appropriating content, like curating, is today considered the real art.
Like you say, it doesn't help that we are throwing content at them by the bucket load and I would say the answer is to concentrate on more personal and thoughtful work, rather than being prolific - something working with traditional materials can encourage, because of financial restrictions and speed of the process.
I agree that the traditional image can often feel worth its weight in gold. Although this value tends to be given by hobbyists, who value the process over content.
perhaps add judges of photo contests to your list of self-appointed screeners of quality and talent..
i guess this is another "photographers, curators, and judges are talentless,
and promote "bad photography" / "bad art" " threads ...
a lot of this is true and always will be true, ... but, it sells ...
if it really matters so much who the curators or judges are ...
if you don't like the contests they are judging, or the exhibitions they are showing
don't go ... and start your own ...
it isn't hard to rent a space and start your own gallery, or have your own contests
but the problem is, if your place becomes popular, or trendy, or shows "talent" then you become
just like the things you were trying to get away from ( in other people's eyes )
I don't know how to really express it, but I believe I know what the OP is talking about WRT to Shore, et al. There's something smarmy and seemingly ungenuine about the way their photographs come off and possibly a byproduct of their approach. A lot of times it feels manufactured and engineered - and I just don't care for it even if it looks great.
"Look at how slick and subtle I am."
I find the same general thing going on with most of the snapshot-driven crowd. I feel the need to tell them "alright, dude, yeah I get it already."
Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.
Historically, this isn't really true. It was other photographers--in Atget's case, mainly Berenice Abbott, and in Weegee's, Diane Arbus--who had a strong hand in getting them recognition in the art world. Weegee, during his life, was a shameless self-promoter who didn't need no steenking curators to get attention. Museum curators were followers, not leaders, of opinion.
Originally Posted by batwister