Wow. This sure degenerated. I skipped from page 1 to page 11 and, Jesus, did this ever go downhill. These are real and significant issues. Why not discuss them maturely, without this silly pissing match b.s.?
Anyway, appropos of the original topic, here is a discussion between a couple of noted photography critics/curators about some of these issues, particularly the issue of what "matters" in a photograph. At one point in the discussion, Jorg Colberg says this:
That’s a very interesting point you’re making about photographers. I’ve long been baffled by so many photographers seemingly having no interest whatsoever to look into their own art form more deeply. How can this be? How can you not look at a lot of photographs, just like writers, let’s say, typically read a lot (to then spend most of their time being utterly devastated about the fact that so many other writers are so much better)? How is this possible? The often complete lack of knowledge of obvious references pains me! You’ve just got to know who and what came before you so you, too, can stand on the shoulders of giants!
I’ve often thought that this disconnect from the past is tied to the lack of imagination I see in so much photography: If you’re not curious enough about the world, you can still make plenty of photographs. Of course, you won’t bother to look at what came before you, and of course those photographs will then at best be one liners (that someone else might have done a whole lot better).
It’s a bit like trying to learn a language by learning parts of the grammar and some words, but never looking at how that all can be used before having a go at it. Sadly, our culture, at least out photographic culture, truly buys into that, in all kinds of ways. For example, there is that cult of the young photographer. I don’t mean to say that young photographers cannot produce wonderful photography. But just like in any art form, being able to say something is contingent on having lived a life, experienced things. None of that stuff comes easy!
Add to that the obsession that everything has been new, and you’re truly in trouble. I have had students who told me they didn’t want to photograph something any longer, because someone else had already done it. How can that be? Why are there so many people writing about love – now that has been done before as well, hasn’t it? The moment you’re in photoland, the absurd idea that something is done when someone else has done it before is widely accepted.
Back to my view: this discussion seems to have degenerated into an argument over technique, as things so often do on these forums. I don't give a damn about your technique; show me something new in your photographs, something you are exploring, something that matters like hell to you and you can show it any way you damn well please, including paint on photo!
What often pains me is to see so much Ansel Adams-y pretty b&w landscape work here as if repeatedly making the same photograph can deliver interest to the viewer. There is a difference between pretty and beautiful, between truth and prettiness. That difference is found in art. Art does not care what your method is if it coalesces with your message and your matter.
As someone else mentioned earlier, which was probably the most rational post in the thread; that everyone has a camera now doesn't make them a student of photography, and shouldn't have to.
Originally Posted by jglass
Jorg Colberg, the astrophysicist, says a lot of things, but it seems to be the point he's missing in the above extract. I've read his blog quite a bit, as much as it infuriates me at times. Cameras are increasingly accessible, education isn't (even though information is) - which is hard to comprehend for academic photography commentators.
And the Ansel Adams lineage is what the OP is interested in, so tread carefully on that hallowed ground. His grasping to the past and the lightning speed everyone else is moving forward is the reason for his disquiet. That's the beginning and end of this thread.
'Cows are very fond of being photographed, and, unlike architecture, don't move.' - Oscar Wilde
I seriously did, with an old manual-focusing Nikon Micro-Nikkor on a Canon DSLR, at varying degrees of OOF, because I wasn't sure of the effect due to the small LCD display. If you'd rather believe that I accidentally mis-focused an MF lens a half dozen times and got lucky, knock yourself out.
Originally Posted by davidkachel
Funny you should mention brain surgeons. If I ever had to pick one, his knowledge of mid-20th century techniques and medical history wouldn't be a factor in the selection process.
Originally Posted by davidkachel
That questioner was me. And that questioning had nothing to do with "digital" anything. Or pack animal behavior. Or what it takes to be a "real" photographer. Or even, at its root, photography at all.
Originally Posted by moose10101
It had to do with making a conscious decision to choose screwdrivers with which to pound nails when excellent hammers are readily available.
Why would someone do that? Just because they can?
If you were faced with major surgery would you prefer the surgeon use a chain saw or a scalpel? They can both cut, you know.
Sorry you missed the fundamental point...
(Apologies to David for this OT detour.)
"Take her to sea, Mister Murdoch. Let's stretch her legs."
The First Officer then reaches out and confidently rings the engine room telegraph over to ALL AHEAD FULL...
— Captain Edward John Smith to First Officer William Murdoch, on the bridge of the RMS Titanic, 11 April 1912
When you start trotting out Adams and Weston as examples of "fine art" photography, you're dating your standard to the first half of the 20th century, really the first quarter. They're about as artistically relevant (note I did not say MEANINGFUL - very different animal...) as the Pictorialists or the first wave photographers like Daguerre, Fox-Talbot, Morse, and Bayard are to modern photography as a movement. They may be relevant AND meaningful to a few individual artists working today, but they're outside the mainstream (and there's nothing wrong with that, but do acknowledge that they're outsiders). Today's art in general and photography in particular is all about the "conceptual", about mixed-media, and very much a reaction to the advent of the digital age. That can take the form of embracing the digital medium and using its strengths, weaknesses and characteristics to produce images that respond to and speak about the changes in society as a whole wrought by the digital age, or they can be constituted as a reaction against and a critique of that same phenomenon.
Originally Posted by davidkachel
Wishing for a return to "archival" materials and f-64 aesthetics is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The same issue has arisen in other media, and been dealt with by the art world, not always with success. David Hockney, when he was a young painter still struggling to make ends meet, did some large canvasses with house-paint because it was cheap. Some of them have faded and even flaked off the canvas because housepaint is not made to be durable the same way fine art oil paints are. If I recall correctly, Hockney was forced to reimburse a museum for one of his lost paintings to the tune of several million pounds (although he could afford to do it now, given what his work sells for today). But the paintings still hang in major museums. Robert Rauschenberg went out and made his pieces out of found objects. There's nothing per-se archival about rusty soda cans, broken doll heads and tattered flag fragments - if anything, their non-archival quality and therefore impermanence is a designed-in quality of the piece. The work is designed to change over time.
I think part of the problem you're experiencing is that young photographers/artists, if they have these notions in their head about their work (specifically related to permanence vs. impermanence, virtual vs. real, tangible vs. intangible, 'craftsmanship' vs. mass-production, quality vs. kitsch), either haven't or can't articulate them to you, and so you reject their work as being slip-shod. And in their ignorance, you may be correct in assuming that they're just slapping some crap together and don't know how to present it or why they're presenting it that way, and it is in fact 'bad' art. But as a gallerist who should know better than the artist, it's your job to see the kernel of genius hidden inside the popcorn fluff, nurture and cultivate that, and articulate to the buying audience those ideas the artist can't articulate (one reason why artists paint/photograph/draw/sculpt is that they can't articulate ideas well in words - otherwise they'd be writers).
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I think this entire thread falls under the umbrella of being "well rounded" in your chosen hobby/profession. It isn't a prerequisite to learn the basics and learn from previous fellow travelers and masters to be competent, but it's probably helpful and knowing where you came from is usually some sort of a leg up.
Much like modern Navy officers learning how to sail tall ships as a part of their training. Certainly not necessary but it certainly rounds out their knowledge as well as their respect for their profession.
I agree with a previous poster that with the glut of "photographers" today, it's perhaps difficult to see the wheat through the chaff, but I'd bet that most "serious" photographers have a desire to learn where their craft evolved from.
Also as someone who moved to digital after 30 some years as analog, I don't find analog/digital to be two separate disciplines at all but merely an evolution of technology and a branching off of the main tree, which is using a camera to record or capture a subject and convert it to a visual medium.
Last edited by blansky; 03-14-2013 at 04:27 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
So you think that there were no great photographs made during the Pictorialist period? Get your hands on TruthBeauty - Pictorialism and the Photograph as Fine Art if you want to see a myriad of examples of the best of the genre. I could look for hours and hours on end at Steichen's Flatiron Building print and never get bored. But I can take in everything there is to see in Clearing Winter Storm in a single sitting. That's part of the message of the images though - one was designed to pull the viewer in - the other was designed to reach out to the viewer and smack them upside the head with a message. Both are highly successful at their goal, and as such they are acknowledged as masterpieces. Those pictorialist photos were every bit as much photographs as an Adams or Weston or Strand or even an Aaron Siskind. But they have their own aesthetic informed by painting, for a reason. I'll give you the argument that making a violin sound like a tuba for the sake of making a violin sound like a tuba will probably not yield the next Beethoven's 5th. But if you have a purpose for doing it, and can communicate that purpose, then maybe it will.
Originally Posted by davidkachel
Mr. TheFlyingCamera, I agree with your comments. On Pictorialism, here is a video of a presentation by AD Coleman on the resurrection of pictorialist approaches to photography and the recent demise of the straight photograph. Very interesting that this new work is deeply rooted in history. To a great degree, this new work could not have been done without and is deeply informed by knowledge of what went before it. That knowledge led to rejection, in many ways, of Adams/Weston and their aesthetic, but ignorance of them is not an option, in my opinion.
I find this to be a weirdly prescriptive statement. I'm aware of at least one serious photographer in this thread who intentionally makes one-shot prints with a lifetime measured in hours; I wouldn't want to speak for them as to their motivations, but what I get from that work as a viewer is a combination of "the transitory is interesting" and "it's kinda cool that this technique works", with a side of "don't take art too seriously". You seem to be saying, not just that you don't like such a way of working, but that it's somehow *wrong* to do it that way...?
Originally Posted by davidkachel
My comment earlier about "fine art" as a marketing category was only a little cynical; I think it's basically a circular category, in that "fine art" is whatever the "fine art" people say it is, and who those people are is defined by who those people accept as one of them. To my mind that's a sort of incestuous, sclerotic artistic hothouse (mix those metaphors!), and it's just the sort of thing that people build artistic movements *against*. So I tend to find my sympathies lying with the brash, self-important kid who doesn't care to learn about a canon of past masters but would rather be building their own aesthetic---and, yes, making a lot of the same old mistakes again. Some of those "mistakes" may turn out to have more promise in them than the canon would like to admit.
By the way, I hope we're not arguing at knifepoint here or anything. I think this is actually an interesting discussion, and I'm really disappointed to see branches of it devolving into the same old film-vs-digital crap (which you were at pains to avoid invoking, I realize, but it seems to show up habitually on APUG anyway).
San Diego, CA, USA
The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
-The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_
I, too, am enjoying this discussion and don't want it to degrade into some sort of film vs. digital thing. I see this as more of a "modernist vs. contemporary" theory discussion. I began my career as a modernist photographer, but over time I have began to drift into a much more contemporary mindset in the concepts of my work. As an artist and educator I find this topic very interesting, but I will continue to ask "devil's advocate" and inflammatory questions to provoke thought.
If you really want an argument, I can refer you to one of my graduate students that very loudly states nobody should look at other photographs and that he will only produce work in the "cloud", not on paper.