Can a prints technical brilliance overtake the subject matter?
Do you think in some cases a print that is too well executed can have a negative impact on the overall subject matter? Do you strive for technical brilliance in your prints automatically, or instead give the subject matter only what it needs to convey it's meaning? Do you try to find a balance here? Just curious on your thoughts, Sean
Not IMO, one should have enough technical expertise to extract all that one wants from the negative. But then I have seen as many opinions on this as there are members on this forum.
I would rather see an excellently printed photgraph of a great subject matter, than a print that lacks either content or technical proficiency. Then again, what is a good print? Some people like the Meriel prints presented in Lenswork...I thought they were horrible.....
I think that certain printing syles don't lend themselves to certain subjects. The print has to match the style of the photographer and the subject. An example is Ansel Adams' book Born Free and Equal which were photographs of Japanese internees during WWII. Compared to the FSA photographers of the time Adams' pictures feel too pretty. I don't feel a sense of outrage or frustration when looking at them. Some images almost seem like commercial portraiture. Walker Evans' images, or Dorothea Lange's, or Gordon Parks' have a much greater impact on me. There's something iconic in their images that matches their printing style whereas Adams' prints feel too smooth, if you will; they lack an edge. This even though (or because) I feel Adams is a better printer. Conversely, I feel that Adams printing is perfectly suited for his landscapes and I doubt Evans, Lange or Parks could touch him in that arena.
Originally Posted by Sean
I just try to get the best technical print to convey the mood and intent for the image. If the image calls for soot and chalk, then that's what it gets. Full tonal range required? That's what it gets. The major concern with given this choice is the SUBSTITUTION of technical brilliance for aesthetic content.
If the print requires a style that it APPEAR roughly executed, then technical ability would enable that to be created.
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I see prints all the time that make me wonder, if it hadn't been so beautifully printed, would the subject have been interesting enough to to make the photograph worthwhile? Then again, the photographer that made that gorgeous print specifically chose that subject out of many others so who's to say?
That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
I believe that there was an exhibit or book done by Aperture where the photographer specifically asked that the prints not be done nicely since it would hurt their emotional impact. Can't recall what it was offhand though...
Personally, I've been noticing a lot of comments in the critique gallery lately like "great tonality" and "wonderful detail" and never comments like "this image really moved me emotionally because of xxxx" or "I can identify with the photographer because of yyyy" or even "I really like this picture" without some allusion to the superior printing method and use of staining developer, etc. To me, this is the same as the digital pixel peeping that goes on on those "other" sites. Here, the equivalent is choice of paper and developer and contact print vs enlargement.
Speaking of equivalents, I believe Alfred Steglitz once replied when asked if a particular print had been taken on panchromatic film something along the lines of "that has nothing to do with the picture!"
I was given a similar question once in a history of music theory class. The idea being discussed (from a 19thC. German theorist) was that any piece of music contains within its notes, chords, rhythms, etc. the "meaning" that connects it to the world and makes it beautiful. So, is a bad performance of Beethoven's 5th (for example) which contains all of the same notes, chords, rhythms, etc. that are given to us in the score by Beethoven just as capable of conveying the beauty of the print as a superb performance of the same piece? The only real difference between the two is tempos, subtle variations in volume, attack, tone quality, etc. (only about a gazillion elements).
In photography, as well as music, I think that a possible answer is that the meaning of the piece is better conveyed to those less attuned to its particular means of communication if the execution of the performance (or of the print) enhances and supports that inherent meaning. In most cases this will mean that a print that is superior in quality will convey the meaning of the photographer more so than one inferior in quality. In some situations, however, the meaning may depend on sloppy execution, but those are difficult to pull off and rare.
"I am an anarchist." - HCB
"I wanna be anarchist." - JR
In response to the original question, NO.
Photographers may find it fascinating, enthralling and enlightening, but is has no enduring merit other than the cold perfection of its execution (which to me only has value when combined with a great image for an overall 'package'. For non-photographers this is usually not even noticed if teh image is not interesting in the first place!!!! For me, this is a route many contact printers have taken. I am astonished at the awful subject matter some LF/ULF users commit to AZO. It may be a beautiful PRINT, but that is like a beatiful car that has no engine, gearbox or steering wheel. pointless. The effort would have been better spent on something artistically interesting. After all surely this is why we take photographs ni the first place. Whilst I greatly respect the contribution of Michael and Paula, I personally find their work some of the least interesting from a photographic perspective. To me it is dull in the extreme. Their technical brilliance is superb, but for me, that is not nearly enough. Would a painter spend his time getting perfect brush strokes and fine detail and then paint boring images......? some do, but nobody will remember their images only their 'tuition'. Perhaps there are many great printer, many great photographers, but few great at both. By the way, I dont profess to be any of the aforementioned.
For me showing another photographer is the same problem as inviting a chef around to dinner. Photography like any other art is about passion and as such the technical merits are secondary, but should never be sloppy. So in answer to the original posting Yep it sure can if it's another photographer who is looking at it, as for Joe public they are more interested in what the picture is.
An image that is printed well and conveys what the photographer intended, I usually find to be much more enjoyable.
This doesn't relate to a chosen style. There are so many differing styles in photography, and I don't think saying a print should be "well executed" needs to be prescriptive or restrictive.
I have more respect for the work of a photographer that shows some mastery of their chosen medium. Personally I think (some) pinhole work is just as valid as good ulf contact printwork. But some photographers do show sloppy printing practices with the rider "this is my style, my art". I can't understand this approach, why would you attempt to control and gain mastery of other aspects of making the image (i.e your choosen equipment, materials, composition, exposure etc) and then employ poor practiced printing technique and say "it's my style, my art".