Can we still break ground?
Looking at many photographers' work (incl my own), from landscapers and 'life' photographers to those who prepare 'soulful still life', the parallel between music and photography is clearer to me than ever.
I cannot remember seeing any work for some time that really breaks new ground. Maybe this does not matter a bit? 'people/reportage' photography allows us to provide insight into the human spirit/disposition, then it is irrelevant if the photographer is walking a well-worn path as long as where he is going is in some way still entralling? Arguably the fiirst uses of photography for this sort of insight was a novelty and everything since distilled to the message? Since landscape photography reached the highest standards of technical brilliance some time ago and the same locations are shot to bits, we see much the same images from many different 'names' and only rarely a style which forces us to rethink. I guess certain locations have their own emotional 'profile' and therefore images from different photographers may be visually different, but somehow end up just the same.
Personally there is nothing I recoil at more in art more than faddish attempts to do something 'new'...as if everything else is old and not to move on means being passe and irrelevant. As pretty well every corner of photography has been staked out long ago, perhaps this is the reason for the uprise in 'fine art' photography. Perhaps because it is so hard to do something new and 'worthy' (without being faddish) we have to do the same things using weird processes and give them some intrinsic value as a result of blood and sweat (as well as using gnome charmed dyes and dragon tooth textured papers from Mars). It gives them some form of rarity, once offorded to more run of the mill work, years ago, which was unique because of what it represented in time as much as anything else. There also seems to be a global challenge for the pointless artistic use of cameras too. Perhaps this also represents deperation, in a bid to claim new original artistic territory by 'bagging' it with a camera, even if there is no apparent (to me) point to the act.
The problem of going to Yosemite (which IMHO has been shot to death) seems in my eyes to have been extended to many other corners of photography. I know this is hardly news but I have taken 6 weeks out (working overseas) and it has really hit me between the eyes. Maybe I needed it, but dont know right now whether it depresses or excites me. Maybe I will enjoy my work more now that I know that it is just a labour of love. A personal vision which another either connects with or does not, one of millions and nothing more. Its in this context that this forum becomes even more important. Maybe given a week with a camera and I will be back, charging for the horizon again, striving (misguidedly) to produce truly great work?
Maybe our work is in some way much more focussed on us as individuals than it was for those such as Ansel and Co. They stood few in number, their work being of global importance at the time. Did this somehow reduce the importance of the individual and focus it on their work. Do we today suffer the opposite - the photographer and their 'mystique/aura/image' becoming more important, because the work is not as ground breaking and cannot be? I hate to use the word 'lifestyle' but now things seem to be so much about that. People buy into lifestyle (a sense of direction for a flock of sheep?) and it is the biggest factor in the marketing/advertising of just about everything. Is photography going to become another victim - is it already? Was Ansel a fairly every day sort of chap ? What about Edward Weston? Would the humble purity of what they did be marketable today if produced today or would they need some of Britney Spear's PR people to help them along?
Am I being narrow minded, closed off to exciting photographic developments as a result of early experiences? To me there is traditional, beautiful photography and noisy pointless trash. I m just concerned that the traditional beautiful stuff is now on a 'loop'. Maybe I am in a rutt, orr breaking out of one.
Have I missed something, lots of things?
I'll get my coat....
Sadly Tom I think you have hit the nail on the head and except for personal goals there is nothing really left.
I think that many of the icons of photography would not even get into print these days, they might even be laughed out of most camera clubs for not observing the rules of composition. Even in the theater of war they are the same old pictures but with different faces and flags.
Maybe I'm a miserable old g*t but I do believe that breaking new ground is only now on a personal level and not a public one.
Good topic it will be interesting to read others views on this one.
If I'm not mistaken, Ansel did have a PR guy. (Really good navel-gazing thread by the way!)
Things may appear to be insubstantial because of how many galleries are bellying up to the trough trying to cash in on the photography-as-investment boom. They would be the ones driving the New Is Better philosophy.
Just because there are more and more wineries opening doesn't mean all wines get thinner. There has never, and there never will be, another photographer who has my way of seeing, or has a relationship with the north coast of BC environment the way I do. They might be just as passionate about it, but their relationship to it would be enriched by their life experiences and expressed through their way of seeing.
There will always be another great poet, writer, actor, musician, composer, scientist, philosopher, teacher, and yes, another great photographer.
Can we break new ground...dunno? Who cares? My photos occassionally break wind.
I don't even know what it means to "break new ground". From my perspective many are trying to emulate known photographers and their techniques, or they are going to an extreme to be nothing like anyone else and to the point of not producing a product that has any appeal.
It would seem to me that the only way to break new ground is to just not care one way or the other. I also wonder how anything can be "ground breaking" when you come up with it today and tomorrow everyone else has access to and is using the method. Part of the problem may very well be that in the internet age people expect that new ground will be immediately available and as such don't place so much value in something that is ground breaking.
I haven't a clue what I'm saying, but it sounds good in my head.
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Every moment is unique. Every eye is unique. What you do may be similar to something done before, but we are the result of our antecedents. If you go to the museum and look at paintings for an afternoon something will seep into your personal vision. And if your inspirations are so strong that they wind up consuming your own personal vision, then at least you have made a fitting tribute to your sources.
I'm always amazed at the way photographers (especially academic photographers) tend to think of photography as a separate form of visual art completely divorced from the other visual mediums (including dance and architecture.) If photographers were musicians/composers it would be as if they only studied Western art music produced by wealthy white males of European extract from around 1600 to 1920 and completely ignored everything that happened in the rest of the world, or by non-white European males, or before 1600 and after 1920 in the western world, or popular music, etc. Oh, wait...
"I am an anarchist." - HCB
"I wanna be anarchist." - JR
Or maybe, are we ever breaking new ground or just finding newer or less traveled ways of saying the same thing? When photography or any 'new' media is first introduced to the creative mind, experimentation, and exploration of the medium will bear a lot of fruit and this, I guess, would be 'new ground.' Traditional mediums have seen 'revolutions' that are similar when old paradigms are broken, such as modern art as applied to painting.
Originally Posted by anyte
I suspect there is always the opportunity to break new ground. I wonder if it is preferable to do something that hasn't been done before for the sake of the newness, which seems to be a major part of the post modern and post post modern art world or if it is better to simply find your natural voice and learn to speak more clearly.
Claire, it might be time to change the old stopbath and developer....:-)
Originally Posted by Claire Senft
I tend to believe that broken ground appears by accident, and is sometimes not understood as such before a while. Someone doing things instinctively may end up later as a major photographer--think Nan Golding for example. Erik Satie was not a star in his lifetime, but we can't avoid him now.
Another portion of "breaking ground" is also constructed: if you are doing X at a time Y you might be just following the others. I'm sure doing wall paintings in the Lascaux way now would be hot--oh wait, they recuperated that idea to talk about graffitti... But for the sake of example, coming back to photographers, the people in the Boston group around Nan Golding did a lot of what would have been considered Pictorialism at the beginning of that other century. Now they get to be hailed by a Taschen book, and I don't see an AA or a Stieglitz standing up and forming group f/256 against them...
I think the genres may lose steam at some point: instrumental orchestral music frankly hasn't been that exciting after WWII, except maybe for Arvo Pärt. Lots of film music, but few new and original composers that tear down the walls. But guess what? It's popular music, jazz, rock &c, that makes people cheer up and stand on their toes the way the audiences were at a Beethoven concert in his time. So even though the genre may have lost ground, music in itself still evolves and breaks ground.
Who knows, maybe digital will save photography?
*ducks and run as fast as possible!!*
Also, even though a lot of things don't break ground anymore, we still like them a lot: Beet's 5th, 9th, Rembrandt, Lascaux, Elvis, and bubble-gum ice cream.