Is "alternative process" and excuse for boring subject matter?
I have been looking at a lot of alternative process work lately and often wonder how the same subject matter would look if it were shot on "standard" b&w of color film and printed "regularly." It seems to me that a lot of people get so caught up with the process itself that they seem to forget to actually take a picture of something that is interesting or something that has meaning. To a lesser extent, I find this to be true with a lot of large format and more so ultra large format shots, too. It seems like sometimes when people take a shot of anything, no matter how mundane it is or whatever it is, as long as it was exposed on a sheet of film that is 12x20 it is a 'masterpiece.' I understand the technical qualities are usually better with larger film, and that sometimes an alternative process is more archival or looks appealing- but is that an excuse to neglect the subject matter within your photo? I'd be interested in hearing anyone's opinion on this...
Generally I would have to agree with you on all counts. However, what one experinces by viewing an image on a computer screen can be quite different than what one experiences visually by looking at a print in the "flesh".
Originally Posted by VoidoidRamone
And one more point, I personally find it difficult to make scans of prints, especially ones made with an alternative process that comes close to looking like the one I'm holding in my hand.
Still there are times when the pursuit of the process or format seems to diminish the importance or impact of the photographed subject.
You have just been looking at the type of photography that does not appeal to you. With digital negatives alt processes have have far beyond what is the usual type of photography like the one I do. Look up Burkholder, Foko, the digital work from Clay and many others and you will see there ar eplenty of styles and subject matter where the important things are both the content and the process that makes that content more special.
Some photographers are able to achieve both mastery of the process and clarity of vision. It does not depend on format. I would retort that an overwhelming number of the uninteresting, poorly-executed photographs are done in smaller formats compared to larger. There are probably a hundred thousand frames taken for each large sheet exposed. The dedication and logistics of doing large format and alternative work tend to sway the results toward a higher percentage of success IMO. True, some of it will be boring but most will have merit if only in the execution of process. But when everything comes together, the LF/alternative process has it all over the smaller stuff IMO.
Ever notice when photographers get together they go on and on about equipment or process? You don't hear that so much in other artistic circles. Painters rarely talk about which brush or canvas or paint they used. Perhaps true photographic artists discuss the content more and the pieces they have under discussion are not what we typically see surfing the net. But then there are those images we stumble upon that just blow us away.
For me, part of that requirement has to do with mastery of process. I can enjoy well-executed alternative prints even if the subject matter might be a bit mundane, boring, or overdone. Compare that to the Holga crowd taking snaps of their dog or car and printing it on crappy RC paper. I'll take the alt prints anyday.
You could rephrase your question to "Is photography or art an excuse for boring subject matter". I think this is more reflective of you the viewer, and what you like, rather than of the medium or the format itself.
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I tend to agree. I look at a lot of ULF\alternative process work online, in books, galleries, etc. I rarely see a great image, or even a very interesting one. I see a much larger percentage of good images in 4x5 thru 8x10 and MF printed in silver. I know of one 'name' photographer who can fill up and entire book of 8x20 prints and they are all boring. It's like the use of ULF or some alternative process is the point instead of the image being the point.
I'ts rare to find someone who can use ULF or some alternative process and when you look at the image, you don't even notice the format\process.
Having said that, I did just see some work by Dick Arentz and his Pt\Pd images are beauitful images in their own right and would look great in silver, too.
One thing I can't stand is a 7x17 or 8x20 vertical image printed in some alt process. I have NEVER seen anything good produced by turning one of these things on it's side.
One possible explanation for this is that alt process may attract those who are technically inclined and are fascinated with the process but who are not good artists and cannot make good images in any medium. There are a lot people like that who work in silver, too. They may make technically fine carbon prints, but the images are not interesting or good art.
Last edited by reggie; 07-01-2006 at 02:46 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I totally agree Voidoid,
the image should be a good and interesting depiction of the subject, the subject is the most important thing, everything else is secondary
a poor image in a great/ interesting/hard to do/highly technical process taken with exotic equipment on unusual film/dev combo is still a poor image
As is one done with common tools and materials. And there are BILLIONS of those.
Originally Posted by Ray Heath
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Originally Posted by Kerik
You are without doubt right, but I think Grant has a point. Anyone who has mastered an alternative process (or who uses ULF) should, in passing, have mastered enough artistic ability not to take boring pictures, or at least, not to inflict them on other people. The percentage of alternative process users and ULF users that displays dull pictures with pride does however seem significantly higher than one might reasonably expect.
It's also fair to say, though, that most of these pictures -- alternative processes or ULF -- HAVE to be seen as originals, where they may have a charm all of their own. In repro, or on a computer screen, most alternative process shots look like bad, low-contrast, poorly-toned silver gelatine enlargements, even if they are gorgeous as originals. Somewhat the same is true of a ULF print when it has been shrunk to fit a page or a low-resolution monitor.
Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com -- where one of the reasons there are so few alternative process pictures is that they don't look good on a screen...)
Image making and appreciation is very subjective and those of us who are not excited by some alt process images probably would not enjoy them as a silver gelatin print. However, that is not a reason to brand them as boring. As image makers we all have different reasons for chooing our subject matter, memories, emotions, recording a piece of history, and yes, the subject matter being photographed is an ideal vehicle for the process we use.
In other threads relating to digital imaging I have consistantly said that the process is of secondary importance to the content of the image. (Please don't let's start another digital v analogue debate) I passionately believe that, but at the same time I feel that in certain circumstances the sheer beauty of the process alone can bring an excitement to the viewer. For example, I've seen only one of Jorge's platinum prints and whilst the subject matter was not something I would photograph the image was outstanding largely because of the expertise and vision applied by the man when making the print. Kerik's work has always excited me even though he sometimes chooses fairly predictable mundane subjects but his combination of subject and process make the piece an exciting image. I have also seen silver gelatin prints that have elicited the same response from me.
I can understand the comment about boring subject matter but please let us look beyond the image and consider the craft of our collective passion for that is an art in itself.