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  1. #1

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    The schism in "fine art" photography

    Forgive a few generalizations.

    In my experience of serious (art) photographers' websites, there are roughly two kinds:

    One is that produced by APUG type photographers- mostly b/w, heavily influenced by the big names of the first century&odd of photography, somewhat chatty, usually offering direct sales, and usually featuring the words "Fine Art Photography" (or -er) somewhere prominently.

    The second kind, belonging more often to art school trained or else "urban," for lack of a better word, photographers, who almost always shoot color, seem to take little interest in any photography before 1960, say nothing about themselves except their showing/publishing resume, never offer direct sales, and never, ever, use the words "fine" or "art."

    Clearly, culturally these are worlds apart. Clearly, there are successful and famous artists working in both camps. Why the disconnect?

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by laverdure View Post
    Forgive a few generalizations.

    . . . . . . Why the disconnect?
    Marketing.

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  3. #3
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Good question. I suggest you read first Charlotte Cotton's book "The photograph as contemporary art." It's one of the best and simplest introductory book I've seen about all the post-Shore / post-Eggleston photography, i.e. color, ordinary life, intimacy, deadpan, etc. You'll find lots of people doing large format, but none of them doing contact prints on Azo, so to speak.

    There are many fundamental rifts. One is of course the B&W/color divide. (I always blame it on the fact that none of these people managed to print a decent B&W print, and only produced soot and chalk crap in their art school years. But I'm casting aspersions, and I don't really believe what I'm saying anyway. ). But there is also the aesthetic/conceptual one; the objective/subjective one; the conservative/avant-garde one; sharp/fuzzy, etc.

    I think that to explain the post-1970 rift, one has to look at it in terms of what happened before. Even though we all admire the great B&W photographers of the 60s, they did not have then the recognition they have now. In fact, the status of photography as a bona fide artform was still in question.

    The color photographers did something interesting: they wanted access to the rarefied realms of the gallery, but chose the language that was as far as possible from it (color), instead of the one that was closer (B&W). High art always like to reinvigorate itself from a healthy dose of blue collar rightenousness. But it does so in its own terms: the photographs were not snapshots, they were using the forms of it. The vernacular was made self-aware.

    The huge tension between color photography (valued as cheap, disposable, mass-produced prints) and artistic attitudes probably more contributed than countered the acceptance of color photos in the artworld. When you enter the artworld, it's always better to do it with a lot of noise than gradually.

    Of course, you also have to add to this the role of Pop and conceptual art in the process of changing the attitudes towards the artefacts of artworks. Pop and conceptual art play down the value of the artwork as precious, exciting, and rare by presenting the banal or the unfazing. The status of color photograph made it a perfect candidate for appropriation by that attitude.

    So why did the color photographers shook the artworld more than the B&W ones? To me, it seems that they took more risks, but at the same time played correctly the potential of changes in attitudes.

    In a way, this is somewhat similar to the rift caused by the f64 people at their beginnings: they were avant-gardist, throwing sharp prints in the face of pictorialism and making all sorts of monkey noises. Our attitude towards them have changed, and they don't feel as edgy to their public now than they did before.

    The same thing will happen with the colour enfants terribles. Alec Soth once had a cool post on his blog about the use of photos like his or Nan Goldin's for book cover. Of course, when you end up as a book cover, that does not mean that your art is worth squat, but it means that its shock value has been partially absorbed.

    So perhaps the processes of history more than the processes of aesthetics can explain this current rift. There is nothing about it that makes it essential, it's only a produce of circumstances.
    Using film since before it was hip.


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  4. #4
    jovo's Avatar
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    It will be very interesting to see what will hang on the temporary wall panels at the AIPAD show this spring (April, I think) in NYC. I couldn't attend last year, but I did for three years before that, and the overwhelming majority of what was being shown was black and white in black frames and not usually, although sometimes, very large.

    In the interval, articles even in B&W magazine about dealers have stressed that what's current is large and in color. Visiting some of those gallery sites bears this out...what's on the walls is, compared to a typical LF contact print for example, huge! .....and often extremely boring.

    Color work seems to either be Velvia style saturated Western or other iconic landscapes and sunset/sunrise golden hour cliches, or urban/suburban unsaturated, city/suburban/ manscapes with little emotional warmth and a helluvalotta oversize attitude. Irony abounds.

    It's not hard to see why galleries are championing the new color photography. Their black and white inventory of new and interesting work must be getting desperately small...too many repetitions of the overdone imitations of the modernist masters.

    Oh well....the pendulum swings slowly, but inexorably!

    Edit: I just realized how grateful I am to not have to make my living as a fine art photographer. Even though I may fantasize such a life, in fact I don't have to deal with the extraordinary vagueries of such a profession. I have nothing but unfettered admiration for those of you who do.
    Last edited by jovo; 02-13-2007 at 04:58 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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  5. #5
    Markok765's Avatar
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    I am a "Urban" photographer, but I like older photographers.
    My favorite is WeeGee, for his striking street\documentary photography of NYC.
    I also shoot almost exclusivly B&W, exept for a D****** SLR, and Kodachrome 64, and Velvia 100.

    -Marko
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  6. #6
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    I personally think it's because contemporary gallery-art photography is inextricably tangled with magazine fashion and editorial photography. The both ape one another -- even the landscape crowd.

    BTW, you can still have your B&W prints hung as a featured show at the Fraenkel, but it will help a lot if you were already famous before 1962.

    "What Would Zeus Do?"
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  7. #7
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    Basically, it really comes down to the fact that all film photographers are Luddites.

    However, that distiction is not fine enough. So within this grouping there are the uber-Luddites and the neo-Luddites. The former group solely uses monochrome photograhy because until around the mid-1930's the entire world was monochrome.

    You might find this to be hard to believe, but if you look at the historical record. there are no true color images prior to the development of Kodachrome.

    With the development of Kodachrome - people suddenly realized that there was really color in the world - we know this because it could now be documented on film!*

    This was a startling discovery because people understood that film images were ultimate determinant of reality. If it couldn't be captured on film - it didn't exist. So the world was definitely monochrome until Kodachrome proved it could be viewed otherwise!

    If you do a careful study, you will find that the world remained in B&W through the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the onset of the Second World War. But contemporaneously, the early discoveries that there really was color in the world was slowly seeping into human conciousness.

    Certainly by the end of World War II most of the world had become colorful! This is proven by the fact that many more color photographs began to appear - thus documenting the "coloring" of the world.

    Consonant with this discovery of color - certain photographers, the neo-Luddites began to use film to record this changed "colorized" world. Obvioulsy, since it is mankind's plight to become tribal, these neo-Luddites found themselves at odds with the uber-Luddites who reject the concept of color and believe it is an illusion and not reality.

    This rift within the film photography world continues to this day.

    *BTW: Some of the earliest studies in the evolution of the the world from monochrome to color took place, ironically, in Kansas! One time secret film studies exist that show that sometime during the 1930's, perhaps fostered by a then young lady's singing and the presence of small, humanoid creatures, (possibly color bearing aliens?), there was a paradigm shift. This unique footage of film actually records the shift from monochrome to color as occurred in a part of Kansas, known as Oz, on that day!
    Last edited by copake_ham; 02-13-2007 at 09:03 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by copake_ham View Post
    Basically, it really comes down to the fact that all film photographers are Luddites.

    However, that distiction is not fine enough. So within this grouping there are the uber-Luddites and the neo-Luddites. The former group solely uses monochrome photograhy because until around the mid-1930's the entire world was monochrome.

    You might find this to be hard to believe, but if you look at the historical record. there are no true color images prior to the development of Kodachrome.

    With the development of Kodachrome - people suddenly realized that there was really color in the world - we know this because it could now be documented on film!

    This was a startling discovery because people understood that film images were ultimate determinant of reality. If it couldn't be captured on film - it didn't exist. So the world was definitely monochrome until Kodachrome proved it could be viewed otherwise!

    If you do a careful study, you will find that the world remained in B&W through the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the onset of the Second World War. But contemporaneously, the early discoveries that there really was color in the world was slowly seeping into human conciousness.

    Certainly by the end of World War II most of the world had become colorful! This is proven by the fact that many more color photographs began to appear - thus documenting the "coloring" of the world.

    Consonant with this discovery of color - certain photographers, the neo-Luddites began to use film to record this changed "colorized" world. Obvioulsy, since it is mankind's plight to become tribal, these neo-Luddites found themselves at odds with the uber-Luddites who reject the concept of color and believe it is an illusion and not reality.

    This rift within the film photography world continues to this day.

    i dunno george ....

    since the photographic image was invented people have been hand tinting them, painting them &C and showing the world in color. maybe the process wasn't color film but plenty of color images appeared before the advent of color film ( slide or print ) ...

    -john
    Last edited by jnanian; 02-13-2007 at 10:07 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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  9. #9

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    "I don't know why people continue to shoot color now that black and white film has been invented."

    Read it somewhere. Maybe someone's tag here on APUG?

  10. #10
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jnanian View Post
    i dunno george ....

    since the photographic image was invented people have been hand tinting them, painting them &C and showing the world in color. maybe the process wasn't color film but plenty of color images appeared before the advent of color film ( slide or print ) ...

    -john
    John,

    You have been sadly decieved by the Pre-Raphaelite Film Luddites!

    As you note, reseach has shown that prior to the creation of Kodachrome - early, so-called "visionaries" claimed to have discovered that the world was actually colored by "tinting" monochrome film images.

    However, these folk were rightly dismissed as crackpots and lunatics since it was evident that they were attempting to alter the reality of monochrome film images. Since, as we know, film images are the sole determinant of reality, these charlatans were fortunate only that they practiced their sorcery in the more enlightened era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In earlier times they would have been burned at the stake for such paranormal activities!

    BTW: there remain pockets of these atavistic "colorists" but they have been relegated to the status of "curiousities" since their supposed "discovery" of color before it really existed is seen as akin to those "branches" of the homonoid evolutionary development tree that ultimately proved to be dead ends....
    Last edited by copake_ham; 02-13-2007 at 11:00 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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