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  1. #1
    chiller's Avatar
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    Would they really make it today??

    It has occurred to me lately there is a large body of excellent work by modern photographers that is technically and often artistically superior to many or most of the past masters. There is also a large body of work that is a waste of valuable silver however that is not the thrust of this post.

    Ansel Adams and Edward Weston are superb photographers but I'm able to look at a lifetimes work. And the same goes for any of the pioneers.

    If the tables were altered and both these photographers were in there 20's and just starting out now and posting to the galleries etc would they really make it today? How would their work be received here in the critiques gallery by all the experts on APUG? I use these two photographers only because they are so often the benchmark for conversation based on a lifetime of work.

    It is my opinion based on the body of work from a broad collection of current photographers they would be competing with that their style of work, Adams and Weston, would not stand out, the subjects are classed as "cliche" and they aren't famous, by toaday's standards if they are just coming on the scene.

    It is purely hyperthetical I realise but the darkroom is occupied and I'm just wondering.
    Steve

  2. #2

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    I would conjecture a couple of points. Each generation benefits from the work that has preceded us. The way to achieve mastery is thru continued and dedicated effort over time.
    Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)

  3. #3
    chiller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Claire Senft View Post
    I would conjecture a couple of points. Each generation benefits from the work that has preceded us. The way to achieve mastery is thru continued and dedicated effort over time.
    That doesn't answer or address the question. I agree with all you have said.
    Steve

  4. #4
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chiller View Post
    It is my opinion based on the body of work from a broad collection of current photographers they would be competing with that their style of work, Adams and Weston, would not stand out, the subjects are classed as "cliche" and they aren't famous, by toaday's standards if they are just coming on the scene.
    Marty McFly, I would have to disagree with you here: the reason why Adams and Weston would look cliché now is that so many people have copied what they did in the early to mid 20thC. But you realize that if they did not exist (let's call this reality R2, and the current one R1) then they would not have influenced the course of photography and the R2 2006 set of affairs could be very different from what it is now (R1). Ergo, if they came up with the same photography that they did in 1930(R1) in 2006(R2), there is a non-null probability that it would be original, fresh, and perhaps groundbreaking.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  5. #5
    reellis67's Avatar
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    Many of the past masters are often considered 'masters' because they introduced ideas that, during their time, were revolutionary or outstanding in some way. By taking them out of their time contex, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what they would have found interesting in their new context or to predict the type of work they would do.

    - Randy

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    reellis67's Avatar
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    I was going to add something like what Michel just wrote, but less coherently, so I will add this instead. I don't think that you can validly critique the work of anyone outside their context. If you feel that the work of the past is of little value other than of historical interest, without considering the world at that time and the influences that created the people that made those photographs, why would *anyones* work be of any value anytime after it was created? The historical context of any piece of artwork is part of that artwork, and therefore must be considered when evaluating said work.

    - Randy

  7. #7
    Will S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reellis67 View Post
    I was going to add something like what Michel just wrote, but less coherently, so I will add this instead. I don't think that you can validly critique the work of anyone outside their context. If you feel that the work of the past is of little value other than of historical interest, without considering the world at that time and the influences that created the people that made those photographs, why would *anyones* work be of any value anytime after it was created? The historical context of any piece of artwork is part of that artwork, and therefore must be considered when evaluating said work.
    But shouldn't a work of art be able to stand on its own outside the context or an awareness of the context in which it was created? For example, some works have been reinterpreted to have new and more elaborate meanings by future generations. Isn't that the entire reason for post-modernism - that works can only be understand by us from our context, not from understanding the life of the author or the social context in which they were originally created.

    Conversly, there is a school of thought that argues that works are able (and should be able) to stand on their own if the reader/viewer is able to comprehend their internal construction and meaning sufficiently and that historical awareness adds to their appreciation, but is not the significant motivator of understanding the work. For example, is Shakespeare only funny/tragic/moving when the audience understands a great deal about Renaissance England? It's definitely more appreciable, but not entirely absent of meaning. In music and photography I think it is even more obvious: is Beethoven's Symphony No 3 only appreciable by those who understand musical culture (especially salons) in Vienna, Austria in the late 18th/early 19th century?

    I would posit that the unique ability to capture form and render it as a photographic work of art in 1930 or in 2006 is virtually the same and that a picture by Edward Weston now would still be just as beautiful as one made then (if we were able to use the Delorean to bring him to our time.) Photographic clubs now would still not award him the top prizes just like they did not give him the prizes then :-)

    Best,

    Will
    "I am an anarchist." - HCB
    "I wanna be anarchist." - JR

  8. #8
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will S View Post
    But shouldn't a work of art be able to stand on its own outside the context or an awareness of the context in which it was created? For example, some works have been reinterpreted to have new and more elaborate meanings by future generations. Isn't that the entire reason for post-modernism - that works can only be understand by us from our context, not from understanding the life of the author or the social context in which they were originally created.
    The concept of "eternal" works of art is not an either/or situation, it admits many Zones of gray. In the 19thC and early 20thC a lot of art criticism was arguing for studying art as art, cf. the New Criticism school of thought in literary criticism. The New Critics were looking for concepts like organic beauty, unicity, and disregard for context. It's a potent irony that works created at this era, like Eliot's Waste Land or Joyce's Ulysses are entirely dependent on one's knowledge of the context they speak to, their allusions, and even biographical information about their author, for their interpretation.

    Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a canon, or consistent body of works of art that are recurrently admired, and rightly so because human life does have its constant. At the root, you can say that we haven't changed much biologically since the first Homo Sapiens, but even culturally there has been many constants.

    I don't think it's necessary to look for ontologically perfect values in art, because humans are the basic premise of art. You will find "eternal" value in certain works in my opnion because they speak to what is fundamental to our existence on earth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Will S View Post
    I would posit that the unique ability to capture form and render it as a photographic work of art in 1930 or in 2006 is virtually the same and that a picture by Edward Weston now would still be just as beautiful as one made then (if we were able to use the Delorean to bring him to our time.) Photographic clubs now would still not award him the top prizes just like they did not give him the prizes then :-)
    In the case of Weston and Adams, my bemol would be simply that less than a hundred years is a damn short time to gauge the deeper value of a work of art. I will more readily give Gilgamesh or the Illiad that value because of the people from many civilizations that adopted them.

    Yet another caveat is that our cultural time works in only one direction. What happened, happened. I've seen Weston's photos, and many other people have seen it, imitated them, learned from them, went beyond them, etc. Our way of appreciating photography is "tainted" by it. It is a testament to their quality that so far they have kept and increased their value, because a lot of stuff from the same era didn't. But we can't imagine a no-context reading of them. However, we can map their importance after the fact, which is that we can look back and see how much they mattered. The one thing I cannot do now is pick something that happened today and know for sure its value. We may have a hunch (we're clever, sometimes...) but that's about it.

    So in the end, the human value of a work of art is a post facto reading, not a mathematical proof.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  9. #9

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    Well I guess you want more. Both Adams and Weston were far better photographers at 50 than they were at 20. If Adams and Westom had never lived and thereby we had never before seen their work it would look far different to us today because they would be fresh and new. Generally speaking, I do not believe that either photographer at 20 years of age showed much promise. Einstein at 20 did not seem to be exceptionally gifted either. To make certain you understand, to this day I do not see much signs of greatness in either photographers work at 20 years of age.

    Now is that not what I originally conjectured?
    Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)

  10. #10
    reellis67's Avatar
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    While I see value in the argument that art should stand on it's own, I have to ask what value then is art from the classic period? It is nothing more than a marble statue of a naked woman isn't it, without its historical context? I mean sure, I might like to have one on the edge of my pool, but there is nothing overly notable about it if we don't know about it's period. What about Rococo? If I were to begin to produce work in that style tomorrow, would it be considered as notable as a period work? Styles of the past, and their master works, are inseparable from their history because they define, and in turn are defined by, their period. Each style is a reaction to the previous style(s) and is therefore dependent on knowing the historic circumstances of those styles in order to understand why it was done the way it was done. If we simply evaluate the aesthetics of an art work, who is to say what should be notable and what shouldn't. Doesn't that mean that every artwork has different value for every person in every time period? I mean who *really* likes all those cherubs on the ceiling? Or perhaps a more recent example, why do Ansel's photographs make the calendars every year, year after year? Are there not others, on this very site even, who produce notable work of the same style? How do we separate their value from the work that pioneered any given genre if not by its historical context? Some of the past is so saturated in it's own history that it cannot be evaluated without some reference to that history. Many genres of art exist only because they refute previous genres, so if we discount their reason for existing by discounting the value of their historical context, what is their value? It isn't what is being done today so does that make it valueless?

    Understanding the historical context of an artwork allows us to get past the surface aesthetics to the deeper meaning of the work. We can see the *why* of it because we can see more than just what is in front of our eyes. We can gain a deeper understanding of it by knowing how it came to be. We can place it in the scheme of the world by knowing where it fits in, and why. I don't argue that we cannot still appreciate a work without knowing it's context, but rather than we can more fully appreciate it through deeper understanding.

    - Randy

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