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  1. #1

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    spencer tunick & quality vs. originality

    I was recently thinking of the documentary "naked world" and the particular part in which spencer was taking an individual nude of a woman on antarctica. The interesting thing to me was on the boat back after the shoot an assistant commented on how spencer only spent 3 or 4 minutes finding his composition and in general just didnt seem to be thinking about it much at all. He said he felt that it was basically a snapshot and anyone could have taken it.
    The suprising thing was that spencer didnt argue this, he agreed! He validated his effort by saying the technical aspects of the shot werent the point, but the fact that nobody had done a project like his is what made his work notable.
    In another shot (female in front of the eiffel tower) he commented on how literally a handfull of other photographers had taken basically the same shot.
    So to differentiate his work he had the model give the camera the finger as if to say " i know this is really isnt groundbreaking but im doing it anyway so f*** you"
    My point to this is that in my opinion I dont think work should be elevated to genious status based just on the fact that no one had done it before, even if the technical mastery of medium or the idea itself are nothing special.
    Any thoughts ?

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by jwchayse View Post
    My point to this is that in my opinion I dont think work should be elevated to genius status based just on the fact that no one had done it before
    I completely agree with you. This is like the old camera club argument that 'difficult' pics are worth more, viz., complete crap.

    Cheers,

    Roger

  3. #3
    AgX
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    There are two aspects into it.
    First Tunicks work itself. I had the chance to to be one those figurants. I did not apply, I neither liked the way Tunick approached the people he wanted to be figurants, nor did I see much in those photographs I found on the net. Nakedness on itself does not make an intriguing photograph but with that event feature he gets a lot of publicity.

    The more general approach: A lot of those historic photos of those great masters don’t look that unique to me now. So were they praised because they did something new, or because their photographs were really fascinating then. And what about today, why do we still praise them?

  4. #4
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    I was one of the thousands of naked ones in Montréal when he did his session a few years ago, and the question of value regarding his work has always nagged me.

    From the point of view of the subject, the experience is truly unique. In my case, being naked in a public space with innumerable numbers of strangers was an unsettling and surprisingly cheerful experience. It was as if everyone was honest for the first time of their lives. That is the payoff for all the remaining academic complexities.

    The issue of skill is the main one: whither the skill? As you said, he took only a few minutes to compose, snaps, and walks away. In the Montreal case, the setup was a bit more elaborate: the crowd was directed to two or three different setups (random mass of bodies; ordered bodies, etc). But judging from the print I got in exchange, the light is so-so, the printing is at ordinary commercial level, and the composition could have helped some thinking through. All of this to say that for craftsman-type printers, his work could look highly suspicious.

    But the real question about skill is: Which skill matters the most? Is it originality? After a few shots, no, because it ceases to be original in the sense of "not having been done before." Originality does not seem to be a good long-term goal anyway. Material medium-related skills? Not really, see above. The models's skill? It depends: in many of his photos, there are so many that they are indistinguishable. In other ones, there is only a small number. Organizational skills? Maybe: getting people with enough cojones to pose naked is sometimes a legal nightmare, or a practical nightmare (cops, passerbys, time of the day, or the sheer energy to coordinate 20,000 people on the Zocalo).

    If you take a slightly more abstract conception of medium, as being not the material you work with (paint, words, silver, etc) but rather the network of conventions you deal with (subject matter, taste, etc), then I think we might find some understanding. The pictures of a thousand naked bodies we're most familar with could be those taken at the liberation of the concentration camps; some of Tunick's arguably share many pictorial similarities with these. As to what is the meaning of such echoes, I will leave each one to their interpretations, but I think there is some intent to revert the meaning of such pictures to something less horrible.

    Finally, there's also the no-skill interpretation: yes, he has no skill whatsoever in exposing film and printing photos; yes he has no skill whatsoever at the pictorial level, his composition is nothing outstanding and imparts little extra meaning to the work. But his work is still valuable nonetheless because everything happens at the level of performance: the sheer fact of putting naked people in certain places, and making a photographic record of it from a decently competent point of view.

    I personally think that the value lies somewhere between the pictorial and the performance. The images are effective because of their relationships to other existing images, and also because their making is a unique event.
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  5. #5
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    When I was a young'n on the construction site, one of the site supers told me "Lots of people have balls, but only a few people have the balls to do something with it."

    Whether this is genius or not, he did it and no one in this thread did. Maybe making something out of nothing ala Seinfeld is the genius part? I dunno the answer.

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    Last edited by gr82bart; 06-18-2007 at 02:08 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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    The large group compositions are interesting because the scale and the numbers of people involved break some of the conditioned responses. You could replicate some pictures with mannekins or logs (though having self-positioning subject matter is a great logistical advantage), but it wouldn't have the same response.

    Having seen three documentatries on Tunick (Naked states, Naked World and Positively naked), I do think he does his thing very well. A little lacking in charm sometimes. The trouble is, I don't think the photographs are really the work. It is the event. Photography is just the means to provide a record and way of viewing the event later.

    There are other artists whose work is ephemeral and needs photography to record it.

    Since Tunick chooses to use large numbers of nude people in unconventional locations he is going to get the same attention anyone doing nudes receives. Times N thousand times 8-)
    I feel, therefore I photograph.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by gr82bart View Post
    Whether this is genius or not, he did it and no one in this thread did. Maybe making something out of nothing ala Seinfeld is the genius part? I dunno the answer.
    Dear Art,

    Then again, no-one else has done an arsehole album. At least, not in the name of Fine Art. Does that mean that the first person who does so is a genius?

    Cheers,

    R.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by grahamp View Post
    The trouble is, I don't think the photographs are really the work. It is the event. Photography is just the means to provide a record and way of viewing the event later.
    You have revealed the essence. I consider it performance art, not photography. There are a lot of these type of projects where the real art (if it can be defined as such) is the creation of a situation or structure and photography is just a small part of it.

    Maybe it's like the "anti-Cristo", instead of wrapping things, he unwraps things.
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  9. #9

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    Its not that his work as a whole isnt important. On the contrary, anyone who can assemble 18,000 people at all, especially nude in front of a place which gives the photograph political meaning, is remarkable. I actually like alot of spencer tunicks work. I should have started this in the ethics forum because wasnt necesarilly about him.
    My critique was aimed more at placing value on an idea while disregarding the mastery of technique to which the idea was carried out.
    Were the " white pantings" or 4' 33'' masterpieces? I dont think so. Im sure many people had considered the thought of producing blank canvases or composing silence. And while they made very strong statements about what art is and/or should be, I dont agree with those who would consider rauschenberg or john cage geniuses for being the only ones to materialize those thoughts.

  10. #10
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
    Dear Art,

    Then again, no-one else has done an arsehole album. At least, not in the name of Fine Art. Does that mean that the first person who does so is a genius?

    Cheers,

    R.
    The closest I know of is Ellen Jong's "Pees on Earth," a collection of her worldwide outdoor pissing session.

    Seriously, I like it.
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