Reflections On Photo LA 2014 (Last Man Standing)
As was indicated in a previous announcement post, last weekend was my first attendance at photo XX as either exhibitor or attendee in eight years. I have in the past read with only reserved interest others' reports on these, and other such, events throughout those years. Not knowing, or caring, about the inexorable trend and lamentations of digital works and new technologies on display, I had no expectations about either the quality or the popularity of the event. It was what it was, and it simply no longer concerned me. Without getting into specifics, the decision to exhibit this year was made for me, after some casual off hand comments I made about perhaps investing a few days or so each year in showing work publicly again. I am sore and bruised (e.g., not entirely to be confused with tired and happy) from a long weekend of hugs, kisses, backslaps, attaboys, and incessant probings into the deep black (and white) of my heart – my work. Here is my necessarily myopic view from within my 'cell' (yes, at times it felt that way) as I experienced it.
As some may be aware, photo LA moved from the Santa Monica venue to the LA Mart (The Big Chair) in downtown LA. I won't conjecture as to the reasons for the move, but upon the opening of the freight elevator for my first view of the space, permanent empty stalls of various sizes presumably only recently vacated by the last flower show, I was assaulted by the most distressing cloud of yellowish, institutional quality, artificial light imaginable. Immediately, I set upon the task of adjusting my pre-designed walls based on the provided floor plans to the smaller dimensions actually present, leaving out some work I'd have preferred not to have carried in. The photo LA organization attempted to make remedy by offering me more lights (more CFLs!!!). This not being my first rodeo, as it were, I discovered some old faces, as well as many new, setting up in my 'hood. At one point, it seemed every one of my tools had been loaned out to other galleries setting up on my row. The next day my wife stopped by the completed Range of Light Photography booth before heading home to get dressed for the Opening Gala benefit for Inner City Arts, where she was informed that the light gray paper we had installed on the booth's back wall, would have to come down. That was eventually resolved in our favor – in fact, to the extent that photo LA actually blasted a pic of the Range of Light booth through social media as part of their promotion!
Thursday's opening night Gala absolutely (and literally) rocked. Every booth and aisle was packed to the point that moving around became very challenging. People remarked constantly all weekend long about the difference this year in the amount of energy in the venue. I heard again and again how different my booth was, and not because of the grey paper on the wall. People couldn't comprehend how I had gotten such deep blacks, vibrant whites, and smooth grays. (FYI: For my part, this was not something I noticed on my sojourns around the floor – but then why would I, having no desire to aspire to anything greater.) What paper had I printed on? – the assumption being that the prints were digital. Most had never seen classical (contemporary) fine art GSPs before, and simply had no idea what they were looking at. And thus ensued an unexpectedly wearying four day procession of educational necessity (opportunity?) in which I had to explain film, disabuse the uninitiated of the notion that the type of paper was even the most important quality of the image (i.e., understanding and appreciating light, and a skilled human printer are), and account for the complete presentation of the print. The woman in the gallery next to me brought over her artists' (digital) prints to get my opinion of them. Many returned to the booth throughout the run of the show, bringing friends or spouses back with them.
One woman came by specifically to let me know that at the workshops she had attended all day long, it had been proclaimed loudly in every one that the DARKROOM IS DEAD! This, in perplexing juxtaposition to the daily workshops entitled "The Print Matters". Apparently, the only prints that "matter" are those that are printed by machine. By Friday's end, I had become somewhat sensitive to my booth's "sore thumb" qualities, and was torn at the prospect of having to come back for two more days as the marginalized, red–headed step child of contemporary photography.
On brief tours about the showroom floor, it was affirmed that contemporary silver or alternative prints are almost nonexistent (save for one very notable booth ). Though I've known this academically for awhile, and have said as much over the last few years, it was abundantly clear that the page has turned fully to digital image presentation. I saw some very compelling imagery, beautiful prints, and was pleased in many ways at the evolution of digital art and media. But I kept asking myself if I would be proud to take credit for many of these works, to call them my own, knowing that I had only become a shooter, perhaps managed a digital computer file, and restricted the number of machine print copies (mostly printed by an outside lab) to some arbitrarily low number establishing scarcity and worth. It would seem now that contemporary classical (i.e., non–digital) fine art prints will be, if not already, relegated to the category and quaintness of folk art. Professionalism is work that is handed over to others charged with executing your vision.
The annual LA Art Show was held concurrently with photo LA this year, with shuttle buses running between the two venues. Several years ago I considered, and made plans (later aborted) to secure a booth at that event, feeling that the venue may be more supportive of my style of photography. Yet, a friend working a booth over there reported that one could roll bowling balls down the empty aisles of that venue. I since learned that Peter Fetterman, a well known gallery specializing in classical and vintage photography, had indeed eventually moved over to LA Art. The reason is abundantly clear to me now. Younger collectors in photography invest in what they know, and what they know is digital – and photo LA is digital.
I am the last man standing.
P.S. To any member of this forum who attended photo LA 2014 and did not stop by to at least say hi – and that was exactly no one – shame on you. And to the "photographers" who made my final day a very long one (no one here, I'm sure), because they felt their admission ticket gave them the right to foist their unsolicited work upon me and that it was my obligation to review their work for representation, usurping my extremely limited time and expense, and would not take "There's nothing I can do for you" as a truly legitimate appraisal, I will remember your lack of propriety and sense of entitlement.
Last edited by ROL; 01-26-2014 at 06:01 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I was there last year as a volunteer and never felt any of the vitrole that you speak of. everyone was very generous and there were lots of silver gelatin prints. art is of the moment so I believe that what goes around comes around i.e. the print will come back but it will take time..do your art and be happy
I was out of town or would have stopped by the booth...
website down for maintenance!
There is great value in producing work that is different from the herd. For this reason I returned to 4x5, shooting ancient lenses.
Kent in SD
I won't duplicate what I stated on the other forum, but it's interesting, by contrast, how our local PBS station recently reran their 15 min mini-documentary
on Roman Loranc, including a darkroom tour. They quoted his credo, "the simpler the better" and made a special point of admiring how he still does everything by hand in a real darkroom, with the inference of the quality inherent to this approach (though all of us know quality doesn't arrive simply by
owning a 4x5 Tecknika and a darkroom). They also ran a piece on a photographer I've never met, in my own town, who is basically a street photographer
using a forty year old Leica and rather elementary skills to get that old Life magazine look. But the commendation of traditional technique was still a key part of the interview. So narrow prejudice against hands-on craft is hardly a universal. In fact, in my own case, it seems to be just the opposite. So maybe
its time we film and dkrm types take the offensive, and stop letting the electronics industry marketing MBA's stop whipping our reputations. Those guys
just want to sell more gadgets. Let's see how many of them can do classic work that isn't forgotten in fifteen minutes.
Yep. Photography is now about the consumer electronics industry - just how the camera manufacturers wanted it to be. Joe Idiot can't see the forest for the trees. Meanwhile my 1960 Nikon F and 1969 Leica M4 are still going strong.
Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.
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