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Author Topic: Diminished by Quantity?  (Read 31846 times)
David White
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« on: August 17, 2006, 10:16:34 AM »
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There is an interesting article on Wired News this morning about digital photography as art.  His premise is, to quote, "The very act of making something easily achievable, and achievable by great numbers of people, diminishes the creation.  The article can be found here.
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2006, 10:31:02 AM »
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I think this is basically hogwash.  I think he's confusing static goals with creativity.  If everyone could easily climb Mt Everest or run a sub 3:47 mile then certainly, reaching those goals becomes trivialized.  I'd argue that the opposite happens in the realm of creativity.  There is no physical boundary that's reached - you can always improve.  

A small mind expirement.  Assume that photography (digital or otherwise) was taught with the same vigor in all our schools, as is math and practiced professionally by the same number as are employed today as lawyers - would we have more, better photographs or fewer?
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David White
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2006, 10:49:01 AM »
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Certainly creativity is foremost in the creation of art regardless of the medium.  But I wonder - suppose that Ansel did have access to our current technology and was able to produce hundreds of identical  prints of each of his negatives.  Would people pay $25,000 and more for one of those today?  What if there were 500 identical copies of the Mona Lisa produced by the artist?  We can have uniqueness in the creativity of the content of the image, but what of the uniqueness of the final print?
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« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2006, 11:49:37 AM »
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Certainly creativity is foremost in the creation of art regardless of the medium.  But I wonder - suppose that Ansel did have access to our current technology and was able to produce hundreds of identical  prints of each of his negatives.  Would people pay $25,000 and more for one of those today?  What if there were 500 identical copies of the Mona Lisa produced by the artist?  We can have uniqueness in the creativity of the content of the image, but what of the uniqueness of the final print?
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We have that problem today in the context of artist's prints - any idea how many Salvador Dali prints there are out there?

There are probably millions of copies of the Mona Lisa out there - does that make it any less a masterpiece?    

This argument is a bit like saying that since everyone has a CD of Beethoven's ninth that it isn't any good anymore.  My point is that if any Joe on the street could produce a 9th, just think what someone really really good could create.  

Tony's point was that since "everyone" can make a digital shot look "good" that it's not art.   All he's really saying is that if he were to choose an artistic endeavor he'd choose a less competitive field - perhaps sculpturing individual grains of rice.
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David White
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« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2006, 12:21:37 PM »
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There are many sides to this.  There is the creative/artistic value and the perceived value.  I can certainly appreciate prints of fine art, in fact I have several hanging on my walls.  I think that the "value" of a work of art can be approached on many levels.

Do we perceive the value of a mass produced work of art the same as a single copy produced by the same artist?  I suspect that original art has a higher perceived value than art which can be produced identivcally an infinite number of times.  The creation of art has moved from a hand-crafted media to a computer generated media and I think that the public and the art world does not perceive the same level of craftsmanship to be present in digital output.
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David White
alainbriot
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« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2006, 12:35:52 PM »
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There are many sides to this. There is the creative/artistic value and the perceived value. I can certainly appreciate prints of fine art, in fact I have several hanging on my walls. I think that the "value" of a work of art can be approached on many levels.

Do we perceive the value of a mass produced work of art the same as a single copy produced by the same artist? I suspect that original art has a higher perceived value than art which can be produced identivcally an infinite number of times. The creation of art has moved from a hand-crafted media to a computer generated media and I think that the public and the art world does not perceive the same level of craftsmanship to be present in digital output.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=73658\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I haven't read the essay referred to in this thread yet but the comments here remind me of the importance of reading Walter Benjamin's essay "The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" as it is basically "required reading" before engaging in an argument like this one. As a short-short "cliffnote" Benjamin introduced the concept of the "Aura" of an original piece, let's say a painting (the Joconde/Mona Lisa for example).  The Aura is only present in the original, not in reproductions.  Note that I do not fully agree with Benjamin.  I am only providing this information to summarize his point.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2006, 12:36:57 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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svein-frode
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« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2006, 12:57:43 PM »
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I'll admit that I think the writer has a good point. The digital revolution has in many ways diminished photography. The act of making a decent image is easier for anyone than ever before. On the other hand, with all the crap floating around on the web and in galleries, it is easier to spot great work also. It's like spotting a piece of gold on the surface of a vulcanic beach. The great images and the great prints will always stand out.

Look at it this way. You walk around in a big city with heavy traffic. On rare occations you'll notice a nice car, but not think much about it. But then, a Lamborghini drives by and you immediatley turn your head in awe. We are bombarded with images each and every day and more often than ever, but I think it is a good thing. With the widespread use of images, the tiny percentage used as Art will stand out, and the good ones will jumpstart our hearts.
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David White
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« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2006, 12:58:20 PM »
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I haven't read the essay referred to in this thread yet but the comments here remind me of the importance of reading Walter Benjamin's essay "The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" as it is basically "required reading" before engaging in an argument like this one. As a short-short "cliffnote" Benjamin introduced the concept of the "Aura" of an original piece, let's say a painting (the Joconde/Mona Lisa for example).  The Aura is only present in the original, not in reproductions.  Note that I do not fully agree with Benjamin.  I am only providing this information to summarize his point.
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Alain,

Thanks for the tip about the essay.  I'm in the middle of sanding and pressure washing my deck, but a quick glance at it has piqued my interest.  It appears that it will be very interesting reading and I certainly plan on doing that later today.

For anyone else interested, the essay can be found [a href=\"http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm]here.  [/url]
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David White
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« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2006, 01:05:33 PM »
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What we really talk about is photography becoming Kitsch, which it in many ways is. Clement Greenbergs provocative essay still has much merit today and to this discussion. For anyone interested it is found here: http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2006, 01:39:12 PM »
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Look at it this way. You walk around in a big city with heavy traffic. On rare occations you'll notice a nice car, but not think much about it. But then, a Lamborghini drives by and you immediatley turn your head in awe. We are bombarded with images each and every day and more often than ever, but I think it is a good thing. With the widespread use of images, the tiny percentage used as Art will stand out, and the good ones will jumpstart our hearts.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=73667\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I like this analogy.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2006, 02:54:39 AM »
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My view is that digital cameras and the digital dark room only speed up the process that goes from starting photography to reaching one's creative limits at a certain point of time.

In the film days, higher technical barriers prevented an efficient convergence towards one's vision - or even the developement of a vision - while the immediate feedback provided by the TFT screen/histogram of the digital camera helps getting rid of these barriers.

In the end, what remains is a vision whose quality depends on the talent of the artist. As I have been stating regularly here, this vision is independant from the medium, and can be unleached just as well with a 3MP Sony than it can with a 39 MP P45, but both of these tools will indeed enable this vision to come accross accurately more easily than a 35 mm film camera ever did.

Overall, I am not sure that things have fundamentaly changed.

The discussion of the value of an original vs reproductions is also very important, but might be a slightly different point IMHO.

Cheers,
Bernard
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A few images online here!
Hank
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2006, 10:40:52 AM »
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My outlook on life is mostly optimistic rather than pessimistic, but in our business there appears to be an emerging up side.  Yes, the mechanics of photography are a lot easier and it is certainly more accessible.  But as a result lots more people are interested in photography and aware of good results, even to the point of recognizing and respecting the difficulty in achieving and ultimate value of really good photography.

This is reflected in both sides of our business.  We appear to be "losing" jobs once potential clients learn our rates, often saying something like "I'll just take the shots myself" or "My aunt Susie has a digital camera, so I'll ask her to do it."  But more often than not, the same folks return a few days later to arrange another stab at their shoot, this time not quibbling about rates or shooting times.

We experience a similar outcome on print sales.  Viewers have a more discerning eye and along with the usual questions about gear, also recount their own failed attempts to achieve similar results.  They seem MORE willing to plunk the bucks for our prints, both because of their own experiences and because they are more interested in photography due to their access via digital.

However you analyze the root causes, one thing is clear:  Our volume is up both in commercial shooting and print sales.  You still have to wade through the "sticker shock" on our rates, but after that there's less quibbling than before the market was sloshed with digital.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2006, 03:55:24 PM »
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Overall, I am not sure that things have fundamentaly changed.
Bernard
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Indeed. Below are quotes from the essay with my comments in parenthesis.  I only quoted the passages where the author describes photography:

"I liked the lab work as much as the fieldwork" (replace lab by digital)

"The darkroom was where the real art was made." (add "digital" before "darkroom")

"The negative was your raw material." (replace negative by Raw file or Scan)

"I worked in formats from 35 mm to 8x10, depending on the subject matter and the equipment at hand" (no change needed here)

"But what you did with it once it was in the enlarger determined whether or not you walked out of there with a "photograph" or merely a "snapshot." (replace enlarger by computer or the name of your favorite software)

"What to crop, what to retain?" (same today)

"Burning in here, dodging a bit there." (same, except we now have far better control)

"How did that lint get on the negative?" (replace lint with dust and negative with sensor)

"Feeling the stop bath sear your cuticles."  (no direct equivalent but no one except the author misses the pain ;-))

"Choosing the right paper stock." (still one of the most important choices today)

"In other words, it was hands-on." (still is)

"It required some honest sweat."  (still does)

"It required time."  (always will)

"When you were finished, and assuming you had done sterling work, you had produced a piece of art. (I couldn't agree more)
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Alain Briot
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John Camp
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2006, 07:51:34 PM »
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>>The discussion of the value of an original vs reproductions is also very important, but might be a slightly different point IMHO.<<


One question is, "What's an original?" With digital reproduction, it's possible to essentially make as many "originals" as you want, as there is no detectable difference between the copies. That's not true either with wet darkrooms or painting. I have a modest collection of photos, and I can tell you that before each purchase there is always a discussion of whether the print "is a good one." Is it a good Moonrise or a good Running White Deer, or is it a slightly-off version?

Then, in something that has nothing to do with aesthetics, a lot of well-known photographers have begun editioning their prints, to make them artificially scarce. This actually works; I own a one-of-nine Mapplethorpe flower print, and every year or so the dealer I bought it from (in '94 or so) calls me up to see if I want to sell it, because they have become extremely hard to get. But Mapplethorpe could have made a thousand prints of the same picture, and it wouldn't have diminished my experience of the print at all; but if he had, I can guarantee that nobody would be calling me up.

If we lived in a particular kind of non-human society where nobody had the snob impulse, then the best photographers would make hundreds of their prints available at modest prices, and everybody would be satisifed by the purely aesthetic experience, and the artist would make as much money as they do now with a liimited edition. But, one-upmanship is purely human, so here we are, buying limited editions.

Here's an idea for the ultimate modern aesthetic experience: make ONE copy of a great photo, have it shown in a good museum, then get a picture of yourself burning it, and sell a limited edition those pictures. Hmmm...now if I could just make one great photo...

JC
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alainbriot
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2006, 10:25:48 PM »
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John,

You make an excellent point and I agree with what you say.  But regarding making as many copies of an original as possible (let's say 100's or 1000's although it could be more) something has to be said for spending your time printing rather than creating new work.  Printing 10 images takes a certain amount of time.  Printing 100 images takes much more time (10 times more) and so on.  Since there are only 24hrs in a day, no matter who we are, the number of prints we make per image basically affects how many new images we can create.

This extends to other arts.  For example, in Native American arts (it could be any art, this is just an example I am familiar with), an artist may create a sculpture, a jewelry piece, a basket, a rug, etc., find it sells well, and decide to just "crank out" as many copies of that one piece as will sell.  Another artist may just make that one piece, then move on to making different pieces.

And even though all the pieces might look equally beautiful, and be just as carefully crafted, there is something about owning a piece created in small numbers -or a unique piece-  that I personally like.

So while artists may use quantiy as a way to create scarcity, they may also be using quantity as a way to control what they spend their time doing, either printing (or recreating) the same piece endlessly, or creating new pieces and moving further with their art.  Eventually all artists face this dilemna.
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2006, 11:42:40 PM »
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But regarding making as many copies of an original as possible (let's say 100's or 1000's although it could be more) something has to be said for spending your time printing rather than creating new work.  Printing 10 images takes a certain amount of time.  Printing 100 images takes much more time (10 times more) and so on.  Since there are only 24hrs in a day, no matter who we are, the number of prints we make per image basically affects how many new images we can create.
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Alain,
You might personally insist on spending your time supervising the printing process of each print that comes off a 30m roll of paper, but is it necessary?

Once you've editied the image, selected the paper and the appropriate profile, the amount of supervision required is minimal, is it not? If you insist on being there whilst the printer churns out print after print, you can be doing other things, like editing your next image. If you have a reliable assistant, you can take off and shoot some more photos whilst the printer is busy churning out its thousandth print. Printers are that reliable, are they not?

I don't want to appear negative, but we should confront reality.
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David White
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« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2006, 12:27:11 AM »
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And even though all the pieces might look equally beautiful, and be just as carefully crafted, there is something about owning a piece created in small numbers -or a unique piece-  that I personally like.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=73899\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

There are several values that may be associated with a work of art.  There is the artistic merit, which for photography, does not diminish with the quantity produced - assuming that all pieces are printed equally.

There is also the street value.  This would normally tend to decrease as the quantity of prints increases independent of the artistic value.

Thirdly, we have the value of ownership to which Alain refers.  To put it mathematically, it could be loosely described as the artistic value + the street value.  The more unique, and the higher the esthetics of the piece the more value it would have to the owner.

I have a large print of Mark Rothko's Brown, Blue, Brown on Blue hanging in my living room.  I greatly admire the print, even though it is only a printed copy.  But the reason I like it is because of the artistic value and the response it evokes in me.

I also have a vintage W. Eugene Smith photograph from World War II.  It has a great deal of artistic value and is number 8 of 11 prints made from the negative making it fairly unique.  It also has a somewhat high street value.  I enjoy both prints equally artistically but have to admit a certain pride of ownership with this print.

Both of these peices speak to me and evoke an emotional response regardless of the quantity produced.  In a contest, the W. Eugene Smith would win only because it is valuable and irreplaceable and I can always buy another print of the Mark Rothko.

The bottom line is that the quantity does not determine the artistic value, but that there are other values present with any work of art which can be affected by the number of pieces produced.
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« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2006, 01:23:32 AM »
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Alain,
You might personally insist on spending your time supervising the printing process of each print that comes off a 30m roll of paper, but is it necessary?

Once you've editied the image, selected the paper and the appropriate profile, the amount of supervision required is minimal, is it not? If you insist on being there whilst the printer churns out print after print, you can be doing other things, like editing your next image. If you have a reliable assistant, you can take off and shoot some more photos whilst the printer is busy churning out its thousandth print. Printers are that reliable, are they not?

I don't want to appear negative, but we should confront reality.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=73903\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

What you describe is not the way I work.  I print everything myself and I do printing and nothing else when I print.  Then there is curating, mounting, matting, framing if framed, etc. It's actually a complex process and this short description does not do it justice. To let the printer work unattended is, in my approach, asking for trouble.  Nozzles can easily clog and printing needs to be supervised to see if this is the case.  I get fairly nervous when I print and find it difficult to do much of anything else except menial tasks.  Some may be able to let the printer work and move on to creative endeavors.  I simply cannot do that, this simply isn't me. So in my situation printing is THE creative endeavor.  So the more prints of one image I make, the less time I have to make other images.  I simply can't imagine going out on a photography expedition while my printer is working unattended.  Long papper rolls cannot simply unwind on the floor.  If so, prints get scratched.  One has to cut each print as it starts to reach the floor, or stretch it in front of the printer so it lays flat and the image faces up.  But there is a length limit, and when reached this means the printer has to be paused, the print cut off, and the printing resumed.  There is also the ink carts running dry, and having to be replaced within seconds or the print will have a mark where the ink dried before the cart was replaced.  Finally I often print on loose sheets, of various sizes.  In that case in the 9800 its one shett at a time. In the 4800 I can stack about 20 sheets, but feeding problems occur regularly and have to be taken care of or the printing is paused and then nothing happens until I take care of that.  Then there is the need to restack sheets.  And there is more but this post is already extremely long...
« Last Edit: August 20, 2006, 01:35:21 AM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2006, 01:35:03 AM »
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What you describe is not the way I work.  I print everything myself and I do printing and nothing else when I print.


But that was not the question. The question was: is it necessary?

Which is relevant in the context of the OP; the process of reproduction can be automated...
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Regards,
Oscar Rysdyk
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2006, 01:36:20 AM »
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But that was not the question. The question was: is it necessary?

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I can't speak for others but for me the answer is Yes, it is necessary.
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Alain Briot
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