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Author Topic: What isn't "photography"?  (Read 33779 times)
ckimmerle
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« on: May 22, 2009, 09:45:57 AM »
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I'm stealing this topic from the latter pages of the "cropping" thread as it deserves its own discussion.

What is (and is not) photography?

While I disagree with Russ and some of the others about finding new names for images created using digital processes, I do have my limits. For instance, I was attending a presentation by a photographic educator recently where some previous Guggenheim application portfolios (finalists!) were shown. One of those portfolios caused me great grief and I was unable to prevent myself from making a statement and derailing a goodly portion of the intended presentation. In this particular "photographic" portfolio were scans of historical photographs, which were duly claimed by the presenter to be original and creative photography. These were not parts of other images, but were presented as stand-alone photographs in the portfolio. I was stunned. In my eyes, this was no more creative than photocopying a list of address, yet the presenter and many in the audience argued the merits of these unaltered scans. I was, as far as I could tell, the lone voice of dissent although, in reality, I probably had my backers. I was the only one brazen enough, though, to make this sort of comment during an art museum presentation.

Remember, I'm not talking about some random grant application, this was a Guggenheim FINALIST! (I do not know if it received the grant, or not)

To me, photography - especially fine art photography - is about exploring the world (people or rocks) through our own individual and unique vision, providing viewers with images that are much more emotionally valuable than the actual scene. It's a relationship between the photographer and the viewer, in which the image takes the place of words or emotions. How can this special relationship happen when the image in question is an identical copy of that of another photographer?

I realize that some people use a scanners unique attributes to create unique and compelling images, and with this rant I am not including them. I would even call them photographers....I think. My problem is with the literal and exact duplication of the works of others, under the banner of "photography", and the recognition these artists receive for it.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2009, 09:47:10 AM by ckimmerle » Logged

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust

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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2009, 11:46:57 AM »
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Chuck, You must know that I'm with you on this one 100%. But the "I think..." you tossed in might open that part of the subject to discussion.

By the way, I really like your photographs. I see you're into wabi sabi too.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2009, 01:20:56 PM »
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Quote from: ckimmerle
To me, photography - especially fine art photography - is about exploring the world (people or rocks) through our own individual and unique vision [...]

It might be this. But such thoughts on the purpose of art have been challenged since about the 1980s. Sherrie Levine is most famous for this photographing of photographs - to precisely the end of challenging the idea that any artwork is 'original', a product of 'our own individual and unique vision'. Clearly the works you describe sound like photographs - if it's a photograph of anything, it's a photograph - even if it's a photograph of a photograph. The question is if it's important or not. I think Levine's 'After Rodchenko' (copy of the series is in the Guggenheim Museum, New York), for example,  was important because it challenged the idea that the originality of a work of art was essential to its status as a work of art (instead, the work took on a critical function - it was critical of the idea of originality and authenticity). I don't know if the work that you refer to is important, though. If it's just saying the same as Levine's works, it probably isn't terribly important.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2009, 01:25:23 PM »
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A photog I heard at the local art museum said photography is literally "painting (or drawing) with light", which can be done a multitude of ways.  That's not a bad definition in my opinion, but, can someone explain how scanning an existing image is painting with light?  I suppose you could use a camera and copy stand instead of the scanner....

Or, putting it a different way, if making an image of an object with light is photography, then the question might be, is making an image of an image with light not photography?  And what would be the point unless there were some alteration or inclusion in a collage to distinguish the new image from the original?
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RSL
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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2009, 02:15:48 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
It might be this. But such thoughts on the purpose of art have been challenged since about the 1980s. Sherrie Levine is most famous for this photographing of photographs - to precisely the end of challenging the idea that any artwork is 'original', a product of 'our own individual and unique vision'. Clearly the works you describe sound like photographs - if it's a photograph of anything, it's a photograph - even if it's a photograph of a photograph. The question is if it's important or not. I think Levine's 'After Rodchenko' (copy of the series is in the Guggenheim Museum, New York), for example,  was important because it challenged the idea that the originality of a work of art was essential to its status as a work of art (instead, the work took on a critical function - it was critical of the idea of originality and authenticity). I don't know if the work that you refer to is important, though. If it's just saying the same as Levine's works, it probably isn't terribly important.

Wow! We could wind and wind around this axle and never get anywhere. This is a classic example of why most modern "modern art" is -- well, let's be polite and call it "baloney." The idea reminds me of a photograph by Elliott Erwitt of two men in a museum carefully examining two blank canvasses hung on the wall. It strikes me that if all you can photograph is someone else's photographs you are a blank canvas.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2009, 02:39:02 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
We could wind and wind around this axle and never get anywhere.

If we kept repeating it, we would get nowhere. But Levine's work got us somewhere, for sure.

The key is not to just repeat things, I guess - at least, not if you want them to register as important. But most of what's done in the name of photography - like most art forms - is merely repetition, as far as I can see.
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« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2009, 02:57:52 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
But most of what's done in the name of photography - like most art forms - is merely repetition, as far as I can see.

I guess that depends on which photographers you pay attention to and which photographs you look at. If what you're looking at is photographs of photographs I can understand your disenchantment.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2009, 02:58:19 PM by RSL » Logged

ChrisS
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« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2009, 03:16:41 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
I guess that depends on which photographers you pay attention to and which photographs you look at. If what you're looking at is photographs of photographs I can understand your disenchantment.

Yes, perhaps I'm looking at the wrong photographs. Or perhaps the likes of Levine tell us something that is easily overlooked, and easily dismissed.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2009, 03:17:41 PM by ChrisS » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2009, 03:55:39 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
Or perhaps the likes of Levine tell us something that is easily overlooked, and easily dismissed.

That's a kind of mysticism that escapes me.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2009, 04:13:47 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
That's a kind of mysticism that escapes me.

Is it mysticism? Read through my previous comments and I think I've outlined (albeit in a very reductive form) what it is that Levine's photographs tell us.

On the contrary, the notion of originality, of 'our own individual and unique vision' is precisely what is so often 'mystical', and what more recent art has turned away from for this very reason.
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« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2009, 04:17:08 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
Is it mysticism? Read through my previous comments and I think I've outlined (albeit in a very reductive form) what it is that Levine's photographs tell us.

On the contrary, the notion of originality, of 'our own individual and unique vision' is precisely what is so often 'mystical', and what more recent art has turned away from for this very reason.

ROTFL!
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ChrisS
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2009, 04:22:40 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
ROTFL!

I don't know what ROTFL! means, but I'm sure you're right.
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RSL
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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2009, 04:29:20 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
I don't know what ROTFL! means, but I'm sure you're right.

No question about it.
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2009, 06:36:45 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
No question about it.
I would agree.

As an aside this is the greatest work of art I've ever seen...

http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/...ntal-value.html

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daws
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« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2009, 08:40:23 PM »
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Quote from: ckimmerle
To me, photography - especially fine art photography - is about exploring the world (people or rocks) through our own individual and unique vision, providing viewers with images that are much more emotionally valuable than the actual scene. It's a relationship between the photographer and the viewer, in which the image takes the place of words or emotions.
Bingo.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #15 on: May 23, 2009, 12:00:10 AM »
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Yes, I guess you've seen through the veil of conceptual claptrap and cynical deceit that shores-up the world of fine art. There is absolutely nothing that the photographer, or anyone else for that matter, might learn from carefully looking at and thinking about Levine's work. And now I've seen the light, too.

I'm off to Arizona to photograph the rock formations at sunrise. On the way, I might take a few slow-shutter shots of a waterfall, a few quirky old buildings (preferably with the paint peeling), and a sunset. OR - perhaps someone could send me one of their shots of precisely the same thing and I'll just tinker a bit with it in Photoshop. I can really express myself that way. You know, do something that comes from my emotions, my inner world, something that's my personal vision - and then it'll be real art. What was it that was in Manzoni's tin?  
« Last Edit: May 23, 2009, 01:54:56 AM by ChrisS » Logged
dalethorn
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« Reply #16 on: May 23, 2009, 12:38:13 AM »
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Speaking of lamenting this and that, PhotoLife mag for May 2009 did a nice review of "50 Photographers You Should Know", with particular attention to Cartier-Bresson.  Then they lament the under-representation of female photographers in the book, which strikes me as odd, given the typical ratio I see in other publications.
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RSL
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« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2009, 10:23:10 AM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
I'm off to Arizona to photograph the rock formations at sunrise. On the way, I might take a few slow-shutter shots of a waterfall, a few quirky old buildings (preferably with the paint peeling), and a sunset. OR - perhaps someone could send me one of their shots of precisely the same thing and I'll just tinker a bit with it in Photoshop. I can really express myself that way. You know, do something that comes from my emotions, my inner world, something that's my personal vision - and then it'll be real art. What was it that was in Manzoni's tin?  

Chris,

Believe it or not I agree with you in some respects. For instance, I just received the latest edition of Black and White magazine -- the Special Issue that contains the rewards for the 2009 portfolio contest. There are some very fine photographs in there, but there also are the usual cliches: the carefully composed faces in front of "significant" backgrounds designed to convey allegorical meaning, the expressive collections of weeds before backgrounds dissolving into bokeh, the long gone and heavily decayed trucks and farm implements, the fuzzy photographs that look as if the shooter dropped his camera, displaced two or three lens elements, and went on shooting, the deeply shadowed belly buttons, etc., etc., etc.

If you've read some of the other threads on this forum you'll know I believe that in addition to belly button photos most landscape photography descends into cliche. But I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else. I love abandoned prairie structures. Not their interiors, but the buildings themselves -- the way they hunker down into their prairie surroundings and say: "I belonged to a family once, but the children fled the land and left me behind."

But what I love most of all is street photography. I can find a world of Ansel Adams cliches out there, but I have yet to find a cliche based on Elliott Erwitt's street work.

But photographing a photograph and calling it original work is so far over the top that I can't find a word in the English language that properly describes it. "Cheating" points in the right direction, but doesn't do the job. I'm astonished that anyone could do that with a straight face, but I'm more astonished that anyone, even those in the easily gulled "modern art" establishment would take it seriously.
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RSL
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« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2009, 10:24:23 AM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
Then they lament the under-representation of female photographers in the book, which strikes me as odd, given the typical ratio I see in other publications.

Dale, You just came face-to-face with political correctness.
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #19 on: May 23, 2009, 04:29:18 PM »
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Quote from: ChrisS
Yes, I guess you've seen through the veil of conceptual claptrap and cynical deceit that shores-up the world of fine art. There is absolutely nothing that the photographer, or anyone else for that matter, might learn from carefully looking at and thinking about Levine's work.

I've seen Levine's work with the Walker Evans photos and am unimpressed. It was, in my opinion only, a hollow concept in which the imagery was completely immaterial.  The artistic statements Levine claimed to be making could have easily been made using the work of Atget or Strand or Alfred Palmer. If the pieces are, themselves, irrelevant, what is the use of studying them?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the project should not be considered art (although I have my doubts), but it certainly should not and cannot be considered photography.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2009, 04:30:19 PM by ckimmerle » Logged

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust

Chuck Kimmerle
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