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Author Topic: The baker's wife  (Read 4902 times)
Andres Bonilla
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« Reply #20 on: December 30, 2010, 01:26:08 AM »
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I didn't miss the point at all. The baker's wife was gracious enough to invute the photographer into her home as a guest, and he took advantage of that privilege by shooting her like a zoo animal. This photo tells us nothing about her and the circumstances of her life. She and her husband may be very happy. They may be the richest people in town. They may even be in a position to help others in need. That room may only look like that on laundry day. Can anyone here say that none of those scenarios are possible? Of course you can't. We're left clueless, with nothing but a photographer's personal agenda to fill in the blanks for us. The baker's wife is no longer a human being but a cipher for us to hang whatever labels we choose on her. I say that it is you who miss point. A photographer's reponsibility doesn't end just because a stranger has decided to trust you. On the contrary, it's just beginning.


I am a little confused as to your logic, what exactly in this photo gives you the feeling of somehow an exploitation of a poor woman for the sake of photography? That would invalidate any photo of the Great Depression where countless anonymous families were photographed as part of an indelible record of American history.
When I posted this photograph a while ago, I did with a written background; I was quickly told by many photographers that they would much prefer the photo without the explanation; so they could make their own connections, think their own context according to their interpretations
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« Reply #21 on: December 30, 2010, 10:37:30 AM »
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.
So no it is not part of a series but rather an impromptu photo that came as a result of a candid conversation. I had to capture as much as I could in that fleeting moment. This is usually the situation that presents in my shootings. I have shot series with more time like this photo.   

She sounds like an interesting person. Perhaps some day you'll be able to go back to Veracruz and do a series on her.
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« Reply #22 on: December 30, 2010, 11:08:49 AM »
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I am a little confused as to your logic, what exactly in this photo gives you the feeling of somehow an exploitation of a poor woman for the sake of photography? That would invalidate any photo of the Great Depression where countless anonymous families were photographed as part of an indelible record of American history.
When I posted this photograph a while ago, I did with a written background; I was quickly told by many photographers that they would much prefer the photo without the explanation; so they could make their own connections, think their own context according to their interpretations

I would have preferred the explanation. Without it we have no sense of who she is. All we have is a stark image from which we are meant to imagine the particulars of her life. I want to know more.

I'm glad you brought up depression era photographs, because that's Something that was on my mind when I was posting about your photo. I think most people think of Walker Evans when they think of depression era photographs, and there's no doubt that he was very influential and an accomplished artist. But primarily he was a propagandist working for the federal government. His photographs were intended to drum up popular support for the New Deal in the 30s. And like all propaganda, they were lies. Not too long ago Evans' contact sheets were made public and it caused a scandal around one particular photo of a dustbowl mother with her small children, looking very grim and downtrodden. It's probably his single most famous photograph. Well, it turns out that the bulk of the photos he took of that family show them smiling, laughing, horsing around and enjoying each other's company. But none of those were suitable for Evans' political agenda. He needed to depict destitution. So he deliberatley passed over those shots that showed the family enjoying themselves and picked the one that fit his purposes. He reduced that family to a one-dimemsional icon. It's a powerful photo to be sure, but it's also a lie, because the family was so much more than what the propganda allowed them to seen as.
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Andres Bonilla
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« Reply #23 on: December 30, 2010, 11:56:49 AM »
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Well this would depend on the actual facts of the situation you are photographing, if you have 40 shots of kids smiling and playing with their puppy and choose to show them sad or pensive ; it could probably be manipulative and propagandistic. Now if you are and magazine editor and you sent your photographer to shot a story of Haiti after the quake; what do you rather see the devastation that can not be masked or maybe the couple of shots of some kids playing in the rubble ? Not all, actually hardly ever you have the luxury of doing a series on a subject. That is the beauty and difficulty with any kind of photography. I am privileged; I get to do interviews, use dissolves, use music and narration on a 4 minutes piece. Most newspapers and magazines have to tell the whole story in one shot.

The fact that Evans chose to use the photo that he believed depicted the times instead of the other "happy" ones, does not negate the grim reality of the 30's. I think I understand your logic, when I posted this photo one photographer did not care for their expression; he found it incongruous with the surroundings, he wanted them sad or crying...but that was not the situation or reality when I photographed them, to have them make faces for me would have been manipulative and unethical. Still it is what it is, this is how they live and I am sure if I would have followed them long enough I could capture them playing in their dirt backyard.
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« Reply #24 on: December 30, 2010, 12:08:32 PM »
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With photographs like these I think context becomes very important. A photographer on assignment to shoot the devastation and suffering in Haiti is there to provide part of the story about what's going on. No magazine would publish just one photo from there with no background explanation whatsoever.
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Andres Bonilla
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« Reply #25 on: December 30, 2010, 12:26:00 PM »
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But a good photo should stand on its own, a great photo should not need a caption. Of course a magazine or newspaper would run an explanation or article on the subject, still the person on assignment has to choose between the shots that represent the whole spirit of the theme. When you send a picture to be juried most of the times they ask you to provide location and sometimes gear..that is it!! I feel that if you have to provide a lengthy explanation or several shots for the viewer to grasp your subject essence, then maybe the photo is not as powerful as you want it to be. I am not being a purist here, I use Photoshop and I chose the photo that best describe what I perceived during the shooting. I would never purposely choose the one that fits my preconceived notion of the subject.
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« Reply #26 on: December 30, 2010, 03:05:02 PM »
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But a good photo should stand on its own, a great photo should not need a caption.

Exactly. And the photo in question does precisely that: it stands on its own feet and doesn't need a caption

Pop, evidently you've never gone through Robert Frank's The Americans, or Elliott Erwitt's Personal Best. These are just two among many great photo books that leave off the captions. The Americans does have a list of locations in the back of the book, and Personal Best has more extensive information in the back for those who need to have everything explained in detail. Neither of these books is made up of "photo essays," but both are among the most influential photographic collections of the twentieth century. You may be right that no magazine would publish just one photo with no background explanation whatsoever, but that's a problem with the magazine, not with the photograph.
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« Reply #27 on: December 30, 2010, 04:18:26 PM »
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Exactly. And the photo in question does precisely that: it stands on its own feet and doesn't need a caption

Pop, evidently you've never gone through Robert Frank's The Americans, or Elliott Erwitt's Personal Best. These are just two among many great photo books that leave off the captions. The Americans does have a list of locations in the back of the book, and Personal Best has more extensive information in the back for those who need to have everything explained in detail. Neither of these books is made up of "photo essays," but both are among the most influential photographic collections of the twentieth century. You may be right that no magazine would publish just one photo with no background explanation whatsoever, but that's a problem with the magazine, not with the photograph.
Be careful with your assumptions there, Russ. I own a copy of The Americans and I think it's a seminal work. It's also a record of a road trip across America and very much an impressionistic photo essay. It's an altogether different kind of photography that what Andres was doing. Frank's work is really street photography and a direct descendant of Cartier-Bresson. It's all about the decisive moment. The Baker's Wife feels like a page ripped from a magazine containing an in-depth series about this woman and her family. From a strictly technical standpoint it's a fine photograph--well composed and exposed. But the subject matter cries out for more than what we're given with just this one shot.
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« Reply #28 on: December 30, 2010, 04:27:19 PM »
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I want to change the subject here for a moment and call attention to a photograph that Andres unceremoniously inserted into this thread. It's of a girl sitting in a room with a TV next to her. I think it's a fascinating shot. it has an oddly staged and surreal look about it and I just think the whole thing works brilliantly. OK, that's all.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2010, 04:31:26 PM by popnfresh » Logged
Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #29 on: December 30, 2010, 06:44:11 PM »
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I want to change the subject here for a moment and call attention to a photograph that Andres unceremoniously inserted into this thread. It's of a girl sitting in a room with a TV next to her. I think it's a fascinating shot. it has an oddly staged and surreal look about it and I just think the whole thing works brilliantly. OK, that's all.
He has four photos (so far) in this thread, and I find them all quite moving. The simplest to interpret is the one of the two kids sitting side by side, but even that has some interesting ambiguity.

Eric
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« Reply #30 on: December 30, 2010, 06:54:00 PM »
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I own a copy of The Americans and I think it's a seminal work. It's also a record of a road trip across America and very much an impressionistic photo essay. It's an altogether different kind of photography that what Andres was doing. Frank's work is really street photography and a direct descendant of Cartier-Bresson.

I think I can agree that, taken as a whole, The Americans can be considered a photo essay, but only in a very general way. But any one of Frank's photographs, taken out of the book stands on its own feet, just as Andres's picture stands on its own feet. Nowhere in the book does Frank create the kind of "photo essay" Gene Smith created in, say, "Country Doctor." From what you've posted so far it sounds as if what you want from Andres is a "Country Doctor" version of the woman's life. Also, careful with the "direct descendent" from HCB idea. Frank's work is no more a direct descendent of Henri's work than it is of Atget's work or Walker Evans's work. Frank's street work was very different from Cartier-Bresson's. Frank broke away, very positively, one might even say violently from HCB's formal use of the compositional rules he'd learned as an aspiring painter.

By the way, Pop, it's a bit hard to weigh your criticisms when there doesn't seem to be any of your own work available that might give me a clue about your choice of and familiarity with street photography or any other particular photographic genre. Is there such a place?
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Jay101
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« Reply #31 on: December 30, 2010, 08:51:44 PM »
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I liked this image a lot.  Really made me stop and look into it for a while.  Good job!
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« Reply #32 on: December 31, 2010, 06:24:29 AM »
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I think I can agree that, taken as a whole, The Americans can be considered a photo essay, but only in a very general way. But any one of Frank's photographs, taken out of the book stands on its own feet, just as Andres's picture stands on its own feet. Nowhere in the book does Frank create the kind of "photo essay" Gene Smith created in, say, "Country Doctor." From what you've posted so far it sounds as if what you want from Andres is a "Country Doctor" version of the woman's life. Also, careful with the "direct descendent" from HCB idea. Frank's work is no more a direct descendant of Henri's work than it is of Atget's work or Walker Evans's work. Frank's street work was very different from Cartier-Bresson's. Frank broke away, very positively, one might even say violently from HCB's formal use of the compositional rules he'd learned as an aspiring painter.

By the way, Pop, it's a bit hard to weigh your criticisms when there doesn't seem to be any of your own work available that might give me a clue about your choice of and familiarity with street photography or any other particular photographic genre. Is there such a place?

When I say "direct descendant" I don't mean "copycat". Frank built upon what HCB accomplished and developed his own unique style. Both HCB and Frank captured fleeting moments of life as it passed by. Very different from what Evans was after. Evans frequently arranged his scenes and posed his subjects to suit his propagandist objectives. Frank and HCB were keen observers who captured life as it streamed by. Frank even more so. He said that the reason so many of his shots are out of focus was that things happened too fast for him to adjust the lens so he just went with it. But the effect worked.

As for my own work, I've posted a number of my shots to this forum over time, but that's completely irrelevant. One does not have to practice a particular art form in order to critique it intelligently and understand the work within the context of the history of the form. Film reviewers are rarely film makers, for example, and yet they seem to be able to critique films very well. A historian doesn't need to have fought in the Peloponnesian War in order to write about it. To suggest that one has to practice an art form in order to critique it is absurd. No one who posts here owes you any credentials, Russ. I'm comfortable with my level of knowledge of and experience with fine art photography and I could care less about demonstrating to you that I'm "worthy" of commenting here. If you don't like that, then it's just too bad.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2010, 06:40:42 AM by popnfresh » Logged
RSL
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« Reply #33 on: December 31, 2010, 03:32:19 PM »
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When I say "direct descendant" I don't mean "copycat". Frank built upon what HCB accomplished and developed his own unique style. Both HCB and Frank captured fleeting moments of life as it passed by. Very different from what Evans was after. Evans frequently arranged his scenes and posed his subjects to suit his propagandist objectives. Frank and HCB were keen observers who captured life as it streamed by. Frank even more so. He said that the reason so many of his shots are out of focus was that things happened too fast for him to adjust the lens so he just went with it. But the effect worked.

As for my own work, I've posted a number of my shots to this forum over time, but that's completely irrelevant. One does not have to practice a particular art form in order to critique it intelligently and understand the work within the context of the history of the form. Film reviewers are rarely film makers, for example, and yet they seem to be able to critique films very well. A historian doesn't need to have fought in the Peloponnesian War in order to write about it. To suggest that one has to practice an art form in order to critique it is absurd. No one who posts here owes you any credentials, Russ. I'm comfortable with my level of knowledge of and experience with fine art photography and I could care less about demonstrating to you that I'm "worthy" of commenting here. If you don't like that, then it's just too bad.

Sorry to have caused you pain, but I always like to see a critic's own work. What you think about the "absurdity" of that as a credential to the contrary notwithstanding, it helps me judge the validity of the criticism. But you're right, you don't owe me any credentials, and the other side of that coin is that I don't owe your critique serious consideration.

I suggest you find a copy of Looking In and read it from cover to cover. If you that do you'll discover that Frank was considerably more influenced by Walker Evans than by Cartier-Bresson. You'll also discover that what Frank was after was very much what Evans also was after, and Frank admitted it.

To say that "Evans frequently arranged his scenes and posed his subjects to suit his propagandist objectives" makes it clear you don't know much about Walker Evans. In the first place, the reason Roy Striker fired Walker from the FSA was that Walker refused to carry out the propaganda assignments Roy gave him in accordance with the objectives of the Roosevelt administration. Evidently your knowledge of Evans is confined to his work in books like Let Us Now Praise Famous Men where he did, in fact, pose subjects in front of his 8 x 10 view camera. But if you don't think Evans was a street photographer, check American Photographs and Many Are Called. Those two books are just a start. There's a lot more. For a more wide-ranging picture of Evans's work, check The Hungry Eye and Walker Evans, The Lost Work.

To say that "Frank built upon what HCB accomplished" is a bit like saying Frank is descended from Adam. Everyone from the second half of the twentieth century has been influenced by and has built upon what HCB accomplished. Henri was the most influential photographer of that century. But for most photographers after HCB there were many other influences, and Robert Frank is no exception.
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« Reply #34 on: December 31, 2010, 05:38:41 PM »
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Well, Russ, I have to admit that you know more about Walker Evans than I do. But I still stand my the rest of my post. And frankly I don't care one bit if you take me seriously or not.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2010, 05:43:03 PM by popnfresh » Logged
Andres Bonilla
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« Reply #35 on: December 31, 2010, 07:01:16 PM »
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Well to be honest I am enjoying this discussion quiet a bit because it has given me lots of material to research; obviously both Russ and Pops know a great deal of photographic history. So I will look up at some of the work mentioned.

Lastly here is one of the few photos where I have been asked by most people more information on the subject matter, a written background; they wanted to know if their imagination or assumptions were right. Happy New Year!!

Here it is " Jesus Mendes came to Mexico from Guatemala with the intention of crossing the border to USA. When the coyote explained the plan he panicked, the trek involved crossing the Rio Nuevo between Mexicali and Calexico. "I am not a strong swimmer" he told me, besides he was aware of the level of pollution of the New River; he knew it was loaded with chemicals from the local factories plus all the sewage from both cities. He escaped the human traffickers and decided to cross on his own. He hoped on a freight train but lost his balance, when he woke up he learned the wheels had mangled his right leg. Now he stays at the "Mana" house where is taken care of by volunteers. He awaits for an answer from the Guatemalan consulate. I am in limbo he said, I just want to go back home.
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« Reply #36 on: December 31, 2010, 07:20:36 PM »
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Andres, I think this is a terrific portrait. But also, I find myself more willing to accept it as a standalone image than The Baker's Wife. This whole discussion began over the issue as to whether TBW was telling a story or not. Some said yes and I said, essentially, that I couldn't glean any particulars about her life from that shot. It implies many things but it doesn't really tell me anything specific about her. And I've been thinking about it a lot since then. I think at the end of the day TBW can be taken on a couple of levels. On one it's an interesting environmental portrait. But the way it makes the most sense to me is as an editorial picture--one that is part of a larger group of pictures or included with an article about a particular subject. And the reason I feel that way about it is because it's a posed shot in an intimate, personal setting. It's not a spontaneous street scene. The posing and the setting suggest a larger purpose for taking the shot. As one shot in an essay about her life I think it would be brilliant. As a standalone picture I feel as though someone has taken a delicious dessert from me after taking only the first bite.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2010, 07:25:51 PM by popnfresh » Logged
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« Reply #37 on: January 01, 2011, 06:18:38 PM »
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As one shot in an essay about her life I think it would be brilliant. As a standalone picture I feel as though someone has taken a delicious dessert from me after taking only the first bite.
And that is precisely what I think makes a powerful and successful single image!

Julie
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« Reply #38 on: January 06, 2011, 04:19:34 PM »
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Andres,
Beautiful work. The title photograph is strong on it's own merit, with or without caption. Wonderful color, composition and depth, I would love to see it in a print.
Your photograph of the child in the hospital is very moving, the parent asleep (or possibly in prayer) with head on the bed speaks volumes to one who has spent many hours bedside in hospitals.
Thank you for sharing.
Dave
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Thank you for looking, comments and critiques are always welcome.
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Andres Bonilla
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« Reply #39 on: January 07, 2011, 05:15:00 PM »
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And that is precisely what I think makes a powerful and successful single image!

Julie

Thanks Julie! The debate goes on Smiley
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