4.14.2019

Searching for meaning in the current state of photography.

Reflection. Sixth Street. Austin, Texas 

Lotta hand-wringing going on about the state of photography today. Most of it pessimistic and some of it downright apocalyptic. We seem to have gotten to the point where people who have been doing photography for a long time have the perception that everything that gives "real" meaning to the craft is in the process of imploding. The sale of "serious" cameras is in decline, there are no new superstar photographers rising from the modern ranks to take up the mantle being discarded by our dying super heroes of the 20th century. There's even a ripping of cloth and a wringing of hands  over the lack of curators placed to guide us to whatever meaningful crumbs are still left. 

Most of us writers have in our heads our lists of all time great photographers and we carry it around with us like holy scripture; sadly, there is little impetus to make many changes in our structural hierarchy of master photographers even though ones most of us carry around did their best work forty or fifty years ago. In our collective haste to grasp onto seemingly connected life buoys; remnants of the curated past, we tend to reflexively make bad decisions. How else to explain the popularity of MFA-Style hacks like Alex Soth? No one who has really taken time to look long and hard at his work would really consider him as a replacement for any of the Thaddeus John Szarkowski Corps of New Documentarians or Window people, or even Mirror people.  

What we have here is a failure to understand the tectonic shift that happened to photography as a result of going from collected physical object to program flow. Our engagement with photographs, like that of everyone else in our culture, has gone from a contract that revolved around holding a physical object in our hands and looking at it and its corresponding pieces in a one-at-a-time embrace. We also like sorting stuff, categorizing it and putting it in neat stacks. A physical print made our brain happy in a certain way. If we liked something that other, cooler people liked then we were on the threshold of being part of a cult of appreciation. If we wanted to step over the threshold we could buy and "own" the actual physical manifestation of the artist's intention. Which seemingly conferred a certain part of its power to us as the new stakeholder. 

While people use new tools to shoot much of the same stuff the two shifts that changed everything in the embrace of modern photography were that there is no implied cost to additionally own the camera that already comes in our phones, making, for the first time in history, the creation of the visual/intellectual content FREE. Also, for the first time in the history of history everyone could share, disseminate, spam, curate, disgorge and present their work to, potentially, the entire connected world, also at no discernible financial cost. It's the ultimate expression of the market economy. And, at the same time, pure art socialism.

In the old days, with much less handholding and information sharing, one would learn the intricacies of film photography and then the magic of the darkroom. Proficiency took much longer and was painfully expensive for most. Proficiency took longer because the feedback loop that is part of any education was also much longer. Days instead of seconds. If people can learn to take technically good images with phones, and we reduce the time of their learning curve massively, is it any wonder that the world is inundated with new photographs? Many of them very, very good.

The problem for people with both an ego investment and a financial investment in traditional photography is that the new progression of the craft seems unfair. The old guard still wants barriers to entry. Knowing that digital cameras have become almost universally available they've shifted the barriers from economic ones to more ephemeral requirements for entry into "real" photography. 

The biggest stumbler is the idea that no photograph has value unless it is printed. Once it enters the printing milieu the value of the image rests on many physical attributes. There are extra points awarded for larger prints. Even more extra points if the image is printed on costly paper stocks. Super points for images printed as black and white prints. And maximum points when one goes all Sebastiåo Salgado and has physical internegatives made from their digital images in order to print the digital images onto traditional double weight, black and white, archival paper, in a traditional darkroom. This fascination with ordination by printing is the first step in creating an orthodoxy for appreciating "real" photography. If your fingernails don't turn black and if your shirts are all stained with brown fixer splashes then you haven't graduated to "real photography" yet, or so goes the thinking.

Next is the idea that someone important and certified needs to vet the work, and the artist, before they can be let into the private club which confers authenticity to the artist and the work. In the recent past being included with a spread of images in an arts oriented photography magazine was one way of attaining bonafide celebrity. If you got your portfolio into Lens Work Magazine you were one step closer to one of the ultimate prizes; either inclusion into a museum show or acceptance by a name gallery. Hopefully a gallery where Penn or Avedon images once hung, or a museum attached to a real, world class collection of past photography masters. If you were lucky enough to get into the Modern  with anything at all you could conceivably be the next Stephen Shore. The third most banal, widely collected photographer in the western world. Brought to you by......Thaddeus John Szarkowski and his celebrity photographer making machine at the Modern

So, now photography is more or less universally enjoyed on screens, from artists located all over the world, and damn few of them have ever had their rings kissed by the photographic kingmakers from....anywhere. I see more beautiful portrait work in five minutes on my Instagram feed than I have seen in an adult lifetime of visiting galleries and museums. Amazing stuff. All ephemeral in a sense because it doesn't exist over time, in a physical state. 

And this drives the old guard absolutely crazy. "Who let these interlopers into our once gated communities? Where are the curators? Where is that artist's vitae of shows? Which gallery represents them? Left to our own devices how will we know whether they are good or not? Did they study with Minor White? Did they matriculate through the Yale program? Did they study with Callaghan? Have they ever been to gallery week in Sante Fe? Have their portfolios been reviewed in Palm Springs?" 

The answers are pretty much no. The new artists don't give a crap about being knighted by the queens of the old guard. They just want to make work and share it with their friends and the rest of the world. It's more like making television programming than building monuments. But you know what? I think they're having a blast. The kids are alright. A lot of the work is good. And to some extent the world is better off not needing "super heroes" in every category. 

Super heroes are like magnets. Their work attracts a following which attracts an army of imitators. If every generation has a pantheon of about 100 photographic super heroes then the concept gets locked in and becomes a specific generation's idea of what constitutes photography's meaning and relevancy. When I look at current photography there are very few players who stand out for any reason other than being selected by an old guard hellbent on making the new generation a resonation of their choices. What I love about the new generation of artists is that they don't really give a shit what the old guard thinks and they are playing by their own rules. 

The word "curation" gets bandied about a lot these days. It just means you get a list of things that someone else likes along with the presumption that this "someone else" is smarter and has better taste than you do. There are millions of self-appointed curators and each one comes with an agenda of some sort. Much the same way that a small group of curators made abstract expressionist painting the darling (for a while) of the 20th century art collectors. Get the Tom Wolfe book, The Painted Word, to really understand the cultural clusterfuck a concentration of curatorial power is to the health and diversity of art....

So, what I'm really saying is that the rest of the world is moving to a time and cultural ethos in which physicality is no longer a gate-keeper to making good, connectable art/photography. What museum curators liked and encouraged when access to art was location limited, the access to the work was scarce, and the work itself was expensive to create, no longer has much, if any, connection to the value of art in the current age. It might for collectors but not for most creators, appreciators and users of the work. 

In a nutshell we now do work as hobbyists because we love the process, we love the ability to share our work instantly and nearly universally and we love playing with the cameras. For full time professional artists nothing really has changed at all except the need to learn how to market in a whole new marketing environment. Silly collectors will still pay large sums for work that their clique vets (more if you'd do them the courtesy of being dead first) but most people will embrace art in a different and more fluid manner. If you know someone in their 20's who is interested in photography you'll know that they have a collection of their favorite artists' work on their phone and they share this work with their friends, phone-to-phone. It doesn't mean that they appreciate the work less but they have a new freedom to unleash the work from its physicality and to share it in a manner that has just never existed before. 

More work gets shared more often. We may never figure out how to monetize the new work as we did with the old work in the time of signed and numbered, limited edition physical items but most people will appreciate it and incorporate it into their lives in an entirely new fashion. More about flow that about ownership. 

And, maybe the whole concept from the age of print collection; partial ownership of an image by possessing a print, is also a dying concept. It's interesting to think about as we consider throwing away our own power to have opinions and favorites of our own and surrendering all that discretion to the same kinds of curators who gave us........Alec Soth. Thomas Struth....or Andreas Gursky. Do we really like any of their work? Do we? Really? No, be honest! Really? Can you explain it to me? I mean can you explain the work in the absence of a "curator approved" manifesto? I dare you. 

Pretty flowers on Congress Ave.

Making sharp photos with a cheap lens on a small camera. 

If I print this 8 feet by 10 feet can I say I "Gursky-ed" it?
Will it look more interesting? Doubtful.

In the one I was exploring the idea of the flatness of the canvas.....


A Critical Road Block to the effective practice of street photography which 
few people discuss with their favorite curators....



48 comments:

  1. Photography was for so many years about the print because "that's we they had!! And if you were a non pro how many folks ever saw your photos? 10? 20 maybe? I remember ole uncle Bob at family functions when I was a kid. He was the guy with the nice looking chrome camera and flashbulbs. I was never allowed to even hold it but I don't ever remember seeing the photos later.

    Now with electronic viewing I have a photo or 2 on a particular public site that have over 4500 views. A quote from a master of the print.... "I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.” – Ansel Adams"

    ReplyDelete
  2. I got back into photography because with the arrived of digital it was fun and I could print. Really big. In black and white. Cool.
    What a strange feeling to wake up one day and realise in the new era of social media I was practising a dying and obscure art. So it goes.
    But a wonderful opportunity to see what large prints of an unfamiliar subject in a slightly darkened gallery will do to people's consciousness. Could be a flop, but worth doing.
    Our national photographic society put out a book once a year of their members' best images. A photographer friend recently looked through the last 20 or so years' worth and commented that nothing had changed. That raises the question of what the gatekeepers and educators think they are doing. Reminds me of the latest offerings from the big camera manufacturers.
    Renoir's son wrote that his father said "There are pictures that manifest education and there are pictures that manifest love" and that "some students possess the school they work in and others are possessed by the school". The photography that reflects education and schooling is dead. Long live the new artists.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some magazine editors try to get into curating as well. For example: The New York Times Magazine appears to be infatuated with Alec Soth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I only believe the NYT folks are infatuated because they don't leave the city often enough to walk amongst the other three hundred million of us, spread across this big country.....They could see the stuff in Soth's photos every day and every where. It's only novel inside the castle walls....

      Delete
  4. Disagree? Heavens no. Someone had to say it. What you left out was the the old guard taste makers, in their effort to choose work that was "original", went for the most vacuous they could find. As an old timer it amuses me to see the younger crop of "in" photographers "discovering" the same sorts of gimmicks and offbeat subject we did 50 years ago. They are just doing it with newer technology and printing it as mini billboards instead of 8x10s. And you hit on one of my latest hot buttons, the use of the word "curate. It is absurd to say, as I have seen some photographers do, "I shot 1500 photos today and then went home and curated them." No you didn't. You edited them. Culling out the bad ones, of which there were many because you didn't take the time to exercise whatever skill you actually possess, is editing. Curation is more than merely junking the bad stuff is is generally done to a collection of someone else's work. Yeah. I know. "Curate" sounds cooler but that's not what it means. Look it up.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A great article Kirk. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been exploring iPhone photography with my 7+ and a couple of apps. One called FOCOS, another called Halide. I've also been using the app version of Snapseed on my iPhone to process the photos. No Photoshop or Lightroom. I've even-gasp!-sent images from my traditional camera to my iPhone for processing in Snapseed. I can also say that my best recent photos were taken with the iPhone. I won't be giving up my cameras but I can tell you that the iPhone is now part of my photography. I'm already using it for video. The 4k is actually quite good.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I won't comment on Struth and Gursky, because their work doesn't particularly speak to me. But I happen to like the work of Alex Soth very much, and consider that he makes visible the weirdness of contemporary America in a remarkable way. Somewhat like Diane Arbus did a few decades ago, but Soth finds the strangeness in ordinary, non-freakish people in ordinary surroundings - in Niagara Falls honeymoon motels and cabins along the Mississippi. He has - deservedly in my view - been reputationally (and presumably commercially) successful. But he's also been elected to membership in Magnum, which in my understanding is a recognition by other leading photographers, not just a couple of curators.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Magnum has become as much of a business as any other. Soth is the current darling of the curator trade so bringing him in costs them nothing and gives them some sparkle with a different set of gate-keepers. His glorification of the mundane has, I think, been better mined by better mines. But I'd be happy to understand WHY people like his work. But I may be barking up the wrong tree and I have not always been right. Sometimes, in the face of added maturity or new evidence, I have even been known to change my mind....

      Delete
    2. Glorifiers of the mundane: August Sander, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Frank, Richard Avedon (in "The American West")...
      Is Alex Soth in that league? Maybe, maybe not. But do some of his photos have the same impact on me as some of the photos by the others I have named? Yes. Can I explain why? Certainly not with any precision. But there's some quirk of perceptual psychology that causes a similar response - some recognition of the distinctive individuality and vulnerability of common people willing to expose their private lives - and the ability of the photographer to evoke and capture a telling psychological moment.

      Delete
    3. Thanks Victor, I'll keep looking at the work and reading. I appreciate the counterpoint.

      Delete
  7. Since your return from your sabbatical from blogging, I have been enjoying coming over to VSL to read your counterpoints to whatever it is they're wringing their hands about over at TOP. Good stuff - thanks for writing it!

    Ken

    ReplyDelete
  8. I shot a bunch of pix today at a family and friends event. Of about 80 pictures I selected 17 and processed them using Lightroom. I then posted them on Facebook about three hours after the conclusion of the event. Within about 6 hours there were 136 "LIKES" and 14 "COMMENTS" about the pictures. But, the likes and comments were not about me or the brilliance of my pictures. The likes were for the SUBJECTS of the pictures made by friends and family who like or love or admire or miss the people in the pictures. And that's all the reward I need. (The picture with the most "LIKES" is about 90% sharp, but the expressions on the faces of the subjects are priceless to the people who love them.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Almost missed the captions with your photos. Glad I didn’t.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I really enjoyed this post, Kirk. As you know, I have no formal training in photography, both the craft and history. I just enjoy making photographs that I like and hopefully some others will agree. When I occasionally see the curated masters at some museum, I'm often left scratching my head. I think that I just haven't attained a sufficient photographic proficiency to appreciate the mastery. Or perhaps, as you suggest, they are only noteworthy because some old guy with some supposed credentials said they were good.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great article and thanks for putting this into perspective.
    I'm still convinced one of the great drawbacks of modern digital photography is the difficulty in making photos look OK in all monitors! The complexity of making different screens display a photo the same way with the same contrast, colour balance, etcetc are the main driver of the popularity of smartphone "quickies": those look the same in all smartphones!
    Very few folks (not photographers, granted!) nowadays have a clue how to setup a colour monitor to display photos the way we photographers do in ours! Not their fault: it's practically impossible to ask everyone to have a colour analyzer attached to their pcs/laptops/whatevers!
    One of the things I do nowadays is to put all my recent photos in my tablet and watch them there. To make sure they look as good as in my monitor. And the joy of seeing them printed to a similar result is one of the little pleasures of my life!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I take a fairly pragmatic attitude to such things.
    Do I like taking photographs? Yes, then I'll continue to do so. Or in your case (much of the time), are people continuing to pay you to take photographs ?
    Perhaps there should be less hand wringing and more celebrating as when I was growing up in the 1970s, taking photographs was considered a slightly eccentric hobby carried out by the original bearded types. About the only photographs the 'average' person took was a roll of 126/110 instamatic film on their annual holiday and perhaps also at Christmas.
    Nowadays pretty much all the younger people I engage with have huge galleries of photos of their travels and experiences. The quality obviously is variable but is also usually significantly better than those posed pictures taken on the beach with cut off heads from the 1970s.
    I'm pretty sure there will be an equal amount of discussion around this subject when 3d projectors are the primary viewing platform and people will be discussing whether it has ruined traditional 2d photography and video

    ReplyDelete
  13. After 25 years writing software, I was put out to pasture by the IT industry shortly after 9/11, and we simultaneously moved to a new city. Took me 3-4 years to find stable 2nd career employment, and for a time I had a full-time "pro" photography contract gig taking awful pictures of used cars at various lots around the city for posting on used car web sites. I would travel to 3-4 car dealerships every day, take pics of the new arrivals for that week, then go home, upload and invoice. It paid minimum wage, more or less, which meant that the job was fundamentally unsustainable. Not only could I not put away enough money to replace my car when the time came (sort of like Uber drivers), I could not replace my camera of computer either. I used a 4 mpix Canon G3 to do the work, btw. Essentially, I was subsidizing my employer. Welcome to the "new gig economy", I thought. It was terrible work, but at least the dealerships had clean comfortable free washrooms. It made me wonder about all those delivery drivers whose every mile is watched over by a computer program in Omaha or somewhere, whose every pit stop for fuel or a coffee/bathroom break is captured and graphed on some screen. If I were in the coffee shop industry I would lobby local municipalities to NOT build public washrooms, in order to drive traffic to my outlets, since most people feel an obligation to buy something when they come in to use the john. This is not unlike the company store near coal mines. I bet coal mining companies owned all the local bars too.

    We have ended up making weird choices in our urban design. Most people are not within walking distance of grocery stores, which has prompted us to buy more cars than we used to. Even if you wanted to go out for a walk, there are no easily accessible public washrooms. Distances are rarely pedestrian friendly. I am sure many people choose to drive from one end of a mall to the other because the malls are so large. At least malls have public washrooms, although they are not often well cared for.

    Forgive my rambling rant, but your last picture reminded me of not happy times. I'm surprised no one has come up with the idea of stand-alone for-pay public washrooms. You could pay a buck or two for private access to a locked cube, good for those times when you don't want to buy another coffee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. RR, One of the reasons I enjoy walking through Austin's downtown is the plethora of fancy hotels, five star hotels, and endless coffee shops. There are nice, clean bathrooms everywhere... Also, the city convention center is usually open to the public all day long. Oh, and let's not forget the library. An embarrassment of riches for one needing to pee while working the shutter buttons.

      Delete
  14. Kirk, you really nailed it this time. I look at my two adults kids and their objective in photography is not to print something for the wall but to share something with family and friends. An image is still an image wether it is a hard copy print or a photon, it is just a delivery mechanism for for an idea or a moment in time. We should not hold fast to hard copy prints. I am starting to come around to that concept myself. Good article so well said. Eric

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for one's marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it,
    you could be a great author.I will make certain to bookmark your blog and will come back someday.
    I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great work, have a nice holiday weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  16. If Stephen Shore is the third most banal, widely collected photographer in the western world, then number one has to be William Eggleston. The whole world of real photographers (as opposed to the artsy-fartsy) was aghast when Thaddeus John Szarkowski declared that Eggleston had "invented color photography" --at a time when people such as Ernst Haas, Pete Turner, and Jay Maisel were still alive and working.

    ReplyDelete
  17. You are frustrated because of your failed attempts at printing, caused by the awful clogging issues of your EPSON printer. But prints make the difference. And yes, fancy papers and nice framing and matting can matter as well. :-D

    ReplyDelete
  18. For an exploration of the tumult wrought by change in photography there is always Midsomer Murders, Season10, Episode 6, “Picture of Innocence”, available on Amazon Prime. Digital photographers (circa 2007), portrayed as a sort of biker gang, threaten to destroy the annual village photo competition dominated by old school film photographers. Someone ends up dead. The character who has devoted much of his life to documenting the annual changes which take place in a single tree as seen from one angle at a fixed distance, one camera, one lens is interesting. The plot is rubbish but there are some interesting insights sprinkled here and there.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wowser! I just racked up a bunch of points using your scoring method. Image taken with an IR conversion GF1, printed as a negative onto 8x10 overhead transparency film, the film used to print onto hand-coated (MY hands) paper, using both cyanotype and Van Dyke brown methods, the latter entered into PA state competition and accepted into the annual show. Actually winning an award would have been my Tiger Woods moment.

    From TOP today: "What is photography? What photographers do." Me? I play with photography.

    And, as far as the "masters" go, as I exited the room at the Phillips devoted to Stieglitz's "Equivalents" series, I commented to my wife, "Stieglitz sucks!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't care much for the Equivalents either, but don't dis Stieglitz. He was a pioneer, and did very important, breakthrough work.

      Delete
  20. Wonder if we will see a backlash at some point that will have people craving hand made physical prints? What about the Lomo folks and the resurgence in instant cameras to make physical prints?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Great post.

    It's nice to hear someone else being excited and interested in what is actually happening out in the world right now. So much of the discussions around "photography" these days is essentially grumpy old folks shaking their fists and yelling "Get off my lawn."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm as excited as I have ever been about photography; both the doing and the seeing.

      Delete
  22. Photography is a big tent, and the boundaries between this cluster of people and that one are very very fuzzy.

    To my eye, the bar has simply been raised. Anyone can be an Eggleston or a Lange or an Evans (either one) or an Adams. It's simply not that hard to bang out endless excellent examples of those things. Somewhat fewer people, although still a lot, can be of the same stature as a picture-maker while not merely making copies of some older style. A decent eye for light and form, and you can start knocking out pretty good stuff. With a bit of taste and talent and persistence, you can be among the million or so Very Good Picture makers working today.

    People ask, sometimes, whether Africa (or wherever) missed out an Einstein or 10 because of missed opportunities. In this day and age, every potential Steichen has the opportunity, and it turns out there are a hell of a lot of them. And, yes, I agree: Hurrah!

    Loads of people do take excellent pictures, and this delights me, and this appalls me, for reasons I cannot really put my finger on although god knows I try.

    But now the bar is higher, or at any rate we can reach heights previously unreachable. There are a handful of artists who seem to be to be doing something more, they have discovered a plateau that Szarkowski never dreamed of. To my eye, there are people, not many, who can do things with collections of pictures that transcend what we might loosely consider the 20th century model of photography.

    This might be just me rationalizing my Ansel-Adams-Induced PTSD (Print-Tone Stress Disorder) and finding a new way to dismiss the kids, but I don't think so. I think there's something there, and I like looking for it.

    As for Soth? Damn right I can explain Soth without an artist's statement, but Soth wouldn't like it ;)


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sublime, as usual.

      Delete
    2. Who are these handful of artists who are doing more? You should spread the word about them. At least so we can see what you're writing about.

      Delete
    3. Frédérick Carnet is the name that tops the list of people who I think excel, and which you have likely not heard of. I do write about them, but generally not on other people's blogs, except by invitation ;)

      Delete
    4. Thank you, I'm looking at his website right now. It's going to a long time to really look at it. Lots of content and it's in French.

      Delete
    5. Frédérick Carnet? Oh. Yeah, he's got one of THOSE websites. Only in French.

      Delete
  23. Wow! I thought I had something to say, but after reading these well thought out, intelligent responses I believe I'll just keep it to myself. Well done sir. As usual.

    ReplyDelete
  24. It's universally recognized that drawing and painting span quite a wide range of purpose, from doodles to sketches to finished drawings to extremely well-thought-out and competent paintings...that may adorn anything from museum walls to wine labels to your neighbor's refrigerator. Really good painters aren't at all defensive about wine label designers -- they're doing something different. The two are not competing with each other, even if they use the same tools. Photography never seems to have been able to escape the feeling that art photographs are really just fancy snapshots, that photography is one thing -- that a guy taking iPhone pictures of his cat is doing the same thing as you are when you make portraits of actors, or somebody like Alec Soth is doing on his way down the Mississippi. But they're not -- they have a different purposes. Soth's photos are not intended to summon up your good or bad feelings about Uncle Joe at Christmas, they're really supposed to make you think about the larger world around you, and they are supposed to (in their own way) relate to a larger body of viewers than Uncle Joe's relatives.

    I happen to somewhat agree with you about Soth -- I don't particularly care for his work. But I think the word "hack" was seriously mis-applied. At least he's out there trying, and much of what he does (that people who give themselves the title of "real photographer" don't like) is that he hustles his work around any way he can. Maybe he even sucks up to gallerists and critics. So did Van Gogh.

    I'd be interested in your thoughts about my longtime favorite James Nachtwey, who brings an artist's eye to the brutality of the wars of the 21st century. If you look at ordinary war photos, you see one thing. I you look at Nachtwey's you see something entirely different, and that difference has to do with all the ineffable qualities which we refer to as "aesthetics" or "art." I don't think we have to be embarrassed at all about working with functional photography, that goes to specific pragmatic uses -- wine bottle labels -- but we should understand that that's different from what somebody like Soth or Nachtwey are attempting to do, or succeeding in doing. Not to say that one photographer can't do both, in different aspects of his life, just as Whistler functioned happily as both a great painter and interior designer...

    I am, by the way, one of the hand-wringers at TOP, now going through a struggle (related to my advancing age) as to whether I should even continue with photography.

    -- John Camp

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk Tuck. Opinionated blogger. Art history Molotov cocktail thrower...April 15, 2019 at 2:47 PM

      "I am, by the way, one of the hand-wringers at TOP, now going through a struggle (related to my advancing age) as to whether I should even continue with photography." Same here.

      I can see that Soth is a hot button these days. Even amongst my curator friends who've shown his work at their museum. I probably shouldn't continue to publicly share my opinion about him. It's as divisive as U.S. politics.... James Natchway, in my opinion, does very good work. As does Susan Meisalas, and Danny Lyon and Steve McCurry.

      The one photographer/artist I'm not sure of is Gregory Crewdson. We could have a field day there.....

      Delete
  25. Well, I admire - I guess - all this certitude, although I can't resist quoting Cromwell: "think it possible you may be mistaken." I spent about an hour in the Sean Kelly Gallery in NYC last week looking at the Soth exhibition there. Your readers probably know that he spent about a year away from making new work in spite of - perhaps because of - immense demand for him to show "Trump's America." As someone interested in the photography of people, I was very curious to see the new work. I can only say that I would be very happy to have made a number of the photographs on display and will be buying the book soon.
    As for Eggleston, is there really anyone who would deny the impact of "Tricycle?" Who does not remember the first time they saw that? Perhaps this is just a product of the 10 year age difference between us (74), but in spite of full-time employment elsewhere, my printer is working every week and it's certainly not because buyers are calling for new prints!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk Tuck. Opinionated.April 15, 2019 at 4:28 PM

      Greg, I'm the first to admit I can be absolutely wrong and wrong-headed. I'll head up to NYC to see the Soth exhibition, if it's still up. I'd love to prove myself wrong. My hour or two with his previous work, shown at the HRC, left me wanting both coffee and visual stimulus. Perhaps his year off has added something wonderful to his mix. It would have to be a big leap forward to move my current estimation. As for Eggleston......I'll give you "Tricycle" but what's he got after that? Tricycle overlaid on everything he could find. Reminds me of early adopters of HDR. Too much of the same. Now, as a very astute expert in things photography, can you please explain Stephen Shore to me?

      Delete
  26. I had a Stephen Shore print in my apartment but my psychiatrist insisted I take it down. The banality of the piece was making me suicidal.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I generally share the "Meh!" feeling about Stephen Shore's work that seems to prevail around here. But I must admit: I was in a small town in Hokkaido a couple of years ago, and as I was getting into our car in the parking lot, I noticed a scene across the street. Dull-colored warehouse, a framework of scaffolding, another parking lot behind an alley. For some reason I was attracted and took the picture, then asked myself "Why did I take that picture? What interested me in the scene?" And then I thought, "That was a Stephen Shore picture! There's something to his way of seeing."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk Tuck. Ex-Specialist Lecturer, the University of Texas at Austin, College of Fine Arts.April 15, 2019 at 6:58 PM

      I spent way too much time in academia to appreciate work that tries to be too cerebral at the expense of visceral engagement. Let me see something brand new and different, not a re-hash of middle American angst writ large.

      Delete
  28. Re: Soth. Didn't rate the lauded Sleeping By The Mississippi. The still unloved sophomore book Niagra, is actually quite good, however.

    ReplyDelete
  29. A wonderful piece on "state" of photography.
    Some of it I agree all the way, others not so much!
    Photography is now art! ART. Curated by curators and photographers,
    who attended art courses in a high learning facility.
    4 years of preparing "Artist's Statement.
    Soth somehow in a show in Toronto,
    had women of all ages totally caught by a simple snap!
    A older woman sitting on edge of a bed, looking blank.
    I was perplexed.
    Stephen Shore did amazing work as a kid, with his Nikon and NYC.
    Now it's profound using a gigantic film camera or a rollei-35.
    Sad to say i see no difference in quality..simply banal.
    My work has changed, with digital, showing more images (not better, just more!).
    It is so much fun these days making an image, not struggling in a badly ventilated black box..
    I love watching movies showing darkroom but for me relics of the past..

    ReplyDelete

Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!