A disturbing trend in photography

May 30, 2016

Neal Rantoul

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

A disturbing trend in photography

May 30, 2016

Neal Rantoul

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I’m old. Believe me, I know it. I’ll be 70 in a few months. That fact may make it hard for you to take me seriously but bear with me for just this post. With age comes wisdom, right? What I want to write here is that I think the field of photography by those making art is changing in a disturbing way. Read on.

Photographic series or bodies of work are being explicated, explained, contextualized, rationalized and elevated with text or verbal rationals. You’re thinking: so what? That’s no big deal. Let me start with a short history and then let’s take a look at current practice. 20 or 30 years ago, going to a photo show at MOMA or the Met, SF Modern, ID in Chicago or even the Whitney often meant you were confronted with a row of framed and matted photographs along with perhaps a brief statement from the show’s curator that gave some biographical data on the photographer or maybe explained in what context the works were being shown. The titles of the work were usually the place and the year the images were made. That was it. The expectation was that the photographs stood on their own, were to be viewed and understood on their own terms, usually as single images sitting next to other single images. Think Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, Lew Baltz, even Ansel Adams and Cartier Bresson. Few words were necessary. There were exceptions, of course. For instance, Robert Adams, who had whole reams of text used to flush out his work and build a rational.

Now, go to a show by a recent MFA grad or sit across the table from someone showing you their work at a portfolio review and things are very different. For most work there is absolutely no understanding possible without a written or verbal account of what the photographer is up to. I always have the sense that I am joining the telling of a story in the middle, trying to play catchup. Again, for most works, separate the photographs from the words and you have no ability to comprehend what is going on. This isn’t always awful, as perhaps it is part of the evolution of the medium into a specialized category that leads to increased specificity and a clearer intent. But, and this is my main point, the photographs often aren’t very good. It’s as though photography has been sublimated to a necessary part of the total, that the words are the priority and the photographs somehow are ancillary or secondary and therefore not needing much attention. This resides perilously close to using the photographs as illustrations, really another field entirely.

What is this? My theory: most new art photography these days come from MFA grads who have studied the medium, not only its practice (although often not enough) but its theory, its criticism, its analysis. As the medium’s craft has become easier, more fluid and automatic, mastery of the technical and visual has become less important. Students flowing out of MFA programs now that were started in the 60’s and 70’s are graduating with degrees and thesis works that are equivalent to PHD dissertations (there is no PHD in applied photography) as the MFA is the terminal degree in the discipline. These grads and recent grads are learned, academic, studied, vocal, theoretical and informed in the medium’s history. They are also “conceptual” in that the thought is formed, the work is made to fit the thesis and then executed as a package with the written text to go along with it. This can resolve itself in performative works, video and/or photographs with a primary written component and a secondary tier of importance to the photography. As photography at this level has grown, the treatment of it as an academic pursuit has as well. Very often the craft of the medium is subsumed, indicating the artist has little interest in the inherent qualities of the discipline itself,  using it simply as a vehicle for visual communication. In fact he or she may have graduated from just that: a department of visual communication.This constitutes a “literalization” of the medium or in effect a deconstruction of its inherently visual qualities resulting in an analytical and intellectual final result.

Go to a graduate thesis show and take a look. The students are concerned with issues of identity, gender, developmental and emotional positioning, posturing, physical and emotional abuse, cultural and societal pressure and assumption, human rights, sexual identity, and on and on. Each of these ideas and many others takes on a personal relevance and importance square in the photographer’s aim, as though there is a catharsis that when shared it is assumed to have relevance to others who are there looking at the work. Of course, much of this is narcissism, self absorption, even making work with blinders on.

Before you label me an old guy with a lack of sympathy for the young and an inability to see the value in younger’s peoples ideas read on. Joni Mitchell once sung that “the old hate the young” but I have always really liked the young, forty years of teaching at the university level that I really enjoyed as a case in point. Youth is vibrancy, endless energy, huge flexibly and sense of discovery that is wonderful to be around. But making the assumption that I or any viewer wants to hear the personal story as a prominent component of the art just really gets me going. I do not. I want to be able to look at the art and judge it on its own merits. Presently, I find a good deal of it lacking.

Look, the practice of making pictures used to be hugely craft based. You needed to study photography and the making of pictures hard to be good at it. It used to be difficult to do well. As a professor I seldom saw any student any good at it until they were a couple of years in. Now, the level is higher and proficiency comes without much work. I doubt most students two years into their degree can accurately tell you what ISO is, aperture and shutter speed settings, 18%  gray, reciprocity failure, D-Max and so on. You can build the case, of course, that they don’t need to know those things. Put the camera on “P” and fire away.

My point? As photography becomes ubiquitous, as we are all photographers and even the most simple of cameras made today provides stunning results compared to a few years ago, photography is free to explore areas never approached before. That’s all good. But please give me less words and better pictures! I find the story, the text mostly boring and condescending, telling me how to look at the photographs rather then letting the photographs do the talking.

It’s ironic that as photographs have become easier to make and there are more photographers than ever before making more photographs the pictures are worse.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five when referring to the allies massive bombing campaign of the city of Dresden towards the end of WW II that killed people in the hundreds of thousands:

So it goes.

About the author

Neal Rantoul is a career artist, educator and author of a number of photography books.  He taught at Harvard University for thirteen years and retired from 30 years as head of the Photo Program at Northeastern University in Boston in 2012. Neal now devotes his efforts to making new work.  You can find out more about him, and follow his work on his website.  This article was also posted here, and used with permission.

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50 responses to “A disturbing trend in photography”

  1. Bart van Dieken Avatar
    Bart van Dieken

    TMI

  2. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    I have no idea what you are trying to say here. There are bad photographers out there? Is that the whole point of this rant?

    1. Dave Neal Avatar
      Dave Neal

      YOU don’t understand, and that’s somehow HIS problem?

      1. jojo Avatar
        jojo

        yes it is his problem.. when he tries to be an author an get his message across.

    2. Matthew Whited Avatar
      Matthew Whited

      The author provided nothing than to complain about things that don’t matter. But he used to teach at Harvard so he is obviously the most awesome photographer and the world and we should all fear his skill.

  3. Joel Wood Avatar
    Joel Wood

    “It’s ironic that as photographs have become easier to make and there are more photographers than ever before making more photographs the pictures are worse.”
    ding ding ding!

    1. Paula Gemin Bell Avatar
      Paula Gemin Bell

      You hit the nail on the head Joel..!

    2. Joel Wood Avatar
      Joel Wood

      The quote is from the article. ? :)

    3. Jim Johnson Avatar
      Jim Johnson

      Really? I see a lot of great stuff out there. I believe the bad photos were always there along with the good ones, it’s just that now we see a lot more if both due to the Internet.

    4. anotherview2 Avatar
      anotherview2

      This observation seems to trip over itself: “It’s ironic that as photographs have become easier to make and there are more photographers than ever before making more photographs the pictures are worse.”

      An increase in the number of photographers overall will naturally increase both the number of those photographers who produce worthy photographs and the number who produce work of a lesser quality.

      Besides, snapshooters have been with photography for a century, and masters longer.

      With a hammer, some will pound nails while others will build a palace. The same rule goes for photography.

  4. Michele M. Ferrario Avatar
    Michele M. Ferrario

    TL;DR

  5. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    A disturbing trend in photography blogs: Articles that contribute nothing to the reader.

  6. Jim Johnson Avatar
    Jim Johnson

    Sorry. As another “old guy” I have to say that you have an extremely skewed look at this. Sure there is a lot of crap out there, but there is also a lot of really good stuff— stuff that blows the photography produced in the last few decades out of the water.

    You also talk about the lack of craft, but I can’t get behind that at all. The photos some young photographers are producing these days are amazing. They sweat over minute details that weren’t even on the radar for the old masters. Start comparing images from today and yesteryear and you will be dumbfounded by how good it is. But don’t compare a new MFA graduate to someone who has been producing for decades either, that’s just unfair. Compare apples to apples; just look at the commercial work from second half of the 20th century and the stuff from today— shocking! And, yes, there are also a lot of artists out there who pick up a camera without any understanding of what it does or how to use it.

    This wide diversity isn’t being produced by a “troubling trend”, though, it’s being produced because of the democratization of art. The internet has changed every, but also think of how many art programs there are now compared to the “old days”. Think of how many students. That is amazing. Sure, some programs are not particularly good and some students lack the talent/skill/ambition to produce master works, but I would live with that any day just so that the one truly skilled artist had the opportunity to got to school and learn to produce art, not pretty pictures, but art.

    And I have a question: If they aren’t producing conceptual art photography, what will they produce? We are now coming up on the second century of photography. What can they shoot that hasn’t been shot to death? The new realm for photography is the interior landscape— concepts and thoughts of the artist— somewhere traditional art fields (i.e. painting, sculpting) have been for decades. You should rejoice that photography is finally completely accepted as “just another art form” rather than lament it. Sure, young artist produce a lot of navel-gazing, cathartic drivel, but I have a distinct feeling that has to do with their maturity as an artist rather than a trend. Give them time to develop.

    Commercial work will still be there (although less profitable- more due to proliferation than anything wrong with the industry). Artist can still use the traditional techniques and work in traditional genres of photography. Nothing has changed in that respect, but there are new things that are being explored. If old techniques and genres are forgotten for the time being, they’ll be back at some point.

    The state of art photography is fine. You may not find them at MFA shows (although it will probably depend on the artists and the program), but the internet, which is the new gallery space, is full of amazing work from young artists. It is also full of dross. That is state of the world, not just art photography.

    1. Marlon Avatar
      Marlon

      This is one of the best replies I have seen on a photographic article in ages. I have to agree, you laid it out unbiased and full of detail, Jim. *salute*

    2. Albin Avatar
      Albin

      This is a very thoughtful reply to the article, but I think both miss something important. I went through college studying English, before taking a more profitable post-grad professional degree, which at universities is dominated by “literary criticism” while “creative writing” as a practical is a minor adjunct. At a school like Harvard, this would also be true for the visual arts, and the prof seems to have missed that his students’ career paths are directed more toward academic teaching and scholarship, gallery curation, or journalism than toward professional or commercial success as high art photographers. Though I’m sure they love photography and try hard to do interesting work. the fact of joining a Harvard program hedges bets on what they hope to be paid for in the future.

      I also think it’s naive to say that the “tradition” of successful photography was somehow purely intuitive or craft based, as if Ansel Adams didn’t commit to a Zone Theory, or Steichen keep a close eye on the larger modern visual art scene that photography was emerging alongside.

      Finally, I’ll defend that academic criticism and verbal debate about visual arts, including photography, for the often counter-intuitive and yet interesting perspectives it can offer. In my own case, as intuitively Canadian admirer of Yousef Karsh portraits, I was surprised but then thoughfully engaged by the “criitical” notion that he was making exactly the portraits of his celebrity subjects that they dreamed to have and wanted to buy, more like cemetery grave markers than vivid “captures” of their vivid, interesting lives, and that the same people are often presented in livelier and more revealing ways by other and arguably better imagists. So I don’t discount the insights of serious verbal comments by viewers who are not themselves particularly accomplished photographers. (In fact, that might describe me at my best.)

      1. Jim Johnson Avatar
        Jim Johnson

        I work in academia and I couldn’t agree more– a lot of academic training is geared towards producing more academics. This is part of an exponential rule: most artists teach for their living to produce more artists of which most will teach for their living to…etc.

        It’s a strange by-product.

    3. anotherview2 Avatar
      anotherview2

      Yes, the craft of photography may rise to art in the right hands.

      The author here criticizes the output of the over-educated photographers who produce photographs with pointless or vapid content and needing support from other means like text to give validity to their photographs. Their photographs cannot present themselves strictly in photographic terms to the viewer while relying on craft and artful technique to appeal to the eye.

      The author does not criticize all photographers, of course, and I agree with you that fine but unheralded photographers aplenty exist out there. To support my opinion, I steer others to http://www.500px.com, a photo Web-site with an international membership.

      Moreover, the advent of digital photography has evidently attracted millions more individuals to take up the practice of photography. This development will surely result in far more talented photographers carrying forward the visual medium of photography.

    4. Carlos David Avatar
      Carlos David

      Well said. No different than any other artistic medium. Anyone want to throw paint at a canvas ?

    5. Whatdoyknow Avatar
      Whatdoyknow

      Dear Jim. I’m old. older than Neal Rantoul and I must say that your view is a heck of a lot more balanced than Rantoul’s. I am amazed at the new ideas that I have come across from young artist. Thanks for your balanced and honest reply.

  7. jojo Avatar
    jojo

    show example images.. your words make no sense to me.

  8. Michael Thomas Ireland Avatar
    Michael Thomas Ireland

    Aww, we’re clickbaiting titles now. How adorable :)

  9. Keith Barnes Avatar
    Keith Barnes

    Is it possible that this article is just observing that there is a difference between what traditionally would have been called photographers with the associated craft based skills and artists who use lens based media to express their conceptual ideas and within that context the words are a concomitant part of the work. The issues of self exploration is what we see in most forms of conceptual art since the end of the last century.

  10. steven_nc Avatar
    steven_nc

    This may have as much to do with non-adaptive MFA programs. Students conform to expectations. That’s what happens when you teach the test.

  11. Mark Niebauer Avatar
    Mark Niebauer

    Very confusing.

  12. Rob Lipet Avatar
    Rob Lipet

    I’ve seen many good photos by young artists.Creative subjects,lighting and sets that don’t look technical. RI School of Design a premiere att school disappointed me. There is some great talent don’t get me wrong. Some final graduation projects I’ve seen were incredibly lame. A bunch of students showing super 8 film loops. Isn’t this like something from the 60’s? You didn’t need any degree just get stoned.

  13. phillip mccordall Avatar
    phillip mccordall

    As a 65 year old who teaches often on the internet, following a very successful career in advertising photography. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything so far from the truth, It’s not what I would expect from someone who has a lot of experience and not just a university lecturer , the ideas are a little bit theoretical for the modern day. What does the digital photographer have to do with reciprocity failure. I would say about the same as coating your own glass plates, nice to be able to do it but nothing to do with the latest methods. The writer states that the youngsters should take him seriously but it’s difficult for me to do so as well.
    It’s time that out of date ideas , rule of thirds etc and other restraining ideas against creativity should become a thing of the past. I firmly believe that photographic schools and colleges are a waste of time, one can learn in a better way from good sucessful photographers on youtube,you would learn in two months what would take two years to learn at college .
    It states that students two years into a degree course don’t know what iso is !! Is that not the fault of the teachers ? I rest my case

  14. Andrew Sharpe Avatar
    Andrew Sharpe

    I tend to agree that there are a lot of “art” photographers that present banal or uninteresting or incomprehensible images and include a paragraph (or more!) of text to “help the viewer understand it”. It is with arrogance and hubris that they find the need to do this. Really, the viewer doesn’t give a damn about how difficult the photograph was to take, or how long the photographer waiting in the cold freezing (or hot humid) weather, or how the photographer had to hang upside-down by their toes with hot coals below them to get the image. The image is what counts. Photographers themselves are the only ones interested in how difficult it was to get, what equipment was used, what settings were used, etc. Nobody else cares.

    1. murhaaya Avatar
      murhaaya

      Yes, if the photograph is not good, nobody will care about the freezing weather the photographer had to endure and no level of physical pain will make the image better. It can make for interesting story but not for better image.

      1. Andrew Sharpe Avatar
        Andrew Sharpe

        Actually, even if the photograph is great, nobody cares about the mechanics of how it was taken, except for other photographers.

  15. Borisz Dusnoki Avatar
    Borisz Dusnoki

    Tldr;

  16. Not a sheep Avatar
    Not a sheep

    Unfortunately, this article falls into the photographer’s trap of “only what I like, know and shoot is real photography”. What is being argued as a growing problem, isn’t. It isn’t new, it isn’t a problem and it is unfortunately uninformed, though disguised as the opposite.

    Countless “Masters” we’re left out who’s work was intended to be appreciated with artist statements. I don’t own a master’s book without a foreword essay.

    Avedon’s fictional biography of the American West

    The entire body of work of Nan Goldin, or ARBUS!

    August Sander”s work can’t be appreciated as mastery, until you understand it’s intent to somewhat objectively document the German class system.

    The final straw was the mention of Cartier-Bresson. Is the author aware that the book and photography pillar of the “Decisive Moment” is an essay with pictures.

    There have always been ‘craft’ shooters and ‘conceptual’ shooters. We have always celebrated mastery in one or both. If you think about it… Angel Adams just shoots trees and rocks, though molded into something amazing thru his craft. There have been many Masters who “point and shoot” with little to no concern for the darkroom. (That’s what assistants are for)

    In the argument against self exploration work, I don’t believe that there has been a photo taken and especially shown that isn’t self exploration or expression on some level. We all work thru our own blinders… And selves.

    I personally love Craft work, but am excited to see everything that is happening with the medium. Even if I don’t like it, that’s the beauty of that little box… We all find our own way to interact with it.

  17. Not a sheep Avatar
    Not a sheep

    Ansel Adams… Ultimate oops

  18. Nig James Avatar
    Nig James

    What load of shit.

  19. Matthew Whited Avatar
    Matthew Whited

    He taught at Harvard obviously that means he’s awesome and knows everything.

  20. Leslie Hoerwinkle Avatar
    Leslie Hoerwinkle

    There’s still no crying in baseball.

  21. Stefano Ferro Avatar
    Stefano Ferro

    Total respect to Neal and his thinking.
    I personally disagree as i just think that good photographers are and will still be out there. Probably nowadays to show your work you need marketing skills that were not needed before.
    I get to know a new photographer either on the internet (SEO skills), through social media (as it is the case of this article and you need marketing skills to get published) or galleries (and in most cases the owner prefers to have photographers with a big social following, which translates in $$).
    Most of us are exposed to these photographers. Only a few go deeper and find the real gems.
    That’s my 2c opinion
    In saying all of this, you may agree or not with Neal, but let’s try to be respectful of his opinion

  22. anotherview2 Avatar
    anotherview2

    The type of photographer you describe rests his or her work on a false premise, that a photograph tells a story. Of course a photograph cannot tell a story in the conventional sense, meaning a written or spoken narrative. A photograph does have a visual voice by which it communicates to the viewer. In turn, the viewer of the photograph constructs any story associated with the given photograph.

    For more discussion of this matter, see here: “False: Every Photograph Tells a Story”: http://www.uglyhedgehog.com/t-373563-1.html

  23. murhaaya Avatar
    murhaaya

    While I cannot compare the lenghts of text now and then but some of the ideas represented in the article personally (and I can’t stress personally enough) resonated with me, while other struck a strong dischord.

    Being not even half of the author’s age I find great deal of satisfaction in darkroom work and enjoy refining my skills. However I feel that current students (mind that I haven’t studied photography in school) don’t need to encounter film/analog photography anywhere else than in history lessons. Film is not the technology forefront and rather than teaching kids how to load the large format holder, it’s better to teach them about bit depth so we don’t see so many posterized photographs all around. Photography is craft no matter if it comes in forms of silver crystals or bits and even boring photographs should show a level of craft.

    I would avoid comparing with the past because first I am too young and second I don’t think that the past was as glamorous as people remember it. There might were less photographs needed explanation because there were less photographs in general.

    But still I feel some agreement. Many of the photographs I see today feels exactly as Mr. Rantoul stated – as walking in the middle of the story. I find many of these photographs boring and not a particulary good pictures. I feel that by not understanding the pictures rightaway I am lacking some hidden knowledge that can be gained only by reading up on it. No matter ho many deadpan photographs of some rural area you see from a given photographer I still feel that I need some explanation of why, should I find it interesting or worthy.

    Sometimes the photographs feel more like a crude storyboard to a photographers idea or concept. The concept is kinda there but leave out the concept and the photographs fail. Here I can mention Cartier-Bresson. His Decisive moment is an essay but take any of the picturea and put it on the wall with just location and text and it will work by itself not loosing any of it’s charms. Great pictures put together making a great essay – that is hardly surprising.

    1. anotherview2 Avatar
      anotherview2

      Your text addresses the main point:

      “I find many of these photographs boring and not a particulary good pictures. I feel that by not understanding the pictures rightaway I am lacking some hidden knowledge that can be gained only by reading up on it.”

      That said, the field of photojournalism relies on words to give context and meaning to a photograph. In this case, a photograph illustrates a story for a stronger message. Viewers achieve understanding from it without having to consult another source.

      And that said, a field of photography I call social photography has arisen to present itself in connection with a range of subjects, from the self of the individual to, say, a humanitarian project. The photographs in this range always require words for connecting the image to the activity (not unlike photojournalism), to render the photograph useful for the intended purpose. As a rule, such photographs cannot stand alone as appealing to the viewer for the craft and artful technique of photography.

      Further, this kind of photography necessitates a photographer as an advocate whose publicly described effort gives the social matter its meaning and value using his photographs. The photographer attaches himself inseparably to a social subject. He must actively promote the subject in order to keep both it and his career alive. Here, the photographer does not do photography for its own sake but for the sake of a social matter, not unlike the directed photography of the Soviet Union serving utopian social ideals.

      Obviously, this kind of photography has limited value, if any, outside its defined terrain. After all, viewers in general may show paltry interest in the subject matter of the photographs alone, with the associated text helping little if at all to generate more interest. This kind of photography may of course illustrate social history and personal matters, useful to those individuals whose scholarly pursuit finds this expression important to understanding an era in a topical manner.

      I suggest others who wish to look at photographs with wider appeal to visit here: http://www.500px.com.

      1. murhaaya Avatar
        murhaaya

        Well I was kinda addressing a different kind of photographs.

        Photojurnalism needs jurnalism. Photos should be bear a clear description like “a Kenyan policeman stomping on a unconscious protester during riots in Nairobi (date)” just to use something from a recent news. This gives the picture a much needed background. However such picture or other photojurnalistic pictures are powerful images by their own merit. Recall a picture of africans catching a cell phone signal in moonlight. Even without the description the picture is interesting. It holds some emotion. Without the description one could very well think that it is a staged picture but the image itself is still strong.

        My main target was something quite different. Something along the lines of:
        http://untrustyou.tumblr.com/image/144831935559
        http://66.media.tumblr.com/cfeb1a982fb7fd6c6289d62e5a02eb60/tumblr_o7l761YPe31rpowflo1_400.jpg
        http://66.media.tumblr.com/704e6226525a20055ae44787a9054ee3/tumblr_o7l7ao1qdR1rpowflo1_400.jpg
        http://67.media.tumblr.com/5aa5e93d325c7f38afaaab090e2af131/tumblr_o7l794G0DF1rpowflo1_400.jpg

        I do not wish to denegrade any of the examples mentioned here I just fail to see any meaning or reason behind such pictures. It feels to me, that the lack of reason and meaning is the author’s aim here. It feels to me like a fortress that I need a special password to get in a secret knowledge that will reveal to me why these pictures are worthy of my attention.

        Compare that to a photos of let’s say William Eggleston where even a lay man will find photographs that are pleasing and captivating while maybe lacking a strongly defined subject. Such photos can be enjoyed on their own (even if purely based on the color) and once put toghether the their power increases.

        I cannot say that about the pictures in my example. I can hardly imagine that a book full of such pictures would satisfy me in any way. (I do realize that there are people who find such pictures amazing.)

        P.S. bear in mind me stressing that this represents my own view.

        1. anotherview2 Avatar
          anotherview2

          First, I agree: A photograph ideally should stand alone as a visual statement that interests the viewer.

          Of course, levels and duration of interest exist. Usefulness adds another measure of interest. A photograph can position along a spectrum of interest depending on its purpose, too.

          Further, a photograph meant as an adjunct to a news report may have a limited interest and gains this interest only or primarily in the context of the report (or story). This description goes to photojournalism.

          Most editorial photographs possess nominal and passing interest with the purpose of illustrating a topic in a publication.

          The contrived photographs you give as examples here may provoke some interest but usually mainly for their oddness, outlandishness, or shock value. They lack enough meaningful inherent interest to keep the eye of the viewer. They pass away quickly from notice.

          As a rule, every kind of photograph, even snapshots, will attract a degree of interest from a viewer. The best photographs produce lasting interest in the viewer across generations.

          I end with another rule: Photography functions as a craft that may become art in the right hands.

          1. murhaaya Avatar
            murhaaya

            I tip my hat to you for your profound responses.

          2. anotherview2 Avatar
            anotherview2

            Thank you for your kind reply.

  24. AlexisZ Avatar
    AlexisZ

    An old gal here who agrees completely. I’ve been to too many BFA and MFA exhibits where nearly all of the photographs were subpar, and that’s being kind. Having a concept as a guide is fine, but if the images aren’t any good, then what’s the point? And, yes, there IS some great cutting-edge conceptual photography out there that isn’t subservient to the written word, but it constitutes a pretty small portion of the lot. As an old guy friend of mine used to say, “90% of everything is dreck anyway; greatness — or excellence — by its very nature, is rare.”

  25. Ziggy Watkins Avatar
    Ziggy Watkins

    Wise words indeed. Greetings from sunny Cyprus.

  26. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Would I get as much from Robert Frank or Dorthea Lange’s work without knowing the context in which their images were created? No. They would still be wonderful photographs deserving of attention, but they would mean much less to me if I didn’t know about the particular moments in American history that they came from.

    Much of the public has scant little education in art appreciation and some don’t even have a good grasp on history. In these cases a little bit of context helps a lot. The same goes for process, a intricate sculpture that looks neat without context can be mind blowing when you find out that it was created using a single knife.

    All that being said I totally understand what the author is getting at. I share my studio with a painter and his artist statement is two full type written pages long and more or less totally incomprehensible. I think in many cases this comes from an abject lack of confidence in the work and a need to somehow justify it. The gallery, museum and critic system also encourages this kind of nonsense, always asking “what is it about” rather than just engaging with the work.

    There’s no simple answer here. Sometimes its masturbatory, sometimes its essential context. Most of the time its probably somewhere in between.

  27. Lucas Pfaff Avatar
    Lucas Pfaff

    there is also a disturbing trend in journalism, writing articles with clickbait-titles so people come read it.

  28. Adam Prosser Avatar
    Adam Prosser

    The last half century as seen a blurring of the boundaries between art and photography since the latter’s wider acceptance as an artistic medium. There has been a crossover of the practices, each used by the other to communicate message. There are photographers that make art whilst there are artists that use photography. As observers, we need to be critical of the visual content and the message. One will not always serve the other well, yet merit may remain in one element of the work. When viewing a photographic body of work, I tend to establish if I am looking to digest it as photography or photographic art with a wider cerebral context. Not all photographers make great art and not all artists make great photographs – many do both very well. Some songwriters do not have the best voice or instrumental technique, yet the message wins all. It is of course a widely subjective field and ultimately we all like what we like. On occasion great imagery will be supported with intelligent method, cultural or societal relevance. Sometimes not. And that’s okay too.

    David Campany’s ‘Art and Photography’ goes some way to explore the relationship and the role of photography in artistic practice since the 1960’s. http://davidcampany.com/art-photography/

  29. Felonius Avatar
    Felonius

    “created an army of photographers who run rampant over the globe,
    photographing objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes, under almost every condition,
    without ever pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic? …They
    spy a view, it seems to please, the camera is focused, the shot taken! There
    is no pause, why should there be? For art may err but nature cannot miss,
    says the poet, and they listen to the dictum. To them, composition, light,
    shade, form and texture are so many catch phrases…”

    ^ an excerpt from http://www.jnevins.com/szarkowskireading.htm
    which in turn comes from
    E. E. Cohen, “Bad Form in Photography,” in The International
    Annual of Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin. New York and London: E. and H.
    T. Anthony, 1893, p. 18.

    People have been complaining about the democratization of photography since its infancy.

  30. Craig Kratovil Avatar
    Craig Kratovil

    Much of the work today is simply mimic. Very few independent thinkers. The internet is oversaturated databases of yawn-worthy rote gesture and technique, and very little emotional investment.