In looking over the comments to my admittedly ungenerous essay that I linked yesterday, and to some of the comments in response to "Funny That Way," I can see that there are a few points begging to be made.
To begin with, my essay "Why I Hate Infrared" confuses the duties of the artist and the critic. Critics really have no business decreeing which modes of art and methods of working are valid and which not; the task of the critic is to be open to what individual artists are trying to do, and to try to judge whether they have succeeded. For a critic to be doctrinaire about means and methods, and to dismiss whole classes of endeavor merely based on matters of media, is for the critic to admit his own terminal shortcomings as a critic! That is, any critic who would say "all infrared photography is bad" is in effect saying "I'm close-minded and no good at my job." Art that works is art that convinces. And just as it's up to the artist to convince us, it's up to the critic to remain open-minded to the possibility of being convinced. It's quite possible for a good critic to say "I've never seen any infrared photography that I've found convincing," but that's very different from saying "Infrared photography that could convince me can't exist"—the latter is simply the admission of a blanket prejudice, a species of blindness—blindness being, of course, a distinctly undesirable quality in an art critic.
Student of criticism: I hate abstract expressionism.
Teacher of criticism: Fine, but which abstract expressionists are good?
The corollary of this is that artists aren't critics, and artists must have these blanket prejudices. The reason is that for an artist to have passion, she must believe in the importance and the validity of her chosen approach. This requires allegiance, and a dismissive or hostile attitude towards incompatible approaches becomes collateral damage.
Ralph Steiner visited Walker Evans in the hospital at the end of Evans's life and showed him a portfolio of landscape photography. Evans flipped through it quickly and dismissively said, "nature bores me."
That's the artist talking. "All nature photography is boring" would be a ludicrous critical position. But Evans believed in socially meaningful photography of people and what their surroundings revealed about their condition. For him to give "equal time" to pictures of rocks and trees (or color abstracts, or surrealism, or any other mode of working similarly distant from his own) would be tantamount to him discrediting the centrality of his own concerns in his own work. Show me an artist who doesn't loathe or dismiss whole categories of artistic endeavor and I'll show you an artist who isn't committed to his own art.
This may be why we have so few good photography critics, A. D. Coleman and Max Kozloff notwithstanding: because almost all photography critics are also photographers. Being both, they can usefully serve us as guides to what they love (I think of Robert Adams here), to what inspires and feeds their own work, but in the end they haven't got the objectivity that would allow them to remain open to the possibilities of ways of working, seeing, and thinking far from their own.
Personally I'm always struggling with this duality. I have a strong natural bent as a critic, in that I fancy I can sense when an artist has something valid to say and I like the task of puzzling out what that is. But I also have strong beliefs as an artist, emphatically-felt doctrines about what this medium is good for and what conforms to its nature, what's got richness and what's bankrupt. They're different kinds of good taste. The critic and the artist in me often conflict.
As to gimmickry, whether it's infrared film or overcooked vegetables: I respectfully suggest that smart photographers ought to watch out. The online world is becoming a sort of massive, monstrous camera club, an "academy" bound down by strictures and rules and mass taste. Conformity to this world is the antithesis of creativity, and it suppresses individuality. Because of the greatly accelerated degree of discourse and the de facto emphasis on competition (for attention, for audience, for approving comments), we're moving towards a point where not only will we have sorted all pictures into genera and categories of cliché, but we'll have a standard method for Photoshopping each generic category! I felt a sort of horror watching a video the other day in which the instructor recommended an extreme style of image manipulation that he repeatedly referred to as "edgy." First of all, I suspect that any time someone calls something edgy, it automatically isn't; but what really struck me is that as the end of this process of turning a half-decent photograph into some sort of post-pictorialist Frankenstein creation, he recommended making all the steps into an automated action, which could then be applied to other pictures literally with a mouse click. Is this the future of style? It leaves me wide-eyed, gulping.
Do you remember the Garry Winogrand quote from that great video we linked a while back? "We know too much about how pictures look and should look. And how do you get around making those pictures again and again?" The 'net effect is that now people strive to make cookie-cutter pictures ("again and again") that embody "how pictures look and should look." Most pictures aren't pictures, they're imitations of pictures. Collectively we're rushing toward what we should be rushing away from. Individually, of course, there's nothing wrong with any of this—as I've said, any individual can do anything he or she pleases, as long as there are no casualties. But as an active and expectant member of the audience of photography as a whole, it makes me wonder, and, I have to say, worry.