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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

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Mike,
Loved the piece on the extraordinary Zeiss 50/0.7....I remember this lens specifically because it was used in shooting "Barry Lyndon" I also remember that Kubrick could not have made this film until a new fast film stock was available that also enabled the shooting of this truly candlelit scene.

I first "Barry Lyndon" when I was a very young man, and simply did not get it. I thought at the time it was very boring. But with age comes wisdom, and upon seeing the film several times as I have matured, I realize that it is a brilliant film, and that it's slow, deliberate pacing was intentional to convey a genuine sense of a time where the pace of life was considerably slower than today.

And nobody but Kubrick would have dared to shoot that incredible gambling scene in available light, and no one else but Kubrick could have pulled it off.

I remember going to see "Barry Lyndon" specifically for the candlelit shot scenes. As I watched it unfolding on the big screen my jaw literally dropped in amazement. It was pure magic. This film is one of my all time favourites.

Now that's what I call blogging! A wonderful read (aside from the Polaroid news) at the end of a long day. Thank you.

Thanks for the link to the Abu Ghraib picture investigation. The New Yorker story that preceeded it also casts a new light on what images mean to our picture-drenched world. And "Weekend at Bernie's" can now enter the lexicon.

scott

Morris's stuff on fake and real smiles and the phsyiology behind the difference is fascinating. I love how engrossed Morris gets on a particular subject. He would make a spectacular detective. ch

For me, the worst issue with photo manipulation is the manipulation done by the subject. We get worked up about someone Photoshopping in extra smoke to a battle scene, or removing a distracting pole from a sports shot, but we rarely hear any debate at all about the ethics of posed shots like the "Mission Accomplished" shot of Bush, where political operatives put up the banner and then claimed the crew had put it up, and where Bush is dressed up in a flight suit to give the illusion that he flew himself in, when in fact he was just a passenger who could have worn a business suit and gotten onto the ship like everyone else. That is truly evil photo manipulation.

Fsacinating piece from Errol Morris. Lengthy but very absorbing. Thirteen reports not to shed light, but to fuzz things up.

"...but we rarely hear any debate at all about the ethics of posed shots like the 'Mission Accomplished' shot of Bush..."

Really? Seems to me I've heard LOTS of debate about that, and lots of criticism, and lots of analysis, and for years and years, too....

Just sayin',

Mike J.

"One of the most discouraging aspects of modern computer photography and its newfangled distribution models, to me, is the extent to which new audiences for photography insist that fakery and visual cant are unavoidable, that "it's always been done" and therefore it's not worth bemoaning or even considering.."

While it may be true that you may be hearing/reading this more often now that the internet allows you to communicate with many more people much more easily than in the past, this debate has been going on since the beginning. Photographic manipulation of reality or truth, whether subtle or extravagant, is not new. What is new is that the methods have become more common knowledge to the general public.

To me it seems like this point that photography does not equal reality is most often made when someone insists that photographs should always equal reality, and that following the f/64 group philosophy of straight photography is the only way to do "real photography". I don't think the point of most folks who suggest that photography doesn't always equal reality is to suggest that straight photography is not worth considering. It's an oversimplified response to an oversimplified statement. As with many aspects of the real world the truth is neither black nor white, but potentially covers a very wide variety of the gray in between.

"After seeing so many movie representations of candlelight, it's interesting to see what life by candlelight really looked like."

To me it looks like a photograph of a candlelit room, but not very much like how my eyes and mind see it when I'm actually in a room lit by candles.

Not sure quite how you establish the equivalence between "fakery is unavoidable" and "photographs are trivial".

"One of the most discouraging aspects of modern computer photography and its newfangled distribution models, to me, is the extent to which new audiences for photography insist that fakery and visual cant are unavoidable, that "it's always been done" and therefore it's not worth bemoaning or even considering. It's tantamount to insisting that photographs are essentially decorative and trivial and can't be expected to contain truth, and thus that it isn't worthwhile to try to decode them." --Mike J

IMHO, this is close to the most critical issue in photography, that is, *What is it, and what it can be?* -- though I have to add that I don't really think that Morris's investigations, as fascinating as they are, have much to do with photography, except in the sense that he uses photography as evidence to examine other matters.

Photography, however, has great problems right now because it's being smothered by people who make claims to Art, generally under the ideas that "If I say it's art, it must be," "Anything can be art," "I worked hard and sincerely and the pictures are [are not] in focus and so it must be art," "It looks just like Ansel Adams, and Adams' work was art, so mine must be," and on and on.

There is this terrific worldwide urge by people to make art, as a way of demonstrating their value, and most of what almost all of them make is junk. I'm sorry, but if you make a beautiful picture of a clearing winter storm in the Sierras, it's almost certainly junk (in the artistic sense), because the thoughts behind it are essentially technical and retrospective. A serious artist making serious art shows a new way, demonstrates thoughts not thought before, makes what is essentially a philosophical argument.

If you wonder why the great impressionist painters rose in the years around 1860-70, and there have really been no great impressionists since...it's because impressionism is now a technique, rather than an innovative study of the effects of light. Ansel Adams photos are now a technique, readily replicable by anyone with a good camera, a couple weeks of experience at the Santa Fe Workshops, and some time to linger in the mountains. Taking the photos isn't hard; *thinking of taking them* was the hard part. Lots of people still paint photos in an impressionist style, but they're not doing anything innovative, they're just applying a technique.

Art photographers, or any serious photographers, for that matter, IMHO, have to decide who they are and what they're doing, and make it plain -- and essentially that will always come back to straight photography; it can be cleaned up, the contrast can be pushed, but if you take out a phone pole or put in a bush, you faked it, and it's no longer photography. It's something else. It's Photoshopismo.

Look: you can input almost anything into a work of "computer art." Doesn't have to be a photo -- it can be words, it can be numbers, it can be abstract black-and-white or multicolored blocks, it could be music. Photos are just the easiest thing, for the moment, and attract the people who want to apply a technique to something and then call that something art. It's not; it's just more internet junk. Fortunately it can mostly be made to go away with the push of a button.

JC

Just visted the Napolean Exhibit in the Old New Orleans Mint. The paintings and artifacts, even the death mask, glorified the Emperor. Think what they could have done with Photoshop.
That said, is the intent not the tool what really matters? If so, how do we discern the intent from the content?
Bob

"I don't really think that Morris's investigations, as fascinating as they are, have much to do with photography, except in the sense that he uses photography as evidence to examine other matters."

You make many good points as usual, John, but the above made me smile. I think I could argue that the entire value of photography is its usefulness as evidence in examining other matters. It's what *distinguishes* it from art, which is an aspect of it that's important to me.

Mike J.

Dear John,

I profoundly disagree with your use of the term "art." I, as the creator of the work, get to decide if I'm making art, not you. You, as the audience, get to decide if it's great, good, lousy, or execrable art. But just as I can't credibly insists it's great art if you think it's abysmal, you can't tell me I wasn't doing what I know I was doing.

pax / Ctein

William Furniss...i ditto that!

Geez Mike, you've covered everthing. What's left to say other than that we'll miss Flip.

-jbh-

"Dear John,

I profoundly disagree with your use of the term "art." I, as the creator of the work, get to decide if I'm making art, not you. You, as the audience, get to decide if it's great, good, lousy, or execrable art. But just as I can't credibly insists it's great art if you think it's abysmal, you can't tell me I wasn't doing what I know I was doing.

pax / Ctein"

Then we have to profoundly disagree -- but I would suggest to you that history is on my side. There are any numbers (thousands and thousands) of 19th century French artists, professionally trained and tremendously sincere, whose work isn't looked at any more, because just about everybody has decided that what they produced is not art. It's just painting.

The word "art" carries an implicit promise of quality, thought and communication; the word "craft" has an implicit promise of quality, but not of necessarily of thought. The words "painting" or "photography" only suggest the technique used.

There is no question that a wedding photographer practices photography, and perhaps even craft (if he's good) but what he does is unlikely to ever rise to the level of art. Same with landscape or street photographers. Just hoping, saying, asserting, or arguing that it is art won't make it so.

To be art, it must fulfill some general requirements (it must be high craft with a philsophical dimension) and it must stir a response in somebody other than its maker; at least, that's what I believe.

JC

I've gradually come around to the conclusion that Errol Morris is the most interesting intellectual in the United States today. His blog at the Times only cements that conclusion.

Ctein - 1

JC - 0


Best wishes

Mike, thank you so much for the Errol Morris link, a very long, very disturbing read - deserves more publicity.

As to the nature of "art", well, I'd rather have good "craft" than bad "art" any day. There is a lot of bad art about that can only justify its existence by J.C.'s criteria.

Cheers, Robin

The only good answer to the question: What is Art?

Who cares?

ART is just a salesmans term; it neither alters nor adds to the object at hand.

Art history; opinions, not facts.

Morris was wrong, Fenton took w/o cannonballs first, then w/cannonballs second. I have just as much proof as EM for my thesis, I just killed a lot less pixels.

Bron

Mike, Through many posts I think you have bemoaned the issue that the public is losing confidence in the ability of modern photographs to depict reality. Other comments have brought up the fact that photos may be completely staged to portray any story regardless of reality.

Missing from all of this is the fact that every photo is an abstraction of reality.

If reality is desired then it is up to the craft of the photographer to manipulate that abstraction so it depicts his version of perceived reality. On the other hand the photographer may also manipulate that abstraction to depict any desired perception.

Thus for a viewer to interpret a photograph you might say he must understand the photographer's intentions as well as something of that specific photographer's craft or art as well as his own capabilities of perception.

Errol Morris seems to have an understanding of these issues. But I wish the general public were better informed of them also.

So to drive the nail home. A responsible photographer must manipulate his photographs and we should applaud his efforts of manipulation.

By the way, I can hear Ctein giggling in the background.

Regards, Bob

Gotta love these little disputes about "art" and "craft" and "good" and "bad" and which is which and who decides, disputes that litter the internet and the pages of newspapers, magazines and books.

Who cares and why?

What stands or falls on the answers? The careers of a few folks, mostly privileged, mostly elite, and . . . . ? What else?

Now, I can say, "a real artist doesn't waste time arguing over what to call her work," but that ain't true, they do it all the time and they and the critics whose careers and sales, like the artist's, depend on the answer, do it for what, to them, is good reason: money, reputation.

Why should the rest of us give a dam whether it's art or craft or both, good or bad or both, interesting or innocuous or both?

If what passes for art on the internet and in the studios and galleries is, in fact, "art" because the "artist" intended it to be "art," then, of course, the term is meaningless, empty . . . . except as a signifier of value in the marketplace.

It's equivalent, these days, to the term "organic" or the term "super-delicious!" It doesn't mean a thing, except that it's gonna cost you more than the other product.

The endless, empty debates are like fiddling while Rome burns, except what's burning is our planet and we (writers, posters, critics, artists, elites) are all fiddlers.

Robin,

What is it about the art that you dislike that makes it bad? If it is the message or craftsmanship, that speaks only to what you are ready to consider or what rules you feel must be adhered to, no?

JC,

Who gets to decide if a painting has some meat to it rather than being merely derivative? Only a very few learned souls, I suspect. If I read something into a painting or photograph, it is art for me, even if the "artist" never intended it.

I do agree that art should be more that technique used to make a decoration.

I think I mentioned before one of my great critical principles. At the Corcoran in the 1980s the Photography Department was off in a far corner of the basement of the magnificent Beaux Arts building across from the Old Executive Office Building. To get there one had to walk down a long corridor where the Third Year Fine Arts students displayed their work, many of which were sculptures or small "installations" as they were called then (and may still be), and that sat on the floor in the middle of the corridor. Coming out of the darkroom late at night after working for many hours, I would sometimes attempt to leap over quite large floor-standing sculptures. My friends would always be horrified that I would land smack dab in somebody's prized artwork and ruin it, but I had strong legs and was a former trampolinist, and I knew my powers--I always cleared what I attempted.

The critical principle at work, which I declaimed brightly on many an occasion, was "If I can jump it, it ain't art."

I still think I should be famous as a critic for that.

Mike J.

It used to be art if Marcel Duchamp said it was, but he's dead now, so that sort of puts a damper on future possibilities.

Mike J.

And as for Ctein's formulation, I recall the story of the man who went to the top of the mountain in order to fly. He stood at the edge of a cliff and flapped his arms wildly, and nothing happened. When he returned from the mountain he was angry and disappointed, explaining, "I wanted to fly." A Buddhist monk came along and set off up the mountain to do the same thing, but when he came down from the mountain he was happy and satisfied. People gathered around him expecting great news, but all he said was, "I wanted to see if I could fly."

It seems to me that if a person says he or she is making art, then all they're talking about is what they're doing, not what they've done.

Mike J.

And, so as not to take sides, if John Camp's formulation were universally accepted to be true, then neither Vincent Van Gogh nor Franz Kafka would have had any reason to keep going. To name just two.

Mike J.

With respect for all opinions, I don't think the issue is centered around weather an artist or craftsman or bozo is making art but rather is there a difference between a pretty picture and an artistic picture.

For me, there definitely is a difference and it's not black and white, but rather a very Grey line between the two.

And I will also recognize that your Grey line may not be the same as my Grey line.

Regards, Bob Wong

Bob,
Ah, yes--and then you get into the issue of something "functioning as [if it were] art." One of the books I'll be naming in my upcoming list of great books available now is one of snapshots. It seems undeniable that, as Richard B. Woodward wrote, "Professionals...may despair as they realize that offhand efforts with a camera frequently produce more visual excitement than their studied exercises." That is, certain snapshots function better as art than many photographs specifically intended to be art--even when subjected to the most rigorous deconstruction.

Mike J.


Yes but who will the Cubs be playing in the World Series?

You mean in your fantasies? Who did they play last year in your fantasies?

Mike J.

Back to Mike's earlier point - I am increasingly dismayed by the ubiquitous magazine articles on how to blend in a new (old) sky etc to make your picture pop.

To me that would devalue what I'm doing because it isn't all about a synthetic thrill that is devoid of a connection with reality. Yep, I take blurred photos and sharp ones. Sometimes I leave the noise in and sometimes smooth it a bit, but it's all there and part of what I'm making.

I could go on about the metaphor for modern western life that this presents, but I think I'll leave it at that:)

Mike

Regarding Morris' article, a bit of useful context he almost, but not quite, gets to.

As a gay women in the military, Harman must be "one of the boys" or she's gone. While the military is only illegally sexist, it is very legally homophobic. A gay in the military who makes too many enemies (or simply not enough friends) will get outed by one of them. That means their discharge.

Every gay lives with the fear of that hanging over their head. It affects how they "play well with others" and "don't make waves."

None of that in any way excuses, condones or forgives any of her actions, regardless of how you take them. But it is explanatory and important and relevant context.

pax / Ctein

"And, so as not to take sides, if John Camp's formulation were universally accepted to be true, then neither Vincent Van Gogh nor Franz Kafka would have had any reason to keep going. To name just two." Mike J.

Of course they did; they were crazy. Name a great artist who wasn't a little nuts, and didn't need it to keep going...

And as for Van Gogh, how do you know that, at the very end, he didn't accept my formulation? After all, he shot himself... 8-)

JC

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