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Thursday, 04 November 2010


Since you asked, the answer to that last question is yes, every time from now on, forever.


It feels like that entire conversation should be in a Christoper Guest or Wes Anderson movie.

In the past sixteen years, the Packers lead the Vikings 17 to 15 games. As a Green Bay resident, I had to look that up and call you on it.

I can answer one: Ctein won't shave, but his beard may be plucked by a flock of rabid psittacines.

I think that the reason this nearly 150 year old question, "Is photography art," continues to be asked is that unfortunately photography has an traditional and established analogue--painting. What underlies this argument is the idea that photography may simply be mechanized painting, an imitation of real "art."

If you think of photography as a separate and distinct means of expression that stands on its own merits, then this argument largely goes away I think.

is there a Higgs boson?

"Will Ctein ever shave?"

I don't know about you, John, but I'm not that eager to find out what's hiding under that beard. ;-)

Very interesting observation. I have been thinking of this concept for a while. There are photographers who take pictures of things and photographers who are less concerned with the "reality" of what they point their camera at, and a whole spectrum in between. Of course the same could be said for painters. Maybe someone like Robert Bateman (http://www.robertbateman.ca) should be classed as a photographer...

This is just silly -- a category mistake, as they used to say. Photography is a medium that can be used to create all sorts of works. Art is -- I'm not going there, but in any case art is not any one medium.

Being a masochist, I would be mildly curious as to why pomos count as artists but others don't. Is it a matter of posing the pictures? Where do they shelve Jerry Uelsmann? Where do they shelve the pictorialists? How about Karsh or Avedon?

But really, the bottom line has to be that if the store is that good, I'd be happy to shop there regardless of their shelving eccentricities. (If I had the money to shop in Santa Monica at all.)

The Packers had better beat the Vikings again... that part I can comment on. :-)

Perhaps the reason that Gregory Crewdson's books fit-in so well with books about paintings is that his approach is fundamentally similar?

Rather than start with a complete, existing scene, and crop away bits of it to reveal the essential image as most photographers do, he instead starts with a blank "canvas" and creates his images from scratch, as most painters do.

Ultimately, the only significant difference between one of his photographs and a painting is that he used a camera instead of a paintbrush...

Where would Thomas Demand fall?

And where would you put Chuck Close? I think I'd put his painting books in the Photography section and his photography books in the Painting section. ;-)


Is that Hennessy + Ingalls?

For me, there is a profound difference between artists who just happen to be using photography as a medium, and photographers trying to create art.

This website has been the most expensive reading I have ever done. Since joining this blog I have bought 2 Pentaxes (Pentaces?) plus a pancake lens and, of course, the 35mm f/2.8 Limited. I have a small shelf of recommended books that I have only learned of here. All from Mike's recommendations.

I know how to use Camera raw better and how to sharpen more effectively. All good things.

Now that f***ing John Camp comes along willy-nilly and recommends two books that I took one look at and had to get. I am going to be a very happy broke person when I'm done with this list.

Now, back to Virgil and the religious freaks.

Dear John,

Reminds me of a situation back in the 70's (and also relates to Mike's recent posts). City Lights Books in San Francisco insisted on filing the books of my pretty-well-known-poet friend, Wendy Rose, under "Native American" ethnography instead of with the, ummm, real poets.

pax / the-artist-formerly-known...

Gordon Lewis: I don't know about you, John, but I'm not that eager to find out what's hiding under that beard.

"Two Owls and a Hen, Four Larks and a Wren"?

One dimension of this is that the basic material of painting has no meaning by itself and anything goes right/wrong the artists is totally to be appreciated/blamed. Closer to these kind of constructive arts, these photograph-art using a construction approach to "build" photography is like painting. Both are additive process controlled by the artist.

The basic material of most photos taken by us are different. They are from reality and got meaning by reduction (cutting, zooming, transforming by zone mapping / color mapping ...). The photographic material itself is part of the reality and got meaning by itself. The photographer has less control. It is a different kind of art.

A related dimension is effort. No doubt to be there and F8 take a bit of effort. But it is harder to know whether a picture is an artistic construction or just a random cutting of the real world (i.e. snapshotting) that just happen to be some meaning to someone. It might be just be luck ...

May be it is a man sleeping next to a bread just snap-shoted or may be it is an artists moment of a photographer deliberately trying not to be get pigeon-holed into any category. May be it is a robot who keep on taking photo of flowing water in Victoria Fall to help its "artists" thousand miles away to find an "art" or may be it is Ctein who takes his pictures and said that it is... whatever.

Who knows. One know, however, for those constructive-approach- photographer, it takes a lot of effort to put up these "art". Hence, not just in kind they might be a different art but effort wise one can be sure this is NOT a lucky snapshot. Not that snapshot is not art. Just that we are not sure and at least it belongs to another category! Those constructive photos showed efforts and in many cases showing something normal photographer cannot possibly produce. Being different at least.

Of course, one can paint using very large inkjet paint of snapshot. But other than spending large amount of money, it is NOT artistic effort. At least you cannot easily be 100% sure. Hence, the deductive type of art creation is at a disadvantage. It is much harder to stand out from the photographer point of view. It is much harder for the "reader" to be sure as well.

As regards whether any one is art, who knows. What is art anyway. But if one has to separate I guess those category seems make sense. A lot indeed.

A painter who happens to use a camera? Is Saul Leiter too obvious?

hamburger at fred segal's says it's arcana. bill pierce likes it, too.

"the idea that photography may simply be mechanized painting, an imitation of real 'art.'" - Edd Fuller

"Ultimately, the only significant difference between one of his photographs and a painting is that he used a camera instead of a paintbrush..." - Jeffrey Goggin

This is very amusing. Is this not more or less the same reason given to explain both why and why not?

My simplistic and cynical take is that Wall and Crewdson consciously make stuff for gallery display, while Cindy Sherman makes stuff for books and studies.

Perhaps its more descriptive to say, as others have, that, using different approaches and similar methods, Wall and Crewdson produce things that are easy for people to identify as traditional art, while Sherman produces things that by intention look to most people like snapshots or commercial photographs.

And I suppose that part of what I'm saying is that modern artists consciously play with people's expectations about "photography vs art." Not saying there's anything wrong or right with any of this, btw.

But Wall and Crewdson are easy. I'd be more curious about where the store puts Eggleston or Shore or Arbus or Dan Winters (does he go on the Graphic Design shelf?), and whether black and white automatically relegates one to the photography shelf.

Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica.

There IS a heaven.

My photos are art, but nobody'd ever put them with the paintings.

I like this line of inquiry very much.

1. Painters use paint.
2. Photographers use cameras.

This makes me think of a (maybe) related issue, a project for me eventually, that I have thought about for years. The pictures that I take are of things that I see that I think are interesting, while walking or driving around. (I also shoot some motorsport but that's different.) But given a blank background in a studio, say, would I be able to construct a visually appealing scene by creatively assembling props/objects (or things, I don't know what)?

Years ago, I saw a photograph on a micro-stock site, of all places, of a bunch of open books, placed over top of one another and the shot was taken at table level, and the open books looked like colourful waves of paper. I remember thinking to myself, would I ever have thought of doing that.

This post made me think of that because I always hear it said that painters put stuff in, while photographers take stuff out (of a scene). Can photographers put stuff in too? Is that a different activity, somehow?

Paul Graham had some interesting things to say about this problem. Here is the link to his "Unreasonable Apple" article:


I also like his "Photography is easy, photography is difficult" article on the same page.

"Are most art photographers "photographers" but not "artists?" Why is it so easy to put Crewdson and Wall in with the painters?"

Good topic, John.

Having met Greg Crewdson, and having good familiarity with Jeff Wall's work I can assure you that they would probably greatly prefer being with painters. (Jeff Wall actually was a painter and art historian.) I actually consider Greg Crewdson more of a set designer. The over-produced scenes for which he's famous are every bit the same efforts as a movie set design.

And, Mike, Chuck Close definitely want to be, and should be, considered as an artist rather than a photographer. He was here recently for a talk and his audience was overwhelmingly art students, not snappers.

Slobodan expressed my general opinion on this subject: there is a categorical difference between a conceptual artist incidentally using photography as a medium versus a photographer who might incidentally be doing conceptual work.

But of course this wagon train of thought ultimately lures the photo-oriented enthusiast into the murky, often disturbing world of conceptual art.

Ewww! Quick, I need to snap a travel landscape, my kids, my dog,....!!

Martha Benedict:

Yes, it is Hennessey+Ingalls, on Wilshire between Second and Third streets. The clerk really seemed to know what he was talking about, and had given the matter some consideration, something I always appreciate in a bookstore. There's another one somewhere over in Hollywood, on Cahuenga Boulevard, but I haven't been to that one.

There are two large problems with the bookstore: the first is that they have stuff that you can't find anywhere else, except maybe in some art specialty stores in New York; and the second is that they're ungodly expensive. I try to check all the Half-Price Books stores before I start spending my book budget at Hennessey+Ingalls, but I usually wind up in there anyway.

Not to go on too long, but they are a prime example of why we need bookstores, and not just on-line stores - yesterday I bought $285 worth of book (four books) *and when I went in, I was not aware that I needed any of them.* I never would have seen them on-line, because I wouldn't be able to browse them. As it turns out, of course, I couldn't bear to go on living without them. 8-)


Since the painting books have photographs of paintings, they're all essentially photography books. What you get is the experience of looking at a photograph of a painting, which can be very different from standing in front of the original.

John Camp, I will understand if you don't want to spend more time on this, but in case you do here's a question: did the clerk tell you that they had decided to put Wall and Crewdson among the artists or among the painters? You quote the clerk as saying the former, but then in your own musings you use both, with "artists" in quotes.

It makes a difference because a distinction between photographers and artists just sounds like the very old prejudice that photography is base mechanical reproduction while art is something higher -- with an exception being made for a few great photographers who have somehow elevated themselves. The distinction between photographers and painters seems obvious and unremarkable, until we learn that some photography counts as painting. That is puzzling and suggests something like the distinction Michel discusses, between painting as something done with paint and painting as "a set of conventions, a set of codes and methods of production and appreciation".

Andrew Burday:

The quote was accurate -- he said "artists" (meaning painters) and "photographers." That's why I asked the question about whether most photographers are photographers, but not artists...You also have to understand that this was a *very* casual conversation, and that in a formal interview, he might have said "painters" rather than "artists."

Well, now that I think about it an appropriately anal manner, ever since I switched to printing with an inkjet printer, I am now a painter/printmaker, using a mechanical device to spray the ink on to paper in a manner that represents the image I envisioned. If photography is writing with light (from the Greek), then my "liquid on paper" prints are no longer photographs.

"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" anyone?

Responding to Kalli's comment, one of my local libraries has Paul Strand's Time in New England shelved with regional material, a long way from the photo section. The first time I went to look for it, I thought I must have made a mistake.

And responding to Ctein's comment on his Indian friend who wanted to be shelved with the poets, I believe that's also a long-running problem for African-American authors.

John, thanks for the response. I should clarify: when I wrote, "this is silly", I meant that the clerk's distinction was silly. Your anecdote drew attention to a perennial problem for anyone interested in photographic art and elicited some helpful responses. It wasn't silly and if I seemed to be saying so, that was due to careless phrasing on my part. I hope I didn't come across that way and apologize if I did.

John, I know exactly what you're saying about H+I, and why browsing among physical books is totally different than clicking around Amazon. Something like what Mike means about seeing photographs in galleries, not just online or in books. I remember that store when it was on Pico near Sepulveda. Glad it's moved further west where traffic deters me from ever going.

And should the paintings of Clive Head be listed in the Photography section?


Is this a little like when bookstores have "Literature/Classics" and "Fiction" sections?

The answer to all these questions is very obvious:
Photography is a sub-genre of art - while in the same time, art is a sub-genre of photography
Just goes to show, that sometimes the question is more enlightening than the answer......

Hennessey+Ingalls has a 20% off sale going that also applies online. I don't mean for this comment to be posted, just to let readers know that through Saturday (very little time!) a visit there in person or via web won't be as big a hit to your personal savings plan.


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