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Thursday, 07 April 2011


Feel free to beat me over the head. I definitely want this one and will be happy to be told when it's available.

As much as one can criticize the high-falutin' in Demand's practice, I still think his pictures are visually compelling. They're meant to be subtle; they're not going for the "high-impact" camera club photo style.

Since the Bechers, there has been a slew of artists going ostensibly against the grain of the visually powerful/graphically loud style, and not all of them are good. I can't count how many series of bored people on a beige background I have seen in galleries, with a writeup to the effect that the photograph was aiming at catching some esoteric relational properties of his subject, yadda yadda.

But for every bored Dutch girl in front of a white wall, I will show you two boring street photographer who tries to "catch the decisive moment" by reproducing over and over again the tropes we now associate with people like HCB, GW, and all the others that I'm slowly becoming sick to see.

Oh, and for every annoying street photographer who catches fat Jewish mothers (or class-crossing black guys) in New York doing things a white eye did not suspect them to be doing, I will show you ten retired English teachers from New Hampshire who spend three weeks in the summer trying to catch the moonrise in the american Southwest with a view camera.

And so on.

In the end, we have to recognize that multiple forms of photography are dominant between different social groups (I won't say "class" because rich people also like dross, not just Mozart), and that one's complaint about the dominance of a style often implies his desire to have his own style of photography dominate.

As Leonard Cohen said,

"There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn't."

'American' street photographer. Really? Pedantry aside, I'm looking forward to the book.

I will be buying this. But I would love to know why the book's title was chosen. It's generic and doesn't seem to fit with what little we know of the woman behind the photographs.

I find that I am distressed by (the existence of) art wherein the process seems be: If I add enough layers of process to the creation, somehow, meaning will emerge. There's often an enormous amount of CRAFT and EFFORT involved, and I do respect that, but does the end result actually say anything? Was all that work for anything?

This strikes me one of the places a person with nothing to say might hide.

This seems to be a recurring topic on TOP lately--how photography straddles life and death--as record and celebration of life and as memento mori, sometimes in the same piece or series. Photography's documentary ease and authority has not merely displaced other art forms and mediums in this function, but has changed the function at a profound level.

Anyway, this comparison of Meier and Demand brings this up again for me, and with some irony, too.

When I first learned that PowerHouse is publishing Vivian Maier's book I was delighted. It just seemed right. After all, PowerHouse also published Helen Levitt's works. I know they will do a top-grade job and I, too, am eagerly anticipating Vivian Maier's photo book.
Regarding the Deutsche Börse/Photographers' Gallery subject...

Honestly, I don't follow either the prize or the gallery. I do have some strong opinions on current trends in art photography...but I think it's best to keep them in my pocket.

I will, however, suggest one simple framework for viewing arty photography. Ask yourself what role the medium (photography) is actually playing in the presentation. What if the image was rendered as a drawing? A painting? A tile mosaic? How would it affect your impression? I've found this to often be an interesting point of view for inspecting my own reactions.


"'American' street photographer. Really?"

She was born in New York making her a US citizen. I can't find any information that she gave that up in France. Most on-line sources list her as American.

@ Andrew Molitor,

my own view is a little different from yours. I've been a little exposed to the UK art scene for about 10 years, principally through sponsorships my company makes, but also in a private capacity by having an artist cousin who is successful in her own right, and attending her shows.

Every time I go to a new show, I am struck by the fact that the "result" is often only the result of some lateral thinking, brought to life by craftsmen and not by the artist sullying their own hands. Can any modern artist paint really beautifully these days? Can any modern sculptor carve stone or wood with the beauty of Michaelangelo? Those are not the only benchmarks of course, but it seems to me that the "craft" and "effort" you describe are - in the sphere of modern art - largely the product of craftsmen, tradesmen, videographers, electricians or carpenters working under the direction of an "Art Editor".

To agree your final point. While to the art establishment the piece may "say something", to most normal sentient human beings* it is nothing more than an example of how to sucker funding and an ultimate sale.

* By definition, art critics and other luvvies excluded.

"'American' street photographer. Really?"

I thought the same and decided they must be qualifying the street part. Then I remembered reading that she was born in the US and grew up in France.

Does it really matter if a particular form of art is a place a person with nothing to say might hide? Does that category actually identify any limited area? I can't imagine a form of art where it is impossible for a person with nothing to say to hide. I don't think there are "safe" forms, that we can look at without risk of exposing ourselves to the work of people with nothing to say. (I'm reasonably confident "nothing to say" is a matter of opinion rather than fact, anyway.)

(And did you ever work for Network Systems in Minneapolis? Somebody with your name, who was a photographer, did, at the same time I did.)

Spy vs. Spy?

"*Read "beat you over the head with." (per Mike's annotation).

I thought that was the Bruce Gilden approach to street photography, and thus the thinking person's antithesis to defining anything good or worthwhile?

I find it hard to see O'Hagan's article as anything but whining that a group of curators doesn't like the same kind of stuff he likes.

I hadn't seen any of the works by three of the photographers (Ethridge the exception) in that show before reading the piece. Having looked at the linked sites I don't see a basis for asking whether it's "photography". Obviously it is. (All right, I'd call some of Elad Lassry's works on his site "collage", and I wonder why he didn't choose to make some of them paintings instead of photos; but even his work seems to be mostly photography. Maybe I'm missing some thing major.)

For that matter, I don't see what's so "conceptual" about much of it. Are we to consider all still-life photos "conceptual" now, or just the ones we think are pretentious?

(Demand is very conceptual, I grant; playing with the idea of the referent adhering, I guess is the point?)

I suppose it's easier to make a column out of "how dare they call this conceptual junk 'photography'" than it is to engage with the substance of the work.

Anyway, thanks for the pointer. I'll look out for chances to see more of Goldeberg's, Lassry's and Ethridge's work. And I eagerly await the Vivian Maier book; I hope they do a good job on it.

For anyone like me stuggling with contemporary photographic genres, I would recommend a concise overview by Charlotte Cotton entitled "The Photograph as Contemporary Art", part of World of Art Series by Thames and Hudson, 2004. It has been a great introduction for me in comprehending where some of the photographers are coming from, and even if I don't really like much of it, I like to at least try to understand it. Demands photograph is representing the art itself as a final statement and thus is an integral part of the artists process as the photo becomes the piece: as any one knows who has arranged and photographed a still life.
There will always be a blurring of the boundaries between expressive art, the validity of the concept (i.e the truth and integrity of the artists purpose) and opportunism.
My comfort zone is with the Vivian Maier book.

I think Michel Hardy-Vallée is onto something.

By the way, the Vivian Maier book is available for pre-order on Amazon for the princely sum of $26.37. I've never pre-ordered anything from Amazon before. Are there any real benefits or pitfalls?

It seems to me that "Conceptual Art" tells the audience more about the artist's ego and desire to be regarded as clever than the subject matter. Whatever happened to being open to what you encounter and translating that into an image through which others can encounter the subject? I agree with Andrew that There is too much emphasis on layers of process as a substitute for meaning.

I have this theory that the art world has been hijacked by the art critics and writers. Much of the photography being shown is conceptual because it is easier to write reams of socio-political jargon. The galleries want to please the critics to bring in more buyers to the gallery. The concept behind the work becomes more important that the aesthetic appeal of the image.
When you have to have someone explain a piece of work before getting any aesthetic enjoyment out of it (at all) then something is terrible wrong (in my books).

Michel, thanks for correcting me. In my ignorance, I thought she was born in France. Serves me right for being a pedant.


As an architect, in europe and used to working with models, I might just find Demand's work more relevant and easier to digest than Vivien Maiers black & white images of the american past.

Your mileage may vary, as you so often say.

Every once in a while a comment really nails it with clarity and conciseness. Jim Bullard's did on this one!

It was my understanding she was born in France as well...I take it we now know differently?

I can't follow every thread on every subject....


There 's a very good interview with Thomas Demand in a very good book called Image Makers Image Takers.

He sees himself as an artist and not as a photographer, although you can't escape the fact that the only way to view Demand's work is in a photograph.

I've been in the Photographers gallery. There was a large variety of work on display. I'd say that also reflects some of the past winners and nominees for the prize. I don't think it's as narrow as some are making out.

Hmm, Wiki says that she was born in NY, of French and Austrian parents, and that she grew up in both France and the States. So, the book should have been called 'Franco-American Street Photographer'.

How's that for a snappy title? Straight to the top of the best-sellers list.

Another, ahem, French photographer enjoying revived interest in his work is the fashion photographer Georges Dambier (sp?). The esteemed Cathy Horyn, of the NY Times, wrote about him recently.

Dambier had a book of b/w work published a couple of years ago and is currently exhibiting some colour photography from the '50s.

It's gloriously sunny in London and promises to stay like this for a few days. Hurrah! Wishing everyone an enjoyable weekend.

The problem for me with the subtitle is not that she might be partly French, it's just that there's little point to it. If she was completely French, or German for that matter, the subtitle wouldn't have been "French Street Photographer", but apparently being American is a big enough selling feature to put prominently on the front of a book.

When you "interrogate" a medium, do you play good cop/bad cop? Are "enhanced interrogation techniques" allowed? Does the medium get to call a lawyer? Do you force it to sign a false confession? At what point does it qualify for parole?


And who gives you permission to treat the medium as hostile?


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