William Wegman has the strangest career in all of art photography, maybe in the history of art photography. He takes pictures of trained dogs in costumes and in odd poses. For some odd inexplicable reason, he got started off being thought of not as cutesy and kitschy, but conceptual and deep. Serious museum curators and critics make dutiful noises over him; to me he's the king of the naked kings. We all have artists who just don't grab us, I guess.
Or maybe I just didn't get enough sleep last night.
Anyway, this photograph to me sums up everything about art photography that makes me tired. It was taken with the Polaroid 20x24, with huge lights set up on the shore. The technical challenges must have been formidable; the difficulty of getting the dogs and the sails in position simultaneously must have been beyond maddening. But after all that hard work and special sauce, it ends up as a simple snapshot with no photographic grace that I can discern. Even as a gag it's so worn I can't muster a smile. (The serious critics always talk about Wegman's "humor." I picture them in sensible shoes and bow ties, tittering mirthlessly.)
I would just never have the energy for this sort of thing. Just the idea of it makes me feel tired, sitting here in my comfy chair. A lot of "conceptual"-style art photography strikes me that way: long way to go for precious little. From now on, I think, this shot will stand for that feeling for me, a symbol of it. (To be a successful photographer of any sort, the Number One thing you need is lots of energy.)
At least now the picture has meaning for me...maybe I should buy a print.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Peeve: "I never understood the appeal of that One-Trick Weimaraner Wegman either."
Featured Comment by Paul Van: "Perhaps it's just the fact that I discovered William Wegman without being aware of him as an art photographer—but his work has often made me smile (at least in small doses). Even after learning more about him, I persist in seeing his pictures as a form of 'a boy and his dog.' The dog lover in me rejoices. ;-) "
Featured [partial] Comment by robert e: "Well, Mike, your post (and the photo you linked to) actually forced me to think about why I can't, much as I wish I could, just dismiss Wegman as a lightweight joker.
"While his work isn't to my taste, Wegman strikes me as conscious and conscientious, not only in terms of craft, which he has clearly mastered, and the (in)famous content, but also about the aesthetic and social aspects of art photography. I suspect he has his tongue firmly in cheek, and laughs during his frequent trips to the bank.
"If he were shooting people with the same mastery and ambition he applies to dogs, we'd be celebrating Wegman as a portraitist (and he'd be making less $$ perhaps), but that mastery and effort I think is a crucial part of the gag--a deeper gag than just dressing and posing dogs. They're stupid, yes, but some of the portraits are just so...stunning. Stupid and stunningly good.
"And some of his images provoke me to think—at length—about photographs and art and portraiture and aesthetics and iconography. Not because they're bad, but because they're so good—technically, formally, aesthetically, conceptually (and I'm not talking about the dogs)—which makes it all the more absurd, which in turn is a large part of the point (for me). Mere kitsch doesn't do that.
"So yes, his work is cutesy and kitschy, and conceptual and at least somewhat deep (the best of it, anyway)."