« A Different Way of Working | Main | Leica M in the Pipeline »

Saturday, 02 March 2013


Mike, you're on a roll with the thought provoking posts. It will be interesting to see at what stage in their careers the respective photos were taken.

Point well made.

Damn, just one out of three (guessed Adams, Penn, Evans).

Aren't those the answers to this quiz?

Oh, it's both. Took me a minute :)

Point taken.

These are the a, b, c, of Photography, but I was waiting for the answers to the earlier quiz Mike, you mixed up the files I guess.

Incidentally, at the Art Institute of Chicago there is an exhibit of the Taub collection, donated to the Art Institute. In it are three different prints of Moonrise, Hernandez and six different prints of Migrant Worker. The Moonrise, Hernandez prints span 30 years. Very interesting to see the different interpretations or results from the same negative.

I was thinking of Ansel Adams for tbhhe top of this one...

Why did I guess Walker Evans when I knew it was Dorothea Lange? Evil are the ways of the aging mind...

I've found this series of points interesting and amusing by turn, although for me it only represents one aspect of photography - the famous photo, or the photographer as hero, whatever. It got me thinking of an interesting experiment though. I wonder what would you would learn (if anything) by asking a selection of "ordinary folk" to compile three lists - six famous artists, six famous authors and six famous photographers. I think it might be interesting in positioning photography in the consciousness of the world. It would also be interesting to see if said guinea pigs could accurately place creations with their selection of artists/writers etc. Also to see if they recognised an artwork or book title or photograph. My guess is that maybe many artists and writers have become household names without people being familiar with their works, and many photographs have become household icons, without people being familiar with the photographer

Guessed right on the 1st one, though I don't have a copy of Adams at Manzanar.
For 2nd was thinking of a Walker Evans of someone like Kirsten. But does appear un-retouched with single window or skylight as in Ed Weston's studio portrait work.
For 3rd had thought it was a Clarence John Lauglin, but couldn't find the image in his Ghosts along Mississippi.

Two out of three for me, as I missed the Adams photo.

Point taken but then comes the question "why is a photograph a hit?". In some cases it is because the photo "grabs" the audience, something about is visually compelling. In other cases I think it is drummed into us by repeated exposure to it. Weston's pepper, to me at least, is an example of drummed in by every photo history book, art history class, etc. It isn't a compelling image to me. It is technically good, lighting, exposure and well printed but that's it. Yeah, I know. I'm swimming against the current here.

Easy this time. I got all three. Odd, considering I don't really know much else by any of them.

Which brings me to this question. How much of the "famous for one shot" issue is actually a self-fulfilling prophesy resulting from (a) how they are initially publicised and (b) the accessibility of the work to the public at large?

Once an association is made, the artist's selected work becomes their avatar. It's a brave editor or curator who would forego such an easy and well established association when referring to the artist (I have no idea what Dorothea Lange looks like, I only know that one picture).

Anyone who is not particularly into photography may remember a single image, provided that they see it over and over again, and provided that it is mainstream and memorable. They may of course remain entirely unaware of other works by the same artist, or any work at all from 99% of photographers, because they simply won't bother.

So at what point is the "one famous work" curse finally dispelled, and what level of indifference or ignorance does the "knowing" have to penetrate before it qualifies?

Beethoven ranked four works according to you, which seems fair, but this is four more than most classical composers. Moreover, anyone with any interest in classical music would list at least 10, and fans like me closer to 30. So which is the real measure?

Pick the Beatles and how many would most people our age immediately remember? Now ask the same question of a 15 year old. Popular culture vs. classical culture?

Until I discovered TOP, my awareness of photographers was deplorably lacking. I am now somewhere around third grade, so I know some artists well and many not at all. For those I know well, I would be able to pick out a decent handful of their works, having pored over them many times. Moreover I would struggle to define which, for me, is the iconic work.

For those I don't know, I am at the mercy of the editors. I wonder how often I have been put off an artist by my indifference to their "avatar" (all three above included).

Which takes me back to the point, somewhat covered by your "different way of working" post, that a real artist is remembered by artists (or art lovers) for the thematic development, intellectual depth and originality of the body of work they produce, not for their "greatest hit".

However the "greatest hit" will always be used by curators to pull the public into the galleries (and sell the merchandise).

The price of fame, perhaps, is to be remembered for that one work you did that is so banal that everyone "gets it", but at least it will make you rich, even if it doesn't (on it's own) make you great.

Ansel Adams photographed at Manzanar a couple of years after "Moonrise" was taken. He made pictures in and around the camp during WW II and published a book of those images, "Born Free and Equal" in 1944. Of note, another of his iconic images, "Mount Williamson, The Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California", was taken during this period.

I knew Weston's!!! One for six!

Very nice. I had actually guessed that all three of the first quiz were Weston, heh.

James Bullard - I'm right there with you. But there is also the concept of something being "significant" within the art world, even if it doesn't grab you. So you could say you get beaten over the head with it because it's significant, even if a lot of people don't particularly like it. I think that's true with a lot of art.

I only knew the Ansel Adam's picture.

I believe I had seen the 2nd picture somewhere but didn't know who took it.

Top: no idea.
Middle: one of my favourite pictures ever. One of the photographs I show my friends who aren't much into photography when I want to illustrate excellence. (Edward Weston, of course.)
Bottom: I've seen this picture hundreds of times and love it, and I'm sure I'm quite familiar with its author's body of work. I just can't remember the photographer's name.
One out of three. Much better than last quiz. Two or three more and I'll hopefully be able to identify all photographers. Or not.

Three for three on this set.

Shopping for my rocking chair and shawl for much of the previous sets.


One nice thing about the Dorothea Lange image and the other FSA images is that you can do a large file digital download from the Library of Congress and print your own copy. I have done this with a number of the historic images, using them in teaching and presentations. Very nice way to illustrate and show printing techniques and variations using images many recognize.

I only caught this when you put the second three up.

I didn't get any of the first three, but I wondered whether the kids in the first photo were in an internment camp in the US during WWII ?

What's the answer there?

Kurt Kramer and Steve Jacob raise an interesting point for me. When a photographer like Adams issues several different interpretations of an image over the years, are they the same image? If I think of the last version of "Moonrise" and you of the first, are we thinking of the same image? Which one is he truly famous for?

And if Steve McCurry is famous for only one version of "Afghanistan Girl", is that because that version got such extensive magazine coverage that he felt he couldn't go back and revisit it, because he felt he really nailed it that first time, or because he didn't have the vision or imagination to come up with another version that he thought is an improvement on the first?

Joni Mitchell once commented that the difference between a painter and a singer is that a painter paints an image, hangs it on the wall, people see or don't see it, but nobody asks the painter to paint it again while the singer gets asked to sing it again all the time.

Did Adams "paint it again" or did he paint something else? Does a singer really sing the same song again?

Instead of retiring the negative or the file and never printing an image again after releasing a limited image, would the photographer be printing the same image if they printed it in a different interpretation? Would doing so be breaking a promise not to print that image again?

If Adams' one iconic image were "Moonrise", would he be famous for one image or several?

The waters are muddy and, in some cases, do we really know what image a photographer is famous for or are they simply famous for any image that they chose to hang a particular name upon? Do we agree that the photographer is famous for a particular image if we name the same image name but each think of different versions of that image, especially if each of us is unaware of the other versions and have each only seen one version, just different versions?

If I'm going to ask the question, then I should have my own answer and my answer is that they are different images, They aren't the same photo, even if the name they're issued under is the same and the negative or original file is the same. But I also think it's easy to come to a decision when it comes to images. I'm far less certain whether Joni Mitchell is singing the same or a different song every night.

(a meta reply to the last three posts)
I'm running a different experiment in the opposite direction. I plan to take tons of shlocky photos and post them online so I can't even recognize the ones I took, let alone anyone else's.

Now anytime I see a photo online I like I just assume I took it and my brain releases endorphins as I give myself a pat on the back.

This was a fun quiz. I have a request for Mike: Do you have any information about these photos? Who is in the Weston portrait? When did Adams take the Manzanar photo? Why was Lange photographing a run down mansion? I think this might help us suss out why these aren't famous photos.

It was odd to see TOP load with Adams' "Moonrise" right at the top because I just saw it as part of the "museum set" exhibit at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. It was my first opportunity to see some of Adams' prints first hand, rather than in a book or online.


This exhibit is gorgeous. Anyone in the western New England - Albany, NY area should take a drive to Pittsfield and pay the gatekeeper $13 to see it.

I stopped to get a coffee on the way home and mentioned the exhibit to the high school girl making my Americano.

"Yeah", she said. "He really stepped on his images." Noting my puzzled look, she explained: "You know, edited them. They were nothing like reality. We studied him in my photography class."

I know the second one: it's yours! so clever of you to sneak in one of your own photos like that ;)

Just kidding, point taken, lesson understood and appreciated :) I wonder, though: is there meaning in the select few photographers for whom the first image in your mind is not their most iconic? whenever I think of HCB I always think of his portrait of Truman Capote rather than his more famous street work; it's the photo that made me fall in love with portraiture, and even photography itself, after all. God bless that dull evening at the library.

The pepper from Weston always reminds me of the clueless artist I meet years ago. The person had made a pencil drawing of this image. When I asked them about the source for their "art" they completely denied their "work" as a direct copy. Claimed complete ignorance of Edward. Two peppers in the same light and shape, I don't think so.

The best exhibit of Adams work that I've seen was done by the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas in their restored Hot Springs bath now art center. It presented about 40 prints from a chronological order. And if I remember right, the year 1928 must have been a monumental year for him. The prints changed from somewhat muddy and blocked to extreme tonal beauty that he will always be known for. A complete transformation on display. It was a great show.

Yes, those three iconic images I could identify. Adams would have another few easy picks, Weston a few, Lange, none reliably (except for ones of the same subject.) But we're seeing from the responses that maybe only Adams can be considered a household name. That doesn't surprise me. Weston is a big name in art history, but his images are not calendar fodder. They're too clinical for mass popularity. And everyone knows the Lange image, but from history texts, not art books. The photographer isn't the topic, the subject is. But I can't think of any images that would get higher recognition, except maybe one of Matthew Brady's, and those are also more famous for their subjects. Arbus? Distinctive, but not quite a household name. HCB? In Europe mote than here.

Got all three, not even a challenge. Once again studying the work of the masters pays off.

It is hardly a matter of guessing. Ether you know who the photographers are, or you don't. It is practically impossible to guess who did something. If you don't know, you can guess that they are in a style of someone you do know, like one suggested EW for all of them, but to make the right guess is, like I said, practically impossible since there are so many options.
I think it is fair to say that all the respondents who 'guessed' right, did not guess at all, but knew the answers. Nothing wrong with that. Just saying that the original question should have been, do you know who these are, instead of can you guess?

[I don't know about that. I guess right all the time. Not always, of course, but not infrequently either. --Mike]

I would think that any student of the history of photography would know instantly who created these iconic images. As photographers we need to understand our history and how it has evolved.

The Dorthea Lange image is very interesting in so many ways. If it was published today it would get attacked heavily. Its proper title is "Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936", which is false according to the subject, as is the background story (tires sold to buy food) as relayed by Lange. Bag News, where were you?

Then add the retouching of the image (removal of part of a hand holding back the flap on the right) and you have a Pelligrin style controversy waiting to happen.

Wow, I'd be hard-pressed to pick 3 more amazing, compelling, and historically-significant photos than the ones you picked here, Mike.

I'm happy to say that I knew the photographers for all three.

I meant that I got one out of three on the first quiz. The second was easy as pie, of course.

But I have to call "foul" on the deception. You asked us to guess on the basis of style or content, then used examples without signature style or content. Indeed, the teenage Adams hadn't developed a style to speak of. I don't know how old Weston or Lange were when they took theirs.

I propose that photographs contemporary with the second set would have been easier to identify.

If the point was to illustrate that a lot of work has to happen between just taking pictures and mastery, then, well done. But this exercise is too skewed to illustrate the distillation thesis from the other day.

I understand your point and it's a good one. But I have to think that anyone with even a little knowledge of 20th century photography could identify at least 5-10 other photographs by Adams and Weston besides these two. Lange is probably a little different, I can only think of one photograph by her other than "Migrant Mother." I don't remember the title but it's a photograph of Japanese-Americans being carted off to Manzanar.

The comments to this entry are closed.