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Monday, 06 August 2007


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Allen Nadel--"who he?" Google only turns up a gynecologist and the author of the article by that name.

There's also an Allan Nadel who is a digital compositor in the film industry.

Is it Alan Nadel, author of a book on 1950s television?

so you dont like Winogrand?

Dear Mike:

You seem like a very nice person, and you obviously are a very intelligent person. I'll be the first to agree that my appreciation of photography is shallow and badly skewed. However, your letter made me sad because it suggests that your entire world view is shallow and badly skewed. You wrote:

"Context would also immerse him in the 1960s in America...Race riots, cities burning, generational strife, dead Kennedys, Viet Nam on TV...that was the context....smiling babies and clatches of 'tween girls just no longer seemed very relevant."

Many people seem to think that the 1960's in America was the most turbulent decade in history. Ignoring the 30 Years War, the Black Death, and so forth we can skip to the twentieth century: World Wars I and II, the Great Depression. During all of these periods babies were born, old people got sick and died, children grew up, people fell in (and out of) love. For most people alive in the 1960's these events in their own lives were far more important than what was on TV. Do you know anyone who is 39 years old? They were born in 1968, the annus horribilis. I think a smiling baby was very relevant to their parents.

I understand now why you and I differ. We both agree that photography should be about life. Can we possibly view life so differently? My guess is that you don't really believe what you wrote.

In friendship,

Allan Nadel

I was in agreement with Allan Nadel's article, until I came to the paragraph: "There is nothing wrong with this warped, bitter, and one-sided picture of America if it were balanced by another point of view...but it is not."
As Mike said in his rebuttal, this shows a total lack of knowledge by Mr. Nadel, that the prime photographic viewpoint of that era was represented by "The Family of Man," as well as the upbeat Life and Look essays.
The trouble with them, of course, is that they do not present a balanced view any more than the work of Frank et al.

Two excellent articles, Nadel's and yours. I enjoyed them both very much. Thanks for pointing me a American Thinker. It looks like there is some good stuff there to check out. I bookmarked it. E

Being that Frank, Friedlander, Winogrand and Arbus are some of my favorite photographers, I have to take a middle ground view of both Nadel's article and Johnston's response. I think both views are skewed to separate ends of the spectrum both politically and culturally.

I have loved these four photographers since the early 1970's when I first bought a camera and started reading about photography. I've seen their work condemned and praised and I've never found much to agree with in either the praise or the condemnation. The meaning and value of art is in the eye of the beholder, of course, so I suppose any viewpoint is valid. Despite this, I've never found the work of these four photographers to be either the icons of left-wing propaganda as claimed by their critics or validation of the abject emptiness of American society and Western culture as some proponents proclaim.

I just consider these photographers to be honest presenters of the subject matter before them. Their work documents fact not truth. The difference being objective documentation vs subjective portrayal. Facing facts often gets under the skin of people. We'd rather have the world conform to our point of view. We become uneasy when we see something that doesn't quite fit within our mindset. Frank, Friedlander, Winogrand and Arbus simply presented to us a set of facts and from these facts, people interpreted their own truth. Some, in their insecurity, felt these documents were critical of all they held sacred. Some, in their desire for endorsement of their point of view, found a political truth.

They are just pictures. Honest pictures. At the time they were presented, that may have been a new concept.

Good rebuttal. I thought Allan's response contained an unnecessary personal attack..."babies were born, so that makes up for the ugly stuff. Sorry you can't remember the babies. Also, the Depression was worse."

I think the guy's real complaint is that the photos showing the beauty of the sixties aren't feted in the twenty first century. This would mostly be an attack on the attitude of modern art critics, and maybe it's valid. A lot of modern art is really cynical, and thus it makes sense that those critics who've built their careers around a body of cynicism would view the past with a cynical eye. Check out the photo collection of any Brandon Bird or Thomas Kincade fan; you'll find your quirky/glorious 60's shots.

Ah well.......Mr./Dr. Nadel doesn't see the humor in Friedlander...a pity.

Dogman, you're so right. I'm not going to retract my entire article, but.....

I actually kinda like Robert Frank. I tried to buy The Americans from a neighbor....it's a collector's item. (Along those lines why, if the USA is the richest country in the world, is so much of this country so damn ugly?)
Winogrand and Friedlander, not so much. I've always thought that Arbus exploited her subjects, every single one, whether they knew it or not. I picked up a copy of her biography at the bookstore and randomly opened it to the page describing her obsession with the movie "Freaks" which she saw multiple times.

But who cares what I think? A chacun son gout, n'est pas? I guess what infuriated me were the essays by Luc Sante (a professor at Bard College, say no more) Graham Clarke (whose book has been ridiculed on Amazon.com) and Brian Appel (hey Brian....can't you think of a better way to express your solidarity with the poor and oppressed than to pay 6 figures for a Robert Frank print?) All of these guys seemed to think that the work of these 4 photographers is a "validation of the abject emptiness of American society and Western culture." As long as you can agree that these photographers have a point of view, and there are other, equally valid points of view, then we are all on the same page.

It's interesting that so often we impute a motive or an agenda to a photographer because we find their images powerfully moving or powerfully repugnant. More often than not that reaction says more about the viewer than the photographer. We can't possibly know what the photographer was thinking or intending when he or she took the picture unless they tell us. It's our own arrogance and narcissism that causes us to assume that, because we feel something from an image, it's what the photographer intended. Photography is more a mirror than a window.

"You seem like a very nice person, and you obviously are a very intelligent person" The guy might have added "even though you do not have a doctorate" and his patronizing closing sentences "Can we possibly view life so differently? My guess is that you don't really believe what you wrote." Sorry Mike, but I can picture Dr Nadel metaphorically patting you on the head.. no ad hominem meant here but I found his response to your rebuttal condescending, which straight away biased me against his essay.

Mike: You must have an enormous amount of extra time on your hands to (a) find such an obscure little vanity site, and (b) care enough about it's author's rantings to rebut them!


I'm afraid that Mr. Nadel has taken to photographic criticism as a means to score political points. I didn't find his essay to offer much of any insight into post-war photography unlike Mike Johnston's. It's fine not to have a personal aversion to certain types of subject matter or styles of photography but that doesn't excuse unsupportable generalizations like:

"Not since Socialist/Heroic Realism in the 1930's has a mode of art been so rigidly constrained to a political orthodoxy, as photography has been for the last 40 years. "

Mr. Nadel should read Mike's reply again, check out some modern photo books from a library, and then go and reassess whether his critique is based on artistic merit or solely political objections.

"As long as you can agree that these photographers have a point of view, and there are other, equally valid points of view, then we are all on the same page."

I think many (most?) of us would agree to that but, as I understood your article, you inferred that Frank and company were THE photographic representatives of the past 50 years rather than a single facet. Hence you title "Art Or Propaganda?...."

While I don't agree with what you wrote, I do admire your word skills. Both you and Mike are exquisite writers.

...I'd like to add that I'm a bit disheartened at the amount of personal attacks against Mr. Nadal. Geez, lighten up folks, it's just an opinion.

How unfortunate for you and Dr. Nadel to debate about greatness and photography of the 1960s. The two best photographs from that decade were neither from Szarkowski or from any list of photographers. No, some scientist-astronaut and some brigadier general, Vietnamese, beat them to it.

There are no great photographers, just great photographs.

In 'friendship',
Nguyen Phu

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