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Tuesday, 02 October 2012


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It's more than categorization -- it goes to our own self-identity as photographers.

We each have our own definition of that term, and for some, another "photographer" who doesn't aim the camera or time the shot might be a skilled artist, but he ain't one of *us*.

In other words, some might take it as an affront to their own self-image. That's why it evokes such a reaction.

I think you've pretty much nailed it with this post. I find myself just simply not interested in this supposed controversy. It is what it is. We know what it is. What's the issue? Just look at the pictures and make up your own mind.

I munched a few green grapes while reading this. They tasted good.

Where they were grown, what kind of vehicles they've traveled in, who answers the phone at the processing plant... the answers to these (and other) questions were immaterial to *my* experience of the grapes.

They were grapes. They were green. They were tasty. All I needed to know.

Someone else might look at grapes differently. Good for them. I really don't feel the need to persuade anyone to see them the way I do. Why do we spend so much time engaged in debate?

After reading the various columns and comments this past week on Doug Rickard's "pictures" I have come to the conclusion that while he is a meaningful artist I would not consider him a photographer. This is in no way to diminish his creativity and results in "A New American Picture".

Here is another example I found totally by accident


"...an occasional amateur in some nondescript corner of the world, completely unheralded, completely unknown, can take a photograph that is greater as a photograph than, say, the art-world unobtanium of Stieglitz's 'The Steerage.'"

One such amateur is me, in case you'd like to know. I won't post the photo here because I'm strictly underground, and I don't wand to ruin my indie street cred.

Here's another way to think of it by way of a comparison: who gets the Best Picture Oscar? The director of the movie, not the camera operator or director of photography. He/she doesn't appear in front of the camera (usually), so his/her performance isn't obvious as you can't see the work except as the assemblage or combination of the work of all the actors, crew, musicians, etc. The Rickard book is similar: it, too, is an assemblage of others' work and it's that combination that represents the work of art in the form of the book. As long as credit for the photographs is properly noted, if that's even possible, then I have no problem with crediting Rickard as the artist of the book. Waddya think? Or have I either missed the point altogether or simplified it too much?

Sure judge "a picture as a picture" but that doesn't mean the photographer is irrelevant - at the very least the person may cause a picture to be considered seriously as a picture. For example, Warhol's soup can is just a big soup can - who would care?

It has always been my faith (I mean "faith" here) that an occasional amateur in some nondescript corner of the world, completely unheralded, completely unknown, can take a photograph that is greater as a photograph than, say, the art-world unobtanium of Stieglitz's "The Steerage." It might not be as great a talisman or totem of agreed-upon art-historical numinosity, but that doesn't happen to be what nourishes my soul.

Yep, talismen and totem's are agreed upon by the art world. There are many picturemakers who do not have and will never have any access to the art world and sometimes they make real gems. It's just a little matter of standing in the rioght place and pressing the button at the right time. My daughter tells me it's simple.

I have a view that photographically derived art is a different animal than a photograph. The wording is, perhaps, clumsy, but the former covers a lot of imagery I see and the latter only a small propotion.

To me the essence of this debate was his claim to be the photographer, "Photographs by Doug Rickard". Call it categorization or whatever you want but if you make a copy of an image that was created by someone else, it does not matter that the other person(s) used an automated robot camera and you used a large format camera with your human finger on the shutter release. It is still a copy. That you used a LF camera instead of pressing the "print screen" button does not alter the fact that it is a copy.

What puzzles me is the willingness to accept this appropriation in photography but if someone did the same with a written work it would instantly be called what it is, plagiarism. The mechanism is irrelevant. If you type something on a computer and I copy it in handwriting claiming to be the author, it is still plagiarism. If the images you copy are public domain it is okay to make copies, but they are still copies. He's a compiler and editor of the book. He is NOT the photographer. The original concept was not his, he didn't set up the system of making the images. He COPIED them.

What is photography if not copying? Why are buildings and other things you photograph, such as company logos, subject to copyright or require a property release?

A camera basically just makes a 2D image of a 3D scene. It's a form of photocopier, handy for recording scenes which are inconveniently lumpy. Most cameras are so automated that making a photograph is no more difficult than copying slides for a presentation (in fact, easier if the HP copier at work is any indication). All you choose is the frame. And no, it's NOT that hard. It's hard to make something good, not to make something.

And what is wrong with copying, per se? We do it all the time. Every piece of music or art is influenced, sometimes deeply, by something before it. We use recipe books and tell jokes and stories that we heard somewhere else, without credits. We mimic each other's cultural queues and references, and under license, we manufacture goods that were developed and invented by someone else. It's copying, but it's NOT stealing provided you are given license. And you can profit from it.

What you do with the stuff you copy could be totally new of course. Almost any manufactured good contains hundreds or even thousands of ideas, designs and components copied from somewhere else and repackaged as something new. Like an iPhone. Mr Rickard's book is just the artistic equivalent.

To insist on giving creative credit to a semi-automated rig being driven around the streets subject to random serendipity, rather than the person who sifts, recognises and polishes the gems, effectively diminishes and strips the term "photographer" of all artistic intent, intellectual merit or technical competence.

Serendipity notwithstanding, I am sure it would be possible to program a robot to recognise and photograph attractive scenes and produce output that would generate reliable "likes" on Flickr.

I think if we wish to dignify photography as something more humanly profound, interesting, or skilful than what a robot can do, or a trained pigeon, we require a better definition of "photographer" than "the person who presses the button" for which a better description may be "camera operator".

Dear Jim,

Since you seem to feel this goes to the essence of the matter, can you point me to a place where Doug claims to be "the photographer?" He's not responsible for the advertising copy that Aperture provides.

I'm not saying he hasn't made such a claim, either within the text of the book (which I don't own) or in interviews elsewhere. But nobody has cited such; they just keep pointing to the advertising copy and blaming him for it. That doesn't wash.

As an author, I can tell you that this is one of the very few areas where I wish writing were more like politics: I wish I had final approval on every word my “organizations” say about me. Stuff has been associate with me that I would disavow or redact if I had the power.

Anyway, anyone here have a citation where Doug claims to be the photographer? If not, can we bury this red herring with the rest of the stinking fish?

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Ctein,

Perhaps I misunderstood, but I took the "Do you have to push the button..." post as saying that as long as the photos were good, attribution didn't matter. In fact Mike ended with "it isn't so necessary to hash out the distinctions of authorship or ownership or credit, as long as the method, whatever it is, is clearly and honestly described. The point is looking at the pictures and whether they're good to look at; the visual results are the thing."

If I misunderstood the attribution and it was only a third party making the claim then I stand corrected on that point but I still contend the using the work of another is copying (plagiarism if you claim it to be yours).

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