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Saturday, 24 November 2012


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Well said. I couldn't agree more.

"Most have lots of it. The trick is never to show it."

Sometimes one persons %$#@ is another persons favorite. I post $%^@ all the time. There are humans (at least I think they are human) who derive a great deal of pleasure from them, they send me nice notes on flickr and invite me into their houses and pretty girls ask me to take pictures of them.

None of that would have happened if I didn't post #@%^. In fact, posting &^$# may be my greatest pleasure in life, because when someone favorites my &$@^ on flickr, I like to believe that perhaps it isn't %$&@ after all.


I'd like to qualify your first principle: it depends upon the meaning of sh*t.

I really liked an exhibition of photographs of a musical score I saw about 20 years ago, where the photographer randomized focus, exposure, etc. when exposing the film. The photographer had pre-decided that whatever resulted was not sh*t, and ran with it. The prints looked a lot like Kennas (when anything was in focus).

So I'd insist on your first postscript modifying your first principle.

This has been a refreshing text, and has caught me in the process of editing my own stuff, which I have been putting on Flickr during the last 5 years.
People familiar with great photographers were saying, that the best ones were happy, if they had 2 good images to showcase in a year. The only one, who has managed to beat this statistics in a consistent manner was HCB - this is why some still call him the God of photographers...

However, that was in the era of film, when these guys, like Koudelka, on a good day were shooting 3 rolls of 36 frames. It was then a couple of shots out of some 100 frames multiplied 365= 36.500. Nowadays, you should probably expect the best ones to make a couple of great photos out of a million digital files.

Therefore now, if anything, the editing process has become all the more important.


That for me is the whole thing in a nutshell. I would like to believe I try to achieve these things and if i don't achieve them i'm certainly trying to ....thank you

Just to throw in another thought... Some artists produce work to please others and some to please themselves.

Now that there are so many photographs circulating the world, we must do more to satisfy ourselves with our work.This may be because there are fewer people who are being truly moved my photographs today either due to volume or video.

The most important things a photographer can own are: a comfortable pair of shoes, a sturdy tripod, and a ruthless editorial mindset.

You can get by without the tripod in a pinch.

Interesting you refer to "the art photographer" as a her.

"It's too bad the term "artist" is so loaded, because it's a term we need." Agree, and that "artist" is probably the wrong word, except for the exceptional few.
I would say that most "photographers" (those interested, competent, keen etc.) would be covered by the term "craftsman" (person).

The difference between fine art and photography is that in fine art we are happy to use "good" or "bad" depending on our own tastes, but still use the term "artist" to denote a professional or gifted amateur whether we like their work or not.

In photography there are only "good artists" i.e. the ones you really like. Some peoples photographic "artists" may hardly warrant "competant craftsman" in other's eyes.
Which is a lond winded way of saying that yes we do need an equivalent term, but not "artist".

"Of course, 92% of all art photographers don't succeed in observing the first of these principles; 96% don't observe both of the first two; and 99.5% don't manage all three, together, with any regularity" - you have seriously underestimated those numbers.

One of your best and most important columns, includes several definitions of art I'll certainly be quoting in the future. My favorite being "the difference between an art photographer and a professional is that the art photographer insists on satisfying her own opinions about her work in her work," which captures how I feel about the subject perectly - and am personally struggling with at the moment in my photography.

Thanks for clarifying the asterisked profanity - too often it is just an unfortunate symptom of an increasingly sanitized world. Then again, I'm not sure if letting machines determine our language is any better! Relevant to TOP: I wonder how google's inevitable pattern recognition of images will shape the future of (art) photography.

I agree with you, Mike. Photographers today post too much and don't edit well. I always say a photographer is a storyteller--they have to deliver a story that is well told and 19 images of the same thing doesn't tell the story well, it's redundant. It's saying, "I don't know my story so am just going to show you everything." And right there you've lost your audience, because you aren't telling a strong story. And they've lost confidence in your ability to deliver a story.

There's an old wise statement, "I'm sorry I wrote you a long letter, but I didn't have time to write you a short letter." Good photographers shoot more and edit better than most. Just like good writers rewrite. It's in the refinement that the excellence is created. It's not always quick. And that's what makes an artist or a professional--the willingness to do the work. And that's certainly lacking in a lot of photographer's work. There are many photos labeled 'street photography' that only have a person on the street--and no story. It's not enough to keep your audience's attention. And you lose them.

Shoot a lot. Show little, but make them worthwhile. That's the key.

Mike, you already featured this comment of mine some time ago, but here it is again:

There is a profound difference between artists who use photography as a medium, and photographers who are striving to create art.

Pro photographers want all of their photos to be as good as possible. Consistently high quality of their average photographs is their goal.

Art photographers are quite happy to produce 95 percent cow exhaust because all that matters is how good their best work is.

The other difference is that good artists are keenly interested in how their work is interpreted , The Death
of the Author
and all that, and not surprisingly most untrained people are much more articulate about why they don't like something than than why they do like something.

Pro photographers on the other hand are keenly invested in most people just liking the stuff and if their audience can articulate why they like it they are one step away from deciding that they either don't like it or can hire someone else to do that thing that they like cheaper.

Oh, and if an artist has 99% of the population absolutely despising and 1% liking it enough to buy it , that means they can be hugely successful take Joel-Peter Witkin and Anne Geddes for example

Mike, I think that "opinion" is far too weak a term. Nearly everybody has an opinion. And opinions are cheap.

I think an art photographer is a photographer with an intention.

An intention to reveal something about the world or themselves or their experience, coupled with the willpower to make the photograph look as good as possible.

"All photographers have sh*t. Most have lots of it. The trick is never to show it."

Reminds me of the saying we had many years ago; 'The difference between an amateur and a professional is the size of their waste baskets.'

As counterpoint to your post, one could be part of a collective, showing much of one's work to one's peers. An insistence on the artist being the only person who looks at their work that does not make the cut seems too strong. It's certainly too strong when one has put oneself under the discipline of a teacher, whether early in one's life or as a mature decision. It is striking that when much of the creative world looks for energy from community, the idea of an "artist" is so isolated.

I think, however, that in fact many visual artists do look for community, and that this aspect is overly glossed by this post. Perhaps there is also a difficulty, however, that the word "artist", in quotes, has come to mean "creative genius", and one can only establish one's credentials or one's pretensions for such a lofty place by being or attempting to be separated from the herd.

Definition for art, definition for good, hmm it's not so easy to define a line. I visit regularly art (not only photos) and photo exhibitions. But sometimes it is for me difficult to say if I appreciate or not a work I see. It can be a lack of visual culture from my side. Or is it that if you have good, excellent relationships in the art world everything you produce is ok? To be honest I feel oft confused...I'll think and read again your interesting words (not so easy for me being english not my mother language). Thanks for this input!
PS: yes, editing is now the most important part of the process...

I don't believe an artist is someone who is simply so good at a craft -- painting, carving, photographing, sewing -- that "their work transcend to art." That's what a real good craftsman is.

I also don't think an artist is just someone who has an opinion about their work, which of their own photos is best, what those "best" ones should look like, etc. For me an artist is someone who has a certain type of opinion: an opinion about how their work fits with other work, how it relates to it, questions it, worships it or rejects it. And an opinion about how their work relates to the world.

For me it's not necessary that an artist even be supremely talented at the craft, the making of the physical thing. So for me an artist is both more and less than a craftsman. It is only necessary that she have an intention about her work as a trickle that feeds the stream that feeds into the great river of human effort and thought that has gone before her. That sense of context, meaning, perspective, married to the form, makes art. This does not necessarily disqualify cat photos or pictures of pretty colors on the water's surface or yet another set of black and white trees. But it does require the maker of the tree picture to care about whether this new tree picture contributes anything to the ongoing dialog about art and meaning.

Otherwise, it's just a snapshot.

"An insistence on the artist being the only person who looks at their work that does not make the cut seems too strong."

And I'm absolutely not insisting on that. I never said it and I wouldn't. I was talking about showing in public, exhibiting, displaying, not implying that you shouldn't share it with anyone you want to who is engaged in the process or part of your process.

I can't put everything, can't define everything systematically, in one post. They're just not big enough to hold all that. Maybe it "glosses" things, but if I didn't, then we could never talk about any of the big issues because important things would always be glossed over.


Art photographer....ok....I can go with that. Artist doesn't carry as many negatives for me as it apparently does for you. I know a lot of artist and like them and the way they are. You also gave me something to think about. Which of my picture are my pictures. I can recognize the obvious sh#t. Now I need to recognize what in my work. Thank you

I believe that a photographer needs to be an artist before he can become an "art photographer", and that artistic sensibility is pretty much a genetic gift. A born artist (which is the same as an "artist") creates works of art because that's who he is. If an artist takes up music, or writing, or photography, or cooking, or anything really, his artistry will present itself whatever the medium.

An artist doesn't try to be an artist, it's just that what he does is artistic because that's who he is. Whether the artist's work is good art or bad art is another discussion, but discovering the best medium for one's artistic gift, so he doesn't create bad art, is part of the journey of becoming an accomplished artist.

I don't believe that becoming an artist (whatever the expression) is something that can be learned, but it can be drawn-out if a person is already an artist. Becoming technically proficient at something is not the same as being an artist, but sometimes the illusion of being an artist can be created.

I'm a pretty ruthless editor with my own work, yet I show my second rate stuff online all the time. I don't think it's a big deal when it comes to the internet. On the one hand, it all looks like sh*t through your browser of choice. The web has a "saming" effect on photographs. But there's another problem with being overly selective with your online work. Everyone advises you to do that. It makes for boring viewing, in my experience, flipping through someone's top 20 or 30 photographs of all time at 640 pixels wide and that's it. The web is a place where we should be able to explore image collections in great depth, at decent resolution. So I agree, keep the true sh*t out, but let some of the not quite top level images in.

I agree that it can be shocking to see some of the lessor works of great artists. If you like poetry, all you have to do is pick up a "complete works" of someone well known and you could quickly find out why the same 3-5 poems are in all the anthologies. But bringing someone down to earth is not such a bad thing in art.

A good [art] photographer is one who's "got his sh*t together": the good ones and the ones which ought to be kept out of sight.

The hard part is knowing which is which.

If I remember correctly, William Eggleston didn't edit his photography books or exhibits himself. It was instead done by a few who "get it": the Guide ? Swarkowski's picks. Los Alamos: Weski. For now ? Almereyda, etc...

Mike commented: "...there's a huge basic categorical divide, between artists who use photography (Andy Warhol, say, or Gilbert and George) and actual practicing photographers in some more workmanlike mode who just happen to be exceptionally good at it, so good that their work transcends to art—Helen Levitt as a street photographer, Richard Avedon as a fashion photographer and portraitist. Categories just get us lost in taxonomies, anyway, like Victorian butterfly collectors."

Reading this, I suddenly remembered that I wrote the following about Avedon for Mike, in the Sept/Oct 1996 edition of his magazine, Photo Techniques: "As a boy growing up in small-town Connecticut, I developed a fascination for a particular display in a local museum devoted to the natural sciences: a long row of glass-topped boxes that encased a collection of butterflies, nature's miracle of metamorphosis. One astonishing beauty after another seemed somehow to have been caught in mid-flight and preserved forever on the tip of a pin. Here, frozen in time and stilled by death, they revealed themselves to me in ways they never could in their briefest of airborne, motion-filled lives. I remember returning to their room again and again, convinced, I now realize, that the butterflies' intricately patterned wings could tell me the very story of life.

"These specimens under glass come to mind whenever I consider the powerful and often controversial portraits of Richard Avedon, many of whose subjects seem to be stilled not by death but by life, arrested in a kind of timeless reverie to reveal more of themselves than they ever intended or even thought possible."

--Jim Hughes

[Jim, that's really weird for me, because as I was writing that post, I was trying to think of examples, and when Richard Avedon occurred to me and I typed his name, the image of butterflies popped into my head for some reason. I then thought of the 19th century natural history collections at the top of the stairs at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I didn't consciously remember your essay until I saw your name on this comment, when I thought, "of course." The image was undoubtedly in my mind because of your essay, which of course I would have read many times when we were publishing it! Like listening to a song many times.

Very curious...

And it's a beautifully written passage, by the way.


I find that shooting film significantly reduces the amount of photographical Sh*t that I produce. Not only do I think harder about every frame (and think in advance, specifically), since I usually use all-manual cameras, it also costs me about 50 cents, every time I press that shutter button...

I have always made a strong case for ART versus Craft. With my work solidly in the craft, I have been accused of the other and laugh it off. I simply build an image with the tools in hand from the scene I find in front of me, simple craftsmanship nothing more than a skill learned from others and applied as best as I can. I have a day job, I don't do this for money. My favorite definition of an artist is one who has no choice with what they do. Because as someone once said, "If you can do something else, do that."

Oops I should add that I have the honor of having and had a few friends that are without question "Artists" Frank Glazer, Pianist,at 97 still plays actively debut with Serge Koossevitzky and the BSO in 1939, Artist in residence at Eastman School for decades,others since. Tony Montanaro, mime, now passed away, was Marceau's strongest protege lifelong teacher, performer. David Mallett, singer-songwriter in the best tradition. And at least a dozen others. there is a HUGE difference between these people and people like most of us.

Why is it that so many photographers and websites that label their work "fine art" photography have such bad... opinions?

If photographer as a word, represents the masses in practice: they take pictures, get the subject they wanted, and might be happy with the end result. Could not the artist version of the total group be one who looks to get the best possible image: by the light, angle, for the best composition?

Being silly for a second:

If a photographer is a Her, then a photographim is a Him, so a photographim could be named Art, and thus an Art Photographim.

My agreement level is 95%. I finally understand why you don't post much of your work on TOP. My 5% disagreement rests here: I believe part of the artistic process involves a dialogue between the artist and the audience. An artist can learn from feedback. Sometimes you have to take a chance and display your experiments. From a recent New York Times article, here's a quote from Joel Meyerowitz, “And let me tell you, a picture of dirt can be pretty damned dull, I ask myself: ‘Is this insane? Is this another dead end or a way in?’ I’m still trying to find out.” I think the answer to Joel's question comes from the audience.

It's an interesting time in the now digital world. Photography use to be the sole medium of reproduction with a simple action. That's is perhaps why it's existed in the ghetto market of the art world - compare prices of photo's to any other art form.

But now with digital 3D printing, sculpture is enter this age of reproduction without much more than a "click." Paintings can also be reproduced in this way, as is pretty much anything in the next 10 to 50 years.

If you can make a copy of your work with a click or probably voice command or even copy others work that way, will the rest of the art world join the ghetto?

Robert Harshman

This is a marvelous essay, Mike.

It doesn't say what I would say, and it doesn't say everything that should be said, but no essay really is, right?

I view these things all as section views of the same thing, and this is as clear and beautiful a section view of "what is art photography?" as I have seen. This is something I am almost obsessively interested in, so I've seen a few section views.

I have been an artist for most of my life, I studied (but did not major in) photography and pottery in the early 70's. I made my living as a potter from 1975 to 1985 when I became a high school art teacher. At that point I continued to show work in galleries as an abstract watercolorist and producer of colored pencil landscapes. I returned to photography about five years ago. The term "Artist" scares me far less than the term "Photographer" and I am now trying to become comfortable with what I produce as a "Fine Art Photographer". It's not easy, I think 99.9% of what I shoot is Sh*t. I think photography has a tough road to travel because so much of the image is managed by the camera and software.
I came to the conclusion long ago that to be a true artist one must have absolute control of ones medium. (Consider the ceramics of Peter Voulkos). Almost anyone can tell a bad drawing when they see it, and frequently a bad painting. Photography is much more difficult as it actually requires a far higher level of aesthetic sophistication from it's viewers in determining it's aesthetic value.

One of the easiest ways to get a discussion going, when religion and politics are verboten, is to stand-up, clear your throat loudly, and announce, or even just elude to, the definition of ART.

In my experience, ART has often, solely, been defined by exclusion - by listing things that are NOT ART, or, by identifying people who are NOT ARTISTS, or by indicating methods & mediums that cannot possibly produce ART.

I recognize ART when I see it, hear it or otherwise feel it - not when someone tells me I have seen it, heard it or otherwise felt it.

When I encounter ART, I don`t always wonder how, or by whom (or what) it was created - however, I will take great delight in that fact that it was created and that I was fortunate enough to experience it.

Just my opinion.

Cheers! Jay
P.S. I used ALL CAPS where I would like to have used quotation marks - for some reason, when I enter a quotation mark, it produces an unrecognizable character. I apologize if you thought I was yelling ;)

I slice things a little differently. For me, the ‘opinion’ and controls represent craftsmanship. This has a centuries old history, going back to the Middle Ages, and the various craft guilds-and before. Craftsmen certainly use the controls you describe, but of themselves the controls don’t constitute photographic art-no matter how well done. There is another element. That is the purpose and intended meaning or use of the photograph.
Lets break down most photography into five categories. Record (e.g. forensic and archeological record of some external object or situation); Journalism(accurate, objective story telling about something which the photo illustrates); advocacy (pushing or supporting a point of view external to the photograph itself); commercial (make an external ‘object’ look good); and artistic (the photo as an art object which stands alone without significant external reference). The first four all involve external referents and/or purposes. This says nothing about the quality of the photos, and some may well be considered art objects, although this is secondary to the primary reason for the photos. However, when the photographer is creating a photo which is intended to have meaning and/or evoke emotions or responses on the part of the viewer, without external reference, that is what I call art photography. The meaning and emotion evoked need not be deep or philosophical, but may be intended only to evoke a “isn’t that pretty?” type response, but the key is that the photo stands alone, as an object, without need to reference an external meaning.
Are these boundaries rigid and fixed? Of course not, they are very fuzzy, and can and do, overlap. And as I said above, there is no discussion of quality. All of these categories have resulted in both trash and excellence. But for me, the art photograph must stand alone without an external referent.

A very slippery subject.

Another timely post, because as I wandered around the Princeton University Art Museum yesterday, I looked with some envy upon the paintings there. Representational or abstract, from the figures on a Mayan vessel to a Cézanne landscape, these artists had a wealth of tools with which to shape and bend form, light, and color to their vision. Photographers, digital cameras and Photoshop and light modifiers notwithstanding, are paupers in comparison.

With that in mind, I'd be honored to be called an artist, because for me that would imply that I've gained some control over my medium of choice (photography), and in doing so can deftly manipulate reality to suit my vision.

I'm not a photographic artist... I'm a Photography Stylist!

No objections, no additions, no second opinions, just some applause.....great column Mike, 100% the truth.....(or maybe 100% my truth, no way of telling).....


Quote: " I'm amazed at all the photographers who will put up nineteen versions of the same bleedin' shot on their website." .....I think editing pictures is a lost art, especially in the digital age that we now live in, people put up nineteen versions of the same picture and more on their websites, because they can.

Uh, was away and missed this topic, which is all to the good. It doesn't need my opinion.

But I do want to make one point:

"I was almost offended by the huge Cartier-Bresson show I saw at the AIC, because they were showing his sh*t."

That was a MoMA show curated by Peter Galassi, not an Art Institute of Chicago show. We just took it (and loaned a few pieces to it).

John Camp said "Art is it's ownself", but the concept of The Beholder's Share states that there's no art, or indeed any kind of perception, without a beholder who interprets and de- and reconstructs what he experiences. If it's art to me, it's art.

He also said that there are perhaps 0-5 living great artists it the world at any time. That may well be true today, but think of years 1500-1900... just the composers would take up most of that quota.

There are cave paintings out there being 40.000 years old and we still haven't decided if that's art or not. It's a dear subject, we can discuss it back and forth, but that would over-shadow the three control points in today's finale. I liked them.

@ John Camp -- Your comment rung true me but it was also close to the classic elitism trap in the art dialogue. Some has it and some don't. I tend to think of today's photography as a social stream. The iconic heroes belongs to the past. Do you mind expanding your comment?

Mike, one of your best pieces ever. Your main point about editing calls to mind the caustic distinction once made by Truman Capote about one of my favorite writers, Jack Kerouac. Capote, who is credited with saying "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil" said of Kerouac: "That's not writing, that's typing".

Art, in the sense of a unified category crossing various practices (painting, music, poetry ...) and excluding parts of those very practices, is a very modern thing and definitely not a human universal (the Greeks, for example, had no concept of it). And our attitude towards this category, semi-religious, rapt contemplation of the object is (inevitably) very recent too. The aspiration to produce work that conforms to this idea is, I think, a serious trap which damages and distorts photography. So down with art!

Recommended: Roger Taylor and Larry Shiner, see


[I think I could read that, because my rule is that any essay that mentions Hegel THREE times in the first paragraph, I stop reading. --Mike]

I usually rate your articles not just on the content, but on the quality and quantity of discussion they subsequently generate. This one was an absolute home run!

"There are cave paintings out there being 40.000 years old and we still haven't decided if that's art or not."

Jorgen makes a really good point.

My, less-than-profound observation is:

Was the cave-painter doing for him (or her) self or was it he commissioned by the hunter?

As a professional photographer, I have to keep clients happy. I find editing work rather complicated as what I like is invariably different from what they like.

I've done a few personal projects, over the years, and sold prints from them. That qualifies me as a fine-art photographer. However, I have never thought of myself as an art photographer. Not sure why or what the difference is.

Great column, Mike.

When I read a comment that particularly resonates with me, I usually email the author with a note of appreciation. Can't do that today with Richard Newman, so Richard, if you're reading this, thanks for expressing what I would have if I could express myself as well.

Excellent column and excellent comments all around. As much as this topic has been beat to death, it's still important. Probably always will be.

On terminology: there's a nice, short video of william klein talking about his contact sheets on youtube (google his name + contact sheet). It is beautifully and economically done, and he talks about the elusive alchemy that comes and goes to coalesce into a good picture. When it happens, he simply says "ahh... a photograph." when it builds but then collapses, he says with almost equal resignation, "/almost/ a photograph."

Either way, i like how simple his terminology is. There are photographs, very occasionally, and there is the rest. No particular need for a term like art there.

Oh and btw, in reference to the principle of not showing anything but your best work, and the culpability of flickr or the internet for opening the floodgates to all that shite, how about that grand old tradition of showing contact sheets? Thank goodness some of the greats were generous enough to do so.

Just wanted to add my appreciation for a great article about photography & art - there is so much noise on the online forums about this that your essay (and blog in general) is a sensible, rational breath of fresh air. I think I can extend that appreciation to your readers comments too. I don't think I've seen comments on any of your essays disintegrate into the usual childish name calling that surrounds discussions of art attempted in other forums. Perhaps you are keeping the sh*t out of the comments too :-)

I'm definitely in the shoot-for-myself category and have developed a much deeper relationship with photography since I moved from digital to film photography, specifically because it has allowed me to fall in love with the craft & art of darkroom printing. What a joy. Not in any way trying to raise the tired old film-v-digital debate. But the comments above that discuss role of craft and artisanship really resonated with me. I find physically making prints with my hands rather than an inkjet creates a relationship between me and the image that just was never there when post processing on a computer. That has definitely helped me filter the sh*t from keepers.

Yes a hard to define, subjective subject. I'd like to think of myself as an art photographer who has not yet had success:0 As for showing sh*!? I do because hey you have to show something!

You're an artist when you have something to say with your work, not just making pretty pictures (of things you've seen done before) that you hope will please people. The vision, the willingness to see uniquely, is what I think makes an artist. In film think David Lynch, Tim Burton, Woody Allen--there's no mistaking them. In photography think Ansel Adams, Edward S. Curtis, Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle. We need visionaries, people willing to reveal themselves and share their vision with others, even at the risk of being disliked.

A rebuttal from On Being a Photographer:

"I think this fact has a lot to do with the reluctance of bad photographers to show their contact sheets or proof prints to others, yet I have never seen this reluctance from the best photographers. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the rule. The finest workers urge you to look at contact sheets and proofs.

I am puzzled by photographers hiding their contacts as though they are secret private things. I would go further. I already know which images I like, so I would rather show colleagues the bad ones. They might find a good image which I had mistakenly overlooked or rejected. I do not want them to endorse my own choice but to help me discover new images, ideas or directions."

I think both your statement and their statement are correct :)

Thank you for the kind words.Hope others agree, but...
Richard Newman

Always nice to see a fresh take on this thorny issue. It even encouraged me to do a bit of research. All I found was that no-one else has so far said anything more conclusive on the subject.

Which is perhaps as well, because when art can be defined it will probably cease to exist. By which I mean art is essentially that undefinable human reaction that remains after all objective description or analysis is exhausted. It is the "dark matter" of the human psyche, but one for which no Higgs Boson exists.

As to my own value judgement, I see photography as art only if:

1) My emotional reaction to the work as a whole is tangibly different and more profound than my reaction to the subject matter itself, and

2) I would find it impossible to adequately describe that reaction to anyone who had either not seen it, or had seen it but did not have a similar reaction.

That does not mean I think all art is "good" but it is art if its qualities are more than merely functional, descriptive or (more controversially) decorative.

And I also have to accept that I may not see what other people see, and that other people's value judgments are no less or more valid than my own. After all no psychological process is free of cultural context or personal experience. In that sense we are both bound to our culture but also unique.

Which is probably why we require debate and some kind of fluid consensus that recognises and reevaluates what deserves to be lauded as "good art", even if that definition is constantly in flux as culture itself evolves.

Indeed that debate is as much a necessary part of the process as the work itself. Would art exist if there was no-one to talk about it? Are we as viewers not in some sense performing the role of actors or musicians presented with a script or score?

I don't want to step into the ring on the topic of what defines an artist or an art photographer, nor do I want to debate the pros and cons of editing and culling one's less stellar efforts.

What I do want to say is that for everyone, our best is a small proportion of our work and the bulk lies in our average range. The quality of that average range varies from person to person, just as the quality of the best does. What I think is true, however, of artists and art photographers is that the less than good, the average and below average, and even often the failures also interest and engage others. With non-artists, this does not seem to be the case. Their best may interest and engage us, often only briefly, but the rest…

If we want to be art photographers perhaps we need to work on creating more interesting failures. With a nod to St Ansel I have to admit to wondering why so many of my failures are sharp images of fuzzy concepts and what gets in the way of me taking fuzzy images of sharp concepts.

Mike, for your images to be art, your opinions about them must be informed opinions. For them to be good art, your opinions must be persuasive opinions (to others). The better the photographer you are, the greater your skills, and the more likely it is that you will produce images worth having informed or persuasive opinions about.

Of course, ex hypothesis, any opinion you have may be wrong. Hence, even if you were a great photographer who generally held persuasive opinions about your own images (and, who knows, maybe you are, or will be), it is likely that you will produce your share of poor work from time to time.

The problem with digital cameras and the internet is that most images are produced by persons whom - not being photographers:(a) lack the necessary skills to create images about which they may form opinions before promulgating them to the world, (b) form uninformed opinions before promulgating them, or (c) don't know or don't care about forming opinions before promulgating them. Hence, most images are neither art, nor craft, but meaningless dross.

These sentiments being true generally in these modern times (and the present company being the exception to prove the rule), it is no surprise that our world is simply stuffed to the gills and beyond with meaningless dross.

In my opinion, that is.

To turn it on its head, another question is whether any of a particular photographer's work is not sh*t.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo said, if I recall it correctly, that he couldn't begin to think anything one way or another about a photographer's work until there was a body of work to look at.

There has to be a thread - something that makes a signature of its own through an accumulation of photographs - otherwise a good photo here or there might be just a lucky snapshot.

I know it's late and I know I should just go to bed. But instead I look at that jpg of Mr. Sexton's image and it drives me buggy. I see those kinds of images in my eye daily but I never have them when I look at my negs or, for that matter, at what I download from my digital. I feel frustrated like I'm beating my head against a wall that I can't see between me and that image. "Damnit! Let me through!!!"

I have my "opinions" - I have made shots I am proud of (I link to my web gallery after all) but there is a part of me that wants to be able to claim something on that level, at least once, before I dare call myself a photographer.

Art photographer can wait until I have proven to myself that I can do it a second time ...

I've been doing this since 1970.

Number shot, minus culls: who knows, maybe 10,000. (maybe 20,000)
Number that are shite: 85%
Number that mean something to me, people, places, events that make me smile: maybe 1,500
Number that I kind of like as photographs: maybe 800.
Number that are "my work": fewer than 100.
Number that are "Art": Don't know. Don't care.

One of my favorite sayings is " Never show your shit"!

Back in the early 80's, fresh out of college I had gotten my second job as a photographer. I worked at Nobart a large catalog house in Chicago. I worked my way up from Grunt to Assistant and got my big break one day. I was handed a layout and one sheet of 4x5 ektachrome and was told to bring back the exposed film in one hour. We had an in house lab so the normal run was about 35 minutes. I exposed the film, processed it and it was horribly underexposed. I made the mistake of showing it to the Head Honcho. He took one look at the film and turned around while flipping the film at me like a frisbee. He uttered the words " Never show me your shit Lane"!! That was a valuable lesson. He gave me one more sheet of film and this time I bummed a couple other sheets from other photographers. I bribed the guy in the E-6 lab to rush my film and I handed Larry the perfectly exposed sheet of film.

That's what Steve McCurry told me. First time I met him I asked if he ever took bad photos. He said "Sure I do...I just don't show them to anyone."

"Some people's photography is an art. Not mine. Art is a dirty word in photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already."
- Helmut Newton

Well, to follow on from John Camp, I'm reminded of Alex Majoli saying 'I didn't have a choice to become a photographer. I had to be. So taking pictures is my way of being free.'

Or something like that.

If you can't explain why your piece is good, it probably isn't art. I've explained to fellow artists, and aspiring artists, that I make a lot of drawings, excellent drawings, but I haven't made a work of art in a year or more. When you know what your piece is supposed to be, what it says and how it says it - then you've got art.

At least this woman doesn't claim to be an artist -


It is quite difference between the photographer and an artist. Everyone can be a photographer, but to make an artist it is not easy for all person.

I believe it a gift by "GOD". A photographer capture everything by his camera and presents to the world. While an artist presents his creation by a pen trough a page of art.

I think a lot of people like to keep "art" up on a pedestal; that it's something for the mere mortals to look at with wonder. I'm not one of those people. I think art is as prevalent and ordinary as every family snap shot in the world. The thing about art is that 99% of it is sh!t. Same way with photography. But it matters to someone, somewhere at some point in their lives, which means that the 1% that isn't sh!t is different for everyone.

This article, and particularly the comments that came after it, are a terrific set of ideas about the intersection of art and artisan-ship in photographer.

My intent is to go through the comments and clip out a set that I like, though may not agree with, as 'aphorisms'

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