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Wednesday, 19 November 2014


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The internet puts a microphone in front of every opinion and turns everything into a big straw man...it doesn't matter what the issue is, the internet makes it seem like there is a real debate going on.

And don't get me started on the "opinions are sacrosanct" crowd...

"I don't like it, so no one else is allowed to like it either."

It sounds a little like highbrow click-bait.

Oh well... So I'm a Caravaggio imitator and didn't know. Someone should have told me before I went out with a camera.
As a matter of fact, I began to suspect that after I've made this:
I was obviously trying to imitate some painter from the italian Renaissance school. (That's why I used an italian-made film roll.) Perhaps not Caravaggio, but possibly Piero Della Francesca, who knows? It looks a lot like this:
Leaving ironies aside, last August I went to see a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition. I can't recall seeing any flat, lifeless and stupid picture. The same when I went to a small, cosy exhibition of some pictures by Rui Palha. In fact I found the pictures quite tridimensional and lively, but that's the effect of printing (or, in HC-B's case, enlarging).
And I spent about a quarter of an hour looking at this particular picture:
So a guy walks into a gallery and doesn't like what he sees. That's all there is to it. He's entitled to like it or not, but why on Earth did he think the world needed to know about his findings? And, more importantly, why should we listen to him?

Well the relationship and the differences between paintings and photographs as an art form, and the basic question whether photography could be art was more than sufficiently covered by Susan Sontag IMHO.

No need for younger critics to make blatant simplifications like the ones he used.

Bu then again, Mrs. Sontag knew what she was writing about. And was together with a photographer...

I was hoping that you would actually name the journal or the critic. Why so coy?

Caravaggio? I thought he was better known for "chiaroscuro"...
When talking about accuracy in paintings, and the use of "camera obscura," Canaletto is a much better example.
Paintings from both painters and their schools are on the walls of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

And in the next building, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the recently opened "Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards" exhibit was very much enjoyed by everyone in my group, from 4 year olds to 75 year olds 😄

So what he seems to be saying is that photography is not art. This topic came up the other day, when a sculptor friend of mine said that whether a photograph is art or not depends on the intent (of the creator). Of course, that doesn't mean that it is or is not good art. Up to that point I had no idea whether photography is or isn't art, and didn't really care. I may change my opinion.

I was in the National Gallery on Friday, and I wasn't interested enough to look at most of the Impressionist paintings by well known artists that I saw 'for more than a few seconds', but so what? Though I did enjoy the work of Canaletto, in another room.

Jonathan Jones I the Guardian. Just ignore him. He,s only there to pump up the numbers. Don't rate him at all as a critic who can back up any of his disparaging comments with reasoned argument or insight.

"I was hoping that you would actually name the journal or the critic. Why so coy?"

Pompous pseudo-intellectual nonsense - Most British will immediately know it's going to be in the Guardian.

I'd love to imitate Caravaggio, but can't get Gizmo to bite my daughter.

This is just the kind of article that makes me enjoy coming to this blog. Clear, well-argued, comprehensive, controlled demolition of the pretentious of a lazy prejudice. It is also refreshing that it is an argument made without rancour, even with understanding, and yet still reveals the enjoyment of the careful construction of a convincing counter-case. Full credit, and I look forward to reading more such intelligent critical thinking. Thanks!

Well, I'm glad you came to that conclusion after all :)

I wish bloggers would resist giving such garbage legs.

[Just being responsive to my readership, Ken, as I stated. --Mike]

I didn't read past the first couple of paragraphs of your post. The same way I didn't read past the first couple of paragraphs of Blake Andrews' post. The same way I didn't read past the first couple of paragraphs of Jones' article.

Life's too short to stop and ponder every antagonistic brain dropping vomited upon the internet.

Perhaps Jonathan Jones should go out and create something instead of adding to the pile.

He wanted his 15, he's had 'em. Though as a critic, you'd think it'd be for something... insightful.

My take on the difference between painting and photography is that a photographer is allowed only 1/250th of a second to make the photo.

Some people find soul music to be soulless.

Jones annoyed me enormously with a recent piece on William Morris, which, again, was all about Jones.


Incidentally Mike, did you not like Malcolm's Diana and Nikon? It wasn't clear from your remark.

Mike said : *I do think painting and photography are fundamentally two radically different media."

Amen! Willy Ronis would have concurred

I was participating in an art fair a number of years ago, when one of the judges came round. it was obvious he didn't like photography (which was confirmed by other photographers at the fair). She had to make some comment about my images. She looked at on I had of 2 apples and said they weren't realistic enough. Here's the photo of you want to include it.


At this point the only reason to bring up the ancient "is photography art" question is to attempt to generate some interest. There's always some new people willing to take the bait -- especially in this modern era of photography in which almost nobody with a camera has any notion of the history of photography.

The question was settled at least 100 years ago in the positive. There were some fits and starts in which various holdouts tried to generate controversy over again, but those were largely irrelevant.

By the time Camera Work wrapped up, the question was no longer a question, to anyone who'd been paying attention.

In part, the idea of Art had changed, and in part, the capabilities and ideas of photography had been clarified.

Clickbait indeed. And before that, the 1990s, 80s, 70s, ... 20s versions of clickbait.

You are far more charitable than I am. most of my comments would be inappropriate in a blog that might be read by anyone of sensibility. The man is clearly a blivet (=10 pounds of horse manure in a 5 pound bag).

I guess we may extrapolate from his stance on the visual arts that the only writing that has merit is fiction and poetry, non-fiction can't be art, and certainly shouldn't be contained anywhere that contains said same.



well i think his opinion is as valid as anybody else´s. If he thinks that the photographs are lifeless and stupid, well that is the way he see it. As far as i am concerned i think photography is not art. That said, i prefer photographs to paintings. I like taking and looking at photographs.I tried Caravaggio and co. in louvre when i was visiting paris, they just don´t do it for me. My thoughts as i was walking through Louvre was: what a waste. Why can´t they just hang Edward weston, HCB, Eugene smith, jakob tuggener, bill brandt etc. on this walls.

On the other hand, this reminds me of your take on the Football(soccer) worldcup. Certain things just don´t work for everybody. And that is a good thing.

Jonathan Jones is a very occasionally good critic but, when he gets it wrong, he's a buffoon in a league of his own. This is another spectacular own-goal:


The glib reference to UKIP (think Tea Party without the intellectual clout sic) is particularly offensive.

Please read today's issue of the NYT op-ed contributor Lori Tharp's The case for Black with a capital B.

Love this site and keep up the good work.

[Done, and so adopted. I see her point. It's now a TOP style point. It's Black with a capital B when it refers to a race, a culture, a people and not just a color. --Mike]

"My take on the difference between painting and photography is that a photographer is allowed only 1/250th of a second to make the photo."

That's probably the view that causes a lot of people to fail to respect good photography. Take a look at this video:

Never mind the landscape or wildlife photography that might start with planning many months in advance, possibly camping out for weeks on end, waiting for weather or tracking elusive animals.

A good photograph may be captured on silicon in 1/250s but may take hours/months of preparation, hours/days of post processing, and years developing the skill and knowledge to be able to capture it in the first place.

And that's probably the main thing that distinguishes really good photography from the stuff that guys like me do :)

Photography and the world of Painting are ever intertwined from day one and just two different tools in the pursuit of the same purpose: a good piece of visual art on a fine wall.
One can not help in view of a Richard Learoyd print for example and drop a jaw! Sorry Pier 24 for that mishap. These two branches are creatively intertwined, inseperably so, and from the conception of photography by ......painters, as each art influenced the other radically in the past century, Monet, Degas even more, Ray to HCB practiced these arts as one and changed visual arts history.
With the incredible modern print techniques, a great print can now actually show a good photograph they way those camera obscura painters dreamed about .....at a full canvas size......someday we might see that the choice of tool is unimportant to the end result, the creative mind and the endproduct are the only distinctive matters embedded in a good work of art.
As a matter of critics: they tend to be safely behind their times in most cases and in every period of exciting progressions in the arts.
And my apologies if this short note distracted anyone from the vital Film vs Digital discussion about tools by.............

Dennis: Point taken, and I agree. It depends on what lengths photographers will go to get the picture. McNally will, of course, go to lengths that very few people on earth would. But take H.C-B, for one instance in point: Some of his greatest masterpieces were done in maybe a second!

Darn it!

I've recently been in Malta (where there are two Caravaggio paintings in the museum of St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta) and have been musing/meditating on the quality of light in his paintings and thinking about the light and how it can be used in photography.

Good job I ignore critics and that I'm not planning on actually trying to do anything as passé as emulate one of the masters of painting!

In a perhaps interesting counterpoint to quoted article, I've had my photographic portraits painted by many a painter and many times.
Take this one for example:

And the (pretty good if I do say so myself) painting:
(by Houston Sharp)

They do it for fun, practice, or perhaps because they like them, I don't know, but if I were to apply mr. Jones' logic here - does it mean that it's absurd to think these painted copies have the same depth, soul, or repay as much looking as the orginal photos?
How about the famous if somewhat lizardly looking portrait of princess Kate?
And does the fact that portraitist uses photo for as their reference doesn't kind of put a big question mark on mr. Jones' rant?

Focusing the critique on the chosen technique rather than the resulting work of art is a weird mindset for a critique. Does the critiquer then value oil paintings on canvas higher than frescos due to inherent qualities of the chosen technique? I did not read the original critique, but the whole fundamental inability to distinguish technique from execution, subject and intent is not good critiquing.

Thank you for taking the time to write this piece. I was one of the apparent multitudes who forwarded the link to you. I admit I was too lazy to think thru and write a rebuttal to it myself. However I do find his position ironic, in an era when contemporary painting seems to be thrashing around trying to find a place for itself that actually adds to its proud and distinguished past.

By the writer's own argument, a painting can't compare to a sculpture because it is only a 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional setting, whereas the sculpture is actually 3D. The painting thus falls flat in comparison

I wonder if Mr. Jones feels Mr. Steiglitz is a PIA.

Re critics, it's worth noting that David Hockney has been blasted for using an iPad to make paintings and for having the gall to suggest classical painters used optical aids, see Secret Knowledge. It's a book. Btw, thanks for your reply to the shutter speed item, Dennis.

My mother was a painter, we have several of her paintings on our walls. I've noticed that her paintings have informed some of my photos.
She and I would joke that it's not fair, if a rock is not in just the right place a painter can move it, the photographer can only move themselves.

There is a long and complex relationship between painting and photography. Painters have had access to the camera obscure for centuries and more recently been influenced by the ability of the photograph to see into and capture fleeting moments, which has even allowed them to see more accurately, as in the case of Muybridge and his freezing of horses galloping and people in complex motion. Even if painters have not studied photographic images, and were not even concerned with representational art, they are likely to have been influenced by the visual world the photograph opens up. The contemporary portrait competitions shown each year at the National Portrait Gallery seem to be increasingly influenced by photographic artefacts like out of focus blur copied assiduously, consciously or otherwise, from photographic rendering, and of course, the photographer with his/her camera can and sometimes does create non-representational abstraction.

That photographers have been influenced by paintings, with their considered aesthetic and composition probably requires very little argument. Painters study their world visually, and are typically finding new ways to represent the world around them, or sometimes just presenting original two-dimensional visual renderings. Of course photographers will follow and sometimes even lead in the exploration of light, form, texture and representation. This image here was clearly influenced by painterly aesthetic: http://www.robertclark.org. Looking at paintings is part of many photographer's education.

The argument that one media, painting, has to have some sort of evaluative priority or precedence over its more junior cousin, photography, seems both to be unnecessary and to be deeply rooted in a form of aesthetic elitism that, fortunately, seems to be dying out in many art schools and universities. Perhaps it is the preserve of an earlier generation of aesthetes who are now somewhat removed from contemporary intellectual discourse.

"The second point is technological: An image like the giant, expensive Gursky (Rhein II), manipulated for compositional effect, or any of the other countless images that began as photographs before undergoing extensive manipulation. This is the frontier, where things are merging and where many find themselves uncomfortable, and I think it is bringing painting and photography closer than they've been before. Pretty neat—much more interesting than the article, for sure!"

Photographs can be manipulated. Painting is manipulation.

Didn't read the article but it's caused some interesting discourse.

I feel at home with the Guardian most of the time but it is experimenting and putting out more and more content as it tries not to go broke too quickly in the new (is it still new?) digital age - clickbait is sometimes the result. And whilst I'd not necessarily classify the article as wholly clickbait, there are definitely fault lines of it running through the piece.

@Ben: "Jeff Wall's work, with its compositional intent and execution, seems to relate to painting."

Perhaps not so surprising when you know that Jeff Wall studied art history at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and at the Courtauld Institute, London before turning his hand to "tableau photography" in the directorial mode.

I think this article might help elucidate Jonathan Jones rather retro take on photography:


For years he avoided modern art, because of all the hype and hysteria. But becoming a Turner prize judge changed all that. Jonathan Jones relives his thrilling hunt for Britain's best art.

It seems he still might have a way to go with many art forms after 1870 but he does seem like he's out for page views too.

If we follow the critic's logic, all art galleries should be full of sculpture only, as paintings are " flat, soulless, superficial substitutes for sculpture."

To be fair, he's not claiming all photographers emulate Caravaggio.

Also, to my (prejudiced) eye he's railing against giant prints as much as against anything else in photography. My prejudice here is that I have come to hate the giant prints with a passion. At this point, it almost seems like the larger the print, the thinner the picture.

I was an impressionable teenager in the 1970's and recall an advertisement run by Nikon called: “Caravaggio by Nikon” featuring a female nude draped only with a towel.

That left a lasting impression with the thought that I could become a "Carravaggio" but that I would need a Nikon camera (and willing naked woman) to do so.

The advertisement is here:


And another New York Times critique of Anne Collier who's photos of various ephemera including the above image is here:


Over forty years have passed and not one of my Nikon cameras has made me a Carravagio.

He doesn't know his art from his elbow!

My first wife was a board member of a prestigious chamber orchestra and so I was drafted into going to about 14 chamber concert performances per year, and this went on for years. My normal enthusiastic tolerance level would be ~4. Anyway, there was a constant tug of war between the performers and the audience, as regards what kind of music to play. The audience, in general, pushed the board for more elite performances of what you'd call "warhorses" -- famous soloists doing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and so on. The performers always pushed the board to approve for more stuff by contemporary composers. The performers sometimes won...and on those dates, the audience was much thinner -- a third of the seats might be empty. But, this was not, as some claimed, a "prejudice" against contemporary composers. It was a judgment in favor of masterpieces. Why give up several hours of your life to hear the efforts of an obscure academic composer whose reputation is a bit spotty? On the other hand, the Goldberg Variations might be worth giving up many of your evenings...So this art critic looks at wildlife photos and compares them to one of the most interesting works by one of the greatest painting masters in history? It's like Beethoven versus Motorhead. Okay, not Motorhead, but maybe the Eagles. Try instead to compare the efforts of a good contemporary photographer to a good contemporary painter working the same themes, and you might find much more equivalence. For example, among "artists" -- meaning people who draw and paint -- compare this woman (Alice Leora Briggs) to some of your contemporary hard-nosed photographers. Look especially as a sgraffito works. (Briggs lives in Texas, but most of her works involve Juarez, Mexico, a border town noted for its violence.)


Great article. I love both photographed and painted images, but I prefer the photographed image. My father in law ran the only professional photo studio in Soo Michigan for many years, out of his basement. His wife would hand paint the black and white portraits on the kitchen table for nearly everyone in town in the early years. Does that demonstrate the marriage of painting and photography?

I also found this essay on LL appropriate to this discussion;



Choose one:

Where depiction of the 'decisive moment' is crucial, photography will always be superior in the viewer's mind because of the belief in capturing reality. Photographic art is bounded in the public's mind by that 1/250 sec they think was captured. To me it's not the medium creating the comparison (and critique) but rather the expectation of the viewer. A painting of that 1/250 sec of reality will always be perceived as different than a photograph. Some will like it better, some won't.

As Richard Feynmann once said, why do we care what other people think?

First, for those who asked who the author was, Jonathan Jones has written about art for the Guardian for the last 15 years, and has been a judge for Britain's Turner Prize, given annually to the best British visual artist under 50. So he is controversial, but not just some hack who doesn't know what he is talking about.

Unlike some, I didn't take his article to argue that photography wasn't art. As a Cambridge graduate (yes, I am impressed by credentials) I think he knows that photography has been an accepted art form for over a century. The question he raises is whether photography should be displayed in the same manner as paintings, and ultimately whether a great photograph measures up to a great painting. Unfortunately he compares wildlife photography with Old Masters paintings, which is probably not the best comparison. Nonetheless, if one accepts that different art forms can be compared and ranked, his point of view is at least worth discussing, rather than our simply dismissing it because as photographers we don't want our first love to be challenged.

One sees this from time to time.

A well educated critic who writes beautifully attempts to be iconoclastic about some intellectual or artistic endeavor but instead reveals immaturity and ignorance to all those who know more about the topic. Sometimes those who know more about the topic are practically all of his readers. It happens.

I'm going to go out on a non-PC limb here and venture that it seems to happen a lot in the pages of the UK press.

I would say that he had a point and that there is room for a discussion which could have a number of facets. There can be a dissonance between art forms and even within one art form. Just as the media and practitioners of photography are changing so is the general attitude of the public towards photography. It is seen as being easier to accomplish as the basic technology is so good, more widely available and capable of unending manipulation. It is also being clear that children and teenagers have unconsciously taken over part of the media and created new ideas and standards. Thus, photography, as it probably always has, is in change and it is good that this probably calls for reassessment.

Jones is not "otherwise sensible". You must have missed the furore he caused with his criticism of the sea of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Google his name and "poppy tower of london" to get an idea of the backlash against that one.

Perhaps his editor now sees his role as a generator of clickbait like the article you demolish so well.

As for your argument (in response to G. Dan Mitchell) that being a competent practitioner should be a prerequisite for being a critic, that was the way art music went in the mid-late 20th century, and it didn't end well. We had decades of the establishment serving up new serialist, microtonal and alearotic works to audiences who, by and large, declined to enjoy or attend. Towards the turn of the century, new forms like minimalism (Glass, Reich) and even plainchant drew audiences in. It turned out the approved critics knew less than the audiences.

Photography is one of the most democratic art forms in its execution, distribution and accessibility. Criticism is less important in that making a photograph is probably going to be cheaper than casting a bronze or performing a symphony.

If that were to be the factors defining Art*, as, say, opposed to handicraft or even to nature, we could just stop doing it. Even talent and imagination - both undefinable in any meaningful sense for a proper discussion - are part and parcel of things not considered Art, like well-designed cars.

Transcendence, to end on a constructive note, would probably be the one aspect defining Art over art [see note below] - although perhaps not nature. Clearly photographs can exhibit transcendence, while I have seen many, too many paintings that aren't.

*with a capital A to differentiate high art like da Vinci or Dürer from anything man-made, which would be art

I dunno if he's any good as an art critic, but he's patently an excellent troll.

(I googled the article, the author is a he, and there are some wonderfully antagonised comments that follow.)

I also would like to add that I found your Blacks and Jews reference offputting. Photographers have never been systematically oppressed as those peoples have been - your analogy may seem to make light of racism, and thus be offensive.

I've been reading your column long enough to know that no offense is intended. But perhaps as I was once taught about using profanity in writing: unless it is essential, leave it out.

'My prejudice here is that I have come to hate the giant prints with a passion.'

This is an odd one especially considering your following comments implying large = thin. This also a response to Jean-Louis Salvignol's remarks in his featured comment, which go in a similar direction.

Two recent exhibitions come to mind: Salgado's Genesis at the UK national History Museum and Gursky's in Dusseldorf. Both contained prints that were well over the size of any normal book 3'x4' or in the case of Gursky, much larger still. The impact of those images was certainly partly dependent on seeing them at the displayed size. I have 'Genesis' and while it is a very decent, large book, it is nothing like seeing very large, well lit prints on a wall.

Reminded of a quote attributed to Mozart (if I'm remembering correctly) in a letter to a particularly unsympathetic critic. "Dear ____, I am now sitting in the smallest room in the house. Your article is now before me. Soon it shall be behind me."

I could rattle off a long list of photorealistic painters who are all quite successful. I wonder how he would categorize them? It would be like a snake swallowing it's own tail I suppose.

I agree with ault about the comparison of this issue to the struggles of Blacks and Jews. Wildly inappropriate, and very uncharacteristic of this site.

The online Guardian article exists to get clicks because clicks mean survival, therefore it is successful.

Art objects are meant to evoke reactions and thoughts and feelings from the viewer. This piece of writing has done so, to a degree larger than the sum of it's parts - so is the article also Art?

"Jones has written about art for the Guardian for the last 15 years, and has been a judge for Britain's Turner Prize, given annually to the best British visual artist under 50."

I think, Peter, you might have qualified best with inverted commas in light of the usually considerable controversy over that particular prize; that said, I think you are right - he's not a no-nothing hack. Maybe he was having an off day.

I think that the article is as, many of you have intimated, an expression of the irritation that many members of the public and the intellectual elite feel about photography. Not so much about the value of photography, per se, but the often excessive intellectualization of images that, let's be honest, don't deserve it. This goes in hand with what I can only call a desire to elevate the technical skills involved in taking and post processing a shot. I think the author may feel annoyance that these skills are talked about as if they are akin to brain surgery or space science (excuse my clichéd comparisons), when in fact most of us know the key to good photography is previsualization, simply being there, having the right equipment in many cases, and getting the exposure and focus correct: skills which are not inconsequential, but equally perhaps not so worthy of excessive praise. To embark on a painting is usually a much more daunting task then taking a photo. This is an age-old conflict. I don’t agree with the review at all, as an image is an image, but I do understand where he is coming from.

Photographs don't work in galleries and on museum walls not because they are necessarily inferior or of less artistic power than good paintings(though though most good photos are), but because viewing photos on a wall under [usually] bad lighting is a inferior experience to viewing them in a book or holding the actual print in the hand.

If there's still anything worth saying on this engaging topic I've just been reading about David Hockney's return to LA after several years back in Britain. Apart from being a painter he's also used photography as a medium. He's also the author of a book - can't recall the title - on the issues around the likes of Caravagio's painting and his - revolutionary for the time - use of prespective which could only have been possible via a camera obscura. Other painters of the time soon followed suit. Hockney himself for a while dabbled with photography in creative ways but finally concluded that painting was simply better. Those were his words although I can't remember the exact rational. Personally, since the advent of digital and the evident redundancy of film, partly due to spiraling costs as well as a lack of photographic inspiration, I've also returned to painting. They're just different ways of seeing as well as application.

Nigel Amies:

This is perhaps another blog post but perhaps you're thinking of Hockney's comment back in 1988 that "Photography will never equal painting!" in Hockney on Photography"

Blake Andrews has some insights:


This idea was covered in an interview in The Guardian by Jonathan Jones in 2004 in which I suspect both JJ and Hockney have similar feeling about photography.


"Do you know what Edvard Munch said about photography?" David Hockney asks me. "He said photography can never depict heaven or hell."

I think that shows that JJ even then was a bit out of touch with the modern practice of photography criticism even then. Did anyone interested in photography in 2004 with a modicum of critical background believe film photography was "truthful"?

I also note the terrible photoshopped image used to head the article. You can see the artifacts. Shades of the Disappearing Commissar, perhaps?

Oddly enough Munch's selfie in the asylum is hauntingly hellish and Hockney's best visual art work is his photography work, like his portrait of his mother in polaroids.............
Could the whole discussion thing have been caused by just plain old bad prints on that gallery wall, since poor, unskilled, commercial and otherwise boring and flat prints seem to be the curse of our day.
No matter what capture medium one uses, and the debates are all about that front end, when it comes to photography work. Most people, even pros in our days treat print work like a boring trip to a Kinko's Copy Shop, a necessary evil in creating work for show, instead of a most valuable art in itself, a masterful print job is as long ago mentioned by Adams..........you know that quote! It still, or more so applies today, especially as our print options have increased and are an immense gift to the art of putting good art on a wall.

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