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Wednesday, 10 December 2014


It's to the Guardian's eternal detriment that it lets Jones pontificate on photography or, indeed, anything. It's actually a decent newspaper but some of its columnists let the side down badly.

"Critic Jones is a "wind-up merchant":

Mainly UK, especially south-east England. (v) To use information (true or fictional) to provoke, tease or deceive."

Well it may be merchants in the uncultured SE of England but I believe the phrase in the rest of the country is "Wind-up artist" :-)

The photo in question is certainly no Weston or Adams, I'm almost tempted to agree with Mr Jones' last paragraph.

Jones is a good example of the phrase:
"There are none so blind as will not see"

My god what Gall... I actually laughed out loud when I read this particular line:

"It is derivative, sentimental in its studied romanticism, and consequently in very poor taste. "

Nope... no subjectivity there. No siree.. That there is pure scientific universally agreed upon objectivity. He says so so it's now a certified fact... so shut up ya buncha ingnant simpleton billionaire art collectors.

At some point, the novelty of these Jonathan Jones "click bait" articles will fade and he will be left without an audience and without credibility, and I will be left with a lesser opinion of the Guardian. And I'm not saying this because I feel offended in any way by the conclusion. It's really the blatant intent to provoke without the intelligent discussion to back it up that's offensive...

Reading Jones's comments gives me a physically repulsed reaction. Like mild nausea. Forget about a straw man. There is barely a sentence in his piece that is not an invitation to a fight. What a waste of time.

Sorry, Mike: I don't mean a waste of time to link to it. It is good to have the discussion about the discussion -- something that you accomplish elegantly here. No, the waste is diving into the morass of opinion and non-logic that is Lik's piece and trying to engage with it like a serious person. Put him on a soapbox at Hyde Park corner and let him run.

I don't understand how Peter Lik can sell his prints for so much money. I have nothing against his work, he's technically mastered landscape photography, but who hasn't? Does this mean there's hope for us all to become millionaires? Lik's work looks like my photography from five years ago. Maybe I shouldn't have updated my portfolio? Maybe I should spend more time marketing?

This was interesting. He spends so much time dwelling on the absurdity of a Peter Lik photograph selling for $6.5 million that it's easy to nod along as he rants. But you're obviously right in your conclusion; his logic fails as there is no connection between his argument and his thesis.

As for Peter Lik, he produces some great eye candy, but for the most part, his success appears dependent on him being a far better marketer than his peers. (Maybe another reason I reacted against that street photographer whose marketing I found more style than substance). This is the stuff of coffee table books, calendars and posters, and perfectly reasonable fine art prints in homes and doctors offices and businesses.

If this critic wants to attach photography as art, it seems he'd be better off addressing the thorny issue of artificially limited edition (or single edition) prints. That's been hashed to death as well, but at least it's a little more controversial.

The man is an embarrassment to The Guardian. Pure trolling and click-bait. The comments below the article are a lot more fun.

All it "proves" is that idiots with too much money have found another way to prove they're idiots with too much money.

You shouldn't read stuff like that, it's bad for you.

What people really mean when they say, "Photography isn't art," is that photography lacks some sort of mystical value that is present in, say, painting. What this mystical value consists of is hard to define. Apparently it is there in a kitsch piece by Thomas Kincade, but not in a Paul Caponigro print. Well, there's no accounting for taste.

Here is a previous article by the same writer which is, well, interesting.

I suspect that Jonathan Jones lives under a bridge.

Is this man on a mission, or what?
It’s all too easy to deride those who claim photography is an art–and the evolution of photography isn’t really helping their case, what with all those selfies and silly pictures that people post by the thousands everyday on facebook. The debate about photography being an art form is thus a sterile one.
That’s not entirely fair, though. Photography may not be an art form, yet there’s no denying many photographers have an artistic approach to it. I don’t even have to cite the big names, do I? Whether what they do can be called ‘art’ depends by and large on the photographer’s intention. If they meant to make art, then it's art.
Even if you accept photography is not art–and I’m not entirely convinced of that–, at least there’s still room for artistic photographs.

no matter which way you look at this conversation imo it's a "yawn" which i suppose makes me guilty of dignifying a comment . . . .

He makes me laugh a bit, his obnoxious dismissal of all photography as art, especially digital, and I'm not sure if Phantom is digital or not. I don't care for the photo either for some of the same reasons. I actually like your dog photo with the ball better, at least at web size. Perhaps though, one characteristic of the digital age is that is is both easier to create art and easier to dismiss it.

How about $2 for one of Mr Jones awesome iPad panoramas,Not

He needs to show us his own take on the matter, or shut up.

I don't know much about the art business, so I have few questions:

Did the buyer get a print or the right to the image? If the former, are there other prints? Did Lik promise, explicitely or implicitely, to never make another print? Did he promise to destroy all negatives, proofs, etc (digital or otherwise)? How does the buyer come up with this valuation and feels comfortable it will have some staying power? This may a crass question when talking about art, but not having $6.5M to spend on a picture, this kind of consideration enters my mind when I think about large purchases.

Otherwise, I have to say the picture does noy do much for me. Slot canyon? Dust Devil? C'mon!

Some will say my polish farmer roots are showing and that I don't get it... I often feel like that when (many) other people effusively praise artsy things that leave me cold (smiley etc)

Jones is not only a wind-up merchant, he is a click-bait merchant. Not worth wasting ire, wrath or anger on. Be imperiously amused, I say!

That Jones bloke is indeed a wind-up merchant. However I should point out that people, many of us, particularly in that there Europe place, use the railways for travel.

I'm in wholehearted agreement with your take on Mr. Jones's goofy anti-photography screed(s).

But for different reasons, I share his dyspepsia at the news of this sale and the taste of the buyer. I saw my first slot canyon picture 25 years ago, and I've seen about 10 billion since then (as with cockroaches, you can't ever really get rid of them) and every one looks the same. It gets my vote as the most stultifying cliche in photography.

I'd rather see your cell phone snapshots of yesterday's sunset and Mister Muffins the Cat any day.

Painting is not art. It is technology. The presence of a brush in the would-be "artist's" hand necessarily interposes a disconnect between him/her/it and any possible aesthetic appreciation of the subject. Likewise, the obtrusive presentation of the artificial paint and canvas rendering of a natural scene prevents the viewer from savoring the original, leaving only a vague sense of dissatisfaction and a fading odor of petrochemical vapors. Thus, it is obvious to anyone that finger-painting, in locally-sourced mud, on a rock found within the scene depicted, is the only true visual art.

Do I need to add the obvious?

Ignoring the click hunter at the centre of your piece, I have to say that slot canyons join those trees (Deadvlei) and that town (Kolmanskop) in Namibia that require a photographic moratorium (shall we say 40 years?). This also goes for pictures of beautiful young women magically falling through the air in a dark Bavarian forest; photographs of heavily tattooed people in dark but beautifully lit interiors; HDR pictures of the lined faces of street drinkers and homeless people; and long-exposure photographs of piers at dusk surrounded by milky-white smooth water - jail time is required for anyone taking this last photograph.

"It's not only a steam-engined passenger train that has left the station, but people don't even travel by train any more."

Ha! Less than a month ago I traveled by 3' narrow gauge train in Peru from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. Though I have to admit it was behind a diesel locomotive...

Wind-up, whatever . . .

My perspective is that if I want to voice my opinion re whatever, I automatically inherit a responsibility to respect others' opinions. I do not need to agree with them, but I'm obligated to respect them.

Sincerest regards, JR

As Paul Anka and Lisa Simpson said in Treehouse of Horror VI when advertising mascots came to life and were rampaging through Springfield.

"Just don't look. Just don't look."

This sort of wind-up is there to make page views.


... and talking of trains, though this is not a passenger service ... a train arrived in Madrid today from China: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/dec/10/silk-railway-freight-train-from-china-pulls-into-madrid

I am unable to view these Guardian pages because Safari crashes before the page fully loads. I know it has been a bit flakey recently, but I think here my computer is trying to protect me from myself.

The fact that most photography is rubbish doesn't mean that no photography is art. There's a lot of bad art around, too. I do not refer to some of the stuff seen in certain galleries, but the everyday sketches and amateur art that people make.

Even drawing as illustration is poor. I remember being given a sketch map of an industrial unit that had to be fitted out with electrical supplies. It showed the building as square. In real life it was at least twice as long as it was wide. This was not helpful.

A term I find pretentious is "fine art photography." I sometimes call myself a "coarse art photographer" just to be silly.
Jerry Kircus

Interestingly, there is a discussion of the Peter Lik sale over on the Large Format Photography Forum. There seems to be some question about whether the sales value ($6.5 million) is legitimate, since there haven't been any public auction values for his work. The sales mentioned on his website are all private sales by his own galleries to anonymous purchasers.

Jones has clearly lost the plot - using first the Taylor Wessing show and now this as "proof" that photography cannot be art. All the more entertaining when we read the piece that Tim links to above.

But putting Jones to one side and looking at the story of the photo - I just don't believe it for a second:

1. A non-verifiable sale through the lawyer of an "anonymous collector". It is not an auction sale, it is a direct sale from the photographer.

2. The "facts" of the story seem to only exist in a press release from the photographer's PR agency.

3. This photographer is self-proclaimed as "the world's most influential fine art photographer... one of the most important artists of the 21st century."

I mean c'mon purlease. I am like OMG. No way. Totally. Shut the front door. L-O-L.


The definition I like best and have used ever since is the one I learned from you, in your column in "Darkroom Photography" back in the '90s:

"Photography is not art, but some photographers are artists."

If all else fails, use money.

It more than rings a bell with me. A couple of weeks back my teenage daughter and I took our dog for an early morning walk in the moody, misty forest. She was snapping away constantly with her iPhone and while I was contemplating one scene she had taken, she had already snapped several more and sent some off around the world to her friends. When I looked at them later I was surprised at how many images had caught the mood and that I, with my fancy equipment would have struggled to do it better. I'm happy for her but unhappy that, as Mr Jones says, photography is now merely technology. So much so that when we visit Venice soon I am thinking of resurrecting either my Contax T2 or Leica R8 and leaving the digital stuff behind.

He does have a point - but he manages to do it in such a way as to make himself appear a complete a*se (or a** for our American friends).

Photography is no more an art than painting or sculpture. All three of these mediums can be used to create art - or for other, more utilitarian purposes.

"The highest grossing films in America in 2013 were "The Hunger Games" and "Frozen." In our world where money talks, this will be hailed as proof that film has arrived as art."

As a Brit working in Hollywood I was surprised at how freely the "art" word was bandied about. Back home you would no more describe yourself as an artist than a "genius" or a "hero". Even for the outrageous French (who accept "Intellectual" as a passport occupation) "Artist" is a title bestowed by others, not self anointed.

But when "Artist" becomes as accessible as "Janitor", then why not use cash to winnow out "Successful Artist" from "Unsuccesful Artist"?

Granted, the linked article comes across as a provocative, one dimensional rant. But, it poses an important question: Is pointing one's camera at a beautiful scene sufficient to create "fine art photography"? Given the flood of repetitive photographs of slot canyons, glowing aspens, icelandic landscapes (insert cliche of choice here), this question shouldn't be dismissed easily. In my opinion, this was also Mr. Jones' beef with his last essay about the wildlife photography exhibition (also dicussed here, don't have the link at hand) - that technical prowess with state-of-the-art DSLRs and access to exotic scenery replace individual artistic expression. Given the thoughtful audience on this blog (which in large parts consists of accomplished artists!), I would have valued a more thorough discussion of the core statements of the linked essay.

I'm struggling to understand many of the objections here, so to my surprise must conclude that I'm a hidebound conservative too. I'd say Jones does the job of critic pretty well in provoking the average newspaper reader to think about art and photography.
I suspect whoever paid that amount of money for the Lik photograph believes they have invested in High Art, rather than simply bought a nice picture, and that this distinction is an important one in maintaining these idiotic prices. Maybe you should offer the Guardian a counter-piece setting out your alternative take?
I think a lot of the antipathy towards Jones comes from a previous piece where he objected to the mood of soldier-worship that has infected the UK in recent years. We're nearly as bad as the US in that regard ...

Generally, such discussions can easily be terminated by looking at the flip position. If photography isn't art, what is it? The most common response when I ask that is "reality." But it isn't reality. At the very best case, it's someone's interpretation of reality, and that's being generous.

If you're going to say something isn't X, you need to also tell us what it is (e.g. define Y).

I know your post was about the critic, and not the photographer, but have you read this ?


I wandered into one of his galleries, this one on Maui. The pieces were big, glossy, saturated, expensive and OK to very good. The most influential landscape photographer? I think not. There's this piece published in The Age which calls the whole thing into question: http://tinyurl.com/op3bcl6

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