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Tuesday, 17 October 2017


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Are Classic Photographers Still Relevant?

In my opinion. We should be addressing the biggest issue. Are we comparing Photographs or Digital Images. Photographs have a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi. Digital Images (manipulated) cannot be compared. Except to compare them to manipulated to the extent of the possibilities in a Darkroom. This is a philosophy of mine except that sometimes I messed up an important shot so bad I need to save it with software. A record of an event, not as Photo value.
I often use "in camera" monochrome, I often use 4 of my 6 lenses that are legacy Nikon lenses on Sony mirrorless cameras. Manual focus, aperture priority via the ring, etc. After 46 years of taking "Photographs" I'm stilt not particularly good, but I get a nice shot about every 36 Actuations.

I am sad to say, but I think much of the black and white photography of the 20th century is becoming history. I too have had the feeling of late that B&W pictures are just something rather quaint; even the modern digital efforts we see on the web.

I think digital has finally brought us the means to easily make colour photographs.

Remember Cibachrome or the horrors of trying to do DIY colour processing and printing anybody?

I grew up with B&W and the mantra of B&W being the colours of photography.But I now shoot 100% in colour. I am happy that colour photography is now so doable.

As for photobooks; I see very little being published that appeals to me or that I have not "seen before". Perhaps it is just me. I am a bit tired of the "old masters" and much of the colour work that I see published seems very fake for some reason.

It is getting much harder to see published work that inspires me or that I can learn from. Perhaps because after certain "scandals" like the badly retouched McCurry Idia Photo's, I cannot trust what I am seeing any more.

The internet has also given me a sense of image overload that has also deflected me away from photobooks (of which I have quite a big collection).

I would qualify ** by mentioning that spectral response far exceeds human vision, so that one is a bit of a wash, I think.


Are C prints (photographs) still viable in the age of Giclee (inkjet prints)? The two have very different looks. By comparison, C prints are not as sharp, saturated, and have low contrast. And the look and feel of the paper are different. To me inkjet prints are DIFFERENT, not "better" as color is different than b&w not better.

B&W still photography does not have a monopoly on young eyeballs and young photographers anymore. That is the only reason it was relevant in the first place.

People learn spoken languages easily when they are very young. It’s harder to learn a new language as people get older.

I believe that the same is true for visual language. Someone who didn’t see a lot of color images when young and couldn’t use a color camera until they were, say 30 years old, would be likely to dismiss color as irrelevant or not able to communicate as richly as black and white. The reality is that such a person just doesn’t understand the language of color very well.

Eventually, those who were born into a world filled with cheap color cameras and ubiquitous color photos became old enough to replace the older, less color literate people who were determining what was relevant and important. When that happened, color became an accepted part of the world of Fine Art.

At this point, people are being born into a world filled with cheap color video cameras. I love photography, but, as an old guy who did not have access to a video camera when I was young, video is a language that I do not understand well.

Mike, a surprising perspective from you on this topic today. I would have thought you more on my side of the fence, viewing classic photographs as being more relevant today than ever. Why? Relative permanence in comparison to digital images. The still unparalleled ability of a photograph to freeze time. The physical interaction with the medium that isn't possible with video or digital images.

I believe (and perhaps because I want to) that Classic B&W photographs are still very relevant. Living south of Tucson, I am fortunate to have the amazing Etherton Gallery nearby. Also to a much lesser extent the Center for Creative Photography at the U of Arizona, which was once user friendly and is now a cold dark mausoleum apparently requiring a secret code word to be admitted to the archives. Hopefully new leadership will open things up some. Never-the-less it does have occasional great exhibits if you don't mind being treated like a criminal and followed through the exhibit. The Etherton Gallery on the other hand has an amazing collection of Fine Art Photographs and the owner is happy to show you anything in the archives and answer any question one might have. While I have made a lot of color photographs since the advent of digital (and before that some Cibachrome efforts), I find that I am still drawn to B&W. Not only that, I have lately been wondering if I still don't see more naturally in B&W given my age and experience perhaps. I have gone back and printed some B&W examples of color images that I was never completely happy with in B&W with great success. Having started to focus more on B&W images recently I am happily surprised at the reception from others toward this effort. I am more than confident that this form of photography is more than relevant. Many people and many of them young will prefer to work in color of course. One important decision I made along the way is that I'm not seeking to reproduce a Silver Print. I'm looking for a print that conveys the feel that I am looking for-and I mostly find Matte Black to be more helpful in my pursuits. Everyone's mileage varies of course. Great and interesting post!

I was going to suggest that we need new names, new words for two different eras of photography, and maybe you could run a competition.

But really that misses the point. Digital has killed off older photography in just about every way imaginable. So two separate names would be pretending that old properties, like being a document of record or capturing a moment in time, can ever exist again.

They can't. So there's just "photography", but the word has changed and now it means something different, something new.

Well, the composition rules are composition rules that were true for R.H. van Rijn, H. Cartier Bresson and A. Gursky. That even holds true for completely digital compositions using SOTA imaging software and SOTA rendering engines. So doing the latter I study composition from all walks or art.

Well, the lighting rules are lighting rules that were true for R.H. van Rijn, H. Cartier Bresson and A. Gurksy. That even holds true for completely digital compositionsa using SOTA imaging software and SOTA rendering engines. So doing the latter I study lighting from all walks of art.

Well, emotions of humans have not changed since R.H. van Rijn, H. Cartier Bresson and A. Gurksy. That even holds true for completely digital compositions using SOTA imaging software and SOTA rendering engines. So doing the latter I study the way emotions are depicted in all walks of art.

So if someone tells me something is without meaning because it is not in tune with his or hers personal blip in the human timelime I pitty him or her. Having met John Szarkowski at a lecture he gave in Rotterdam, I personally do not know of any way, any photographer cannot benefit from the insights of that man wether or not the examples of his book are thought to be outdated (real art does not outdate by the way, but it needs the view over the ages to understand that) or not.

Greets, Ed.

I occasionally take a photo that I’ve shot and reprocess it into black-and-white. I’ve discovered that simply flipping the Black & White switch in Lightroom never works: it’s necessary to go back to the original imported file and start from scratch—and the adjustments to make a satisfying monochrome image are almost always quite different from those for a color one. Not only that, but seeing what works in black-and-white sometimes makes me rethink the color processing. It’s a useful discipline. (Although I have to admit that I haven’t produced any “classics” yet.)

Ach I totally diagree. The canon is important not for any particular photograph, but for learning how people looked at things in other times and places. It teaches one to consider an approach beyond the obvious.

We could ask the same question of "ART" in general. Are the works of the "Great Masters", Picasso, Monet, Sergeant, Pollock, Rothko ... still relevant? Are Mozart and Debussy still relevant? It may simply not be during the life of the creator (Van Gogh's of the world beware), or it may come and go, and come again. Great ART will always be relevant ... at some point in time.


There's a terrific exhibit right now at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem (central North Carolina), showcasing works by Georgia O'Keeffe as well as photographs of her, clothing she made and wore, and other smaller pieces of her life. It's wonderful, and though I know it's probably too far for you, maybe some other readers might see it. It's called Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern, and it runs through Nov 19.

The photographs *of* Ms O'Keeffe are noteworthy, to me anyway, because they are something of a "who's who" of mid-20th Century photographers. Stieglitz, of course, but also Bruce Weber, Yousuf Karsh, John Loengard, Philippe Halsman, Ansel Adams, and Todd Webb, whom I did not know but his work is terrific. These are the photographers I was looking at when I was a young photographer trying to learn the craft, er, 30+ years ago. Looking at them again, I think their work still holds up compared to modern portraiture, either "art" or "editorial."

I think I have to come down on the side of "still relevant" in the same way that painting students still study and copy the old masters. I think it's worthwhile to look at the photographs that created or defined the genre ( like "decisive moment" and "environmental portraiture" -- oh, yeah, there were a couple of Newman prints too, also most excellent), and use them to inform one's own work, no matter how different that may end up being. Photographers ought to understand the basics of lighting, before trying something totally off the wall. I like to tell students that they need to be able to justify their choices, even if I might not agree with them -- to show they've given it some thought.

Maybe that makes me an old fuddy-duddy photographer, one of the graybeards holding back the profession. If that's the case, so be it, but I do shoot in color these days, so maybe there's hope for me yet. :)

The "wall art" part nails it, I think. For that I meant, can you name a color photograph in the last 10 years that you think would stand the test of time, 40 years from now?

People still hold Ansel Adams' landscapes in high esteem 60-80 years later. What color landscapes can you recall? At all?

The subject matter of photography never changes. What selfie artist would not find something to inform their practice in the work of Maier or Friedlander? On the vernacular landscape, how about Walker Evans? On the sweeping mountain view, does no one still study Saint Ansel? The medium really is not the message.

I think that in part black-and-white photography was the “serious” photography a few decades back because, in the darkroom, you could control the image, make it soft or hard, light or dark - and emphasize what was important and deemphasize what was less important. And, if you couldn’t do it YOURSELF, there were professional printers who would.

Color slides didn’t offer that much interpretation. It took a lot of work to “personalize” a transparency. In many ways, Pete Turner was a pioneer, but even when he was altering duplicates of the original slides, he was limited in what he could do.

Then came the computer. Everybody could do color. And with a simple slider in a computer program they could turn color into COLOR!!! and give a not very significant image a momentary impact.

It seems strange, but many of the best color photographers working today are quite sparing with the saturation slider. And the ability to simply replicate the tonal values of earlier black-and-white silver print has not eluded everybody. But the internet is more tolerant than the crotchety old photo editors and curators who used to select pictures in the days of paper. With increased volume comes more crap.

An interesting point. Food for thought.

Me, I’m mainly interested in pure art. Lines, tones... For me, the greatest inspirations are Andre Kertesz and Friedlander. But of course, who else can even do what they did?

I find myself purchasing more photo books today than at any time prior to 2000. However, they are mostly from photographers shooting last century. Perhaps its just the proliferation of sources available to publish current photographs that changed. Instagram, Flickr, etc are filled with "photographs of life and taken at once with the single release of the shutter-button..." as you state - from the food we eat, to the streets and people of world's cities. It might just be that what was unique is now commonplace and in time may prove to also have historical significance.

Although I'm a voracious reader, I've never been into photobooks. I've always learned from art, you know ... paintings, drawings or collage. Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, will teach you more about motion than anything from Eadweard Muybridge.

The Matchmaker by Gerard van Honthorst, has it all. A complete lesson in everything from composition to chiaroscuro.

Serious black and white photography, was and is, for academics. The hoi polloi has always liked color. My father had hand-colored drugstore prints from the depression—in 1935, he and most Americans didn't have the money to waste on Kodachrome, but they still liked color.

Not having money didn't mean that they were not interested in the arts. During my formative years my parents took me to museums. They introduced me to Man Ray's works. László Moholy-Nagy and Mademoiselle Rrose Sélavy I discovered on my own.

People under, say 45, grew-up in a different world—no black and white photos, no black and white anything. They wouldn't watch Citizen Kane and Dr. Strangelove because they were not in color. They had no interest in classic color westerns like The Wild Bunch and Little Big Man because cowboys had become passé while we weren't looking.

Thats the whole problem—many things have become passé while we were living in our own part of the world

I don't know about the old photographs (images) themselves, but for me nothing beats a superbly executed vintage silver (or platinum/palladium) print, and those are few and far between these days. I'm not sure how many people have seen great examples up close and personal. Shame.

The auction market for 'high end' print works has remained fairly strong, but the market for less well known works has moderated quite a bit. In the car world, people often buy what they grew up with; then that group dies off and the new generations sometimes revive the enthusiasm. Like vinyl records. I'm afraid this may not happen with many wonderful vintage silver prints, despite their rarity: the audience is too small and the online competition for eyeballs is fierce.

Nonetheless, I still value my photograph, and book, collections, for they were a large part of my photographic inspiration. I'd be a lot happier, though, if the economic value of those collections hadn't waned of late.

By "Classic Photographs Still Relevant?" are you asking about the relevance of old "Classic Photographs" or contemporary photography that adheres to something that makes it "Classic"? Or more likely eschews something that separates the "classic" from the "not-classic"?

Most of the memorable "Classic" work in any field you can think of was rule breaking , often unpopular at the time , and often denounced as the end of painting, music, literature, photography, theater, etc.

Interest in old photos seems to be booming. My advice for overnight success is stick you work in a drawer and leave it there for 35 years.

The reason you can't think of any classic 21st century photography may be because it isn't old enough to have sorted itself out.

On the other hand to argue against the case I just made, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Philip-Lorca diCorcia,Jeff Wall, Rineke Dijkstra, and Thomas Ruff are all still active and it their prime I think. And work mostly in color. And seem sort of engaged in at least the idea of "Classical" or at least the academic which is what contemporary classical work in any field really is .

"Are Classic Photographs Still Relevant?"

They are to me. If they are or aren't to others is irrelevant to me. I find the question of "relevance" as unimportant and useless as inquiring whether something is "art."

Today, whether originating images on film and printing them in a darkroom, scanning the negatives, or 'capturing' using a digital camera, the only output I have any interest in is a black and white print. Everything else evokes the reaction "snapshot" when I see it. Contemporary and 'trendy' be damned.

I still believe Helen Levitt is as relevant today as she was on the 60's. And Mike Disfarmer continuous to be powerful. The Peruvian photographer Martin Chambí is equally as strong. But it is true that the tsunami of "cotton candy" digital photography has indeed elbowed relevant work into difficult to find corners, unfortunately. Also, it doesn't help that the covens of university art departments seem happy to just glory in their ivory towers.

I don’t think the paradigm of “leading photographer” is relevant in today’s democratized photography world. I’ve seen many on lenscratch.com, lensculture.com and other sites who are pretty good. So perhaps as the saying goes, “All politics is local,” so goes then photography? Perhaps.

"...the handicap of the Bayer array"—well, they see color at all thanks to the magic of the Bayer array.

[David, you must at least try out a Foveon-sensor camera some day. 'Twill boggle your mind. --Mike]

To take a somewhat circuitous route to the main comment, I saw a newspaper story about a new iPhone app that is apparently a major step forward in scheduling apps -- it "nests" to-do lists, so that you can have a major to-do with further nested sets of related to-do lists so that it becomes possible to pre-schedule every minute of your day with tasks, and be automatically reminded to do them. The problem with this is, you're always busy, mostly with useless crap, and have no time to think. The strength of photographs and the weakness of video is that video moves at the speed of the video editor, not at your speed. If you really want to contemplate a scene or an idea, you can't, because the editor has already moved on, and besides, the point of video is movement, not motionless contemplation. When I see a really great photo, I want to look at it, study it, appreciate it. That takes time, and with the way that tech seems to be pushing us into an ever-increasing race with the rats, we don't seem to have it. I have hanging on the wall next to my bed Paul Caponigro's "Running White Deer" and every morning I get up and look at it, sometimes for a minute or so, sometimes for only a few seconds, and I never get tired of it. A video has never had that effect on me. Although I did download the Pointer Sister's "Neutron Dance" video last night.

I think you're right Mike (but this certainly isn't limited to photography). By coincidence I have a copy of Eliot Porter's [i]Intimate Landscapes[/i] beside me. The very first photograph, [i]Foxtail grass[/], is still amazing. But from today's perspective most of the rest of the images won't catch a second look. People getting into photography today couldn't begin to understand how revolutionary Porter's work was for his time: it was in color (which as you say made it radical), and it was "intimate" landscapes rather than Ansel Adams-like vistas. Also the colours would seem strange (wonderfully muted rather than deeply saturated and somewhat garish).

I love it when you set up a straw man... *

If it is truly a classic it is relevant, if it is no longer relevant than was it ever really a classic or just a passing fancy?

It may inform on different levels, communication, emotion, style, composition, technique...

Let's turn the question 90 degrees, are any of the classic paintings still relevant? The Mona Lisa holds no emotional appeal for me, but it does for others. On the other hand show me almost any painting by Vincent van Gogh, and I'll be enchanted.

We just finished the ninth year of Art Prize nine in Grand Rapids http://www.artprize.org and there was a lot not to like both from the popular vote and that of the Jurors. On the other hand there were plenty of photographs (and other art) that were absolutely wonderful, some following classic themes http://www.artprize.org/66343, and some that certainly did not, even when using "classic" techniques http://www.artprize.org/65573.

All of which is to say Art in general and Classics in particular are primarily worked out between the eyes of the artist and the eyes of the viewer.

*Don't get me started on B&W or Color and their classic status, as I might have to trot out something about how only stuck in the mud pontificators claim that Black and White is the only true classic photographic medium!

"Maybe photographs recognized from life and taken at once with a single release of the shutter-button aren't entirely "relateable" any more. Maybe, some time in the recent past when I wasn't watching, they left the realm of the relevant and entered the musty catalogs of the merely historical."
I feel this way about my own amateur photography, influenced by classic photography, for sure. When I view my black-and-white fiber prints of family and places important to me, matted and framed on the wall, it's like viewing photographs in a museum, from a different era. I am looking at the past--strangely detached from it. Bill Wheeler

Well I got into photography in the mid-late '70's, when Kodachrome 64 was the bees knees (talk about disappointment when you got your roll of 36 transparencies back only to find you'd only managed to create 2 or 3 worthwhile images!). However my father also had a makeshift part time darkroom in our laundry, and I did have the occasional dabble in black & white - but colour was definitely King.

However now days I get much more excited about black & white, and to sit with a Michael Kenna retrospective book, or and Ansel Adams, or a Paul Strand from the 20th century for a quiet hour or so is a wonderful thing! :)

Rather than thinking the still images of old to be obsolete, view the contemporary world of photography as an evolution from the past. They are relevant for study, and an understanding of light and dark in both color and black & white images.

I spent about a year researching a way to digitally recreate the look of Kodak's "Velvet Green" printing paper. This was a paper with vanadium added to the silver to create a green toned monochromatic image. That was a success for me. I plan on doing the same for cyanotype. The problem area is I want to see what the red was like for the gum-bichromate "Red Chalk" color. The end goal being accurate digital versions for the original RGB monochromatic colors.

I got into photography on a serious note around 2005. I only knew a handful of photographers’ names, the same ones that everyone else knew, and I did not have any predilections about any particular time period or style.

Yet, over the following years, I found myself naturally gravitating towards photography from roughly the 1930s to the 1960s, although I certainly appreciate numerous photographs outside this timeframe.

And I’m still discovering works from decades back that exhibit as much creativity as anything concocted today.

If it is good, it is good. To be sure, I enjoy the new, and I’m not particularly nostalgic. However, I’m not going to dismiss the Beethoven’s, Rembrandt’s, or Cartier-Bresson’s just to coddle contemporary demands of relevancy. After all, what is relevant to me is ultimately what matters in this particular matter.

I first got into photography in 1958 and it was all B&W for me for many years because that was what I could develop and print. The equipment and materials for color were too expensive, too difficult to work with and usually fugitive (faded rapidly if exposed to light).

Some serious work was being done in color when I was still young, notably, Elliot Porter who remains an important influence on my photography. But Ansel Adams once remarked to Elliot "you don't get good whites". I have seen some of Porter's original prints and I have to confess that Ansel was right although I suspect that the limitations of the materials in the '60s had something to do with it. Most serious photographers worked in B&W except for commercial work of the types you mention.

One thing I have noted as a result of the time span of my avocation is that a lot of what becomes fashionable is simply a revisiting of things done in the past. HDR, for example, is a digital variation on Adam's stretching or compressing the tonal range via the Zone System. A more extreme early HDR technique was underwater development. I am amused these days when someone comes up with a new technique and I think to myself "yeah, (insert famous film photographer's name here) did that sort of thing when it was a lot tougher to do.

It seems to me that much (most?) of what is popular now has become theatrical. Images aren't observed and recorded so much as they are constructed based on something the photographer dreamed up before ever picking up the camera. It is as if photography has all gone the commercial studio route, art directed, posed, fantasies rather than reality. There is an interesting book about that shift https://www.amazon.com/Disappearing-Witness-Twentieth-Century-American-Photography/dp/0801871670/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508292237&sr=8-1&keywords=disappearing+witness I recommend it.

Yes... and no. If you compare photography to classical music, there will be winners and losers. Some work will stand the test of time and others will be forgotten or deemed antiquated. It depends on the photo and how it relates to the viewer. Every viewer brings their own set of experiences and emotions that can be influenced by an image. Black and white photos don't appeal to everyone. I love B&W photos and actually gravitate towards them if attending a mixed show. Sometimes their stark, direct nature really captures a subject in a way that color would only make confusing.

They are relevant because they are classic, otherwise they are just one of the millions that came later. To me, the only ones really worthy of calling classic are the best of the first. The best of the later seldom resonate as strongly.

By "today's photographers," do you mean someone photographing today who may have begun many years ago, or those who are just starting out today? Or both?

In photography and classical music, I find examples of both of the above who don't feel that studying the works of the past is relevant. Why should I want to photograph/compose music as they did, is the response by some.

Which misses the point, I think. I love looking at photographs of the past, not to want to copy them, rather to appreciate what they accomplished and gave to the world. It always renews my inspiration and motivation to get out with the camera!

Each week I take a book of photographs from my library to peruse and enjoy. At the moment, it is "A Time That Was: Irish Moments" by Jill Freedman (1987). A beautiful glimpse of a country and its people.

Last week it was "The Family of Man," (1955), 503 photographs selected by Edward Steichen and his staff for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. In Steichen's words: "The exhibition, now in the pages of this book, demonstrates that the art of photography is a dynamic process of giving form to ideas and of explaining man to man."

How can that not be relevant?!

You mention color, so that will motivate me to pull off the shelves "Antarctica" by Eliot Porter (1975). He was 73 years old when he flew there and trekked around that captivating landscape with his cameras. His photographs, some bordering on abstractions, have always demonstrated to me what is possible in such surroundings.

Long live the photographers of the past!

Richard Jones

I think this is a false dichotomy, between old and new. I see it as more of a continuum. People still look at a scene and press the shutter to capture it. They still get the "developed" (in camera or lightroom). They probably won't print it anymore. But it's still a photograph of a scene, taken with a single shutter click, then developed into a viewable image. I have several landscape photobooks, all of them by practitioners using film cameras. When I look at them I don't think the medium they used is particularly relevant to my appreciation of the subject, composition or lighting and I can use those lessons in my own work.

If it weren't for 'classic' photographs, photography would be just a mechanical means to reproduce the image of objects. It would be merely utilitarian and banal. If it weren't for a long lineage that stems from Stieglitz and Weston, photography wouldn't even be worth discussing at this level. If terms such as 'creativity' and 'originality' can apply to photography, that's because there is a classic heritage everyone who's serious about photography should honour and respect. Sure, 'classic' photographs are scarce. Even if we look closely at the greatest photographers' work, we'll find some flaws here and there, but the masterpieces they created are what makes photography relevant. 'Classic' photographs must be about 0,0000001% of the total amount of creative photographs, but they are what grants photography its place among visual arts.

For my Christmas present in 2007, Shirley, my wife, bought me the original hardback edition of Magnum Magnum, edited by Brigitte Lardinois, who was the Cultural Editor at Magnum in London for over ten years.

At the time, a number of commentators suggested that this publication marked the end of the transition from silver halide film to digital sensor based photography.

I think it probably did.

In a piece from Phase One promoting its "XF IQ3 100MP Trichromatic Camera System", photographer Todd Anthony is quoted ...

The impact of color in photography and storytelling

“Colour contributes a massive amount of emotional impact to my photography. Obviously light itself is the very thing photography depends on to exist, and the quality and tone of that light are of the utmost importance. But the colour of that light comes in a close second. A colour, or in most cases a combination of colours, has the power to evoke an emotional response in a viewer, and on occasion tell its part of the story in an image. It’s why as humans we react so emotionally to an amazing sunrise or sunset as the sky that wraps around us changes through a multitude of hues as it goes down.


It's important to remember that it isn't a question of Color Yes/No. There are degrees of color from subtle monochromatic to full on Paul Simon Kodachrome. It's a tool.

As an interesting data point, I'm teaching "Digital Photography II" this semester and so far the assignment that's elicited the most excitement (by a good margin) has been "Black & White".

We'll see next week when the assignments come in how well they do...

Absolutely the classics are still relevant. At the very least it sets a baseline by which to evaluate my own images. If I can't make something that even remotely stands up alongside a Brassai or David Plowden, then I certainly can't blame my failure on the supposedly inferior m43 equipment I'm using. Classic images also serve well to remind us that there is very little new work being done, and how far photographers from 50-100 years ago pushed the medium in its early days.

Other art forms have encountered, and survived, democratization.

Why would photography be so uniquely frail as to be destroyed by a process that drove other art forms to transform and thrive?

[Oh, I think photography has been "democratic" for many years, arguably for more than a century. --Mike]

Mike, a somewhat unrelated question: who are the color photogrphers you would recommend to the unwashed masses? I learned about Harry Gruyaert from TOP and that was a wonderful discovery, so any guidance is very welcome.

As for the classics, some seem as important as ever, and some seem more like a purely historic interest. But that has nothing to do with photography: how many composers of the second half of the 18th century besides Bach, Haydn and Mozart can a casual music lover name? Probably at most five to ten? And how many living composers? Maybe five to ten? But you ain't saying that Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert are of a purely historic interest, are you?

Your request for the leading photographers of the 21st century reminded me of a day about 10 years ago. I had gone to the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art (my only visit ever) and afterwards, I was taking in the day, sitting on their grand steps, and a fellow (presumably) in a giant rabbit suit was parading on the sidewalk wearing a sandwich-board sign saying: (some artist, I can't recall the name) is the only true artist of the 21st century. I apologize if this offends you.

First, how nice that the bunny was concerned for our temperament. Second, if he were smart, he would have been outside the MoMa, not the Metropolitan, which really doesn't focus on modern art.

(personally, I neither profess to know art, or really, what it is that I like)

The controversial Terry Richardson may be the most recognizable name in photography ... ever! Discussed by people on the coasts who have seen his work, as well as by fly-over church-ladies who haven't.

Juergen Teller, snapper of snapshots (no, your kid can't do that!!!). Mario Testino, a Peruvian photographer who still shoots Medium Format Film. Annie Leibowitz (who's been shooting color since the '60s). The late (died 2007) Alexandra Boulat, a co-founder of the VII Photo Agency, did some wonderful color work. The list goes on-and-on.

Alec Soth, an academic fine arts photographer, who works with color, would starve if he gave-up his day-job. Using an 8x10 in the era of digital, wins you no style points 8-)

For me, it’s not about color versus Black and White nor is it about digital versus film.
In the same way we learned to drive cars with manual transmissions in the 60s, we learned photography with black and white materials in the 70s. Black and White was just more accessible to hobbyists/enthusiasts. We shot some color, but the complexity of processing was a bit too much (for me, anyway), so it was sent off to a lab-an action foreign to the DIY ethos that was in vogue the time. We wanted to be immersed in the process.

In his comment, Nigel said, “The internet has also given me a sense of image overload that has also deflected me away from photobooks”, but lately, I’ve been more drawn to photo books. I haven’t yet figured out why, but I think it’s for the same reason that I have been drawn back to making prints. There’s something about the “physicalness” of them. Handling an object enrichens the viewing.
For me, anything online (photos, news articles) tends to prompt a rapid clicking response in order to get to what is next- it’s a form of gluttony.

The question I have been asking myself is “who are the current photographers whose books I will be reading tomorrow?". Everybody has a portfolio of sorts, but most seem too specialized, few of them seem well rounded. I have been hanging out with fine art photographers for a few years, but they seem to congeal into groups with similar specialties/interests-technically perfect prints or conceptual work that needs to be explained to you.
Where is today’s Andre’ Kertesz, where is Walker Evans, where is Berenice Abbott?

I know they are out there, but you gotta sift through so much excess to find them.

When I get new cards I cover the electrical contacts, the GB size, and the card's speed with pieces of tape and spray the card with a high quality fluorescent paint. Cards really stand out wherever I put them, even when they are stored in (clear) cases. Have yet to have any of the fluorescent paint chip at all... which I would expect since we handle our cards probably less than any other piece of photo equipment.

This LensCulture interview with Boston MFA curator Anne Havinga is, I believe, quite “relevant” to this topic. (BTW, I recently visited her Stieglitz show at the MFA and highly recommend it. It’s small but tightly curated from their largish collection of Stieglitz prints. It’s also adjacent to a similarly tight Charles Sheeler exhibition, another of their collection’s specialties. Just go.)

I also believe that this recent Christie’s auction of MoMA deaccessioned lots is relevant, although in a slightly different way.

Sorry to been late in this conversation. I've been thinking a lot about that very same question for the last year. For me, many of the XX Century photography is slowly losing its edge, its prestige fading with nothing to replace it.

I wonder now if the success of many of that photographs was the result of the relative scarcity of practitioners and the tecnichal hurdles of the past.

On the other hand, contemporary photography can be mesmerizing, bold, exquisite, brilliant, but is hardly memorable.

Were must of the classic photos memorable because they didn't have to fight for space with millions of others every day?

Was the artfulness of photography the illusion of a century?

I steel could look forever into certain pictures of August Sander, the Italian family of Paul Strand, El ensueño of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, an a handful of the pictures of Koudelka, among others, but I keep wondering.

I think that the opposite is happening in the art market and classic photography is more popular and sells better than ever. Photo exhibits in museums are big events and photography is able to hold interest on a wall like the great art of the past.

Taking up your challenge:

Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi
Jason Eskenazi, Wonderland
Thomas Ruff, jpegs
Rineke Dijkstra’s Portraits Of Adolescence

That's off the top of my head. I think photo culture is plenty vibrant and there is great work being made - along with the endless dreck.

The artistic work is linked to his time, is relevant because in his time the artist presented a different way of representing the affairs of men, generating the opportunity to see the world in a unique way, a different perspective that enriches us. Creating a path and an opportunity for artists of the next generations (whether analog or digital,does not really matter) so that it reinterprets the world from its singularity.

They caught a vision of the world in their time; that is the priceless part. That they are welded to B&W was not really a choice but the only game in town. Since then markets and technology have made so many more things possible. I wonder how this discussion would go if we had a more pronounced selection of photo-media to choose from in our classics.

I recently read "The perfect Photograph" by Feininger. He is a famous photographer, mainly for his image of a face obscured by a Leica rangefinder that makes the subject look like some weird alien. His book of images of New York is a fine historical record, so I was surprised by what I found in this"How To" book..

He says all the right things about technique, composition, integrity and so on (allowing for the fact that he discusses techniques for film photography). But the example images are, without exception, truly awful. They are sixties and seventies cliches at their very worst!

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