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But what does it all mean?

I’ve had the following composite image kicking around in my collection for quite some time now. It was created as a concept book cover but though I am satisfied with the results I’ve kind of lost my way when it comes to pinning down what it all means. Despair, desolation, misery?

The reason I’m digging it up now is that I’m considering submitting it to my photo agency and as part of the submission process I need to provide some keywords for the image so that image researchers might be able to find it.

So here’s the thing. I’d be very grateful for any help with the keywords. What does this image mean to you? How does it make you feel? What might you type into a search box to find it?

Prints available

Over the years I’ve tended to shy away from selling prints of my imagery. I guess this is mostly due to my mind set which is fixed firmly in the digital realm where my imagery is made available to image buyers, through my online agency, for use in newspapers, books, magazines, advertising campaigns etc.

A visit to my home would just confirm this print avoidance affliction. I think it’s time for that to change so I’m gradually selecting some of my favorite images and making them available as prints.

The first two galleries contain images that I am very fond of for one reason or another.


Machines

The machines gallery contains some of my personal favorite photographs of various machinery including classic car abstracts and some WW2 based imagery.


Wranglers

The wrangler gallery contains favorites from my American Wrangler shoot in the Big Horn mountains, Wyoming, USA.

Prints are available in a number of sizes up to 18×12 inches. I hope that some of you enjoy the imagery as much as I have over the years.

Germaine Greer has a message for the art mafia

Germaine Greer in the Guardian:

The work of art, or, as we now tend to say, the artwork, is first of all a commodity.

The most moving battle of 20th-century art has been to redeem itself from its degrading role as commodity, a battle it has decidedly lost. Art prices are higher than ever, and even the trashiest installations are treated as if they were priceless monuments.

It’s never been more difficult to decide what is good art, or more fun trying to. The true field of art is the mind of the beholder; what is being worked on is the relation of the beholder to his perception of reality, of duration, relativity, acceptance, rejection, alienation. The artist positions you in a dark room and turns the light on, and off again. He does no more because there is no need to do more. In finding yourself equal to the encounter, you are empowered with the artist’s own intellectual energy. For the time you are together, you are sharing the same cerebral space.

I’m tempted to say exactly but that would be giving in to the position that successful art is one where the communication between the artist and the viewer is understood. Greer is on the right track in as much as there’s recognition of context (perception of reality etc.) as being fundamentally important. There is more however. Because contexts can vary wildely, a viewers’ appreciation is not inextricably linked with the intent of the artist. As I speculate here, [p]erhaps art is an appeal to the context of an individual and successful art is art that finds a match. Perhaps that is why, without intending to communicate anything in particular, a photograph can accidentally be successful from the perspective of a viewer [ie it stirs something in the viewer's context that does not exist in the photographer's]. Just because art is accidental it does not make it worthless, though the photographer may suffer a certain amount of work related stress because of it. Who are we to deny the viewer the right to call any of our photographs successful art? Members of the art establishment?

Amanda Jackson Fine Art

I’ve got to say, I’m drawn to Amanda Jackson’s work particularly her diva gallery. Lovely.

Elephant in the room?

Colin, over at auspiciousdragon.net, has been applying himself to photography and communication in his Art. If not communication then what? article. This seems to have been inspired by Colin creating, as he puts it, a minor storm in a few places on the net by claiming that photographic art isn’t particularly good at communicating ideas from person to person.

This is, as you can imagine, a hairy subject with many beliefs. Take this one by Asher Kelman for instance:

“All photographic art requires that an arc of communication occur between the photographer and the viewer. From that, the creator depends on the viewer comprehending intent. He also relies on the observer finding enough from their own minds to make the art work.”

It’s a statement that Colin disagrees with but it is one that I think needs clarifying before we can even start to get down and dirty.

All photographic art requires that an arc of communication occur between the photographer and the viewer.

One can get caught up in that one statement by asking questions like what about photographs that have not been viewed, even perhaps by the photographer. Can they be art? What about photographs that have not been viewed for a period of time? Do they cease being art? What if all viewers died a decade ago and no one alive has seen the photograph? However, such questions become irrelevant when you consider the statement in its proper context. Asher is describing a process; that of someone viewing or having viewed a photograph. Asher’s definition of photographic art relates specifically to the moment someone views the photograph and must also relate to an indeterminate period of time after the viewing with, perhaps, repeated viewings lying along that arc. Opinions can be formed quickly, but the speed of thought is not limitless. Unless Asher believes that the statement becomes less appropriate over time, which would be much the same as saying that the relationship between art and the viewer is both instantaneous and transient.

But therein lies a sleeping dragon. That arc of communication can exist for decades and, as such, is subject to change and we should recognise the effect that this possible change has on this view of photographic art.

From that, the creator depends on the viewer comprehending intent.

An arc of undefined length can make this dependency a long one. What we misunderstand now we may understand another day. What we understand now as sophisticated, shocking, inspiring, original we may find dull, ill conceived, contrived, mundane, or juvenile in our twilight years. As our context changes, so our relationship with the work of art changes. The same can be said of the photographer and the relationship he or she has with their own work. Asher alludes to this at the end of the statement.

He also relies on the observer finding enough from their own minds to make the art work.

And minds change. They learn and forget. This must mean that art can both work and fail but not necessarily in that order. It just depends where upon the arc of communication you do your testing. Now or later. That is not to say that the work is no longer art. It just might change into bad or indifferent art. The viewer may decide that actually, thinking back, I was a little naïve. Mind you, not as naïve as that photographer who dragged his kit into that swamp.

So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us pondering the importance of a changing personal context to successful art. Sure, there are aspects of art that will likely be appreciated outside of time and individual growth and change. We will likely always appreciate the first to think up and bravely introduce a new and derided technique that eventually proves its worth but these are exceptional circumstances. But we need to consider the fact that photographic art, any art, relies heavily on the viewer and the knowns and unknowns that are encapsulated within.

Colin says that photographic art isn’t particularly good at communicating ideas from person to person. He is certainly not saying that it is impossible to do so. My own thoughts right now which are, in keeping with this article, subject to change is that there is too much talk about communication and not enough about context and the fluidity that it suggests.

Perhaps art is an appeal to the context of an individual and successful art is art that finds a match. Perhaps that is why, without intending to communicate anything in particular, a photograph can accidentally be successful from the perspective of a viewer. Just because art is accidental it does not make it worthless, though the photographer may suffer a certain amount of work related stress because of it. Who are we to deny the viewer the right to call any of our photographs successful art? Members of the art establishment?

Individual context is more important than attempts at raw communication. It’s the way that our own personal perspectives have developed that allow or encourage us to appreciate beauty rather than simply experiencing curiosity as a young child might.

Here’s a rather topical experiment. Take a look at this photograph of an ELEPHANT. Do it now before reading on. Go on, do it.

Now for some of you this experiment will have failed, for others see how that communication tripped you up and how your context dragged you back in again. I even wrote the word elephant in capital letters. In bold. But your context won out. Communication, without that all important internal belief system, is weak. Most people try to appeal to it in some way. Your own personal context is more powerful than any photographer’s attempt at communicating with you and trust me on this, it’s not the intent of the ‘elephant’ photographer (John Ellis) to tell you that his photograph is of a ram and not of an elephant. That’s you that did that.

Now there are those that will argue that appealing to a context is the same as communication. Yet that communication does not change for each viewer. Hundreds of them might like the photograph for many, many different reasons. How can you possibly define if a piece of photographic art is successful without running a poll of a good set of viewers asking them what message they received and whether this message matches your photographically artistic intentions? How many of you do that? You know, ask the question?

Not many I should wager. I think, perhaps, many photographers fool themselves into believing that a viewer purchased their print because they got that message loud and clear. I’ll wager that many photographers don’t even try to elucidate to themselves exactly what their particular photograph of the moment is actually about, what the communication is, though I am willing to accept that I am wrong on that.

Here’s a final thought to ponder. What if art, really, really great art, the kind that stops you in your tracks, is the stuff that appeals to the esoteric, perhaps almost forgotten parts of your own personal context? The parts that only just overlap at their fuzzy edges with the same, but more strongly realised aspects of the context as the photographer sees it. What if a really great photograph happens to be one where the photographer takes two contextual themes that exist within yourself as completely separate and joins them together? You don’t recognise them as naturally belonging together but, if the photographer does a good job it might work. That’s more than simple communication. That borders on manipulation.

If there is any merit in the above paragraph we could briefly, and at great peril, ponder a situation where most photographic art is mundane. It appeals to the general union or commonality of internal beliefs that we all share and that are, to use a photographic phrase, sharp in most if not all of us. Easy. Beautiful perhaps. Good enough to want to enjoy repeatedly maybe. But, perhaps, not the greatest heights that art can achieve.

It’s not my intention to argue that communication is not a valid tool in defining photographic art. It is my intention to argue that it is only a small part of the real story and that the use of communication as the primary term in the definition is doing photographic art, all art, a disservice.

This posting was compiled in Word and published using the WordPress publishing system

This is just sublime. Having read Alain Briot’s new essay Of Cameras and Art (in which he invites us quite rightly to believe that equipment is not the cause of great fine art photography) I popped along to the following response by photographer David White. David concludes with:

A lot of people just don’t get it. Great images are created in the mind of the photographer and not through the use of expensive equipment. Equipment does not make the photographer as many would believe. I find it amusing that so many magazines provide extraordinary detail about the camera used, F-stop, shutter speed, lens, filter and tripod when none of this has any bearing upon what the photographer is trying to convey. In some photographic forums, many of the members list great quantities of bodies and lenses as if this gives their opinions and writings some validity. Perhaps this is the point that I have been rambling about. The equipment does not convey validity to the photographer or the images produced. The only validity conferred to an image is the quality of the photographer’s artistic vision and skill. This is something that, like respect, must be earned and not conveyed.

It all makes sense to me. And then I saw it, the sublime bit. At the top of the page is a wonderful landscape by David. Under the image are the immortal words This image was photographed by David White with a Gitzo 1327 Carbon Fiber tripod and a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead. My day has been made.

Poets, poets everywhere

What is it about photography and poetry recently? A blog discussion on photo poets between Colin and Matt and now this (via eclectique) in an article on Henry Wessel:

Mr. Wessel suggested that photographs have a close affinity to Imagist poems, a comparison that reflects his own artistic influences. The Imagists wrote laconic verse with hard-edged description, creating precise visual mental images. Mr. Wessel’s photographs too have an optical precision and silvery veneer that aim for that mental-image clarity.

Ability, accomplishment and the transient art work

Paul Butzi on confusing ability with accomplishment:

It reminds me of the person at a recent show of work I’d done on the WA and OR coast. I overheard him saying “This is nothing special – I could make these if I just made a lot of trips to the coast, too.” Now, maybe he could, and maybe he couldn’t. The problem I see is that he’s confused ability with accomplishment.

The difference is that he hasn’t made those trips to the coast, hasn’t made boatloads of boring photographs to learn how to make the exciting ones, hasn’t spent the time standing in the cold and wet, hasn’t gone back again and again to understand how the light changes, how the weather changes, looked at the same rocks so many times he’s given them names.

And I have. And so the net result is that I’ve made those photographs, and he hasn’t. It’s not a question of whether he can, it’s a matter of whether he has (or, if you insist, ever will).

Paul is right, even more so if you include the actual effort and skill involved in producing the final print; that particular stage has lead many onto a lifelong struggle to becoming a master printer. Then there’s the actual show itself, the editing, the choice of presentation, everything leading up to giving the patron the opportunity to deride the artist’s work. All those stages are part of the work and, for a gallery show, all are critical to the success of the work.

When a photographer commits to a show he or she commits to a continuation of the art work. It’s not finished until it’s up on display and once that display is over, that new work no longer exists. It’s similar to the process of getting that image from the negative to a print. It’s all part of the performance, it’s just that in the case of a gallery show the performance ends in the presentation of all the prints rather than the conversion of the negative (or digital capture) into the print (or onto the screen).

Interestingly, by their very nature, gallery shows are ultimately destructive in the sense that the final work is very transient indeed. This clearly is not unique to photography.

Art degree shows

From an interesting article in the times:

Has art simple become a consumer durable? Maybe there’s a bit of that, but in that case we’d all be making paintings and photographs, because that’s all most collectors are interested in at degree shows — pictures to decorate homes and corporate offices.

Birds!

If you’ve not paid a visit to the BirdBlog over at auspiciousdragon yet you are missing out on a real treat. Lots of birds doing what birds do in a very fluid fashion.