Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When A Photographer Uses The Word "Artist" Reach For Your Gun

The answer to this tedious question "Is photography art?' is yes, but almost never when it thinks it is. Most of the photographers of the 19th century who declared themselves artists are considered quaint at best and grotesque at worst. And today the pictures that have pried money out of the arts endowments look like what Fotomat used to not charge you for or what you find in your Aunt's attic.

The great photographic art has been made by people doing something else: by Eugene Atget trying to document Paris -

Eugene Atget
or August Sander trying to codify all the faces in prewar Germany -

August Sander
or Irving Penn (the greatest in my view) trying to fill the pages of Vogue -

Irving Penn

There is of course Man Ray but he was a painter

Man Ray
and Lázlo Moholy-Nagy who discovered that the more things you did wrong, the better the photograph looked. (I like that idea as it works for me sometimes. I call them serendipitous mistakes or happy accidents.) He is one of my favourite artists and photographer because in photography he used to teach his students new ways to look at the world which is the mantra of all creative people.


However the most famous is Stieglitz who manipulated and scratched his images to ensure the hoi polloi would know they were artists.


Nowadays the photographer most like to be accepted by the hoi polloi or haute scribblers are those who are really painters like David Hockney -

Hockney polaroid collages

and those bloody awful kitschy pictures of a dogs-as-people - William Wegman who is also a painter.


But the high priestess of high concept is Cindy Sherman who creates provocative reflections of the America Psyche using props and wigs and things and whose picture go for millions. 

But today's photographers who use computer software to elevate their normally mundane photographs to fine artworks at the touch of a key by adding artistic effects thus ensuring they appear as 'paint-by-numbers' pieces can be safely dismissed as hopelessly misguided and downright lazy. These works do not, as I mentioned before, show the viewer a different way of seeing the world and as a result they fail completely as creative artworks or even as photographs.

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