“Contemporary” Art / Photography

This might turn out to be a bit of a rant, but I’m going to try and restrain myself …….

When is Contemporary photography art?  And when does a well taken image denegrate into “just a photo”?

This question has been nagging at me for a couple of weeks now – since an exchange with a photographer online led them to deleting some comments that had been passed on an image.  I’d been able to read it all before it was taken down, but it hit hard at the art side of imagemaking, so please bear with me.

Photography is becoming an ‘easy’ target.  It’s easy for everyone to engage in – and that’s a good thing.  The hard part, I feel, is that something of a disaster is happening around us.  Cameras have become (and I quote here from another blog I read) “optical machine guns, mowing down everyone and everything with carefree abandon”.

What has this ‘freedom’ done to photographers? – well I think it’s made some of them lazy.  (I’m talking generally here, and not relating to those who curate their images, and I’ll come back to that later).  Point and push, slap on a filter, push it onto Instagram, or Facebook, and call it Contemporary Art.  Far too many photographers seem unwilling, or unable to learn – they are told on a daily basis how good they are, what incredible photographers they are – they live in a thumbs up, thumbs down world – where no-one challenges, and when they are challenged they delete the posts.  They’ve already had lots of ‘likes’ so that’s that.  It’s the difference between rhymes on greetings cards, and Milton, to treat them the same is just insulting to both.

The audience says it’s good, so the artist abandons exporation, and repeats what worked before – it requires a strong will to deviate from the norm, and explore into the unknown.  The artist has a choice now, carry on doing what they were doing, or see what’s happening, and change their view, make real art that has come from the photographer, not from the filter.

I gave a talk a little while ago at a camera club – I offered a half dozen of my images round, and asked them to critique them.  I’m thick skinned, and said that if they hated them, or loved them, that was fine, but I’d be asking them how they arrived at that conclusion.  What was it about the images that made them like or dislike?  It was a hard exercise for them.  They couldn’t just ‘thumbs up’, or ‘thumbs down’.  The comments afterwards were that they overall liked the images, (thumbs up) but the discussion in the end wasn’t about the image itself, they were more interested in how I made it in the first place – which wasn’t really what I really hoped for.

And this is what we’re getting sucked into.  It’s less about the end result (which is easy – like or not) and more about, how did the author achieved it, and what camera they used, if indeed it gets that far.

Now, I’m not against asking – I do it myself (I did it this morning in fact), but I ask after I’ve considered the image, and decided on its merits, (well, I’d like to think so anyway).

Too many people don’t edit, in the way that I understand editing.  Composition is something of an anathema to (mostly  younger) photographers.  They want to make something new and fresh – which is great – till we realise that their idea of new and fresh, is the filter I referred to earlier, and which more mature photographers have seen before ad nauseum.

Really ‘good’ photographs are never the product of laziness.  If the photographer puts in enough effort, and thought, then their images should be worthy of more than a quick look (thumbs up). It should not rely on a quick filter trick, which requires no real effort, or thought.

I am still of the opinion that if you put your ‘art’ on Facebook, Instagram, or any social media platform, you are saying to the world “look at my images”, and as a result you must be prepared for people to question your motives, and your artwork, and not get upset when someone comes along who doesn’t like what you have done.  You can’t please all the people all the time…..

Most photographers feel that their images aren’t good enough – that’s the whole challenge, frustration, and joy of photography.  We are all our worst critics, and that generally, is what drives us to improve.  I’ve said before in my blog that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to take bad pictures, and it’s OK to apply unexplainable filters. What’s not OK, is a failure to learn, to develop, to fail to explore and engage with others who may not like your work for a reason.

And nearly lasty (and you may be pleased I’m getting to the end of what has in fact turned out to be a rant), curation.  Photographers who share EVERYTHING…. Maybe they think the world wants to know what they had for dinner, or see the 25 variations on the same picture.  Photography is like going to a restaurant – they serve you the best meals, offer a menu of choice – the menu says, this is the best this place has to offer, you choose.  They don’t show you the failures, the repetitive dishes.  They hide their junk, they paint the front of the restaurant to attract you in.   They draw attention to the good bits, and let that define them as a business.  They don’t ask you to choose between identical dishes, one colour and one black and white.  Nor do they ask you what colour plates to use.  They define their style.

So to those photographers who keep asking what colour camera they should buy (and yes it’s happening more and more), and which image looks best (colour or black and white) – I say make your own minds up….. be brave, sort yourselves out, but for goodness sake stop showing us your bad bits, stop thinking you’re amazing, and produce something that isn’t a shallow nothing with no story.  Tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.

Finally, a message to the people who think that they want to make Contemporary Images and ‘not just a photo’, please think of something more creative to say……  The photo IS the image.

Than you for bearing with me.

Practice Makes Perfect?

I’ve been reading a lot this week about photography, and how we improve.  Practice is obviously the answer, but it is always?

When you go to a concert, you hear the singer, the pianist – you see paintings in a gallery, the prints on a wall.  To get this good, the artist must practice every day – to get out of form before a concert is unheard of (well maybe not always! but you get the idea)…  So when you look at images, you are seeing the end result of weeks, and maybe years of work, and practice.

I know it’s nearly impossible to get out and shoot every day, but what other ways are there to keep your finger on the button?  I think that talking about image making, talking about photography generally is practice – as is looking at other people’s work – visiting galleries – sharing images.  Even looking at images on Instagram, Facebook or even Google, is practice.  Every time you look at someone elses work, you are honing your own skills, mostly indirectly.

So, how do you practice with your camera ?  Well, there are a number of ways – you COULD just walk out the house and shoot anything and everything you see.  Is that practice, or just shooting for the sake of it?  Or, you could go on a workshop, and immerse yourself in the photographic life for a week, absorb, and create… that seems good to me… or you could set yourself a project!

A strategy is needed, and I think that the best way of learning, of moving on, is by ‘finishing’ things; and by finish, I mean print, or otherwise share your work with the wider world.  I prefer the former.  A book, a print to hang in your home, a set of images to a theme.  This makes it harder to do, but also offers a challenge to the photographer.

On the other hand, by sharing your images online, you leave yourself open to critique by others.  I’m intrigued by photographers (and I use the term loosely), who post images on Social Media, but who won’t accept that sometimes, not everyone will like them.  I like to ask people why they took an image, or why they processed it in the way they did.  The answers vary, but on ocassion, they take great offence that I had even the temerity to ask.  Why is this?

Back to projects.

As I said in a previous blog post, I used to be a one image producer.  I didn’t do projects, or even panels of three.  It was one shot, or nothing.  Since I became a member of the Linconshire Image Makers though, my whole ideal and attitude changed.  It’s taken months of talk, and work, (and nagging), but finally I’m seeing not only the results of the discipline, but I think my whole attitude to photography and art has seen a dynamic shift, and because I’m questioning my own work, I’m starting to question other people’s work too.

Within the group, it’s simple.  This is what we meet up for – we look at each others work, and work of the major photographers, and ask why this, why that, why this image, and not that one.  Outside the group, well, as I said, it’s not so easy.

I’m considering a Social Media blackout for a month or so – I need to get my head around where I want to go with my imagery, and I need to plan a strategy to get me through the winter, and maybe well into next year.  My website needs an overhaul (it’s long overdue), and I want to allow myself time to experiment more.  I’ve run through the multiple exposure sets, and I won’t stop doing these – they give me immense pleasure,  but I want to also run a set of images on a ‘what if’ basis….  What if I shot everything out of focus?  What if I did everything with a dutch tilt? (a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle), What if I photographed…………… (fill in the blank as you desire).  Maybe just 6 images – maybe a project of just one image, maybe 15 or 20.  What if I set myself a project to complete 100 prints in a twelve month period? (that might not happen)……. but what if it did….?

As someone said to me only today – “it’s only a photo”….. and when I questioned why denegrate it to “only a photo”…… I was met with silence….. and there the matter rested.