“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.

Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

6 thoughts on ““Contemporary” Art / Photography”

  1. Yes as usual well written, and yes you could say a bit of a rant. We all need to lift the safety valve every now and again.
    You said about not showing your bad images, the problem with some people they cannot distinguish the good from the bad, with modern day teaching,Had they attended the course that shows them, and tick the box to say” Now you can do it”they think they have invented the wheel and these new ones are square and are the future. The good thing about all of this, is the cream always floats to the top and if you are very talented and work very hard,who knows, they may well aspire one day to be a member of TOPS. Thank you for your blog, and keep sending them out, I look forwards to the next one. And above all keep smiling it helps no end. Ha Ha Ha

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    1. Thanks George. I think that sometimes the cream does not float to the top sadly, and that unless you look hard the good stuff can be difficult to find. I was also concerned with authors who don’t know how to curate, as I think this is a skill that needs to be cultivated separately from actually taking photographs. We move on, we learn. I hope. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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  2. A well written article Diane and the message that comes out of it for me is the question we are continually being asked:-
    “How did you do this”? The question suggests that the viewer is reserving judgement until he/she knows how & why before saying it they liked it. The process used isn’t the issue is it? If it needs to be asked, it hasn’t worked.
    Regarding these “filters & tricks” I believe the overwhelming use of mobile phones for more than just family/holiday snaps is to blame. We are seeing more & more images taken on them on internet platforms aimed at enthusiast.photographers and it encourages people to use shortcuts and experimentation that rarely produces any decent images.

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    1. Well said. I agree wholeheartedly. I love and hate mobiles equally. I’ve seen some superb work from phones, but the people that do it well are using a number of different applications, and taken the tune to do it well. As for the ‘snapseed’ and Stick a filter on brigade, there’s less hope of a crafted image. Thank you fir your thoughts.

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  3. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Diane. However, I think you musing will reach the wrong people. I doubt those who you talking about will ever read your post.
    So possibly other social media could do the trick??? I doubt it. The very folk you are targeting would probably not take much or any notice of what you have too say. I am afraid that in this dumb down society, those of us who care may be banging our heads against the wall. Sad but true. At my age I have come to the conclusion that no matter what I think or do, nothing will change. So why worry myself about it and get on with my life and do my own thing. I hope that my comment comes out in support of you. I do think you are right. No, I know you are right. Is that a rant?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest Peter, I wholeheartedly agree. However, this is purely my blog, and my thoughts. My audience here I know is small, but I feel I get a chance to air my views, and thoughts. As always, thank you for your continued support. It is much appreciated.

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