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Thread: Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

  1. #1
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    Just read John Bergers fascinating little essay "Understanding a Photograph" and why it might be a good thing photography isn't really a fine art (or at least it wasn't in 1968 when he wrote it)

    http://www.courses.rochester.edu/seiberling/AAH130/bergunde.pdf
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    Tim - what is the fellow saying, in a nutshell ? I don't want to read the whole thing, I confess.

  3. #3
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    it's only four pages Ken - I could try and sum it up, but you might be better off reading it for starters
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    It's definitely shorter than the "Our Secret LF Society" thread.

  5. #5

    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    Tim - what is the fellow saying, in a nutshell ? I don't want to read the whole thing, I confess.

    Photographs are recordings of things... and since they can be infinitly reproduced have no intrinsic exclusive value....therefore are not art......

    I'll pass on flogging this putrefact horse.....

  6. #6
    Clay
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    Premise also seems to be that the camera and lens is an objective recording device that does not allow for 'transformation' and thus cannot be a legitimate tool of a 'creator'. Clearly the author is a color-blind non-primate who has never used a view camera or a portrait lens or photographed anything at an f-stop larger than 64. So I guess if you are a labrador retriever who uses a camera only at small fstops, you will not be able be able to create art. Otherwise, have at it.

  7. #7

    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    I read it. It seems to have a lot of unsupported assertions, like "The formal arrangement of a photograph explains nothing." Ok, maybe, maybe not. But to state it baldly, without support of some kind strikes me a overwhelmingly unpersuasive.

    Likewise, "People believe in property, but in essense they only believe in the illusion of protection which property gives".

    I think that Tim calling Bill a 'wanker' is a little over the top. I don't think Tim is a troll, but neither do I think that sort of insult is warranted.

    That said, this article strikes me as exactly the sort of intellectual/mental onanism that I've come to expect from the academic world in general, and from the academic art world in particular.

    And here's my obligatory gripe: the typesetting of this particular article really, really, REALLY is LOUSY. It's the worst I've seen in a long, long time - and I spent some time studying typesetting, so I know what good typesetting looks like. This, to put it mildly, is rebarbative.

    You'd think that Art Academics would be capable of realizing that presentation counts.

  8. #8
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    I don't think this is Berger's finest effort.

    If it had been written in the 19th Century it would be interesting; but coming from 1968 it just seems naive. This is 22 years after Stieglitz died. It's four years after Roland Barthes' lengthy expositions on structuralist criticism, and two years after Derrida's most famost statements on post-structuralist criticism.

    His definition of fine art, if I understand it (he presumes a common understanding of the term and so doesn't expound on it) is tied up with an object's rarity. This is a pre-modern notion, of course, and it wouldn't have been a challenge even in 1968 to find a roomful of counterexamples. And this draws attention to another presumption: the definition of photography. If we assume, as Berger does, that it's only photography if it is mechanical, instant, intrinsically about time and not form, and infinitely reproduceable by industrial means ... then some might say that his definition of photography only includes artless photography. I wouldn't go that far, but it's one of a few discussion that would need to addressed in order for Berger's argument to have much credibility.

    His most philosophical sounding point is that "photography is the process of rendering observation self-conscious." But he fails to convince me of how photography is different in the regard form painting, or even writing. Wouldn't it be just as easy to say that "art is the process of rendering observation self conscious?"

  9. #9
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    sorry .. i butchered that last paragraph ... meant to say:

    His most philosophical sounding point is that "photography is the process of rendering observation self-conscious." But he fails to convince me of how photography is different in this regard from painting, or even writing. Wouldn't it be just as easy to say that "art is the process of rendering observation self conscious?"

  10. #10
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Why it may good that photography isn't a fine art

    "Premise also seems to be that the camera and lens is an objective recording device that does not allow for 'transformation' and thus cannot be a legitimate tool of a 'creator'."

    The tools open to a photographer in terms of transforamtion are pretty limited, and only really only allow us to "transform" what we are recording by realtively small degrees and not really in substance. Take one of Van Goghs sketches of a simple tree - he can chose which parts to emphasise, which parts to spend more time on and thus transform it from a more straightforward recording into his own rendering (such that it looks very little like the tree he viewed when making the drawing. The time inherrent in such a drawing isn't equal - some parts have had much more time spent on them than others. By comparison, the photographer is really stuck much more with at very best translating what he sees before the lens - and most time, much closer to quoting from the appearance of what is there. Each point on the negative corresponds with a similar point on the actual tree. Without going through some quite contorted (and most often meaningless) contortions, it is hard for the photographer to move outside of this. And comapred tot he drawing, the time inherrent int he photograph is all equal - the 1/15th of a second or whatever it took to make. Again, even darkroom manipulations can move little beyond that limitation.

    Personally I found the ideas about what are really the limitations imposed by trying to apply "composition" to photogorpahy most itneresting.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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