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Thread: Something to think about

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Mar 2001

    Something to think about

    There's an interesting issue pointed out in the book, "Art & Fear" and I'd like to bring it out to people here so as to help me find a deeper understanding to w hat I'm doing. Here it goes:-

    "In the first third of this century, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and a few fellow travellers turned the then-prevailing work of soft-focus photographic art upsid e down. They did so by developing a visual philosphy that justified sharply-focs images, and introduced the natural landscape as a subject for photographic art. It took dacades for their point to filter into public consciousness, but it sur e has now: pictures appearing in anything from cigarette ads to Sierra Club book s owe their current acceptance to those once-controversial images. Indeed, that vision has so prevasively become ours that people photographing vacation scenery today often do so with the hope that if everything turns out just right, the re sult will not simply look like a landscape, it will look like an Ansel Adams pho tograph of the landscape.

    This too will pass, of course. In fact, artistically speaking, it has passed. Th e unfolding over time of a great idea is like a growth of a fractal crystal, all owing details and refinements to multiply endlessly - but only in ever-decreasin g scale. Eventually (perhaps by the early 1960's) those who stepped forward to c arry the West Coast Landscape Photography banner were not producing art, so much as reproducing the history of art. Separated two or three generations from the forces that spawned the vision they championed, they were left making images of experiences they never quite had. If you find yourself caught in similiar circum stances, we modestly offer this bit of cowboy wisdom: When the horse dies, get o ff."

    It would not be too far away to suggest that many of us (myself included) is sti ll riding on a dead horse (or is the horse dead?). For those courageous enough t o side-step this "sharply focus" path, have you found understanding, satisfactio n and acceptance to your art? How far have you wandered off? Have you found your own vision? Or do you believe that f64 is still the better (the only truthful) way to go? Your contribution is appreciated.



    PS: Hope this thread does not offend anyone.

  2. #2

    Something to think about

    First, the development of art and photography as an art. In my opinion, you have a greater freedom to artistically express yourself these days than you had in e.g. the 30's. Looking at the art scene in general, there are today many different ways of expression, where a multitude of styles are accepted. This, still in my opinion, also holds true to some extent in the photography area.

    Second, and this could be offensive to some people, a trend that I feel has become accepted in the last 20 or so years is that art has nothing to do with being professional, it is just a matter of being different. In artschools (at least here in Europe), most students seems to abandon the classes on studying and drawing the human figure. "That is out of fashion... I'll never do that anyhow..." Many "artists" of today havn't got the patience to work the whole way through a project, so many things seen in art galleries nowadays are just the seeds of a final product.

    Let's narrow down the subject again to photography. Aaron is correct in saying that the f64 type of shots have been followed by other trends. This still doesn't mean that a really good print a la A. Adams et. al. isn't appreciated. But I'm sorry to say that I've walked out of photography exhibitions and the only words that came to mind was "Ehhh... blurry and gray?". Giving it a little longer thought, the work reminded me of my very first attempts in the darkroom some 30 years ago, except that I didn't put a $400 price tag on the prints that I fed the dustbin with. Seriously though, I see the same trend in photography as in general art. It is often more important to be shocking and strange than being a professional artist who knows his/her materials.

    Photography as such have always been a moving platform. The technical advancement in our field since the invention of photography some 165 years have been amazing. Most other classical art forms havn't had much development for centuries. This technical advancement have to some extent made many photographers focused on technique.

    Trying to conclude this, I think that any professional artist, knowing his tools, can produce high-grade art. What style he/she is opting for doesn't really matter. Any good photographer who knows his camera/film/darkroom tools have the potential to produce final photographs which looks the way he/she intends. If the intention is a blurry shot, the final product will probably be a good visualization of that intention. I guess that most of the people in this forum are able and are producing "sharp" photographs, but the skill you've gained from learning that is also applicable to whatever idea you get.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Mar 1999

    Something to think about

    The problem with this premise is the "either/or" factor. One can take sharp, depth-to-infinity images AND gauzy, romantic images. And anything in between. Neither one is new, neither will likely go away anytime soon. It is possible to find your own style among many variations.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Apr 2001

    Something to think about

    I LIKE sharp focus - my preferences are all that count for me! Luckily, there are enough people around here who also like it and keep me in film money!

    Those people (like me) think soft focus / soft subject matter indicate a lack of skill and/or discipline and do not qualify as art. How can I admire a photograph that could be replicated accidently by a drunkard or a two year old pushing the shutter release as the camera is pulled from the camera bag? I'll stop now before my rant becomes a tyrade ;-)


  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2000

    Something to think about

    Hi Aaron, might be interesting for you to send a week in the special archives of the George Eastman House surveying the field. Ask to see some early Imogen Cunningham soft focus. If that aint art, then I don't know what is. Even with Ed Weston, compare some of his early soft focus stuff with his later f/64 work before you decide which is "art" and which isn't. Maybe he switched because he mastered the one and decided he wanted to try something new. Look at some of Cameron's portraits. Before you buy into all this sharp focus nonsense, go to where you can view a variety of great soft focus art, and then ask youself what's art and not art. Best, David

  6. #6

    Something to think about

    Aaron: Weston, Adams, et al were more or less rebelling against the soft focus photography that became popular in the early days as photographers were trying to imitate painting. The art of photography went from one extreme to the other with no middle ground left. There is room in the art world for both types. I love a properly printed sharp image as well as the next person, but I have seen some soft and slightly soft images that were fantastic. It really depends upon the subject. We tend to develop an "I'm right and you are wrong" approach to our art form as we become more proficient in the craft side of photography. When we finally learn to focus sharply and print sharply with just the right contrast to bring out the best in an image, we tend to look down our noses at the soft focus stuff for awhile. Eventually, many photographers realize there is more to photography than just sharpness, such as mood, feeling, and various other intangiables that work together to make a good print. I love Adams' statement about a "sharp image of a fuzzy concept". I fully expect to see, in the not too distant future, a breaking away from the blazingly sharp images obtainable from modern lenses. Art is trendy at best.


  7. #7

    Join Date
    Mar 1998

    Something to think about

    If you want to make art, real art, true art: You have to do the following: Bring your entire self into the work itself and test it against what you know and feel and think and discard all that you do not feel to be honest and all that you have to make excuses or apologies for. Nothing else will survive the scrunity of others.

    Arnold Newman says it more eloquently:"We make art with our heads and with our hearts. Cameras are only tools."

  8. #8

    Something to think about

    I've strived for technical perfection for many years, but one of my most satisfying images was a grab shot made with a handheld pinhole camera on 35mm film. I don't think "art" either demands or rejects technical perfection. Still, I don't think the "f/64 horse is dead". Some subjects are best represented with sharp LF technology.

    However, I do think that the technical standards are being lowered with digital technology. I see many serious amateur photographers, seduced by new gadgets and easy production, accepting digital work that is "almost as good as film".

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jun 2000

    Something to think about


    Yea I stray from the path. I enjoy all formats, including using hand held 35mm wide open at night and even a Holga on occaison. It all depends on the subject matter and what camera is the best tool for putting your vision on paper. One thing I have always had a problem with is this idea that Adams, Weston and the rest of the West Coast photographers took it upon themselves to change the photographic landscape. They may have popularized the F64 aestetic, but they were simply a product of the times, not artistic geniuses. In the 20s and 30s the world was in the middle of the 2nd industrial revolution. Science and technology provided great advances in mass production, tool and die manufacturing, precision optics, medicine, aviation, chemistry, physics, mathamatics, philosophy, publishing, etc. Americans were interested in the new astetic of precision and efficiency and only sharply focused precison like photography would become acceptable. The culmination came with two events: the celebration of the possibilities of technology at the 1939 World's Fair, and the application of that technology in WW2.

    If Adams had been born 20yrs earlier he would have been an obscure pictorialist. if the Technological revolution had occured 20yrs earlier we would have had the same f64 type movement with different names.

    I am not denying that these photographer's were great talents and that they created wonderful art. All I am arguing is that they owe most of their popularity to "being in the right place at the right time"

    Ok, let me have it for my heresy against the gospel according to ST.Adams.

  10. #10

    Something to think about


    How much of the dead horse can I get into the frame? What about this horse is interesting to my eyes? Can I bring the detail of his ears into Zone 4? Is there some quality about his being dead that I can editorialize with a picture?

    (my point is, sometimes the question leads you to your project, and sometimes the project is the question mark)



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