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Thread: Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

  1. #1

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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    My Thursday evening philosophy group touched on the topic of art last night and raised a whole mess of questions which, as someone who plays around with photography, struck me as profound. These are two ideas that compliment one another, but please keep in mind I'm working from memory, so rather than attributing these ideas to anyone in particular(I'd probaby get the names wrong anyway) I'll start by simply saying these are NOT my ideas---I simply found them relevent to my own work and practice.

    First, the aura of originality. An original work has a "life" that replicas or reproductions don't possess. This dosen't mean that reproductions aren't good, just that they aren't the same, even though they can be exact in in very detail except the "aura." The proof being that an original is always more greatly valued than a reproduction. The implication for photography is what interests me, since except for unrepeatable works, like a daguerrotype(I probably spelled that wrong!) or a "one off" print after which the negative has been destroyed, most photographic prints are basically reproductions.

    Or are they?

    If we accept Adams' concept of the negative being the score and the print the performance each print is a unique original in itself.

    Or is it?

    Most printers I know pride themselves on exact duplication from one print to the next, which conjurs up unsharp masks and digital prints for example(please, lets not get into a digi debate here, these are philosophical concepts I'm struggling with!) Where does this attitude come from? I'm guessing that it is from the notion that a photograph is a reproduction of the physical and the observable. In order to be "true" to the scene, all prints have to be exactly like the first in the edition---very much like what we'd expect to find in a road map. If one map showed the Santa Monica Freeway in Las Vegas, another map in San Francisco and still another in Portland the value of such information would be worthless because it has no bearing on reality, and captured reality is something to strive for in say medical and aerial photographs, portraits, historic records, that sort of stuff, but what about the art for art's sake photos where there is no bearing on reality from the outset? Why is exactness in reproduction in that case so important? (No, I don't know the answer!)

    We are told that if we study a masterpiece long enough, we'll be able to distinguish the original from the reproduction. What is the implication for photography? Certainly some of us can spot a contact print as opposed to an enlargement. Is this because a contact has a greater "aura?" What about a contact made of somebody else's negative? Whose "aura" or or "life" is it? The photographer who provides the negative? Or the printer?

    The second concept, this one near and dear to my heart, is: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! Meaning that art, music, poetry, anything like that is as much an activity of "the people" as it is of those who are considered artists, musicians, poets, etc... It is the Doing that is important rather than the Doing Well. Someone who is an amateur painter can paint a "well " done picture with a paint by numbers kit of a cottage by the sea and come up with a something pretty awful, or they can try it using thier own imagination and have something that, while it wouldn't win any salons, is original(see first concept above) and has value, while a technically proficient and world reknown painter can also paint a seaside cottage and, because he's painted a hundred of them, comes up with something pretty awful (although reproductions will $ell in hundreds of galleries coast to coast.) The Art is in the doing and everyone's invited to pick up a brush(or camera). Technical proficiency will come with time and practice(like most things) but the Art is as much if not more, in giving of an "aura" or life by the artist,as what is hanging on the wall or being sold in the gallery or enjoyed in a museum. I could be mistaken, but I get the impression that this concept is what drives much of the current interest in LF.

    What do you think? I'm interested in hearing.

    Cheers!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  2. #2
    5x5 with 4x5
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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    I think maybe you need another hobby!

    Art (which the definition of, these days, is so ambiguous as to be meaningless) and "original" are not synonymous -

    If, what you produce has meaning or emotion to you, then it can be considered your "art". It doesn't matter if it is one of 10 million other productions of exactly the same thing.

  3. #3
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    First, just on reproductions and "originals" - with photography, the negative is rarely ever the final intention for the work - a it's a step in the process (occasionally a transparency might be - but even then it's usually an enlargement).

    The print is the final work, the negative is "just" a matrix to allow you to make that final work - and each print is an original based on that negative (and other things).

    You can make a comparison with cast sculpture - the clay covered armature etc (what do they call those things) or the other parts of the process - wax "negative" and so on aren't the originals - it's the final bronzes (or resins or whatever you are working in)

    "Most printers I know pride themselves on exact duplication from one print to the next, which conjures up unsharp masks and digital prints for example(please, lets not get into a digi debate here, these are philosophical concepts I'm struggling with!) Where does this attitude come from? I'm guessing that it is from the notion that a photograph is a reproduction of the physical and the observable. In order to be "true" to the scene, all prints have to be exactly like the first in the edition---very much like what we'd expect to find in a road map. If one map showed the Santa Monica Freeway in Las Vegas, another map in San Francisco and still another in Portland the value of such information would be worthless because it has no bearing on reality, and captured reality is something to strive for in say medical and aerial photographs, portraits, historic records, that sort of stuff, but what about the art for art's sake photos where there is no bearing on reality from the outset? Why is exactness in reproduction in that case so important?"

    It isn't - photography isn't about "a reproduction of the physical and the observable" and certainly not about an exact reproduction - it's about seeing how something looks when you photograph it - which may be very very different from how it "actually" looks. All I am concerned about with my prints is getting them to show what it is I saw - and to repeat that clearly from print to print - and how it looks may have nothing to do with how the thing "actually" looks.

    When we photograph something (in the sense you are talking about - personal, artistic, creative, call it what you will, as opposed to "record" shots) we aren't trying to re-create that somnething; rather, when we depict something, we are giving our account of how we saw that thing. If I photograph some still lifes of apples, I'm not actually concerned with apples per se, but with my perception apples. "I photograph something to see how it looks like photographed by me" as Gary Winogrand said - in some ways it's as simple as that.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

  4. #4
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    I'm not sure the aura concept applies well to photography, John, because each new print from a negative becomes a new original, not a reproduction of the original in the sense that I think the group was discussing. In fact, I'm not sure the concept is even valid for art. Like a second print, the reproduction becomes a new original painted by someone else, and has its own aura or originality. It's just that the reproduction isn't likely to have the same kind of aura, because the copyist wasn't as moved as the original painter. So, the reproduction's aura is kinda wimpy.

    For me, the second, worth-doing-poorly idea is parallel to discussions of process versus end result in photography. For those who enjoy the doing, the process, that becomes as important as the final print, as that is where a major portion of the enjoyment comes from. In contrast, the results-oriented photographer may not care about process at all, and may not even want to understand how to do it. In fact, he or she may be completely happy with someone else doing the process part, as long as they get a final print that is close to what they had in mind.

  5. #5

    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    Ouch! Brain cramp! That's heavy thinking for so early in the morning ;-)

    One thing that sets photography apart, in my opinion, is that it is both art and craft in a way that few other media can be. A technician can photograph a scene, proceess the film, print the photo, and have a good, accurate record of the original scene. And the technician can make multiple accurate prints and repeat the whole process again and again. Yet the technician's work, despite its technical accuracy, will appear "flat".

    Enter the artist and the pictures cease to be simply a photographic record and the photographs begin to appeal on an emotional level.

    Funny how one can tell the difference between the two photos but find it so dificult to explain why!

  6. #6

    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    To the first question of the original: it is about touching greatness. There are many funny things to consider about photography and originals. Marcel Duchamp would have a good joke with all of this as would the Surrealists, but my point is more about human nature.

    How many people go on pilgrimage? Do you understand the motivation? I see this as parallel to wanting the original much more than a copy. We need to touch things for the ultimate sense of reality. If the print was handled by the artist and then we handle it, we have touched greatness.

    There will be those who will argue more from an intellectual standpoint about the intellectual value of an image, photography as art is indeed based on this intellectual premise, but the desire to own an original is to be able to possess, experience, touch some of the magic.

    Now about the doing…well that too is related to originality but it brings in a more plebian or egalitarian notion that life is about experiencing things for real and NOT about giving in to the notion that one man(woman) is greater than another. It says any man’s life is good and to go about it with intensity, trusting your own vision and trying to develop it is the noble tack. We must encourage the development of personal vision. It must be done for the very young and it might too need to be done for the more experienced or real talent may never come. One never knows, so we credit and encourage (but we rarely actually Pay) originality.

    I don’t know if this is worth 2 cents and these ideas are not original, they are my adopted friends. They help me organize what has happened as is happening. Maybe they can function for you.

    Cheers,

  7. #7
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    For me, art is associated with an action. Therefore, there is no such thing as "original" and "copy." Once the action ceases, so does the practice of the art. An object may be created by an artist, but no object is "art" in and of itself. There is no human life in an object.

    Consider the following example. You enter an auditorium. The lights are dimmed, then finally blacked out entirely. You sit in darkness. The lights come up, and then everyone oohs and aahs over footprints left in the dust on the stage.

    The audience has missed the Art of the Dance entirely.

    So too do people miss the Art of Photography. I am of the mind that many photographers also miss it. A photograph is not art. A photograph is an object, and forever shall be an object. A photographer's art is practiced by the photographer. It is not contained in the photograph. The photographer labors with camera, and then labors in the darkroom. The result of that labor, of the practice of the art, is the photograph.

    If someone chooses to make use of another's expertise in the art of photography to make the print, fine. And the photograph is still an object, produced by the labor of two artists.
    "It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

  8. #8

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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    I forget who originally said this, but it came to mind after reading this thread: "Philosophy, who needs it!"

  9. #9
    Leonard Metcalf's Avatar
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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    I tend to think of the print as the original, and reproductions as the copies (as in books, magazines, posters etc)... even if they come out of the inkjet printer or the archival washer in the darkroom. I never mas as happy with reproduction sizes as I am with my original concept of what size it needs to be to be viewed. Some shots just need to be printed very large.

    There are so many examples where the reproduction isn't as good as the original, and probably a few examplese where the reproduciton is better than the original.

    I don't think I would be too interested in photography or art if I wasn't consumed with the notion of doing it well. But that is more to do with my own wiring than art, or the joy of happiness...

    Leonard Murray Metcalf BA Dip Ed MEd

    Len's gallery lenmetcalf.com
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  10. #10

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    Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly & the Aura of the Original

    Hello John;

    I'm not quite clear as to your meaning of "reproductions or replicas"; whether you are referring to multiple prints by the photographer from the same negative, or reproductions in books and magazines. My first interest in taking up photography came from becoming aware that photography was used as a means for connecting to the world around us, and as a means of self expression. This came from reading about and seeing the work of some of the recognized greats in books and magazines. And for this I thank Alfred Steglitz and Aperture. I first picked up their little book on Steglitz and was amazed...by reproductions in the book made from his body of work. I can't imagine any reproduction of W. Eugene Smith's "Tumeka's Bath" from the Minemata Series not having an "aura" (forgive the spelling). Probably one of the most powerful images ever made. So I guess what I'm trying to say is: it is the image, one well-seen in the mind of the photographer, carefully executed, presented in a manner that conveys the photograher's response to the scene, with all that is explicit or implicit to the scene and his response that creates the aura. That said, I must also say that seeing original prints can be an overwhelming experience. Though I'm not sure if its seeing the original prints or what I'm bringing to the viewing (anticipation, expectations, etc) that makes the experience so strong. There is some work that just doesn't translate well to books, and really must be experienced by viewing the original prints. Sally Mann's recent work is an example. Again I'm not quite clear about the second part of your question. I sense that there is the thing about selling your work and gaining recognition as a validation for being involved in the process of making photographs. That fame and fortune are the measure of the work, and the ultimate goal . There may be some who measure their success that way, but I believe most photograph because its fun, they enjoy it; because they must. The Work will speak for itself, and will be the result of the doing, and the striving to do it well. And when some people view it, and "get it", responding with nothing more than "I like that" or "I see what you were going for", then I'd say one has acheived success. Some final thoughts. Much of what is thought of as "aura" is celebrity, and other things external to the work itself. Being able to exactly duplicate a print is not a particulary important skill in my mind and one that contributes little to the creation of a body of work.

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