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Thread: threading the needle

  1. #1

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    threading the needle

    After taking photography fairly seriously for 15-20 years, I have found that photographs that are admired by photographers are not always appreciated by those who are not photographers. Conversely, photographs that elicit oohs and ahhs from non-photographers are often disparaged by "serious" photographers. As a personal quest I ask myself if I can make those images that manage to thread the needle of having both artistic integrity and mass appeal (or at least appeal to open and inquisitive non-photographers).

    This may be a moot question, given that, even among photographers, consensus as to what photographs have merit does not seem to exist. It is something I think about because I now (in retirement) have time to go to the trouble of sharing my work beyond, say, Facebook and this forum. What audience am I looking to share with? And how far do I want to go in giving them what they want, if it is not entirely congruent with what I want them to see?

    I'm just rambling here, but am interested in hearing the ramblings of others, if you can manage to make any sense of what I'm trying to get at!

  2. #2
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: threading the needle

    don't sell anything, nor give it away

    make yourself happy

    not much time to...
    2022

  3. #3

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    Re: threading the needle

    Every field is like this to some extent. In music, for example, sometimes you can differentiate between a broadly popular musician and a "musicians' musician". What we generally mean by this is that others in the field who have more trained eyes (ears), understand the subtleties, technicalities etc. might (or might not) have a better appreciation for, or ability to appreciate someone's work.

    You have to be careful though. It's an easy snob slope to slide down. Popular art and artists' art are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and sometimes the "artists' artist" is just an excuse for, or attempt to explain a lack of popularity in favourable terms (ie "the plebeians don't get me") when really the work just isn't very good.

  4. #4
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    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    It is something I think about because I now (in retirement) have time to go to the trouble of sharing my work beyond, say, Facebook and this forum. What audience am I looking to share with? And how far do I want to go in giving them what they want, if it is not entirely congruent with what I want them to see?
    Can you explain concretely what you hope to achieve by sharing your work more broadly? The rest will follow from that.

  5. #5

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    Re: threading the needle

    It's a very old dilemma. Leopold Mozart admonished his son, Wolfgang, to always include both elements, the erudite and the popular, in his pieces; to ignore neither the intellectual/technical part nor the popular (a bisserl für das Herz, a bisserl für das Hirn).

    I have always tried to do justice to both these and other elements in my work. My favorite example of uncompromising technique coupled with popular appeal is Michelangelo's image of the hands of Adam and God, fingers almost touching, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Popular enough to sell lots of T-shirts and still a model of design and execution.

    One doesn't exclude the other.

    Doremus

  6. #6

    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    how far do I want to go in giving them what they want, if it is not entirely congruent with what I want them to see?
    In my opinion, if you are putting more than minimal emphasis on "giving folks what they want" when making your art, you've already taken a step too far in the wrong direction. Nothing is more important than making work that pleases YOU and enjoying the making of it.

  7. #7

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    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by paulbarden View Post
    In my opinion, if you are putting more than minimal emphasis on "giving folks what they want" when making your art, you've already taken a step too far in the wrong direction. Nothing is more important than making work that pleases YOU and enjoying the making of it.
    I'm not so sure.

    Art is communication. Keeping your audience in mind when crafting your message is never a bad idea. That's not pandering or dumbing-down. Making something accessible to the uninitiated, while still not compromising on content and technique isn't either. There are a whole lot of insightful, educated, sensitive and perceptive people in this world, whom I regularly try to please with my work.

    One thing I've learned in my years of performing: Never underestimate your audience.

    If I can live up to the expectations of my ideal audience, I've satisfied myself as well. Again, one doesn't exclude the other...

    Doremus

  8. #8

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    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    After taking photography fairly seriously for 15-20 years, I have found that photographs that are admired by photographers are not always appreciated by those who are not photographers. Conversely, photographs that elicit oohs and ahhs from non-photographers are often disparaged by "serious" photographers. As a personal quest I ask myself if I can make those images that manage to thread the needle of having both artistic integrity and mass appeal (or at least appeal to open and inquisitive non-photographers).

    This may be a moot question, given that, even among photographers, consensus as to what photographs have merit does not seem to exist. It is something I think about because I now (in retirement) have time to go to the trouble of sharing my work beyond, say, Facebook and this forum. What audience am I looking to share with? And how far do I want to go in giving them what they want, if it is not entirely congruent with what I want them to see?

    I'm just rambling here, but am interested in hearing the ramblings of others, if you can manage to make any sense of what I'm trying to get at!
    Always a good question. Along similar lines, asked on this forum a number of years ago:

    https://www.largeformatphotography.i...ence+merg+ross

  9. #9
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: threading the needle

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    As a personal quest I ask myself if I can make those images that manage to thread the needle of having both artistic integrity and mass appeal (or at least appeal to open and inquisitive non-photographers).
    An elusive term, “artistic integrity”!

    Many here seem to think it means avoiding the “contaminating” influence of your audience’s expectations. Where’s Paulr when you need him? “The viewers’ feelings are their own business,” he once said in an old thread, “not mine.”

    Many others believe it requires, to some degree, a conscious obligation to their audience. Generally these are people in Doremus’ “communication” camp.

    Behind the ground glass, I like to think myself in the first group, but can’t help but think I’m fooling myself.

  10. #10

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    Re: threading the needle

    I've enjoyed reading your responses to my inquiries, and I went back and read all of your thread, Merg.

    More random thoughts, just sort of stream of consciousness:

    If I'm only photographing for myself, where do I stop consuming resources? Do I ride my bike around town, make photographs with my phone, and call it good? Or maybe I at least make prints for my walls, so I can enjoy my own work (or grow dismayed with it as time goes on)?

    As a former educator and one who really enjoys listening to music, I really like the idea of trying to connect with an audience. Maybe I choose one audience (like members of this forum) and focus on communicating with them? Maybe I create different bodies of work in an attempt to communicate with several audiences?

    I might have been a little misleading in my original post. Initially, every photograph I make is for myself. (Well, that is occasionally not true. Sometimes I'm trying for some look or effect that isn't me - those photographs are either flops, or just out of place in the larger body of my own work.) But afterward I find that some photographs resonate with other folks as well. But what is funny is that I can almost never predict what will resonate, and with whom!

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