Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Photography Clan

One of the most articulate writers in photography today is Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork magazine. In the latest issue he discusses something that I have observed for a long time but couldn't get my mind around what was going on and that is the clannishness of photographers.

Coming from a very traditional black and white, medium and large format, darkroom background I always found it interesting about how folks of my persuasion often looked down their respective noses at photographers who did color. True fine art photographers only did black and white. We were the purist even though we abstracted the world around us by shooting in black and white!

A version of the same phenomenon has happened over the last few years as digital technology has woven itself into the fabric of photographic processes. Does a new/different workflow make us less of a photographer.

I used to have the most wonderful philosophical discussions with a good friend over whether or not a digital photographic print was actually a photograph since it wasn't created with light-sensitive materials. Another equally articulate friend said, "
Who cares? It's photographic art!"

In the end, the image either works or it doesn't. If it works it doesn't matter how I got there. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter how I got there. It's not about the process, it's the image. Craft may be the language of the arts but it is not the art. Craft is not a substitute for vision.

And, to those of you who think your friends have deserted you when they start to explore workflows different from what they have traditionally done and of no interest to you, get over it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Best kept secrets

For a long time I've felt that two of the best kept secrets in Washington for photographers are the National Portrait Gallery and the National Building Museum. I'm amazed at the number of people who come into my studio at the Torpedo Factory and say they've never heard of either museum.

The quality and scope of the photographic portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery is phenomenal. Everything from traditional to modern is on display and the gamut of photographic materials from the early days to the most current digital imaging is represented.

As an aside, the National Portrait Gallery also shares the same building with the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art. While you are at the Portrait Gallery I would encourage photographers to look/study the wonderful works at American Art, or other major galleries for that matter, to learn from the master painters. Too many photographers only look at photography. Too many photographers never look at the work of other artists regardless of media but that is a topic for another time.

The National Building Museum not only has one of the most beautiful and spectacular interiors but often shows fine photography. They are also photographer-friendly and it's a wonderful building to photograph.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Back from Austria

While in Vienna, Austria recently I had occasion to see the major retrospective of Cy Twombly's work at the Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK). While I come out of a rather traditional background in the arts and photography in particular, I have always liked abstract and non-objective work as well.

A week later I was sitting in the Cafe Bazar in Salzburg (great coffee and apple strudel, but that's for another time) where they had a small table with crayons and poster paper set up for children to occupy themselves while adults chatted and partook. One of the pieces of "art" had been taped on the wall behind the table. I was struck that the only real difference between that and some of work I saw of Twombly's in Vienna was "Cy" at the bottom of the image.

Makes one wonder if the child who did the drawing is a genius or if Cy has returned to his childhood? I have heard that prodigies only exist in math and music. I guess I'll have to reevaluate the truth of that idea.