Craft Matters

Mobile Photography as Art?

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Digital Photography Review’s new Connect site, which focuses on mobile photography, ran a recent article “Mobile photography finds a place in the fine arts world.” The article, especially its supporting photographs aren’t very compelling — urban hipster blah if you ask me. But, in fairness, Jon Burris, a gallery director with loose ties to Ansel Adams, who’s interviewed in the article, is recounted:

Burris compares the reluctance to accept smartphone photography as a valid art form to the same hesitation toward digital photography several years ago. Collectors once shied away from purchasing digital prints in favor of those made from film. Burris anticipates the same necessary learning curve for collectors as well as the general public to take mobile photography seriously, but expects that in the future, galleries like his won’t put so much emphasis on the medium, instead focusing on the art. He envisions a digital print of an image taken on an iPhone 4S hanging next to a silver gelatin print on gallery walls worldwide.

Some reasonable points but I principally disagree. Chosen medium (and its tools) are absolutely important in supporting an artist’s chosen path. And the medium of mobile photography is in its infancy. As a creative medium, it is grossly reliant on post-processing software with its myriad of instant filters and effects. So, with respect to medium, if your goal is to create work along the lines of an Ansel Adams or Paul Strand, you’re not going to do it using a mobile phone. Such distinctions should be acknowledged and celebrated, not homogenized.

But, as Burris said, to which I wholeheartedly agree, to determine mobile photography’s relevance to art we must focus on the art itself. Any validation of practitioners in the medium must really focus on the guiding question of what is art? Or more precisely, what is good art?

I certainly have my own opinions on this, but for fun, I decided to Google “What makes Art good?” and, among the list of results, focused on an article that sought answers from various California gallery owners and curators on this exact subject. A few answers that resonated:

Brian Gross, Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco: Art that is unique in conception and well executed.

Cheryl Haines, Haines Gallery, San Francisco: Clear intention, unwavering dedication, patience, perseverance, self awareness and the drive to make for yourself and no one else.

Marsea Goldberg, New Image Art, Los Angeles: Originality, representational of the time when it was created, passion, a frame of reference, freshness, intellectual content, and is uniquely identifiable as the work of that particular artist…

All of these quotes emphasize the importance of passionate dedication and conviction to pursue work that is self-expressive, creating a style that is reflective of the artist and can be recognized as so. It’s hard to argue with the notion that any photographer on an artistic path must be deeply personally committed and able to demonstrate a body of work reflective of that commitment.

Is such commitment possible in mobile photography? Certainly. Is such commitment present in today’s world of mobile photography? Very questionable.

I guess time will tell if Burris’ vision of iPhone 4S photographs hanging next to a silver gelatin prints on gallery walls worldwide will prevail.

I’m not holding my breath.

CNN probes Art in Photography

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Some photographers have thrown every filter and post-processing technique at a photo and called the result art.

Yes. And they did this with film.

Viewers of commercial and art photography now assume images have been manufactured, regardless of whether they’ve been retouched.

Not surprising.

Photographers must put concept first, and think of their work as a body of work, rather than one-hit wonders.

Everything’s different. But nothing (i.e. the really important stuff) has changed.

“He said that the negative from your camera is the musical score and it tells you where to go,” Mellia said.

And Ansel Adams is still misunderstood.

Read the full article.

Don’t Believe the Hype

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OnOne Software sent me an email for Perfect Photo Suite 6 with the message:

Create extraordinary images quickly and easily with Perfect Photo Suite 6.

I use one OnOne Software product, Perfect Resize, which is good at what it does — upsizing images with minimal sacrifice in image quality.

What pisses me off is the association of “extraordinary” with “quickly and easily”. This marketing morass is the bane of photography, implying that greatness in the medium is easily achievable. It isn’t.

Software is not photography. The extraordinary in photography is created in camera. The digital lightroom or the analog darkroom are simply tools that enable the photographer to craft the image to its fullest potential. In the interest of photographic craft, it’s important for photographers to not get lost in the hype.

This has been a public service announcement from Douglas Vincent Photography.

I Stand by My Work?

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A little off topic for me, but my past years at Apple had me following this story. Today, Mike Daisey, was revealed by American Public Media to have fabricated multiple accounts of Chinese labor practice violations with respect to Apple Inc.. Part of Mike’s explanation:

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue.

This America Life has retracted the originally aired show. MSNBC, the NY Times, and many other blog outlets will have to follow suit on similar journalistic exposes they ran or risk questions of their own credibility.

What bothers me is Mike Daisey. His pathetic justification of his actions reeks of ego and disregard for distinguishing right from wrong in attempting to drive awareness of an issue that is actually important. My guess is Fox News will probably hire him.

Outdoor Photographer BS.1

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I’ve been a subscriber to Outdoor Photographer (OP) for years. I don’t read OP for its information, rather, I read it for its mis-information. There’s a reason the magazine doesn’t solicit reader feedback and opinion — it’d be ripped apart by those with more fundamental understandings of photography.

Case in point. Elizabeth Carmel is featured in the May 2011 issue under the title “Beyond the Range of Light”. A host of questionable, if not inaccurate statements, are made throughout the article:

“At first, she relied on the 2½-square format to give her maximum compositional versatility as well as image quality when she shot film.”

Film format has absolutely nothing to do with composition. Nor does camera “versatility” unless your speaking about tilts, swings and shifts. And 2½-square format is not maximum image quality.

“I believe that great fine-art photographs are a gateway through habitual thinking to a larger perspective.”

Nothing about a photograph has to be “fine art” to expand your perspective. Photo journalism is clear proof of that.

“Some of my images are more my own constructs, where I seek the realization of a specific vision in my final print.”

All images are constructs. This Ansel Adams rip-off pseudo babble, if correctly stated, would emphasize the importance of crafting exposure as a necessary means to realize the image in its final print form. The process is known as visualization.

“In Carmel’s photographs, you can see the evidence of how Photoshop lets a true artist translate the moment of capture to the final print.”

“True” artists use their tools transparently to create art. It’s called craft. The LAST thing a photographer wants to hear is the question “You used Photoshop to make that, didn’t you?”

It’s unfortunate that Elizabeth is subject of my first rant against Outdoor Photographer. As a commercial landscape photographer her work is to be admired. But she presumably approved this article that is full of mis-truths, inappropriate conclusions, and philosophies that deserve broader perspective.