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civilized ku # 35 ~ a walk in the forest #3

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Traces and evidence of a different worldclick to embiggen
Back in the early 80s, when I was a technical consultant to Sally Eauclaire, author of The New Color Photography, I had my first comprehensive introduction to ... well .... the new color photography. The book was a very complete overview of emerging Fine Art photographers and their pictures - Michael Bishop, Harry Callahan, William Christenberry, Langdon Clay, Mark Cohen, John Divola, William Eggleston, Mitch Epstein, Emmet Gowin, Jan Groover, David Hockney, Les Krim, Helen Levitt, Kenneth McGowan, Joel Meyerowitz, John Pfahl, Stephen Shore, Sandy Skoglund, Eve Sonneman, Joel Sternfeld, Boyd Webb and lots more. A NY Times review of the book (from 1981) can be read here.

My 'job' was to help Sally with matters technical. At the time she was a well-respected Art critic in the field of painting but not photography - she knew absolutely nothing about the mechanics and techniques of the medium. Enter me, to fill that role.

The result of it all was that I had the privilege and pleasure to view the portfolios of just about anyone who was an emerging anybody (see list above). Now, I was not a 'new color' virgin - I had seen some stuff in NYC galleries but for the most part, I was of the what-the-hell-is-going-on-here mindset regarding the stuff. It seemed to be more of an 'experiment' than a movement. A blip on the photographic radar screen.

Working with Sally on her book changed all that - I began to learn how to 'read' pictures. I began to understand that what was visible was not all there was to 'see'. Very much in the fashion of there's more than meets the eye. Pictures started to become deep and rich.

What I realized the most out of this experience was that, how 'deep and rich' a picture was, was up to me - in most cases, more so than it was up to the photographer. What a revelation.

Consider this from Graham Clarks's book, The Photograph - 'The intelligibilty of the photograph is no simple thing; photographs are texts inscribed in terms of what we may call 'photographic discourse', but this discourse, like any other, engages discourses beyond itself (emph. Ed.), the 'photographic text', like any other, is the site of a complex intertextuality, an overlapping series of previous texts 'taken for granted' at a particulat cultural and historical conjuncture.'

In other words, the viewer uses his/her experience ('texts' taken for granted) to construct the language of meaning that they get from a photograph. IMO, the greater your 'experience' in all things, not just photography, the greater your appreciation and understanding of Art, photography division.

Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 08:01AM by Registered Commentergravitas et nugalis in | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

Silver and gold, you're finding treasures here... The right image feels like looking down a church nave toward the altar illuminated from a high window.

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Durbin

I have long thought that once the artist is done with his work and puts his object out there for the world (or a couple of friends) to see, it no longer belongs to him. He has his thoughts and meanings and processes when he creates it, and the viewer has his thoughts and meanings and background when she views it. The artist no longer controls the work when it's in the mind of the viewer. They may have similar meanings or not.

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill Gotz

What is it about decay? Why do many of us find it interesting? I'm always drawn to old run down building of all kinds. rotting logs, swamps , bogs, and old farm dumps down ravines. Much of the cycles of nature are about decay. Is it that decay implies a history and so brings forth a rich set of thoughts and question?

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill Gotz

Mark,

I think I blogged about that very same concept, though you put it much more eloquently. From my entry on 3/10/07:

A photograph can speak to a myriad of people of different walks of life, social strata, income levels and cultural backgrounds, but I think photographs without words tend to connect the strongest with audiences that the photographer understands and has shared similar experiences and, hence, a common vernacular (aka symbols).

And to think, this Wisconsin podunk without an ounce of formal art schooling came up with that! Pat on my own back, haha.

But in all seriousness, I have to agree with Mark 100%, and I really, really like the idea that the broader one's understanding of the world is the more meaning that person can find in art.

I will ponder that on my week off shooting in the hinterlands.

BK

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Kosmider

There's no doubt that I bring my own experiences with decay to these photos. I have held jobs that revolved around removing/replacing dacay. Those jobs had a major impact on my life and the lives of the individuals I worked with. I retrofitted magnetic ballasts, dripping with pcb-filled tar, by the hundreds. I removed layer upon layer of old roofing tile and siding, quite possibly harboring asbestos you are told doesn't exist. Therefore there is a profound love/hate relationship for me with these photographs that I am so drawn to.

I can't help but gravitate toward their decay. At the same time I'm angry at the environmental impact and the toll most likely paid by the workers with their immediate and long-term health. But I think that is what defines true art for me now--gritty reality that makes you uncomfortable because you are so drawn to it and hopefully even a little pissed off by it.

In many ways it makes me want to set aside the "baubles" (as I think Mark refers to them in earlier posts) that I have taken and be more truthful when trying to create something. Until recently I thought it was just a coincidence that the most "truthful" of my own photographs seemed to be the ones I was most interested in returning to. Having read these posts, I am beginning to understand that truthfulness and otherwise overlooked beauty a bit more.

In closing, here's my contribution to something I am still learning a great deal about...bear with me. Henry Miller wrote the following, and I think it applies to our interest in dacay, as there is nothing quite so "humble":

"In the humblest object we can find what we seek--beauty, truth, reality, divinity." I believe this series of photos contains all of these.

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJames Robinson

My reaction in looking at these complex images, complex in the sense of the different emotions they evoke in me,is rooted in my past experience, as well as the present, visual impact.

I also think the dark corners, instilling that subtle sense of . . . sorrow, works well here.

Sorrow, perhaps , not just for the environmental problems to come, as this scene decays, but a sense of sorrow for the lives forgotten and all the hardship they experienced.

As the "Boss" sang -

" From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name "

Thanks, Tim

June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTim Kingston

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