BODIES OF WORK BOOK / GALLERY LINKS
The Kitchen Sink selects/book gallery is here.
The Rain selects/book gallery is here.
The 2014 ~ Year in Review 2014 selects/book gallery is here.
The Place To Sit selects/book gallery is here.
The Life without the APA pictures are here
The The Forks ~ there's no place like home gallery is here
The ART ~ conveys / transports / reflects book / gallery is here
The Decay & Disgust work/book is here
The Single Women selects/book gallery is here
The Picture Windows selects/book gallery is here
The Kitchen Life selects gallery is here
A 10 picture look at Tangles, Thickets, and Twigs ~ fields of visual energy is here
In an entry last mid-November, I posted the picture in this entry along with the notification of the selection of one of my pictures into the juried exhibition MARVELOUS THINGS: THE ART OF STILL LIFE at PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. Aline Smithson, author / publisher of LENSCRATCH FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY DAILY was the sole judge and jury.
In any event, the reason for the repost of the picture is that I just received notification of the availabilty of the exhibition catalog of the show. The entire catalog can be viewed on line and it's well worth a look. The catalog contains the 40 pictures which are in the gallery exhibition (pgs.5-43) plus some others which were selected for the Online Gallery Annex. And, of course, there is the actual exhibition at PhotoPlace Gallery (3 Park Street) in Vermont.
There are some mighty fine pictures to see.
3 of the last 4 entries have been about narrative and content which was basically a "conversation" between Eric Fredine and myself. As has been demonstrated in many of our past discourse(s), we generally agree on most aspects, re: the medium of photography and it apparatus. Lest you think it to be a mutual admiration society type of thing, I would add that in our various and varied conversations there is a synergy of sorts which raises both of our understanding and appreciation of things picture making.
In this most recent conversation, Eric and I have agreed that in many, if not most cases, concept (the picture maker's driving directive) emerges, ex post facto, from the act of just making pictures. In a sense, making pictures to find out what something will look like photographed and then moving on to develop / refine a concept that emerges from what that something looks like when photographed. Although ....
.... while a concept can be good thing, its primary function is to keep a picture maker on track, re: the concept. However, as much value as this might have for the picture maker, in most cases, its value to the viewer of the pictures which result from the concept is of little or no concern (academic lunatic fringe excepted). IMO, Gary Winogrand and Jeff Wall - 2 picture makers whose picture making M.O.s couldn't be more different - stated it best:
For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film ... if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better. ~ Winogrand
I'm aware that the subjects I choose do have meaning, but over the years I've found that understanding these meanings is less important for me. My burning issue is how to make the next picture good .... People are going to take it where they want ... All I can do is make my picture, and meanings will flow out of it. But I can't control them. ~ Wall
Now it should be noted that while Winogrand was reticent about his work - There are things I back off from trying to talk about, you know. Particularly my own work. Also, there may be things better left unsaid. - and while Wall wrote and spoke a trillion billion words about his work, much of it artspeak and art history-ese, much has been written, re: meaning(s) / message(s) / narrative(s) / understanding wise, about their pictures. And much of it is all over the map, opinion wise. Some of it may have even come as surprise to the picture makers themselves inasmuch as they seem to be focused on casting picture bread upon the water - whether it be the ocean or their own bath tub - and seeing what floats.*
Often, what floats, is the germ of a concept idea. Whether that concept is applied to the work as the prime instigator for the making of pictures or is applied to work, ex post facto, as a sort of understanding of the work, is, IMO, beside the point ....
.... because, ultimately the pictures and what the viewer decides to see in them, actual and implied, are the point.
*IMO, that art making M.O. - concentrate on making art and letting the chips float where they may - is a characteristic shared by many, if not most, good (minor) / great (major) artists. I believe most artists do what they do because, come hell or high water, it's what they do.
1) .... narrative can be thoughts, ideas and emotions which spring to a viewer's mind when instigated by the viewing of a picture - as opposed to literal story telling.
2) .... the idea of concept emerging from the (all ready made) pictures .... that upon recognizing something has emerged we might push it along, expand or clarify it - as opposed to starting to make pictures after the fact of a fully formed concept.
I would also like to add and expound upon a third point, re:
1) .... due to the pervasive influence and pressure, re: concept is King, emanating from the academic lunatic fringe many a fine picture maker has spent an undue amount of time and energy concerned with and, in fact, worried about whether his/her pictures pass the MFA lunatic fringe litmus test.
Some might believe that I am anti-academic / higher learning. Thinking so could not be further from the truth since I believe that learning of any kind is a good thing. That written, my problem with higher education is its compartmentalizing of fields of study. That is, vertical Ivory Towers with little or no horizontal integration with other related academic disciplines.
Like, say economic theory and human behavioral studies/theory, the integration of which might have helped to balance and redefine the pure economic academic notion that human beings are "perfect actors" in making rational self-interest decisions in the economic arena and therefore the idea that prosperity springs from markets left free of government interference. If he had spent some time with human behaviorist academics or practioners, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and a Milton Friedman devotee, might not have had to admit to the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform (after the financial crisis of 2006) that the crisis had shaken his very understanding of how markets work. In his words, "I can see I might have wrong. Markets aren’t perfect." People ain't perfect. Markets ain't perfect. NO F...NG DUH.
But I digress .... IMO, where institutions of higher learning went off the rails, photography wise, is when they began to expand their photography departments and pack those departments, instructor / professor wise, with academic theorists and art history majors as opposed to actual picture makers. That is to write, those who couldn't make a better than average picture / painting to save their tenured butts. Consequently, they tend mask their picture no-how in the arcane fold of concept. And, no surprise, those departments are churning out MFAs who profess to be using photography to make art as opposed to being good ol' fashion picture makers.
The net effect of all of those MFAs floating around the photography landscape is that some of them have migrated to institutions of Fine Art as directors of Photo Departments where, as key holders, they practice a form of picture making incest by promoting those who fit the academic Concept is King mold. John Szarkowski must be spinning like a top in his grave - probably at the rate of one revolution every 1/500th of a second or some other setting on the shutter speed dial. He was, after all, a picture maker.
It was Szarkowski who wrote in his book, THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S EYE:
Immobilizing these thin slices of time has been a source of continuing fascination for the photographer. And while pursuing this experiment he discovered something else: he discovered that there was a pleasure and a beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what is happening. It had to do rather with the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement."
I'll admit that I wish I had written that little gem of wisdom because I would love to use it as all-purpose Artist Statement for nearly ever picture / body of work I make. But wait. there's more:
The first thing that the photographer learned was that photography dealt with the actual; he had not only to accept this fact, but to treasure it; unless he did, photography would defeat him. He learned that the world itself is an artist of incomparable inventiveness, and that to recognize its best works and moments, to anticipate them, to clarify them and make them permanent, requires intelligence both acute and supple."
The academic lunatic fringe seems to simply refuse to accept the aforementioned Szarkowski notions as a basis for good/great pictures. As evidence I present a very small sampling of excerpts from various MFA picture maker's artspeak Artist Statements. Phrases and concept which set their own and their overlords' little hearts a-thumping:
photography as ideological apparatus ... its late-capitalist frenzied circuitry of production and consumption ... its liminality ... the infinite stream of images better actualizes our ideas about what and how we perceive with perception ... I use saliva and manual manipulation as part of my photographic process ... examine the tensions and confluence of want and need ... stimulate the emergence and performance of an identity ... allegorize the complexity of systems that make up an individual and the perception of self ...
Holy shit on a shingle*. If I have to read another Artist Statement filled with highfalutin artspeak, I think my head will explode.
In any event and all of that written, my reason for this entry is to address Eric Fredine's oft repeated statement, "For me there's a danger in thinking about it too much. I often end up in an cognitive cul-de-sac", and to let him know that I think he should just get over it / let it go narrative and concept wise. And, to remember that interpretation / concept as the academic lunatic fringe expresses it is nothing more than (Susan Sontag's notion) "the intellect's revenge upon art."**
*military-ese for creamed chip beef on toast.
**In her essay, Against Interpretation, Sontag express the opinion that, in the new critical approach to aesthetics, the spiritual importance of art is being replaced by the emphasis on the intellect. Rather than recognizing great creative works as possible sources of energy, contemporary critics were all too often taking art's transcendental power for granted, and focusing instead on their own intellectually constructed abstractions like "form" and "content." In effect, she wrote, interpretation had become "the intellect's revenge upon art." The essay finishes with the words, "in place of a hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) we need an erotics of art".
I concluded pt. 1 of yesterday's entry, the narrative and concept, with the idea that it seems obvious to me that the narrative to be found in a picture or a portfolio collection of pictures flows directly from a picture maker's picturing concept. To continue with that thought ...
... I believe that it is fair to write that every picture starts with a concept, from a simple snapshot - isn't my referent cute / pretty / funny / et al, it's time to take a picture - to the most convoluted self-referential MFA academic lunatic fringe pictures - I am engaged with the intersection of tomato soup and saltine crackers and the instagatory relevance of consumer driven imagery and its alienationatory effects and affects upon the transitory decision process of when to move my bowels, it's time to make some pictures*.
Somewhere in between those picture making polar opposites are those "serious" picture makers - to include amateurs and those involved in the Fine Art world - who make pictures without all the flapdoodle and green paint content in their Artist Statements and, IMO, every "serious" picture should have an Artist Statement. I believe that to be so, even if the intended use is for the picture maker's eyes only inasmuch as writing (get it out of your head and on paper) an Artist Statement is an opportunity to define / understand why you are doing what you are doing and exactly what it is that you are doing.
In any event, an Artist Statement is an opportunity for the picture maker to inform viewers of his work what it was that instigated a particular picture making endeavor, aka: the concept which drove the process. Outside of the academic-driven picture making world, where concept is King and interpretation of concept is the revenge of the intellectual on art, where many may find an Artist Statement interesting and even informative, most just care about the picture(s). IMO, no amount of flapdoodle and green paint, aka: artspeak, gloss is going to change their mind one way or another.
I will admit that it very pleasing when a viewer gets it, it = the concept. Especially so when he/she, to paraphrase Susan Sontag, has looked at the surface of a picture and then he/she "think - or rather feel, intuit - what is beyond it ...". IMO, that's best a picture maker hope to accomplish. That is, when a viewer gets it without having to read an Artist Statement which reads like an obtuse self-referential / analytical MFA term paper.
I believe that to be so because, first and foremost, the picture making medium, photography division, is a visual art. Hence, a picture, the 2D object in and of itself, must attract and hold the viewer long enough for a viewer to begin to think / intuit / feel about concept / meaning.
CAVEAT: The preceding paragraph should not be understood to mean that I am member-in-good-standing of the A Picture Which Needs Words Is A Failure club. That's because I believe that a concise well written Artist Statement has value which allows viewers to understand a picture maker's motivation(s) and I, for one, do not see the harm in that.
All of the above written, I must write that I believe, due to the pervasive influence and pressure, re: concept is King, emanating from the academic lunatic fringe many a fine picture maker has spent an undue amount of time and energy concerned with and, in fact, worried about whether his/her pictures pass the MFA lunatic fringe litmus test.
After spending some time myself thinking about that very thing, I have come to the conclusion that I make pictures simply because I like making pictures. And, yes, all of my separate bodies of work do have a concept which helps hold them together as a cohesive collection of pictures but .... truth be told most of those concepts came after the initial picture making had begun. That is, realizing after the picture making fact, that I had, in the act of making pictures because I like making pictures, created the beginnings of a body of work.
At the point of that realization, I worked on figuring out / understanding what the pictures meant to me. From that understanding I formulated a concept which would carry me through a continuing picture making process which would result in pictures for a given body of work. Pictures which conformed to a given concept. Now that may be an ass-backward / cart before the horse way of doing things but it works for me. Then again it has been suggested by many that, in order to find one's vision or at least a concept worth pursuing, one should just go out and start making pictures and see what happens.
A case in point is my picture window body of work (see a few latest additions in this entry). While began making those picture, in part because of the influence of John Pfahl's Picture Windows work, I came to realize that, for me (to my eye and sensibilities), the pictures had meaning for me beyond what I had originally thought. Meaning such as the comfort of one's immediate surroundings vs the vast unknown of the outside world; which can lead to thoughts of the one's personal world vs the impersonal uncertainty of that which we do not know; the life inside one's head vs the the life outside of one's comfort zone both mental and physical.
However, all of that is quite swell but ultimately it's up to the viewer to appreciate the pictures simply as pictures or perhaps to drift off to thoughts and feelings which are implied or inferred in the pictures. Concept and narrative are all well and good but if one concentrates on making fine pictures the rest will follow quite naturally.
IMO,it's up to the picture maker to identify emerging concepts in the picture making, fine tune the concept, make pictures according to the concept, edit and organize the results in a cogent and cohesive portfolio, and let the picturing chips fall where they may.
*Back in his 1952 review, for the NY Times, of Henri Cartier-Bresson's book, The Decisive Moment, Walker Evans wrote: "Cartier-Bresson's fourteen page preface essay has something quite unique about it, for writing of this kind: it is quite devoid of rubbish and ego."
On the recent entry, 2014 selects ~ potpourri o' pictures, Eric Fredine wrote: "I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role of concept and narrative in a portfolio. Its a self-serving request because I’ve been thinking about it without much satisfaction. (But at least the thinking seems to have some value even in the absence of clear conclusions.).
my reply: I've started writing my reply 3 times. Each time resulted in the deleting and rebooting of my words and thoughts. Or, to quote Eric, "I’ve been thinking (and writing) about it without much satisfaction." In any event, I think this reboot will be on the right track .....
Eric raised the idea of concept and narrative within the stricture of a portfolio. A portfolio is, in this context, a collection of pictures which is normally organized around a specific theme or style (aka: concept). That is, a related / cohesive body of work which illustrates - the picture and referent(s) themselves - and illuminates - implied narrative / meaning - the central idea of the picture maker's intent.
Narrative in a picture or pictures can best be understand when thinking of pictures created in the photo-story / photo-journaism M.O. See W. Eugene Smith's landmark groundbreaking photo essay, Country Doctor as a prime example. Or, Walker Evans' pictures in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Creating a narrative can be accomplished with just a single picture as well. See Nick Ut's Napalm Girl.
In the aforementioned cases, narrative can best be described as a form of story telling albeit told in pictures rather than words. Various interpretations of those narratives / stories, made by various viewers, can be had for a number of reasons. Consider Susan Sontag's observation:
Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy... The very muteness of what is, hypothetically, comprehensible in photographs is what constitutes their attraction and provocativeness.
Unless a picture maker states / writes about his/her intended narrative, the pictures will be open to a wide range of "deduction, speculation, and fantasy". And even then, viewers are apt to ignore the picture maker's statement and create one of their own making. IMO, that fact is one of the medium's prime attraction for me - the best pictures - mine and those made by others - are those which avoid a propagandistic approach and which embrace the medium's ambiguity, meaning / understanding / narrative wise.
That is to write, pictures which, although they might hint at a narrative / meaning, leave plenty of room in the viewer's mind to form their own conclusions. Let the viewer decide because he/she brings to their viewing, as Sir Ansel suggested, all of their accumulated experience of "all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved". ASIDE: heaven help those who read only pop drivel (if they read at all), listen to pop music, and have been unlucky in love.
I would also consider the notion of narrative in a picture or pictures to not be limited to literal story telling. IMO, a narrative can be thoughts, ideas and emotions which spring to a viewer's mind when instigated by the viewing of a picture. That is, thoughts, ideas and emotions which fall beyond / outside of the picture maker's intended narrative, aka: Sontag's "fantasy" notion.
All of that written, it seems obvious to me that the narrative to be found in a picture or a portfolio collection of pictures flows directly from a picture maker's picturing concept. I will deal with that idea in my next entry inasmuch as this entry has probably stretched the attention span of most readers*.
*this statement is not meant as an insult to my readers. It is merely a statement of online reading propensities.