Are Monet's Water Lilies mediocre? Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" mediocre? Rembrandt's self portraits (when he was young) mediocre? Da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rocks" mediocre? I am speechless.
Before I read the extensive verbiage already here, I'd like to make some comments fresh from your essay.
Your thesis is untenable, but all the more fun for it. Art, as you say, is transformation, and you transform the snapshot with your essay. In fact, that is what's wonderful about your essay, and not because it proved anything.
Your snapshot, for which you bent down in the grass to create effects of light, your snapshot, behind which is a story that you explain to us, a story that fills the snapshot with metaphor and meaning, is no longer a snapshot, not for us.
I think your notion of snapshots is on thin ice, and that's what makes it so vivid. Just today I was throwing rocks and sticks on thin ice. Sometimes the stick would break apart and the pieces would slide along the ice. Sometimes the rock would crack the ice but then bounce up and slide along the top. Once, the rock pierced right through into the lake. But each time a rock or stick bounced, it played the ice like a drum. A wild, seemingly artificial noise of vibration wobbled the lake.
Thin ice is where all the action is. When snapshots are more important than photographs, it's because of a delicacy, a fragility, as though that frozen moment might crack, and then... what then? What happens then to time and moments and memory?
Paul, it is an essay about a photographic ideology rather than a photo essay ...
Yes it is. An essay about photographs, rather than an essay made out of photographs.
You summarise my point about snapshots very well; that the snapshot is actually quite unique and canít be parodied or copied, other than in the most superficial (and pointless) way. And that therefore the snapshot is the real heart & soul of photography, and remains for nearly everybody the most essential and meaningful kind of photography. A snapshot will, in one sense, never die, even though its audience may be, as you rightly say, very limited. But an Ďartí photograph begins dying immediately, and in a photographic generation or two the things that once may have made it remarkable have become clichéd and degraded by parody.
Youíre also quite right about the legitimacy of artworks celebrating positive, uplifting feelings and emotions, and inspiring pleasant contemplative diversion. But that is, by virtue of its intentionally limited ambition, mediocre art. Donít self-ignite over that: Ďmediocreí doesnít mean bad Ö it specifically means Ďneither good nor badí in the sense of being inoffensive and unobjectionable. Middle of the road. Most art critics and commentators (and most artists) wonít give that stuff much credit, because they hold art to a higher Ė or al least more ambitious Ė standard regarding its purpose and possibilities.
Thatís not really the elitist view that it appears to be. Itís just a question of distribution curves. The middle of the curve is by definition mediocre; thatís what the word means. So if an individualís expectation of art is that it specifically sets itself in opposition to the mediocre, itís only to be expected that that observer will eschew the Pollyanna kind of art, and champion the less comforting kind. No choice.
None of that was at all relevant to my lion kill picture, by the way. Its transformation was inspired by classical religious art that in its day was intended to be inspirational and positive.
Having said all that art-snob stuff, I donít ask anyone else to agree with my views. Iím not interested at all in what you or anyone else believes on this subject, only in what I believe and why.
Originally posted by marnet:
... I think you don't really like photography as most people see it ;)
And youíre right again, about my views on photography. Iím not much interested in it as a craft. Photography for photographyís sake is, for me, the epitome of dullness. What I like is photographs. I donít care who took them, or how, or with what.
For me the most interesting photographers in the digital age are the young people who love pictures but wouldnít be caught dead in a photography store or reading a photography magazine. These people donít know what theyíre doing but they take most of the interesting photographs Ö again, donít burst into flames over that claim; they also take most of the awful photographs (because they take most of the photographs).
Committed photo hobbyists are the least interesting photographers. Almost all their pictures are simply boring. And apparently deliberately boring too. Many are able to take interesting pictures, but seem to be reluctant to do so. The point of photography for them is not the photograph; itís photography. Photography to produce photography. Itís one of those circular arguments, pointless and eventually self-consuming.
Professional photographers are mostly dull unless they are very good indeed, in which case they are (based on the few Iíve met) mostly mad.
Paul, it is an essay about a photographic ideology rather than a photo essay. Your writing skills are amazing, I am very envious. I don't see however the significance of your snapshot to anyone else but you and your wife. A casual observer will have no reaction to it. And if that's the case the image has no wider audience, does not exist outside your space.
Your second image will have impact on most people by creating negative reactions to the image - fear, disgust, horror. WHY only negative emotions are considered art? I will never understand it. The art history has many images which were painted to evoke positive feelings, contemplation of the natural world, experience the strength of human nature. Are they no longer art?
PS I read now your replies to the comments others made. I think you don't really like photography as most people see it ;)
First I want to say the Trent Parke video was wonderful (thanks John) and I will go find what I can on both Trent Parke and Paolo Pellegrin.
Paul, as always you bring up so many ideas, and many that have never occurred to me. I have read the essay a few times and each time I come up with more thoughts so I'm going to write a few down.
I never look at any of my old photographs. Not the snap shots nor the "non snap shots". I never print anything up-to my husbands chagrin. I always say I will do it when I'm old but I won't. I asked myself "why then am I taking pictures?". I like making pictures. Maybe I could/should do more with them. Don't know.
In regards to snap shots. I had been feeling a bit regretful after a recent visit with my grandchildren. I had taken a lot of pictures of them instead of joining them in the activities they were doing. I will never remember how much I enjoyed taking pictures of them. That won't be one of my memories. I'm not sure I want the snap shots if they steal from precious memories. Just not sure how to make sense of this.
On the subject of memories, your photo of the lyons has burned a spot in my mind. I have thought of it many times. It pops up when I am struggling with atrocities in the world. I bet in 20 years I will have a memory of that image. Maybe not the exact image but how I remember seeing it. Your processing exaggerated the horror for me and I was horrified when I saw it-and I find it oddly comforting to realize not all of the horror in the world is instigated by humans-it is an integral part of our existence.
This is not the first time you have stirred up a hornets nest of ideas for me. As always I am very grateful.
An interesting proposition Paul. In my limited capacity, I considered your essay and points from as many perspectives that I could, but still couldn't find a way of expressing myself the way I was feeling. Just as I was about to put finger to keyboard I remembered seeing this video today about Trent Parke, and in particular the second half of his story. That kind of nailed it for me (at least for the moment). So I'll leave it at that for the moment until I can summon the what for to make a response.
Thanks Paul. I got it now. Yes, the lifeblood. (Picasso would probably disagree but his ego was of a cosmic size and his vanity so far, unsurpassed!)
There are also the little secondary arteries.
As the Ecclesiastes said:
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
ďSee, this is newĒ?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after
We are just trying. Therefore your essay is a little jewel with many facets.
Naively, I never really asked myself what is photography. It started for me as an adjuvant. An extension to memory and to the way to try to capture one single moment of understanding before it vanishes in thin air.
I used what it was at hand. A pencil, a brushÖNever thought though of playing an instrument.
We live quite fantastic lives scattered here and there and photography is one way of learning about each other and the world.
Well, what I mean is that there can only be one snapshot of this woman in this field at this time. No other superficially similar photograph (woman in field) can be compared with mine. For me. And for this kind of picture, nobody's point of view matters but my own.
The lions are not so personal. Yes it was an event I witnessed, but another photographer's picture of another lion kill can legitimately be compared. I make such a comparison myself, and my picture is merely middle of the pack in the genre. Easily trumped.
No so my snapshot of my wife in that place at that time. You can't take that particular picture (that woman, that field, that occasion), nor can Annie Leibovitz. So I win, forever and ever.
The point is that snapshots have more meaning to particular viewers than do any high art photographs, even their own. And Leibovitz no doubt treasures her own private snapshots more than she does her most celebrated work, And so do you.
That's the lifeblood of photography. The glue that makes it stick. All else is vanity, by comparison.
ďAll happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.Ē Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
This came to my mind as I briefly looked at your two-photo essay.
The happy family/snapshots and the unhappy family/the elaborate tragedy snapped and subsequently processed by mechanical methods. This consideration came to my mind only because you put into balance the value of the two hypostases.
I am somehow confused though and this is probably because of my inability of understanding photography deeply.
I took plenty of family pictures that I initially called by their French word, "instantanés". In my mind they were equivalent (instantané or snapshot = family pic where the sentimental element was the first motive of taking the picture while in a "candid" or "street photography" a lot of other factors were the incentive such as curiosity, documentation, research, quick response to a stimulusÖand this before getting into studio photography or commercial etc)
This is when I had a dark room and was processing all my shots. I learned quickly to manipulate the light with my palm to cover or expose more parts of the photo paper during the developing time or cropping parts of it. Was I just "distorting" the snapshot the way you said you did with the lion shot?
This is not a comment on your essay but a string of questions.
Why do you question such different images in terms of "better or worse"?
When you question their importance you rightly add "for whom" one will be more important then the other and add that one of them has sentimental value for you.
"The lion kill photograph is already at a disadvantage because there are plenty of other similar pictures, or at least pictures of much the same thing". Is it not an image with a woman in a field equally common?
I seem to miss your point completely and am deeply curious to understand it.
Perhaps instead of the lion picture you should have put a studio shot, or a "studied" shot, a gravely edited one by means of all these digital applications. But it seems to me that you compared two quite similar types.
Paul, do explain to me that I am wrong. I value your thinking a lot.
This is the reason why I love the photo essays for all these questions.
I like the first one because it shows the loving feeling of a precise moment. I like the second one because it shows the cruel reality of life.
I agree with you, one of the photographs will eventually fade. To me though, the second one will not be the one that turns grey.
Itís not because the person in the first photograph is unknown to me. Itís not because the second snapshot is more appealing to my eyes. Itís just that, as time passes, Iíll only remembers the teeth of that lion.
Just like, I still remember your last essay, the girl standing under a cloudy sky.
Your essays, photographs for that matter, always make me stop and think. You have a private guest house in the bush?
The snapshot is probably the most important photograph for most of us. Family, friends, and events that we didnít seek out. Itís life unfolding while weíre making plans and go about our business. We might not remember the capture date but we know our outlook at the time.
For the analog snapshot, in particular the polaroid you mentioned, there is typically only one. We can make copies but there is only one original. Itís the photograph thatís been passed around and viewed by so many. The finger prints, rubbed edges, creases and maybe handwriting become a part of the photograph. Itís a fragile piece of our history. A matter of fact document.
All that being said, itís just a photograph. Photographs are flat, silent, have no odor, and ignorant of everything outside the frame. The photographer, you in this case, knows so much more. Itís history now and canít be recreated only interpreted.