Medium format photography the old way, is it advisable?

Started Feb 24, 2014 | Questions thread
Mark Scott Abeln
Mark Scott Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 11,024
Re: Photography as art

knickerhawk wrote:

Mark Scott Abeln wrote:

Well, my comments were directed to the kind of photography that is sold at well-regarded art galleries. I mentioned that as an encouragement — the extra work that goes into film can have an additional benefit, the attention of gallery owners, which is in fact a narrow slice of the art world. But the art of photography certainly encompasses far more than just what is seen in those places.

On this point, we seem to agree: photography's merit as "art" is not dependent on the format in which it is output. Frankly, I don't think this is particularly controversial or debatable.

Right. Some might debate what actually is displayed in galleries. I think the Stuckists in the UK made a great point. Many of the artists I know have been consciously moving away from postmodernism as an ideology.

For example, I have a friend who owns a popular, well-regarded gallery in a significant arts city, and in her opinion, “photography is not art” — although she is having a photography show next month and certainly when she wants photos of her gallery or portraits of her family, she hires professional photographers.

I'd love to have a conversation with your friend. I suspect that her position on photography as art is not that, well...black and white. Have you heard her actuallly say that to the (non) artists whose works she's hanging next month? Will she append a disclaimer to any bill of sale for photographic works she sells?

Well, she’s only human, as are all of us. We all have our opinions, and many of these opinions aren’t suitable for the general public. Or they might just be a feeling, or nagging doubt, which might be extremely difficult to put well into words in a manner which won’t be misunderstood. I know where she is coming from, so I didn’t take her statements badly.

But I think her concern is about salability — a hand-made product is almost necessary for a photograph to get consideration from serious collectors who are willing to pay serious money for an artifact. But this does not denigrate photography as an art, and she herself pays good money for good photography.

I understand the attitude. It's essentially identical to the position of many gallerists in the first half of the last century. The reality is that collectibility is primarily defined by the ability to distinguish "originals" (whatever that means to a collector) from copies/replicas (whatever that means). That differentiation is fundamentally different from the question of value, which is driven by more predictable (and uninteresting for purposes of our discussion) economic factors like supply (of originals) and demand. And both are fundamentally different from the question of what is and is not art.

Well, I take a very broad view of art, agreeing with Aquinas that “Ars nihil aloud est quam ratio recta aliquorum operum faciendorum,” that is, “Art is nothing else but the right reason about certain works to be made.”  Speaking well is an art, dressing well is an art, cooking well is an art, etc. Art is an essential part of a human being, and the mutually contradictory theories of art used nowadays are harmful, and perhaps the most harmful of all is the divorce between aesthetics and utility.

The selling of art is its own art, and the art of selling art is rather varying depending on the clientele.

In my opinion, the arguments about art and photography of the early 20th century did not settle matters. Now, Ansel Adams and his friends in the Group f.64 did think that the future of the art of photography centered around the technology of photography itself, and certainly that proved correct, at least until recent years. But this camera-centric approach is rather limiting (and is the source of much argument on these forums). With the invention of good image-editing software, we have recovered the kind of work that was pioneered by the Pictorialists of the early 20th century, a style of photography that was inspired by painting.

"Settled" is a loaded term. To a creationist, the basic tenets of evolution theory as set forth by Darwin and the vast majority of evolution scientist who've followed, is not "settled". The rest of us have moved on to more interesting and meaningful controversies for the world we live in today. I view the question of photography as art pretty much the same way and have moved on to more relevant/current topics about digital art, lens art and all of the permutations.

I do see lots of opinions on these forums which are based on Photographic Modernism, so a lot of folks haven’t moved on. As this is a gear forum, this isn’t surprising — but if you look at the journals of the Pictorialsts, they too were very interested in gear, especially soft-focus lenses. But then again, this isn’t surprising, since gear is an integral part of technique, which can’t be gotten rid of. Perhaps there is way too much emphasis on gear, but everyone has to learn somewhere.

 Mark Scott Abeln's gear list:Mark Scott Abeln's gear list
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