Saturday, November 01, 2008

Failure is not an option...

A fuzzy image of a sharp idea is much more powerful than a sharp image of a fuzzy idea.
Should really attribute that as a variation thereof was cited by Vincent Versace.

I was discussing with someone - who shall remain nameless for a variety of reasons - the idea and dangers of changing practice to fit the 'creative' landscape we have to engage with.

I, as many others, have suffered from this feeling that our work 'has' to look or discuss or 'be' this or that to fit some mould that is implied. It is not often defined by the establishment but manifestos do occassionally appear.

The two experiments I've made in this vein have left me - and importantly 'others' - cold. Whilst I found my Frankfurt rejection very hard to deal with, one of the key aspects thereof was exactly this coldness to the work. I wouldn't say the work thereafter was a reaction to that experience but rather a returning to original intent.

Conscientious (Jörg Colberg) has started a google group which, amongst other things - has been discussing style vs substance in photojournalism.

Here some snippets of my 'contributions' in regards to the concept whether 'classical' photojournalism is dated or not:

Personally, I find it gets interesting where the edges are blurred. Fig (from Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin: see here) was recently shown in Perth, Australia. The mental patient image [cited in the original post] is part of a greater series which was also shown here in 2006... highly recommended if you haven't seen it.

I was quite familiar with their work (via Colors, esp the Rwanda issue) and found the 'step back' and the importance of 'captions' to be poignant. In a classical sense it's not photojournalism but it's strength is nonetheless felt. I find the idea - and oft heard complaint - that it's too much work to view more indicative of audience apathy than the quality of the work itself.

Where it gets VERY blurry though is someone like Antoine D'Agata who often involves himself in quite controversial work...

I suppose when we talk about classic we could say that which 'attempts' to be truthful, to propagate or to inform versus the surrendering of the artist/photographer to their selective vision.

Given that objective vision or even objective history is a utopian ideal that can be corrupted on so many levels, isn't it instead advantageous to encourage the viewer to see through fresh eyes? In an image-saturated world, perhaps it's a better strategy to effect change than a sensationalist - although often numbing - bloody corpse.

As mentioned by others, it becomes problematic when the vision overwhelms the cause. But that said, it is equally dangerous to apply standards of sharpness, depth of field, evenness of tone and non-selective vision to photojournalism as the cause is then overwhelmed by the coldness of vision.

Jörg: What if certain photographic techniques in themselves have become a cliche? I think the main reason why "classical" b/w photojournalism doesn't work any longer is because the imagery it produces is so incredibly cliched. It's not necessarily the context, but the way it's shot: Crooked, partly blurry, noise... It's almost like you can tell that someone is trying to make things look "real" by trying to avoid something that looks like he deliberately composed the shot (while the "real" shot of course is as composed...).

I do tend to agree about the idea of cliche... and I'm equally frustrated by it.

But... when 'style' is done well and 'honestly' then it can be very effective! The case in point might be someone like Paola Pellegrin or Jodi Bieber.

Jodi's work (Las Canas) moved me to tears and made all the other photojournalism I viewed that day (and many days after) seem cold and inert.

Just as style doesn't necessarily equal substance, substance also doesn't necessarily equal objectivity... what a quagmire!

It all really does come back to intent... what is the best tool(s) to accomplish the goal of the project?

Balanced against that is the photographer's adherance (or not) to industrial standards - ie. avoid the cliche or 'play' along. Maybe generic editors won't touch your work unless you have one leg shorter than the other?

There is a similar problem in the fine arts... if you'll excuse the rant. There seems to be a template that can be applied across particular genres that is extremely frustrating. It might sound harsh but I sometimes feel you could describe the aesthetic standard that 'must' be applied (including pout, background colour, hair style, etc) and the photographer just has to find the appropriate 'freak'*

Are Fine Art photographers (FAPS) becoming casting agents? There is case upon case of photographers who have built entire careers on exploiting the freakish.

* Similar to classical -- can't think of a more appropriate word.


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