Monday, November 22, 2010

Four Months

Once upon a time I wandered in the desert for a week in a 3 cylinder rental car that had to be downshifted to climb a grade when the air conditioner was running. I wasted a day each way flying to and from the desert. I spent half a day developing the film from that week and another half a day contact printing the negatives and looking them over. I spent three days printing the dozen or so good images that I had taken in the desert on double-weight fibre-bases silver paper that I processed to archival standards.

I spent 13 days and produced 12 first-class images.

The screenplay, so artfully pictured above, took exactly 4 months to write and has yet to spend an indefinite period in the purgatory of re-writing before it ascends into the heaven of finished work or is consigned to the hell of un-published rubbish with 2 novels and two hundred poems for company. Granted, that of the 4 months, I had writer's block for three and a half weeks and for much of the rest of the time, my daily "writing" consisted of merely re-checking the spelling and punctuation that I had checked the previous day and then giving up to have a beer.  But still it was a hell of a lot more work than making 12 "first-class images".

What is my point?  Well, writing the preface above has caused me to lose my focus on the point I was trying to make. Maybe by tomorrow I will figure out the cosmic import inherent in a comparison of writing and photography.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Six days with no musings about photography... I have spent the last six days finishing the screenplay I started 4 months ago.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It seems today that I have reached an impasse in my thinking about photography, so I will have to use the thoughts of a truly horrible photographer and truly gifted painter (Carl-from-Iowa) as a spring board for today's missive.

 I quote the illustrious Carl,"It seems to me that you have figured out how to make photos of value with your portrait work. You "photograph feelings" modify the image in subtle ways , and then make as archival a print as possible. Portraiture has the advantage in that it just has to reach the one person and not necessarily "enter into the realm that strikes a universal cord".

For the last 49 years I have been self aware of myself as an "art photographer", and maybe only recently questioning whether there is  such a thing as "art photography", and if there is, whether I have actually produced any. I have the right credentials, certainly, as at the age of 14, I was taking stark black and white photos of black birds atop gravestones and a man in a hat pretending to play a trashed and weather-beaten upright piano in an old shack in the woods whose roof had collapsed.  It don't get much artier than that, folks.

I am moved to reminisce about a thought I had in the decade before last as I was plying my trade as a avant garde cutting-edge child portraitist employing photojournalistic techniques ( faux journalism these days being quite standard and boring fare among studio photographers).  Mothers would weep at the depth and sensitivity of my work with little Johnny and little Suzy.  No one has yet wept at  my black birds on gravestones or whatever the hell art shit I was doing then.

I realized that if I am remembered as an artist, or even remembered at all, that it will be for my child portraits not my "art photography". With Carl's quote above, I have retuned to that thought about the usefulness of my life's work in photography,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Art Kunstler Comments on the last two Hawk posts

How do we make our choices in ascribing value to an object of human creation ?
To understand where we are and how we got here it is important to understand the history of the image since the invention of photography. For tens of thousands of years the only images where made by hand. Reality was inevitably changed by the process of interpreting the image through the mind and hand. But then photography made an accurate representation of a scene at a particular instant. It captured "reality".
Some photographers set out to capture that external visual reality, preferably as starkly as possible. But even here manipulation crept in. Photos where cropped, dodged, burned: red hats where put on, people were posed, objects moved in or out of the frame. And then PHOTOSHOP.
Concurently, artists though that the camera made realism in painting redundant. They thought that the only true ART comes from the mind without being dependant on external visual reality. The goal was to be as creative, or "new" in the image as possible. This led to more and more convoluted creativity. A lengthy explanation was required to understand the image. This ultimately ended with paper plates with turds on them and photos of objects without any creativity. What this art says is not only "fuck you" but, "I know what is going on, and you don't".
Not just photography is dead, so are painting and printmaking. From the first photo, some photographers tried to make photos that looked like paintings and some painters made paintings that looked like photos. Technology perfected techniques of printing on canvas, and even replicated brush strokes in the automated application of varnish. All art and art photography became harder to understand. Concurrently art education no longer provided the basis to understand different mediums and their ramifications.
The ART cognoscenti have intentionally excluded the average person from understanding the meaning of images. Art merchants, advertisers and others have blurred the distinctions between mediums and the reality of images. So now the average person doesn't want to know what an image means, or care how it is made. They value an image solely on the basis of how it affects them.
This has implications for artists involved in the creation of images. It now longer matters to how it is made. The distinctions between photography and painting have disappeared. It doesn't matter if the photo of the bike and cross shadows was spontaneous or manipulated, painted or printed, except to the  artist who made it. It matters to the artist because the goal is to be able to create great images over and over. Even though most people don't care how it is done, an understanding of the particular techniques that an artist chooses to make an image, and how that image is produced, is essential to creating good images. The key is making images that are so deep into our personal understanding and intuition that they enter into that realm that stikes a universal cord. If the artist is interested in a legacy they also need to understand how to make images of a permanent nature. These things will give an image value. What they end up costing is a entirely different matter.

The only known photograph of Art is a Drawing


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Value: Part 2 of A Change in the Direction of My Thinking

I am an atheist. I believe in a random and uncaring universe to which sentient beings attribute meaning and perceive patterns and impose a kind of order. Nothing is permanent or has intrinsic value. That is not the same as Nihilism. I believe we sentient beings make choices and those choices matter (at least to us).

When, yesterday, I talked about MM's photograph, and why it is "good" and why it has perhaps greater validity  because it is not constructed from odds and ends on Photoshop and is the work a visual genius who creates her art in 1/500ths of a second bursts but is less noble because it is not an oil painting with weeks of painstaking brushwork, I am exploring the subject of how we make our choices in ascribing value to an object of human creation.

Let me skip to a body of work from another photographer who has exhibited in and is represented by a prestigious gallery. Her work is printed on large, but not monumental, pieces of ordinary colour photographic paper.  Her photos depict artificial fishing lures (plugs) hanging from a line, placed in the centre of the frame against a whitish seamless backdrop.  The lures are not antiques or unusual in any way. The compositions are artless. There is no story and no imagination apparent.  It is simply an artist (sic). saying "fuck you" to the viewer.

She is saying, in essence, "I am an artist and you may not question me; my work is internal and has no meaning."

I don't think that "fuck you" is a particularly new or revolutionary expression in art.  Perhaps the first time an artist took a shit in a Mason Jar and got someone to exhibit it, it was edgy. It's shocking artlessness called into question a lot of ossified notions about what art could be.  The turd in a bottle had value for its novelty and its attack on convention. The turd is no longer new or edgy nor does it or these fishing lures have any further value as art. There is no concept beyond "fuck you."

I can create in my mind's eye a myriad of visual possibilities for using fishing lures.  I like a photo of a fishing lure in the mouth of a frozen fish or a rectangular package of frozen fish. I like the lure in the mouth of a real fish smaller than the lure--a little goldfish or guppy. I can imagine the lure in the mouth of a rotting fish or a skeletal fish.  Or attached to a huge blow-up child's pool-toy fish.  Or a hundred lures in the mouths of a hundred of those motion detecting plastic talking bass installed in a room in a gallery--all chattering as the patrons pass by saying something ridiculous or disturbing with all the fishing lines connected to a single point near the ceiling at the end of a fishing rod held by _____fill in the blank.

None of those above visual scenarios I have imagined for your benefit say "fuck you". Some are funny, some are profound, some are delightfully ambiguous but they are all legitimate artistic expressions. The woman who created the fishing lure photos, and worse, the woman gallery owner who exhibited them are guilty of the crime, at minimum, of insulting the public and crass exploitational narcissism at the worst.  "Fuck you" is post-modern, to be sure, but surely we have moved beyond the post-modern to a new value-based aesthetic.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Change in the Direction of My Thinking

Unwittingly, I have been blogging for a month or so, but I think really starting to build the bones of a book on what I term "a post-photographic aesthetic".   If "god is dead" was the phrase that began a whole discussion in theological and philosophical circles, my phrase "Photography is dead." has been  my springboard for discussion in this whole blog.

The art world as a whole has been grappling with the "death of art for nearly a century. I saw the movie "Pollock" last night about the troubled visionary painter Jackson Pollock.  In between Ed Harris chewing up the scenery on his way to either an Oscar or a Razzei, there was lots of discussion about the death of any type of representation in art.

And then I run across a photograph like this one done by my friend MM:

And it takes my breath away despite all my cynicism about the present-day validity of the medium.  Why don't I take a moment to do a post-mortum on this image. The image has unity both because the corner and edges are dark, forming a frame and because it has a unity of colour and texture, for the most part. The image has balance and grace with its two strong verticals-one clean and sharp and the other a fuzzy shadow.  The image is balanced, but not static or boring. But what makes the image so powerful is the sharp organic and kinetic shadow of a human who looks to be falling of a bike or something (what is really happening does not matter). That shape is most intriguing! That shape tells a story, but an unclear and possibly unsettling story that sends the viewer's galloping in several direction.  Put that sharp complex and undoubtably human shape at the bottom of that fuzzy icon shadow Christian cross and the image really set off fireworks in the Western brain. The gutter line at the bottom adds definition but it is at a slight angle and is not a boring border, but just a little off kilter. It adds both solidity and tension.
The only parts of the image not nicely textured are the human shadow form and the sign on the left.  What does the sign say?  What is the human doing or what is happening to the human?  And to highlight the importance of the human shadow, it is underlined by a ray of light.

Everything I have just said is just so much "art critic" bullshit because you can only apply that kind of critique to a painting in which the artist controls and considers every brushstroke in the service of creating exactly the painting he wishes to paint--whether the painting is repersentaional or not. A photographer can not be critiqued in that manner. This image, if I remember properly was captured exactly as you see it,as a Gestalt, if you will, in 1/200th of a second. It arrived on the sensor or the Canon Rebel camera fully formed.  The mind of the photographer, who is a genius in every sense of the word, perceived it, shot it and chose it to display it.

 It is not a Photoshop creation, although it could have been. Or it could have been a painting. I wonder, without having any final answer what difference it would make if it were a Photoshop collage or a painting.  I believe, without labouring a point I am not sure of, that the value of the image would go down seriously, if it were cobbled together from odds and ends on Phototshop and the value of the image would increase by orders of magnitude if it were an oil painting.

And now we are talking about value. I will talk more about value in my next post.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


On the dog walk this early A.M., I took photos of the dog on the path--the abandoned rail right-of-way we are wont to frequent--always the path with vegatation on either side (spring, summer, autumn, winter) the path disappearing in a convergance at infinity.  I have been taking this same photo for the past 161 years--the lives of three dogs.  None of these dog photos were taken for money nor do they qualify, even in my inflated view of my own work, as art.

The other photo I have been taking for 50 human years is of a lone tree in an empty field.

These two types of photos are the sum total of motifs that reoccur in my photography.  Two.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Day with no Photography

Imagine, if you will, a day with no electricity or a day with no automobiles or a day with no telephone service.  None at all--anywhere...

Now imagine a day upon which no photos are taken. Sure we would miss photos of secret terrorist bases in the desert taken by satelite and we would be inconvenienced by having to wait a while for our driver's license photo or our passport photo or, if it were a Saturday, those horrid overpriced digital wedding photos, but the world would not come to an end.  There would be no microscopic photos of germs in medical labs or photos of microchips undergoing inspection at Intel, but one day would not slow medical research or chip production.

No, a day without photography would be pretty much like any other day.  Most people would not even notice that their camera did not work for 24 hours--even most professional shooters would survive the inconvenience and loss of income.


Thinking about a day without photography is a good way to put the importance of photography into perspective.  Of course, without the motion studies of how a horse runs by Eadweard J. Muybridge  a century or so ago, we humans would still not know exactly how it is that a horse runs, but it would not have prevented one single horse from running.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Questions Needing Comments

My old/new friend Carl and I were travelling together this year. At Meat Cove, the end of the line at the far end of Cape Breton Island, we camped.

A few days ago Carl sent me an ink-wash that he uses as a kind of sketch or first step in doing a painting or wood block print. The ink-wash was taken from a photograph that he did.  The scan of the ink-wash appeared in my e mail with the comment I moved the (camp) fire like you told me to do (at the time) but I would have moved it anyway. So Carl did what artists have been doing ever since there were artists, moving the campfires in drawings or paintings or any other damned thing they wanted to move to serve the needs of the art piece.

When digital photographers do this now, it is viewed by some (and I am sometimes included in that "some" but not always) as "cheating".   And it is cheating, if you think, as I do, most of the time, that the crowning glory of photography, that sets it apart from all other artistic media,  is that the viewer regards it as "real".
Any student of photography knows that photographers have been retouching negative and prints and now digital images ever since the beginning.  Edward Weston, one of my personal heroes in photography was a proponent and practitioner of stark reality in his art work, but spent most of his life making money by retouching and glorifying portraits of rich women.  A practice, I, his disciple, continue to this day on my big Mac computer using Adobe Photoshop.

Photographers cry and wring their hands wanting to be taken seriously in the art world (for over 150 years and now, still!) But they do not realize that when they throw away the illusion of reality by having access to Photoshop, the medium itself becomes a throw-away medium--just a lot of ones and zeros inside some infernal computin' machine signifying nothing and worth nothing.  And even though the actual images created in Photoshop are as good or better than anything in the world that is painted or drawn by hand, no one can convince me that something whipped out on Photoshop in a few minutes or even a few hours has the absolute value of a painting that takes weeks or months to complete. And the public's awareness  that the work done on Photoshop can be reproduced in infinite quantity does not help the value of the digital work either.

Even though I am making what seem like statements, they are all still questions in my mind and I invite comments.  Please...  Why does work that I do that is of the highest order of visual quality, that if it were a painting or even a wood block print could hang in almost any gallery in the world, have to languish unsold in my portfolio?  The question is rhetorical, let me assure you.  But a little edge of bitterness remains.