Banal Photography - New Genre of Photography? A Debate.

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by tom_kondrat, May 22, 2022.

  1. Does the banality lie in the subject matter, or in it's interpretation?

    "To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And Heaven in a wild flower." - William Blake.

    michaellinder and movingfinger like this.
  2. Excellent and valid question. I think it begins in the "eye of the beholder". I love that this so-called "banality" is basically just views of things that almost everyone would walk right past without a 2nd glance. It's seeing "life" in all its every-day-ness, through an artistic perspective; finding and creating interest where there may actually be none- or very little.

    Mr Eggelston broke ground with his use of color film, in the early 1960s I guess.
    Is therre more than a bit of "documentary" photography in much of this?

    Here's one of my shots from Galveston Island in Texas.

    Last edited: May 24, 2022
  3. 'Banal' is practically my middle name:

    20210710 825 Chocorua NH.jpg
  4. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire

    My understanding (which is probably not the best) is that Eggleston didn't just choose colour; he chose dye-transfer printing, to get the strongest colour he could; and some of his photos only make sense to me as opportunities to revel in the colour for its own sake. Some of them I can also see a composition; and I'll take photos of commonplace things myself if I see them form a neat composition (often don't see it any more when I download the picture).

    There are some of Eggleston's photos reproduced at SFMOMA: Eggleston, William

    They aren't all one neat genre. The child's tricycle is 'banal'; a commonplace object, certainly; photographed close-up and at an angle that lends it drama. The green pillar, draped with coloured cables and lamps, is less of an iconic object, and is simply a nice composition, with the strong, blocked colours. I wouldn't call that banal. And you would never call the four little black girls in the field 'banal'. There are a number of possible reactions to that photo, some disturbing (and that series is called Troubled Waters).

    The colours (just the colours: in every other way, what a different picture) of that photo also reminded me of the Autochrome I used to illustrate the page on that at Camera-wiki (here - in the Flickr stream of George Eastman House); strong but restrained. Looking at it again, I suspect the father made everyone wear those nicely coloured cardigans because he knew it would make a good Autochrome. Maybe he was an Eggleston of his generation - 'I can do colour, so let's find some coloured things to photograph'.
  5. 'That's more about really looking at the world with attention, seen in the state of heightened awareness.' Stephen Shore
  6. In my uneducated opinion, Tom, your mention of a combination of the poetic and the bizarre very well might be considered another subclass of abstract photography. Your thoughts . . .
  7. Sam, haven't well regarded full-length films been created with a cell phone - e.g. "Unsane" (by Soderbergh) and"Uneasy Lies the Mind" (Fosheim)?
  8. In essence, this is what I may have said in connection with next PN version.
  9. A recent image I consider to be abstract, to least a small degree

  10. In both a metaphorical and literal sense, any photo can be seen abstractly, even the most straight document. So, it might be interesting to consider photos in general a subset of Abstracts, at least as a thought experiment.

    It can move me as a viewer to look at the how as well as the what, the subject photographed as well as the subject, and how is this subject photographed as much as this is the subject photographed. Composition, color, shape, focus, texture, and the intangibles of a framed two-dimensional world take on significance and become a not-necessarily-representational experience in themselves.

    Eggleston’s everyday world is more than a description or category. It’s an abstract concept his photos make concrete.
    Last edited: May 24, 2022
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  11. The banality lies in the pretence that what is photographed is 'special' and worth our attention, either 'because it is', or because the photographer elected to make it the subject of her or his attention.
    A reaction to that is to photograph things without that pretence, everyday things from our normal life that we do not pay any special attention to, just because these things are just that.
    Fake v. Genuine.

    The first is a genre that grew on its own dirt. The result of far too many people believing that what they produce holds an interest to anyone besides themselves.
    The second is a genre that is worth our while, because it draws attention to the nonsense we humans get up to, and documents our true, genuine lives.
    Last edited: May 24, 2022
    Gerald Cafferty likes this.
  12. I wonder if all/most photos are abstract in a narrow sense - 2-dimensional. Most/all subjects are 3-dimensional.
  13. Hi Michael,
    It's Tom here, actually (not Sam) Tom Banks aka Ricochetrider, please & thank you, sir. :)

    And yes, although I'm not familiar with the films you named abve, far as I know some full lenght (and shorter) films have indeed been "shot" either on moblie phones, or using mobile phone footage. Daryl Hannah has produced one such with Neil Young- Paradox, also featuring Lukas & Micah Nelson plus Lukas' band The Promise Of The Real, as well as a 2nd film that seems more a documentary with Crazy Horse- built it seems, around the NY & Crazy Horse record The Barn.
    The film Paradox ends with some footage of these guys actually playing and as mundane and nosensical as most of the film is, the performance is worth the wait- IF you're a Neil Young fan.

  14. I don't have a specific feeling about banal, other than it's generally thought of as beneath the standards of whoever is invited to the table that evening. I photograph a lot of what could be thought of as inanities, things and scenes that often have the common thread that they're either gone mostly or on the way out.
    Here's an example, posted before, that's from a now nearly abandoned pecan farm near here. A worker once drank these, left at the end of his shift, and they're now remembered by this photo.
    Now, with Human Resources, and every movement on camera and reviewed by supervisors, this kind of profligate behavior is a thing of the past. Not regretted perhaps, but the deadening smoothness has washed over so much. DSCF5049.jpg
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  15. Tom, I was a fan of Neil Young, especially when he hooked up with C, S, & N. To me, his most powerful song was "The Needle and The Damage Done."
    Last edited: May 24, 2022
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  16. And here I thought I’d finally found my doppelgänger.
    You sure you don’t mean banal and nonsensical? :)
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  17. Definitions of banal and mundane are similar. One such of banal is "so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring." and one of Mundane is "lacking interest or excitement; dull." another of Mundane is "of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one.", a bit different.

    Could it be that one of the things that what Eggleston was doing when he talked about photographing "democratically" was pointing out that what's beautiful and interesting in his photography isn't dependent on the beauty or nobility of the subject or the objects photographed, but more of how they were photographed? Maybe he was talking about a way of seeing? Or is this post a classic example of those definitions? (don't answer that)
  18. I think that's the key to many (most?) of these images. Reducing real-world 3D objects (and their shading) to an arrangement of coloured shapes within a frame. Snatching passing visions of everyday life that catch the eye through their lighting, arrangement, unusual juxtaposition, or whatever. But with the 'artistic' addition of selective viewpoint and composition.
  19. I think this can be said more of some of the photos posted to this thread. But I think Eggleston’s and some others don’t reduce in this manner. They do operate on that kind of abstract level, in Eggleston’s case especially of color as well as other features, but the significance of his photos, especially as a body of work, comes more from being at home in their everyday literal-ness and personal-ness. I like Szarkowski’s analogy to a family album.
  20. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire

    With their content of old-fashioned furniture and decor, and their off-natural colours from old colour processes, what some of these pictures convey to a modern viewer is a view of an old world; even nostalgia to some (people of roughly my age will have seen those furnishings during their childhood). Whereas Eggleston was using processes that were the state of their art, and the subject matter was also current stuff.
    (or was it? Maybe Eggleston had been away to university and become cosmopolitan, and was now photographing the quaint old south where he was a child; maybe there was an element of nostalgia for him even when he took the photos? Perhaps I should get the book and read the photographer's blurb)
    Anyhow, a lot of what has been posted in the OP's 'banal' Flickr group looks like simple pastiche; photos of old-fashioned artifacts, rendered in an ever-so-slightly-brown colour palette. Those artifacts stood out to the photographers because they aren't typical of our lives any more.

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