Does quality matter? - the case of Jacob Holdt

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by kezia, May 16, 2010.

  1. To me a good image is one that strikes you, one you remember. I don't think there's a magical formula as to what makes pictures work. I've always appreciated the high finished image quality of a Salgado, or a Eugene Smith, but I like images by Moriyama, and others. Sometimes an image is great because its subject driven. Sometimes the subject is the photographic media itself, light, etc. But all I know is that what I tend to consider as the best photographs are ones that have something about that stands out.

    Another expansion of this topic is how does all that work for series of images or projects where its not one image. Like a book for instance. I think each has to come to their own conclusions and methods, and hopefully keep an open mind as to how other might approach it. I guess I'm saying something like I may not be sure I know what makes something work, but I know a good image when I see it, or at least what seems good to me.
  2. I'm surprised that this thread has been resurrected after more than 10 years. But I'm glad it has, because I missed it first time around. I'd never heard of Holdt, but he has an impressive body of work, especially his American Pictures (of which I've browsed through just a few on his website).

    Yes, quality matters and my first impression of American Pictures is that they have it in bucket loads. From the few photos I've seen, three things strike me:
    - the sheer diversity of social situations and people that he photographed during his 5 years in the US
    - the intimacy of the photos, which reflects on his ability to form personal relationships and be accepted in his documentary role

    There is also diversity in his compositions, shooting distances, etc. Would a more expensive camera have given his photo series a broader public or more impact? I don't believe so.
    jaxphotocat and Ricochetrider like this.
  3. I'm NOT surprised that this thread has been re-animated, although I suspect that the re-animator simply didn't notice the OP date.
  4. I agree, some times I don't look at the dates either until I notice they're asking about a piece of equipment 5 years old as if it were new, than I check the date.

    Funny, but for some reason people get bent because old threads are revived. Why I wonder? Besides this its a good topic that really hasn't been exhausted.
  5. The question I’d answer yes to is Can quality matter?

    Assuming "quality” means the technical output, what used to be known as “print quality” but now also includes "image quality" for monitor viewing, certainly that kind of attention to and influence of craft can be part of the message or aesthetic or art.

    The street work of Meyerowitz, Eggleston, and Callahan (among others) comes to mind. Their “message” is not just in the content or composition of their photos but in the look of them as well. Eggleston worked on new means of dye transfers for not just technical but for expressive reasons. Of course, all photos are a matter of look, but some rely less than others on the symbiosis between the technical output look and the content.

    For me, dismissing Holdt here regarding quality could be a mistake. It might just be that Holdt was conscious of this symbiosis as well and chose his tools for what he wanted, which was not some pre-given standard of “technical quality” but rather a quality to his photos that he knew wouldn’t measure up to Ansel Adams’s but a quality that used a different sort of measuring stick for a different purpose and approach.

    “Standards of quality” can be extremely helpful ... and debilitating if they're not flexible and context driven.
  6. "The question [...] Can quality matter?"
  7. I have said this before, but no harm in repeating it once again.

    I had the pleasure of living in Paris for 30 years where photography occupies a privileged position in the arts. Not only are the museums, galleries, exhibition halls and lecture theatres filled with works of artists from all over the world, there is a yearly” Photography Week” in which al the above and more feature prominently. The most surprising thing to me is the astronomical, stellar prices for which some of these works are sold.

    As regards content, the works are often filled with missing limbs, ears and whatever, sloping walls and horizons, out of focus areas, absence of saturated blacks (a favourite here on PN) and all the other little things which appear to be anathema to amateurs such as myself that contribute to our forums.

    So what is the common denominator to the works chosen for such display which underlines their success, it is “impact”, and that in my opinion is the only single thing that matters.

    I get trampled on sometimes for quoting Ansel Adams, bring told that in reality he was the most conservative of all, he nevertheless wrote something to the effect that there are no rules in photography only good photos (I have not looked up the exact words before writing this).

    .. and since we are on the subject, what rules, who wrote them, where are they ... maybe Trump wrote them, I'm sure some people would swear by it! Let's filter out all the nonsense and just be content to say wow!
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2020
    charles_escott_new and Nick D. like this.
  8. … just an afterthought, having now read again the totality of this thread.

    I do not claim that such elements as lighting, perspective, composition, perspective etc., do not matter, of course they do and many of these will affect the impact that an image has.

    What I do claim is that many of the said errors in technique cited frequently in our pages are no more than individual likes and dislikes - simply said they are not mistakes or the non-adherence to any rules. The key word remains "Impact".
  9. I agree with you in spirit but also wonder how individual-minded are both the criticism and praise we often see.
  10. I agree. If you're sloppy with your craft, you're probably sloppy with your art. If you care about your craft, you'll care about your art. And vice versa. Having said that, I think that content is most important to the viewer who cares little about how you shot the photo but they could also be influenced by its quality But for the main, its impact is what counts to them. If he looks more than two seconds, your photo is working on them. It's only later that he may look at the craft and wonder how it was taken and the story behind it.
  11. I think you're being hard on the rest of us non-artists. Photography is a huge endeavor. Different desires on all subjects. Not everyone is interested in the plight of people. Some photographers, maybe most, are interested in beauty and awe. It's a break from the problems they face daily. Calling their work meaningless and soporific is rather a holier-than-thou position, insulting to many. Bringing beauty into life is a valuable endeavor. Whether it meets some standard you and others have created is beside the point.
  12. It would be, if it was a stand-alone comment. But it was a comment in response to this, by the OP ...
    I believe Luis, now long gone from PN, was countering the OP in a similar tone of voice. Just like the OP was sarcastically asking if it would weaken the message to produce a set of beautifully composed, high resolution images, Luis is responding in a more mocking and sarcastic than serious tone.

    That being said, there is a serious side to what Luis is saying, and it's ok for each side to be a bit passionate about it. Art is a passionate subject, for many. So, I wouldn't be surprised if Luis questioned the whole idea of beauty here (we had many long discussions, so I'm comfortable with this tack), which only has a passing resemblance to what many photographers are producing, which is not so much beauty and awe as it is pretty and typical.*

    *The scenes of nature aren't typical, but the photos of them often are.
  13. Sam, I was addressing what he posted not what was in his mind. I wouldn't know what that was.
  14. I know that, and I was pointing out that what he posted is posted in the context of his responding to a post. If you don't read it as such, your reading comprehension won't be as valuable as if you paid attention to what he was responding to which offers clues about his tone of voice. That's what reading's all about.
  15. Hmmm. Photography seems so wide open to me. I'm uncertain how anyone can assign what would work for them to what anyone else has done, or say that "only" any one thing is better than any other thing.

    Mr Holdt obviously clearly had a vision and proceeded with what feels like a very solid sense of determination, to see his vision through. As noted (recently and otherwise in this thread), his sheer body of work, just on his time here (5 years?) is super impressive. Could he have had more (of a global) impact or would his photos be more impactful if they'd been made on a super high end camera? Doubtful. To the contrary, to my way of seeing, just by the few shots I looked at, this sort of lo--fi imagery honestly suits his subjects.
    John Peri likes this.
  16. Whatever works. It's up to the photographer.

    If you're totally unaware of the technical aspects of making a photograph or how to achieve what you want then that's a different story.
    John Peri likes this.
  17. I agree with that .. when Pollock splashes paint on a canvas with a bucket and steps on it or Yoko Ono throws tomatoes on the wall, there is no special methodology involved, yet these are at the forefront of what the world considers art and creativity today. Of course these are extreme examples chosen so as to underline the point, but I think that art has more to do with impact and what feelings are evoked rather than with any special methods or technique used in making it.
  18. ... that is, among other things, a matter of technique!
  19. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... I can do that. I'm
    gonna be a millionaire...!
    John Peri likes this.
  20. Easy to say once it's been done. No, until you think of it first, you'll likely stay poor! :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2020

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