How to write about one particular picture

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Nov 5, 2016.

  1. "Art-criticism, like art, should furnish something more and better than we can expect from life without it. What might that be?" — Peter Schjeldahl, 2011
    The basic aims of good art writing are to explain and/or evaluate. For example, here is Jonathan Bayer talking about one of Ben Shahn's pictures of Ozark sharecroppers (see the picture here and here; both reproductions are not great; sorry!):
    "Shahn's picture of an Ozark sharecropper family can give the bizarre sensation that the child is more doll-like than the doll and that it is the doll that is the child of poverty. This in no way detracts from the wonderful face of the mother, from the Virgin Mary and Child allusion of the composition, nor from the intricacy of the lines centered around the mother's hands. But one returns to the amazing similarity of the mother's lively face looking off one way and the doll's with a matching intentness looking off in the other direction. It is the doll that shows the same lively twinkle as the mother while the baby is hauntingly lifeless and anomic."​
    Or consider this sample (extracted from a larger piece) from John Szarkowski, writing about Dorothea Lange's Back, 1938 (see it here):
    "Lange made several fine photographs of men's backs, but none more moving than this one. The man's posture is open and vulnerable and evocative of some other half-recollected memory, perhaps of prisoners of war, or burlesque dancers, or Saint Sebastian."​
    What do you like or dislike about those examples?
    In these first examples, I've chosen to focus on emotional responses rather than compositional description/evaluation. Don't worry, I'll get to that soon enough.
    If you have examples of good writing about particular pictures, please post them! Be sure to include a link to the picture that is being written about. And please, please, choose only examples of writing about one, particular picture.
  2. I remember the advice from my art history professor from well over 50 year ago. Ask and answer these three questions: What was the artist trying to do? (If you can't tell, that is important) How well did they do it? Was it worth doing in the first place?
  3. In How to Write About Contemporary Art, Gilda Williams says that there are three jobs for "communicative art-writing":
    1 What is it?
    (What does it look like? How is it made? What happened?)
    Keep your description of the art brief and be specific.
    2 What might this mean?
    (How does the form or event carry meaning?)
    Join the dots; explain where this meaningful idea is observed in the artwork itself.
    3 Why does this matter to the world at large?
    (What, finally, does this artwork or experience contribute -- if anything -- to the world? Or, to put it bluntly, so what?)
    Keep it reasonable and traceable to jobs 1 and 2.​
    With another cup of coffee, I think I could tie those three to E.J.'s three. Most important is the last one: So what?
  4. I think there's a difference between viewing art and writing about it. The writer tends to be overly superfluous. It's as if they have to say something, and the more fancy words they write the more self- importance they want to project. A lot of ego is on the line. The average viewer does not get so involved. They look, smile or not, and move on. It's only a picture, after all. And the photo and its photographer are really not that important.
  5. Alan, in this thread, please post "one particular" example of what you're talking about along with a link to the picture it describes. Thanks.
  6. sWriter: The artist here is trying to assuage his feelings of remorse about the nasty things that happened in his life. One can imagine that by the scene how he probably was deprived. The rich ambiance of the trees and gazebo along with the pink glow of God's creative light was found by the artist in his deep soul of need. One wonders if he pushed the boundaries of credible saturation. The structure and balance of the composition creates a smooth feeling of peace in probably him but that is extended to the viewer who can feel serenity as well. However, the extent of water at the bottom surely reflects that he still has doubt about his wholeness in the world.
    Viewer: Nice picture. Very pretty colors and winter scene. Makes me feel good.
    Photo by Alan Klein.
  7. Alan, the writer (you) doesn't meet any of the goals that both E.J. and Gilda Williams suggested. Thanks for a good example of bad writing.
    In my opinion, there's not much to say about that picture. I wouldn't write about it at all, which is what you already suggested. We agree, then.
  8. I'm hurt that you didn't like my picture. Even a little? But that's Ok because your view is an honest statement of what you felt, not some contrived description by an art critic who gets paid by the number of words.
  9. I was going to start another thread based loosely on the premise Julie put forth with this topic. And that being if it's even possible to recognize "craft" by the photographer in a photo.
    Or is the craft determined by the interpretation of the viewer which in this case is by the author in their writing about it? Craft in composition. Craft in being mindful enough to see the scene is important or interesting enough to photograph. Craft in post processing, cropping, etc. Craft in telling a story in a still photo. Craft in injecting or bringing out nuance in what we'ld know from looking at the subject isn't normally in such scenes.
    I don't have any images to link to that are written about compellingly by good writers, so I'll just see how this thread unfolds.
  10. One of the nice things about writing poetry is not being constrained by guidelines. This was inspired by the photo, shot in 1997. Regardless of what anyone else may say or write, it still resonates with me, and that's what matters.
    Country Road
    It was a fair trade:
    I took a bit of the road's dust
    Away on my boots
    And left a piece of my heart
    In its place.
    The dust is long gone
    From my boots
    A I am long gone
    From that forest
    But a part of me beats on
    In that country road.
    PS: Hey, Alan - Nice shot! ;-)
  11. William brings up a good question. How much "range" do you like to see in writing about, or maybe more truly, starting from a picture?
    Here, for example, is Szarkowski talking about Clarence John Laughlin's The Language of Light, 1952 (see it here):
    "Any child abed in lazy and luxurious convalescence from measles or chicken pox, half-drunk with tea and hot lemonade, learns that the space between the window shade and the casement is a magic place, populated by spirits that cast their shifting, liquid shadows on the screen and tap out their secret messages on the window frame. Once each of us was open to such dramas of the senses, revealed in terms that were trivial and ephemeral: the reflection of the hand mirror on the dressing table, slowly tracing its elliptical course across the ceiling.
    "Many of us forget the existence of such experiences when we learn to measure the priorities of practical life; some of us remember their existence but find that in the light of day they have become as shy and evasive as the hermit thrush ... "​
    Notice that Szarkowski has said nothing directly about the picture at hand. Do you like that, or find it unwarranted? (I like it!)
    Tim, I'm glad to see your "here." Craft will be brought in, very much in subsequent posts. Today seems to be about where a picture takes one rather than about how it's being made.
  12. William, Nice shot. Nice poem. I think it's easier to express oneself in writing, especially poetry than photographically. Getting a good, meaningful picture is hard. That's why people apply special filters, HDR, and all kinds of effects to their photos. To jazz them up to give an appearance of depth and soul. Sometimes it works; often it doesn't. Thanks for your appreciation of my photo. Julie was tough on me and I needed an "atta boy".
    Julie, I think Szarkowski's writing was a hundred times more eloquent then the photo. That's not fair to the artist. I think critics are often more in love with their writing about art then art itself.
  13. Julie, I think Szarkowski's writing was a hundred times more eloquent then the photo. That's not fair to the artist. I think critics are often more in love with their writing about art then art itself.​
    They sure can get you to want to buy the art. Maybe they should attach that Szarkowski's quote on the back of that photo. The price would most likely skyrocket. Doesn't hurt to have a hard to spell European name to add panache and credibility as well.
    But yeah, Julie, I immediately related to Szarkowski's take on that beautiful but simple Laughlin capture of dancing light on drapes. The author's writing immediately took me back to my having to take a one hour nap at my German grandma's house during summers in the mid 1960's before my brother and I could go swimming at the Lion's Park pool. Couldn't go to sleep and just ran my hands through the curtains similar to that photo, watching the light form different patterns. The dramas of the senses back then were really intense as I remember.
  14. Beautiful. Just beautiful. How can anybody not love this kind of writing? (Especially thank you for more Szarkowski. I wasn't sure how much more of his I could add; now it's your fault. Thank you!)
    I'll get into the chess game of composition tomorrow morning when my brain is working (it peters out at about noon).
    Give us some more, Phil ...
  15. I'll bite. Here's a photo where I think the short critique does more to add to enhance the photograph than anything the photographer might have said. The commentator is member Billy K (Billy Kendrick) a photographer who's photos are as poetic as they are visual. His comment did more to inform me of what I was actually shooting in a series than I could articulate myself.
    i like the images in this series- they seem like mediations on absence. yet the images remain compelling- while the viewer goes searching for something 'meaningful'.​
    and here's the pic. It was one of the most meaningful (to me) remarks that any ones said about a photo of mine. Sorry i picked one of my own, but it was the closest example of what Julie seems to be after that I could think of..[​IMG]
  16. Barry, the problem I have with Billy K's comment is that, while it gives permission, which is lovely (like the glorious "Once upon a time ... " beginning that is so always delicious), it then ... leaves.
    It's sort of like a pick-you-own-fruit farm that says, come and get it! it's in here somewhere, but we won't tell you where! Or a flat-pack box from Ikea that comes with the instructions: "Search for something meaningful!"
  17. Composition 1:
    This is Meyer Schapiro writing about Uncle Dominic as a Monk, ~1866:
    "... Painted in the solitude of the family estate near Aix, it is the image of a strong, fleshy person who strives to contain his passions through the religious habit -- it encloses the somber, powerful head yet allows the body to show its fullness -- and through the self-inhibiting gesture, a crossing or reversal of the hands, which is a kind of resignation, a death of the self.
    "The opposites of the sensual and the meditative, the expansive and self-constraining, are well expressed here. The color is imbued with the pathos of the conflict. A scheme of white, grey, and black plays against the ruddiness and earthen tones of the flesh. We pass from white to black through a cold series of bluish tones and a warm series of yellows, reds, and browns.
    [line break added] The cold, piercing gleam of blue in the neckpiece brightens the whole. The execution, rude and convinced, is of a rare vehemence, even ferocity, like an Expressionist painting; the palette knife is its chief instrument, raising a relief of thick pigment. Within the common intensity of the paint each large area has is own texture and rhythm of handling.
    "The conception has a certain grandeur through its simplicity. The figure fills the space to bursting, but is also rigid. The starkness of the form is moving. The dark spots of the face and hands are like three leaves on the common stem of the axis marked by the cross. This cross, in line with the vertical of the left sleeve and tying the head to the hands, is part of a longer double-armed cross formed by the lines of the left hand and sleeve -- a remarkable invention that points to later works in which such continuities of neighboring objects are a constructive, anti-dramatic device.
    [line break added] The projecting tip of the hood is a sensitive point, prolonging and narrowing the head and displacing its axis -- a vaguely spiritual, even Gothic suggestion; it is like the pointed tips of the hands, through which these are further assimilated to the head."​
  18. Composition 2:
    This is Tina Dickey writing about the students of the painter/teacher Hans Hofmann:
    " ... 'Every work must show an inner necessity,' Hofmann told the class. Tension is energy, and energy inherently expands. In a 1948 critique, he observed, 'Nothing is good that looks nailed together. It grows not.' He called the realization of tension the 'kunstlerisch [artistic] moment, the very thing that gives life to a picture.' Expansion -- the free movement of energy -- Hofmann likened to breath. ... Students learned to recognize a bad painting, Ken Jacobs recalled, as: 'inert, clogged ... Airless.'
    "Hofmann explained to his Munich students, 'The picture surface is ... but a flat, simple, dead plane. The task is to bring it to life. Upon it, form is to be created in such a manner that it awakes in the observer a three-dimensional, in other words, plastic quality.'"
    " ... 'No matter how you paint, there is always an invisible center,' [James] Gahagan observed. In order to orient itself, the mind projects a center onto any shape. 'It's the way we stand up,' Gahagan explained. 'We live with gravity and the relationship of the vertical, resisting gravity, to the horizontal.'
    " ... Returning to the Stout painting [Myron Stout, Untitled, ca. 1952-53] Gahagan noted how the edges of the white shapes had been worked and reworked intuitively: "He's trying to see torque, he's trying to see energy ... . That's when the 'felt experience' is three-dimensional.' But staring into the black between the two whites, you can begin to sense it twist in response to the whites. 'You've got to see the black as if it were black ink or black milk,' Gahagan said. 'Any movement in the whites is going to make the black water in between move and shift and change its shape. That's plasticity.'"​
  19. In case you glance at the Stout picture and think, geez, my five-year-old could have done that, take another look with Dickey's comments in mind.
    Compare the Stout to my snap, below that's kind of similar in its components. Look at the Stout, look at mine, look at the Stout, look at mine. His is outstanding. Mine is a snap (it really is -- it's two holes in tree bark; quick, fun, and as thin in affect as the half-second it takes to glance at it).
  20. Barry, the problem I have with Billy K's comment is that, while it gives permission, which is lovely (like the glorious "Once upon a time ... " beginning that is so always delicious), it then ... leaves.​
    And this is why it's such a good comment. Billy suggests absence. And then ... leaves.
  21. They sure can get you to want to buy the art. Maybe they should attach that Szarkowski's quote on the back of that photo. The price would most likely skyrocket. Doesn't hurt to have a hard to spell European name to add panache and credibility as well.
    But yeah, Julie, I immediately related to Szarkowski's take on that beautiful but simple Laughlin capture of dancing light on drapes. The author's writing immediately took me back to my having to take a one hour nap at my German grandma's house during summers in the mid 1960's before my brother and I could go swimming at the Lion's Park pool. Couldn't go to sleep and just ran my hands through the curtains similar to that photo, watching the light form different patterns. The dramas of the senses back then were really intense as I remember.​
    Tim: Let's see Lookingbill is an interesting sounding name as well, more expansive than Klein. Maybe I can get you to sign the back of my photos. But I would prefer the complete Timothy, not the shortened Tim.
    Speaking of senses when I was a kid, you brought back memories of me lying on my back at night and watching the streaks of moving lights created by the venetian blinds when cars' headlights would pass by. It was if the lights had a body and mind of their own, traveling across the ceiling suddenly coming to life at one end of the room and disappearing into oblivion at the other end...
  22. I'm really enjoying the writing about Lange's Back. It's really getting me to see the picture in a new way.
    What to do when you find "something 'meaningful" in a picture. Should you try to write about it even if you know the right words won't come? Maybe you feel or see something "meaningful" in the Picture of the Week. What to do?
    I wish you'd tell me about it, in whatever words you can find. Really good writing about pictures is hard to do and consequently not in abundance (in photography it's almost but not quite, Szarkowski, Szarkowski and more Szarkowski), so you'll be in very good company if you just hammer away at what you're trying to express.
    To give heart, here is a published bit by Darsie Alexander, who is a curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, trying to write about what I think is an interesting aspect of Nan Goldin's picture, The Hug:
    "... Goldin amplifies the physical and psychological dimensions of The Hug by introducing a shadow to the left that almost swallows the lovers. On the one hand, this combined silhouette signifies their merge, and adds to the sense of their escape into a private space. On the other, it casts a pall over their moment, implying total self-annihilation.
    [line break added] It is difficult to speak of shadows without using verbs that convey a sense of doom, since as entities they typically 'loom,' 'haunt' and 'hover.' This shadow extends into the space of their bodies, creating a giant, black void around their heads, suggesting lost consciousness as well as lost identity. Its darkness is particularly damaging to the wholeness of the man ... "​
    ... and she goes on, banging away at her target, too high, to far left, too low. But she keeps shooting till we get her point, blown to smithereens though it may be. A better writer would have done a clean shot in one or two sentences. Nevertheless, I am grateful to Alexander and to every other writer willing to make the attempt to get on paper or screen what they're feeling strongly inside. But I would also be grateful if they did learn how to write better. :)
  23. Julie: her point may only be her imagination of what she sees in the picture, not what the photographer was trying to do or actually what the image implies. That's my belief. The photographer didn't overthink it. They saw it, compose it, and shot it. Art critics think they're psychologists trying to read the photographer's mind as if the photo was some sort of Rorschach image.
    It's fun to write that way, and to read it. But it's really superfluous to most viewers in what they see and more so with the photographer's belief in what his own picture says.
  24. The arm in the Goldin picture is what I'd always focused on -- and I agree it's vulnerable and predatory and all kinds of things all at once. Good stuff. But while I "saw" the huge shadow, but I never really thought about it. I like being made to think about things I hadn't thought about by myself.
    Jumping back to my bark picture and your (Phil's) comment: "Stout - as a painter - could paint that energy and plasticity that Gahagan is talking about by being able to rework the shapes and edges of the white figures and their position relative to each other. You didn't have that option," made me think of the following from Vilém Flusser's book Gestures (took me a while to find a moment to dig it out):
    "The assertion that the photo apparatus is an extension and improvement of the human eye is therefore just a figure of speech. In the photographic gesture, the human body is so enmeshed with the apparatus as to make it pointless to assign either one a specific function.
    [line break added] If one designates the instrument as a body whose movements depend on those of a human body (if, within the relationship "man-tool," we make the human body the constant and the tool the variable), it becomes almost pointless to define the apparatus as the photographer's tool. It would be no better to maintain that in the search for a position, the body of the photographer becomes the tool of the photo apparatus."​
  25. Well, I think "searching for something meaningful" is possibly Billy's commentary on a certain paradigm of seeing, or viewing photographs. The very western idea of well defined subject and object relationship to focus on. And what he is talking about is another way of seeing or looking at.
  26. History
    Knowing the story or stories associated with a picture doesn't make the picture better. But it does make the experience of looking at the picture richer. Which does, in some sense, make the picture better.
    Try this example of history-of-a-picture writing as a test. It's Roger Hargreaves writing about Julia Margaret Cameron's Iago, Study from an Italian, 1867. It is believed that the man in the picture was "a professional artist's model who had moved to London in the mid-nineteenth century" named Angelo Colarossi:
    "As well as sitting for [the painter G.F.] Watts, Colarossi posed for a stellar cast of nineteenth-century artists, including Lord Leighton, John Singer Sargent, John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones."
    "... Cameron's absolute conviction in knowing what she wanted is evident in her portrait of Colarossi. ... In 1866 she changed cameras, buying a model that utilized larger fifteen by twelve inch plates, fitted with a Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear lens. The shift in scale and optics gave her the technical opportunity to explore through photographic portraiture, for the first time, the extreme close-up -- something that has since become the leit-motif of modern cinema."
    "... What must Colarossi have made of this passionate English woman who had stepped inside the zone of professional distance he was used to maintaining with male painters and sculptors? Her camera would have been set just inches from his face, her extortions delivered within breathing distance, so that he would have caught the odor of chemicals that emanated from her. Cameron's great-niece Laura Guerney later described her own childhood experiences of sitting for 'Aunt Julia,' whom she recalled 'appeared as a terrifying elderly woman, short and squat ... dressed in dark clothes, stained with chemicals, with a plump eager face and piercing eyes, and a voice husky and a little harsh, yet in some way compelling and even charming.' "
    [ ... ]
    "... Something must have happened to the collodion-glass-plate negative of Iago. As far as we are aware, the print in the Herschel album is the only extant example of the work, marking it out as that rarest thing, a unique photograph."
    ... [when the album came up for auction in 1974, Sam Wagstaff (some time partner of Robert Mapplethorpe) wanted it desperately] "Wagstaff outbid everyone in the room, setting a new world record price for photography of £52,000."
    "... [but the] Keeper of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery sought and won the revocation of the export license for the Herschel album ... This proved to be the first time the Committee had stepped in on behalf of a photographic work."
    "... There is a striking similarity between the Iago portrait and the way in which Mapplethorpe presented both himself and Wagstaff to the camera's scrutiny." [Hargreave supports that claim with examples]​
    What do you think? Do you have a richer experience from the picture knowing all of the above?
  27. Knowing the story or stories associated with a picture doesn't make the picture better. But it does make the experience of looking at the picture richer. Which does, in some sense, make the picture better.​
    I agree with that. Unfortunately, I'll have to hire a good writer to add wonderful descriptions next to my pictures to improve them.
  28. When I was a young man, I always peeked at the centerfolds in Playboy before reading the text describing the lives of the lovely lasses pictured. Somehow the down-to-earth details of their regular lives did not comport with the photos. Of, course, I didn't stress about that much because the aesthetic qualities crafted by the photographer was what was important. Didn't you find the same thing?
  29. I step into this discussion with a marked sense of trepidity. My artistic education is in architecture, not explicitly photography. Yet, the sense of how one experiences the creativity and aesthetic pronouncements of others seems very apropos. Photography is, as are all arts, based in representation. The photograph itself is not the the thing or person being photographed. Whether viewed on a video monitor, as a projected slide image, a print on photo media, or by any other means, the image is two things: First, it is a two dimensional collection of pixels or dots, each representing a combination of light versus dark and visible, reflected colors. These constitute the artist's medium, just as oil, brush, and canvas constitute the medium of the painter/artist. A super-magnified newsprint image is an excellent example of this reality. Second, a photograph is visual representation of an idea, posed (perhaps), captured, processed, and presented by the photographer/artist. How any one viewer experiences or interprets the work is far more dependent on the viewer's own experience and knowledge than on the artist's original intent. To the degree that experience and knowledge include information on the artist's history, methodology, circumstances, and mindset, then that knowledge can inform the viewer, and possibly bring the viewer's perception more closely in line with the artist's intent.
    A truly masterful work needs no text to communicate, as noted by Phil, while detailed information can also bring meaning and perspective, as illustrated in Phil's quote from Dyer. In every case, however, the viewer's perception and experience of the work will ever be colored by the viewer's own knowledge and experience, independent of the artist's intent and execution. A viewer without knowledge of Catholic/Christian liturgy cannot perceive Atget's image, identified by Szarkowski as Plate 66, in the same way as will a novitiate, as the subjects of the image lack cultural context. However, that same viewer may be fully competent to evaluate the various technical/compositional features, and derive value therefrom.
    Once the artist publishes an image he/she takes the risk, and offers the freedom for each individual viewer to like or dislike, interpret, evaluate, engage, or ignore the work. There are some artists who refuse to acknowledge this reality, like Frank Lloyd Wright rearranging the furniture when visiting homes he had designed, ignoring the living reality of the people for whom the home had been designed. There is no doubt they quickly returned things to their preferred state, rather than accede to Wright's demand that they maintain every last detail as he, the artist, had intended. What meaning art might have exists in a continuum along the intersection of the artist's intent and execution, and the knowledge and experience brought to the piece by the viewer. This amalgam is unlikely to be identical for any two viewers, or for any single viewer and the artist. Perhaps the measure of a truly great artist is the degree to which viewers' perception and understanding of his or her art conforms to the artists' intent, absent overt descriptions and explanations.
    Coming back to Julie's original question: Good art criticism, such as the quotes from Szarkowski, Bayer, and Dyer, is meaningful and useful in that it adds perspective and understanding. I find the best comments inform me of alternatives or background that I might not otherwise know. It provides a basis on which I can further build my own understanding, rather than trying to convince me of a particular, narrow idea. Too much art criticism becomes either an exercise in self-justification or -aggrandizement on the part of the writer, and/or an exercise in political correctness. I classify the best criticism as "enlightening". I know no better word, unless it is Phil's reference to Dyer's writing as "enriching". I want to come away from reading criticism both enriched and enlightened, and never belittled, demeaned, or befuddled.
  30. Phil, when I was in school I also heard a version of that quote. I even designed one of my projects with the express intent of its becoming, eventually, a great ruin. As an example of great architecture (not a ruin) that evolves with time would be the Pantheon in Rome. Originally a pagan temple, then abandoned, then a Catholic church (sort of), and now a museum, its very essence of form and scale makes it a great building, regardless its current use, or its relationship to current styles.
  31. I'm reading a book right now that claims that de Chirico was *really* interested in architecture, not in the shadowy figures that he often implies are lurking in it.
    David I have quite a few things I want to say to your long first post, but it will be (as always with me ...) tomorrow morning before I get it to coagulate. You've given me an opening to an area I wanted to get into. Thanks!
  32. Phil, I always remember watching a documentary on Strand where O'Keefe said to an interviewer, with withering scorn, that the while Rebecca was quick and lively, Strand was "thick and slow." Not nice. Poor Strand, faced with those two ladies, was my thought at the time ...
  33. I recently have been posting photos in facebook I took of people in the 70's: friends of mine, candid photos taken during various gatherings. Among many positive comments of appreciation one comment by a friend of my wife's who actually didn't know the people I photographed in the 70's really made me feel good, like my photos accomplished something. He wrote:
    “I don't know these people, and I still love each image in the series. They capture something that seems intriguing, and causes me to study the image further. I wish I could put my finger on it, but the humanity seems to come through in each one.”​
    Here's an example of one of the photographs he was referring to (most of them are also in my 70's folder on pnet). His comment really nails it for me! Isn't that why I take photos of people in the first place? Of course it is. Its so gratifying to hear at least one person express these thoughts so beautifully.
  34. Nice one Phil. In reading your friend's quote, I was wondering, and don't take this the wrong way. It's a question. When doing people, does the photographer make the picture or the subject.
  35. Phil wrote: "Dyer hints at in the way that he describes Stieglitz and Strand being left there all on their own - as equals - while their wifes were partying and having fun."
    Heh. A story from the other side:
    "William Lane [very rich; very old] and Saundra Baker [very young] met by chance in front of the box office at Boston's Metropolitan Theater in the spring of 1962. He was alone but had season tickets for two, and she was there hoping to get a single last-minute "rush" seat. The performance they shared that evening -- Giuseppe Verdi's La forza del destino [The Force of Destiny] -- turned out to be strangely prophetic. Only a year later William and Saundra were married, and over the next three decades together they formed one of the greatest collections of American modernist photography in the world." [I'm giving that bit just because I like it. Now on to the part relevant to Phil's comment ... ]
    "She [Saundra] vividly recalls clambering up onto the flat roof with a drink in hand to watch the sunset with Bill [Lane] and O'Keeffe and on one occasion, when alone with O'Keeffe, asking her; "How did you handle having an older husband?" O'Keeffe responded, "Well, how are you finding it?" Saundra replied, "I seem to listen a lot." And O'Keeffe said, "So did I." "​
  36. The Great Divide 1
    What are you going to do with us, who have
    No edges, no talents, no discrimination,
    Who hear no inner voices, who perceive
    No visions of the future, no horizons?
    We are among you, we are going to stay.

    first verse of Peter Davison's The Pleaders​
    The following is by Thomas Wagner. What does this writing do for you?:
    ""The Magic Lantern of a Car's Headlights" is the title of a series of black and white photographs that Bill Brandt took towards the end of the Second World War. They were published on March 31, 1945 in Picture Post. The pictures were taken at night and they show objects surprised by the sudden blaze of light, surrounded by an aura of darkness -- a cemetery wall, behind it pollarded trees that blaze like petrified flames in front of simple crosses, a soldier in an army greatcoat with a beret on his head, a hitchhiker who looks like an angel pasted on the black cardboard of the night sky, and a rabbit cowering on the tarmac in the headlights' beam.
    [line break added] Since this was the last of a series of so-called "wartime suites," the historical context in which they arose suggests that they should be read in relation to the long night of war and the ghosts of this existential eclipse. The image that sticks in the mind above all others is that of the rabbit. This is a mysterious, eerie picture despite its simplicity. In the onrushing car's lights, which briefly pierce the night-dark space and fade in the distance, the grassy left-hand verge of the road appears, any old verge, but a left-hand verge because we are in England where, as we know, they drive on the left.
    [line break added] The rough and grainy road surface, which is presumably peppered with loose chippings, has patches, either of oil that has leaked or of tar that has seeped to the surface. In the center, the rabbit, stretched out to the gleaming tip of its tail, its ears cocked vertically, one eye visible, caught by the light, wide open -- a creature rigid with terror in a shadowy world, presented to us by photography as an inexplicable stoppage or standstill in time."​
    That is good writing.
  37. The Great Divide 2
    If we knew how to pray to you, we'd pray
    That you could listen long enough to listen
    To what it is we think we want. We know
    That what you think we want stands far away
    From anything that has occurred to us.
    We are your children, whom you treat like horses.
    fourth verse of Peter Davison's The Pleaders​
    In the Wikipedia page for the painter Agnes Martin, I find this bit:
    "Wendy Beckett, in her book American Masterpieces, said about Martin: "Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as the desired condition of all life. Who would disagree with her?... No-one who has seriously spent time before an Agnes Martin, letting its peace communicate itself, receiving its inexplicable and ineffable happiness, has ever been disappointed. The work awes, not just with its delicacy, but with its vigor, and this power and visual interest is something that has to be experienced." "​
    That is terrible writing, IMO.
    It could be about almost any art at almost any time almost anywhere. I'm sure Martin would have loved it; artist's like flattery as much as the rest of us, but the writing brings nothing to the experience. "Gosh, it's just wonderful; go see it!" Because ... ?????
    Here is Gerry Badger asking for more (from writing, not Agnes Martin):
    "... We might hazard a guess that perhaps only one picture in every seven to ten is consumed by the quality that critic Max Kozloff termed "lovliness," and John Szarkowski "grace" -- that subtle rightness in lighting, camera placement, perspective, and spatial rendition which goes much of the way to ensure a photograph is "there." But certainly there is more than enough "thereness" in Atget to maintain our interest and compel us to ask what it all means. "The projection of Atget's person," opined Walker Evans. "Atget's time honored sense of the world," stated Kozloff. "The spirit of his own culture," ventured Szarkowski.
    "Yes ... yes ... yes ... and amen to all that, but how is it made manifest? Or, putting it a slightly different way, what in essence is the "knowledge" that Atget gives us? Well, if we are talking about Parisian or French culture in the abstract, or great "idea," perhaps not very much on the surface of things. The abstractions of history or philosophy, the complexities of human psychology, even the emotional resonance of painted marks, as set down by say Zola or Proust, Degas or Monet, were beyond Atget. They are not what photography is about. Yet only Atget, only the photographer with his magic black box, could conjure up actuality. Only photography can replicate the face of reality and take us there."​
    Whether or not you agree with Badger, I think that's good writing. It's good because it makes you think, to look harder at Atget than you otherwise might.
  38. Crossing the Divide
    We are the eyes your eyes have never met.
    We are the voice you will not wait to hear.
    We are the part of you you have forgotten
    Or trampled out, or lost and wept to lose.
    We are you children, whom you treat like horses.
    We are among you; we are going to stay.
    fifth and final verse of Peter Davison's The Pleaders​
    Here is Wright Morris writing about the time he spent photographing the deep South in the 1930s. He was using a big 8x10 view camera; he had no money and was sleeping in his car:
    "In the nearby countryside, as I was driving around, I saw the glow of lights that I thought might be a fire. It proved to be a small carnival, with a rocking, clanking ferris wheel, one or two dangerous rides and sideshows of freaks. It had been set up in a field of trampled grass, the air smoking with the savor of barbecued meat. No carnival or Chautauqua of my boyhood generated so much excitement and expectation. ... Its sensuality aroused me. I felt the surrounding darkness would soon be cluttered with amorous couples.
    [line break added] After the engines had coughed and died, the crowd had dispersed and the tents had collapsed, a cloud of dust so thick I could taste it hung over the field where it had all happened. I spent the night in the car not far from a banjo that repeated, and repeated, the same chords. Now and then the player cried out in the manner of a flamenco singer. I largely owed to these few weeks of Southern exposure my feeling that hardship, and hard times, if not destructively brutal or prolonged to the point of negation, are necessary to a density and richness of emotion that seems noticeably absent in happier situations."​
    Earlier in his book, Morris wrote: "I wanted evidence of man in the artifacts that revealed his passing." To support this, he quotes H.D. Thoreau:
    "If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a scimitar, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality ... "​
    That last is in danger of falling into the amorphous stuff of the Agnes Martin bit, but I think it works in-support-of Morris's more concrete statement.
    [For David, Morris also had this Thoreau quote in his book, which I'll truncate a little:
    "What architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within outward, out of the necessities and character of the indweller ... it is the life of the inhabitants whose shells they are ..."​
    It occurs to me, now that I've written it, that this may be commonly quoted in architectural writing, and therefore not new to you. Well, it was to me and I like it. :) ]
  39. Are we appreciating the photo or the writing? If the latter, read a good book.
  40. Alan, in answer to your question to me: I think of course both subject and photographer are important, but, I believe all people are interesting, but its the photographer who has to find a way to capture it. I think I do a pretty good job. One artist friend of mine told me the when I photograph someone"they always look like somebody famous." I took that as a complement.
  41. Looking at the examples posted in the beginning of the thread, it makes me think about all the photos I have taken of people. In the moment of the actual taking, that 1/30 sec that you are capturing the image, all those complex thoughts that are expressed by the critics much later on seem very imaginary, a sort of complex "reading into" the image with the critic's own history and biases, etc. In the moment, for me, its just a fleeting moment, a visual, that is gone in a flash. There are no philosophical thoughts, just the hope that the expressions are OK and the composition is OK and the technical stuff was OK. What I am saying is that it seems critics are imposing a world of interpretation on a particular photo that may or may not have anything to do with the actual taking of the photo. It may be interesting to read, but its more about the writer than the photographer. As for the actual subject, the writer's interpretation might persuade another person looking at the image to have some thoughts that they might not otherwise have (about the subject and the way it was done by the photographer).
  42. One artist friend of mine told me the when I photograph someone"they always look like
    somebody famous." I took that as a complement.


    That's funny. Whenever I take a portrait of someone, it looks like someone in my family.

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  43. Steve, if I were killing you, I would be concentrating on the action at hand; holding the struggling Steve, pushing the knife into his vital areas, combatting his flailing arms. I am not thinking about why I am killing Steve; are my thoughts while I am killing Steve, why I am killing Steve?
  44. "the more fancy words they write the more self- importance they want to project. A lot of ego is on the line. The average viewer does not get so involved."Alan
    Some folks just love writing about stuff because they just love the prose. Indeed, the more than average viewer does not get involved. But for some enjoyment is about writing about your enjoyment...nothing wrong with that.
    Remember,to look at the photograph when you are writing, and try not to be too lost in your prose...and make up a story all about nothing.
    Just a thought.
  45. Joseph Campbell is quoted as saying: "I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman or child." I pretty much feel the same way, and that's basically WHY I photograph people. Its not that deep. People are interesting. When I photograph someone I try to capture some of the "energy" of their spirit. I've been photographing people for almost 50 years, and the WHY never changes. Of course, when someone looks at one of my photos of a person, they will inevitably be "triggered" to respond to some of their own issues, their own life, etc. All I can do is provide the stimulus.
  46. Joseph Campbell?
    The guy who devoted his life to looking at, interpreting, speculating about the meaning of art, images and texts of the myth? Who wrote The Hero with a Thousand faces (432 pages); The Power of Myth (293 pages); Primitive Mythology Vol. 1 (528 pages); Oriental Mythology, Vol. 2, (576 pages); Occidental Mythology, Vol. 3 (576 pages); The Masks of God, Vol. 4 (752 pages) ... and that's not even half of his books?? That Joseph Campbell?
    You think he doesn't like writing about pictures?
    John Szarkowski, again:
    "People who accept the evidence of their sense can be divided into three non-professional categories: saints, simpletons, and humorists. The mass of mankind is insulated from these several species of misfortune by virtue of the fact that they know better than to trust plain experience.
    [Szarkowski then discusses this picture by Elliott Erwitt, Venice, 1965; I omit that discussion because you, apparently, aren't interested in it]
    "Those who may like the photograph and dislike the explanation are free to regard the picture as a vision, perfect nonsense, or a joke -- with the understanding that they are thus identifying with one of the three groups named above."​
  47. This is Peter Barberie writing about Berenice Abbott and Julien Levy's handling of the Atget archive (Phil, I know you already know all this):
    "Man Ray [wrote]: 'I don't want to make any mystery out of Atget at all. He was a simple man and he used the material that was available to him when he started in 1900 -- an old rickety camera with a brass lens on it and a cap.' Printed out from large glass negatives, most often on albumen paper, which nobody used anymore, Atget's photographs reeked of the nineteenth century even if they had been made in 1925.
    [line break added] And Atget himself, who slowly made his way through Paris with his view camera, his tripod, and his glass negatives, was another leftover from fifty years before. Levy remembered that Man Ray had tried unsuccessfully to lend Atget his modern Rolleiflex camera. Man Ray offered to make "modern" prints for Atget as well, to no avail.
    [ ... ]
    " ... Abbott's [who kept Atget's archive after he died and printed most of what you see today] small acts of neatening pushed Atget's photographs toward being full-fledged pictures, polished for their new role as photographic art. Her own prints from Atget's negatives are similarly perfect. It seems that she and Levy worked on these together.
    [line break added] They are the prints that were intended for sale, and Levy was her first audience for various experiments to approximate Atget's own prints as closely as possible. Neither of them was fully satisfied with the effects Abbott achieved. Levy recalled: 'We experimented with every paper we could find.
    [line break added] You couldn't reproduce the depths of those red-brown dark tones of his prints. You came nowhere near it -- you lost the whole feeling, even with the best papers: hand-coated, platinum, double hand-coated. We ended up, finally, with a semi-gold paper made by Gevaert. Then they dropped that in a year or two.'
    "The Museum's group of Abbott prints does indeed include a range of papers and tonal effects. And the prints do often run to harsh lights and darks, obscuring detail in shaded areas. This was the source of Abbott's dissatisfaction. She found her own prints too contrasty, with few middle tones to balance the black and white extremes. But in numerous prints from the 1930s Abbott approximated the warm tones typical of Atget's prints.
    [line break added] More importantly, she simply made numbers of high-quality prints, giving Atget's work a broader life. Abbott was a printer of great skill, and she evidently believed her imperative was to preserve the information and the relationships in Atget's negatives to her best ability. From two negatives of storefronts with complicated window reflections, she produced shimmering positives, with every layer of information and image in play. Sometimes, Abbott put the problem of contrasts to work for her.
    [line break added] Levy remarked in the 1970s that Atget's well-known photograph Throne Street Fair includes two spots of background visible in the negative, which Atget always printed out of his positives, to achieve, in Levy's words, 'this monumental effect, in nothingness.' That may be so; it is certainly what Abbott did with her prints from the negative, where the light bulb and the one-franc entrance signs float against a sea of inky black.
    "In another of Abbott's prints, a view of the rue des Chantres [Rue des Chantres, 1923], she achieved a superb arrangement of sumptuous blacks and pencil-thin white highlights. These foreground a view beyond to the steeple of Notre-Dame, bathed in light and aerial perspective. This is a remarkable photographic print, yet as Abbott well understood, it bears little resemblance to what Atget would have made from his negative. Small elements such as faded signage on the building facade are lost.
    [line break added] Others, such as the handle and window accoutrements at the left edge (along with the negative clips [which Atget usually left visible in his prints]), sink into the darks, softening the structural impact they have in albumen prints. But the real cost of such a beautiful print is not the loss of some detail, or even its flat, machine-age look, but the fact that it arranges itself into such a striking set of formal relations that those seem more important than the topographic work for which Atget designed the picture."​
  48. Julie, what I am saying simply is that the explanation and evaluation of a photograph may very well be totally unrelated to what the photographer was thinking when taking the photo. The criticism and evaluation comes from the baggage carried by the viewer, which may be totally unrelated to the intent of the photographer. It can be well written and entertaining, but it is a manufactured product, after the fact. We never really know what was on the mind of the photographer. I stated that for me photographing people is an act of trying to capture the humanity of the person. A viewer will most certainly find a myriad of brain connections within their own life experience that are triggered by looking at my photo, which is entirely out of my control.
  49. Steve Good point. That's what I was trying to say in an earlier post. You said it better. Alan.
  50. The criticism and evaluation comes from the baggage carried by the viewer​
    Using the word "baggage" is fairly prejudicial and at least to some extent, therefore, misses the point. The criticism also comes from what the critic genuinely sees in the photo. And a good critic has a history of photography against which to see the photo he's critiquing. You can call it baggage if you like. It could also be seen as knowledge, experience, context, and expertise, not to mention heart and soul.
    which may be totally unrelated to the intent of the photographer​
    IMO, you're equating the intent of the photographer with what the photographer is thinking about at the time of shooting. The two things can be very different. A person's intentions are built up over the course of a lifetime of experiences and that person doesn't have to be thinking about them at a particular time in order to have them. And, as most friends and relatives (and psychologists) are more than willing to tell us, we're not always the most aware of our own intentions. Sometimes, it takes a good outside voice to help us see what we're actually doing.
    It can be well written and entertaining, but it is a manufactured product, after the fact.​
    It certainly is. And it's often manufactured with a great deal of insight. And keep in mind that not all (or even most) criticism is a foray into the intentions of the photographer. In many of the best instances it's simply a reading of the photo and a look at how the photo operates relative to other photos and the history of photography.
    We never really know what was on the mind of the photographer.​
    Likewise, we never really know what was on the mind of an engineer, a wife, a son or daughter, our doctor, a teacher, or our best friend or some guy we barely know at work. But we operate in the world and exist in a social community by receiving and interpreting clues we get by observing others, observing their actions, observing their productions. The artist or photographer shouldn't be singled out as someone we can't make out. A photographer's body of work is often a very personal thing, in that that photographer made choices both in shooting and in culling through which photos to show. That's behavior and that's product. Those are ways we come to know people.
    A viewer will most certainly find a myriad of brain connections within their own life experience that are triggered by looking at my photo, which is entirely out of my control.​
    True that. What's also true is that just because it's out of your control doesn't mean you haven't had a great deal of influence on the photo and therefore on the experience the viewer is having since your photo is part of that experience. Every good parent knows they can't really control their teenagers at a certain point. But every good parent also knows how much vital influence they can still have on those same teenagers.
  51. Fred, when I read the two examples that Julie gave in her first post I had a strong reaction that the two critics cited were really reading into these photos a whole lot more than I suspect the photographers were intending or thinking about. Its great the critics can add such interpretations, but they are just that, interpretations. I do agree with your statement: “In many of the best instances it's simply a reading of the photo and a look at how the photo operates relative to other photos and the history of photography,” and I think that is very important. My intention was to be a bit of an antagonist here to stir up some reaction and I apparently did a good job! I am definitely not as enthralled about art criticism as some people and I’m just adding my point of view. I am a photographer, and when I look at other people’s photographs, like the famous ones, I simply do not have the kind of thoughts the critics are expressing, even when I really like a certain photograph.
  52. If you tell us (i.e. write about) what you see in a picture, we can compare and contrast. We can LEARN.
    The critics in the OP wrote about what they saw in the pictures. Because of that, we know what they saw. We can discuss it. If nobody writes to tell us what they see/saw, nobody knows what anybody else sees/saw. You ((Steve) have told us what you don't see; you have not told us what you saw in the any of the photos. We can guess what you saw or we can assume; we learn nothing; we go nowhere.
    If you disagree with what is written about a picture, write your disagreement. Add something to our learning!
    Here is Mary Price disagreeing with Janet Malcolm about Richard Avedon's work:
    "Janet Malcolm, whose comments on photography appear in her book Diana and Nikon, says that Richard Avedon in the early 1960s was 'no longer valiantly tussling with the confines of the medium, using them (as poets use regular rhyme and metre) to plumb his unconscious and shape his intentions,' but was making people ugly deliberately as a background for models in photographs where:
    [quoting Malcolm] the idea is not to bring models' beauty into relief but to point up its artificiality and vapid unreality. ... Avedon has, of course, created them [the background people 'of unvarying unattractiveness -- fatness or scrawniness, slack-jawed dullness, pitiful agedness'] with his pitilessly scrutinizing strobe lights and mole-into-mountain-making big camera, to whose grim transformations only young children and specially endowed adults, like fashion models and Picasso, are impervious.[/end Malcolm quote]
    "Malcolm's savage attack has many targets: weight, intelligence, age, the efficacy of camera equipment, and the intention of the photographer, which according to this passage should be to plumb the unconscious, presumably his own. Alas, the photograph by Avedon that Malcolm is describing gives me a different impression.
    [line break added] What seems to Malcolm 'slack-jawed dullness' and 'pitiful agedness' looks to me like elegant older people laughing at a joke. The joke is embodied in the model, all right, but the joke is not on her. She is absurdly fashionable, mocking the pose, and those gathered around her are amused by the difference between a human being and a posed extravaganza of fashion. The photographer sees the joke and perpetuates it in the photograph.
    [line break added] Yet either interpretation of the photograph depends on attributing its sense to the photographer. My argument is that such an achievement is the combination of expertise (strobe lights and all) and the imaginative power of the mind. Every image is also subject to the second mind, that of the viewer." [while I can guess which Avedon picture is being discussed, it's not identified in Prices' writing; an example of what not to do :) ]​
    Later, speaking more generally, Mary Price goes on to say:
    "Even now, when the critical tendency is to discount the trustworthiness of the photograph, there is an equal and opposite tendency to believe what is seen in it. The question is then removed one step to ask not whether what is seen can be trusted but first to name what is seen and then interpret it. That way of proceeding, that way of talking about the photograph, gives the power of words back to the viewer. When the words complement the photograph, any deception no longer deceives.
    [line break added] If photography were a field in which anyone were as good as anyone else, achievement would be accidental and mechanical. It is better to begin with the generous assumption that the photographer transcribes what he sees and that he does so because what he sees is in some way memorable, remarkable, moving, sensational, or typical. To describe and to name is to continue the process of seeing by interpretation."​
  53. The photographer who made the picture is also a viewer. He/she too needs to explore, compare and contrast what he/she saw with what we see in his/her picture. Again, here is Mary Price:
    "Walker Evans photographed persons in the New York subway cars by riding the trains with a concealed camera. James Ageee says of those subjects:
    [quoting Agee] The simplest or the strongest of those beings has been so designed upon by his experience that he has a wound and nakedness to conceal, and guards and disguises by which he conceals it. Scarcely ever, in the whole of his living, are these guards down. Before every other human being, in no matter what intimate trust, in no matter what apathy something of the mask is there; before every mirror it is hard at work, saving the creature who cringes behind it from the sight which might destroy it. [/Price gives more, but I here end her Agee quote; emphasis added by Price]
    ... Photographer Evans maintained his mask of unawareness, concealing his intention, while at the same time pointing his hidden camera."​
    Notice that Price is pointing out that both photographer and subject are masked. Later, moving to Yousef Karsh, famous for his heroic portraits of famous people, Price writes:
    "Contrasting his photographs of famous people with photographs of famous people taken by Man Ray, André Kertèsz, or Richard Avedon illustrates how deeply Karsh's mask of admiration obscures the revelation of a private person.
    "Karsh thus understands the necessity of looking beneath a public mask, but he does not understand that he has contributed another mask. His Marian Anderson, so wholly and straightforwardly admirable, looks, or could be thought to look, ever so slightly bored."
    "... Karsh says, 'This is the portrait of a harmonious soul revealing itself unconsciously in song.' But as an example of 'the invisible target,' the secret that can be surprised under the mask, it is too bland. That look of abstraction is characteristic not only of a harmonious soul but of a woman who has just begun to wonder whether she turned the stove off before leaving home. The portrait is beautiful, but Karsh has not made it reveal the unconscious soul."​
    Notice how Price points out of the photographer, in this case, "he does not understand that he has contributed another mask." The photographer is a viewer. We are viewers.
    Earlier in her text, Price writes:
    "Every photograph is in this way a test for the viewer's imagination.
    "Some aspect of the real is transcribed, like it or not. The question is not whether, not even how, this occurs, but how the viewer is to think and imagine a description and interpretation that will makes sense and that will correspond to what can be seen and named in the photograph."​
    Name what you see in any of the photographs cited in this thread. Begin a discussion.
  54. it


    talking about photography is like dancing about architecture
  55. "talking about photography is like dancing about architecture"
    Give us an example of one particular picture. Links please.
  56. I need to “put my money where my mouth is” and talk about what I didn’t like about Julie’s first example of “Jonathan Bayer talking about one of Ben Shahn's pictures of Ozark sharecroppers.”
    Borrowing Fred’s format of analysis:
    “It is the doll that shows the same lively twinkle as the mother while the baby is hauntingly lifeless and anomic."​
    I have been a documentary photographer for almost 50 years. I know that look on a kid’s face. They often look like that when they are simply thinking, especially staring at a strange man with a funny metal object is stuck on his face. The fact that the doll shows a “lively twinkle” is simply chance and a forced interpretation, IMO.
    the Virgin Mary and Child allusion of the composition​
    When you are documenting people you are just running around trying to compose shots and hoping your subjects aren’t blinking and you’ve caught their eyes closed! I’m sure allusions to the Virgin Mary are far from the photographer’s mind at that moment.
    the mother's lively face looking off one way and the doll's with a matching intentness looking off in the other direction.​
    Come on! The mother (or maybe grandmother) is simply looking off at something going on outside the frame. Happens all the time when shooting live moments with real people.
    My interpretation of Shahn’s photo is that he, being a documentary photographer, is trying to capture images showing these people’s humanity in the circumstances of poverty. The woman’s face to me shows a smile of someone slightly embarrassed about being photographed (perhaps), or she could be responding to someone outside the frame too. The child’s expression I explained earlier. The doll is tattered and further demonstrates their struggle with poverty. The woman’s face to me looks older than her years and reflects her struggles with poverty. She is also very slender, looking at her arm, and she appears undernourished. What also stands out to me is the background: some kind of rural area, and there is what looks like a broken chair in the background, giving the place the feeling of a junkyard, further driving home the impression of poverty. As a documentary photo I think it is very good, but I have different reasons for thinking so than Jonathan Bayer.
  57. Steve, why did you say you were adopting my method of analysis? I thought I clearly said that what's going on in the mind of the photographer (which you seem to place all your emphasis on) has very little to do with what may be seen in a photo.
    I'm sitting here looking at a framed black and white photo I have sitting on my piano which my father took of my mother at the 1939 New York World's Fair, three years before he fought in WWII and six years before they were married, fifteen years before I was born. I have no idea what he was specifically thinking. I assume he was feeling some kind of blossoming love and also having fun seeing my mother pose for him, her hair a little bit in her eyes and her skirt blowing loosely in the wind. Regardless, I see their 60+ year relationship distilled in a sweet moment of innocent and likely pretty spontaneous snapshot. I see the nostalgia of the art deco style monument and symbol of the fair under which she sits. I see the loveliness of her period clothes, I feel my own nostalgia for a time lost. Who the hell cares what my father was thinking when he took the picture! The picture is so much richer than that. There's so much to see if only I look.
  58. Thanks Steve (sincerely).
    My only wish would be that you'd posted purely what you see in the picture — without using it to try to somehow invalidate Bayer's description. I think his description of what *he* saw is as valid as yours is of what *you* see. Both are valuable to the discussion.
  59. Steve, I just realized that when you said you were adopting my style of analysis you may simply have been referring to using box quotes to highlight statements and then commenting on those statements. Regardless, though, the point is that you keep coming back to trying to show that what a critic says may not reflect what the photographer was thinking when he or she took the picture. I'm trying to convey that that's not what criticism often is and not what the example you just analyzed was trying to do either. It was suggesting a way of seeing, not trying to relate that way of seeing to the specific and conscious thoughts of the photographer at the time of its making.
  60. Julie--I did describe what I see in the photo: the paragraph starting with "My interpretation of Shahn’s photo. . ."
    Fred, Sorry about the confusion and reference to your methodology. I did just mean using box quotes etc. I appreciate your efforts to get me to understand criticism! I think being a photographer myself, I can't help putting myself in their shoes as if I was the one taking the photo, thus, my interpretation will be quite a bit different, obviously. That's why it is hard for me to read what critics write.
    Phil, I get what you are saying in the Friedlander example. Clever juxtapositions are a mainstream of street photography. In the Shahn photo things are just as they were in that moment. You are right, anyone can interpret the chance placement of things any way they want. That's what I earlier referred to as being triggered emotionally by something in the photo, such as what Fred so eloquently described about the photo of his mother. I guess I take that for granted, but I don't regard it as art criticism. For me art criticism was described earlier by Fred: "In many of the best instances it's simply a reading of the photo and a look at how the photo operates relative to other photos and the history of photography.” Perhaps I am being too rigid. Ya think!
  61. You are right, anyone can interpret the chance placement of things any way they want.​
    ....and I find it almost mind boggling on some of the meaning people ascribe to elements of a photo. Take the discussion of Nan Goldin's shadow in the hug shown above.
    "... Goldin amplifies the physical and psychological dimensions of The Hug by introducing a shadow to the left that almost swallows the lovers. On the one hand, this combined silhouette signifies their merge, and adds to the sense of their escape into a private space. On the other, it casts a pall over their moment, implying total self-annihilation.
    [line break added] It is difficult to speak of shadows without using verbs that convey a sense of doom, since as entities they typically 'loom,' 'haunt' and 'hover.' This shadow extends into the space of their bodies, creating a giant, black void around their heads, suggesting lost consciousness as well as lost identity. Its darkness is particularly damaging to the wholeness of the man ... "​
    As interesting and possibly insightful as these projections are, they are basically that. The viewer's own trip on how the photo effects her. Golden didn't "introduce" a shadow. She shot quickly with a flash in a low light situation and created a huge shadow. To ascribe this psychological intent to Goldin is actually quite violent even though well intentioned. I would much more like to see what Goldin herself said about it. Just because the curator is haunted by shadows this attempt to ascribe one to one analogues between photographic elements and interpreted meaning, is inventive and fanciful, in the way that children make up things or find shapes in clouds, but no more. If Nan said that's what she was doing, I'd buy it, but not a curator in a museum, trying to connect dots that may not exist.
  62. Barry, The critics are treating photos as Rorschach blots. Its very silly.
  63. Golden didn't "introduce" a shadow. She shot quickly with a flash in a low light situation and created a huge shadow.​
    I doubt she was as clueless as you seem to think. No doubt, accidents occur all the time and not everything is planned or conscious, but to assume that the shadow in The Hug was just a quick, unintended result of using flash seems mistaken to me.
    To ascribe this psychological intent to Goldin is actually quite violent​
    Given so much of Goldin's work is about real physical and psychological violence she actually suffered, I doubt she'd consider what a curator has to say about her work to be violent. The use of "violent" with respect to a curator's description, especially in the case of Goldin, is remarkable. Now I'm going back to her work to see what violence looks like.
  64. The critics are treating photos as Rorschach blots. Its very silly.​
    Andy Warhol, Rorschach, 1984.

    Nothing silly about it.

    Not just critics, but many artists (like Warhol) have recognized the "Rorschach" nature of art perception and have done so throughout history. If photos weren't a Rorshach test of sorts, then presumably everyone would see them the same way rather than individually. Now that would be silly.
  65. The problem Fred is that they use the art as a Rorschach blot of the psychology of the artist. They write as if they are Freud analyzing the artist's psyche based upon their interpretation from the photo. That's the part they shouldn't do. Now if they see something in the art that they see, well that's OK because it's their own inner thoughts. But trying to create some mythical story about the artist's intention or psychology in the print is a bridge too far.
  66. We're not talking about Rorschach blots. We're talking about figurative photographs. Anybody who claims to look at *any* figurative scene without interpreting attitudes and motives in it, is being less than honest, IMO.
    Whether or not they are aware of or paying attention to, or willing to write about those inferred interpretations or motives is up to them. To somehow claim that others are lying and they are not is to themselves "create some mythical story about the artist's intention or psychology." Pot calling the kettle black, IMO.
  67. Opium dreams. Reading tea leaves. Sorry. It's all unreal.
  68. Thank you, Alan. Exactly what I like.
    Now you're telling us what *you* see. That's all I ask.
  69. Photographic writing about a disagreement in what is found in a picture:
    Example 1:
    Writer A: This is what I see, feel, and am lead to think about when I look at this picture.
    Writer B: I don't see, feel, or think any of those things!! Here is what I see, feel and am lead to think about when I look at this picture.
    Writer A: That's fascinating! I had no idea that other people didn't see, feel or be lead to think about what I assumed was clearly there. So interesting. But I find your description of what you see, feel, and are lead to think ... bizarre! ... but also eye-opening and mind-opening! Thanks!
    Writer B: Me too! But can you tell me more about how you found those things you describe in the picture?
    [and a lovely discussion ensues]
    Example 2:
    Writer A
    : This is what I see, feel, and am lead to think about when I look at this picture.
    Writer B: That's not what I see, feel, and am lead to think about when I look at the picture therefore you are stupid, a liar, and a fantasist. I am not going to tell you anything about what I see, feel or think; but I will tell you that because I don't see, feel, or think any of what you do, clearly if I mine is not the same as yours, you are full of it.
    End of discussion.
  70. To somehow claim that others are lying and they are not is to themselves "create some mythical story about the artist's intention or psychology." Pot calling the kettle black, IMO.​
    That's a load of bollux Julie, sorry.
    Claim others are lying? Wow, that is an interesting interpretation. Who made that claim? I believe I said quite clearly as was said before as the starting point for my post. I think I can explain myself without having words put in my mouth.
    You are right, anyone can interpret the chance placement of things any way they want.​
    and to Fred:
    I doubt she was as clueless as you seem to think. No doubt, accidents occur all the time and not everything is planned or conscious, but to assume that the shadow in The Hug was just a quick, unintended result of using flash seems mistaken to me.​
    I don't think she is or was clueless and didn't say that, those are your words Fred. I think she has a very direct, immediate shooting style for those photos using flash and absolutely new it would create a big shadow. But she probably didn't know exactly what it was going to look like, so shot it, liked how it came out and included in her edit. Because she resonated with what she was saying at the time. Her photo projects have an incredible power to convey her intimacy in her community and friends in all its reality.
  71. Here is University of Arizona professor Carol Flax quoting from a letter from one of her graduate students about how lucky they are to be able to visit the archives of the Center for Creative Photography. This is what the student wrote:
    "The most amazing connection for me was seeing Lartigue's work. I have loved his childhood photographs of his family for years. The thought of a little boy looking through his camera and taking beautiful, complex pictures of his little eight-year-old's world thrills me. One photograph in particular, of his cousin leaping down the stone steps, is right out of a child's imagination since she appears to be flying, caught by the camera in mid-air.
    [line break added] There is nothing like looking at the genuine photograph; you cannot help but envision the artist's hands, in this case a little boy's hands, touching the very same photograph you are touching, and feeling a more intimate connection with the artist than by merely seeing their work.
    "Another artist's work that is almost essential to see in person is the work of Roy DeCarava. His prints are dark and deep and full of detail that is difficult to appreciate in reproduced forms. I found myself feeling with my eyes the textures of the dark details of the smoke filled jazz clubs and smoggy staleness of New York City subway tunnels. The nearly indiscernible forms in the shadows are alive and probe the imagination when DeCarava's work is seen up-close." [Nicole Frocheur, graduate student]​
    If you aren't familiar with Lartique or DeCarava, image-search them. You're in for a treat.
  72. From Barry:
    I think she has a very direct, immediate shooting style for those photos using flash and absolutely knew it would create a big shadow. But she probably didn't know exactly what it was going to look like, so shot it, liked how it came out and included in her edit. Because she resonated with what she was saying at the time. Her photo projects have an incredible power to convey her intimacy in her community and friends in all its reality.​
    Previously from Barry:
    To ascribe this psychological intent to Goldin is actually quite violent​

    What we learn is that it's OK for Barry to ascribe psychological intent to Goldin. Barry seems to know what she "absolutely knew" and what things resonated with her. Thanks for clarifying.

    When something resonates, it does so because it has meaning to the person experiencing it. Most artists know that "meaning" is something that goes well beyond their own interpretations or intentions. I don't know many artists or even non-artist photographers who think the meaning of their artwork should be limited to what they, themselves, think about it or intended for it. Most artists know that when they put their work out into the world, they generously give up control over its effects on people. Most art is created as a psychological opening and as an invitation, not as the closing of a door, not as a means of saying "Here, this is what this means because I made it and I say so."
  73. From a different perspective, here is James Clerk Maxwell:
    There are ... some minds which can go on contemplating with satisfaction pure quantities presented to the eye by symbols, and to the mind in a form which none but mathematicians can conceive.
    There are others who feel more enjoyment in following geometrical forms which they draw on paper, or build up in the empty space before them.
    Others, again, are not content unless they can project their whole physical energies into the scene which they conjure up. They learn at what rate the planets rush through space, and they experience a delightful feeling of exhilaration. They calculate the forces with which the heavenly bodies pull on one another, and they feel their own muscles straining with the effort.
    To such men momentum, energy, mass are not mere abstract expressions of the results of scientific enquiry. They are words of power, which stir their sound like the memories of childhood.
    For the sake of persons of these different types, scientific truth should be presented in different forms, and should be regarded as equally scientific, whether it appears in the robust form and the vivid coloring of a physical illustration, or in the tenuity and paleness of a symbolic expression.​
    If you think James Clerk Maxwell is "silly," we'll have to move on to Einstein. I can do that, too ...
  74. I doubt if many art critics are mystics or psychologists. While it's OK for them to explain how a photo effects their inner experiences, they should not enter into ascribing those effects to some inner workings of the photographer's mind. They probably are wrong.
  75. "They probably are wrong."
    Maybe. Maybe not. Probably there is no "wrong" to the thing. Probably even the photographer is finding out some (other) things about what and why he saw what he saw as he was making the pictures. Sometimes the picture teaches us about ourselves. By looking and talking we find out more about why we do things.
    However, what they wrote is what they were thinking (which is not "wrong"; it is) and that's what we need to know from each other to start talking. That's what we want to talk about.
  76. Julie, it's wrong in another way. They could be slandering the photographer. Critiques about a photo based upon guesses about their psychology can perpetuate incorrect conclusions about the makeup of the photographer. Even if one could accurately figure out someone's psychology, it's impolite and really gossip that should not be spread. What if the photographer is still alive? How would you feel if someone ascribes the effect of your work your work to some negative workings of your mind. You would rightfully hurt. Viewers shouldn't be delving into the psychology of the photographer. They should keep it to how it effects them. That's legitimate.
  77. And you could be slandering the critics.
    Viewers will delve into whatever the picture makes them think. I expect most artists expect that. What else is art supposed to do?
  78. They could be slandering the photographer.​
    We do live in a litigious society. Now threats of slander are being vomited up in hopes of silencing the voices of art critics who should be writing the way one viewer prefers.
  79. I'm not trying to silence anyone. Just giving my opinion like you are. Are you trying to silence me?
  80. Are you trying to silence me?​
    No. But I'm also not threatening you with slander or bringing slander into the conversation. That you don't recognize the difference of your having done so is the scary part. Your quickness to draw a moral equivalence here is staggering but pretty much expected since that's what we do these days. Everything is the equivalent of everything else. That's how we inoculate ourselves from perceiving our own misdeeds. Alan, we are both allowing each other's opinions and such argument, even if heated, is usually a good thing. You took it one step further and suggested that a critic was slandering an artist. There's no equivalence there.
  81. I think she has a very direct, immediate shooting style for those photos using flash and absolutely knew it would create a big shadow. But she probably didn't know exactly what it was going to look like, so shot it, liked how it came out and included in her edit. Because she resonated with what she was saying at the time. Her photo projects have an incredible power to convey her intimacy in her community and friends in all its reality.​
    What we learn is that it's OK for Barry to ascribe psychological intent to Goldin. Barry seems to know what she "absolutely knew" and what things resonated with her. Thanks for clarifying.​
    You failed to bold the critical words "I think". . . and ... "probably".
    Why are these words important? Because they identify that I was giving an opinion and stating it was an opinion. This is far different than ascribing psychological intent to Goldin as a given matter. You come across as someone who appreciates nuance, yet you fail to grasp it when its present in someone else's material you wish to disagree with. Why is that?
  82. Why is that?​
    Because it's nonsense.

    Most thinking people know that when a critic says "Goldin introduced a shadow because . . . " it's his opinion. I don't for a moment think the critic believes he has ESP or believes he is stating an irrefutable fact. Chalk that up to my appreciation for nuance. I just believe he's writing without all the caveats internet people like to insist on as a distraction, where "in my opinion" or "I think" has to precede every damn thought we convey lest others think we don't realize these are, of course, matters of opinion. It's OK to give an opinion without first declaring that it's an opinion. I promise you, Barry, even if you stop preceding everything you say with "I think" or "In my opinion" I will assume those things when it comes to your talking about art. If you tell me, on the other hand, you were born in a particular year, I'll assume you're stating that as fact and not giving an opinion on when you were born. See how I do that? How I make inferences? It's actually human to do that. We're talking about art here, Barry. Unless someone writing about art says something like, "this painting was made in 1492" (which can be verified or disproven), I just take for granted they're giving their opinion. What else could it be? Your "I think" makes absolutely zero difference. It simply states the obvious. Your statements about Goldin have exactly the same bearing as the critic's. You gave an opinion about the intentions and mind of Goldin and so did the critic.
  83. After reading the discussion in this thread ... I remember, art seeks the truth, not the reality at hand. IMO, I can extend it to good art critiques as well. If someone's thoughts and writings illuminate my soul and expand my understanding of art, what's wrong with that? Does it really matter, what was on the artist's mind or the subjects' minds. Its all hypothetical, backtracking to the hypotheses by looking at the end results, and/or extrapolating forward, building on the analysis. To me, it doesn't really matter whether all that has to be connected to hard facts that are testable and verifiable by experiments. We are not writing a scientific dissertation here.
    Wordsworth never claimed he knew what the young girl was thinking when he penned 'Solitary Reaper'. He was narrating what he felt the girl might have been imagining while singing her song. Does that make his work irrelevant?
    I treat good art critiques as works of art by themselves, like the forward in a book. If I agree with the critic, thats helpful, if not, still its helpful. I try to understand, why I think differently. I celebrate such differences.
  84. I agree with you Suriyo. If a critique illuminates, inspires, provokes thought I think it's great. I just find I'm personally generally skeptical when people start saying line y denotes x etc. Sometimes I like them, but often they don't ring true and are generally boring. Sorry if people don't like that opinion.
  85. "...they don't ring true..."​
    I agree. It's phony. Many times they're written in a way where the critic is trying to impress the reader as if they have some special insight, intelligence, some magical clairvoyance into the photographer's mind that other viewers couldn't possibly discern. Well they can't because it's all made up. Then the reader feels like he was just let in on something hidden making them feel special. It's only a picture for God's sake.
  86. Barry,
    When a critic is writing something, he or she is simply stating one opinion. The critic is not preaching a sermon and
    certainly not demanding that everyone dance to his tune. So I don't see what is there to be skeptical about. Either agree
    with the critic's commentary or follow your own route,

    You seem to have a problem with a critic that tries to delve into the artist's mind. Well, it is absurd to think that anyone
    would claim to have a window into someone else's soul. One way to look at this may be, the critic is treating the art and
    the artist as a whole, as part of the art experience. we often interpret a photo in a way that gives us insight into our own
    heart, which may be far off from the real story behind the image. Now what if someone brings the artist into that fold,
    reconstructing the artist's psyche to fit the narrative. I personally see no issue with that. Art and art critiques are all about
    feelings and resonance. Either engage and connect, or don't. I wouldn't think of an art critic as a con man, the same way I
    wouldn't call the novelist a liar.
  87. I wouldn't think of an art critic as a con man, the same way I wouldn't call the novelist a liar.​
    Well everyone including the novelist understands his book is fiction. But if the art critic writes tales about the photographer's psyche as if it's the truth, then that makes the art critic a con man.
  88. Understand that Skupriyo. I'm not ascribing intent at all, just my reaction, read opinion, on many critiques. I find many, but not all of them pedantic and boring. Is that a problem?
  89. I was not just referring to your last comment, but your whole body of opinion in this thread. You brought up examples of
    critiques where you had a problem when the critic was commenting about the artist's intent, e.g. In reference to Nan
    Goldin a few pages back. And yes, I do have problem with your view about art critiques, although I don't disrespect your
  90. Thats fine. I can live with that. I wouldn't expect people to agree with me.
  91. "Well everyone including the novelist understands his book is fiction. But if the art critic writes tales about the
    photographer's psyche as if it's the truth, then that makes the art critic a con man."

    It is the truth, to the critic who is writing it. I don't want to bring religion here, but one major problem in this world is when
    people try to take the writings in the religious texts to their face value, instead of realizing the philosophical insights into
    them, I see some analogy here.

    When a novelist writes a story, even without an explicit disclaimer, we understand it's fiction. When an art critic writes a
    commentary, we assume it to be historical fact, why?
  92. But if the art critic writes tales about the photographer's psyche as if it's the truth, then that makes the art critic a con man.​
    No. Actually you are turning the art critic into a con man by misunderstanding the goal of art criticism. It's all in your mind. It's your own false narrative that assumes the art critic thinks in terms of truth. And since it's you who mistakenly thinks in terms of truth or falseness here, naively assuming those are the choices, you then project the critic into your own very mixed up world. The critic, unlike you, generally knows he's stating a POSSIBILITY. It would only be someone who didn't understand art criticism who'd mistake that for something it's not, who'd mistake a possibility for a truth.

    Admittedly, possibility is a harder concept to grasp than truth. Truth is so black and white. If you think the critic is adamantly stating the truth, like an on-off switch, and his thoughts don't ring "true" to you, you can easily dismiss him. He's a con man and nothing else. Easily disposed of. That gets you out of having to consider other possibilities different from your own responses, which is all he's offering. The question is, what are you so afraid of?
  93. "Why do people speak of words when all we want is knowledge crisply browned?"
    [attribution to be found in subsequent post]
    This is from art critic Leo Steinberg:
    ... in the study of older art forms, we can insulate our discipline against subjective judgments only because we safely enjoy a rich and unrepudiated inheritance of such judgments. "Objectivity" leaves it to others to say why the matter in hand is being studied at all. But who are these others?
    [ ... ]
    The objects of our attention differ from the concerns of physical science in being existential human creations; and they differ from the concerns of social science because (in the cases that interest us the most) they are remarkable feats, never repeated. We do not expect them to demonstrate regularities; to the extent that works of art are subjectively structured by personalities formed in the total experience of both art and life, no one orthodox method at any one time can comprehend them. And any exclusive scientism in our discipline has the negative side effect of screening out forces of unpredictable relevance that continually feed into the at of the past as well as the present.
    [ ... ]
    ... "Michelangelo's sex life is, quite frankly, none of our business. We cannot treat him, try him or confess him. His physical pleasures, whatever they may have been, have no importance for his art."
    What is astonishing in these forthright words is a modern scholar's assurance that a great artist's sexual life could be so divorced from his personality as to remain irrelevant to his art and therefore to us. This can only mean that whatever attention the matter has received in the past was amateur and misguided, and that academic art history at this moment is not coping with it.
    [line break added] Yet a man's sex life -- even if mocked in the phrase "physical pleasures" and arranged under the heads of sin, crime, and sickness -- is no less formative in his personality than his faith or his Neo-Platonist thought. And in that case, how shall it be put out of bounds before its irrelevance is established by trial?
    [ ... ]
    In a lecture some years ago on Michelangelo's Holy Family tondo, I suggested that the picture worked on several levels of meaning and that its father figure especially was conceived as a compound personification. The artist's concetto, frequently criticized for its artificial complexity, seemed to support so many possible readings, so much had converged in his final form, that one came away overawed by its simplicity. After the talk, a friendly colleague, who was well disposed toward my attempt, suggested that "of course, when you come to publish this, you will narrow the possibilities down."
    What interests me here is the assumption that multiple interpretations for a single image or feature are self-defeating. Two meanings are fairly safe, given the tradition of typological exegesis. But if meanings multiply, even though they should all seem equally plausible and equally compatible with a given appearance, then it is advisable to settle on one alone or on one analogical pair.
    [line break added] For three or four meanings cannot be right at the same time, and to be right is after all the objective. This at least is how I understand my colleague's advice, since he was not questioning any of the proposed interpretations, but was disturbed only by their proliferation. His model of "rightness" derived from classical mechanics, or logic, from conceptions of truth evolved in times other than our own.
    ... But there is another way of putting the matter. If there ever were earlier artists who conceived multi-storied symbolic forms, then ours is the generation equipped to detect it, being trained, so to speak, in the reading of Joyce. And then it becomes our duty (and pleasure) to announce, at the risk even of being wrong, what we are the first to see.
    [line break added] And furthermore, if Michelangelo's Holy Family, for example, should indeed be such a multiple symbolic structure, then it is the simplistic reading imposed on it by earlier scholars which will turn out to have been the distorting projection, an imposition from the age of positivism. It is naïve to imagine that you avoid the risk of projecting merely by not interpreting. In desisting from interpretation, you do not cease to project. You merely project more unwittingly. For there is no escape from oneself and little safety in closing art history off against the contemporary imagination.​
  94. "In desisting from interpretation, you do not cease to project. You merely project more unwittingly." — Leo Steinberg
    Here is Walker Evans, describing what he sees in one of W. Eugene Smith's Welsh Miners:
    ... 'Welsh Miners' is a memorable and improbable feat: a stroke of romantic realism. Something in the picture doubles back on artifice. The miners are in makeup; their pomade is coal dust. The men are actors, their act is in being themselves. The background stage set is a village you know is there in Wales today.​
    Here is Hergert Kühn describing crawling into the caves at Tuc d'Audoubert:
    ... in a corner, behind a mass of stalagmites, are traces of human footsteps impressed in the clay. The footprints of naked feet ... of Ice Age Man ... stalagmitic matter overlies the marks ... If one examines the imprints closely one can recognize the marks of the wrinkles in the skin ... We moved forward again. Still more passages, more footprints ... another lake ... black, solid .. absolute[ly] immobile[e] ... A lake full of dread -- and unreal. More traces of Ice Age Man. One can make out the imprints of the heels, the balls of the feet, the toes.
    [ ... ]
    All around the sculptures, traces of men. We lift up one of the footprint-casts from the ground. They consist of nothing but heel-marks, only heels; and heels, moreover, of young men, of lads, say about thirteen or fourteen years old ... Why only heels? Why only the heels of children? Since there are no other imprints than those of heels, it is obvious that this must have been a dance-floor, used for some sort of cult dance ...​
    An Evening of Russian Poetry
    by Vladimir Nabakov
    " ... seems to be the best train. Miss Ethel Winter of the Department of English will meet you at the station and ... "
    From a letter addressed to the visiting speaker.
    [ ... skipping to the second verse]
    On mellow hills the Greek, as you remember,
    fashioned his alphabet from cranes in flight;
    his arrows crossed the sunset, then the night.
    Our simple skyline and a taste for timber,
    the influence of hives and conifers,
    reshaped the arrows and the borrowed birds.
    Yes, Sylvia?
    "Why do you speak of words
    when all we want is knowledge crisply browned?"
    Because all hangs together -- shape and sound,
    heather and honey, vessel and content.
    Not only rainbows — every line is bent,
    and skulls and seeds and all good worlds are round,
    like Russian verse, like our colossal vowels:
    those painted eggs, those glossy pitcher flowers
    that swallow whole a golden bumblebee,
    those shells that hold a thimble and the sea.
    Next question.
    [ ... skipping to just before the end]
    And now I must remind you, in conclusion,
    that I am followed everywhere and that
    space is collapsible, although the bounty
    of memory is often incomplete:
    once in a dusty place in Mora county
    (half town, half desert, dump mound and mesquite)
    and once in West Virginia (a muddy
    red road between an orchard and a veil
    of tepid rain) it came, that sudden shudder,
    a Russian something that I could inhale
    but could not see. Some rapid words were uttered —
    and then the child slept on, the door was shut.
    [ ... ]​
    " ... it becomes our duty (and pleasure) to announce, at the risk even of being wrong, what we are the first to see." —Leo Steinberg
  95. It's not truth that's the main problem when alluding to the artists psyche, it' s just plain decency, especially if the artist is still alive.
    It's one thing, for example, to talk how the shadow created an effect in the viewer's (art critic) eye that made him feel sad and on edge. But it's another to ascribe the reason the photographer put in the shadow because of the disturbed youth he must have had and the loneliness he felt while growing up due to his parent's divorce when he was six. First the critic is just guessing. How does he know the inner working of the artist's mind? More importantly, the critic is just spreading gossip that could well be embarrassing to the artist. It's none of the critic's business.
  96. Alan, I'm afraid it's you who's engaging in gossip, not to mention intellectual dishonesty. Go back and read the critic's take on Nan Goldin's shadow, which we've been discussing. There is nothing even remotely similar to the gossip you've fabricated in your last post. Now you're just making stuff up (e.g. lying) in order to make your point. Go back and actually read what we're talking about and you'll see that the critic isn't talking the way you're claiming the critic is talking. Again, it's all in your mind.
    Here's what the critic wrote. Tell me what in these thoughts is comparable to the nonsense you just spewed forth.
    "... Goldin amplifies the physical and psychological dimensions of The Hug by introducing a shadow to the left that almost swallows the lovers. On the one hand, this combined silhouette signifies their merge, and adds to the sense of their escape into a private space. On the other, it casts a pall over their moment, implying total self-annihilation.
    [line break added] It is difficult to speak of shadows without using verbs that convey a sense of doom, since as entities they typically 'loom,' 'haunt' and 'hover.' This shadow extends into the space of their bodies, creating a giant, black void around their heads, suggesting lost consciousness as well as lost identity. Its darkness is particularly damaging to the wholeness of the man ... "​
    Now, it happens, if you knew even the first thing about her work, a lot of her photography is about having been abused at the hands of men. She's willing to share that in her art and I doubt she'd find it objectionable if critics realize there's a psychological and a very personal dimension to her photos and I doubt she'd mind it being discussed. Her photos are about her personal life, like so many good photos and works of art are. She's the one who chose to put it out there. She's not afraid like you. This is art that's different from a pretty stream or a majestic mountain. It's art that involves lifestyle, ethics, sexuality, violence, and lots of other personal psychological stuff. If a critic is talking about it from that standpoint, there's a reason for it. Because that's what the photos are about. But don't blame the critic and don't make stuff up about the critic in order to criticize him. That's neither decent nor honest, and I see from your writing how important those two human qualities are to you, so you might want to start in your own backyard.
  97. Here is Nan Goldin writing in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, of which the discussed photo was a part:
    The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. My written diaries are private; they form a closed document of my world and allow me the distance to analyze it. My visual diary is public; it expands from its subjective basis with the input of other people. These pictures may be an invitation to my world, but they were taken so that I could see the people in them.
    ... I want the people in my pictures to stare back. I want to show exactly what my world looks like, without glamorization, without glorification. This is not a bleak world but one in which there is an awareness of pain, a quality of introspection.
    ... I want to be able to experience fully without restraint. People who are obsessed with remembering their experiences usually impose strict self-disciplines. I want to be uncontrolled and controlled at the same time.
    [ ... ]
    ... I have a strong desire to be independent, but at the same time a craving for the intensity that comes from interdependency. The tension this creates seems to be a universal problem: the struggle between autonomy and dependency. ... I'm trying to figure out what makes coupling so difficult.
    I've seen how the mythology of romance contradicts the reality of coupling and perpetuates a definition of love that creates dangerous expectations.
    [ ... ]
    ... What you know emotionally and what you crave sexually can be wildly contradictory.
    ... Bed becomes a forum in which struggles in a relationship are defused or intensified. Sex isn't about performance; it's about a certain kind of communication founded on trust and exposure and vulnerability that can't be expressed any other way.
    [skipping over her detailed description of the particular man and particular relationship shown in the book]
    ... One night, he battered me severely, almost blinding me.
    ... After two years of anger and mourning, I was face to face with him on the street ... [she tells what happened]
    ... I was eleven when my sister committed suicide. [she then describes her relationship with her sister and some of her sister's life]
    ... In the week of mourning that followed [her sister's death] I was seduced by an older man. ... [and on and on]​
    All of the above is what Goldin, herself, wrote and put in the front of her book of photographs.
  98. Fred: I was making a general point. I wasn't referring to the Nan Goldin photo in particular.
    If the artist invites people to link their personal lives with their art, such as Nan Golden apparently has, well then I guess it's OK. But most other photographers don't want people analyzing their psyche. I wouldn't. Would you?
  99. "Would you?" See:
    Sally Mann, Emmet Gowin, Edward Weston, Anders Petersen ... without even getting up to look at the bookshelf. Friedlander. If you look at less well-known photographers, they vie to be the most exposed, the most intimate, the most show-you-everything and probably add a little bit of extra to make it even juicier.
    Look up Ray's a Laugh to make your hair stand on end.
  100. Julie Just because people gossip, doesn't make it right. You hear it all the time on TV about the "stars". Many are rightfully upset that their privacy is invaded. Also, I said that if the artist invites comparisons to their personal life, that would be OK. But I doubt if most artists want those kind of discussions. Isn't there enough in the art that the critic can write about without trying to divine the artist's mind?
  101. Would you?​
    YES! I would and I do.

    For me, photography is personal and real and I welcome any reaction, the more personal the better.

    If I think someone gets something about my personal psychological life "wrong" the first thing I do is look again carefully at my photos and at what the viewer has written to see if there's something to what that person said, if I'm missing something, if I can become more aware of myself through my photos and through what other people find in them. If I determine that I just don't see what the viewer is seeing, I'm still grateful for that viewer's personal approach to my work and whether or not it actual tracks to my own psychology is much less important to me than that it moved the viewer to think in personal terms.

    In other words, whatever the viewer may be now be attributing to my psychology is still a revelation of sorts to that viewer. He's been stimulated to have an emotional and psychological reaction and what could be better than that? I'm not so meek that the viewer projecting something emotional or psychological onto me does me harm. It's exhilarating. He's a viewer, for God's sake, he's not my psychiatrist. And I'm adult enough to know that those are two different roles and reactions, and that each has their place and their weight.

    Photography, for me, is about sharing, not just about me showing someone else something pretty to comfort them. So, yes, I'm very happy if my photos inspire a viewer to share their thoughts with me, and if their thoughts are about me, I am pretty good at figuring out how to accept them and what all of it actually means.
    I was making a general point.​
    You were caricaturing critics.
  102. Alan,
    The names I gave were of photographers who *wanted* us to look at their private life.
    Do you have any example that you can quote -- one, single example -- of a critic doing the things you accuse them of doing? Please post a specific example, words and named critic, that we can talk about.
    Otherwise, the only one gossiping (as Fred has repeatedly pointed out) is you.
  103. Here's a specific example. This is an older photo of mine followed by a comment a viewer made to me about it.
    I actually looked at this picture a few times last night without commenting on it. Aesthetically, it is difficult to quarrel with the merits of the image, though I have a few quibbles. I, for one, would have preferred a little more space on top of the guy's head, and I also don't care much for the harsh lighting on the head, as it washes out on some laptop monitors, and given the close proximity to the edge, appears to bleed off the page.

    But, I, like others, am taken more with the content of the image than the technical aspects. Someone posed the question of how he would react to the picture had the couple been heterosexual. I know how I ALREADY reacted to an image like this. It is by Danny Springgay, and it is titled "The Spy Who loved me" and is an image of an older woman in the foregound, well lit and exposed, and an older gentleman in the background, hazy and mysterious. My comment was more along the line of that there was something deeply romantic and mysterious about the gentleman who was in the shadows that enhanced the image and gave it that film noir quality, an image not unlike Geoffrey Palmer and Judi Dench from "As Time Goes By".

    But, alas, on a personal level, this image does not stir the same feelings in me. In fact, there is a part of me that is deeply revolted by this image. And, this has--and here, you can question my sincerity--very little to do with the sexual orientation of the couple. There is, if you want a heterosexual equivalent to it, a Henry Milleresque or Fyodor Karamazov essence to this image, of the old lecher preying on the young and vulnerable that should be unsettling to any decent person. If you read "The Brothers Karamazov", you will find that the reason Dmitri Karamazov killed his father was because he was pursuing the same lush young maiden he was, Grushenka, which revolted the young, passionate Dmitri, offended the serious Ivan, and even bothered sweet Alyosha.

    So, even if this were a man and woman, given the almost 30 or even 40 year difference in age, one would be inclined to believe that this man must have been in his 40s when he started courting the man in the foreground, who must have then been in his preteens. If this was an old world country where marriages were arranged between an elderly man and a child, that would offend our Western sense of right and wrong. This would be no less true in San Francisco.

    But, there is, the more I look at this image, the unavoidable association of this image with the well publicized incidences of clergy or rabbi abuse, of the old preying on the young and vulnerable. It does not help that the figure in the background is a fatherly, Santa Clause looking figure, relaxed and totally at ease with himself, while the man in the foreground, with all his trappings of masculine virility--the bald head, the mustache--has an effeminate expression, like a trapped animal looking over his shoulder as if caught literally with his pants down.
    That is my honest impression of the picture.​
    Now, there's a few things to consider here. First, in reality, the age difference is no more than ten years. The men are not lovers and did not meet years ago when one was a teenager but, in fact, met on the day of the photo shoot. But those facts are really irrelevant, just part of the backstory I thought I'd give here. I can certainly understand why this viewer saw it the way he saw it. He's looking at the picture, not at the real lives of these people. This is what he saw.
    What is relevant is the viewer's reaction, which doesn't track with mine at all but which is fascinating both as an example of the journey on which a photo can take us and a gift to me made by this viewer kind of baring his own soul as he reacts to and interprets my photo.
    First of all, the amount of time he spends justifying the fact that his response would be the same if it were a straight couple tells me a lot. But, more importantly, the many projections he makes about the couple, about how they met, about the supposed morality of showing such a picture, etc. reminds me of how strongly felt are issues of intimacy, relationship, the unknown other, as well as how the surfacing of child abuse in the news can influence and even infect so much of our day-to-day experience.
    Far from this feeling like an invasion of my psychological privacy, it's a revelation to me not just about this particular viewer but of the power of a picture and how far beyond my own control are reactions to my work. Like I said above, that's exhilarating and extraordinary. And, the viewer's willingness to be so honest and forthright led to a pretty good discussion, with others giving their points of view.
    When I shot this photo, I was in one of my ambiguous story-telling moods, having to work with noon-time harsh sunlight and two guys on a friend's rooftop garden who were adventurous and creative and enjoyed helping to create visual vignettes. Whatever truths there are in this photo are like those we find in fiction. The photo is not a documentary work about their relationship in real life. But it is the photographic creation of a relationship. My desire is not usually to guide a viewer toward an interpretation, and so this viewer's interpretation is as valid as any other. My desire in general with these kinds of photos is to put something out there that can be mulled over, that can trigger associations and feelings, that's ambiguous enough to be relatable yet upon which a viewer can impose his own narrative.
    No, I don't think this viewer invaded my privacy or gossiped about me or the guys in the photo. They, too, are adults who understand how art works and what creating illusions and story-telling is all about.
  104. First off Fred, I didn't see anything that spoke of your psyche in there. Even if there was, my original point is that while it might have been acceptable to you, other photographers might object to others making assumptions about their psychological make-up. We should respect their privacy.
    Secondly, you admitted that the viewer got some details wrong. That's also been another point. That critics read stuff into photos that are just incorrect. I just think that we should limit our viewpoints to how the photo effects us. After all, isn't that what art is suppose to do?
  105. Very interesting photo, Fred. Equally interesting are the critic's comments. To me, it reflects a window into a couple's
    intimate world. The man's gaze has sort of a dual intent in it. He seems to be inviting the viewer(s) to take a peek into
    their life, at the same time there is something in his face that makes me feel like a voyeur. By blurring the distant man,
    you have created a distance with the viewer, and made the foreground person the sole protagonist. What does it say
    about their persona and relationship? An elderly shy, introvert man (who prefers to be in the shadow) in love with a more
    virile, extrovert young one (who has one foot into the social circle while being proud and committed about his partner).

    Now if one extrapolates this analysis to comment on the photographer's (in this case, Fred's) persona, I think Alan is
    going to object. He probably wants to draw the line there. IMO, whenever we display a photo (or art in general), we are
    displaying a part of ourselves along with it. That part of us is open to the same level of analysis and interpretation as the
    elements/subjects of our photo. One is not complete without the other. The point is not, whether the critic's opinion about
    the artist is true, it's that anyone viewing the photo can draw such an inference about the artist's persona or intent, given
    the content of the image. Comments on the artist tells a lot about his photo, enriching the photo itself. We may not agree
    with the critic, we may be surprised, but we might just learn something about ourselves in the process.
  106. After all, isn't that what art is suppose to do?​
    No, that's what your limited understanding of art tells you. You could learn more about art if you wanted to. I don't care if you do or not.
    you admitted that the viewer got some details wrong.​
    As is so often the case, you missed the point of my supplying the details. It's because most photographers and artists know that such details, as I said, are IRRELEVANT. I am not shooting a documentary work about these two real-life gentlemen. So the accuracy of someone's understanding of their real lives doesn't matter. The viewer's speculation is, however, interesting and valuable as it suggests to me what their understanding of the photo is, how they view relationships, what gnaws at them about certain relationships, etc. A viewer's or critic's willingness to speculate is the beginning of a dialogue, which is one of the qualities I think is important in terms of art, that it so often opens a dialogue. My goal is not accuracy, so the fact that a viewer may get the "facts" wrong doesn't concern me. What concerns me is what he feels. And what he feels comes to a great degree from what he imagines he's seeing. So I'm happy to hear what he imagines he's seeing. That's part of the point.
    other photographers might object to others making assumptions about their psychological make-up​
    Then why not let those photographers speak for themselves when this happens to them or why not supply examples of this happening, where the photographer was upset by an invasion of his privacy by a critic, like you've been asked to do? No, instead Alan, it's YOU who are objecting to something you've created out of nothing, to an imagined invasion of privacy that you have no experience of and that you can't even point to an example of. You have no credibility here whatsoever. You're just making stuff up, tilting at windmills.

    In any case, why do you see yourself as these unknown photographers' protector? You are protecting photographers from something that I don't see photographers themselves complaining about, other than in the abstract where internet voices like yours have a need to caricature and put down critics. I've never heard one of these internet voices claim that a critic did it to them and you've gone for days now showing your utter impotence on the subject by not being able to come up with a single example where a photographer complained about a critic getting too psychological.
  107. I want to add that a critic analyzing the artist's persona (where the artist gets offended initially, then accepts finally) is a
    popular movie and TV element. Just recently, I was watching the Netflix series 'Crown' which has a scene where Graham
    Sutherland comments about Churchill's painting of a pond, and Churchill gets offended then agrees with the critic finally.

    That's drama (and I doubt Churchill is an example of a serious artist), I am yet to see that happening in real life. However
    events portrayed on TV perhaps shows how screenwriters think people might react in certain situation, but I don't think
    real artists represent those fictitious characters. That's where TV differs from real life.
  108. Will, Fred, I'm glad you cleared that up. How could I be
    so foolish as to think I can have my own opinion.
  109. Supriyo, thanks for looking and commenting on the photo. Interesting to read.
    A further word on the phenomenon happening in this thread and in so many other threads. What I hear are Internet voices like Alan's pretending there's a widespread problem where other photographers are upset with criticism of their work for being psychologically invasive. It's generally Internet bystanders doing all the complaining. The photographers who are supposedly being invaded by these critics don't seem to mind as much as their Internet protectors do. The photographers are being artists and they know the score and what to make of even the most invasive of critiques. The Internet bystanders are wannabes and gossips who have nothing better to do than caricature those they don't have the capacity to understand.
  110. Alan, who's stopping you from having an opinion? When I think an opinion is ridiculous, I'm allowed to say so. Yours is beyond ridiculous, but you're entitled to it. The fact that you're entitled to an opinion doesn't make it a mature opinion, an informed opinion, or a reasonable opinion. It's OK for people to tell you that. You can agree or disagree with their assessment of your opinion but claiming that a negative assessment of your opinion is equal to not allowing you to have one is as equally ridiculous as your original opinion about critiques.
  111. If you wanted to be considered reasonable and mature by others, you'd give some evidence for or in some way back up your opinion rather than simply continuing to state it in different ways. You'd give examples of all these photographers who are upset at their privacy being invaded that you have to protect or speak for. In the absence of that, I'm perfectly content to allow you your opinion while at the same time telling you it's baseless and nonsensical. The way to counteract that would be to show examples and discuss them. You are incapable (or unwilling) of doing that which only increases my feelings about the silliness and fantasticality of your opinion on the subject.
  112. I can be of the opinion that the world is flat or that rain is not wet. I suppose I'm entitled to those opinions. But I shouldn't be surprised if people think I'm nuts for thinking these things. If I truly am of these opinions and want people to think my opinions come from a reasonable human being, I will supply some kind of scientific evidence or study or even some examples of respected scientists who claim the world is flat and rain is not wet. If I can't or refuse to back up these opinions, I shouldn't be surprised if people dismiss my opinions as nonsense. Your opinions involve claims about critics and the photographers who are hurt by them. You've offered NOTHING to help us take you seriously.
  113. You seem to have a problem with a critic that tries to delve into the artist's mind.​
    That's a blanket generalization and inaccurate.
  114. Phil that documentary was about Maier. It was not a critique of any of her pictures. I don't recall anything in the film that is a description of what anybody saw or felt from her pictures -- and from her pictures drew conclusions about her psyche.
    In other words, the film was a biography, not a critic commenting and/or drawing conclusions from images.
    [I will note, re the film, that there were plenty of first-hand witness accounts to support the claims made about Maier.]
  115. Thanks for the example and response, Phil and Julie. Because you both know what you're talking about, there's a willingness on your parts to look at actual examples and make judgments based on what's actually happening in the world of photography. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if Alan actually could find an example or three of photographers whose psychology was commented on by a critic based solely on their work and who might have been offended by that. Of course, that wouldn't prove to be generally what criticism is about. If anything, it would be the exception that proves the rule that generally critics do not do this. But Alan would have to be interested enough to find these examples instead of relying on the caricatures he creates in order to inform his opinions.
  116. I think a more interesting or at least harder to sort out case is that of the critical response to the pictures of her children in Sally Mann's Immediate Family series. I'll get details in the morning, if you're not familiar with it. It's to do first with the children's nudity (this being America, that must mean naughty things are going on ... ), and second with her use of them in general (one with a black eye in particular) as exploitation.
    Also, commentary on Jock Sturges's pictures, in general, sometimes seems to me to be unsupported by what's in the pictures; it goes into innuendo territory, directed at Sturges. I'm not a fan of Sturges, but I nevertheless think he's drawn some undeserved commentary.
  117. From Julie
    In other words, the film was a biography, not a critic commenting and/or drawing conclusions from images.​
    then Phil
    The documentary was a clear attempt to further 'romanticize' the person and character of Maier ( as being somewhat of a weirdo ) in relation to her discovered and commercialized work.​
    Agree with Julie film is a biography and not taking a critical look at her photography except in the context of what he could piece together of her life. I also think the film was autobiographical about Maloof's "journey" to discover and bring her to the world both as a person and a photographer. Somewhat of a detective novel format. I can't ignore the commercialization of her work by him. He had a lucrative career dumped in his lap. I met him and he seemed he really is all in on this thing and sort of overwhelmed by it all to. There is, as Phil suggests, a commercialization of her life and work, but Maloof has worked very hard and put a lot of his own capital to the project too. The interesting thing for me is, as Phil stated I thought the film would be about romanticizing her as a quirky genius but as far as making her more attractive I think the film actually de-romanticized her (if there is such a word). Don't you think? I mean if she was treating her clients and kids the way they said she did in the films interviews, she would be on the front page and quite possibly in jail. I think the film also answered, or attempted to answer its thematic question. How or why did this prolific photographer, who was talented, slip through the notice of the photographic world of her day? I think to do that, it constructed this picture of a woman who was intensely even beyond normal private. But do you think it was making it an idealized image of her? I thought they made her look she was an angry time bomb waiting to punish some poor kid or worse.
  118. Barry, I'm not really into Maier. Maybe Phil will have something to say.
    So, what do you do when the richest, the most immediate, the most real feeling you get from some picture is not found in the description of its parts?
    For the best pictures, the ones I love and admire, this immediate and intangible overcoming is exactly what puts such pictures into greatness, for me. Do you talk about it, or do you just ignore it and stick to talking about the details that you already know how to talk about?
    In the middle of Meyer Schapiro's otherwise well-reasoned description of a landscape painting by Cézanne (Mont Saint-Victoire, 1885-1887), I find this sentence:
    "The stable mountain is framed by Cézanne's tormented heart, and the peak itself, though more serene, is traversed by restless forms, like the swaying branches in the sky."​
    That ("Cézanne's tormented heart") is ridiculous. Do I therefore think that Schapiro is making it up, that he's being paid by the word, that Cézanne should sue Schapiro? Or do I think that Schapiro is feeling something very powerful, that he's trying to say something that he doesn't know how to say? When I see something incoherent in the writing that is otherwise coherent, I don't throw it out; I try to figure out what they are, inarticulately, pointing at.
    In the Nabokov poem that I posted yesterday, did "something that I could inhale / but could not see" mean anything to you? The poem ends with a member of Nabokov's audience asking:
    "How would you say 'delightful talk' in Russian?"
    "How would you say 'good night?'"
    Oh, that would be:
    Bezsonnitza, tvoy oonyl I strashen;
    lubov moya, otstoopnika prostee.​
    The translation from the Russian of those last two lines is: "Insomnia, your stare is dull and ashen, my love, forgive me this apostasy." Commenting on that ending, Elena Koutcherova writes:
    All of Nabokov’s carefully hidden private world that, he insists, "cannot, indeed should not, be anybody’s concern", is suddenly revealed in these poignant lines: long nights, loneliness, the feeling of guilt over abandoning one’s language and nostalgia for inaccessible, unforgettable, "unquenchable Russia."​
    Nabokov regrets trying to convey what he feels to an audience that does not share his feeling.
    Below are examples of what I think are people feeling *something* and pointing at it without really being able to say *what* it is that they are feeling. I'm picking out obviously odd/extreme cases to make it harder for you to have already a hardened mode of looking at such things:
    Here is Ronni Horn [described as "visual artist" but she's a very good photographer among her other talents; from Aperture 215]:
    In a Hamburg hotel room recently I was watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The image quality was remarkably sharp. Watching it was like performing an act of forensic analysis. I had the impression of peering through an invisible space, one that was somehow sealed into the image itself. Beyond this peculiar veil of clarity was Mariska Hargitay talking on a cellphone with a kidnapped child who was stashed in a transport container, trying desperately to locate her before ... .
    A non-analogue image has an extremely compressed life. It starts as this and, in increasingly short time spans, becomes that. Locked into an abstract context of technical progress, we climb an endless ladder of previously unexperienced clarities. Each fresh degree of definition offers a continuously new version of new. This succession permeates every level of consciousness both individual and collective, recalibrating awareness, altering identity itself.​
    What is "peering through an invisible space"? Or "unexperienced clarities"? I don't know, but I do know. Horn makes me notice that I know.
    Here is Ricardo Scofidio, architect and founding partner of the New-York-based architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro [taken from Aperture 213] talking about "pocket photos," phone pictures taken by accident. He shows a picture of a large very pink thumb covering most of the picture, backed by an indeterminate wooden surface with personal stuff:
    The unconscious photograph, accidentally snapped, blurred, and oddly framed, is thrillingly intimate. No photographer occupies the space between the image and me. The pocket photo restates the power of the photograph when it shows us how beautiful the quiet, the commonplace, the banal, and the almost invisible can be.​
    I don't know why I agree with that (the picture is ... a picture of a blurry thumb) but I know what he's talking about even though he doesn't really talk about it. He points at it.
    Here is Ben Lerner, author of three books of poetry and a novel [found in Aperture 217]. I hope you've seen the movie he's talking about; it is iconic, and the moment when the woman opens her eyes is electrifying:
    Chris Marker's La Jetée is composed entirely of stills -- save for one brief shot of a woman opening her eyes. This image -- the last shot in the photomontage before it briefly becomes a "motion picture" -- is a photograph on the verge of becoming film, a flickering between media and their distinct temporalities. I've had various images of the image: a cellphone capture of it from a screen, a page in the book version of La Jetée -- and what I find most haunting about the photograph is that I always feel her eyes are about to open, to look at me. All photographs I can think of are in the past tense, even if it's the instant past of Instagram -- except for this one, which I feel like you have to be careful not to wake.​
    Lerner isn't really talking about the picture; he's talking about himself. He's trying to find what's going on in himself. This picture did this to me.
  119. Supriyo:
    You seem to have a problem with a critic that tries to delve into the artist's mind.​
    That's a blanket generalization and inaccurate.​
    You didn't directly say that, I will give you that. However that's the impression I got from both you and Alan (who was more explicit and you didn't refute him). Also, I am not yet in a position to generalize anything, just an impression, hence the phrase "seem to".
    ....and I find it almost mind boggling on some of the meaning people ascribe to elements of a photo. Take the discussion of Nan Goldin's shadow in the hug shown above.
    As interesting and possibly insightful as these projections are, they are basically that. The viewer's own trip on how the photo effects her. Golden didn't "introduce" a shadow. She shot quickly with a flash in a low light situation and created a huge shadow. To ascribe this psychological intent to Goldin is actually quite violent even though well intentioned.​
    In regard to your view as referenced above, I would like to say that art critique is not about forensic deconstruction of the art or the artist's intent. It is more about a reflection of the art in the critic's mind and all the ensuing feelings. I don't know if you agree with me on that. In another post to me, you mentioned you are skeptical how some critics claim "X equals Y". No, I don't think any serious critic will assign that kind of definitive relationship. IMO, no, X doesn't equate Y. More like, X hits the critic's mind and reflect back as Y to the readers, suggesting a possibility. I think it is only prudent to assume all the critic is saying refer to are possibilities, not hard facts.

    I want to comment on your position here:
    Golden didn't "introduce" a shadow. She shot quickly with a flash in a low light situation and created a huge shadow.​

    While it may be difficult to imagine that the photographer had control over every single element of the photo at the split second of shooting (although we understand little about subconscious or how quickly it operates), it may help to better appreciate the photo when one ascribes the photo elements to causes. Mapping those causes to the photographer's decisions and correlating with his wider body of work might make more sense of the photo.

    Why does an orchestra need a conductor. The conductor doesn't write every single piece in the composition. He does the fine-tuning and sets the tempo beforehand. He has an even subtler role during the live performance, acting as a coordinating reference for all the musicians. However to the audience, he has the illusion of the grand creator who initiates every single hand movement, every waving of the violin bow by the flicker of his baton. It helps the audience to get a better sense of the rhythmic harmony that exists around them, by ascribing the musical changes to a real-time coordinator. It allows them to get immersed in the music and get away as far as possible from random chaotic cacophony.
    To me, the photographer is to the photo, as the conductor is to the orchestra. He selects the theme, handpicks the composition and fine-tunes it's appearance (ahem! more so nowadays), so that the viewer might stare at the photo and think a conscious mind was behind this creation, placing every shadow where it should be. It may just make a better sense of the work.
  120. That ("Cézanne's tormented heart") is ridiculous. Do I therefore think that Schapiro is making it up, that he's being paid by the word, that Cézanne should sue Schapiro? Or do I think that Schapiro is feeling something very powerful, that he's trying to say something that he doesn't know how to say? When I see something incoherent in the writing that is otherwise coherent, I don't throw it out; I try to figure out what they are, inarticulately, pointing at.​

    Makes sense to me.
  121. [I'm not ignoring your last posts, Supriyo -- I had this post in mind before I read yours]
    I want to comment on what I find in Fred's picture because it's so not-what either the quoted comment, or Fred, or Supriyo see in it.
    To me, when I think about the picture in memory, it feels like men around a campfire; there relationship is not to each other but to a common core or center that is shielded by the foreground man's body. All the connotations that a campfire circle has down through the ages, that's what I feel -- not a binary tie or relationship to each other, but bonded to a common core. Electrons to a nucleus or spokes to a common hub.
    I've arrived and they're sizing me up; can I warm myself here? It flummoxes me that when I go and *look* again at the picture, there is no warm, fire-like glow, but a nice normal daylight.
  122. it may help to better appreciate the photo when one ascribes the photo elements to causes.​
    Sure it might.
    Actually, the review in question is in some form a de-construction. She's broken out elements of the photo, and then discussed meaning about them. I'm not against that, and I agree with your statement that it can be good to look beyond our own reactions and responses. Sure, I chided the writer about ascribing analogue meaning to elements of the photo, because it didn't ring true to me even though i certainly believe I understand where she was taking it. There's such a thing as understanding on different levels. I get she's talking about her reaction and the meaning to her, I get that she's drawing relationships. I just found in the final analysis that they were overly contrived and Just not interesting.
  123. Authenticity.
    Authenticity of the picture/art.
    Authenticity of the critics statements.
    ... and further, is the writer truly addressing issues he claims to be addressing, or is he twisting his words to attack some other critic by insinuation, etc. leaving us with no benefit regarding the issue under discussion? We all know the game.
    Here is Lucy Soutter addressing the issue of authenticity:
    ... critics have pointed out the degree to which Goldin's images are consciously crafted. David Rimanelli has underlined this view by comparing her with Cindy Sherman: 'the much-discussed 'construction' of Sherman's mise-en-scènes and Goldin's famous snapshot aesthetic are more similar than they first seem."
    Although it began as a live slideshow, narrated by Goldin in East Village nightclubs in the 1980s, Goldin's celebrated Ballad of Sexual Dependency has been reworked so many ways for different contexts and markets that it has become a case study in how subcultures are presented to mainstream culture. It is no longer possible to imagine that this is just raw, unmediated Nan.
    [line break added] As one writer puts it: "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is simultaneously a document of feral immediacy and a retrospective mediation on how such immediacy is figured." At stake here is a set of paradoxes, that Goldin's work can be simultaneously instinctive and contrived, spontaneous and self-aware.
    We could regard this as a situation of admirable complexity rather than as hopeless confusion. One thing we seem likely to agree on nowadays is that photographs are layered and ambiguous, contingent on their immediate as well as historical contexts. It is also commonplace for contemporary photographers to employ a range of disparate visual approaches within the same overarching project, producing an array of mixed messages. Goldin's work is often described in relation to a "snapshot aesthetic."
    [line break added] Casual arrangement of shapes within the frame, use of flash and 35mm slide film blown up to expose its grain in large-scale and contrasty Cibachrome prints contribute to a sense of the work being immediate, diaristic, as in the iconic Nan One Month After Being Battered of 1984. Yet peppered throughout her oeuvre are images -- some of them made with a large-format camera -- which are more deliberately composed. Self-Portrait in My Blue Bathroom (Berlin, 1991) has complex lighting and precise framing that bends space and creates a taut psychological narrative.
    [line break added] Is one of these images more authentic than the other? The earlier image has visual markers of authenticity and acts as a kind of signpost image within Goldin's project, contributing to a broader discursive frame within which the more formally structured image can also be read as authentic. In other word's Goldin's larger project is a vehicle through which she may negotiate viewers' trust.
    For some viewers, Goldin's work misses the mark of authenticity. Some critics have accused Goldin of exploiting herself and her subjects to produce manipulative, sensationalist images. Others find her work forumlaic, such as Mark Zimmermann, for whom it "is merely trite and passably academic, most successful for its creation of an advertising style than for what it says of the lives, including her own, she chronicles."
    [line break added] Goldin has been a prominent photographer for almost thirty years, but her sustained investigation of subjectivity, relationships and loss continues to serve as a potent model for young photographers. It was the search for a critical framework to discuss the mechanics of her work that led me do consider the concept of authenticity more broadly, to seek its roots and ramifications for the current era.​
    I like how Soutter points out that evaluating, weighing the merits in a critical way makes one aware of interesting issues to oneself; agreeing and disagreeing alike are valuable.
    In the next quote, Soutter contrasts Goldin (and other examples I won't quote from) to Ryan McGinley, whose work she finds not to be authentic:
    ... for me, sustained visual enjoyment is not enough [to establish authenticity]. McGinley's pictures continue to miss the mark of authenticity because they offer style rather than struggle. They embody the upbeat, uncomplicated version of the authentic favored by advertising. Artistic authenticity does not necessarily involve pain, although it has frequently been associated with the darker side of life, with violence and unreason.
    [line break added] But there must be a palpable sense of inquiry, something I have sought to establish in the work of Goldin, Tillmans, Quawson and Kawauchi. McGinley uses nakedness as a shorthand and pleasure as an easy endpoint. His lovely subjects seem more or less interchangeable, so their relationship to the "I" of the work does not develop.​
    Whether or not you agree with Soutter, I think her writing is exemplary because she gives her position (not just a vague "I like this") and she supports her claims with specific evidence. "This is why ..." I also like that she includes arguments against her position.
  124. Totally agree about Souther. I find that critique interesting and well written. He covers a lot of ground, but ties the concepts together into a intelligible whole, and his speculations and opinions aren't based on contrivances.
  125. oops its she not he
  126. oops its she not he
  127. For Steve Murray:
    You may be surprised to find me agreeing that YES, the following is true:
    The artist's business is I think always in the present: making a work leaves the previous work behind, while the next one is still beyond the horizon. His concern is to make the present work as powerful as he can. The beauty of art, the spiritual and visual density of the artwork, actually seems to derive from that absolute concentration on one moment — never it seems, from an artist's direct, conscious involvement in history. — Rudi Fuchs, writing about Richard Long, 1986 [see Long's work here and here]​
    And I agree with this, too:
    Art work deals with the problem of a piece of art, but more, it teaches the process of all creating, the shaping out of the shapeless. We learn from it that no picture exists before it is done, no form before it is shaped. The conception of a work gives only its temper, not its consistency. Things take shape in material and in the process of working it, and no imagination is great enough to know before the works are done what they will be like. — Anni Albers, artist, teacher, and wife of Josef Albers
    But does the act constitute what the thing that is made will be? Does the act of sex constitute what the child will be?
    As I asked in an earlier post:
    Julie H [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], Nov 08, 2016; 02:10 p.m.
    Steve, if I were killing you, I would be concentrating on the action at hand; holding the struggling Steve, pushing the knife into his vital areas, combatting his flailing arms. I am not thinking about why I am killing Steve; are my thoughts while I am killing Steve, why I am killing Steve?
  128. How?
    Back to basics:
    Here is Wendy Ewald describing how to teach photography. She starts with a Szarkowski quote about framing:
    To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer's craft. His central problem is a simple one: what shall he include, what shall he reject? The line of decision between in and out is the picture's edge. While the draughtsman starts with the middle of the sheet, the photographer starts with the frame. [/end Szarkowski quote]
    ... Many people, when they first take pictures, believe they should include everything in order to make the photograph they have in mind -- they might insist that a portrait include everything from the subject's toes to the top of his head. I often see children hold the camera at a diagonal when photographing people. At first I marveled at this desire to experiment, but when asked what they are doing, the students usually tell me they are just trying to fit the feet and head into the frame.
    ... Sometimes when a child is clearly disappointed by a photograph, I venture to talk about composition. I noticed after a few months that one of my Appalachian students, Maywood Campbell, was never quite satisfied with her pictures. Looking at her negatives, I realized that she had chosen to photograph very intimate family moments. But unlike Denise's assured pictures, Maywood's compositions were a bit off. ... Her frustration came from not seeing in her pictures what she thought she was seeing in the viewfinder.
    ... Framing has to do with how one of us sees: like fingerprints or signatures, the way we see is unique.
    ... Ask your students to think about how they would take a portrait of the person deep inside themselves -- the person nobody knows. Where would they place themselves -- in a favorite spot? A bright space? A dark space? What would they wear? A gym uniform tells one story, Sunday clothes another. Maybe they'd like to dress up as they imagine themselves five years from now. What gestures or expression would they want to show the camera? Are they relaxed, annoyed, happy, crazy, funny? How would they show such states of mind, with their body position as well as their expression?
    ... start simply by asking the students to describe what's happening in one of the pictures. They will need to look closely at the details, think about what they reveal, and pay close attention to what is inside and outside the frame.
    ... If you wanted to take a single photograph of, say, a baseball game that shows the essence of the sport to someone who had never seen it before, what would that picture be? If you took a picture of the whole field, with all the players in position, you would have to be so far away that very little of the actual game would be comprehensible. In other words, if you're far enough away to see everything, you're too far to understand anything.
    ... When I asked Denise to document her Thanksgiving dinner, she produced a picture of the turkey on a plate on a bare Formica table, shot starkly, almost clinically, from above. Just as she did when decorating her room, Denise included only the essentials.​
    Here is Jan Dibbets asking for more How:
    Everything is tied to this what. What, what, what. This, as I see it, is the most problematic aspect of photography. Let's say that in artistic terms, it's the least decisive aspect. The how -- I'm talking about the creative, not the technical how -- is much more important. The how that is often pushed aside, not to say eliminated. The deepest content is to be found in the how. True, a photograph of the assassination of a queen, even one taken accidentally by a three-year-old, can be very interesting. It can end up being chosen Photo of the Year.
    [line break added] But that moment has no significance for art. When Cézanne paints "from life," is the subject the most important thing? Of course not. ... [T]he photographer's stress is almost unfailingly on the what, whereas, at least in an artistic context, the opposite should be the case. And when you ask them about the how, the great majority of photographers are lost for words. They have no idea.​
    This is not only true of pictures, it's true of criticism, according to dance critic Edwin Denby:
    An intelligent reader learns from a critic not what to think about a piece of art but how to think about it; he finds a way he hadn't thought of using. The existence of an "authoritative critic" or of a "definitive evaluation" is a fiction like that of a sea serpent. Everybody knows the wild errors of judgment even the best critics of the past have made; it is easier to agree with contemporary judgments but no more likely they are right. It seems to me that it is not the critic's historic function to have the right opinions but to have interesting ones. ... The intentness of his interest makes people who don't know what he's talking about believe that whatever it is, it must be real somehow ...
    ... Reading a good critic's descriptions of qualities I have seen, I seem to see them more clearly. If I don't know them, I try looking for them in performances I remember or try to find them next time I go to the theater. And when you look for qualities a reviewer has mentioned, you may find something else equally surprising. For your sharpened eye and limberer imagination is still a part of your own identity -- not of his -- and leads you to discoveries of your own. The fun of reading dance criticism is the discovery of an unexpected aspect of one's own sensibility.​
  129. Getting back on topic, here is Jonathan Bayer writing about Robert Frank's well-known Long Beach, Cal, 1955-56:
    ... Many have seen in isolation the powerful picture of the covered car in Long Beach, Cal and intuitively felt that it was a symbol, in some way, of American culture but have found it difficult to say why. Some have ventured to see the cover, the portable garage, as more than an indication of the luxury Americans can lavish on their cars and seen it as a shroud. The meaning, however, is enhanced if one looks at it as part of a sequence of pictures which one might title 'death on the highway.'
    [line break added] This sequence begins with the throw of a dice, a gamble, continues with the act of setting off for a drive in a car and the omnipresence of the automobile (the ironic desire of people to sit and relax amidst the din and fumes of traffic). The meaning of the shrouded car is made painfully clearer by the ensuing picture of victims of a highway accident on a stretcher covered with a blanket. The dénouement of this episode is the endless road stretching off into the desert which becomes a symbol of America itself, haunted empty space and scalelessness.​
    I don't think that's very good writing, simply because he doesn't tell me anything I didn't see for myself. It seems very pedestrian, uninspired, just cranking out the commentary. If you're not familiar with Frank or sequencing, it may have more value.
  130. Here is an example of very earnest, very well-meaning ... terrible, excruciatingly boring, bad writing about three pictures that surely deserve and should have provoked much more than this kind of pedantic trudging through the literal. If you can read this without thinking "well, DUH!" you're more tolerant than I am.
    I give you Elizabeth Kessler writing about the Hubble Space Telescope pictures of three nebulas. [here are links to two of the pictures: the Eagle Nebula, and the Cone Nebula]:
    Why do these images lift the human spirit? They depict fascinating objects, but the way in which these objects are presented, the visual tropes used, and their relationship to a larger visual culture, also play a role. The most striking Hubble images typically exhibit a high contrast between light and dark tones. The Eagle Nebula and the Cone Nebula images include the darkest of blacks in the columns and the brightest whites in the stars and tops of the columns. In the Sombrero galaxy, the brilliant white of the core contrasts with the dark edge of the dust cloud and the black background of the sky. These examples also contain a full range of tones between light and dark.
    Vivid colors emphasize this dynamic range and give the objects a sense of solidity and mass. The pillars of the Eagle Nebula vary from mustard yellows to red, while the background begins as a deep blue at the top of the image and blends to greener tones in the regions surrounding the columns.
    [Kessler goes on in exactly that kind of droning detail for another five paragraphs. Near the end, she mentions, almost as a by-the-way detail]
    The images also reflect great interest in the dynamic, even violent, forces of the universe, often portraying colliding galaxies and exploding stars.
    These same qualities define the experience of the sublime, a notion that was first applied to aesthetics in the 18th century and became associated with experiences of overwhelming grandeur and power, which can elicit feelings of awe, wonder, and even transcendence. Artists throughout the 19th century depicted the landscape as sublime, especially the unexplored frontier.
    The Hubble images bring us new views of the latest unexplored frontier — outer space — and the artistry of those who created them encourages us to respond with awe.​
    "Encourages us to respond with awe??" Can you get any more uninspired and uninspiring than that? Is there any part of her writing that told you something you didn't already know and didn't already see with your own eyes? Does anything in that writing answer her own lead question, "Why do these images lift the human spirit?"
    There is one — and only one — faintly good sentence, in the middle of the piece that reads, "Christiaan Huygens suggested centuries ago, it looks as if the sky is opening to reveal another realm." She mentions it almost apologetically, but it is there.
  131. Phil, I'll have more on good-writing-about-bad-pictures in the morning. (Is the picture bad in the eyes of the critic, or is the picture bad in the eyes of history?)
    But in the mean time, a kind of riddly bit (koan-ish) that I like and maybe you will too. It's to do with the wiggle space we all have within which to each see many different things in many different ways in any given picture without any of us being "wrong."
    This is Jorge Luis Borges proving the existence of God through the fact that we don't know what we saw but we kind of know what we saw:
    I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer — not-nine, non-eight, not-seven, not-six, etc. — is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.​
    Ergo, we don't any of us really know what we see or saw, but we do know that it wasn't less than one or more than ten.
    Now you see why I don't usually post in the evening ... thank goodness. I shall read your linked review and have some nice, juicy writing about bad pictures in the AM.
    Oh, wait, one more. From Steven Connor, "Asked why he speaks to them in parables, Jesus explains that it is kind of distribution mechanism, designed to pick out those who not only hear but understand what they hear." So, Jesus is on our (wordy) side, too.
  132. "Does great or better photography inspire better writing? Can you write well about a bad photograph?"Julie
    You can write well about any photos....good or bad. Prose is its own Art and it is comfortable telling its stories.
    Photography is its own Art and is comfortable telling its own stories.
  133. Phil, I don't think the review you link was about a "bad" movie. Rather, I though the reviewer thinks that *we* will think it's bad because we aren't as clever and perceptive as he is. I learned a lot about the reviewer and not much of anything about the movie. I don't think that's good writing (about movies/pictures).
    Here is some writing, not about one photograph but about all bad photography. It's 'Whistler's Hippopotamus' 1937 by M.F. Agha (then art director of Vogue magazine). He presents this as a dialogue between someone in-the-know, and a viewer who is not:
    "... A Modern Photographer is a man who thinks that the hippopotamus' tonsils are more beautiful than Whistler's Mother."
    "And just-a-photographer?"
    "Just a photographer ... is a man who thinks that September Morn is more beautiful than an Egg."
    "Why such extremes? Isn't there anything else to photograph between September Morn and an Egg?"
    "Practically nothing. There are only four photographic subjects in the world, and they are evenly divided between two schools of thought. The Traditionalists have Whistler's Mother and September Morn. The Modernists have the Hippopotamus' Tonsils and the Egg. Everything else can be reduced to these four basic types."
    "How is that?"
    "Haven't you seen thousands of photographs representing sweet, kindly old ladies sitting quietly with their hands folded in their laps? Sometimes they are called 'The Evening of Life' and sometimes 'Memories,' but they are really Whistler's Mothers, all of them. Other subjects, utterly different in appearance can be so imbued with the same spirit that permeates Whistler's Mother that they, too, become Whistler's Mother's Mothers. Take, for instance, a kitten playing with a ball of thread -- a popular photographic subject. It is really nothing but a typical manifestation of Whistler's Mother.
    ... But it is really much broader than just a love for a cute kitten. In its most sublimated form, the Whistler's Mother fixation can cover such things as windmills in the sunset, fields of wheat under a gentle breeze, swans reflected in a calm pond, square-rigged clipper ships in full sail, and even the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. Anything that elevates the soul is a Whistler's Mother, in one disguise or another."
    "What about September Morn?"
    "September Morn, on the contrary, appeals to our more carnal instincts and baser nature. I must say, however, that the September Morn manifestations are always of a really healthy and red-blooded kind (boys will be boys). The pure September Morn, by its very nature, is apt to be rather repetitions: a nude young lady with a mirror may be called 'Veritas'; a nude young lady with a soap-bubble, 'The Spirit of the Dance'; a nude young lady with feathers in her hair, 'Indian Love-Song'; a nude young lady smeared with Vaseline, 'Porcelain' -- but basically is it always the same young lady.
    The variations, however, are easily produced by combining Whistler's Mother with September Morn. A girl in a bathing-suit, playing on a beach with a puppy (or a baby elephant), is definitely a combination of Whistler's Mother and September Morn in its appeal. And when it comes to more complicated subjects, such as a nursing mother, it takes an analyst to be able to decide where Whistler's Mother ends and September Morn begins."
    [our naïve viewer asks "Where does it come from?" and the knowing one gives a whole history of photography that I'm skipping]
    "... War [WWII] made people sick of a great many things, among them, of fake mezzotints. ... The good clean fun to be had by photographing a nude rolling a hoop was much too bourgeois for the Moderns. They were not interested in sweet old ladies or juicy young maidens ... They wanted to paint and to photograph strange, weird, grotesque things: garbage cans, George Washington's false teeth, snakes swallowing rabbits, Caesarian operations, smiling horses, behinds of elephants, eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog ... "
    "And hippopotamus' tonsils?"
    "Exactly. Our friend, the hippopotamus, represents the spirit of modern photography in more ways than one. He stands for everything that is strange and bewildering, formidable and repulsive; but, at the same time, he symbolizes the triumph of honest photography over fake photography. Just look at his skin."
    "What has his skin to do with honest photography?"
    "It's full of spots and blotches -- as the skin should be in an honest, unretouched. ... [T]hey delight in taking sharp, close-up pictures of people -- dermatological orgies that show every single blackhead and pore."
    [ ... ]
    "So Modern photography is really honest photography?"
    "This is the theory, or at least a part of it. Did I tell you that the Moderns have two principal fixations: the Hippopotamus and the Egg? We have seen that the Hippopotamus is the father of everything that is brutally honest, and, at the same time, bewildering, shocking, and repulsive. Well, the Egg is the mother of everything that is form, design and pattern."
    "I do not see any pattern in an Egg, unless it is an Easter Egg."
    "That is a pretty poor joke. The fact is that there are thousands and thousands of Modern photographs of Eggs (Paul Outerbridge alone took several hundreds of them). Anton Bruehl claims the distinction of being the only modern photographer who never took a picture of an egg."
    "But why do they photograph eggs?"
    "Because eggs are egg-shaped."
    "Eggs are the nearest thing to a globe -- and a globe is the nearest thing to geometric perfection, and geometric perfection is one of the chief assets of Modern photography. Apples are pretty good, too; that is why Steichen, and so many after him, photographed a number of nice globular apples.
    ... The factory chimneys, in distorted perspective (first introduced by Renger Patch); the sky-scrapers and their rectilinear geometry (capitalized first by Ralph Steiner); even the clouds -- when photographed by Moderns -- become members of the Egg group. So do coils of rope, fish-nets, railroad bridges, Ferris wheels, cart-wheels, cabbages cut in half with drops of dew on them (Edward Weston and the whole California school of photography have a patent on that); barns made of weathered old boards; footmarks on the sand; and, of course, Eggs: broken eggs, scrambled eggs, ham and eggs ... "
    "How about Human Beings? Can the Moderns treat them in this geometric, eggy fashion?"
    "Very easily. I might give you the impression that the Moderns do not photograph nudes -- but they do (boys will be boys). Man Ray is one of the chief exponents of the art of geometric nude photography. The idea is to twist the model so as to make her really look like one (or several) eggs. You can create a pattern -- by throwing the striped shadow of a Venetian blind on the model, which makes her look like a tiger -- a very popular device. Such photographs are really combinations of Egg with September Morn, and show that basic appeals change only slightly from generation to generation. ..."​
    ... and of course, now he has to explain how the Egg and September Morn got mixed up ... but I'll stop.
  134. The writer knows his field — what has been done, what could be done, the limits — the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, he too plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. He hits up the line. In writing, he can push the edges. Beyond this limit, here the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps; some madness enters, or strain. Now, courageously and carefully, can he enlarge it, can he nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power? — Annie Dillard
  135. In the film Message from Andrée (2005), black dots of different sizes flicker over a field of white. The viewer sees only inscrutable traces of something fluttering across the screen. The film, at once mesmerizing and cryptic, is based on an ill-fated hot air balloon expedition to the North Pole led by Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée in 1897.
    [line break added] After his balloon crashed, Andrée and his companions continued on foot, a hopeless effort that was documented by one of the explorers, photographer Nils Strindberg. Three decades later, when their bodies were discovered, five rolls of film were also found. Working with the recovered negatives, now stabilized and housed in a historical archive, [Danish filmmaker Joachim] Koester favors the most damaged images. Rather than trying to eliminate the "stains and blots" that mar the exposed frames (the effects of the Arctic environment), he offers these residues instead from Andrée — a fabled figure whom the viewer never sees ... — Karsten Lund, (2013)
    See examples of the photographs here.
    I don't have any what-I-see writing about this film or the photographs it features. Do I think someone could do good writing about those pictures of random black dots? Absolutely. A good poet, in particular, could work magic from such a starting source.
    Wouldn't that writing be about the poet and not the pictures, which, after all are just random black dots? No, the writing would be about the poet and the pictures and the person who made them. All good writing about pictures is about all three. I'd venture to say that if it's not about all three to some degree, it's not going to be really good writing.
    As an example of a written account of acting out a response to a work of visual art, which is what I think Phil's film review does, here is Zin Taylor 's Thirteen Steps of Abstraction, which is a combination of text and this photo, Wrong Way to Spiral Jetty, 2006.
    I'm giving only some of the written text, but both text and photo are used strictly as illustration to the acting out of Taylor's response to Robert Smithson's work of art, Spiral Jetty (I hope you're familiar with this famous piece of earthwork). In other words, a response to Spiral Jetty — which is never shown nor directly described — is what Taylor's work is 'acting out' much as Phil's film reviewer's description of himself is an acting out of his response to the Malick film.
    Here is Taylor:
    ... Four of us, including my brother Chris, were driving from a wedding in Idaho to the Salt Lake City Airport in Utah to catch a plane back to Canada. We realized before setting out that our return drive would take us by Robert Smithson's often-photographed bur rarely seen Spiral Jetty. We printed out the thirteen-step driving instructions [and, though they followed those instructions to the letter, they got very lost]
    ... As we continued onward, checking the instructions as we went, it soon became apparent that there were several obstacles that might keep us from arriving at Spiral Jetty:
    1. The rental van was not equipped for the roads.
    2. The sun was going down.
    3. We were running out of gas.
    4. The instructional map, on second (or tenth) analysis quickly descended into geographic abstraction as we progressed through the steps.
    ... Returning along the road, feeling a little defeated, we talked about how, perhaps, the trip was the point: navigating the landscape with an idea in mind, only to get lost and re-evaluate the surroundings. We thought about what Smithson would have gone through decades earlier to find the site, and how every step taken represented a descent into abstraction — thirteen of them to be exact. ... I have yet to meet someone who has attempted to find Spiral Jetty, let alone actually seen it. I've read about people who have tried and occasionally succeeded in locating the sculpture, but in general, what exists are thoughts about the earthwork.
    That was when my brother decided he wanted to contribute to the future experience of others. In my view, he wanted to propagate the nonsite [a keyword in earthwork lexicon] of traveling through this Utah desert, and the resulting abstracted thought. In actuality, I think he was pissed off about driving around for hours and wanted to take something home. This photo documents the point at which Chris is about to rip the sign out of the ground. We weren't able to find Spiral Jetty, but we were able to find the sign telling us that we were not going to find Spiral Jetty ... twice.​
  136. "A good poet, in particular, could work magic from such a starting source."Julie.
    Hmm, by the same thought...a photograph.
  137. A poor photograph needs 10,000 words.
    A good photo does not need a single word.
  138. One of those great, garishly emerald flies that always look freshly generated from fresh excrement
    and who maneuver through our airspace with a deft intentionality that makes them seem to think,
    materializes just above my desk, then vanishes, his dense, abrasive buzz sucked in after him.
    C.K. Williams
  139. All of the following is from the artist, David Salle:
    ... It's a mistake to ask a work of art to be all things to all people; the question is how little we can ask of art and still have it fill the space of our longings. By which I mean a state of open awareness like a gravitational field that pulls other things into itself and, in turn, releases quantities of unaccounted-for emotion into the light of day.
    [line break added] That is, of course, only one kind of art. Another kind operates more like criticism itself, in which the artist takes up and defends a certain position, and tries to convince us, as Edmund Wilson describes the critic's role, "by the superior power of his argument." The first type is vulnerable; the second tries to limit the artist's exposure to that vulnerability.
    ... If you are here as a kind of art tourist, that's OK, too; just take whatever you can use and ignore the rest. But if you're here because you can't not make art, or can't imagine your life without that empowering, free-falling, slightly scary, almost illicit thrill of creating, of using your ability to give form to your imaginings — if that is how you see yourself, then the kinds of things we will talk about here [in class] might ease you over some of the developmental hurdles.
    ... There's a problem when the gap between what a work purports to be — its presumed intention — and what it actually looks like is too big to be papered over ...
    ... "You don't get it" is not a sufficient rejoinder to criticism. Even in the unlikely case that it's true, your job is to be able to explain exactly in what way your point has been missed; it's your only assurance that there is indeed a point to be gotten in the first place. A lot of points have a way of evaporating when you have to explain how they are manifest.
    ... I recently saw an early work of mine from 1977 hanging in the storage racks of the Menil Collection in Houston. It happened to be next to a Warhol painting — nothing special, not Andy on a good day, but a Warhol nonetheless. I think it was one of his glitter shoe paintings. Pretty bland image, but good color. One of his more phoned-in iterations.
    [line break added] My picture, by comparison, the thing I had come to in a state of almost deranged inspiration and complete originality some thirty-five years ago, on this day looked like nothing so much as a medium-sized hangover, rendered in tones of grayish green. Anemic, tepid, unresolved — in short, full of wishful thinking. ... n my mind's eye it had long been established as a kind of impudent, nervy little picture. I hadn't remembered it as so weak.
    [line break added] I was left feeling pretty low. Then I had the somewhat self-serving, ameliorating thought: I had not, in my early twenties, had the benefit of an Emile de Antonio [aka 'Dee'] or a Henry Geldzahler to guide me in my studio. ... Andy would show them a few different things ... and they would say: "Do this, this is great; that thing over there is nothing. Throw it out." ... I had no one to tell me how provisional my work was — how tentative. I wish someone had said to me: "What are you so afraid of?!" ... Let's try to be the Dee and Henry for each other.
  140. Here is David Salle writing about one particular picture, Alex Katz's Black Hat 2, 2010:
    In painting, as in ophthalmology, color is relational. A color is seldom experienced autonomously; we always see one color against another, and those two against a third, and so on. There are dozens of other factors that influence our perception of color, such as value (how light or dark something is) and saturation (how dense a color seems) but what counts most is the intervals between colors, precisely chosen.
    [line break added] The way colors work in contiguity creates a powerful chain of response from eye to brain. Jus think about putting together an outfit: Does pink "go" with gray, or is it best set off with another color altogether? In painting, the specificity of color is everything. That orange next to this brown, with a tiny bit of that exact shade of celadon as a bridge. It's analogous to the combination of notes that make up a musical chord: it's the intervals that work directly on our emotional core.
    [line break added] A good example of what I mean is Katz's Black Hat 2, in which the colors of the face and background — pinks, tans, oranges, and yellows in close proximity — form an assertive counterpoint to the jump the eye must take to the dense black of the hat and sunglasses. It's the visual equivalent of a tenor reaching for a high note. This rare alloy of sensibility and materiality is, I think, what enables some artists to transform dross into gold.​
  141. On September 11, 2001, a dust-covered survivor ran, then walked, from the epicenter of the chaos: "In time he heard the sound of the second fall. He crossed Canal Street and began to see things, somehow differently. Things did not seem charged in the usual way, the cobbled street, the cast-iron buildings. There was something critically missing from the things around him. They were unfinished, whatever that means. They were unseen, whatever that means, shop windows, loading platforms, paint-sprayed walls." "Maybe," Don DeLillo continues, "that is what things look like when there is no one here to see them." Seeing things, somehow, differently ... [Bill Brown, 2013]​
  142. "One of those great, garishly emerald flies that always look freshly generated from fresh excrement
    and who maneuver through our airspace with a deft intentionality that makes them seem to think,
    materializes just above my desk, then vanishes, his dense, abrasive buzz sucked in after him."
    C.K. Williams
    A small creation part of the ecology of nature merely looking for plays its part in the grand scheme of things.
    I've always admired wonder women; when I was younger I had 9 coffee cups with her image I particularly was enamored by her legs. The actress who played her part always felt particularly powerful when dressed in the wonder women costume. To quote.

  143. "A good example of what I mean is Katz's Black Hat 2, in which the colors of the face and background — pinks, tans, oranges, and yellows in close proximity — form an assertive counterpoint to the jump the eye must take to the dense black of the hat and sunglasses. It's the visual equivalent of a tenor reaching for a high note. This rare alloy of sensibility and materiality is, I think, what enables some artists to transform dross into gold" Julie.
    Dross into gold...I agree.
  144. "Does great or better photography inspire better writing? Can you write well about a bad photograph?" Phil.
    Perhaps the better photographer has a greater intellectual capacity, which also lends itself to other Arts. Prose. Or, perhaps many Artists/Photographers cannot reach out to other Art. Prose. Maybe they become lost souls in the Arts because they do not have that ability...does one depend on the other?
  145. "Can you write well about a bad photograph?" Phil".
    You can write well about anything...the better the writing the better the belief.
  146. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Here is David Salle writing about one particular picture, Alex Katz's Black Hat 2, 2010:
    he's writing about [dramatic pause] colour. he references a photo, non?
  147. To write about a photograph, and how they work for you, is interesting and a positive.
    But lets not forget the photograph also writes about itself....for those with eyes that can see.
    Hugs Julie.
  148. Earliness at the Cape
    by Babette Deutsch
    The color of silence is the oyster's color
    Between the lustres of deep night and dawn.
    Earth turns to absence; the sole shape's the sleeping
    Light — a mollusk of mist.
    [ ... ]
    ... That solitary boat,
    Out fishing, is a black stroke on vacancy.
    Night, deaf and dumb as something from the deeps,
    Having swallowed whole bright yesterday, replete
    With radiance, is gray as abstinence now.
    But in this nothingness, a knife point: pleasure
    Comes pricking; the hour's pallor, too, is bladed
    Like a shell, and as it opens, cuts.​
  149. Landscape
    This is Rodney Sappington writing about Karin Apollonia Müller's series Angels in Fall which ostensibly features landscape views of Los Angeles:
    ... One look around our global cities immediately produces a striking effect on the psyche. We've created havoc and beauty.

    ... It is a condition of living in noise while striving to locate the voices that echo a shared past.

    ... Photographic skepticism, I am suggesting, questions the photograph's capacity to capture a world that is every day vanishing a little. Tradition is lost (or left behind), and must be rediscovered in a new "land" that has yet to find itself. A gone land in our era has no use for traditions — in fact dispenses with them through neglect or hypercirculation and overexposure of global advertising.

    ... The skeptic is vulnerable, alive, and longing for an opportunity to relocate tradition ("founding") according to his/her individual compass in a land described by photographer Allan Sekula as comprising "a space that flaunts its departure from tradition." Founding is a verb — an action, an ongoing process. The photographic journey is performed in the heat of the object, in rapt attention toward a point of view from which one cannot turn back onto history, self, or home. It is always on the horizon, yet intimately crucial to one's identity and culture.

    ... Perhaps this is the "fall" in Angels, to be on hold, descending with rapt attention toward the facts of your life that are no longer owned by you but are represented by some entity somewhere, out of reach.

    ... Landscape is a slice of the earth's surface, but never purely representative of geography, region, or city. Landscape is not "out there." Nor is it purely "in here," in the psyche. Landscapes are representations of the way the world appears and how we dream its embrace. Henry David Thoreau philosophized this very "in-between" of material land and primeval longing (its American nineteenth-century equivalent) for "wildness."
    [line break added] Thoreau claimed that "nature" projected outward was no nature at all, but only part of a more complex psychic loop that connects brain and land, land and mind. The "vigor of Nature in us" is part fantasy, part location, and a project of "importing" into landscapes shared modes of life. Writing in his journal, Thoreau described a Utopian desire to project vitality onto wilderness far removed from human contact, and warned that such projection might indicate a lack of vitality inside one's own home, mind, or philosophy:

    It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord ... than I import into it.

    ... This is not a physical space as much as a crisis of "feeling" that finds its expression in carefully designed roadways and hacienda-like simulations of a "better life" for those who aim to purify all forms of "contentious civility" out of the lived environment.

    ... People here are figures, a dot next to a railroad track caught in industrial arrangements ...​
    Sappington gives a number of in-detail examinations of particular pictures in the series. I've left them out because they more or less repeat what he's written about the series in general.
  150. From poet Marianne Moore:
    After [a reading of her poems], a strikingly well-dressed member of the audience, with equally positive manner, inquired, "What is metaphysical newmown hay?"
    I said, "Oh, something like a sudden whiff of fragrance in contrast with the doggedly continuous opposition to spontaneous conversation that had gone before." "They why don't you say so?" the impressive lady rejoined.​
    More soberly from Moore:
    Feeling at its deepest — as we all have reason to know — tends to be inarticulate. If it does manage to be articulate, it is likely to seem overcondensed, so that the author is resisted as being enigmatic or disobliging or arrogant.​
  151. Here is Salamish Tillet writing about the Bronx Underground series by Elle Pérez:

    ... Her close-up shots, a few staged, mostly improvised, capture the offscreen rather than the nightclub's main attraction. Those moments before the moment. A stairwell before going in or leaving the party. Backstage pageant prep. Peering from behind the curtain. A Selina catsuit hanging midair. A slow inhale. A tight embrace.
    ... That her photographs refuse their geographical specificity is the point. These images flatten space, giving us a sense that we are watching both the entertainers and their spectators in media res and waiting for each other. Even more poignantly, Pérez's black-and-white portraits dislodge these scenes from their respective years ...
    ... Pérez's counterarchive then becomes an alternative to erasure. Taken together, these photographs create their own imagined community, to use the phrase coined by historian Benedict Anderson, in which people are joined by shared experiences or collective memories rather than by the more traditional borders of the nation-state.​
    I like the idea of "imagined community." See some of Elle Peréz's Bronx Underground pictures via the following links: one, two, three, four, five, six.
  152. Since none of our anti-writers seem to want to argue their side anymore, I will don my Devil's Advocate hat and argue with myself. By quoting, as usual. Here is print-meister Richard Benson putting some serious hate on art writing:
    There is a war in art today between the work and the word. The word is in ascendency, sustained by flows of written criticism and hours of heated discussion in classrooms and seminars, while the work is almost beside the point ...
    ... If you ask any biologist what is more miraculous — the mind or the hand — you will undoubtedly be told the mind takes the prize. This remarkable wet thing we carry around in our heads is the most complicated known object that we are aware of; it is the force behind all the great stuff we have made.
    [line break added] The hand does its work in response to the directives of mind and the senses, and in the realm of art, the result is some physical object that can be accessed by all of us and that — when cared for — can outlive its maker. Then, even though a mind once stood behind it, the physical thing is all that remains.
    [line break added] The mind dies, the talking stops, and even the best-written pieces about art go thankfully unread outside of academic circles. In the end the word loses and the work wins. We don't know what Rembrandt or Mozart thought or said, and we really don't care. The pictures and the music are what transfix us, and immortality rests in them rather than in the mind that produced them.​
    [ / removing my Devil's Advocate hat so I can argue against Benson]
    Richard, why do you think Rembrandt and Mozart and all of the artist we can still see long after they are dead are still seen long after they are dead? BECAUSE somebody, many somebodys wrote and talked and discussed them at some point. Things that aren't talked or written about go away. They are not here. Love it or hate it, the public discussion is what makes the work be preserved, makes it endure and be kept, treasured, kept "alive," what allows you to see the picture without public discussion somewhere, sometime long after the origin of the piece.
    If nobody talks/writes about it, if WE don't talk or write about it, it vanishes. Talking sorts value. Not talking/writing lets it go.
    "In the end the word loses and the work wins." Not at all. Completely wrong. In the end, the word decides which work wins into the future.
    As to "We don't know what Rembrandt or Mozart thought or said, and we really don't care," who said we should? It's the art we write about, not the artist.
  153. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    In the end the word loses and the work wins." Not at all. Completely wrong. In the end, the word decides which work wins into the future
    nonsense. no-one is paid, nor pays, millions for their, or someone else's
    of a picasso.
  154. Ack. He doesn't actually ever address the question he leads with. It's sort of a random quote dump of famous photographers well-known written bits.
    As to Robert Adams's "something that would just keep out of the way of the pictures" -- why pick on words? What about what you had for breakfast? What about the room you're in while viewing? What about every damn thing in your life up to and including that moment? What is it about the sounds from the mouth or the text on the page that makes it so specially offensive to the "pure" viewing of a picture?
    Words work from the inside out: pictures work from the outside in. They don't compete: they work from different angles or dimensions or "kinds" of ways of grasping or gearing into.
    This bit from the end of one of Robert Fitzgerald's poems:
    Evening came, will come with lucid stillness
    printed by the distinct cricket
    and, far off, by the freight cars' coupling clank.
    A warm full moon will rise
    out of the mothering dust, out of the dry corn land.​
    ... gets me as much of a picture as any picture ever will of a hot summer night after harvesting the corn. It springs from one man's putting what he sees into words. Different ways; not competing ways.
  155. We don't know what Rembrandt or Mozart thought or said, . . .​
    Sure we do.

    . . . and we really don't care.​
    I do.
    So does Barbara Isenberg of the LA Times, who includes many quotes of what Hockney said in THIS PIECE about his work.
  156. A work of art is a defined thing: this [drawing metaphorical black boundary] and not that.
    Whatever response is prompted by the this: whatever (and I do mean whatever: all and anything I may find or feel or be led to think about) that is within that limit, that carefully defined boundary, is what I care about when discussing a work of art. But whatever is prompted by the not that, whatever is the about the 'form' from which the thing was cast, I don't care about when discussing a work of art.
    I do very much care about the 'form' from which it was cast when talking about anything and everything supportive or generative of the work of art, such as the artist and the technique and the history of it, etc. I'm a documentary junkie, and I love learning how things are done or made or the lives of anybody creative. But that is part of the not that of art, it is not the art itself. It's obviously necessary, but in the end, the art is, and to my mind, needs to be, set free, and experienced free of it's support or training or formative means. Child from parent.
  157. ... and being a documentary junkie, I can't help mentioning that David Hockney's Joiner Photographs documentary is really good, IMO. Hockney is a great interview, and I think this DVD does a better-than-usual job of showing his ideas in progress. On the other hand, it is, as are so many documentaries, not a polished work, so don't expect Hollywood quality.
  158. "Carefully defined boundaries" indeed.
    As you said in this week's POTW thread, this is YOUR way of trying to or thinking you can look at "works of art." It's not my way and not a critical way or a way many critics do it. So, Benson is likely talking to a fairly limited and, IMO, somewhat naive or idealistic audience.
    My point was simply that Benson made some factually incorrect statements. We do have the words of Mozart. NOT "We don't have the words of Mozart." And some of us, many of us, do care. NOT "We don't care." If you or he thinks, once we have those words, we can put the genie back in the bottle, though I'd suggest you can't, I know it would be pointless for me to stop you from thinking you can.
    For me, it's not just the words of an artist I'm aware of influencing me beyond what I see as the non-existing "boundaries of a work of art," but so very many things. A painting, a photo, a sculpture can never be for me a sacrosanct and discrete entity. Though I may want to forget some things for a moment or three, I have an awareness that those things are still affecting me even if I choose to ignore them. Criticism (being critical) sort of demands that I recognize what's real about art and what artificial impositions or limitations I may exercise at a given time because I want to try to experience some sort of fantastical purity. Culture, presentation, lighting, years of color fading in paintings, glass frames, color and texture of mat, size of wall, what photo is hanging next to it or on the accompanying page, what the title of the exhibit is, hell what I ate for breakfast or what a loved one or the tv set said to me that morning can't just be denied or wished away. Or at least that's my own limitation, and I'm proud and feel . . . well . . . human . . . to have those influences at play and to at least be able to recognize if not completely dismiss some of them.
  159. I don't dismiss anything that comes to mind because of what I'm seeing in the picture. Whatever that may be.
  160. You said "a work of art is a defined thing." You said "whatever is within that limit . . . that carefully defined boundary." I'm saying a work of art is not a defined thing and there can be no "carefully defined boundary." Benson is saying the words Mozart spoke don't matter to the work when we see it as "carefully defined." I'm saying the words, once we've heard them, become part of the work, which was never carefully bounded to begin with. Once I've heard the words, they're part of my experience of the work. I don't unhear them because I can re-hermetically seal the work back into these supposedly defined boundaries.
    The work of art, for me, is about possibilities, not carefully defined boundaries. The critics I like to read are those who explore possibilities, not those who want to limit the work by arbitrary boundaries they don't realize they are drawing and which aren't, in fact, something actually bounding the work they're looking at.
  161. It's not about limitation. It's about where and with what you start with on particular piece: I make no limit on what you bring to that start.
  162. I don't need a critic to tell me what's literally "in" the photo or painting. I can see that for myself. What I like to get from a critic is context, cultural associations, historical place, insight into the artist herself, knowledge of tropes that may have influenced the artist, goals I may not know about that the artist may have expressed, and all of those things can then help deepen what I am actually seeing when I look. I may, at times, try to look more blindly, more abstractly, at a photo or painting, free myself of all those associations, but that's not any more the work of art than when I attend to it in other ways. And, like I said, I can never free myself completely of those things as long as I remain human. For me, criticism adds perspective or perspectives, it doesn't try to wipe the slate clean. It deepens my experience. It doesn't purify it.
  163. Putting it another way, given a chess layout (game in progress; arrangement of moved pieces), a chess master will play it one way, an amateur another, a different chess master yet another. But all begin from the same layout of the pieces in the same game.
  164. It's not about limitation.​
    You can't sensibly say art is a bounded thing and then claim it's not about limitation. You can't reasonably say you're making no limit on what is brought to the start and then tell me Mozart's words "DON'T" matter, let alone exist.
  165. Art is not chess. A knight is a piece that has a defined usage within a game. A brushstroke is not such an animal. A brushstroke depends on association, representation, symbolism for its meaning and effect, it's not part of some agreed upon rules of play.
  166. In any case, this doesn't have to be made complicated by chess analogies and the like. Benson said something fairly plain. He said Mozart's words don't matter. He didn't say Mozart's words aren't part of the bounded work of art. He didn't say Mozart's words aren't part of the musical notes heard in the symphony hall. He said they don't matter. As far as I'm concerned, he's wrong. What he meant by saying we don't even know what Mozart said or thought, I'll never know, because we do. We don't know all of what ANYONE says or thinks, but we know some things Mozart said and thought.
  167. "What I like to get from a critic is ... "
    ... not to be bored into a coma.
    What I like is to be made to be interested. And having been made interested, to therefore want more. This can be done by beautiful insight leading into discussion of rich context; or equally well by withering contempt subsequently supported by close description and analysis.
  168. Well, I'll tell you honestly that there's plenty of bad writing that can sometimes be interesting for how bad it is. There's plenty of good writing about bad art, where the writing is interesting but it doesn't make the particular work or body of art more interesting. And there's some boring writing that's actually quite insightful when you allow yourself to address the ideas and not simply the writing. And, as is evidenced in this thread, there's a lot of overwriting. I'd say about 90% of the quotes you've included come under the category of writing that's trying way too hard to be interesting and failing, Benson's among that 90%.
    Your own writing is often passionate, a little too flowery and self conscious for my taste a lot of the time, and can be ill-advised, even though the basic ideas when you cut through it all are often quite interesting and insightful. If anything, I'd say your own writing would improve by being just a tad more boring! You say above that art is still seen today BECAUSE (you capitalize because, I can only assume to emphasize it, emphasizing cause and effect) somebody (and then you add for effect "many somebodys", one of many superfluous clauses you add throughout your writing). Mozart lasts to this day for many reasons. Saying it is still listened to today BECAUSE people wrote about is, as Norman suggests, nonsense. But it's definitive and sounds passionate and on topic, all ringing hollow in the face of the bigger picture which is that you're saying it wrong. Mozart is still around today because it's such good music, and I could describe at length its many virtues and a good critic good describe those virtues and make it compelling and teach me a few new things to listen for. It doesn't survive BECAUSE it's written about. That's just an empty provocation. You say, "in the end the word decides which work wins into the future." No, it doesn't. This is just confusing the mechanism and means by which something survives with the cause or reason something survives. The writing helps bring Mozart into the future, helps communicate about Mozart's music, but the music survives and is written about to begin with BECAUSE it touches so many people in so many significant ways, BECAUSE it's art for the ages, because of its combination of lyricism and formality, of drama and intellect, of math and heart.
  169. I'm a terrible writer. I hate to write, thus my endless quoting. I find it exquisitely unpleasant. <<< I like flowery language. That's the only part of writing that I enjoy.
    Here is how Benson described Lee Friedlander's early photographic series on Monuments:

    Only then [when a picture was developed] would an idea creep into the work, but usually just a simple, basic one, perhaps about how many other pictures he had made of the same subject, or how often he had visited and worked at the same place. Lots of monuments led to his understanding that he was interested in monuments, and so a book resulted.​

    Do you believe that? And even if you do, would you have wanted to see a book of pictures of monuments given that enticing description (and no word from Friedlander himself)? Gee, let's go wait in line to be the first to buy a book of pictures of monuments by a guy who has no idea why he took them.
    Compare that to what Marvin Heiferman wrote about the same series on monuments [see examples here and here]:

    ... With neither chronology nor geographic organization to guide us, we glide from one image to the next. The majority are simply close-ups, pictures that appear serene in the absence of the expected contextual mess. But, with a certain frequency and daring, Friedlander dense-packs images. Backgrounds overpower foregrounds, and foregrounds consume the subject matter.
    [line break added] To find the monuments, we look over balustrades, peek around telephone poles, peer through the foliage, look up from below. Friedlander does not construct distraction, he pays homage to it. He never presents himself as an explicator, but he is a brilliant bighearted observer. Friedlander is not your standard tour guide, he is more like a director who sets up the establishing shots and leaves you alone to improvise.

    We search for the subject matter but first come across an inventory of bizarre sculptural props: cannonballs, plinths, wheels, fountains, togas, garlands, spears, orbs, boats, bells, boots, centaurs, drapery, buffalo, hammers, hats, yokes, flags, and arrows. Then we recognize the figures -- dancers, athletes, actors, madonnas, saints, Dutchmen, preachers, governors, mechanics, tycoons, nurses, admirals, volunteers, merchandizers, children, newsboys, tap dancers, musicians, explorers, soldiers, sailors, farmers, teachers, presidents, philosophers, writers, religious leaders, composers, puritans, and generals.

    These historic characters appear to be inattentive photographic subjects. These idealized men (and, on rare occasions, women) sit on horses, lean against columns, and rest in easy chairs. They point. They crouch. Some stand at ease, some at attention. They read books. They lean on canes. They bear arms. They lead steeds or smoke cigars. And their heads, whether attached or detached from their bodies, stare off into the distance, toward hope or goodness or God or the unknown.

    As with Atget, people are hardly represented. But, we know them, because we are them. We know what they might wear, where they might be going next. This is our all-familiar world; there is nothing to get misty-eyed about. The monuments are surrounded by shrubbery, gas stations, hotels, government buildings, skyscrapers, beaches, museums, apartment buildings, churches, parks, cars, highways, promenades, and litter. There are many signs or our presence in our absence.

    We can, in fact, speculate about what the pictures refuse to reveal. Each day, these monuments are probably visited by mothers pushing strollers. Brown baggers eat their lunches, sharing benches with senior citizens and the homeless. People rest, read, think and strike up conversations with strangers. At any hour of the day, tourists encircle monuments, as do rats, squirrels, and insects. Runners lope by. Drug dealers set up shop in the shadows of greatness. Alcoholics sober up. Addicts nod out. Pigeons soar overhead and defecate. Dogs circle foundations and urinate. At night, couples press amorous embrace against these cold reminders of mortality, as others have furtive sex in the surrounding landscaping.​
    Furtive sex! From monuments? That's good writing! Seriously, doesn't that at least begin to pique your interest in what was, on the face of it, a totally boring topic for a photo book?
  170. would you have wanted to see a book of pictures of monuments given that enticing description​
    I probably wouldn't have that description before looking at the pictures. It's generally not a critic's or reviewer's writing that entices me to look at art. Much art I discover happens accidentally when I go to museums and discover it, often not knowing anything about it to begin with. I will go to a Matisse exhibit and discover another painter or photographer who's on display at the museum while I'm there. Another way I am enticed to look at art is from friends' recommendations. A third way is seeing an article or poster that has an image or two that entices me. Rarely do I read a review or critique before exposing myself visually to the art. Once exposed, I love reading about it by reviewers or critics who can then deepen the experience. In museums, I often go through an exhibit twice, first looking at the work, then reading the curator's intros and description plaques and looking again.

    Actually, the furtive sex in the surrounding landscaping was my least favorite part of the piece, way too much fantasy and flourish for my taste. I prefer Chopin's flourishes, which seem graceful. This one seems a bit clunky.

    I've seen one pretty excellent and exhaustive exhibit of Friedlander's work which, after a while, I found too gimmicky, being too conscious of the cleverness of his foreground peek-arounds. I like the way Heiferman puts it, that he doesn't "construct" distraction but rather "pays homage" to it. I think often good criticism, like good philosophy, makes insightful distinctions like that which capture a lot in just a few opposing words. But while I agree with that distinction and it suggests a way of looking at Friedlander's work worth testing out, I find those visual homages a little too self conscious and clever after a while.
  171. " writing helps bring Mozart into the future, helps communicate about Mozart's music " Fred.
    Does it need help? And how does the help, help? Nice to hear someone's thoughts about how the music feels for them and the journey it takes them on...
    But help?
  172. "And taking them into the future?" Fred.
    what future might that be?
  173. I can understand Julie cloaking herself in quotes, to feel more powerful, like wonder women..
    But the works of Mozart needs help? Surely, the music speaks....without err help.
  174. Only sweet voiced birds are imprisoned
    Owls are not kept in cages
  175. Here is Rebecca Warren talking about one particular sculpture, this one called Helmut Crumb (not a picture, but a sculpture inspired by pictures, and of course, Helmut is Mr. Newton ...). [It may be NSFW, because it's anatomically correct]:
    Years ago I was making two separate sculptures, one related to Robert Crumb's cartoons and the other related to Helmut Newton's photos. Neither was quite working and I couldn't figure out what to do. The second one was small and fragile, so for safety I stood it underneath the first, and suddenly both sculptures were resolved into a single two-part sculpture, Helmut Crumb [1998].​
    Here is Rebecca Warren talking about knowing when a work is 'done' in an interview with Sheena Wagstaff:
    Rebecca Warren: The work tells you. You're heading in some kind of direction, mostly blindly, but with eyes wide open, so that your whole attention is focused on what the work is trying to be. You're following it around and you're hopeful. You don't push it, but you also try not to lag behind. At some point it becomes clear what the thing wants to be.
    Sheena Wagstaff: Your description is not unlike that of Motherwell, who famously said a "painting was finished when it no longer needed the artist."
    RW: Yes, Motherwell understood the important fact that art itself is a player in the game. One of the peculiar things about art is that artists are agents. They follow the art, the scent, and the intention of the art.
    SW: Does chance or spontaneity play a role anywhere in your process? Perhaps even before you start a work, in your choice of subject matter?
    RW: It's all a huge game of chance. There is no way to know who or what is in charge of the game. Sometimes you even feel that you yourself have made a decision, but it's fleeting and probably an illusion! The artist, the art, whatever and wherever these two things come from are engaged in a concerted effort. I think that this applies to any point of the process, from the initial impulse — a feeling about a shape, color, material, or size — all the way up to the final moments when you find that you're doing less and less and achieving more and more.​
    Back to the featured picture, which was inspired by the work of other artists, here is Warren talking about influence:
    RW: You find yourself appreciating odd and surprising things, odd aspects of other people's work that stay in your head and resonate with you, a stream of none-too-specifiable natural or internal grammar. For example, what I focus on in cartoonist Robert Crumb's work is a kind of plaintive hope expressed in relentless female rotundity and buoyancy, which in my work becomes a different kind of hope for satisfying profiles and surfaces.​
  176. You will have immediately noticed that Warren's Helmut Crumb has Tim's "gap" from this thread.
  177. This is Joel Sternfeld writing about the picture, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 by Stephen Shore [larger version]:
    ... The danger of precisionism is that things can get tied up too tightly. It is said that in the great work of art, all the tensions are resolved but allowed to continue. Resolving is the easy part; how to allow the vectors to continue is harder. How does Shore allow them to continue in Holden Street? As in so many aspects of the picture, he does so through the play of duality.
    First of all, the picture is inside out. Ever since El Greco looked down on Toledo, or Patinir assumed his eagle's-nest vantage point, or Thomas Cole got up on Mount Holyoke to look down on the Oxbow of the Connecticut River, it has been standard landscape practice to take the 'God's eye' view along with its authoritative implications. Shore does the opposite, and our normal pictorial expectations are confounded by this play of internality and externality.
    Related to the notion that this picture is involuted, but different enough that it warrants its own discussion, is the play between near and far that occurs within it. This play keeps the eye constantly moving back and forth between sleeping townscape and distant naturescape (which also appears to be sleeping, but, of course, is not; beneath each gentle leaf is a universe aflame). A conventional psychological reading of the near and the distant would propose that closer objects represent 'self' or 'mine,' whereas the far is 'not-self' and 'not-mine.'
    In the progression of Shore's oeuvre, Holden Street may be a bridge between the earlier, self-referential pictures of [his] American Surfaces in which he documents his motel rooms, meals, bathrooms and the work that follows in which he is out in the world looking at 'reality' (or 'not-self'). What is so distinctive about his later work is that he seems to be able to bring to the landscape an infant's sense of omniscient oneness with all that it sees — whereas in the vision of earlier work that came to fruition as American Surfaces, it is the self that is the central point.
    [ ... ]
    ... How did the young Stephen Shore take color photography's unexplored materiality and form and make a picture so rich in association and yet as free of padding as a marble statue? For the very reasons this question cannot be answered, great art is what it is.​
  178. No picture today, but a good visual in the second bit, I think. First, from Louis Sullivan. I hope you know who he was. This is from his Kindergarten Chats, 1901 (yes, it's for us):
    Attention is of the essence of our powers; it is that which draws other things toward us, it is that which, if we have lived with it, brings the experience of our lives ready to our hand. If things but make impression enough on you, you will not forget them; and thus, as you go through life, your store of experience becomes greater, richer, more and more available. But to this end you must cultivate attention — the art of seeing, the art of listening. You needn't trouble about memory, that will take care of itself; but you must learn to live in the true sense. To pay attention is to live, and to live is to pay attention.​
    The following is a traditional tale from Anonymous (a very prolific author):
    Saint Francis was known for his sanctity and his ability to communicate with animals. Whenever he was asked how he became so holy, he always answered 'I know what's in the Bible.' He had just given this reply to a mendicant in the piazza at Assisi when the village idiot asked 'Well, what IS in the Bible?' 'In the Bible,' said Francis, 'are two pressed flowers and a letter from my friend Giovanni.'​
    Merry Christmas, everybody.
  179. The fact and the wish.
    This is David Campany writing around and up to this picture by Todd Hido which is from Hido's Between the Two series:
    In 1975 Roland Barthes published a perfect little essay, "On Leaving the cinema." Its subject is the pleasurable yet strange sensation that comes over us when a film is over. Our body must awaken, "a little numb, a little awkward, chilly," as he puts it, "sloppy, soft, peaceful: limp as a sleeping cat." Our mind must also move from one state, one reality, to another. We need time to adjust.
    [line break added] It is a precious feeling, but so transitive that we are rarely encouraged to take it seriously. Barthes does. The sensation of leaving that dark chamber can be quite dramatic. ... Watching a film in a cinema, you are supposed to forget where you are. To enter the illusion, the apparatus must melt away. At the end of the film you mentally reenter your surroundings and once again become aware of the movie theater, only to leave it.
    This never happens with still photography. There is no comparable suspension of disbelief. Yes, a photograph or book of photographs may be immersive, but not in the cinematic sense. The pleasures are very different. Looking at photographs, we never quite "lose ourselves." And in a book, it is in the mental movement from one image to another that meaning is made, without forgetting where you are.
    [line break added] Hido's pictures are as immersive as any in contemporary photography, but the pleasures of his sequencing keep churning. One is pulled into the imaginative depths of a picture, only to be lured toward another and another. And unlike a narrative movie, a book allows one to feel what one is feeling — to grasp the pleasure and the churn consciously, as sensations in themselves.
    Before a movie is made, the director or location scout goes looking for places to shoot. Usually they will take a still camera. If you have ever seen the pictures made on such reconnaissance trips, you will have sensed their strange status. They are documents, records of places, yet they are also invitations to propose, or suppose, what has not happened but could. A good location photograph will leave space for imaginative projection.
    [line break added] I think Hido's landscapes and townscapes have this quality. A similar feeling is present in actor portraits made by casting directors, and in the preliminary photos taken of fashion models on go-sees for style magazines. Look at Hido's photographs of solitary women that populate this book. In each case there is an encounter, of which the photograph is the palpable result, but what, or who, was there? A player, star or extra, with an unwritten script.
    So many of Hido's images hinge on this duality: the retrospective and the prospective. The fact and the wish. The presence and the possibility. His statement that he "photographs like a documentarion but prints like a painter" confirms this, and indicates how the effect is rooted in the very substance of his pictures. It is a constant balancing act, avoiding the sentimentality of "what was" and the cheap melodrama of performed fiction.​
  180. "I'm a terrible writer. I hate to write, thus my endless quoting. I find it exquisitely unpleasant. <<< I like flowery language. That's the only part of writing that I enjoy "Julie.
    Hmm, you are very erudite when you post on the POTW.
    'How to write about one particular picture" Julie.
    I will have ago...
  181. Suspicion of intent, of the touching of deep scars, inflicted in the not so distant past. A fear, but the strength to challenge that fear; a defiance.
    To challenge adversity...
  182. Subjective.
    A photography is about subjective emotional response.
  183. I'm getting the Clockwork Orange treatment AGAIN: over and over and over, I'm strapped to a chair and my eyes are propped open, then I'm forced to look at Allen Herbert's pictures while reading his random commentary ...
  184. In the economists' market what the producer is compensated by is money: money goes one way, goods or services the other. But in the relation between paintings and cultures the currency is much more diverse than just money: it includes such things as approval, intellectual nurture and, later, reassurance, provocation and irritation of stimulating kinds, the articulation of ideas, vernacular visual skills, friendship and — very important indeed — a history of one's activity and a hereditary, as well as sometimes money acting both as a token of some of these and a means to continuing performance.
    [line break added] And the good exchanged for these is not so much pictures as profitable and pleasurable experience of pictures. The painter may choose to take more of one sort of compensation than of another — more of a certain sense of himself within the history of painting, for instance, than of approval or money. The consumer may choose this rather than that sort of satisfaction. Whatever choice painter or consumer makes will reflect on the market as a whole. It is a pattern of barter, barter primarily of mental goods. —Michael Baxendall, Patterns of Intention, (1985)
    But sometimes the "certain sense of himself" becomes what the artist is bartering for, becomes all that the artist is bartering for. He loses all sight of the art apart from that delicious "certain sense of himself":
    by C.K. Williams
    ... The word alone sizzles like boiling acid, moans like molten lead, but ah my dear, it leaves the lips in such a sweetly murmuring hum.​
  185. [pick any Pierre Bonnard painting to look at reference the below; this is true of all his painting, including his nudes]
    "The presence of the object, the subject itself, is an embarrassment to the painter at the moment he is painting. The point of departure for a painting being an idea, if the object itself is there at the moment when he is working there is always the danger that the artist will allow himself to be taken in by the specifics of the immediate view of it and in so doing lose the initial idea ... "
    "But then you never work before the subject?"
    "Yes, but I leave, I go back to check, I come away, I return some time later; I don't allow myself to be absorbed by the object itself. In sum, there comes to be a conflict between the initial idea, which is the good one, the painter's, and the variable and varied world of the object. ... In the first inspiration or idea the painter achieves the universal. It is this inspiration that determines the choice of the motif and corresponds exactly to the painting. If this inspiration, this first idea is effaced, then there is nothing but the motif, the object, which has invaded and dominated the painter. From that time on, he is no longer making his own painting." — Angèle LaMotte relating a dialog with the painter in Verve, 1947
    Thinking about that last bit, "there is nothing but the motif, the object, which has invaded and dominated the painter," with reference to photography. Do I agree with it? Do I mind if it is true when I am photographing?
  186. Too Platonic for words. It's the old universal ideas vs. transient objects. Significant, indeed, though nothing new.

    Fun to think about, even inspiring. Neither true nor false.

    It's not something I'd agree or disagree with. If it's the way a certain painter relates to the world and his work, so be it.

    Regarding my own photography, the idea and the object can also converse, argue, support, disdain, and feed each other,
    in addition to having all sorts of other relationships.

    I keep reminding myself, there is no secret, no magical special sauce that's going to turn someone into a proper artist or
  187. Chaim Soutine was the opposite of Bonnard:
    Soutine had to have the thing he was painting out there in front of him. He wouldn't invent. He wouldn't paint from memory, even the memory of a motif he had worked from day after day. He wouldn't paint from drawings or from photographs or from an earlier painting of the subject. He had to have the real thing there.
    He even needed it there when painting his paraphrases of old masters. He never copied from the picture, either the original or a reproduction; he reconstructed the motif of the picture, worked from a model or a still-life subject disposed in accordance with the prototype.
    ... Reconstituting the motif rather than working from the picture was a curious procedure to adopt when transposing other men's images. After all, one of the reasons why painters make copies or transpositions is to save themselves the bother of employing a model or buying a lobster or taking a trip to the country. And as a matter of fact Soutine was often put to more trouble than usual when he tried to find the living equivalent of an image he had chosen to adapt.
    [line break added] Some of the most grotesque stories in the Soutine legend tell of such occasions. There is the story behind the picture based on Courbet's reclining girl -- the days of motoring round the countryside before a suitable model was found; the jealousy of her husband, a railway gatekeeper, who, after one session, tried to stop her from posing; Soutine's rage and threats of legal action.
    ... There is the story about the carcass of beef which he had hanging in the studio while painting four or more large canvases paraphrasing the Rembrandt carcass -- the complaints of the neighbors at the stench of decaying flesh; the pail of blood used to freshen up the meat as it got dry; the model hired to fan away the flies so that the motif could be seen; the artist's growing rapture at the colors that emerged as the meat decomposed, and the neighbor's growing desperation; the calling in of the police; Soutine's incomprehension and rage. — David Sylvester
  188. I don't know that the two are actually opposites. It is possible that Soutine's need for the presence of the object, in all its
    rancor and stench, allows him access to that very same Idea Bonnard is talking about. While the outward appearance
    and process of how they work may vary, this doesn't suggest to me that their thinking about ideas and objects were
    necessarily different. As a matter of fact, it's interesting that in transposing the work of the masters, Soutine chooses not to look at
    that work but at the objects themselves. Thus he seems to realize that it will be HIS idea of the object rather than the
    original master's that will now be significant.
  189. "It's funny since Allen is always eager and first to ridicule the aspect of putting images into words. Yet "whenever he himself is using words with his own images the pictures never quite match the lofty language "Phillip.
    Sorry, if my image does not match up to my lofty language. But thanks for the heads up appreciating my lofty language.
    Just posted a photo and added a few nothing special or the words...just joining in. Have I stepped on the toes of those who feel special with deep insights beyond us mortals? Suppose so.
    Oh well.
  190. Methinks that folks are too lost in the motivations of the Artist than the Art.
  191. I added 10,000 words to my Art.
    Now I know I have created Art.
  192. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    if the pg has used their imagination in taking the photo then use yours in writing about it

    avoid using the adjective 'interesting'

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