I have a strong opinion about this essay in the NYT "Obama's People"

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by twmeyer, Jan 17, 2009.

  1. Before I get carried away, some may find this essay of interest:
    http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/magazine/2009-inauguration-gallery/index.html
    ... t
     
  2. Visually? "photo-booth" comes to mind...
     
  3. They must all be clever, because they shure ain't been chosen for their looks.
     
  4. The photograpger described an almost torturous regiment of how the subject was introduced to the photo shoot, that was in teresting. In any case, the results seemd quite natural, umblemished, and intreresting to look at. I guess that is the art involved, how to get 50 people to enter the camera space and have the result be interesting to look at.
     
  5. I liked it. Reminded me of Richard Avedon's work. Stripped down, real. Un-messed-with.
     
  6. I like the series a LOT.
    Fresh administration; fresh portraiture - both casting away approaches of the past. The series has a great informal and approachable character to it. Very befitting the new administration.
    I like the white Avedon-esque background; amplifying gestures and forcing subjects to adopt to the confines of the area. But glad Kander did not go further capturing the subjects in the way Avedon, Newman, and Karsh would have; myself thinking about how Avedon captured Nixon's advisors and other politicians...
     
  7. As official portraits go, they are not particularly flattering. But it sure qualifies as open, forthright and honest.
    I kind of got a kick out of the guy who went for the cookies (America's main comfort food!.), and I thought it was really telling the stance that (General) Jones was in compared to the casual and almost slouchy posture of most of the others - all those years of military practice produce a very marked "at attention" pose without him realizing it.
     
  8. I think they look the images were made with a copier machine, and the lighting was more suitable to copy work of two dimensional subjects than of the complex humans that were subjected to that cattle call... I've seen better work done with a couple of SBs on a street corner.
    The skin tones sucked (like plastic), over sharpened and, I suspect, too much "Clarity" from LR. The people all looked like they were taxidermied (is that a word?) and the style was totally a 21st century cliche' that was worn out several years ago. Most portraiture in the NYT magazine and paper is just great. This was a huge disppointment to me.
    The ONLY resemblance to Avedon's work is the white background. Look at his images of political figures of the 60s and 70s and you'll see how badly done "The Obama People" is by comparison. Artless... t
     
  9. See Avedon's portrait of Karl Rove ... t
     
  10. Reagan, Buckley, Hiss, Kissinger are all there, too... t
     
  11. being a professional in the newspaper photographer realm, it's brilliant work. if you look at each photo, there are subtle differences in each person's pose, mannerisms, etc. that round out each person's personality. simple, yet effective.
     
  12. >>> Look at his images of political figures of the 60s and 70s and you'll see how badly done "The Obama People" is by comparison.
    And it was certainly not his intent not to follow in the footsteps of all the *traditional* portrait photographers of the past; including Avedon.
    As much as I am a huge admirer of Avedon's work (over many disciplines and decades), I can't imagine doing Obama's advisors in that manner. Would have been a huge mistake. Was great for Nixon's advisors back then (Kissinger, The Mission Council, etc...). Nice that he broke from past traditions; like the administration itself. I enjoy the freshness of both.
     
  13. >>> As official portraits go...
    But they're not official portraits. NYT Magazine...
     
  14. so did Avedon interact with his subjects the same way? the photographer indicates that the result of the image is a spontaneous interaction with the subject. These images are in color, "in color" has many distractions, but in these images you do get a real sense of the person, but, only in the context of all fifty. Take Eugene Kang's and Ellen Moran's portraits, remove them from this context and I don't think they will resonate as well.
     
  15. The comparison to Avedon's Power Portraits (now exibiting at the Corcoran) was raised by the NYT article about behind the scenes. It would not otherwise have appeared to me as a stylistic homage, at all. I think the treatment is trendy and inappropriate to the subject... t
     
  16. Wow- I think they are some of the worst portraits I have ever seen. If I were Avedon and somebody told me they were like his, I'd be pissed...
     
  17. *Thank* you!... t
     
  18. >>> If I were Avedon and somebody told me they were like his, I'd be pissed...

    Except nobody is making that claim. Only someone familiar with Avedon's work in the most superficial sense (ie a white background being employed) would even suggest that.

    There is no claim anywhere, by Kander, the NYT director of photography, or the NYT Magazine's editor that the goal of the set of portraits was to be in a style similar to Avedon's.

    People forget that Avedon's In the American West portraits were harshly criticized when unveiled in the 1980s; not just for his unpopular unglamorous depiction of "the West," but on the style and extreme and somewhat fictional representation of his subjects. Also, Avedon's motivation for shooting against a white background was much different than that stated by Kander.
     
  19. Sorry but the images doesn't quite evoke any emotion from me. Unlike those from Richard Avedon. Just look at most of the crop in the portraits. Is doesn't have that "in your face" feeling of power of any kind from these people. The photographer made the general looked like a geek. There are very subtle perspective differences in Avedon's portraits that create the emotion. This NYT photographer failed in my humble opinion.
     
  20. Thanks for the link. I liked many of these individually and the group as a whole. I agree with many of the above positive comments, in terms of naturalness and personality of subjects coming through. Additionally, I think the lighting (from below?) that casts the slight background shadow is unique and very interesting. I found many differences between the portraits and wonder how boilerplate the above negative reactions are. Any you liked?
     
  21. Please don't mention the name of Richard Avedon in association with these images. Avedon was one of America's greatest photographic artists and these images are pathetic in comparison.
    -O
     
  22. Brad... I'll quote the editor of the NYT, Gerald Marzorati, and please note sentence one, paragraph two:
    "EARLY IN 1976 , with both the post-Watergate presidential election and the bicentennial celebration in mind, Rolling Stone approached Richard Avedon , America’s most celebrated portrait photographer of the time, with the idea of spending the year shooting pictures on the campaign trail. Avedon had other ideas, or, better, a bigger idea: To photograph the men and women he understood to constitute the political leadership of the United States. The result, published in Rolling Stone’s Oct. 21, 1976, issue and taking up the entire feature well of the magazine, was a portfolio of 73 black-and-white portraits — formal, frank in a stylized way and, page after page after page, thoroughly absorbing.
    It was with that project very much in mind that The Times Magazine asked Nadav Kander — one of the more original and highly regarded portraitists at work just now — if he would like to photograph the administration of Barack Obama as it was being assembled."
     
  23. which is like the polar opposite of Nadav Kandar's work , which I think is killer stuff.
    I just think it was the wrong choice by the NYT photo editor, which is even more shocking to me. I have always thought their photo editing choices were some of the best in news publishing.
    I have been inspired for years by the work shown in the NYTimes, so I was really surprised by this pairing. NK is a known quantity, who carefully matches tone and color to the subject and demeanor of his subjects. I just think that choice was inappropriate for the task of creating portraits of 50 really different people in a very brief period on one day in the midst of an extremely busy schedule... t
     
  24. Tom, I read the same story earlier and think you're misunderstanding it. *Nowhere* does it say the goal was to produce a set of portraits in Avedon's style.
    Rather, the goal was to have a set of portraits of Obama's advisors. As Avedon created a set of political portraits decades earlier. If the earlier portraits had been Arnold Newman's (instead of Avedon's) would you similarly conclude Kander and the NYT's goal was to create a set of portraits in Newman's style?
     
  25. If they said, "...with Newman's essay in mind..." I certainly would. I mean, why even mention that if it's not to invoke those images? And all this Avedon reference is only an incidental aggravation.
    My main objection is to the pairing of this artist with this subject. He is famous for unrealistic skin tones and a very personal rendering of appearance that has little to do with what his subject actually look like. He tries to evoke a dramatic rendering of a state of mind that is particular to certain individuals.
    In this essay, we have a constant effect applied indiscriminately to every one from a delicately beautiful, intensely intelligent young black woman to a 65 year old ex Marine General. So many have that "deer in the headlights/ is this over yet" look in their eyes, it's just painful.
    They look like over processed, slightly mis-timed drivers license photos made under copy lights with no consideration of the subjects, only a slavish adherence to the process, regardless of the effect... t
    I just noticed it was done over three days in three cities... t
     
  26. >>> If they said, "...with Newman's essay in mind..." I certainly would.
    It wasn't the style being referred to - it's not even close - only in the most superficial sense being the photos were set against a white background. You honestly think that was the goal? And somehow Kander and the NYT editors couldn't have hit the mark closer (missing some things; B&W, tighter crops, etc)?
    It was the fact that an important body of work of politicians was created decades ago; a first by a photographer (and it happened to be Avedon). And the NYT wanted to create another of the new administration, similar in scope and importance. Not to create an Avedon look-alike set of portraits dating back to the '60s. Times change. Fortunately views about portraiture change as well.
     
  27. Wow--There seems to be quite an amount of harsh criticism here!
    So they're not flattering fashion portraits with umpteen carefully positioned studio strobes and a flag in the background... So what? They're informal, harsh, and have a totally unique feel that you can't just chalk up to "bad work." Some of this collection may be the only shots you see of these people outside of ultra-formal business portraiture or street photojournalism.
    This is a totally different look and feel than you'd see with this kind of group of subjects, and I think it's just unusual, which clearly makes people uncomfortable. Maybe they should have called in a LifeTouch photographer from the local middle school? Would that work better for you?
    Honestly, people--It's just a different style. Somebody said these are "the worst portraits [they'd] ever seen." Come on. Really?
    I think "the worst portrait [you've] ever seen" was probably taken in a dark, busy restaurant with on-camera flash and a semi-black background. Or how about your classic myspace party P&S snap? Are those better than the latest stuff out of The New York Times?
    What a bunch of rubbish.
     
  28. I think classy portraits of Obama and his staff would have been more preferable.
    Tom, I agree, it looks like a typical driver's licence shoot. I've seen similar startled faces on kangaroos in the headlights whilst driving through central Queensland at night...not at all what I would have expected.
    I think the whole exercise is rather disappointing to say the least....some guys even resemble cartoon characters. If that's the modern 'digital look' I'm gonna stick with film.
     
  29. In a way, I agree with you Tom. However, I cannot deny what the other posters have stated about the shots having a distinct style. It's definitely there.
    The formula is not exactly new...make the subjects uncomfortable in a small space, flat lighting, and somehow try to capture the slight discomfort in the poses and gestures. On the other hand, I can say, with a straight face and absolute certainty - that I can do ten times better than than the NYT photographer and all I would need is this;
    http://purikura.org/
    ...10 times better because they wouldn't have all the personalized writing, instant effects, and of course, the automatic changing background. ;)
     
  30. Perfect driver's license photos - its a style I guess........ --Rich
     
  31. Actually, they seem more appropriate in the context of the entire article, rather than as a stand alone group of photos.
     
  32. I think the are very very good, in my opinion! They remind me a bit of elsa dorfmans work.
     
  33. very cool...interesting...different...isnt that what takin pics is all about?
     
  34. One of those projects where you can do no wrong. Seems very blah and cliché to me. The naration is amusing.....so sensational.
     
  35. Looks like cut and paste of previous photos with a little drop shadow thrown in. It seems to me I,ve seen a few of these photos before. Hmmmmm?
     
  36. back in the pre-historic past, when I worked part-time for a daily city newspaper, this type of photography was "stand'em and grim'em".....the very least desirable form of capturing an image and usually resulted in a brief one-way discussion with the chief photographer. 8-{
    To call it anything other than quicky, expendible photography is over generous. With the big O's political savy, I find it hard to believe he approved this crap.
     
  37. I think the portraits were great, the personalities carry through and you get a generalized feel of who the person is.
    Rahm Emanuel hands on hips, all business to the point.
    David Axelrod relaxed and casual.
    Gen. Jones in the Marine Corps position of attention.
    My favorite though was the special assistant to the President. Haha, didn't even have time to pose, has to see what else is coming up in the appointment book.
     
  38. I thought the pictures were good in the NYT story. Just the idea of seeing these people and learning who they are was interesting. Some of those folks will probably never really be in the spotlight unless something goes horribly wrong. Considering they're ordinary people with extraordinary employment; they're not professional models; we could second-guess the portrait session with a list of other shots he could have taken, or how those could have been improved; but it is what it is. Next picture. What's wrong with that?
    I found it a little disturbing that some people were looking away from the camera. Since these are politicians, I wondered if it was, like, are these people not willing to face the viewer? Probably was just built that way, but that was really the only thing I felt beyond being intrigued about who these people were.
    Tom, I think mentioned that he liked the work Kandar. What did y'all like about it? When I looked over the link to Kandar's portfolio; well, he has excellent grouping. There are a lot of shots which are presented together; that sets up a theme; but the shots themselves look kind of like rejectable snapshots. It seems like there's a lot of magic in the presentation more than there is in the composition of the individual photos. Hey, more power to the guy, but if that name of the picture had been mine, and I had turned in a bunch of shots of an overpass, y'all wouldn't hesitate to call out "3/3" on a critique, if you looked over it at all.
    Seems like there are tungsten films in there; or a similar style of color balance adjustment; maybe made to look like XPRO; other than that, I didn't really see anything super great about it. Most of the action in there seemed to be in the comprehensive set of visualizations (like, who is going to make a bunch of pictures of living room windows, etc.) and the grouping of presentation.
    I don't mean to be crass, but sometimes when I see work like this, and it's some kind of high-priced deal; it just gives me hope for the future. I know that there's kind of a randomness about the fashion of financial success in the arts, but really; as far as the pictures themselves go, a random selection from the critique gallery would probably do better with me.
    What's in there that seems so great, Tom? I guess these don't look like "snapshots" to your eyes. What are you seeing in there (in the linked portfolio) that you find intriguing? I didn't see "it." What is "it", that's in there?
     
  39. The Rahm portrait is pretty good. Gives me a "business" vibe. Some of them were alright.
    The Avedon portrait of Karl Rove throws me totally off. I know the Big A is the benchmark, but what does the portrait truly say about the person, or what "truth" is being conveyed?
    I'm not criticizing the art, I just don't get it, and I don't get a lot of things.
    /bing
     
  40. They are Horrible!
     
  41. I saw this series of portraits a few days ago and I think I am just "getting it". A portrait is supposed to show us the "real person". I've taken plenty of snapshots (as a few of us have suggested these are) of people who I know and "ordinary people" as was suggested in the audio, but they hardly ever look so ... awkward. Now, not all of them look so horrible. In fact, I think several shots of the women look quite nice.
    What do these portraits say? Do they reflect the photographer's skill (yes I figure he is using a special technique) or are they somehow a window into these people's personality?
    I kind of understand the venom being directed at these photos and the photographer. I however think it would be appropriate to express what that understanding is in private conversation, not here.
     
  42. I don't like them at all. They are all dull and uninteresting. I don't see any great "capture their personality" moments in there.
    I understand the logistical constraints placed the photographer, I.E. no studio, limited time, etc. Because of those constraints it seems he took the safe route in regards to lighting. Dull, safe, uninteresting.
    I don't see any risk-taking at all. It seems the photographer lost trust in himself and blew an opportunity to do something with a bit more personality.
    His lack of trust in himself also showed in when he tripped the shutter. I see late timing in all the shots. That one millisecond where the person's personality comes out was missed.
    I wish him better luck on his next project.
     
  43. They are all dull and uninteresting.​
    The pictures or the subjects?
     
  44. The pictures. Everyone has some sort of personality or character in them. A good photograph captures that personality.
    I.M.O. the photos don't express much about the subjects. I don't think they are very good photographs.
     
  45. When I first starting going through them, I thought....What is this junk? But they started to grow on me and when thought of as a project, not individual images, it is quite impressive. Many of the shots are telling the story of the individual in one snapshot, if you will!
    Secondly, the diversity of age, sex and color is impressive....Just a thought, not a political statement!
    Jim
     
  46. The pictures. Everyone has some sort of personality or character in them. A good photograph captures that personality.
    I.M.O. the photos don't express much about the subjects. I don't think they are very good photographs.
     
  47. I have to say that I really liked the portraits. They were certainly not the "pretty" portraits that we are used to from political figures. They were full of quirks and character, simply displayed. The post processing emphasized their flaws rather than covered them up. It worked for me. Of course, if someone takes my portrait, I wanted it heavily "air brushed." :) Dan
     
  48. Flat, poorly executed, unflattering for the subjects. Not very good.
     
  49. I think it brings them down to a more "human" level...relatable.
     
  50. Absolute train wreck.
     
  51. I saw Rahm Emanuel (the first photo) on one of the Sunday political shows, and a question was asked about his political style (he is supposed to be a bulldog of sorts ... etc...) is he going to be a little more mild mannered since Obama says he wants to "reach across he aisle" and work together to solve the huge problems of the country? He just sort of laughed, and tried to move to the next question.

    On TV he looked quite like his photograph in this series. You know the look. That annoyed, "this is a waste of my time, I wish I was somewhere else, just hurry up and let's get this over with" look.
    Or I could be completely wrong, cameras may not like him very much.
     
  52. I hope he has job after this
    Anyway he has hassy & wide angle lens I think He is rich ----I am just joking
    anyway it is great success because all world talk about this photos
    really become famous.
     
  53. In portraiture, gimmicks seldom work, and here I think the gimmicks -- awkward setting, heavy post-processing -- have failed monumentally. These powerful men and women came out looking like waxen dummies. This tells us much more about the photographer's (and perhaps editor's) attitude toward them than it does about the people themselves.
    Look at the bright side: a set of humanistic portraits of the new administration remains to be done. Surely someone will come along with the talent and sensitivity to do the job right over the next four years. With any luck, we'll get to see pictures in which the subjects are more noticeable than the technique.
     
  54. I saw the pictures in the magazine and thought most of them were revolting, to be frank -- cartoonish, plasticky, oversharpened, unreal. I didn't want to study or linger over the pictures at all. I wanted to run away.
    These pictures don't bring the subjects "down to earth" or make them seem like ordinary people. To the contrary -- the subjects look like aliens recently descended to planet earth from a digital galaxy far away.
    Oddly enough, though, the pictures look a little better viewed online. Maybe the reproduction in the magazine is just bad. Or maybe the photographer optimized the pictures for display on the screen.
     
  55. As official portraits go, they are not particularly flattering.


    They are not the official portraits.
    They are editorial portraits and they are good, but not great. Soem are terrific, most are not. The set up was done to be like class pictures . the thing that really bothers me is the fake Photoshopped shadow.
    No doubt given more time per subject and the ability to choose backgrounds suitable to each subjects The photos then would be visually more interesting. Dan Winters, Greg Heisler, Mary Ellen Mark, Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Joe McNally, Anton Kratchovil, Jim Salzano, Jim Nachtwey, and even Kandar himself et. al., even Tom Meyer or Ellis Vener or about 50 other photogrpahers could have all done better jobs under those circumstances. High powered politicians, business people and political wonks - and most of these people have spent their careers being behind the scenes political policy wonks -- are not generally photogenic people cause unlike celebrities they are not used to turning on a performance for the camera.



     
  56. Reminded me of Richard Avedon's work. Stripped down, real. Un-messed-with.
    You obviously have no idea how much 'messing' was done with Avedon's prints. there was an enormous amount done duringthe printing and afterwards. The difference is: with a simialr Avedon portrait the "processing and printing tricks were made invisible -- unlike these. Whoever was the digital on this job left his or her fingerprints all over them.
    Anyway the New Yorker has already crowned their Avedon replacement and it is Platon.
     
  57. I am with Vener on this one; however, i liked the audio :)
     
  58. Like most things in life, our responses probably say more about us than about the photos. By that I mean, we bring various expectations and cultural biases to viewing the images. I have to say that I thought the "official" President-Elect Obama portrait was not to my liking. I thought it was a bit boring and lifeless. My apologies to the photographer.
    Anyway, hoping I would find some sort of pattern to our responses (yes, I am a scientist), I started going through the photos of various people who responded to this thread. Hey, a lot of you don't have photos posted. Get to work! You are really messing with my analysis approach. :) Maybe I missed it, but I didn't find a pattern. Oh well... Best wished to everyone and thanks for the interesting thread, Dan
     
  59. Anyone can call anything art. It's totally an indvidualistic opinion.
     
  60. Wow - incredibly boring imagery. It's important to view the images without listening to or reading the overblown commentary. Forget Avedon - these portraits look "phoned in". There is nothing happening here that compels us to study these people. The dropped in fake shadows only make them worse. What a letdown! A missed opportunity for something special.
     
  61. I don't think these portraits represents the Obama campaign - so in that respect they are very disappointing to me - I would have hoped for something more contempory and "hip" for lack of a better term - they seem "old" style which I greatly appreciate but found it diappointing for this President.
     
  62. It seems that Obama declined to have his portrait taken by the NYT Magazine. Good call on his part.
     
  63. I guess this falls under the category of 'art', but I'm definitely not impressed, and really don't like them (the photos) or the style very much. I would certainly not expect to have my photo turn out like those.
    I guess if you're 'famous', then its OK to take photos like this and you'll get exactly the response they're getting.
    --Rich
     
  64. The only thing missing from these mug shots are the slates hanging from their necks with precinct numbers and arrest dates. Here's to HOPE .
     
  65. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The difference is: with a simialr Avedon portrait the "processing and printing tricks were made invisible -- unlike these.​
    That's not true for the American West portraits. The selective toning and bleaching is quite obvious. I went to the show three times when it was here a year or two ago.
     
  66. Pure digital plastic. Smoothed over and cartoonish. These are not photographs.
     
  67. I couldn't agree more with Rich (and the rest of those with thumbs down) about these distinctly unflattering photos. Reading the article, as well as the posts in this thread, I'm reminded of all I experienced during and following my formal education in art. If something remotely smacks of being esoteric or merely unique or different, the avant-garde, or those wishing to appear to so, rally around it and prop it up with gushing praises. Meanwhile I stand scratching my head, saying "wha....?" I guess that makes me an uninitiated simpleton. I'd venture to guess though, that most participants in this forum, if they took shots such as these, would be unlikely to post them in their portfolio. Am I wrong....?
     
  68. I hope that the photos will be the only negative things about them. They have a monumental task ahead of them, and I wish them the very best.
     
  69. The guy could always get a job at the shooting for the DMV
     
  70. That was a likeness of Hillary at a wax museum, right? There are a few candid, relaxed shots that I like, though.
    --Lannie
     
  71. Well anybody that can't see they are good photos is looking inside the box too much, I didn't expect to like them, but the more I looked at them and the differences between them the more I saw. They are not to my style or taste, but they are a very good series. Are they art? No. But too many people try to tell you too much photography is. Do they show individual nuances and charecter in a, politically, uncharecteristicly honest way? Yes.
    I am on the side of they are good, and relevent in todays political and economic climate, they do need to be kept in context to work though. You can't just look at the technical aspects per shot.
    Take care, Scott.
     
  72. In particular, I liked the portraits of the head speechwriter and Ken Salazar. Both spoke something to me of their places in (ongoing) history and their personalities. I see the digital overprocessed point, if it's valid - I am hardly one to know or understand Photoshop et. al. However, the effect of the photos works for me. Unflattering is fine, if it's real. Does the Fox News flap over Palin's extreme closeup on Neweek an applicable analog? Is it the photographer's responsibility to flatter the subject, or is that dishonest? Is honesty more important than flattery in photography? I know I'm spitballing here, but the "flattering" argument seems off base to me as criticism.
    As for the official President Obama photo, flag pin on the lapel? Really? Also, a bit dark on his left side, I thought.
     
  73. Not impressed by these images at all. The personality coming out of the subjects here could be relatively accidental. The lighting seems to be a attempt at the ringlight look without the ringlight. If I were trying to bring attention to the grease on someone's skin this would be a good way to do it. the symmetrical soft-lights do a fantastic job of creating unflattering highlights in the eyes that make them look glassy like they are on drugs. Avedon's lighting is completely different. If you don't like somebody and your goal is to make them look bad, mission accomplished. There are unflattering pics that have a point to them, but there is no point to accentuating the unflattering as a matter of habit. Critique is no more honest than flattery, but there should be a point to employing one or the other. I don't see the point here.
     
  74. My problem is not with the photographer, it's with the photo editor. This was a bad match up. I like Ellis's list of alternates. Maybe in 2013 I'll get a call... t
     
  75. Critique is no more honest than flattery, but there should be a point to employing one or the other.​
    That's an interesting point that I have to consider.
     
  76. These are horribly constructed photos. They look like something I would do (a rank amateur). Most of the people look unnatural both in their personal presentation and in the photo editing. And it looks like a LOT of photo editing was done...poorly. I also noticed that Hillary Clinton's bio does not mention BC. Very interesting in its absence.
     
  77. it

    it

    Technique aside, I found it an interesting series. Good work to capture all these people in one go.
     
  78. That's not true for the American West portraits. The selective toning and bleaching is quite obvious. I went to the show three times when it was here a year or two ago.
    You saw the larger than lifesize prints, but most people have only seen the book size reproductions where all ofthe manipulations are not so obvious.
    On another blog, commenting in a thread aboutthe behind the scenes photos for this shoot, editorial photographer Robbie McClaren (http://www.mclaren.com ) points out that the print version of these portraits looks far better than it does on the web.
     
  79. Tom I must congratulate you for bringing so many opinions about these pictures to discussion. Picture of the week does not get discussed so good. I think your points and many others are typical of professionals criticizing professionals. The general public either like or not what they, many like a change to see something different. Most knowing nothing of great photographers. My first opion was I liked the pictures. I would preffer eye contact of a sort as menstioned. But other than that no complaints. I am problably like many people, unaware of the work of the many great photographers. I think your points are valid but I think pictures are good and have done there job. With discussions like this probably better than could have been wished for.
     
  80. it

    it

    I don't think it's fair to compare to Avedon. He probably puts more work into a single portrait than this shooter did into the whole series.
     
  81. Well, at least this post is in the right forum... These are just posed "fashion" shots (as are Avedon's, from what I've seen...). With different models this stuff wouldn't be at all out of place in any number of glossy fashion/lifestyle mags.
    It's just more marketing, with people as props... This stuff is everywhere these days, so I really can't see what all the fuss is about.
     
  82. "Everyone has some sort of personality or character in them."
    True.
    "A good photograph captures that personality."
    False. Photographs capture expressions and other aspects of physical appearance/behaviour, nothing more. Are you gonna judge someone's mind from a photograph...? Really...?
    Damn, no wonder the politicians get away with so much these days... :)
     
  83. i really liked some of the pictures. the white backdrop, especially the space above the heads. it really drew you in.
     
  84. The photo of Rahm Emanuel certainly captured his essence. That's not necessarily a compliment.
    Looking at the "back story" photos of the making-of the photos... I don't feel so bad now about my own blurry, meat-skin candid photos.
     
  85. Paul that is a good point in your post of 6:20am . It is a conceit, a false conceit, to think that a photograph "captures personality". At best a photo (or painting, sculpture, writing or drawing, etc.) expresses an opinion of the work's creator about the person, place or thing depicted. And the more strongly held that opinion is, and the more clearly expressed, the more we sense it. Avedon & Arnold Newman knew this, Irving Penn knows this. So does Annie Leibovitz, Greg Heisler, Mary Ellen Mark , etc.
     
  86. Check out this photo spread done by another photographer for Esquire by Andrew Hetherington :
    http://www.ahetherington.com/#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=2&p=1&a=0&at=0
    hmmm.
     
  87. He got the job. I didn't. Wish I did.
    I've had a few celebs. I've made pics. I don't brag about it nor do I show them anywhere. I respect their privacy.
    The quality of the images is debatable. Always will be no matter who makes them. Some like 'em while others don't. That's my choice and yours as well.
     
  88. The influence of Norman Mingo is so obvious.
     
  89. i think its very easy to have strong opinions about these types of portraits, not everyone was a fan of Avedons work either, but none the less is was meaningful work otherwise we never would of heard of it. like was said before, i dont think the meaning of this project was to flatter the subject, but to catch as real of a look as possible. youll notice most of the subjects appear to look as if they just walked into the door. im truly a fan, and i recognize that everyone has their own opinion, but im def a fan.
     
  90. I think the images overall are not great. There are a handful where the subject is presented well, but they are a minority. I think the repeated use of the looking off to the side and up is not successful in any way. Frankly, I'm not sure I understand why the NYT ran this. I suppose after the fact one has to run it - you aren't going to get those folks back for a reshoot.
     
  91. Thanks, Tom. They're eerily taxidermic--a quality I never see in Avedon's sometimes monstrous shots of the powerful. But maybe that's what's missing in the Kander gallery--power. These people haven't really been tested, steeled, and traumatized yet by the burden of power. While they're not lacking in experience, few have played for long--if ever--in the major league. They're full of opinions but not necessarily much knowledge. That's the quality that Avedon always sought in political portraits.
     
  92. Imagine them in black and white. But then, everything is better in the imagination.
     
  93. But maybe that's what's missing in the Kander gallery--power. These people haven't really been tested, steeled, and traumatized yet by the burden of power.​
    ... and that's why I really like this series. It is well done. The personalities behind the images come across - whether something real, or intentionally telegraphed. Look at the portraits of Emanuel, Summers, Power, Axelrod, Sunstein, Jones, and even Clinton.
    For better or worse, this is the incoming class and they will have impact on our lives for the next four years. It is not about flattery.
     
  94. jtk

    jtk

    1) I'm surprised how unaware many here are of Avedon's multiple approaches to photography (the least known approach involved a Minox....at a mental hospital..In The West had certain connections). Ignorance about the sophistication of Avedon's technique is downright shocking here.
    2) New Yorker and NY Times are not related publications. New Yorker has certainly used Platon, but they've already used someone else who's knocking off Platon's affected style. It's already mundane, a hack style, like Holga work or "street " when applied to non-"art" purposes.
    3) I'm bothered by the intentional overlooking of standard portrait details...Rahm Immanuel's faulty colar, the belt lines/tuck-in of fat guys, out-of-place neckties, poorly lit jewelry, exaggerated neckties (like advertisements).
    4) I wonder what's going on with the various shadow colors. They look like careless dodging/burning, but are probably digital phenomena...like the waxy, blown-out skins.
    5) Many of these individuals are handsome middle-aged professionals. Several of the women are actually beauties, even in old age. You may not like them as individuals, but of course you don't know them..do you? Did this photographer show basic professional respect?
    I withheld judgement initially, repeatedly viewed them all. I tried to appreciate them.
    In the end, what we're seeing is European "PoMo" (postmodern) posturing. Intentional pretense that there's no such thing as a value and no such thing as professionalism.
    NY Times usually does a great job with photojournalism but a ghastly job with fashion. I think these photos were edited by someone fashion-oriented.
     
  95. There is something very interesting about the technique used in the shots. However I can not believe with the experience Hillary Clinton has in having her portrait taken that she was unaware how this pose would make her appear. Samething with Alexrod. They had to know thru exp. that these were not flattering images and for image and media savy people I can only imagine the pitch that they receieved in order to get them to pose for this images. I think that may be the real power of the images.
     
  96. I'm bothered by the intentional overlooking of standard portrait details...Rahm Immanuel's faulty colar, the belt lines/tuck-in of fat guys, ...​
    So in an incoming administration as media savvy as this one, and from as a progressively bent publication as the NY Times, what does that tell you about the portrait subjects, and the messaging?
     
  97. Norman Mingo's most famous portrait:
    Portrait
     
  98. Suddenly I became "older"!
     
  99. In the end, what we're seeing is European "PoMo" (postmodern) posturing. Intentional pretense that there's no such thing as a value and no such thing as professionalism.​
    Yeh, Newsweek has been shading that way. Their cover photos have been borderline ghastly for the past year. Their art consultant forgot to tell 'em that it's only Official Nihilism© if you don't get caught in the act. If you get caught it's Post-Industrial Narcissistic Nihilism©, which not even Allure magazine would stoop to anymore.
     
  100. 2) New Yorker and NY Times are not related publications.​
    No kidding! of course I still read so maybe that it explains why I know the difference.
    New Yorker has certainly used Platon,​
    If by "used" you mean hiring hima nd putting him on staff as their photogrpaher, you are right.

    but they've already used someone else who's knocking off Platon's affected style. It's already mundane, a hack style, like Holga work or "street " when applied to non-"art" purposes.
    Well to each his own. Sorry your friend din't get the Rolling Stone Gig back in 1967. You obviousloy are stil lsmarting fro mthat sting.
     
  101. (Before I say anything...no relation to Janet in the photoshoot. lol)
    I would have liked to see a couple "group" shots...just people interacting with each other, even on a playful level.
    I'm still dying to see that guy with his chocolate chip cookies. :)
    A couple of the shots were really unflattering though, like one of an older redhead looking up. It's an awkward angle and her face looks like it's being engulfed by her neck.
    Just my 2cents...
     
  102. Well, I guess the main thing to remember here is that today's topical photo story is tomorrow's bog paper... :)
     
  103. jtk

    jtk

    Ellis, I don't always pay attention to names of people who post on P.N, but you evidently do. If I gored your ox I'm sorry, it wasn't meant personally. Had I noticed your name it wouldn't have affected my comments. Our differences on Leibowitz: who cares?. Compare her to Kander. It'd be easy..if I did I'd mention sucking up to narrow target markets, but that's just me.
    As for Platon and New Yorker, there have been at least two Platon-clones in that otherwise excellent magazine since they hired him. Maybe he's toast. I don't think anybody there considers him an Avedon, but one never knows, do one? :)
     
  104. Photo wise there's not much that I like about it. A few shots I like alot. I agree with most of the criticisms - the over photoshoping (is that a word?), the lighting etc. They definitely have impact though, and that's more important to these people than art. This is serious business and I think the rough edged sloppy style gives these people a real edge . Basically they look like the bad photos that people have shoe boxes full of all across America - well maybe not that bad but something they can probably identify with. Anyway I think the lack of polish will work in their favour. I would have done it with a Polaroid One Step though.
     
  105. I'm just simple minded. I think they are amazing portraits. 50 individuals, and all of them are good. What is surprising, is the feeling I get when I look at some of the smartest and most powerful people on the planet. They look pretty normal and some are very youthful to me. This crew is going to run the country. Maybe it's all by design but I agree with David Viglianti - It's serious business.
     
  106. The level of creativity this exhibit displays is about what I'd expect from a high school freshman.
     
  107. The soft background shadow makes them look like they were composited on a white background with a very soft drop shadow effect layered in photoshop... That shadow seems to be quite consistent between portraits, which from what I can tell were taken at different locations (though same backdrop and lighting setup is assumed). There also seems to be a fair amout of post processing on these, regardless of the background. the whites are super white and eye colors pop, and everything is super sharp. All told, I love them.
     
  108. John K--Your critique is the most well-reasoned I've seen so far in this thread. Unfortunately, it's mostly been "driver's-license-this" and "high-school-freshman-that," so far.
    Although I have to admit that I disagree with your ultimate assessment, I think it's because I see value in the same details that bother you about these portraits. The tossed collar, the missing finger, and other gory details are the stuff of life--especially their lives.
    I suspect that a well-arranged portrait shoot of Mr. Emanual would have hidden that hand, and I really can't say that would have been better. Visually appealing? Sure. Less uncomfortable? Sure.
    Showing the hand, the collar, the turkey neck, and everything else is brazen and truthful, which I think most people are missing when they assess for exposure correctness and portrait lighting patterns. There's more to a photograph than whether or not the Rembrandt was correctly used in a given scenario.
    All of which brings me to the elephant I see hiding in this room: Why, specifically, does this work have to be clean, flattering and studiously lit in order to qualify for positive a positive assessment? People bristle at the idea of published work that could have been taken in their garage with 60 watt bulbs, but nobody has explained _why_ that's where the bar is.
    Where are we getting this notion that these works need to be technical and compositional feats of intense magnitude to be worthy of _any_ praise?
    Is this ultra-technical, ultra-flattering, n-way-strobe, planned-for-days photography the only photography worth considering anymore?
    -Paul B. Davis
     
  109. jtk

    jtk

    Paul, actually we may be in close agreement...on big issues.
    On smaller issues, like the worth of Kander as a human being, we disagree. He's intentionally produced work that's worthy of scorn...he wanted it. He's got mine, fwiw.
    I'm a conservative when it comes to such issues. Some people are good, some are bad, and some work at becoming one or the other. Kander's working at being bad and I'm making a value judgment.
    Kander is acting out the bad adolescent alter ego that may lurk in many of us...while pretending to produce some sort of casual imagery, he's artificially and intentionally created the effects this thread is quibbling about. Notice that pencil behind the ear? The Blackberries? Think the subjects came up with those ideas? It's vandalism.
    You noticed Rahm Emmanuel's lopped finger: it's routinely shown in photos and video...he seems almost proud of it. Kander probably intended to make him look bad, blind to what seems to me to be Emmanuel's near-pride in the deformity.
    I think about the Gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, whose fretting hand was a mangled claw and was often in photos. This is important information about Django as it may well be about Emmanuel...showing something that may be important (value judgement) is not not equivalent to being intentionally careless about Emmanuel's collar or tricking highly accomplished adults out with silly high school yearbook-style symbolic props while intentionally emphasizing their small oversights of dress .
    Want to think for a moment about Emmanuel, the man? Think about the accomplishments of his brothers, his tight family, his dance career, his physical grace, his intensity, and the way and level at which he's valued by President Obama, a likely historic giant. Alternatively, one can buy what one is told by envious commentators, as parrotted several times on this thread.
    Kander treated Emmanuel, and all the other subjects, with arrogant adolescent disdain.
    His work pretends a neutral purely-photographic perspective but any one of the subjects would have preferred to straighten his collar or tuck his shirt in more properly if Kander was a photographer-in-full, rather than mere posturing European PoMo artiste'.
     
  110. >>> Is this ultra-technical, ultra-flattering, n-way-strobe, planned-for-days photography the only photography worth considering anymore?
    Bingo! It is for many. It's the nature of discussion on internet forums that are predominately gear-driven; where discussion is reduced to things technical coupled with simplistic remarks on how everyone else could have done a better job.. Much easier to discuss than how photographs communicate.
    >>> Why, specifically, does this work have to be clean, flattering and studiously lit in order to qualify for positive a positive assessment?
    Because for many, that's what photography is about. It's easy to talk about.
     
  111. Kander treated Emmanuel, and all the other subjects, with arrogant adolescent disdain.​
    You were there? You know this for a fact do you?
    I know a few people who've dealt directly with Mr. Emmanuel, both positive and negative dealings. I've asked them what they thought and they think it is a pretty good rendering of his intensity.
     
  112. These images are more about technique, and the photographer and editor's desires, than they are about the subject.
    The name of the essay is "Obama's People" not "How Photographic Stylization Influences Your Understanding Of Obama's People". Show us who *they* are, not what a clever fellow *you* are. Who is the intended audience for this essay? What is it's purpose? Will future generations gain useful information and insight from this body of images?
    My problem with much contemporary photography is that it is made in a style chosen for style's sake, not chosen as appropriate to the subject, nor with any consideration of historical perspective. This Is Spinal Tap Photography... t
     
  113. "the other blokes amps only go to ten... our amplifiers go to ELEVEN!"... t
     
  114. This is a Spinal Tap age!
     
  115. sigh... t
     
  116. I love Avedon's Carl Rove. But then I really like Carl Rove!
    Some others look pretty scary. I guess we often do - caught still, at our ages. ha!
     
  117. Kander is acting out the bad adolescent alter ego that may lurk in many of us...while pretending to produce some sort of casual imagery, he's artificially and intentionally created the effects this thread is quibbling about. Notice that pencil behind the ear? The Blackberries? Think the subjects came up with those ideas? It's vandalism.
    ...
    Kander treated Emmanuel, and all the other subjects, with arrogant adolescent disdain.
    His work pretends a neutral purely-photographic perspective but any one of the subjects would have preferred to straighten his collar or tuck his shirt in more properly if Kander was a photographer-in-full, rather than mere posturing European PoMo artiste'.
    I can honestly say that this point of view had not occurred to me. I suppose I was focusing on the idea that what was happening in and behind the camera was more important than who was in front of it.
    This raises an interesting question, though; if the photographer sets out to accomplish a particular style in a body of work, where is the boundary between "respecting the subject" and the realization of that work? Specifically, are you saying that this work is situationally inappropriate, or generally inappropriate?
    Would your opinion be the same if we were talking about a portrait of, say, a random suit from my office?
    -Paul B. Davis
     
  118. "...where is the boundary between "respecting the subject" and the realization of that work?"
    There is no one, universal, boundary, there are three: what the artists wants, what the subject is comfortable with, and what the viewer sees*. And it is the only the odd chance that they all blend together sublimely.
    * interprets as the message
     
  119. jtk

    jtk

    "Would your opinion be the same if we were talking about a portrait of, say, a random suit from my office?"
    Absolutely. Are your people less human than Obama's? We're talking about formal portraiture, not candid snapshots from hip level.
    The chubby, positive Carl Rove we see above is not the only Avedon Rove, any more than is the official Eisenhower or Billy Graham his only depiction of them.
    Avedon had a specific agreement with his subjects, giving him editorial freedom...he could publish the uglies yet they still paid handsomely for the beauties. They knew the deal. Rove's smile pleased Janet Cull, above, but it will be interesting eventually for us to see what else Avedon saw.
    Avedon set out specifically to treat all of his subjects with the same high level of respect...his rock-solid, simple-seeming technique also showed his subjects' less appealing attributes. He didn't intentionally use technique to degrade his subjects, the way Kander did. Avedon told simple truths.
    Kander, seeking to substitute egotism for confidence, flaunted a style, haze that obscured both appealing and repelling attributes of his subjects. All we see is Kander's adolescence...which suggests hatred of his betters (his subjects).
     
  120. Avedon told simple truths.
    I think anyone who has spent any time really looking at Avedon's body of work or knows anything about him will think that is a deeply silly seriously inaccurate statement about what his work looks like, how it can be read in multiple ways simultaneously, and about his intent and the way he saw the world and what he loved about photography.
     
  121. Tom this is your issue, "My problem with much contemporary photography is that it is made in a style chosen for style's sake, not chosen as appropriate to the subject, nor with any consideration of historical perspective. This Is Spinal Tap Photography... t"
    You might not like the photos and you seem to come from a very formal and professional background, but your opinion is not worth any more than mine, your observations and education might be keener but that is irrelevent. The same things were said about Monet, Picasso, Pollock etc, you might never hang one on your wall but to not see their relevence just shows your lack of understanding, they are of the time and the age, I think they work well, why should the subjects be presented as elder statesmen? They are newbies (in context), they do have to prove themselves. I think you might be over thinking Kander, or under thinking him, again it doesn't matter. If this administration is a success then these starting school photos could be shown next to the more formal end of second term next set, now that would be very interesting.
    Don't get me wrong, I am not a shock artist fan, and think most modern art is not, I also think very very little photograpy is art, but if you are a pro then you know how to get a look, anybodies look, high key, low key, casual, formal blah blah, like great guitarists, they can sound like anybody, but through their own influences have their own style. Did Kander set out to take photos that looked like these, yes, are they relevent to the subject and time, in my opinion yes. Job done. Even if Kander is acting out his adolescent alter ego, so what? Who says his subjects are his betters? And it is a real stretch for you to surmise that thought process anyway. These photos showed the subjects as they were on that day, for better or worse (it is not a wedding), to surmise the photographers, art directors, subjects, editors and other viewers thoughts and motivations further is rather nonsensical, you don't like them, I do.
    It really is as simple as that.
    Take care, Scott.
     
  122. Looks like Uncle Bob's 'fancy background work' and his 10D.

    The pictures leave a lot to be desired. At the very least, park the subject far enough in front of the background so they don't all have "Black Auras" around them. For a new President, having a staff with "Black Auras" around them is not a good thing IMO.
     
  123. "Looks like Uncle Bob's 'fancy background work' and his 10D.
    http://www.harttphoto.com/153521/
    The phrase "glass houses" comes to mind.
     
  124. Hey Sp, no shadows in 153521...and your web portfolio can be found where...?
     
  125. A few comments:
    Michelle Obama has a Chief of Staff....fair dunkum? What for?
    That blue tie was recycled a few times. And it's ok not to staighten your tie when being photographed.
    They all look wasted...was it just at the end of the campaign?
    Brown is the new "power" colour.
     
  126. Hey Scott, and thanks for the considered response. First I'd like to point out a phrase that you seem tto attribute to me "Even if Kander is acting out his adolescent alter ego, so what? Who says his subjects are his betters? And it is a real stretch for you to surmise that thought process anyway." but was John Kelly.
    I don't think Kander has any such insecurities, and I don't care if he does.
    That these images may have some relevance as documents of our time, I concede this may be true, and I find that disappointing.
    I fear that if such is the case, disco will seem a cultural highlight by comparison. Not all chronological signifiers are evidence of quality.
    I have a favorite passage that I keep on my desk (for some 20 years now): It's Szarkowski speaking of the portraits of Irving Penn: "That the apparently inconsequential can be redeemed by artistic seriousness: that a plain vocabulary is the most demanding; that high craft is the just desserts not only of monuments and ceremonial vessels, but the ordinary baggage of our lives "
    I find the presence of Blackberries, cellphones and such as extremely valuable accoutrements of the depicted individuals... quite telling of who they are, as I do the gestures and distant gazes affected by many as they endure the process.
    What I don't find appropriate is the heavy presence of the process, the overlayed, after-the-fact trendy processing and the overbearing lighting that shrouds the people in a fabricated glaze that adds nothing, but instead obscures under a distracting gloss of artifice, serving only to brand these images and limit them to a description of what was hip and excessive in the photographic pop culture of 2009.
    We know the style of the photographer better than we know the people depicted. As an alternative for contrast, since Avedon is so controversial, consider Penn whose portraits certainly have stood this time test and have just as indelibly printed in them the hand of the artist. Through them, we can clearly see the people of their era and marvel at the artistic seriousness that reveals them to us decades later... t
     
  127. "are you saying that this work is situationally inappropriate, or generally inappropriate?"
    Situationally. Look at Kandar's website and you will see thoroughly appropriate and effective usage of the same techniques. He is an excellent photographer. I wish I had a career half as successful and admirable... t
     
  128. "Hey Sp, no shadows in 153521...and your web portfolio can be found where...?"
    Same place as everybody else...listed on the community member page:
    "Photographer Biography

    Due to extreme laziness I maintain only one on-line image location. Please click here for a general idea of what I point my camera at..."
     
  129. Sp - And you defer to "glass houses?"

    Well, I guess if what you're doing is workin' for ya. Window washers make a good living from people who live in glass houses.
     
  130. Actually I referred to glass houses, but no matter.
    My point was simply that your comment applies equally well to quite a few shots in your portfolio. So if you're going to slag Kander, you might want to step up your own game.
     
  131. Well Sp, when/if business gets slow for me, I'll give some thought to your advice. But for the record...that ain't gonna be anytime soon.

    Also for the record, In natural language, a deferred reference is the metonymic use of an expression to refer to an entity related to the conventional meaning of that expression, but not denoted by it.

    I have a Master's in linguistics from Fordham. Still don't talk so good...but do know the difference between a referral and a deferral. A Master's...you don't get that from being extremely lazy...
     
  132. It seems that such photographs are only important if you want them to be, for reasons that you're free to make up as you go along... :) The same can be said of politicians and any associated little debates on the internet, of course... :)
    Well, it gives us something to think/natter/squabble about over a coffee, I guess, but we may just as well be gossiping about long-deceased movie stars, the token pop starlet of the day, or our colleagues' taste in casual footwear... It's merely light entertainment. No harm in it, but it doesn't achieve a great deal... It's just something to do... Time is a very valuable commodity, and it's vitally important that we waste it on trivial nonsense whenever we get the chance... :)
    Sincere thanks to all concerned (including myself...) for wasting a few minutes of my never-to-be-reclaimed time... :) Now I'm going for a much-needed *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#*.
    Cheers.
     
  133. Thanks for that, Paul. Now my mind is at ease...
    There have only been 44 Presidents of the USA. The people in these photographs will have a direct impact on your life (though perhaps not on your SO urgent mission this morning), and on the lives of future generations of people in the USA and around the world. Perhaps less baggage will clarify your awareness. Good luck with your early morning download. No updates required.. t
     
  134. "I'll give some thought to your advice. But for the record...that ain't gonna be anytime soon."
    I'm sure Kander will be relieved.
    "...a deferred reference..."
    Nice try (it's fun to quote things of Wikipedia, isn't it?), but linguistically incorrect. I used a portion of a phrase as a reference to imply the whole phrase, so it would be more closely related to synecdoche.
    And for the record, I also know the difference between aposiopesis and episiotomy, have an undergraduate degree in Engineering, and once drove by Fordham University.
     
  135. Ahh Sp, I'm beginning to understand your approach to generating the pictures in your portfolio. It's the whole Rt/Left brain thing. You might be able to engineer a camera, that doesn't translate to using it well. Ditto language. You'll have to find someone else here to entertain you, I'm done.

    Hey, for your 2000+ "enlightening" posts on P-Net over the past 7 years, isn't it about time you buy a membership?
     
  136. take it elsewhere, gentlemen... t
     
  137. Sorry for the high-jack Tom, I do realize you and a few others were having a serious discussion.
     
  138. I have the NY Times Sunday Magazine at home, and in full size, the images accentuate all the attributes that have been discussed above.
    For us to criticize the style that the photographer was using is a bit disingenuous, for if you look around you today, most people are trying to project some kind of edgy, aggressive, high contrast, "street," "cool" style of photography, most of which comes across as them beign a bunch of poseurs.
    Where has all the elegance and style that was exhibited by photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Avedon, Lord Snowdon, etc. gone? We are surrounded by a projection of faux edginess. Rudeness is the new politeness. Ugliness is the new beauty.
     
  139. "For us to criticize the style that the photographer was using is a bit disingenuous..."
    Actually quite true, the one thing you can't accuse Kander of, whether you like his work or not, is that it doesn't reflect the current photographic aesthetic.
     
  140. Based on this discussion, I don't think the art of caricature is recognized by photographers. Perhaps if instead Kander had made pencil sketches they would not be so scary.
     
  141. nor as enduring... t
     
  142. Tom said exactly that in his second post: "...and the style was totally a 21st century cliche' that was worn out several years ago."
    But you have to remember that photographers aren't the primary audience.

    As for enduring, I'm not so sure: it's probably a fact* that the general public is far more likely to know the name Norman Rockwell than Avedon, Karsh, Beaton, Lord Snowdon, etc.
    * somewhere on the Internet
     
  143. Tom,
    I didn't really attribute that comment to you but was wrapping several objections to the photos together, the only bit I did in quotation marks was yours. I share your disappointment in much of what is considered stylish and artistic now, but in the same way we embraced the disco age, leggings and the padded shoulders we will look back at this. I too hate the dumbing down of everything to be hip and trendy, I noticed in the UK many years ago the adopting of "common" accents by all people in the media spotlight, particularly footballers, why oh why do broadcasters think that because a footballer was good and popular he will have the ability to communicate his knowledge and understanding in an acceptable manner? Half of them refuse to pronounce their own names correctly. But I digress :)
    I love Magritte, in the same way that you carry your Szarkowski quote, I, being almost entirely visually driven, carry "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" with me, it is my screensaver amongst other things, it reminds me to question, all the time, is it the ultimate rendition of a pipe? Of course not. Was it of the style and age? Yes, but it got more than a few peoples backs up. Does it still work today, well for me it does, but it wouldn't get you an art degree!
    So we do agree on lots :)
    "What I don't find appropriate is the heavy presence of the process, the overlayed, after-the-fact trendy processing and the overbearing lighting that shrouds the people in a fabricated glaze that adds nothing, but instead obscures under a distracting gloss of artifice, serving only to brand these images and limit them to a description of what was hip and excessive in the photographic pop culture of 2009." This, is, your main concern. But in this age it is inseparable. You can't have politicians that are not 100% media savy, you can't get by without style, but can go a long way without content, it is frightening that in todays climate a potential presidents haircut or dentistry can be more important than his views on wars, but that is the world we currently live in. The pictures to me, on a deeper level show the willingness and eagerness of this new team to push in unorthodox directions, the younger ones probably didn't care, the older ones realised that they were not being photographed to look their best but to show a new team in a new (to politics) way. They want to be seen as todays team, not yesterdays, and nobody is thinking about tomorrow, yet! To stand back one step, we know about these very intelligent and media savy people because of the photographer they agreed to be shot by, they knew the pictures would look like they do.
    But again without studying them, or reading all kinds of meanings into them, as a set, for me, they work.
    Take care, Scott.
     
  144. jtk

    jtk

    I think it's interesting how many of us become distressed, and even hostile to the point of grotesque typos, when others of us comment negatively on a photographer's work.
    In the interest of America's future, this would be a good time to go back to respect for individual differences.
    That somehow we're not supposed to infer the motivations for photographic work by looking at it is a remarkably constipated kind of idea. Kander's photos don't call for stupid salutes, even if you do respect them.
    I said "Kander's betters." That's what I meant. It shouldn't be shocking to hear someone say individuals who have arrived at positions of such high accomplishment as Obama's team are "better" than an overly-contrived celebrity photographer. Liebowitz, who's got more to offer than she's delivered so far, towers over Kander, just as her mostly-worthless pop-star subjects tower over her.
     
  145. John,
    I don't have a very strong view on this, I am just enjoying the discussion. I very much respect every bodies right to feel what they want from these, and most other, pictures.
    You can infer whatever you like, but that doesn't mean it is accurate or true or not a stretch. The vast majority of the audience for these pictures won't infer anything from them. A few, mostly photographers, will look deeper into them because they can see, what is to them, obvious imperfections or flaws that they think shouldn't have been done, even political analysts will give them a miss because they have far more interesting things to think about. I don't respect photos, some photographers, but no photos, I don't know Kanders work well enough to have a view but I, personally, think this series of pictures works. I have just tried to lay out my reasoning for that assertion, in the same way that you and Tom have done. I certainly don't salute or stand to attention for anybody.
    To determine if somebody is "better" than somebody else takes a lot more than knowing the position they have risen to or their photographic ability. In my mind, and I freely live as a minority in one of the most racist countries on earth, all of us are equal. I am not shocked by much, people earn my respect not command or demand it. I don't respect position or authority but people, so the job you rose to is not a factor in my assesment of if you are a good person or not, I don't know Kander or the subjects so don't know, but were I to photograph these people then I see no reason to treat them as anything other than normal people, equals.
    Liebowitz, now there is a subject all its own, I don't like her recent portraits of the queen, (but who would you consider to be the better person there?) I think giving schedule limitations as the reason for the complete digital construction is a farce. Surely those pictures are just as stylised as Kanders, just to the moderately knowledgable observer less "digitised"? But even if you, and most others, consider her "better" than Kander, so what?
    The series of pictures he produced, even in Toms words " That these images may have some relevance as documents of our time, I concede this may be true, and I find that disappointing." That turns the conversation into a question of "Are you happy with the times?" not "What do you think about these pictures?".
    Anyway, each to his/her own, Scott.
     
  146. Tom, the people in these pictures work for an organization that's required to change certain elements of its management on a regular basis. The people involved come and go... The decisions made by this organization (and others...) may or may not be of interest to me, depending on the nature of those decisions. And yes, some decisions could have very serious and far-reaching consequences, naturally.
    The people themselves (as human beings and individuals...) are really not so interesting to me at all. I see no reason why they should be. Well, apart from as tea break gossip fodder, which is all these photographs amount to... Do you really care how these people looked in those moments when the shutter was opened...? How they chose to dress that day...? How they happened to pose for the camera during that particular shoot...? I don't. What do you see in these photographs that's so important to you...? I see skin, hair, clothes, props... So what...? I don't need to concern myself with the physical appearance of these people.
    Sorry, but the output of my digestive system is considerably more important to me than these photographs... *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* happens.
     
  147. jtk

    jtk

    "The people themselves (as human beings and individuals...) are really not so interesting to me at all. I see no reason why they should be."
    A statement like that says more about one's own values than about the photos. We're free to be isolates if we wish.
    Here's an adult photographer: http://www.williamcoupon.com/people_menu.html
     
  148. John,
    William is a terrible example of a photographer, he takes one picture, he might have mastered that one picture but he looks way way to limited to me.
    Surely you have better examples of grown ups than that?
     
  149. Another disappointing log entry. But I am surprised only by it's presence here. I mean, why bother, Paul? I do care about the people I photograph, they are infinitely more interesting to me than your fecal matter. You can have your broken teacups, they resonate with your own priorities. You are, by your own observation, wasting your own time. If portraits, and this discussion, mean so little to you, feel free to do yourself a favor and discontinue your engagement here.
    Scott, thanks for your remarks. Before I compose the serious reply I want to attempt, I need some time away from this scatological marking... t
     
  150. as an interesting contrast, lets see who can detect the difference in the way Peter Yang works a plain white sweep... t
     
  151. I think it's interesting how many of us become distressed, and even hostile to the point of grotesque typos, when others of us comment negatively on a photographer's work.
    A negative critique is a far cry from most of what we've seen here:
    I think they look the images were made with a copier machine
    some of the worst portraits I have ever seen
    This NYT photographer failed in my humble opinion.
    Avedon was one of America's greatest photographic artists and these images are pathetic in comparison.
    They look like over processed, slightly mis-timed drivers license photos made under copy lights with no consideration of the subjects, only a slavish adherence to the process, regardless of the effect
    I've seen similar startled faces on kangaroos in the headlights whilst driving through central Queensland at night
    Perfect driver's license photos
    They are Horrible!
    ... and on, and on, and on.
    In fact, most of this is just inflammatory junk commentary that riles people up because, regardless of anybody's opinion, these photos got a large spread in the New York Times magazine, which means they're obviously *slightly* better than driver's license photos.
    They also show none of the standard side-effects of traditional "bad-portraiture," such as on-camera flash, motion-blur, poor focus, under-exposure, etc.
    Such ridiculous commentary that flies so starkly in the face of reality is mildly irritating, and provokes people. I wouldn't be surprised, if I were you.
    -Paul B. Davis
     
  152. I love the series. Yes to some they are unflattering. As a series this stands out. Really rather good.
    I started out reading all of the comments, but since they were openly hostile and there were a lot of them, I just went ahead and posted what I feel looking at those portraits.
    They are 'honest' 'real' and radically different from standard political shots. If this is the standard for your driver's licence shot, I need to come to the states and have mine done over there.
     
  153. Tom, I'm sure you care about the people you photograph... I don't, naturally. And yeah, I'm still struggling to see why people should be all that bothered about some cheesy publicity shots of this current batch of politicians.
    I guess these photos are more interesting for a certain US audience, who've dutifully gobbled up all the media gubbins that comes free of charge with a new President these days... But nah, personally I don't know many people who are all that interested in pics of politicians just, erm, standing around for the camera.
    Anyway, after chuckling my way through the following puke-worthy drivel, I think now is the time to cheerfully piddle off down the pub and give me tubes a good clearout... :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYGUnR0wiCw
    FFS.
     
  154. To me the message clearly given by the photoshoot was " We're not good looking and slick like the guys who just bilked you out of billions of dollars on Wall Street... just read our bios and you'll see... we're here on merit. "
     
  155. jtk

    jtk

    Tom: Brilliant, even if it's not from you :)
     
  156. it's also insightful to down load the PDF of the Image Magers / Image Takers interview with Kathy Ryan on Mark Tucker's site (linked above)... t
     
  157. Hey, but the David Axelrod shot makes up for all the others! Too bad they didn't post one made with him stuffing a cookie into his mouth.
    Great thread, Tom.
    --Lannie
     

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