Irony, Wit and Distance

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by luis_g, Nov 15, 2011.

  1. In a Chicago Magazine article on Vivien Maier, Colin Westerbeck, former curator of photography at Chicago's Art Institute, co-author of Bystander, and an expert on SP is quoted thusly:
    “She [Meier] worked the streets in a savvy way,” he says. “But when you consider the level of street photography happening in Chicago in the fifties and sixties, she doesn’t stand out.” Westerbeck explains that Maier’s work lacks the level of irony and wit of some of her Chicago contemporaries, such as Harry Callahan or Yasuhiro Ishimoto, and unlike them, she herself is often a participant in the shot. The greatest artists, Westerbeck says, know how to create a distance from their subjects."
    Are irony and wit essential? Optional? Unnecessary? The part about distance and participation was also interesting. Are you a participant, do you keep your distance (this is not a physical distance, btw more regarding interaction)? Or inject yourself into your photos?
  2. All of the above...
  3. I agree with Westerbeck as I already said recently in another thread that the work of Maier is still being hyped to no end. Having said that her work was well above par. I don't know the exact context in which this observation was made but it's a far stretch to compare her work to that of Callahan and Ishimoto. The only reason that Maiers work got famous was that a complete body of work, interesting from a sociological and historical perspective, was discovered a long time after.
    As for irony, wit and distance yes, they are optional. After all street photography covers a broad range of topics and approaches. As for distance that's far more a philosophical question.
  4. I have to disagree about Maiers' photos. I love her stuff, and find plenty of humor in it. I certainly don't have a problem with not enough distance-- a remark I equate with that line from Amadeus, "Too many notes.." Her photos, in my almost worthless opinion, are at least on par with Callahan, and surpass Ishimoto's mostly grotesque images.
    With regard to distance from the subject, here are two quotes from Robert Capa that I like--
    "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
    and "Like the people you shoot and let them know it."

  5. Thanks for the link, Dennis. I have not seen her photos before. Mostly because the hype that Ton mentioned made me not take her seriously. But I'm enjoying them immensely. As far as the Irony, Wit, and Distance question goes: I don't feel qualified or experienced enough in the 'street' genre of phtography to make an educated comment.
  6. E. Short,
    Do you like them?
    Why do you need an educated opinion for art or street photography? Your last sentence is kinda absurd. If your meaning is that only experience or educated people are permitted to form an opinion of value, or state one; is slightly to moderately offensive. To me at least.
    If you like them, and know why YOU like them. And you can express why you like them, your opinion is valid. Educated and experienced academia and curators parade *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* and schlock in front of people all the time and call it gold(because they have a mortgage to pay).
    Your opinion is not lesser to theirs, merely because you don't have a MFA. Honestly, I usually consider their opinion immediately suspect, because they are invested, and are making their living off the deal.
  7. And I absolutely love Harry Callahan.
    Do you feel lucky punk...?
    Well, do ya..
  8. Richard,
    E. Short,
    Do you like them?​
    Why do you need an educated opinion for art or street photography?​
    I don't think I do. We all know what opinions are like, right? Mine smells the same as yours or anyone else's. I don't feel qualified to answer Luis' question, "Are irony and wit essential? Optional? Unnecessary?" To street photography. I was speaking of education 'on the street', out taking photos, interacting in public. Especially with big, tough guys like you roaming around threatening to beat-up poor, little defenseless, wanna-be-street-shooters like me ;-)
  9. If you want to take my pitchur, just give me a nod, if I nod back, permission is granted with that acknowledgement.
    That is an required interaction, for me and many other people. And this is nothing new. Take a another look at Meier's photos, you will see a number of people giving her the evil eye for not acquiring permission first. And that was in the 50s, things have not changed all that much.(except for street photographers posting images to or The Daily Mail for ridicule).
    Most things we think of are opinions. Most facts are opinions. I don't invalidate them as quickly as you do. Some opinions are just more accurate than others, some have more value than others.
    Ex, is that a 12 ounce soda you have in your hand? Is it really 12 ounces? Might be a little less, might be a little more. It is an estimation that it is 12 ounces, and an estimation is an opinion. How accurate that opinion is gives it value, or if less accurate it lessens the value.
    On the outset, you have an advantage with your opinion of Meier over Westerbeck for me. You are not making any money off your opinion like he is. You have no conflict of interest that I need to consider. How accurate your opinion is, how informational, how emotional, whatever decides the value of your opinion. If you merely say, "I like Meier's work because it is in black and white", I am going to discount it as a low valued opinion.
    ps, That last example is only a mirror of a critique I once read of HCBs photos, "I love HCB's work because all the buildings and stuff is old looking." Low low low value opinion.
  10. Richard, Wow!! Well said. I didn't think you had it in you. So much for my opinion, huh? Next thing we know, you'll be posting on the S&D POW threads...
  11. Well, ironical as Westerbeck appears to be defending Lee Friedlander in the book "Bystander" including his self-portraits and his shadows in his photos (though I find his use of shadows really witty so maybe that qualifies the statement).
  12. "The greatest artists, Westerbeck says, know how to create a distance from their subjects." Diane Arbus?
  13. What does "creating a distance from their subjects" mean? Why is that important? What are other methods and how are they important? I'm not being argumentative. I just am curious to learn about the differences in street photography.
  14. Alan, perhaps the original poster can explain the term "creating a distance", but this is what I took it to mean. On one end of the spectrum there is completely candid, voyeuristic street photography...the subject probably doesn't even know he's been photographed. There is a "distance", not measured in feet and inches, between subject and photographer. On the other end of the spectrum is where the photographer engages the subject either obtaining his permission to shoot or at least getting the subject's attention such that the resulting photograph reflects either an interaction between the subject and photographer...or at least an acknowledgment of each other's presence.
    My question is at what point does photography involving engaging the subject cease to be "street photography" and becomes some type of realism portraiture. I don't know exactly how narrowly street photography is defined...or who makes up those rules.
  15. "If your meaning is that only experience or educated people are permitted to form an opinion of value, or state one; is slightly to moderately offensive.
    "Honestly, I usually consider their opinion immediately suspect, because they are invested, and are making their living off the deal."

    A legitimate viewpoint, if simplistic. It's also somewhat "offensive" to imply that curators and critics just do what they do to make a living... or that formal education in the arts is of little value.
  16. I like some of Maiers work. I wasn't sure if the $1,800 asking price for prints of her work I saw a gallery recently was worth it but then when I saw what the going prices are for more established and better known photographers are, I guess it is a bargain. It's interesting to note that so far many major museums have turned down offers to aquire some of her work. Reasons given are "We don't don't know how she would have edited her work" and "We prefer work that is printed by the photogaphers thenselves".
    As far as wit, irony ect goes, well, sometimes it works other times it doesn't. It's certainly by no means a requirement, but who doesn't like seeing a photograph that makes ones day a little bit brighter? Elliot Erwitt is probably has the strongest work in this regard. For me, a a good photograph is a good photograph for a number of reasons which all harmonize together in the final print.
    Below is a recent attempt at humor in one of my own shots. I might also add a exhange I had with a friend of mine late last year that is kind of ironic (or I think so). "So Marc, what depressing place did you take pictures at this weekend"? "Well, Richard the only shooting I did this weekend was at our company holiday party." We both got a laugh out of that one!
  17. Hey, Marc, didn't I read somewhere that your photo served as an inspiration for Led Zeppelin? ;>)
    Good one...
  18. Dennis C. - "Alan, perhaps the original poster can explain the term "creating a distance", but this is what I took it to mean."
    The paragraph is the only one mentioning Westerbeck in the article. The distance thing seems self-explanatory to me, "unlike them, she herself is often a participant in the shot.". Distance here has to do with less (apparent?) participation.
    While participation wasn't part of the classic PS aesthetic, certainly in Chicago's Callahan, who often used telephoto lenses for his SP of women, & Ishimoto, does its presence automatically rule out greatness in SP?
    I'm a little oversaturated with irony. It's been beat to death in photography (all of it, not just SP) for decades, and a lot of it has been on the lowbrow side. Wit can mean many things, but the usual kind, in parallel with The Family of Man/ hehehe type stuff I find excruciatingly boring.
  19. Luis, what I was getting at was that "particiaption" should not necessarily be inconsistent with greatness...but if "distance" is a prerequisite to great street photography then perhaps participatory street work needs to re-branded.
    BTW, I am generally not a big fan of telephoto street photography...I find it often lacks the immediacy of being "there" in the action with a wide angle to normal lens. Completely different perspective, IMO...although there may be some exceptions.
  20. You know, your not the first one to ask that. I should look into it; maybe my jackpot is just a short trial away!
    I also read an article where Robert Caps quote "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough" was interpreted as being close in the emotional sense of the word. There may be a point here...
  21. Dennis C - "Luis, what I was getting at was that "particiaption" should not necessarily be inconsistent with greatness..."
    I understood that, Dennis. Part of the reason for my post was to explore that question. Historically, it is clear where Westerbeck is coming from, in the context of when Meier worked. The question I see is whether a departure from the conventions of the day makes her work outsider work/art brut, or is it simply a creative variant, or departure, something maybe ahead of its time. Meier is not that concerned with the illusion of omniscience in her pictures.
  22. Luis, to be clear, I wouldn't necessarily associate Vivian Maier's work with "greatness"...although I do very much enjoy looking at her work. To use your phrase, I might call some of her work a "creative variant". But didn't all great street photographers someimes demonstrate creative variations of what would be considered their usual style?
  23. They do to varying degrees, but the participatory aspects of Meier's work weren't part of the vocabulary of SP at the time. It doesn't really "fit". I am not one who would exclude someone from SP based on that... and she's not alone. Westerbeck had issues with other SP'ers as well, including Helen Levitt, who also clearly interacted with some of her subjects. Maybe.... and this is thin ice... it has something to do with gender.
    I do not think we have seen enough of Meier to pass judgment at this point. Too much remains undeveloped, unprinted, and unproofed, and frankly, most of what we've seen is a John Maloof edit.
  24. A little of both...
  25. Nice one Mark! As for "distance", I don't know, Close, far, connected, distant..I get so confused
  26. Thanks Barry. The trouble I have with discussions like these is that I cannot help but feel that they can hinder in some ways. I mean whenever one begins to establish protocol, procedures and so on, it tends to limit creativity to say nothing less of enjoyment. Sure we all want to produce work that is meaningful to ourselves and others, but at what point does the work become more for the approval of others then for our own enjoyment? If one photographer does good work on a fairly consistent basis, it means he/she has found a method that works for them. It may not work for me or anyone else. Art is funny like that. We can all participate, but me must work out for ourselves what works for us and what does not.
  27. Marc and others, if you feel it hinders you, why not skip the post? No one suggested, let alone established, as you claim, protocol or procedures in this thread. No one. I think all the members here are able to decide what's good for them and how to go about their own work.
  28. "I love HCB's work because all the buildings and stuff is old looking, Richard.." Low low low value opinion." Me to all thos old clothes and beards and hats things. Buildings are sort of okay too.
    "Irony, Wit and Distance"

    Important to create and interesting photo distance is about being close to the action...part of it.

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