McCurry, Singh, and the boring "too perfect" photograph

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by cyanatic, Apr 4, 2016.

  1. Interesting article from New York Times magazine, though it may be heretical to some people. The article touches upon a number of interesting concepts, not the least of which is akin to the Joker's comment in The Dark Knight: "introduce a little chaos."
    ...let in messiness at the edges of their images — a messiness that reminds us of the life happening outside the frame as well as within it)."

    Is McCurry boring? Or is that too harsh? Middle-brow eye candy? And is technical and compositional perfection the ultimate goal, or only a stepping stone to true personal vision?
    And then there is the notion of how best to document a country, a culture? A lot of food for thought.
  2. I find McCurry boring. I do understand his mass appeal and respect what he does.
    For me, it's not about perfection or its lack. It's about sterility. It's about each portrait giving me pretty much the same vibe, with no sense of the individuality of the subjects of those portraits. It's about a kind of emptiness behind the sharp, colorful eyes.
  3. Why waste time judging other people's photographs. Obviously McCurry's pictures appeal to a lot of people.
    They apparently don't hold that appeal for others who possess the ego to critique them. I find them attention
    getting at a minimum. My judgments are limited to technical as I admire a great number of photographers that
    may or may not conform to my taste. I shoot to my own standards and those of my limited audience. I have
    been somewhat successful in my commercial work based upon what people paid for my work. I really mostly try
    to shoot to please my audience. I admire almost any technically sufficient image that captures or evokes human or gorilla
  4. Why waste time judging other people's photographs.​
    Were this an honest question, you wouldn't have prejudiced it by assuming it's a waste of time. But I'll answer honestly. Judging the work of others helps me learn. I can't (or won't) simply accept and appreciate everything I see. Part of the experience for me is judging whether I like it and whether it works for me. That doesn't mean I can't or won't learn from stuff I don't like. But I'm able to acknowledge my likes and dislikes without them getting in my way. Rather, they add to the experience for me. You mention that it requires ego to critique. Sure, why not? But it doesn't require a terribly big ego just as it's not necessarily a sign of weakness or a copout to shoot to please one's audience.
  5. Maybe I was spoke to broadly in that statement. I stand corrected. My thought was more aimed at those who
    have the ego and self acclaim to hold themselves out as experts in judgment. To each his or her own. I judge
    most everything I see but with the understanding and question that asks who am I to judge. Holding myself out
    as a judge is wrong in my mind and a waste of time. McCurry really struck a chord with us commoners.
  6. The article plants some good seeds for thought for sure.
    I'd be tempted to say that technical and compositional perfection ought to be only a stepping stone to true personal vision, and not a goal in itself. But McCurry in a way proves that partially wrong: you pretty much immediately can recognise a McCurry photo. Which to me sounds pretty close to at least having a personal style that it recognisable enough. I hesitate to use vision, but it's not something random.
    I'm ambiguous about McCurry's photos. I recognise the skills, the work gone into them, the keen eye for those precise compositions. I admire them in that sense. They do not swing, though, they're documentary in an almost literal sense: documenting what he saw, and it stops there. I agree with the article there, a bit more mess and chaos would probably give that bit of swing, a few open clues to a story unfolding, an imaginary documentary inside the documentary.
  7. I always find it disheartening when photographers denigrate the success of other photographers. It may be Lik, McCurry, even Adams. I guess I'm guilty of that too, on occasion. Their success cannot be attacked directly since they are, well, successful. So we attack their artistic vision and fans who are certainly stupid, unsophisticated boors and just don't "get it". Why not just leave it as different strokes for different folks? Are jazz listeners inferior to rock listeners? Can't we appreciate the differences in "styles" or should we be bored with just one approved theme?
  8. I like the Afghan girl photo and have the magazine actually. I found it at the thrift store a couple years ago but I cannot say I have seen other photos that he has done. However I am sure he is very skilled.
  9. I used to like the Afghan girl photo, her gaze and eyes, but then learned from McCurry himself via an article that decades later she is still as underprivileged and poor as she was then. That gives the image a different meaning, a long time extension of the original instant that says a lot. I am not sure how he thinks about the image having seen her later.
    This probably doesn't have much to do with the article (which I guessI should read).
  10. McCurry's photos look as if they were made of metal and painted with enamel paint--and then saturated just a tiny bit too much, and with just a tiny bit too much contrast thrown in to boot.
    That's his style. Some like it. I don't particularly care for it, and the more I see it, the less I like it. At best it seems a bit too formulaic. At worst it is almost boilerplate.

  11. So two different photographers with radically different backgrounds and upbringings in two very different cultures shoot in the same country and produce two different bodies of work. Well duh. As for "messy" photographs well why not? There's a time and a place for everything. I personally wish I could take messy photographs but I just don't think I have it in me. Or maybe I do to some small degree but I wouldn't know. I don't make contact sheets since my darkroom time is so limited so I simply hold up strips of film to the light and look at each frame through a loupe to decide what to enlarge. There's no rhyme or reason to my choices so maybe a few here and there are messy in a good way. That's key by the way. I see some photographers who attempt to make messy photographs but they fail because their pictures lack coherent visual syntax. Like the article above states a messy photograph works because everything is in it's place. Hard to do but very effective when it works. Look back on the initial reactions to Robert Franks' "The Americans." People were ruthless in describing Franks very personal methods but time has proved otherwise. In capable hands messiness can work wonders but it's a precarious path to be on.
  12. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    Ahh, the paradox. Discussing the merit and validation of judging the work of others in a venue whose sole purpose is to create a community that ultimately requires members to judge the work, technique, and knowledge of others...
  13. The thing is, we all have different styles because we see and think differently. I think lots of photographers start out trying to emulate someone they admire, and that can teach you a lot, but ultimately one develops one’s unique style. McCurry’s photos are popular and I think it is because he has a great sense of composition and does a pretty nice job of capturing people in his own way. He does what he does. I’m the same way: I’ve had pretty much the same style since the 60’s in the way I photograph people. Its just the way I see them. It doesn’t really matter to me, or McCurry, I’m sure, that there are some people who dislike my particular style of photography or McCurry’s. I’m not such a big fan of “messy” photography as mentioned in the article. I like composition, geometry, tension. I like my style because it’s the way I see, and I would hope all photographers come to feel that way about their own style. Judging someone else’s style is a matter of personal taste but we really do benefit on the whole from a wide range of styles to provide enjoyment and stimulation to the broadest range of people
  14. Here is one in black and white by McCurry. I had not seen any B&W work by him before this. I do have to say that he gets the shots.
    When he gets out of his color portrait rut, his work can be pretty impressive, as shown in the galleries on his website.

    Although he seems to have one fairly predictable mode of color processing, it can work pretty well for landscapes, I think. It is still a just a bit too rich in saturation and contrast for me, but, again, he does get out there and get the shots. He certainly knew his target "audience" and went after it, and he markets himself well. All that together does give him a high level of commercial success. I won't begrudge him that.
    Yet, yet, when he shoots the South, I cannot help but try to compare him to Eggleston. Alas, there is no comparison.
  15. I think that McCurry is nice to his viewers; he's considerate of his viewers. A lot of viewers like it when someone makes the effort to be nice to them.
    I'm not sure I can think of any art that tries to be nice.
  16. I'm not sure I can think of any art that tries to be nice.​
    He makes his viewers feel comfortable. Yes, that's it: comfortable.

    I almost hate to say it, but at times he seems to want to be the Norman Rockwell of photography. There is obviously a place for that kind of work, and he has found that place, but I tire of it rather quickly.
    Am I being too negative here?
  17. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    Many years ago, I had to take an elective to snatch my scroll and make a dash for it. Clever me, I chose Contemporary Photography. What a breeze it would be, so I thought. Imagine my surprise when the MFA instructor handed out the syllabus for what we were to buy. Film? Aw, hell no. A big stack of books with titles like "The Body and the Lens", "On Photography", and "Photography in Print."
    What I learned has served me more than just making trendy conversations on the cocktail and art circuits--it opened a door to influence--and the outcomes that fall from it. McCurry reminds me a lot of things that are strong with Steichen and Brassai--the painting with light capture the central element of a place or face--bereft of the distraction, and as some have observed, plenty of saturation!
    His portraits may seem staged--or even contrived context. In this, I am set to mind by these words of Steichen:
    Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.

    In this, he has caught the vision of containing just what is necessary to tell us the story--one that the person photographed wants told, one that communicates the exotic or alien nature of the subject in an environment. He does this well, and with a methodical portrayal.
    One of the troubles I find in dialog about photography--and in critique--is the focus on how necessary it is to develop a recognizable style and subject mastery. If one does not have that, they are accused of lacking vision and style. When one finds that niche, they are often accused of pandering to monotony or populism. Is there a win here?
  18. I guess the messy and chaotic reality of Indian street life is harder to sell to westerners (chaos is stressful whereas order is peaceful) whereas the very selective and beautified view in McCurry's work is fascinating (but perhaps too cliche and far from the reality that locals see and experience in their daily lives).
    I see nothing wrong with simplifying the world and searching for, and publishing, what is beautiful. I also don't see anything wrong with a documentary approach showing a more realistic view of India (or any place). I don't see either as "boring". However, I find sloppily tilted cameras, chopped off heads etc. uneasy to look at. I do like Singh's work interesting but not all of it is "messy" rather it too includes rather beautiful scenes no doubt selected for their visual and cultural beauty.
  19. Dislike of the "perfect" works of McCurry speaks more to the nature of the critic than the quality of the master photojournalist. Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach, Those that can do neither, criticize. McCurry is able to extract simplicity from chaos, the essence of what we should remember, rather than what we prefer to forget.
  20. The several expressions of resentment of criticism, not for the specifics of what the critic has said but for the very idea of criticism itself, is rather amazing. But it does help explain why there is so much mediocre photography around. It's because of the lack of critical eyes and minds.
    While we're at it, count me among those who think the cliché quote about teachers is also not worth the paper it's printed on or the screen it's shown on. I have great respect for teachers and think they DO plenty. But it's not surprising teachers would be maligned by avowed non-critical thinkers.
    Mind you, I have no quarrel with specific disagreements with the critique the author makes. My quarrel is with the notion that this writer's critique is an attack or that criticism per se is some lowly form of expression.

  21. "Is McCurry boring? Or is that too harsh? Middle-brow eye candy?" (Steve Gubin)

    McCurry is certainly not boring unless you are forced to look at a long series of his portraits.
    I don't know what "middle-brow eye candy" refers to, but it pushes me to say that his candy like view of the world seriously puts me off - despite the fact, that I would consider him as a great photographer.
    The black and white photos Landrum referred to above, is like fresh air.
  22. Alan Klein: ...always find it disheartening when photographers denigrate the success of other photographers.
    I understand your point, Alan, and unfortunately that type of bashing does occur. Become popular, become famous, and as sure as the sun rises each day someone will come critically gunning for you. But I don't think the main thrust of the article was to denigrate McCurry. It was to offer an alternate viewpoint that says, "Hold on a sec! Let's step back and think about McCurry's work from a different point of view." Taste in photography is subjective and there is no right and wrong, no greater or lesser. If someone likes McCurry, there is nothing wrong with that. But neither is there anything wrong in someone saying they do not like McCurry. In the case of the author of this article, they are not denigrating McCurry's success, they are questioning his approach and style and by way of contrast they are presenting a photographer (Singh) with an alternative approach to the presentation of similar material. In so doing, they are saying that maybe Singh's work is a little more artful and closer to the real subject by virtue of allowing some "messiness" to creep in at the edges. Some people like chaos, ambiguity, and messiness in their art. Other people do not.
    Patrick Thrush: One of the troubles I find in dialog about photography--and in critique--is the focus on how necessary it is to develop a recognizable style and subject mastery. If one does not have that, they are accused of lacking vision and style. When one finds that niche, they are often accused of pandering to monotony or populism. Is there a win here?
    In the way you present it, probably not. We can all find a way to criticize almost anything by viewing it from a different perspective. I think, however, that taking an absolutist view that recognizable style and subject mastery is the only criteria for greatness is too rigid. I understand that that is not what you are proposing, I'm just saying that I don't think it is a black or white, either/or, proposition. This is just my personal belief, but I think the best criticism allows for a flexible approach which takes each artwork or artist into account individually, rather than judging them from a single standpoint (Traditionalist, Marxist, Feminist, and Post-Colonial critics, for example, come to the table with loaded preconceptions of what standards must be met. )
    Edward Ingold: Dislike of the "perfect" works of McCurry speaks more to the nature of the critic than the quality of the master photojournalist. Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach, Those that can do neither, criticize. McCurry is able to extract simplicity from chaos, the essence of what we should remember, rather than what we prefer to forget.
    Do you honestly think that this is all true? How depressing to think that by expressing an alternative aesthetic opinion (one not necessarily held by a majority), one is automatically going to be dismissed as being bitter, jealous, or suffering from "sour grapes". Neither the author of the original article, nor anyone here that I can recall, bashed McCurry for being a hack or unworthy of the fame and attention that he has received. But I see nothing wrong with appraising McCurry's work according to a slightly different standard than the National Geographic aesthetic. The author of the article lays out his case quite intelligently in my opinion and I think he has a point. That does not make me right and you wrong, or vice versa. As I stated earlier, some people like a little chaos, ambiguity, and messiness in a photograph and some do not.
    As for the rest of your comments, I am neither a teacher nor a critic, but I think you do both professions a grave disservice. It is far too easy to spout dismissive and simplistic platitudes in place of earnest discussion.
  23. Anders Hingel: I don't know what "middle-brow eye candy" refers to, but it pushes me to say that his candy like view of the world
    The photos you linked to could actually be considered "high-brow" eye candy by virtue of the artfully inherent chaos and messiness of their arrangement.
  24. Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach, Those that can do neither, criticize.​
    Well, the definition of a critique is "a criticism." This is a critique site.
    Most of the criticisms offered to McCurry's work here have been quite measured and highly qualified. We grant him his due. We do not thereby necessarily offer him unqualified endorsement by every criterion possible.
  25. The photos you linked to could actually be considered "high-brow" eye candy by virtue of the artfully inherent chaos and messiness of their arrangement.​
    There's eye candy, and then there's eye candy. There are even high-brow nudes and low-brow nudes. I won't say which I prefer when I'm in the mood for some serious eye candy.
  26. "The photos you linked to could actually be considered "high-brow" eye candy"

    So, if I understand right, McCurry are for those who like candy. Well, I would rather be without, at least when it comes to photography.
    I have a dream of keeping McCurry away from color photography for the rest of his life and we might have a master for future generations. He has the eye, but is contaminated by : "candy".
  27. I reckon this was somewhat patronizing and denigrating myself
    The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring. Boring, but also extremely popular: McCurry’s photographs adorn calendars and books, and command vertiginous prices at auction. He has more than a million followers on Instagram. This popularity does not come about merely because of the technical finesse of his pictures. The photographs in “India,” all taken in the last 40 years, are popular in part because they evoke an earlier time in Indian history, as well as old ideas of what photographs of Indians should look like, what the accouterments of their lives should be: umbrellas, looms, sewing machines; not laptops, wireless printers, escalators.​
    The not-so-subtle equating of popularity with unrefined sensibilities. The tone of the article assumes that those who like McCurry need to get out more and become more refined and perceptive and (of course) more like the writer of the article. I found it rather preachy. "Boring" is not very appreciative either.
    Of course, Singh is worthy of attention, although from what I have seen in the article I would rather have McCurry. But then, of course, I am a Western imperialist with a romantic view of India.
  28. Robin Smith: I reckon this was somewhat patronizing and denigrating myself
    To be fair, yes. How does he know they are staged? (I honestly don't know one way or the other.) And "astonishingly boring" is admittedly over the top. Selective reading on my part because I concentrated more on the writer's theory of "messiness" vs "perfection" than on his claim that McCurry is "astonishingly" boring. But it has made for an interesting discussion. I'm not so sure I would even categorize his work as boring (unless only his color work is viewed for extended periods of time, but who would not suffer in such a test?). I just prefer the slightly "messier" approach that is alluded to in the article.
  29. IMO, neither "astonishingly boring" nor anything else the author said is over the top in the context of art or photography criticism. It's funny that artists and photographers learn to have (or should learn to have) thick skins because putting one's work out to the public is bound to get both negative and positive feedback, and not always in the tone we would like. Art is so often about or the result of passion. The best artists tend to be the most passionate. It makes sense to most artists that responses to their work will often be passionate, both good and bad. Fans of various artists and photographers would do well to learn all that as well.
  30. I guess I think I couldn't deny that McCurry is a great photographer. His record of success stands for itself. Saying that, I prefer Singh's work and I think the difference in preference is in the way they approach their photographs. McCurry takes these luscious photos but they are iconographic, its always about the subject isolated from pretty much everything around. He really approaches these photographs like a portrait artist. The uniqueness is in the person/s themselves. Everything else is basically a framing element that may provide some cultural context. Singh on the other hand approaches his photographs like a street photographer, still beautiful color, nicely composed but all about context. taking you to the place. Just really different approaches.
  31. A lot of McCurry's pictures look "too colorful" because he shot Kodachrome. Maybe we should blame Kodak.
    His photographic essay "style" was to support written articles explaining faraway places to readers of National Geographic. Singh's "messy" pictures are not for these type readers. NatGeo readers read in simple declarative sentences; and view pictures that way too. The point has to be clear because in photojournalism, which is mainly what McCurry does, you want to understand what the writer and photographer is communicating. I'm sure if McCurry was a wedding photographer, he'd shoot differently as well.
  32. Fred, you are putting me in the "astonishing" position of defending McCurry against being considered "astonishingly" boring. You know (or I think you know) that I am not a big fan of McCurry or the National Geographic aesthetic of which he is a prime exemplar, but adding "astonishingly" to boring does not seem supportable to me given McCurry's work. At the very least, I don't think the author of the article offers enough support in the article for "astonishingly" to be much more than hyperbole. Although anything may go in the context of art criticism, don't you think that it needs to be supported? I could say, "Ansel Adams sucks" but I'd better explain and support that if I expect it to be taken seriously as a critique of his work.
  33. [LINK]
    Thank you for this one, Barry.
  34. In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiarity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.​
    Steve, honestly, I'm of two minds about how much support needs to be given. On the one hand, photography elicits visceral reactions which don't necessarily need or warrant intellectual support. If a viewer says Adams sucks, I'm perfectly content to accept that at face value. It's an honest exclamatory response. Depending on the situation, I might ask why.

    Now, as to the critique at hand, a critic's finding something "astonishingly boring" might well be an appropriately hyperbolic response to overly mannered and saturated photos. A response, as it were, in kind. Writing that way sort of mirrors the critique and the photography itself.

    And I recognize that we should expect certain things from a published critic that we might not expect from all viewers by way of support for their own reactions to the work. So I quote the full paragraph above that ends with those two words because I think the full paragraph actually does provide the critical support for "astonishingly boring." I took the author to be astonished because it would actually be hard to take such boring pictures of such interesting goings on, in terms of humanity and culture. It's astonishing, on some level, that such crispness, clarity, and sterility would be thought of as the way to portray what's being portrayed. IMO, reading the entire article provides quite a bit of support for the claim of being astonished at how boring these photos actually are.
  35. Phil S. You hit it exactly right! I was "bored" by the writers lack of knowing what the heck he was talking about.
  36. Part of being a good critic is being able to critique a work on what the maker is / was trying to achieve, not what the critic thinks the work should achieve.​
    So, if somebody likes to shoot extraordinarily super-saturated sunsets, and manages to do so over and over and over, then I am supposed to applaud the photographer for having regularly achieved the (to me) nauseous effect which he or she desired?
  37. Phil, I am simply saying that no art critic is ever entirely value neutral. No one ever totally sets his or her aesthetic values aside and proceeds strictly objectively and analytically when making aesthetic judgments--and making aesthetic judgments is what we are doing in talking about McCurry's photographic work, or anyone else's. Art is not value neutral, and no art criticism is or ought to presume that it is or ought to be based on a value-neutral foundation. Nor need one insist that emotion has no valid role in such judgments.
    This reminds me of discussions of the possibility of a so-called "value-free social science or social theory" except that aesthetics is even less likely than social science or social theory to achieve value neutrality. In the realm of aesthetics, such value-neutrality is not only unlikely; it is logically impossible. I would go further and ask why one would ever presume that it would be a desirable way to proceed.
    Yes, we should go beyond our emotions and personal "tastes." Stopping at "This stinks" would be ridiculous in a formal criticism. That is obvious enough. But the gist of this thread not too far up the page was the issue of the efficacy of criticism in general. I am still responding to that turn in the road, since I found the idea that we ought not to be critical in our criticisms to be preposterous. Once we accept the necessity and desirability of criticism, then we must come to grips with issues of our own underlying biases, biases which cannot ever be escaped.
    As for context, context is everything. That is beyond dispute, and no one has argued anything to the contrary here. Context simply is not the issue in the discussion above. It is never possible nor desirable to try to escape context, in my opinion, if one wants to offer anything of value by way of criticism, whether claimed to be unbiased or not.
  38. Thanks Lannie:) And thanks Alan Klein, I think that is quite true about the role of his pictures and Nat Geo.
  39. So, rather than discussing the merits of the reasoning behind opinions, we're now discussing whether we should have opinions at all?
    I took the article as a well-meant attempt to critically look at the work of McCurry, by means of comparison of somebody else who for a part worked in the same area (*). It notes some differences between them, and touches on those (a bit shallow, but it isn't a thesis). In terms of opinion -whether the writer prefers one or the other- I don't care too much. He has his opinion, I have mine. But the writer did raise some points worth thinking about as to why he has his opinion, and for myself I considered those, and picked up on some things. That has helped me in rethinking my opinion a bit. End result: positive.
    Now I expressed what I think about McCurry before, so .... If people feel that a mediocre photographer as myself isn't allowed an opinion on a master, then I guess there is nothing left but stand in awe in front of every proclaimed master, whether you like it or not. And accept it as mastery, and..... well. I see little coming out of that, but again, it's all just opinions. But given that photography is for most of us a means of personal creative expression, sheepishly following without having some sort of critical thoughts about what you like and dislike, seems a rather silly concept.
    So, does the more street-style photos of Singh show a more vibrant, interesting view on India than McCurry's portraits? Yes, you cannot compare them as their approaches are different, but what does one add, what does the other add? I think you can make a comparative analysis, figure for yourself what you find working better in terms of visual language, appealing to emotions and whatsmore... and I think that's always a useful exercise.
    (*) I do agree that if read as a "pure critic", the article fails indeed and the writer would have done better expressing his opinion in a more balanced way. But as I read the article in a different way, it didn't bother me as much.
  40. Phil, I certainly agree that one should not try to state which style is better than the other; I added a small P.S. later to better express myself there. On a whole, I agree with what you state. I cherry-picked more what I got from the article, and ignored what I found of lesser value.
  41. If "critical" is defined as expressing a disapproval based on our own taste, then no we shouldn't be critical in our criticisms. If "critical" is defined as having an analytical ( which is how it should be defined in the context of a critique ) approach to a work in order to assess its artistic and emotional value, then yes we should be critical in our criticisms.​
    Phil, what a horrible--and false and untenable--dilemma! The status of our "tastes" is indeed problematic, but to relegate "taste" to something categorically and totally unrelated to analysis is not useful to me. "I don't care for this" may indeed come out of an emotional revulsion to viewing something, but it may also come out of a plethora of other considerations--or some combination.
    I think that you are still trying to hold onto a value-free concept of criticism, Phil. Many persons do. I have to respectfully disagree. I do understand that I am raising that ultimate epistemological bugbear of the status of both knowledge and opinion where aesthetics is concerned, but I do not see how to avoid it entirely. Reason, empirical data, emotions, intuitions, etc., all play a role in our value judgments, including those in the realm of aesthetics. How they are related to each other may well be unknowable, but that issue is in any case beyond the scope of any discussion on that I care to get into.
  42. The discussion seems to focus on style and aesthetics but Cole's criticism of McCurry is more about the content: India is a complex mixture of modern and old, and McCurry applies extremely stringent selection to the subject matter and avoids completely any sign of what is modern in India. I think this is his main point. Singh by contrast shows a more balanced mixture of the society and does not avoid showing what is new and what is old, all seamlessly mixed as it really is. McCurry's photography isn't journalism or documentary - it is (mostly) advertising photography, of a fantasy to westerners so that they would travel to "exotic" India, which in reality is different from what McCurry shows.
  43. It's not about ignoring our opinion and being value-free but about being all the more aware of our opinions when looking at a work critically.​
    Who is the offending party, Phil? The author of the linked article? Someone here on this forum? Who, that is, has shown your posited lack of awareness regarding their own opinions? I simply am not sure whom you are referring to. You seem to be either defeating a straw man or beating a dead horse. I'm not sure which.
  44. McCurry is an American who visited and photographed India quite often, Singh is from India and lived and worked there. Shocking to me that their photographs would be different in so many respects. I don't think the writer quite grasped that simple concept.
  45. To Wouter:
    Wouter, I'm not sure that critiques of style are or ought to be necessarily out of bounds. Style and technique are closely related, although admittedly not identical. I am thinking here primarily about post-processing, although some others seem to be talking about composition, which is not, of course, about post-processing for most of us.
  46. Teju Cole's article--the article that we are discussing:
    The line that has attracted the most attention here from that article is "They [McCurry's photos] are astonishingly boring." Read in the context of the first two paragraphs, which sound laudatory, the line comes off as a bit of a surprise itself, a shocker--perhaps even astonishing itself.
    As a literary device, this "shock" has been quite effective. Indeed, it has driven a lot of the discussion here. The sudden counterpoint jolts us into the sudden realization that this article is not going to be another laudatory, uncritical affirmation of how great McCurry ostensibly is.
    A lot of the blowback here from that line just might have come from the sense that Cole gored a sacred cow--no indirect pun about India intended.
    In any case, there has been enough emotion to go around on all sides of this discussion, along with some truly rational argumentation.
    Thank you for the great thread, Steve.
  47. I don't think McCurry does his own post-processing. For as long as possible he used Kodachrome and the colours and the "look" of his images is from that film, and after that, when he started to use digital cameras, someone else has done his post-processing, probably with the intention that the "look" should be similar to his earlier work shot on Kodachrome. Of course, selecting the subject and light in a certain way also contributes to the "look".
  48. Lannie, "I'm not sure that critiques of style are or ought to be necessarily out of bounds..." - not sure if we're talking the same thing now. I'm all in favour of open discussion, on whatever aspect in a photo (composition, post-processing, choice of content, use of light, you name it), even if the photographer is far more successful than any of us. Implying that we can't because it would only be a sign of our incompetence, as happened, is ... well, better ignored, really.
    Discussing the way in which the author of the original link expressed the opinion, I think, is less interesting than eloborating on what he wrote, in the way for example Ilkka now has done, and several others earlier in the thread. As much as we learn from great photographers on what they do right, and vastly better than most of us, there is also learning from them what you don't want. And in this respect, I think the comparison between Singh and McCurry is interesting and relevant.
  49. it


    Say what you want about McCurry, he didn't spend his life sitting on a cushion playing on the intergoogle, typing about photography. He worked ridiculously hard for those images and put himself at considerable risk. Sure he has a shtick (who doesn't?), but he created his own look. When you think that he did much of it on 25 ASA slide film, that is quite a technical accomplishment as well. As a portrait photographer, I love of many of his images, like this or this. They look easy, but they're not. He is a master of soft directional light. (Sometimes I even find myself trying to find that same light for some of my subjects. Never quite get there though!)
    I doubt he will lose much sleep over people finding him boring, he's probably out shooting. As an aside, I saw him speak once, and it was very dry. He seems like a private guy who would rather be out in the field than sucking up adulation, unlike many of his peers.
  50. he didn't spend his life sitting on a cushion playing on the intergoogle, typing about photography​
    That's very true, Ian. Just as I imagine it's true of you, who managed to find a few moments to post your thoughts here, just like the rest of us who managed to do so as well. Many of us, you'll find, can find the time to write a few posts on the Internet, shoot the photos we want to shoot, eat, sleep, play with kids, go to movies, and do a little charity work here and there. Doing one thing doesn't have to be seen as the sacrificing of everything else in life.

    Working ridiculously hard at something and putting oneself at considerable risk are laudable. But photos resulting from such activity and dedication won't necessarily move me or make much of an impression on me, even if the person taking them does.
  51. Although I tend to agree with most of Ian's posts on this occasion I do not. It takes very little time to post on P/N and share photos and thoughts. Sharing to my mind, is about the enjoyment of photography, whether through discussion or photographs.
    Comparing two photographers is disrespect to just tells me of poor journalistic skills who have to resort to sensualistic writing because they have not the ability or imagination to offer anything else.
  52. Interesting article from New York Times magazine, though it may be heretical to some people.​
    I have to say the article seems remarkably uninformed. You have to wonder if Teju Cole is even aware of, let alone has looked at, McCurry's war photography or his work on children in war zones or his 9/11 series:
    Here McCurry's saturated colours show terrible things with awful clarity.
  53. Wouter Willemse: I think the comparison between Singh and McCurry is interesting and relevant.
    Based on the reasons you have given (learning from what we do appreciate, but also being open-minded enough to learn from things that we do not care for), I would agree with you. It is all a matter of opinions.
    But the problem with opinions is some people do not like them when they are not in accordance with their own. Particularly where very famous, very popular, photographers are concerned. "...the article seems remarkably uninformed." Why? Because he does not reference the galleries you have linked to? Given the clarity, composition, and vivid color of those images, they may only make Teju Cole's case. You -- and I -- may find those galleries impressive and possessed of "awful clarity" (good term). But that doesn't mean Cole can't make the case that such clarity, vividness, and composition has a contrived "boring" feel to it. The possibility that Cole is taking a contrary position for the sake of readership has not escaped me. However, I tend to appreciate it when someone questions conventional wisdom and photographic popularity. Doing so does not automatically equate to envy, incompetence, or sitting on a cushion playing on the intergoogle. You think Cole is uninformed. I think he makes some interesting points that are worthy of consideration. So be it.
  54. Why? Because he does not reference the galleries you have linked to?​
    More because he seems unaware of a large body of McCurry's work, the sort of thing that is easily found by going to his archive on the Magnum site and filtering by 'armed conflict' or 'social issues' or 'health' or 'politics'. I agree that Cole might well be taking a contrary position for the sake of the article, in which case cherry picking a certain type of image is just part of the rhetoric, but I'm not quite convinced he's looked much beyond the Instagram feed and coffee table book he mentions, and the comparison with Coldplay is well below the belt! I suspect a lot of people who are only vaguely aware of McCurry assume that the Afghan Girl photo is just part of some exotic travelogue, rather than a piece of journalism about a war orphan in a refugee camp. Full credit for highlighting Singh, though!
  55. I found Cole's article provocative, and the discussion here interesting.
    As a photographer, I must say that I like elements of both McCurry's and Singh's work. I think that the former's images have a more constructed, deliberate look, while the latter seems more intuitive and on-the-fly (which is by no means a derogatory view; quite the contrary - I find that there's more of a 'decisive moment' element). I admire the technique and hard graft that went into both photographers' output, and I like some of the photographs made by both of them.
    My perspective is also tinged by the fact that I was born and grew up in India. When I look at Singh's images, I am strongly reminded my childhood on the streets of India (I can smell the jasmine, incense and exhaust fumes and hear the cacophony of people, animals, vehicles and industry). When I look at McCurry's work, my response is less visceral, and more aesthetic - I appreciate the composition and light, and how beautifully the photographs are made. So I am moved in different ways when I view their work, which to me, is the goal of any artist.
  56. rajmohan fotograf -- Wonderfully said. I appreciate the way you described your reaction to McCurry and Singh.
  57. Thank you, Steve, and thanks for starting off this lively discussion!

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