Taste and Prejudice in Photography

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by cyanatic, Nov 16, 2013.

  1. [Fred G gets credit for this topic -- I'm just facilitating his suggestion that it might make for an interesting discussion.]

    In Julie H's thread discussing W. Eugene Smith's photograph, The Walk to Paradise Garden, this quote came up (bold emphasis mine):
    Today, some photographers, particularly the young, consider this photograph to be Smith's worst lapse in taste, but the general public still loves it. [from Let Truth Be the Prejudice: W.Eugene Smith, his Life and Photographs (1985)]​
    When looking at any given photograph, how do we determine the difference between "good taste" and simple prejudice? Is there a difference? (My initial instinct is that there is a difference, although taste and prejudice can easily overlap and one quickly falls into a confusing area of gray.)
    Many factors can go into this. Some of it can be based on knowledge of both the photographer and of the genre of photography. For example, looking at a family snapshot taken by someone we know to not be an experienced photographer, certain prejudices, or applications of our criteria for "taste", may be held in abeyance. But this is not really the type of discussion I am hoping to have. I am not talking about passing judgement, so much as how we determine whether a given judgement (by ourselves, by the "art world", or by the general public) is primarily based upon prejudice, or based upon taste.
    Feel free to use any examples (if you choose to use any). A quick one from me -- I happened to log into 500px this morning and the page defaulted to the currently most popular photographs. The vast majority were highly saturated landscapes, or portraits of attractive young women. My lip curled back in an involuntary sneer. A combination of both prejudice and taste. I have an admitted prejudice toward "popular" photographs on the major photo sharing websites (flickr, google+ and, yes, photo.net). That's hardly fair because it's possible that a closer examination may reveal some greater significance (possible, but doubtful, based on my experience.). But some of this also comes from taste (which was acquired through experience and study). In 2005 or 2006, it was just such "popular" photographs that I appreciated and primarily looked at. But at some point I started looking at a different class of photograph -- documentary, street, less easily categorized photos by Minor White, Man Ray, Joel Peter Witkin, Cindy Sherman, etc. Who were these people? What had critics said about them? A completely different world opened up to me. My taste in photography changed. And my prejudice changed right along with it. Is a photograph that I deem to be more significant (depth, meaning, aesthetic approach or philosophy) truly so based on taste, or is it merely a prejudice?
    The more I try and analyze this, the more I realize how large a can of worms this opens. Is there an overriding objective standard of taste? Or it all just a morass of anarchic relativism? Does time/posterity have the final say? Critics, galleries, museums and collectors all go through their own phases of popularity, taste, and prejudice. Does their taste supercede populist sensibilities? Or, in the end, is "taste" really nothing more than an informed prejudice?
    Have at it....I'm interested to hear what the rest of you have to say on this.
     
  2. Taste test for Steve:
    Flip through all the pages (there aren't very many) of this [LINK] and this [LINK] as if they were portfolios on Flickr, or among those pictures that made your lip curl (they should be somewhat of that type). Then go back and look at them reeeeeeally slowly. Please report back on how they taste to you. Thank you.
     
  3. Is there an overriding objective standard of taste?​
    No. Though there may be a way to approach objectively comparing photographic expression/communication to a well-described set of values ... and thus be able to say things like, "By standard [X], it's in poor taste. By standard [Y], it's an insightful joke. By standard [Z] it's boorish but iconoclastic enough to be noteworthy."
    Does time/posterity have the final say?​
    No. Because while the passage of time will record the work's impact on history (or lack of one), evaluating the tastefulness of the image is really the act of evaluating the standards of the time or of a given audience (see above).
    Does their taste supercede populist sensibilities?​
    No. Except within the (generally small) circles/audience that look to them for guidance and which cedes "taste" to whichever standard they use.
    Or, in the end, is "taste" really nothing more than an informed prejudice?​
    No, "taste" is a complex value judgement with a lot of variables at work. The more nuanced and "informed" the person making that judgement, the more such a judgement may surprise (or annoy) the more casual observer. I'd avoid the word "prejudice" in this context unless you're using it as shorthand for the more complex notion of "considering the source, and taking into account the artist's likely purpose, intended audience, cultural context and the rest, all of which I'm 'pre' judging because I've thought about those things a lot and can make a quick assessment of how they bear on my evaluation of this piece of work..." then, sure. But the word "prejudice" carries with it a connotation of dismissal, rather than of "putting quickly into a preformed contextual bucket" - an act that serves both dismissal and admiration equally.
     
  4. "That's hardly fair because it's possible that a closer examination may reveal some greater significance . . . "
    Steve, this may get to some of it. Prejudice is usually born of a not very close examination. As I think about the prefix "pre" and the root "judice", the word means to pre-judge, to judge before something is really known or experienced. So, what you (and I) do when we see supersaturated landscapes is to pre-judge based on what we are first hit with. That's a prejudice, which I know I have. Upon further inspection, as you suggest, we might actually find something of value. If we do, that will likely be more because of our taste than a prejudice, precisely because of the more careful examination. So, it's possible to find something good in a super-saturated landscape, still dislike the super-saturation, but see through it to something more significant.
    Perhaps one develops taste and one starts out with a prejudice.
    One of my experiences has been consistently and conscientiously trying to overcome my own taste limitations, especially with my own photos. I often make photos I don't think I'll like just to see what they might have to offer me. Sometimes, as I stay with them or they stay with me, I start to like them and they move me forward. Often, I still don't like them but they taught me something and still wound up moving me forward anyway.
    I don't like anarchic relativism, so I often bring in expertise in these matters. Art historians, curators, artists themselves, critics, even philosophers are often purveyors of prevailing taste. Why not? They've studied it and often live it. I think they often do help guide taste and they're not as terrible as a lot of people seem to think who put them all down for being pretentious buffoons, which is way too simple and dismissive, IMO, as popular as art-expert bashing seems to be.
    Taste is a bit like feelings. If you feel sad, I can't really tell you that you don't. If you like something, I can't really tell you that you don't. So in that way, it's subjective. But I can tell you and you can tell me that your taste could use some adjustment, or that you have (or I have) really bad taste. And I could give reasons, which makes it a bit objective. It doesn't mean you will believe me or change.
    Usually, more exposure and, as you say, examination, increases sophistication of taste.
     
  5. To me it sounds like a testable proposition. If we did a content analysis of top rated photographs what would we find? Chances are we will find certain categories that appeal to a majority of viewers. And some we find unremarkable or bland. We will call that taste for now. (some would damn it as elitist taste but we are all elitists here :))
    Whereas the ones who voted it highly or the one who shot it would call that prejudice ( or maybe some dismissive euphemism). I would like to think there are standards for judging the artistic value of a photograph and I see a constant attempt to define it even as it is hard to pin down. What we carelessly define as iconic or classic. We might argue that that is following a social consensus, but even that is testable. And is being tested in the marketplace via books and shows. Or is that too simplistic.... Personally I can be pointed to something and be influenced by closer looks, and get closer to what is at first unattractive or indifferent. A symptom of maturity or age,- no matter.
    My "prejudices" are for me someone else's judgment and uncritical evaluation of my personal tastes. As with Fred I dislike the word even though it has some uses, not so much in art or photo usage.
     
  6. When looking at any given photograph, how do we determine the difference between "good taste" and simple prejudice?​
    When the photographer pounds it over our heads by emphasizing elements/technique used to create the image ends up not being the most important to the viewer...i.e. grotesque HDR rendering...revealing a kind of dishonesty... (blame J.C. Leyendecker for the source of that look which lead to the comic book dynamic style now seen in special effects movies and pop culture.) As a cartoonist I finally tracked down where this dynamic look started in "pop" culture.
    When something is emphasized over and over in other media formats we humans soon pick up on it as contrived and an indication the artist is being dishonest toward their own feelings on the subject depicted. By nature humans are attuned to seeing patterns both in emotion (crying on cue repeatedly with the same crying sound) and still images.
    The context within the venue the photo is presented also can introduce a prejudice to the viewer as a kind of pandering to the masses because one or several photos are associated and have become part of mass production "pop" culture which is most likely why Eugene Smith's shots of his kids get a negative reaction concerning taste since that image wasn't originally viewed within the context of the photographer's body of work.
    The Walk to Paradise Garden shot has been reduced to being seen as "clip art" (at least as I've come to see it) because that's how I was initially introduced to it 35 years ago as a graphic artist looking for quicky, royalty free, canned, generic, decorative art to use as a graphical backdrop that would obviously appeal to common emotions in advertising and local publications.
     
  7. "The Walk to Paradise Garden"

    Chocolate box why make such a fuss about it. The general public like" ooh arr stuff" especially the mums...just the way it is.

    I think we get lost on in space on these old timers perhaps because some Arty folk have invested some gold in them. Jeeze, I'm a heathen.

    Julie link is taking folk to a different place...one that works.
    I like my photo better because it is actually saying something
    00cA6h-543605684.jpg
     
  8. Let us move on look at current work.
    Yes, Newton watched a apple drop. Einstein told us nothing moves quicker than light....but he did not know anything about black holes or black matter.
    Just a few thoughts.
     
  9. A photograph should say something, do something, explore something.
    Or, we can call it Fine Art because it looks pretty.
    Taste.
     
  10. My gosh, Steve, taste and prejudice are very different qualifiers, like apples and oranges. Some like California wines, others disdain them. Same for Bourgogne or Bordeaux wines. The prejudice for French Pinot Noir may be originally born of taste but often it emanates from other considerations and taste has little to do with it. If my prejudice is for New Zealand Pinot Noir, then any consideration of taste will be related to comparing those wines and I my prejudice will have won out. If taste is my only consideration, free of country-climate-history-name prejudices, or other, then it will likely be freer and more objective. But only "more objective" as taste is a very subjective thing for individuals, unless we are talking of the taste of a collectivity, however that is also subjective if on a different level.
    I think I would prefer, in regard to photographic art, or even wines, an OP or discussion of the relationship of taste and reputation, or taste and taste-makers.
     
  11. Taste is the name of the intellectual process that traverses the distance between prejudice, a reflex response without critical thought, from postjudice, a conclusion reached after an extended evaluation of all the facts.
    Like prejudice the qualities of taste and postjudice are subjective rather than objective but they surely deliver a far richer art experience.
     
  12. "My gosh, Steve, taste and prejudice are very different qualifiers, like apples and oranges"
    Well, Arthur, yes and no. They are different qualifiers, but my view is that taste, to some extent, derives from prejudice. The prejudices that we grow up with, without even being aware of their nature, determine our eventual tastes for art, music, politics, religion and everything else. What we are taught as children stays with us forever. That doesn't mean we can't overcome those prejudices, but It requires awareness and a willingness to explore. The Beatles, The Association, Crosby, Stills and Nash didn't eventually replace the prejudice for classical music I grew up with, they just expanded my horizons. I think the lesson extends to photography as well as other art forms. Except for Joel-Peter Witkin...
     
  13. Some "...consider this photograph to be Smith's worst lapse in taste, but the general public still loves it..."
    I suppose that the writer in 1985 was acknowledging two things. First, that some artists, particularly younger ones, at that time considered The Walk to Paradise Garden to be schmaltzy, a lapse in taste; and Second, that the general public in 1985 nevertheless still loved it.
    Artists may in 1985 have considered the photo to be comparable to someone of the stature of a Picasso having created a well received dewy-eyed fawn painting, an easy reach for low hanging fruit with a universal theme that's excessively sentimental. Yet some of our favorite popular songs are of the same type, simple, sentimental, poorly arranged and orchestrated, without much merit, but we love the song anyway, and so might a highly trained studio musician.
    There is no accounting for taste. It just is. Good taste: the general public never has it and some who know better must live with grated nerves because of it.
     
  14. Julie H -- Taste test for Steve:
    Flip through all the pages (there aren't very many) of this [LINK] and this [LINK] as if they were portfolios on Flickr, or among those pictures that made your lip curl (they should be somewhat of that type). Then go back and look at them reeeeeeally slowly. Please report back on how they taste to you. Thank you.​
    Julie -- The initial "taste" was definitely not of a lip-curling caliber. Not sure how to explain it, but even a cursory look at Wiefenbach's photos does not strike me the same as some of the "popular" photos on other sites. There is a...how shall I put this? An earnestness, an intentionality that comes through. There is thought behind it that goes beyond the formulaic checklist found in popular landscape photos (Golden hour? Check. 2/3 to 1/3 balance of horizon? Check. Foreground interest? Check. Slow exposure to give milky look to water? Check. Wide angle lens set to deep dof? Check.)
    Matt Laur -- there may be a way to approach objectively comparing photographic expression/communication to a well-described set of values ... and thus be able to say things like, "By standard [X], it's in poor taste. By standard [Y], it's an insightful joke. By standard [Z] it's boorish but iconoclastic enough to be noteworthy."​

    Contextual objectivity in a way.
    Fred G -- Art historians, curators, artists themselves, critics, even philosophers are often purveyors of prevailing taste. Why not? They've studied it and often live it. I think they often do help guide taste and they're not as terrible as a lot of people seem to think who put them all down for being pretentious buffoons, which is way too simple and dismissive, IMO, as popular as art-expert bashing seems to be.​

    A common enough occurrence, the result of prejudice toward something not understood, or desired to be understood.
    Arthur Plumpton -- My gosh, Steve, taste and prejudice are very different qualifiers.​

    I'm not so sure. Similar to what William Kahn said, I think prejudice can lead to the development (or lack of development) of taste. The prejudice itself is a form of taste, even if based on a refusal to explore and consider.
     
  15. Steve - "Is a photograph that I deem to be more significant (depth, meaning, aesthetic approach or philosophy) truly so based on taste, or is it merely a prejudice?"
    It's truly based on taste, not merely a prejudice. The basis for your present judgment of a photograph is broader now than it was, you're no doubt able to explain your present judgment to yourself and others, and just because there is always more to learn and just because there will be challenging changes in the art of photography doesn't mean your present taste is mere prejudice.
    Anyway, taste in your usage to me means "informed judgment" and prejudice may be better replaced with the word 'naïve'. You're no longer naïve. Which doesn't mean that you can't learn more? With a subject as wide and deep as art, paraphrasing someone: all we truly due is share our ignorance.
    Question: if some young photographers thought that photograph "to be Smith's worst lapse in taste", then what photograph would those same young photographers have selected as Smith's second worst lapse in taste? What's interesting about that question is that they probably could have said which was his second worst and why. Because they presumably were trained enough to form a respectable opinion about that.
     
  16. Matt's post is land-mined with "standards" (the word is everywhere in his comments) -- and what is a 'standard' but a pre-judgment? Taste supposes itself to be something more in-the-moment, that is discovered in the doing -- that carries its own proof rather than meeting some outside standard thereof.
    With that dry stuff out of the way:
    Imagine a seventeen year-old, classic rebellious teenager, locked in classic combat with his classic 49 year-old dad. Is it prejudice or taste that motivates the teenager in his belief that his father is an idiot? Is it prejudice or taste that motivates the father to think his son hasn't got a clue? I, being a wonderfully non-engaged New Age observer will serenely declare that both viewpoints have merit -- a wild, open, developing mind knows things that the settled mind of the father usually will not; and the experienced, bill-paying parent will have valuable knowledge of limits and dangers ... etc.
    To be without prejudice is to start from indifference. Are parents and children capable of that? Would you want them to be??
    Britt Salveson, writing in an essay that introduces New Topographics:
    .
    According to the logic of preference, indifference is an equivalence relation, extremely stable in its symmetry, reflexivity, and transivity. The visual analogue would be these photographs, which reconcile beauty and ugliness, love and hatred, progress and degradation, and a host of other contradictions. They epitomize the paradox of indifference in being both boring and interesting.​
    .
    But is the iconic New Topographic photographic work really unprejudiced, "indifferent" as it claims to be? Or is this a case of the eternal claim of each new generation that "We're not prejudiced!," as we point backwards at or ancestors? Teenagers pointing at our idiot dads? From earlier in the same essay:
    .
    By adopting a detached stance -- by taking "great pains to prevent the slightest trace of judgment or opinion from entering their work," as Jenkins would write of the New Topographics participants -- photographers can foster ambiguity around the very issue of attachment: the picture's attachment to the world, the maker's attachment to a particular subject, and the viewer's attachment to the transparency of both these relationships. Moreover, detachment threatened to undermine generations of effort to establish photography's expressive capacity, a modernist tenet first promoted by Alfred Stieglitz, then upheld by Ansel Adams and Minor White, and later sustained (albeit in a nihilist vein) by such champions of the subjective as Robert Frank.
    Setting out to represent their own time, the New Topographics photographers evinced varying degrees of skepticism toward the preceding generation. Robert Adams could acknowledge the early impact of Ansel Adams even while asserting the essential difference of his own aims and subjects, but [Joe] Deal was more resistant to this renowned antecedent : "When I actually went to Yosemite, it was like seeing everything in quotation marks." [Nicholas] Nixon's impatience settled on the sentiment infusing the work -- "Ansel Adams and Minor White seemed sappy" -- while [Lewis] Baltz criticized the dramatic, high-contrast printing style. By the late 1960s, these emotional pictures seemed overdetermined, overblown, and embarrassingly self-conscious.​
    .
    Now, from our point of view, as generations beyond New Topographics, aren't you a little sick of their self-consciously unselfconscious style? Can't you spot a Evans groupie from nine-hundred yards? (Walker Evans is the godfather of the New Topographics, though, of course not one of them.)
     
  17. "Is it prejudice or taste that motivates the father to think his son hasn't got a clue?"
    The generational conflict strikes me almost as evolutionary, certainly cultural, but not really a matter of either taste of prejudice.
     
  18. Taste is very complex and formed by various components, including cultural and societal impact which are, at the core, highly prejudicial. The literal definition of the 2 terms may be traveling in opposite directions, but in this narcissistic culture taste has been redefine as projective rather than receptive and therefore they seem to travel hand in hand...
     
  19. Julie H -- Now, from our point of view, as generations beyond New Topographics, aren't you a little sick of their self-consciously unselfconscious style? Can't you spot a Evans groupie from nine-hundred yards? (Walker Evans is the godfather of the New Topographics, though, of course not one of them.)​
    First, I don't think I agree with the premise that the New Topographics was unprejudiced or indifferent. Consciously or unconsciously, I think part of what Shore, R. Adams, and company did was to react in opposition to the "sappy", self-conscious, and overblown landscapes best exemplified by Ansel Adams. They may owe a debt to Walker Evans, but I think there's a big difference between the way Evans photographed a gas station and the way that Shore photographed a gas station. They challenged "the pretty" (and the notion of what constitutes "the pretty") in landscapes in the same way that Frank, Klein or Lyon challenged cherished self-perceptions of what constitutes America in documentaries.
    Second, because of my relatively recent (7 years) immersion into photography and its history, I haven't been exposed to the New Topographics for long enough to be sick of any self-conscious unselfconsciousness. This goes back to what Charles W said above about tastes broadening and continuing to learn. My taste may get to the point of being sick of their unselfconsciousness but I'm not there yet. My prejudice toward Ansel Adams and those who speak of him in reverential tones (the cherrywood view camera "Lenswork Magazine" crowd) is far too tickled by Joe Deal's remark (seeing everything in Yosemite in quotation marks) to be anything but pleased with the type of landscape work of the New Topographics. It's admittedly childish and oppositional on my part, but I sometimes see distinct "camps" in photographic approaches. In relation to our current discussion (the New Topographics) there is the "this is it, this is how it looks, see the beauty in the warts" camp. And then there is the "Oh my God there's a powerline in my photograph! Quick! Kill it with Photoshop!" camp. ;-)
     
  20. Steve, how about the "see the wart-ness in the warts camp?" :)
    Seriously, though, I'm loathe to think of warts in terms of their beauty or lack. There are so many other aesthetic qualities and ideas to play with.
     
  21. Yes (to Steve G.), prejudice can "collimate" the application of taste, but intrinsically I think the two are different animals, largely because one is prejudgement before seeing the work of art and the second is perhaps based on various pre-considerations of aesthetic or emotional nature (not prejudices, but values yet to be applied), but a priori open to the work under examination. Of course, and I can imagine a future response here, values can also be considered part of prejudice, but they are then not open-ended, but closed.
    I like Steve's example of movements and how we are not always able to assimilate them positively and perhaps only after a lengthy period or reflection and comparing them with other approaches. Coming to one's own evaluation of any movement is important, and not to accept a free ride on a bandwagon, because some curators or other gurus have so constructed it, but to take many things into consideration before you communicate positively with the type of work in question. Avoiding prejudices (we all have them in different degrees) and allowing our taste parameters to act is not always easy and in some cases I prefer to defer any judgement on some movements, for lack of exposure, of adequate reflection, of experience, of interest, etc. Not making a decision is in fact a decision, and I think quite sustainable, whatever our parameters of choice. We move on with other interests or considerations.
     
  22. Quick warning: incoherent thoughts without sensible conclusion ahead....

    ..like apples and oranges
    There is something funny about this saying; because looking at it from a different angle, apples and oranges are actually quite close: they're both fruits, mostly sugar, lots of water inside, etc. Yes, they taste different, but essentially they're the same family.... (Arthur, I know I take your words way ou of context, it's in no way to reflect back on what you said, but rather it loosened a thread in my head).
    We prejudice them on the differences, and relegate them into being different taste, based on their differences. We're not looking at what binds them, what is identical. The subtle differences or less subtle differences that are the parts that actually trigger us to call them different - we do not train ourselves to label them, and to understand WHY they are difference. And this is where the taste of the masses is born.
    Prejudice is, as far as I can trace and as far as my English allows to pick up on subtle differences in meaning, a more "learnt" process, more conditioned. Again, learnt by instinct. But fashion plays with these instincts like crazy. And this is also usually differences-based: your sneakers are soooo 2011! Meaning: they're still sneakers.
    Looking like a 70s soulman with a tie as wide as your belly is no longer good, but the pastel-coloured Miami Vice look of the later 80s neither... I see this as prejudice, rather than taste (or maybe I have a prejudice against both). HDR and hyper-saturated fall colour landscapes fit fine here for me. But also lighting solutions for portraits (2 lights, 45 degrees, or 3 lights Rembrand?). It can be skillfull, subtle as well. But still: fashion statements, we're supposed to like it because it's what we all like today. I can shrug this off, or not. But a prejudice is something I somehow consciously go along with, or not. It's volatile to a large extend. Prejudice can form taste, and transform it; but it's not all of it. They're not equals.
    Currently, I am following a course on wine tasting. It's very revealing, in the sense of noting how much subtle flavours and odours we do not notice, and how with a bit of attention you can get back to tasting a trace of bitterness in a sweet(ish) acid(ish) drink. To sent fruit in between alcohol and other stronger odours. It also brings about a point where you can judge a wine on its merits, whether you actually like it or not. Doable, because a certain sort of grape is supposed to carry forward specific qualities in a wine. Within a certain range of interpretation differences, it's possible to measure somewhat objectively (I'm still far from being able to do that, but with time and training, who knows).
    With photography, I think this gets a lot more complicated - it's a communication medium, and we all have the tendency to read/hear the story we want to read/hear. There are specific qualities to photos that we can measure somewhat objectively, but we have no yardstick to measure against. We'll stay stuck there with prejudices against certain qualities (saturation, for example), or a difference in taste.
    Yet, I personally think it's a more useful exercise to search for the similarities as well, rather than focus on the differences. Especially in photos, I think it helps identifying qualities and recognition of what's good. Below this thread, there is a portrait of Fred, which is much like Rineke Dijkstra's work. I do not much like her work, but I do recognise what she wants to say, and I recognise the skill with which it's done (same goes for this portrait Fred made, btw). Same, on a whole different number of qualities, I feel about Ansel Adams - there is much good about his work. It just doesn't move me at all.
    Which is in the end, I think, an important aspect about taste: it's an emotional response to the qualities present. Some qualities will resonate with us, some not. We change over time, and so does our taste.
    Prejudices, on the other hand, we can overcome relatively easy, they're more conditioned and gut-feeling. Taste is something more inescapably there, and harder to ignore.
     
  23. I think prejudice has to do with power (often, but not necessarily, in a bad way). It is seductive, highly contagious, and, in a brute way, exhilarating. It's a territory staked out and I dare you to dislodge me. Whatever might (re)move me is judged as guilty until proven innocent before and without my even having seen what's in it. If it is "different" from what/where I have anchored myself, then it is, by my prejudice, anathema.
    Taste at least requires the consumption or experience of the sample before being judged.
    Below is an example of prejudice. Notice in particular, that (I believe) the source of prejudice, its root cause, is not in the art -- it is leakage from the outside aims, drives, motivations that finds art (freedom of expression) to be unacceptable:
    .
    "Works of art" which cannot be understood in themselves, but, for the justification of their existence, need those bombastic instructions for their use, finally reaching that intimidated soul, who is patiently willing to accept such stupid or impertinent nonsense -- these works of art [are not acceptable].
    All those catchwords, 'inner experience, 'strong state of mind,' 'forceful will,' 'emotions pregnant with the future,' 'heroic attitude,' 'meaningful empathy,' 'experienced order of the times,' 'original primitivism,' etc. -- all these dumb, mendacious excuses, this claptrap or jabbering will no longer be accepted as excuses or even recommendations for worthless, integrally unskilled products.
    ... Either these so-called 'artists' really see things this way and therefore believe in what they depict; then we would have to examine their eyesight-deformation to see if it is the product of mechanical failure or of inheritance.
    ... I am not the least bit interested in whether or not these 'also-rans' of the art world will cackle among themselves about the eggs they have laid, thereby giving to each other their expert opinions.*​
    .
    Somebody screams things like that, and it's surprising how many previously uninterested, or unconcerned, or unaffected people line up behind them -- become polarized by the rhetoric -- which, at root is not about art. Or rather, because it is not at root about art, but about power.
    [*No, the quote is not a photo.net critique. I leave it to you to guess who said those words.]
     
  24. Julie H -- I leave it to you to guess who said those words​
    "Oh," he said. "Of course..." (I had my suspicions, but I had to google a phrase to be certain.)
     
  25. Interestingly, this doesn't show that masses of folks, particularly here on PN, who express similar sentiments, are in any way like Hitler. It shows that Hitler didn't have a clue about art.
    Have we invoked Godwin's Law?
    One can develop their taste or one can be a slave to it. I'd suggest that the vast majority fall into the latter category, and that's understandable, since most don't want more from art than decor, diversion, or entertainment.
     
  26. A LINK for Wouter-who-is-learning-about-wine that I think he may enjoy. Wouter, I'm dropping you into the middle of things with the LINK ... in which one finds much puzzlement on the mysteries of taste.
     
  27. Well. Adi had hard life and never been to academic education, to say the least badly driven by circumstanses of ideological nature and very emotional too - as we all know hardly an authority, but he was very popular nethertheless, so, who knows, maybe it's not whole wrong after all. One shold assume he had clear set of criteria plus contextual definitions mostly borrowed from Schopenhauer stuff which he seem had not had understood quite well and ever yet not to be gaining some popularity these days although I would say it is too early to cheap in but keep money ready just in case.
     
  28. Taste involves in part assigning value to a photograph according to its merits: that skill takes an inclination, time, and effort to acquire. One issue suggested in the following quote from Steve:
    My prejudice toward Ansel Adams and those who speak of him in reverential tones (the cherrywood view camera "Lenswork Magazine" crowd)...​
    That quote suggests to me, and I may be misreading it, the danger inherent in developing one's taste to a degree which some others don't: the danger of being thought, by one's self or another, as a sort of art snob, for lack of a better term; or thought a wine snob just for having developed one's palate, less so if one has a refined taste for cheeses, where many cheeses are with good reason generally regarded as disagreeable if not disgusting. Yet no one's character is blamed for having a taste for odd cheese.
    But with art, wine: are we doomed by our hard won differentiation to be misunderstood, our enjoyments of either art or wine never appreciated by some of those with whom we venture to share the pleasure of these two joys?
    There is a more serious issue here too. In the film Dead Man Walking, the nun played by Susan Sarandon: a flashback to her youth in the film showed her going along with the other children when they all attacked a defenseless animal. Yet as a mature woman, she defended an animal, the killer played by Sean Penn, from the murderous hysteria of the crowd.
    We don't know how, why, or when the Susan Sarandon character matured. Nor do we know in another all the reasons that a piece of art may have moved them or know even know the fact that it did or didn't. No do we know how being so moved integrated itself into their life to become an essential part of who they are. So on the one hand we talk of taste and merit when the main reason we would speak of such things is because we were affected or wanted to be affected. So on one level these questions of taste and prejudice seem as insignificant in a way as selecting cheeses; but on other levels it's a lot deeper than that and has to do too with how we can find a place in the world where something of who we most deeply are is reflected, reflected in a broader culture that at times seems silent or indifferent to the hardest questions involved in being human. Where except in art can we find these finer things not considered by mass culture as of any merit, mass culture always selling and hierarchical?
    When we talk about taste and prejudice we are, but mostly aren't talking about yet another affectation though it's an easy cheap shot to say that we are mostly talking about yet another affectation: art is supposed to be, in my mind anyway, about something more real and essential than yet another affectation of conscious/self-conscious display of knowledge, more than just another gaudy parade. Art critics help us to know the difference between a fashionable statement and a work of art. But we don't know what we don't know and it's hard to tell a good critic from a fashionable one.
     
  29. New Topographics, Steve: "...but I think there's a big difference between the way Evans photographed a gas station and the way that Shore photographed a gas station."
    I'm no so sure there is a fundamental difference? Walker Evans, best known for "his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression" (is that a google sidebar??), in other words, had a critical approach as was critical the approach of the New Topographics per Wikipedia: "They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach. In most cases, they gradually revealed themselves as coming from rather critical vantage points." These are 'ruined' landscapes, those New Topographics "a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become."
    I find a critical eye missing in photographs I see nowadays of urban decay and rust: conveys more of an interest in ruin for its own sake perhaps? Or am I missing the critical approach existent in the motivation today for such captures?
     
  30. Charles, I don't know about the "for its own sake" part. You're likely right, at least in part. But I also notice a tendency toward a more abstracted view of urban decay rather than a critical or narrative view. That's in the good stuff. The more typical stuff, and less inspiring, is simple decoration. Rust looks cool.
     
  31. Charles W -- That quote suggests to me, and I may be misreading it, the danger inherent in developing one's taste to a degree which some others don't: the danger of being thought, by one's self or another, as a sort of art snob, for lack of a better term; or thought a wine snob just for having developed one's palate, less so if one has a refined taste for cheeses, where many cheeses are with good reason generally regarded as disagreeable if not disgusting. Yet no one's character is blamed for having a taste for odd cheese.​
    Charles, I'm sorry but I don't quite grasp what you're saying in the quote above.
    ...on other levels it's a lot deeper than that and has to do too with how we can find a place in the world where something of who we most deeply are is reflected, reflected in a broader culture that at times seems silent or indifferent to the hardest questions involved in being human. Where except in art can we find these finer things not considered by mass culture as of any merit, mass culture always selling and hierarchical?
    I'm requoting this less because I have something to add to it, but more because it strikes me as something that gets at "art" in a way that makes more sense than many theories, definitions, or examples. ("Finer things" for me not meaning "refined", for art can be found in the crude, the boorish, and the ugly.) In short, I like the way this was put.
    Walker Evans, best known for "his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression" (is that a google sidebar??), in other words, had a critical approach as was critical the approach of the New Topographics per Wikipedia: "They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach. In most cases, they gradually revealed themselves as coming from rather critical vantage points." These are 'ruined' landscapes, those New Topographics "a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become."​
    The "big difference" of which I speak may merely be my personal interpretation.

    When I look at Walker Evan's gas station here, I see and hear him saying, "Here it is. Look at this." There's a formal quality to the image, right down to the composition of it, that causes me to see a fairly serious look on his face when he's asking me to look at this gas station. He may have been critical in showing this slice of America, but he was fairly serious and straightforward about it.
    When I look at Stephen Shore's gas station here, I see and hear him saying, "Here it is. Look at this." But there is, to me, a distinctly different quality about the way he presents this gas station in comparison to Evans. When Shore asks me to look at "his" gas station, I see a smirk upon his face. He too is serious, but at the same time he can't help laughing at the absurdity of it.
     
  32. Steve, thanks for the links to Evans and Shore. Big difference, see what you mean. The Evans one looks inviting and inefficient; the Shore one efficient and uninviting, no place to just hang out. Interesting. In Shore's the people have been displaced.
    So would Shore have been aware of and influenced by the Evans gas station photos? Dumb question, but do these two photographers talk to each other across time?
     
  33. "do these two photographers talk to each other across time?"
    If the photographers don't, the photos surely do.
    And it's not just photographers. Edward Hopper is in on the chat as well.
    Art speaks to itself through the ages.
     
  34. Fred -- Love the reference to Hopper. I completely agree. (That's one of my favorite Hopper paintings, btw.) Charles -- I don't know enough about Shore to know whether or not he openly acknowledged a debt or reference to Walker Evans. Given the nature of Shore's work, I don't see how he could not have been influenced, or at least aware (of Evans).
    I did come across this interview with Shore (brief excerpt below):
    SS: I didn’t do that a whole lot. I don’t think my personality or persona changed particularly. I mean, I remember a couple of days where I would kind of run into a dry spell in the middle of a three month trip, and say, “Okay, today I’m going to be Walker Evans, and what would he photograph if he came to this next town I come to, wherever it happens to be.”
    AS: Had you developed any sort of relationship with Walker Evans personally by this time?
    SS: Not at all. Only with his work.​
     
  35. There are two interesting related questions.
    First, do photographers "talk" to each other across time? Sometimes, yes, for sure. Through direct reference, homage, or imitation or through much more subtle influence, as Steve mentions.
    Second, from our perspective in the here and now, it is worth considering that, whether or not these two photographers ever even heard of each other (which obviously they did), the photos can, for us, engage in a dialogue that we can become part of, as viewers and as photographers ourselves.
    Me, I love the idea of the art historic party line.
    Seeing that Hopper painting live recently at the Whitney in NY gave me a "taste" for gas stations. I've tried photographing them a couple of times since, to no avail. I'll keep trying.
     
  36. "Art historic party line" sounds good, but even better I think would be an "Art vision party line" where the accent is less on what was well done in the past and more on what can be done by photographers in the future (difference between philosophical-historical and philosophical-challenges (or philosophical-approaches).
    In that sense, and staying with the subject of gas stations, how about a challenge to all PNet members to do a series on gas stations and with possibility of entering at the end of the challenge period three to five images that will then be critiqued by fellow members (To be able to submit you must also be available to constructively critique the work of others, with critiques been judged as much as the works) on the basis of various benchmarks such as:

    -perception of the subject matter
    -originality of the approach
    -significance of the work (interpretation) to the subject and its environment
    -research of the subject (impact of the curiosity or background considerations of the photographer)
    -what the images communicate effectively (if anything)
    -how the images showed the viewer something new or unexpected about the subject or theme.
    The work must be current and undertaken between November 25th and December 10th (or any other acceptable timeframe). Maximum points for originaility and message and minimum ofnegative points for mimicking past works related to the gas station.
    .
     
  37. Too many restrictions for my taste.
    For example, if someone wants to mimic or pay homage to a past work, I wouldn't want to be in a position to discourage them from that, since I think it's viable, important, and often good form. If I didn't think it was well done or I didn't like it, I'd say so in my critique. Or, as another example, what if the photo significantly reinforced viewer's views of gas stations rather than showing them something new? Why would that not be encouraged? Much prefer to be given credit for being able to create the photo I want to create rather than adhering to an imposed set of guidelines.
    I do like your idea of a communal challenge to photograph gas stations. That's all I would say in establishing the process. I'd leave all the rest out, except for maybe a final date of submission.
    Just my own opinions on specifics. I do like the idea itself quite a bit and, so as not to sideline this thread too much, hope you'll consider a thread devoted to it and to drumming up interest.
     
  38. Maybe it is time for an update of the gas station image and theme. From country store with a couple of pumps to a cash register/bullet proof glass booth that's looks like a cramped prison cell for the gas station employee.
     
  39. I have entered a number of juried offers of service and the guidelines are often very much stricter than those I mentioned. One of the most challenging things for an artist is to have to meet certain guidelines and to succeed in doing that with brio, by inserting his or her vision or creativity and approach, notwithstanding some constraints that may be there simply to orient the activity and to place it within certain timelines.
    New can be a way in which the photographer treats something that is easily identifiable by the viewer but not really seem previously by him in that way. The familiar made more revealing or meaningful.
    I remember when 24 hours in the life of a country was a photographic challenge wherein all photos had to be taken within a very restricted period (a specific day). The gas station theme of new work suggested a 15 day period in the not too distant future.
    Anyway, I have no desire to argue the pros and cons of a challenge. I simply thought it interesting to suggest one, with an underlying desire to see what sort of originality might come out of it - in other words is the gas station subject/theme dead or not - I think not - and believe there are many other ways of looking at it and its relationship to our life, than just those creations of the past.
    So I will do it just as a very personal exercise - without the hassle of meeting everyone's demands about the format or content.
     
  40. Arthur -- Actually, I like your idea. I have never been much of one for those types of exercises (one sees/hears about them all the time on flickr, photography clubs, classes and workshops) but I can see the value and benefits that could be derived from it. Amongst this group I think it would also be a rather fun exercise. I'd rather emphasize the fun/experimental side of it than the points awarded/removed aspect (with the understanding that the types of things you've outlined would be taken into consideration).
    Just realized I roughly approximated what Fred had already written about this. Regardless, I say yes, let's do it.
     
  41. Julie, thanks for the link to the wine seller forum, some nice chuckles there - but I do not see the discussion there being about taste. It is mostly prejudices. Prejudices from the sellers of the wines (customers generally being ignorant and uncultured about the product; they're rather snobbish in my view) as well as from the customers themselves (acting fluffy about the product generically, and thinking a good label makes a good wine).
    A lot of that is cultural as well; in some countries, wine is approached differently than others. I notice, living in a wine-producing country there is a lot more respect for the skill of the cultivation and production of the wine, than I've experienced in a non-producing country. Because one understands what goes into creating a good wine.
    None of this is about taste, it's much more about prejudices, and its anti-dotes: knowledge on the product and its processes, the approach to enjoying the product, and a (huge) dash of open-minded thinking.
    Any similarity to photography, or art in general, is pure coincidence.
    ____
    I'll catch up with the rest of the thread asap, but well, I'm behind on my catching up, and it's not the timezones...
     
  42. Charles, for the wine and art connoisseurs, perhaps some advice from Yves Saint Laurent (of all people) would be helpful. :)
    "We must never confuse elegance with snobbery."
    Just think of yourself as elegant and not a snob!
     
  43. With regards to gas station images:
    Regardless, I say yes, let's do it.​
    Agree ;-)
     
  44. A gentleman on another forum gave/gives an answer I like: "The answer to any photographic question is : It depends." Happy Thanksgiving 2013
     
  45. Just think of yourself as elegant and not a snob!​
    That's what leads to the problem though! Much better is to make sure you are elegant rather than just a snob.
     
  46. Well I think both are quite different from eachother. I don't think art should be subject to prejudice and bias for what I believe is in the universality of art. It is something that extends beyond borders and appeals to the human mind irrespective of caste, creed, nationality and colour.
     

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