To every thing there is a season

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Jun 7, 2014.

  1. In fifty years, everything that is in your photographs will be dead, gone, or changed beyond all recognition.
    Do you take this into consideration when crafting your pictures?
    Because photography is indexical, it's theoretically not good at doing generalities; ideas, concepts, like, for example, the metaphysical concept of death. But, on the other hand, if you step back from the immediate process, photography is *always* about death; from the instant the picture is made, one is looking at what no longer exists. ["indexical" = signs that acquire their function through a causal connection with what they signify; for example, smoke as a sign of fire]
    I would guess that most casual photographer never give this kind of thing a thought. Their pictures will degrade to nothing almost as fast as the fresh fruit in the supermarket goes rotten. Art photographers, on the other hand, I would guess, almost always think about this kind of thing. To that end, they snip the indexical tether; Weston's famous Pepper No. 30 is not "a" pepper [indexical] or even about peppers at all. He ate "the" pepper shortly after photographing it, but the picture remains fresh to this day. To my eye, many great portraits are like the Weston pepper in that I have no idea what the person shown was "really" like. The portrait becomes neither a portrait-of so-and-so, nor even about a face so much as it is ... whatever that (properly) unspeakable feeling is that one gets from the Weston pepper.
    Another option beyond snipping the connection, is the cyclical, the seasonal, and the ritual; that which ever returns. For example, in this picture (actually a photogram) by Adam Fuss of a child's Christening gown [ LINK ], it is both poignant, because the child is long gone, and life-affirming in that such Christening gowns are used over and over again in each successive generation of children. It remains fresh because, in the fullness of time, it returns. "A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up ... "
    Iconic news photographs also remain vibrant, sustained within their historical narrative. In contrast to snipping or cycling, they amplify the indexical nature of what they show. "A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away ... "
    I think that art photography can also knowingly use/amplify indexicality -- Walker Evans's work, for example.
    Do you think about time's effects on your work? Do you deliberately work with or against the indexical nature of photography? "... a time to every purpose under the heaven ... "
    As always, I welcome, encourage!, the in-line posting of any of your own pictures that are relevant to the discussion.
  2. Interesting article, thank you. I wouldn't presume in any way to claim I am an art photographer (just look at my photos!), but I do try to give some thought to what I am photographing. Since I have an interest in certain aspects of history I often find myself drawn to photographing objects with a history. Many/most of these objects willbe around, on the face of it unchanged, in fifty years (although the people curating them may not be).
    For me, your post is a reminder that I have been missing many great opportunities, by not photographing more stuff that won't appear unchanged in the future. People, obviously, but also more 'cultural artefacts' (posh description) which contextualise the capture to a specific time frame. We have only to look at photos from, say, the 1960s to see how that works. Reportage is the most obvious way that we notice this but the wider and broader trends in art (and thus art photography) can often be discerned. Some come out of the technical limitations of the time, some from more subtle clues within the frame.
    I'm attaching a photo taken a few weeks ago. It's been digitally processed and I think that seen 'cold' it could be quite tricky to put a date on it. Since the people cannot be seen clearly, it could have been taken anytime from the end of the 19th century onwards (if using appropriate equipment). In a sense, nothing much seems to have changed in this scene for maybe 150 years, although in reality the whole site where the photo was taken has been extensively restored in the last two decades. A similar argument might apply to (art) landscapes: nothing much seems to change in Nature, although in truth it most certainly does, since we are riding roughshod over the planet all too effectively.
  3. Just came across a word: palimpsest.
    It means an oft-overwrote collage of
    texts, a layered, usually ancient,
    stratified document. Perhaps apt for
    our photographic histories?
  4. As a photojournalist I think about this from time to time. As we craft pictures to support stories we are aware that those photos will have a context and life beyond the family snapshot.
    I enjoy old photographs and frequently find myself looking at the backgrounds to try to see what yesteryear looked like. I imagine myself in those places. The advent of color compresses time somewhat as we loose (or gain, take your pick) the sense of other-time in the photo.
    The desire to contextualize my subjects, particularly in portraits, does affect my composition. The editorial croppers frequently thwart my efforts but....
    Some time ago I wanted to see what it was like to be a news photographer back in the day. I photographed one match in a boxing event with a Speed Graphic. When I scanned the photos and showed them to people they wanted to know where I got the old boxing photos.
    News photos are often printed in black and white and frequently I am struck by the retro nature of these shots. I see it in the work of others more than mine because it is hard not to 'remember' the event and contextualize the photos I take myself.
    The shear magnitude of photographic libraries these days may make any effort along these lines by any photographer a mere personal quirk. Who knows what will survive the test of time. Certainly all of it may survive but it remains to be seen what we access in the future. Probably the most survivable photos will be those associated with news. Shear ease in research dictates that the future observer to a historical event will refer to the photographs already indexed with that event. So perhaps my paltry efforts will be in some tiny way effective. More likely they are a mere vanity on my part.
  5. Julie. I just turned 82. I would like to put this in a kindly way but to quote Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind "I don't give a damn" about my legacy except as I pass on what I know to my offspring (when they listen) . i am still very active in shooting sports and taking a lot of pictures. I have some framed pictures and several hard drives that my kids will get but that's it. I think what I have learned is that nothing is permanent. A few generations don't matter much in the two billion years that the earth has existed in this vast cosmos that we still know very little about. I do my pictures for my own pleasure as I really enjoy walking around with a camera. I also keep fit and do this by competitive swimming which still offers me a challenge to keep going and the stamina to take pictures. The seasons, as you mentioned, keep me coming back with the camera. I shoot Azaleas and Rhodies in the Spring. I shoot outdoor swimming in the summer when the light is good (and indoor swimming in the Winter when the light is bad) and I love the Fall in the White Mountains. I love shooting faces year round. Their are only a few Rembrandts and Vermeers and some Greeks because they did their work in stone that survive the ages. Oh and some cave artists. I look back at my work as rather mundane and so I have prospects of a very small and short lived photographic legacy. I do have some pictures in newspaper archives that will probably outlive me. I really don't ponder or worry about what I cannot control so I normally don't think about the subject.
  6. Don't worry about fifty years from now. Gift your pictures to friends and family members - now. Let them enjoy your work and smile at their smile when they get it. That's enough and the most significant legacy you can leave.
  7. " ["indexical" = signs that acquire their function through a causal connection with what they signify; for example, smoke as a sign of fire]" (Emphasis added.)
    Julie: I'm curious about where/from whom you derived this concept of indexicality.
  8. Michael Linder, you feel that photographs are not caused by what they are photographs of? Please explain.
    The good photograph is not the object. The consequences of that photograph are the object. And I'm not speaking of social consequences. I mean the kind of thing where people will not say to you, how did you do it, or where did you get this, but that such things could be!Dorothea Lange
    As an example of someone who did care that her pictures would mean something fifty years later, I'm using Dorothea Lange. It's been about fifty years since she died, and I believe that she cared because, in Camera Craft in 1934, Willard Van Dyke wrote this of Lange:
    She sees the final criticism of her work in the reaction to it of some person who might view it fifty years from now. It is her hope that such a person would see in her work a record of the people of her time, a record valid of the day and place wherein made ... — Willard Van Dyke
    Dorothea Lange was finally another restless visionary artist, using film to make the point novelists and poets and painters and photographers and sculptors all keep trying to make: I am here; I hear and see; I will take what my senses offer my brain and with all my might offer others something they can see or hear, and doing so, be informed, be startled, be moved to awe and wonder, be entertained, be rescued from the banality, the dreary silliness this world, inevitably, presses upon us. She failed at times; failed personally, as she herself acknowledged, when she discussed the many leaves of absence from her home, her young children; failed artistically, when she lapsed into the photographer's version of coyness, rhetorical overstatement, repetitive posturing. But she succeeded repeatedly -- gave us our rock-bottom selves: a clear and trenchant portrait of any number of this earth's twentieth-century people. — Robert Coles
    Many of you may be familiar with the story of how her iconic Migrant Mother picture came about:
    I was on my way [facing a seven hour drive to get home on a rainy night] and barely saw a crude sign with pointing arrow which flashed by at the side of the road, saying PEA-PICKER'S CAMP. But out of the corner of my eye, I did see it ...
    Having well convinced myself for 20 miles that I could continue on, I did the opposite. — Dorothea Lange
    What motivates a photographer to make that "U-turn on the empty highway"?
  9. Julie: I didn't take any position whatsoever. Your assertion grabbed my interest, and I was hoping that you could explain it further.
  10. Michael, as I understand it, an indexical in Philosophy is a word like "I" whose referent changes depending on the context, in this case the speaker. When I say "I", I'm referring to a different person than when you say "I." The word is "indexed" according to the speaker. "Here" and "now" are also indexicals, whose meaning changes depending on where, when and by whom they are said. Two people can use the same indexical and refer to very different things. How that relates to photography might be interesting and I will think about how it might.
    [I, too, would be interested to know where Julie got her usage of the term, which is different from my own understanding of it. Regardless, though, of the particular use of "indexical," the question posed here is an interesting one.]
    In one sense, photos are not caused by what they are photos of. They are caused by a photographer who takes a picture of something. What a camera is pointed at doesn't have to be seen as a cause, though it may in some cases. Sometimes, what I point my camera at does feel like its compelling me to take its picture. Other times not. It can be something in me that causes me to notice and photograph something. Or it can simply be a desire to express or show.
    Regarding longevity, some photos are more universal and timeless and other photos are more particular and local and of their time.
    I think art that lasts over generations will usually have something timeless about it, though we may very well love it as well for its particularity to a certain time and place in history (like so much of Lange's work). Other art doesn't quite have that timeless reach but is important to its time. There's nothing non-artistic or wrong with art that is disposable or doesn't pass the test of time. Art is allowed to be fleeting. My guess is that some extraordinary art has not been seen by subsequent generations. I like thinking that much good art has been forgotten or didn't translate well beyond its era.
    Musical contrast: Both The Beatles and The Grateful Dead were products of and leaders within their time and milieu. As much as I loved the Dead, I don't think their music survives well beyond its time. It's not universal in that sense. It's not everlasting. The Beatles, more so, are. Beatles music will likely have reach for decades if not centuries to come. The Dead are no less artists. But you had to be there. It doesn't work as well beyond its relationship to the era and to what else was going on at the time. It was a more localized sound and had more immediate rather than global purpose.
    I'm not saying one is better than the other. The Dead were so in touch with the moment and, in a way, it's meaningful that they won't survive . . . maybe even the whole point of their music . . . not to survive beyond its life span. The Beatles were about a bigger picture.
    Nan Goldin is not Edward Weston. I think her work is more of its era and place. It's of a particular moment and culture. I don't see it surviving to the extent Weston's work likely will. Ryan McGinley, more personal, more culturally defined, IMO, less universal. Steichen, more likely a survivor.
    Yes, I've thought about it, though I can't say I dwell on it much. I'm happy to be a product of my time and place. I don't think much about the survival of my photos beyond me. I do think about their place in a current world and their communication to my fellows.
    Art, whether timeless or more of a particular era, is to be shared. In the sharing itself, there may always be a sense of survival beyond the artist or maker. That going beyond oneself to another and to others, in the sharing, the expressive communication, the reaching out of myself, is more important to me than survival decades or centuries later.
  11. This seems to me like a less universal and less survivable photo than the one I will post below it. It's particular. It's about George. It was, as I felt it, caused by George. If, for some reason, my body of work survives beyond me, it would likely only survive as part of that. I can't imagine it surviving on its own. That's fine.
  12. This has a more universal and survivable feel to it. It's less about the particular individual, who we can't really recognize. It might have been caused by circumstances as opposed to a particular subject. It felt like it was caused somewhere within me. It was, as I experienced it, less caused than created.
  13. Fred, your understanding of indexicality is substantially the same as mine. I still am interested in having Julie explain her idea of there being a causal connection between an indexical term and its referent.
    The images you posted constitute an interesting take on the old particular vs. universal problem.
  14. Probably I am reading things wrong, but I cannot help thinking "how can we plan ahead 50 years to understand today if our image will still have validity by then?". Maybe because I actually didn't live 50 years yet, so that by limits of my own memory I'm unable to project it. But I doubt it's me.
    Look at some of the more famous artists that were forgotten, misunderstood or ignored during their life. And those famous during their lives, rich and glamorous that go forgotten only a few years later? There is enough we do not know yet; Fred's assertion on likelihood to be more era-based than others seems right to me, but even so, I will not be surprised to find myself surprised somewhere in the future.
    So, it's hardly ever on my mind how future-proof my images will be. Already now some continue to resonate with me, some don't. And they're just a few years old. We grow, move on and change. I cannot tell what I will like in 5 years from now, let alone all the rest of you. Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.
    Plus, quoting Fred: "In one sense, photos are not caused by what they are photos of. They are caused by a photographer who takes a picture of something". The photos I personally hold dearest, aren't so much about what is actually shown in the photo, but the atmosphere and mood they invoke. Arguably they're more reflective on me at the very moment I made these photos than they are caused by whatever is shown on them (thought there is an interaction going on at the moment of shooting).
    Maybe not the most eloquent example, but it fits the point I'm trying to make. The showerhead just happened to be there; as was I, and a camera. Something about the scene immediately connected with me and compelled me to make photos. While shooting, it connected to me in a way that transcended a showerhead as a symbol of showers, or waterdrops as a symbol of falling liquids. Something else was going on, and it connected deep with what I was feeling at that very moment. While I do not want to make any claims about longevity, artistry or likewise, but this image is an attempt at being far more generic. The notion that photography wouldn't be good at doing generalities, is a conclusion I completely can not understand.
    Lately I've been working to scan a number of slides from my parents. Photos from travels, their marriage. Some of those are nearly 50 years old. They're still relevant, albeit to a very limited number of persons. Some people in those photos aren't here anymore, many still luckily are. A lot is changed, and a lot is remarkably unchanged. The comparison of changes and non-changes is fascinating, to me anyway. You can argue that they are about what no longer exists. I'm not entirely disagreeing, but that also makes them at the same time about what does still exist. It seems a matter of shifting point of view what you want to see most: continuity, or not.
    I have the nagging feeling we're talking about the image on different levels. Is the image just itself, an object "photo", or is it about the photo and whoever sees it? Somehow when I read the statements "Because photography is indexical, it's theoretically not good at doing generalities; ideas, concepts, like, for example, the metaphysical concept of death. But, on the other hand, if you step back from the immediate process, photography is *always* about death; from the instant the picture is made, one is looking at what no longer exists.", it seems to be only about the object photo, as an entity in itself. I can't help to wonder if there is any use in looking at a photo this way; judging a photo as just being the object photo. Photos are about communication, about dialogue between artist and viewer, about trying to express something and trying to transmit that to an audience.
    If we cut loose the response from the audience, we're talking about half of what the photo really is, and arguably the less interesting half. It is in the response (emotional, rational, scientifical) that photos assume their larger meaning, where photos can become about ideas and concepts, where they are no longer about what isn't anymore, but about what still is. I think the part I quoted really does very little justice to what a good photo can achieve.
  15. Wouter,
    First, I love that picture! Unfortunately, I will be dead in fifty years, but hopefully future generations will share our good taste. :)
    No question, it's hard to tell what will "keep" for the future. Yet, I can't help thinking that there are those that surely will -- for example, Sally Mann. Or, even during his lifetime, I'd guess that there was little doubt that Weston would endure.
    On the other hand, I am currently reading a book about the color photography of William Henry Jackson, who was an outstanding black and white photographer at the turn of the last century. The color pictures are from ~1900 (Yes, that's right; long before the invention of color photography. His were something called Photochroms. Read all about it at Wikipedia.) Anyway, here is a man who led a long and woolly life; he served in the Civil War; he witnessed the wild west while it was still wild, and he was a more than competent photographer.
    And so, these color photographs are good right? Talented photographer, exciting life? NOOOOOOOOOO!! They are incredibly, painfully, without-exception boooooooooooring beyond belief. I looked for one to scan and link as an example of the color quality (which is really interesting) and couldn't find a single one that wasn't painfully sleep-inducing.
    [As an aside, Jackson was living in a New York hotel at age 99 when, shortly after the end of WW II, an incredulous young photographer was introduced to him by his (the young photographer's) father. "When asked whether he still photographed, Jackson pulled out a tiny vest-pocket 35mm camera, a folding Kodak Retina. 'I like this little camera,' he said. It seems like a miracle after all that cumbersome stuff I used to pack around with a horse -- great big wooden cameras and wet plates and a developing tent.' "]
  16. Wouter, before moving on to yet more facts and sources, I'd like actually to address what you've said and shown.
    Like you, I think photos often both refer to their referents and don't do that. It's kind of the yin yang of photography, a neat little tension between what IS and what IS NOT. I remember seeing that photo (or maybe it was a similar one) in your portfolio and thought I commented on it but my comment seems not to be there, which is strange. Don't remember what I said, but I'll say in the context of this thread that negative space (what IS NOT) is an important part of it. That's not an object cause of the photo, it's a state of its being. And it's how you saw the picture rather than how you saw the object. The photo is as much about a kind of simple rhythm, staccato-like with even a few grace-notes thrown in as the droplets fall. They are droplets and they are NOT droplets and they are more (and less) than droplets. I may have said in my original comment that I'd like to see some detail in the shower head because that texture would add a little to the orchestration while still keeping your minimalist approach in tact.
    What you seem to be getting at, or at least as I understand it as I read it, when you say "it connected to me in a way that transcended a showerhead as a symbol of showers", is what I would refer to as the abstraction that takes place even in the most literal of photos. That shower head is as much a dark shape as it is representative of the "thing" you shot. And it works viscerally on that level as well as on the more literal or representative level. The diagonal of the structure behind it gives me a feeling without my needing or wanting to know what it is. Whatever it is didn't "cause" the diagonal. You did that with your chosen perspective and the photo did it by being framed in a rectangle that will usually be shown so its right angles line up with the right angles of the wall it hangs on or the screen it's displayed on. Rotate your image just a bit and it becomes a straight line, not a diagonal. The photo is as much a cause of what we see as the original object is. So, I agree with you that the cause includes not only the object but the photographer but also think the cause is the photo itself, as a photo.
  17. Julie I kind of like this one of Jackson's
    He also was a terrific painter. Here's one. Notice the compositional effects (rules?)that we try to follow in photography.
  18. Julie,
    The color pictures are from ~1900 (Yes, that's right; long before the invention of color photography. His were something called Photochroms. Read all about it at Wikipedia.​
    Thank you for assuming I have no knowledge whatsoever about the history of photography, nor old(er) techniques and that I need a trip to the world's most inaccurate encyclopedia to be enlightened. Especially since the whole point of Jackson's colour photos hardly replies to any point I made in direct response to your topic start.
    Are you willing to discuss, or just to lecture?
    Thanks for actually responding,
    it's how you saw the picture rather than how you saw the object​
    That is in my view a very pivotal point; I think at some point as a photographer you stop seeing objects as what they are in their literal sense. They become "graphic opportunities": a shape, a presence, tonality; starts or ends to a storyline. As you said, framing (which is also inclusion, exclusion), point of view are pretty vital to what makes an image work and how; ignoring that and only focussing on the subject matter is (in my view) disregarding exactly that which makes a photo a personal expression.
  19. Wouter, only the first sentence of my previous comment was directed at you. The rest is addressing my OP and is for all readers.
    Addressing the OP, a possibly more interesting, because more subtle, case study might be John Szarkowski. In addition to being one of the very best, most insightful -- all around best -- writers on photography, not to mention one of the most influential because of his position at MoMA and the many shows he chose to mount there, he was himself a photographer. His work is, not surprisingly, in view of his writings, beautifully composed. If you enjoy composition for its own sake, his pictures are deeply satisfying to look at. The description of Sandra Phillips, "kind, full of grace" seem to me to be just right. And yet, they don't "stick" with me. I think that ultimately, they won't stand the test of time. There is no "hook,"; no friction, no spark that burns. Below are extracts from letters found within the self-titled book about him that I think many of us can relate to. He was born in 1925, so you can find his age-at-the-time if you like:
    Summer 1953
    "Dear Allen,
    ... At the moment, while waiting for those who are clamoring for my services to get in line and stop all this vulgar pushing, I am freelancing. Freelancing (in northern Wisconsin) is a euphemism for sleeping late and being supported by one's parents. I tell my friends among the local tradesmen (who look askance at the slothful, purposeless life) that I am working on a book. This immediately puts them on unfamiliar ground, and in self-defense they steer the conversation back to trout-fishing. Where it belongs. ..."
    15 March 1955
    "Dear David,
    ... I simply cannot accustom myself to the intransigent acceleration of time. At exactly what age, David, must we stop thinking of ourselves as the younger generation? I have been a promising young photographer for a good number of years now, and have come to love it; I fear that I shall miss it sorely when the line is passed."
    Summer 1958
    "Dear Dorothy,
    I am immersed in a lethargy deeper and broader and more sticky textured and sweet smelling than any I have known before. I must even screw up my sense of purpose to go trout fishing, and the fishermen who hold salon at the Menard Lounge are beginning to whisper that I arrive on the stream in the middle of the afternoon, yawning, and that I have taken to wading the stream downstream, with the current, like the old men do. This last is a vicious libel; in truth I have been lying supine on the bank, watching the leaves unfold.
    ... A week or so ago ... I got a letter from [Helen Clapessattle,] formerly of the U. of M. Press, [who said] that she hoped that I was now lying fallow, as I deserved. This put a whole new light on it, a respectable, almost shining light. So now when my fellow townsmen ask me if I am just loafing I cut them dead with my archest look and say, not loafing, stupid; lying fallow ...
    One of my friends in the college here, not so easily put off as most of the townsmen, said the other day: well, if you are lying fallow why aren't you doing it in Mexico City, for example; why do you always show up here when you are out of work?"​
    [In 1961 Szarkowski was offered, and accepted, the position of director of the Dept. of Photography at MoMA. After his hugely influential tenure in that position, he retired in 1991 to the position of director emeritus]
    21 October 2000
    "Dear Greg,
    ... The whole process [of making a book of his own work] is fundamentally rather humiliating. It is rather like having an open house: you post the notice, and then prepare all your special dishes, get out your best booze, shower and shave and put on a good shirt, and then wait to see whether anybody will come. And if they come, they are likely to complain that there is no white zinfandel.* And it comes to you that you have secretly been hoping for praise from the kind of person who would drink white zinfandel when they could just as well drink ditch water.
    It seems to me more and more obvious that there is no reward in art worth seeking, other than doing the work. Even when the public thinks that they are appreciating an artist, they almost always get it wrong, and the artist must choose between being rude and pretending to be grateful for the misunderstanding. I do not mean to blame the public; why should they know what it is that you are, or I am trying to do? Especially since neither of us is sure, the uncertainty being part of the fun, when there is any fun."
    [*true wine lovers always snicker at anybody who likes white zinfandel]​
    In that last, it seems to me that he is saying that we should not worry about the future -- while he is doing just that.
  20. "Wouter, only the first sentence of my previous comment was directed at you."
    Yes. I believe that was Wouter's point. In a dialogue among peers, more than a quick one-liner in response to each other might be constructive and engaging. Building on each other's ideas with each other as opposed to regurgitating whatever knowledge one wants to dispense at the others. More quotes and sources will never be a substitute for the interaction and joint evolution of ideas.
  21. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.
  22. I humbly thank you for allowing me that!
  23. I asked: Are you willing to discuss, or just to lecture? And your answer could not have been made more clear than your 6:22am post.
    But I am glad you allow Fred his opinion; so kind. I'm afraid I'll require the same courtesy, if you'd be so kind.
  24. In a dialogue among peers, more than a quick one-liner in response to each other might be constructive and engaging.

    Exactly. Julie, I've made a simple request of you twice, and apparently you either felt that it didn't deserve a response or you just ignored it on both occasions. I understand that, in a very real sense, you do have some ownership of this discussion. At the very least, you have the ability to manage it. But don't you think that fostering honest dialogue, from which everyone can benefit, would have primacy?
    In any case, we've pretty much beaten the the same horse to death before. So I'm outta here. You won't see me again on threads you post.
  25. I'm usually as ready as the next person to take umbrage when my cup is half empty, but in this case I'm not seeing any offered by Julie's parenthetical comment...
    "...(Yes, that's right; long before the invention of color photography. His were something called Photochroms. Read all about it at Wikipedia.)"​
    ...which I interpreted as harmlessly flippant rather than condescending.
    Perhaps the shorthand hypertext method of referencing material outside the mainstream of a discussion (the foundation of the wiki article style), but of passing relevance to it, has supplanted the older tradition of parenthetical commentary. And perhaps we have less patience for parenthetical commentary. I know I find it a bit distracting in the writings of William S. Burroughs and wonder whether he used it so often as a deliberate device, or simply wrote quickly and sloppily and needed a good editor. I suspect the latter, since he revised some books several times over various publication versions.
    And speaking of parenthetical digressions... there's mine for the day.
    Semi-seriously, I'm enjoying reading this thread, I just haven't been able to compose my own thoughts well enough to offer any examples of my own. I hope you folks won't give up on the conversation over a bit of (...).
  26. Lex, the problem to me is not that particolar digression, even though the formatting made it such that appeared to be aimed squarely at me; being singled out I found it less flippant and more condescending. But OK, no harm done and I could get over myself just fine.
    If it wasn't for the ongoing posts full of near-relevant factoids and overly long quotes which are almost maybe related to whatever was written in the OP. And for the fact that those quotes and little facts in no way respond to the thoughts and ideas offered to others. At best, they seem some sort of evidence or clarification to the thought already expressed.... while nobody needed clarifications or evidence to accept the statement made.
    I rather won't give up conversation because there is merit in it, but a conversation takes two, it takes interaction. Listen and reply. And that's not what's happening, and not for the first time.
    While I know I post way too much on the forums here (oh how one wishes I could shut up), it's postings like these where I spend a certain effort, and a good deal of time. I do so because usually I get back a lot from the conversation. But to see that effort completely ignored by the person who asked for it, is just draining out the will to contribute. And that is a serious pity, because this forum is of serious added value for (small as it has become).
  27. "In fifty years, everything that is in your photographs will be dead, gone, or changed beyond all recognition.
    Do you take this into consideration when crafting your pictures?"
    Mankind, back in time.... by the cave and campfire, have always told stories. By, words or Art they have always been there.
    A photograph tells a story.
    A story will always be told.
  28. A little photograph, slipped into a wallet/purse.
    A universe of memories.
  29. In the movie The Terminator, 'Kyle' comes back from the future to save 'Sarah,' who is (to be) the mother of the man, 'John' who will, in that future, save mankind from the machines. He does this because a 'terminator,' one of the machines, has (also) been sent back to the present to kill Sarah -- in order to prevent 'John' from saving mankind.
    To find Sarah, Kyle has a photograph. In effect, the future survival of our species depends on this one picture. What is it that a photograph does that words or a drawing would not do? I think it serves as a guarantee. This person was here. That 'guarantee' is a quality that belongs to the photograph, not to the maker of the picture.
    At the end of the movie, when a pregnant Sarah is escaping into the desert, she stops "at a gas station, a boy takes a photograph of her which she purchases ... " That's the picture that Kyle will use. Suppose she hadn't gotten that picture? From the future, Kyle's perception would have been ungrounded, center-less. He'd be looking for someone somewhere, vague and undetermined. A photograph says, "This one!" It's not the content or the composition but the dirt, the random stuff, whatever is behind, under, before, always-already-there that constitutes the guarantee that belongs to a photograph. Samuel Beckett once said of photography that it is a "stain on the silence" (and I don't think he meant that in a nice way). Yes. Stain is a good word for what a photograph, on its own, independent of its maker, does. It is its own watermark.
    So that's true of all photographs. What makes some last and others not? Szarkowski said this of photography: "In this peculiar art, form and subject are defined simultaneously. ... Indeed they are probably the same thing. Or, if they are different, one might say that a photographer's subject is not its starting point but its destination." Other arts start in the airiness of the imagination and the artist, if he wishes, can struggle to bring that vision to earth.
    Photography starts on earth; it may, if the photographer wishes and works at it, be made to go airborne. Taking Szarkowski's word, 'destination,' and working from it; if I am on a train, I get off at destinations because ... ? they are interesting, attractive, composed as welcoming, embracing, receptive; arranged to accept, invite, engage me. This in contrast to all the space that was *not* a destination; that I whizzed by without stopping. It takes work (talent, creativity, etc.) to compose a destination. But please note that what caused it to be chosen as such was always already extant before the destination-maker did his/her thing.
    It's always going to be a guessing game to figure where people will want to go, whether places, people or ideas, in the future. But I think pictures that assume rather than build destination into their structure are unlikely to make much sense once temporally local context has been forgotten.
    Walter Benjamin said of Eugene Atget's photographs that they all appeared uncannily like 'the scene of a crime.' Something happened here. The photograph guarantees the 'here'; Atget finds the 'crime.'
    [Ironically, Atget did not seem to expect or care that/whether his pictures would endure. He just beavered away at what he loved and knew best how to do. He is revered by many, many modern photographers from all over the style spectrum; for example Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, and Lee Friedlander.]
  30. We all take pictures of the present so we can look back in the future to live it all over again. That's the magic of photography. The ability to freeze a moment in time. In the future when we're old, though, and look at our pictures, we realize that time itself is but a moment.
  31. "We all take pictures of the present so we can look back in the future to live it all over again."
    One of the reasons I like hearing how things work for others is not so I can find out how similar we all are but because I can embrace the differences. Thanks for the insights into how things work for you, Alan. It rounds out the discussion nicely.
    Me, I take family snaps mostly to connect and share with my family in the present and I don't sense these photos have much future. Since I usually send slideshows of family events and rarely print them, I doubt I or other family members will do much looking back at those. They won't be found in a shoe box when I'm cleaning out the closet in years to come.
    As for my other photos, they are as much about what they will come to mean in the future and are often very much divorced from the context of the moment in which they were shot, a moment and context I will likely have forgotten in 10 years even if still looking at the photo. They will be what they will be and will have little to do with having frozen a moment in time or with my reliving anything. A lot of them just don't feel like mementos to me. A lot of my photos and some of the best photos I've seen of others, famous and not famous, seem disconnected from the actual moment of shooting and are more about the picture and a vision forward than what the camera was aimed at and when it was aimed. . . . What does timelessness suggest, especially from the standpoint of looking back from the future?
    Of course, I never know and maybe I'll be limited, in my old age, to nostalgia and to connecting with the past. I hope not. Though I'll always have fondness for things and moments gone by. And yet I hope to keep moving on and I hope for my pictures to evolve into other things and not merely stay representationally and statically connected to my own or to their past.
  32. I'm not sure I believe you. You have posted wonderful photos of your father, shown and described with affection and love. Also, why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Why can't we look back with nostalgia as well as forward with hope regardless of our age?
  33. "I'm not sure I believe you." --Alan
    That's your prerogative.
    As I said, "Me, I take family snaps mostly to connect and share with my family in the present . . ." I added bold this time for emphasis. The two photos I have of my father you're referring to weren't taken at a family event and weren't shared with my family via slide shows. They're part of my permanent collection.
    "Also, why does it have to be an either/or proposition?" --Alan
    It doesn't, which I was hoping to make clear when I said "As for my other photos, they are as much about what they will come to mean in the future." [Again, I added emphasis this time for clarity.] When I said that my photos are as much about what they will come to mean in the future, I was building on or adding to what you had already said about photos being a matter of reliving the past.
    I probably should have qualified the following statement by starting with "Some of them" instead of simply saying "They will be what they will be and will have little to do with having frozen a moment in time or with my reliving anything." I meant some of my photos, not all of them. I thought the "mostly" in the previous sentence would carry through but it would have been better to repeat it.
    Thanks for asking and allowing me to explain better.
  34. No problem Fred. Glad we understand each other better. One other thing I often find interesting. When people including me post family and friend shots, their dogs, pets, etc. we all seem more animated about discussing them then when we post our landscape and other shots. There seems to me more pride and love that comes through.
  35. You actually mentioned that in another thread and I've been wanting to respond to it but kind of let it go and then got busy and forgot about it. I think subject matter can be a very important drive for many. I certainly noticed people's animation in that thread you're talking about. It was, IMO, an accurate observation. I must admit to being a little more cynical about it than you. My take is that it's much easier to discuss family shots, because it's mostly an uncritical discussion. It's kind of what the Internet is often about. A Facebook kind of animation and chatting about family, friends, new babies, cute kitties, what happened at the water cooler. I am often disappointed that that kind of discussion seems to garner more attention and animation than more serious discussions about other kinds of photos, as you mention, landscapes, still lifes, journalism, etc. I've come to think it's just a matter that people prefer entertainment and ease and comfort to more serious and harder material, more in-depth understanding of things, and more possible difficulty and tension than ease.
  36. Nothing wrong with lightening up the discussion, though. This isn't a PhD course. Smile. You have a cute dog. :)
  37. Alan, I think people get the most animated when looking at silly or funny or lucky shots (LOLcats ... ). Such pictures have the nutritional value and lifespan of a soap bubble, but they do lighten up one's day.
    However, luck is interesting to think about with reference to the OP.
    Luck, which is an ingredient, large or small, of every photo, is by definition not within the control or intent of the photographer (answering my OP question of whether one has the future in mind when making one's own pictures). Therefore, that part of the image (which is strongly related to its indexicality) "belongs" to the picture, not the picture's maker. I think it is *because* it doesn't "belong" to the photographer that it serves to help validate or guarantee the nature of the picture's content to future generations.
    For example, this well-known picture by Jacob Riis [ LINK ] taken in 1890 is described thus by Szarkowski:
    "... Riis did not intend to include the hand in the upper right (not the hand of fate, but that of his assistant, who has just lighted the flash powder). It would strain credibility to believe that he anticipated the forms created by the shadows cast by the flash, or that he considered the amorphous plastic patch to be a part of his picture, or even that he visualized the powerful and mysterious graphic force of the dark plank, standing like a nameless monument beside the almost spent human life.
    "Suffice it to say that Riis did not, through pride, reject chance: he knew the habits and the habitat of photographer's luck, and he did his best to make himself available to its gifts." — John Szarkowski
    While luck at the time of the taking is out of the photographer's control, there is nothing lucky about the fact that the photographer, upon looking at the proof sheet, chose and printed and promoted that particular frame (and, on the other hand, did not choose, print and promote how many thousands of others). Which brings me back to the OP; in doing that choosing, how much, if any, does he/she do so with the future in mind?
  38. I don't think about the future. When I see a
    landscape scene that pleases my eyes, I try to
    capture it. There may be some planning as to time of day and when best to capture it. But that's it.

    On the other hand, when traveling on vacation or shooting an affair I do think about having pictures that will
    make a slide show more effective by including
    beginning endings and filler shots that will tell a
    complete story.
  39. Alan, I do that too with landscapes but I wonder if that's because (assuming they're "natural" landscapes) I assume, without thinking about it, that they're timeless. If you can remember instances where you took picture of -scapes that were in a state of change, can you recollect any awareness of get-this-before-it's-gone, and if so, for whom were you "getting" it?
    I so rarely shoot anything other than "raw" nature that it's hard for me to think of many times like that, but I'm thinking there was a for-the-future-looking-back feel to it.
    But, then, on the other hand, I can turn back and wonder for whom I do those "eternal" landscapes. That gets to "beauty" and then to "art" and I'm not sure we want to go there (okay, okay, I live there ... LOL).
  40. Getting timely shots of family and friends before
    they grow up or die make more sense. But a tree
    is a tree pretty much.
  41. It "makes more sense" to ... whom?
    Not to me (speaking as if we were strangers). In other words, to most people, your family and friends are also "a tree pretty much." What the future would find in your photographs is probably all the things that you and I overlook (the costume, the interaction, the furniture, the health and wealth, and ... ?).
    I'm just thinking out loud. These aren't intended as any kind of "point" or conclusion.
  42. "But a tree is a tree pretty much."
    I'm not so sure of that, Alan. I go up to the forests in Northern California and a lot of the trees I've photographed over the years are now things of the past due to fires and logging.
    As a matter of fact, due to our lack of care for the environment for so many centuries, the phrase "timeless landscape" may now be an oxymoron. I wouldn't count on any landscape remaining the same for long, so if you want a shot of it, I'd go out and get one.
    Speaking of timeless, IMO, timelessness comes in a photo more from how it's shot (perspective, lighting, composition) than from subject matter, though certain subject matter does seem to lend itself more to timelessness. I wonder if Burtynsky's landscapes are anti-timeless in their expressions.
    All that being said, I do understand what you're saying in terms of not thinking much about the future and that your planning a landscape shot (when you do) is more about timing and lighting conditions for the photo than about who's going to see the photo or when.
    I spent about 10 hours yesterday post processing 5 shots I took last week in Central Park. And I realized that, for the most part, I probably think a little more about who's going to see them and under what circumstances and what I want to express with the shots I've chosen to work on at the post processing stage more than at the time when I'm taking them. Sometimes, I'll think about what I'm trying to express in advance of going out and shooting as well.
  43. Julie in keeping with your Ecclesiastes OP, it's all
    vanity. When I'm dead, well I'm dead. My photos
    will be worth less than that. Where they will count
    is NOW. That's why I urge people to give away their
    photos now to friends and family. They'll love you
    for it and you will feel great about it too. There's the
    added benefit that they just might keep your photo
    framed on their wall outlasting your demise. It's all
  44. If that's necessarily the case with our photos (they're worth less when I'm dead, because I'm dead) I hate to think what that means about our children.
  45. By the way, while I think the message people get out of Ecclesiastes (and which may well be there . . . the Bible is full of unfortunate messages) is debatable at best, there are alternative interpretations to the word "vanity" now being considered.
    [To get the point of Ecclesiastes, we have to ignore the usual translations of several key words or phrases. The Hebrew hebel has been translated as "vanity" (NASB, KJV, ESV, ASV) or "meaningless" (NIV, New Living Translation). The Message gets much closer by translating the word as "smoke." The word means "vapor" (Proverbs 21:6) or "breath" (Job 7:16; Psalm 39:5, 11; 62:9, 94:11; 144:4; Isaiah 57:13). In describing human life as vapor or breath, Solomon emphasizes that life is brief and beyond our control. Life is vapor because the world goes on unchanged in spite of all our frantic activities (1:3-11); because things slip through our fingers when we try to grasp them and through our minds when we try to understand them; because nothing lasts, yet everything stays the same; because it ends in death (2:16), and we have no control over the future (2:18-19).]
    We give up control to God at our peril. All this seems like a power grab by institutional religion. We control you. You have no control yourself. So, we can either have vanity or mind control and authoritarianism coming through our priests and rabbis whose main interest is their control over our thoughts, morals, actions and a good deal of our money. No wonder our lives are ultimately deemed to be or to feel worthless when we give up so much independence and freedom of thought and being.
    I'd rather take photos.
  46. I'm chiming into this discussion late, but it's been fascinating to scan through. I'm sure that photos are important in different ways to different families, and whether they survive is largely dependent on the passion of one or two people along the way. In our family we've expanded the overall "library" to 10's of thousands, and because I care, and one of my cousins cares, we've been able to keep a well-organized, searchable approach that allows anyone to go back in the 1800's to get photos of an individual or family grouping. But we've also kept the photos of trees and rocks that mattered to various people along the way, and those are apparently important to some other individuals in so far as they show what was important to that photographer. We've published a couple of books using the photos, and all in all we have more of a sense of family than we had before the digital age as a result.
    But it does come back to someone caring enough to make the effort - in our case thousands of photos that were on their way to the usual fate have been preserved, and are used. Will that last into the next generation? Maybe, maybe not. Not my problem - someone else will have to decide if they care enough to make this a family tradition.
  47. David's post, and several of those before it, has made me notice an interesting variation on my OP assumption -- which was that we are crafting our pictures either (to some, however small, subconscious degree) for the future (viewer), or we're not thinking about them at all.
    This new variation to those two from the OP is that we are crafting our pictures against the future. I'm thinking about this after reading an essay by Marvin Heiferman about Lee Friedlander's book The American Monument. In it, he points out that "At births, parties, proms, graduations, weddings, and family events, we monumentalize ourselves." He feels that the photograph has become the modern-day monument. The Iwo Jima monument is a slavish imitation of a photograph; the Vietnam War memorial has "no images: no saddened goddesses, no valiant fighters, no eternal flames ..." Photographs do what monuments used to do.
    Family photos can be thought of as micro-monuments. A way of claiming our own right to say what we are; an attempt not to allow the future to forget or formulate "us" to their own preferences. It's a way of saying/showing that this is what we are/were, this is what we did, this is how we did it. Think of what monuments are: again, Heiferman: "Monuments are the loci of our communities, literally and figuratively." If the family is the nuclear community, then photographs are its monuments. In this sense, we are photographing against future forgetting or re-interpretation of ourselves. We are setting in stone our own interpretation.
    "While we can observe that monuments communicate values, ascribe importance, and preserve our past, it is clearer that our shared symbolic language is photographic. It is photography that gives shape to our goals. It is photography that we respect. It is photography that trains us for the future. It is through the most complicated medium of the twentieth century that we commemorate ourselves and will be known to those who come after us. Just how complete a picture that will be, only time will tell." — Heiferman
    One last sentiment that I think is very relevant to this thread in general. This one comes from the well-known current photographer Peter Turner. He says: "Whether lover or murderer, our photograph cannot tell us, but it still rescues that of all moments from the passage of time. It gains an identity divorced from the real sequence of life. It is in this respect that I see them as contributors to, rather than records of, our culture. At most because they can alter the ways in which we view our world and at least because we preserve and discuss them." [emphasis added by me] When we photograph, we are not offering a transparent, passive conveyance of some other time; we are making an artifact; we are adding to the cultural whole (and by that choice, leaving out much, much, much more).
  48. "contributors to, rather than records of"
    For me, it would be "contributors to, in addition to records of"
    So rarely are these either/or situations. It's where so many art theorists, academicians, philosophers and other thinkers go awry.
  49. Julie: Much of it has to do with ego and pride. We seek acclaim and purpose for our life. We try to leave something of ourselves. We look for "our place in the sun." But it's like the early morning fog that burns off in the sun by mid-morning. Much of it is illusion like the grain on film or dpi on a print. By itself it has little value. It's only when you do something with it that you can effect the universe.
  50. Turner "I see them [photographs] as contributors to, rather than records of, our culture."
    Yet same as to a novel, a painting, and so on with each divorced from the real sequence of life and none just a record of our culture. In that sense, all art, not just photography, is monument on a grave, our chance to eulogize ourselves at our own funerals. Art, like any eulogy, is suspect, and that is part of the fun of it. So Julie is right, we don't usually think of the future in that way as we do art as part of creating culture.
  51. Art can be either a good or bad eulogy. Leni Riefenstahl's photos . . . in giving a propagandistic and obviously one-sided view of the Third Reich, leave behind an important record of the Nazis and their self-view, even while the photos helped propagate and continue a "culture" of will, hate, and deadly idealism and superiority. Her photos are in some sense false but in another sense chillingly revealing. The revelations of art about a culture can be more effective and significant than records of it.
    I recently saw an exhibit of so-called Degenerate Art. This was the art a lot of which was destroyed by Hitler because it was obfuscating and tainted in his mind. Next to the remnants of Expressionism and Modernism that survived Hitler's axe were approved Nazi paintings and sculptures. They were clearer and record not the reality but a different reality, of which there were many at the time . . . as today.
    Compare all that to the surviving photos from the Nazi death camps which provide, in so many cases, a necessary and fitting eulogy and remembrance.
    Not all photos function as "art." And ones I see as art can be good or bad at recording their era and culture, some are even both good and bad in the same breath.
    As Charles says, photos can be "divorced from the real sequence of life" which can *sometimes* give them just the objectivity necessary to become good records of what they depict. In many other cases, their being divorced from particular context or their subject matter being divorced from its context, will make for an inaccurate or vague record.
    It may not be as much about what we who create the art think as what those who look at the art think. Whether I think about my photos this way or that won't mean that someone won't see something in them that reveals things about me I may not have been in touch with at the time. I often get comments on my work that suggest that a photo gives a more in-depth picture of myself than I might have thought. I was busy taking the picture and being in the moment and the viewer is divorced from all that and might just pick up on something deeper going on which my being part of the process helped keep hidden from me.
  52. Just an aside. I just finished reading On Photography by Susan Sontag (soft cover). If anyone would like to read it, just email me your address and I'll send it to you. No charge. First email gets it. The only thing I request is that when you're done with it, please pass it on to others who would also like to read it.
  53. .
    'Little Girl with Dead Leaves' was indeed my first photograph.
    ... I was walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg after the war, in 1946. I had a Rollei camera that I'd bought by selling my big dictionaries. I was still twenty years old. I was a poet, I was in love. And of course, I wasn't thinking about any of that at all. When your life is all ahead of you, all you want to do is live. And then years have passed by; the leaves fall every autumn. You don't say no to beauty, you don't say no to opportunity. When you've found something once, can you ever give it up again? The photo just happened.
    Just one. A very poor negative developed in a makeshift lab. Am I still twenty years old today? Am I still in love? If I say yes, I still have a chance of finding that light.
    I sometimes walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg and I have never seen another little girl dressed in dead leaves. Every little girl is a little girl for the first time and everyone and everything I meet are just as I saw them for the first time. There is no such thing as a first photo. There are only new photos. The light is brand new today. — Édouard Boubat, 1992
    There is much more in me that does not change than that does change. My eyes see only the things that change. But my heart sometimes knows the things that do not change. — Édouard Boubat, 1999
  54. Thanks Julie for 'Little Girl with Dead Leaves', love it.
  55. .
    It's about the end of days ... not unlike the way photos of East European Jews, taken in the thirties, lock one into their doom. Men look up from their work at Vishniac or some other photographer; children laugh at play, and the photographic print might as well be a brick wall because we who know their torture and murder can't help them, can't warn them. Such photography tastes the diabolism it precedes. This foretaste is one of photography's qualities. Both the subject and the fate of the subject are past but maybe there is a future tense in photography after all because when we are provoked to remember, we also look forward, in trepidation or in hope or in presentiment. — R.B. Kitaj
  56. On the judgment of history, this anecdote about Paul Outerbridge, who, in his day was a pretty big cheese:
    In 1950, on a trip up the California coast, Outerbridge visited Edward Weston at his home/studio. "Outerbridge had brought a selection of his best platinum and carbro prints to share with Weston but politely declined when Weston suggested that they trade a print or two. Once back in the car, Outerbridge exclaimed, 'Can you belive that guy? He wanted to trade one of his photographs for one of mine!' After all, Outerbridge had sold his photographs for between $300 and $1,000 each in the late 1930s, while Weston had difficulty selling his for $25 in 1951."
    In fairness, though by the end of his life Outerbridge was to slip into obscurity, he has lately (early 2000s) been rediscovered and his work, which is interestingly strange and has a very distinct style, newly appreciated.
  57. I read through this thread a few days ago and even then felt that we may be missing something, and as I'm fairly slow its taken me a while to realise what it may be. Putting aside all the evidence of artists attempting to guarantee their own immortality by ensuring that their work is prominent collections where future generations will "stumble" across it, and maybe reassess it, I'll move into a different view altogether.
    I have more than a sneaking suspicion that when we look at the work of previous generations we actually use the eyes of the present, because in effect, that's all we can do. To use a pretty extreme example I have often wondered why we are drawn to Greek and Roman antiquities, especially when we know that they were made for very different reasons than display in our museums. Damaged, eroded by time, completely out of context and, if the original artist saw them now, bound to cause a great deal of embarrassment and pain. I suggest we subconsciously see them as very adequate metaphors for how we see the state of humanity and our planet right now - so they are, for very different reasons, as new as the day they were made.
    Clearly this applies to old photography as well - just simple things like the changes in the style of lighting, that we use now, compared to even mid 20c, radically alter the "look" of anything - so we really do see everything in the "light" of the present.
  58. LINK for Clive.
  59. Firstly, I haven't read the responses. Taking your points in order: transience. I remember the first time I visited in St Mark's Square, Venice, pondering whether I should enjoy the experience or run around taking pictures of everything. It struck me that St Mark's Square had been around since before I was born and would be around long after I am dead, so I could take my time. Plenty of things will be around more than fifty years from now in broadly similar form. Of course St Mark's Square hasn't been around *forever* and it might be obliterated in a few centuries by the waves, but humanity has lost a great deal. We lost the ancient wonders of the world. There will be new wonders.

    Fifty years from now the people will be dead or old, but again there will be new people to replace them, hopefully better and more interesting people. For those subjects that are born to die, a photographer can only take a snapshot of a moment, to present to an audience that is moving through time, in a culture that is moving through time; this is inevitable and you have to accept it. We are nomads drifting along on shifting sands.

    There comes a time when you realise that your culture, your art, your education and upbringing were not the objective single truth. And that your history books were just one telling of events, and that the world you grew up in was just a small bubble that will eventually shrivel and pop. You realise that in the States they have no idea who Tony Hancock was; and I imagine that in India and China they are unaware of Parks & Recreation or the career of Robin Thicke, or indeed The Byrds, who were huge in America, not so much here in the UK, probably meaningless in China. We all all specks, and the camera pulls back and there are billions of us, clumped in larger specks that shift and fade.

    Within living memory the European Powers *were* the whole of the meaningful world, with China and India and Africa as useful deposits of raw materials with some people living there. Five hundred years from now it will be *their* world - if not nationalities, then religions - and they probably won't care much for Edward Weston or European photographic art of the 20th century. They will have their own culture and art, and five hundred years further on they will be obliterated as well. To paraphrase Half-Life 2, one day all we cherish will be a thin layer of plastic ten metres beneath the topsoil. "Uncle Claudius, I wasn't the Messiah after all, would you believe that?"

    The same is true of iconic news photographs. As a British person I am acutely aware of the fact that the things my grandfather and great-grandfather thought of as objectively important are now a thin layer of brass and bakelite; there were probably iconic news photographs of the second Boer War, but they mean nothing now. The same will gradually happen to the American Civil War, the Great War, Vietnam. Things date and age. You can try to keep them alive, but it's like a dam; the longer you hold back the tide, the faster the reservoir will empty when the dam finally breaks. If history is strong it will preserve itself.

    And yet Julia Margaret Cameron's "Iago" still makes people pause, because the man is very handsome and the photograph is voluptuously beautiful. No matter that the model was just a hired model and that Cameron didn't have anything to say. The times, the technology, everything else is gone except for that man's face, which still makes women go weak at the knees. People are still the same, and until we evolve into blobs or develop nanotechnology we will respond to simple images of attractive people, or images of people doing something we can relate to. The simple stuff lasts, simple animal stuff. Childbearing hips, pornography, appealing people, the shallow silly stupid stuff of everyday life. We don't need to know why the kid with the big wine bottles has those bottles, the image is appealing because he looks triumphant and we were kids as well. The man about to jump into the puddle didn't quite avoid the water, and never will; we will never know what happened next, he is frozen forever. In my opinion art is the process of stimulating the minds of strangers who have not yet been born.

    Point two, the pepper. In theory art as pure form *should* be timeless. Art that has a kind of objective connection with the human vision should should last just as long as human beings see the world in a certain world. In contrast, art that derives its value from knowledge of the story behind the art, or of the theory, is subject to two entropic forces. Firstly the art itself dates; secondly the theory because muddled with the passing. I always use the example of The Transformers, the popular toy range. The toys were launched in Japan under the Diaclone name, with no attempt at a story or charaterisation, and they flopped; they were relaunched in the West a year later with a comic, a cartoon, characterisation, and they were hugely popular, because the toys suddenly had meaning. The toys were the same, but now they had meaning. Eventually they will be just toys again, as meaningless as Dan Dare and Brassneck and forgotten superheroes and ancient Greek gods. They will be old plastic and metal toys from long ago, mantelpiece ornaments, because ultimately they're neat toys but I can't see people of the future idolising them.

    But human beings love stories; they pass them down from generation to generation, and have done so for thousands of years. People love to think of Van Gogh as a tragic, haunted failure, and will tell stories about him for centuries to come, even if the stories no longer reflect reality. Nobody alive today knew Van Gogh, he is already mostly legend, an appealing legend that is easy to pass on. We remember the Greek gods because their stories were complex enough to be entertaining but were ultimately based on archetypes that date back to before history. Tragic lovers, boastful warriors, beautiful people cursed by envy, the successful king who had one fatal flaw, all of these will exist as long as we exist.

    If I'm driving to a thesis, it's that story-based art will survive because people will generate or pass down the story, and the art will survive, albeit that the artist's original intentions may be forgotten. Form-based art on the other hand is "form that craves art", with the problem that the art is just an illustration of something lurking in the human vision system. Weston's pepper is a striking image that will eventually be replaced by imitations, or made obsolete by advances in technology. Why should we remember Weston's pepper, and not the exact same image shot by someone else? Who owns form? The form will survive long after the art has gone, which is unfortunate if you expect that your portfolio of abstract compositions will live on after you are dead.

    Point ninety-seven: Time's effect on my own work. If human history is a train driving into the future, my work is asleep in bed because I decided to have a lie-in that day. I've been on the internet since before and Flickr existed, and I can state with confidence that most if not all of the work exhibited here and elsewhere is "not even wrong". It doesn't exist on the spectrum of good or bad. It's just blank empty nothingness. Neither technically gifted nor meaningful nor honest. This includes my own work. In my opinion internet photographers who aspire to art are actually killing themselves, because they're perverting and obliterating whatever honest, unaffected truth they might have captured.

    We would all be better off just taking snapshots of our families, because a hundred years from now someone might look at those snapshots and think "these people were like me; I wonder if they were happy? What were they like? What life did they lead?" No-one will remember you, or the people in the pictures; if your motivating force is the pursuit of personal immortality or lasting fame, your ghost will have a very disappointing afterlife. He will witness your life's work fade and vanish. The men and women who built and launched Voyager 2 did so in the knowledge that they would not be around to see how far it got. Not be around to see it fall into a star, or simply evaporate over the course of twenty trillion years. They were motivated by what they would learn in their own lifetimes.

    Doomed to die. You know what happens after you die? Nothing. Your brain ceases to function. The universe is just a set of electromagnetic forces whirling about for no reason at all, it will eventually unravel into nothingness. There is no meaning, no end, nothing. And so forth. I could opine at great length on this topic, but the problem is that it takes a lot of work and it's just going to end up at the bottom of page three of a comments thread. It doesn't benefit me in this life and I was bored. And of course it will be dust in the wind when goes away. That's a thousand words, let's not count the final paragraph. As always I meant every word and I am sincere. And as I hit submit there will be jitter and the formatting will be wrong, and the words I strove over will be made to look silly.
  60. Julie: In fifty years, everything that is in your photographs will be dead, gone, or changed beyond all recognition.
    Do you take this into consideration when crafting your pictures?​
    No, and yes. To a greater or lesser degree, in whatever creative endeavors I have undertaken in my life, I have always given some thought to whether or not anyone will see it and care after I am gone. But that thought does not shape what I do. So in that sense I craft what I craft, photograph what I photograph, but without intentionally aiming at posterity. The Van Dyke quote regarding Lange pretty much sums it up for me. Given the incredible amount of noise and photographic output that goes on these days, however, the odds of anyone noticing are, well...not good to say the least. But if my goal were to stand out, I sure as hell wouldn't be putting out black and white street photographs in the first place. As a pure historical record, who knows what will be found to be of interest in 50 or 100 years?
    She sees the final criticism of her work in the reaction to it of some person who might view it fifty years from now. It is her hope that such a person would see in her work a record of the people of her time, a record valid of the day and place wherein made ... — Willard Van Dyke

    I liked Ashley Pomeroy's post. A bit bleak in spots (even for me), but not without a nicely dry sense of humor. You need to post more in here, Ashley.
  61. Steve -- and every other reasonably competent and active photographer reading this post -- I am going to prove to you that fifty years from now you will be as important to the viewers of that time as Winogrand, Davidson, Klein, etc. Your name may or may not be remembered, but the work that you have done will be just as important. I will even argue that, in some ways, your work is more useful than theirs.
    If I want to see something that is either spatially, or in this case, temporally out of my sight, I need a tool. I'm going to use the x-ray as my analog. When an x-ray is made, are only the bright areas informative? No. The dark areas are just as essential to the conveyance of information to the person reading the x-ray. Not only are they essential, it is critical that I know that those areas were probed as thoroughly and as sensitively as the areas that are bright and detailed. The former is dependent on the latter (and, of course, vice versa).
    For some parts of the plate to be un-probed (un-x-rayed, un-photographed) is to leave me with no idea that nothing was there. The key is knowing that the area was 'looked at' by eyes or x-rays that are as good as those that found things. The dark areas of a negative/print are just as important to the image as are the bright formative eye-catchers.
    Why might famous photographers be less useful than you, as written in the first paragraph? Suppose the sensors in your x-ray machine responded unevenly. Some were really, really sensitive -- random 25 megapixel units in a sensor that is otherwise 10 megapixel. How much meaning gets conveyed in the resulting x-rays? Or think of an orchestra with no conductor, or a really deranged one, or one that the players ignore. The violins are whispering when they should be shouting; the horns are going crazy when they should be strictly background.
    You can say, who cares, it's art, not documentary. To which I would say, it is the peculiar condition of photography to always be documentary. As Winogrand said in one of his 'Duh!' statements (in which he is at his best), "Documentary? Documentary? show me a photograph that is not documentary! Let's not overstate the obvious!"
    Between you and the fifty-year viewer, we find the 'developer' -- making the bright bright and the dark dark -- of this time-x-ray. That would be ... ? First, you and I and all the other like/dislikers. Then the book publishers, then the galleries, then the museum or private collection curators. Richard Storr wrote that Alfred Barr, first director of MoMA said that "seven out of ten things bought by museum curators of his day were likely to not stand the test of time ... . He was quite comfortable with that ratio, and he was, in fact, encouraging people to risk real failures in order that they get that thirty percent right. One of the things that's been interesting about these shows we've done recently -- there are all kinds of problems within them, not all of them succeed -- but one of the interesting things is, when you bring some of that stuff out, remarkably some of it freshens up, and even before we decided what was on the floor."
    He's writing about painting -- where the x-ray isn't dependent on anybody being somewhere in time/place. In photography, filling in the blanks as a 'probed' -- informative, meaningful -- darkness rather than just dead meaningless space requires that somebody was there, and I claim that that somebody (all of us reasonably competent or better photographers) is as important to the 'view' as are the one's who stand out in having discovered something in the areas that they probed.
  62. Nicely written, and an interesting view, Julie.
  63. I've been a lurker on this thread, not quite being able to put my finger on my real opinions about the topic and by chance a friend posted a Paul Himmel Grand Central Station picture on Facebook that I hadn't seen before so it was new to me 67 years after it was actually made.
    The picture itself also encapsulates a broader view of my feeling about this topic in that era in which it was taken is secondary to the photographic intention which, in my opinion, is as new today as it was when it was taken.
  64. Clive -- Thanks for sharing that link. I haven't looked at that much of Himmel's work so it was interesting to view.

Share This Page