Where do you go from there?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by alan_zinn, Sep 20, 2015.

  1. I was looking over Eggleston’s “Hasselblad Award” book of color photographs with a painter friend. I always sought his opinions about art but felt he held back a little with his regard to photography. He used photos, including his own as reference material when he needed them. I didn’t voice an opinion that might prejudice his reaction to the book.
    As he thumbed through the pictures he said: “But, where does he go from here?” Coming from a painter I held in high regard, the comment – more of a musing – was insightful.

    Where does a photograph go from there?

    I think the view of photographic finality pervades art. Other conversations with artist friends came to mind. Photos were, for them, commonly felt as departure points for the art to begin.
    Other media do not have the burden of seeming to be a true record of what things really looked like at that moment. We know that to be a myth, (don’t we?) yet we still feel it in a photograph’s unshakable record of the moment mystique.
    At what point are you done with a picture? Or, at what point are pictures done?
    00dV3V-558527584.jpg
     
  2. Other media do not have the burden of seeming to be a true record of what things really looked like at that moment. We know that to be a myth, (don’t we?) yet we still feel it in a photograph’s unshakable record of the moment mystique.​
    What if not only the idea of a photo being a true record of what things really looked like at that moment is a myth? What if the idea of there being such a thing as what things really looked like at that moment is also a myth?

    Might relieve some of photography's burden.

    Maybe we're focusing too much on the meaning of photography and art and not enough on the meaning and myth/s of really.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. If you can't operate on the reality of a really, then why do anything at all? Those photons are bouncing off of your subject whether you're there to ponder them or not.
     
  4. If you can't operate on the reality of a really, then why do anything at all?​
    Why not?
     
  5. My friend Mel, an illustrator, mostly used photos as a starting point for his work. Here's a painting he did with the original photo he took of me. As you'll see, Mel has a good sense of humor as well, something we often miss when discussing these kind of "heavy" topics.
    Original photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/alanklein2000/5345147466/in/album-72157625797001770/
    Illustration https://www.flickr.com/photos/alanklein2000/5344555753/in/album-72157625797001770/
     
  6. "At what point are you done with a picture?"


    When you stop thinking about it and the echo of seeing (and thus reacting) it fades.


    "Or, at what point are pictures done?"


    When your imagination and memory go blind.
     
  7. Where do you go? You go back in time in your mind and attempt to re-envision what you know or have seen now and ask your young self if it's what you expected. Are the scenes you're seeing now what you would've thought to expect when starting out? I can tell you I'm seeing things I never expected to see even the mundane moment to moments of uneventful living.
    My images look sweet and exquisite to me with this frame of mind. I don't know nor do I care what others will think of them. I won't be looking at family snapshots which is all I had before I went digital. My images reflect my love of the short time I have in this world reflecting every insignificant moment I saw, felt, reacted and tripped the shutter.
    So with that perspective I know that an image I shoot now will be different with new images in the distant future being even more different with different feelings decades later when it was an impression of my reality as I saw then, and now, a new memory created with a fresh eye allowing me to look back. The image will keep giving in this sense. That's where it will go.
    I've started thinking about this concept with my own images especially the mundane scenes shot reacting and not thinking to split second glances around my apartment that appear odd and new to me. I say to myself no matter how pointless and mundane that moment of capture is I come away saying I truly have not seen an image like this mainly because no one else is living the same life in the same environment, time and place to capture such moments.
     
  8. At the moment exposure is completed. (-:
    Another very imoprtant point is when you finely got it sold. May sound a bit rude for this delicate forum but true, nevertheless. And good place to go to from just about anywhere.
     
  9. .
    [​IMG]
    San Francisco • ©Brad Evans 2015
    .
    I have no worries about when photos are done or whether they're a "true" record. Making photographs on the street there are always new opportunities to experience and plenty of new photos to make. It's more of the memories lingering; i.e. certain situations I've experienced, interesting people I've talked to, things I've learned. Those are enduring and for me never done.
     
  10. I have to say, I find this remark very hard to understand. Was this the only reaction to Eggleston's work?
    The best answer I can give to the question "Where does he go from here?" is "I hope he continues to produce more interesting work with his typical off-kilter viewpoint, which I have known and admired for decades. However the only way to find out where he goes is to wait and see what he produces - whatever this is, even if it is nothing at all, this consideration should surely be secondary to attempting to engage with the actual body of work he is presenting now."
    I would hope your painter friend would do this - however, he sounds if he is so blinkered that he can only think of photographs as crude raw material for use in making a "higher" form of art (painting) and not as ends in themselves. Just how much notice do you take/do you feel you should take of his opinions?
     
  11. David B.
    That’s just it. My friend was known for wicked irony and wit. As I recall, even without further comment his appraisal wasn’t a dismissive shrug. He may have only been saying that there were no “take-aways” and banality as a subject quickly dead-ends.
     
  12. I saw an Eggleston exhibit a couple of years ago at the Met and, for me, it was about color . . . regardless of or at least as much as any literal concern for "subject."
     
  13. One idea that came to me while reading the Szarkowski analysis is that Eggleston also seems to me to play with the boundary that is the frame itself, the boundary between photograph and world.
    The idea of boundaries is intriguing. While they seem to separate two areas, inside and outside, this country from that country, etc. a boundary can also be straddled. Alan started the thread by asking when we cross over to that specific point of being done. The finish line? Maybe the purview of the photographer and artist is the in-between . . . rather than the THIS or THAT.
     
  14. I hate to say that I like the Eggleston on page 5 per the Szarkowski excerpt. There is something ineffable about it as Szarkowski writes.
    How picture this, though maybe, maybe not as banal: I found my neighbor, sitting on a towel in the park at the end of the street. He spoke to me in earnest of the great mass of mycelium consciousness that is our creator, that massive subterranean substrate that is all things; and how we don't see that trees await in conscious eagerness for us to play with them. And if I did take that picture, how could I ever be done with it? It's heartbreaking. He had one of the finest minds I have ever encountered. I miss that, its just gone now.
    Something Matt wrote: "Those photons are bouncing off of your subject whether you're there to ponder them or not."
    For me to state that "those photons" when I'm there with a subject would not be those same protons is as much a philosophical statement as to say that those protons would be there regardless if I was or wasn't. My neighbor wouldn't be in the park without his mind were I not his neighbor; and without me no photon could have reflected off him in the park because he wouldn't be there, and I wouldn't have been there if not that he existed and I knew him? So I offer that we are recording events with cameras that are even more complex than the complex optics involved. (Hey, it's a philosophy of photography forum so I riff in that direction...)
     
  15. Attempting to translate these appearances into words is surely a fool's errand, in the pursuit of which no two fools would choose the same unsatisfactory words.
    It appears from that ornately written foreward John Szarkowski decided to play the fool anyway. God bless him for his restraint because I really couldn't take one more paragraph of his analysis of Eggleston's work.
     
  16. banality as a subject …. Eggleston … was about color . . . regardless of or at least as much as any literal concern for "subject." … Eggleston's photographs are about perception itself, and so much more ... in these photographs form and content are indistinguishable - which is to say that the pictures mean precisely what they appear to mean. Attempting to translate these appearances into words is surely a fool's errand …
    Fascinating how different people view Eggleston! My view is completely different - Eggleston's subject matter is of course everyday life, the word "banality" seems unnecessarily prejorative, and to some people his pictures may seem to be casual snapshots. However, for me , the outstanding quality, particularly of the early work which appeared in William Eggleston's Guide, The Democratic Forest and Ancient and Modern, was his highly effective portrayal of people who are not in the pictures but have left traces behind (in certain cases, traces which suggest they may be back any minute). This has been a major inspiration to me.
    If Alan Zinn's painter buddy has seen only later work, he may be excused for missing this - I would say to AZ - get your friend to look at any of the books I mention above - this should answer his question.
     
  17. Phil, I wasn't referring to the THIS or THAT as being art and photography. As I hope to make clear by re-quoting what I said below, I was talking about the idea that I wouldn't look at either the artist or the photographer as reaching the finish line, as being done. But rather straddling whatever boundary there is between not being done and being done. I'm adding bold emphasis to stress what I was actually talking about.
    a boundary can also be straddled. Alan started the thread by asking when we cross over to that specific point of being done. The finish line? Maybe the purview of the photographer and artist is the in-between . . . rather than the THIS or THAT.​
    Again, not talking about the distinction between an artist and photographer, and not talking about being in-between an artist and a photographer. Talking about both artist and photographer being in-between not being done and being done, which addressed the question of the OP. THIS is the not being done and THAT is the being done.
     
  18. Eggleston reading Szarkowski's forward about him would probably surprise him with its pretension. How can you see so much in a picture? Photographers would get migraines if they thought that hard before they snapped the picture. The experts must get paid by the word.
     
  19. Photographers would get migraines if they thought that hard before they snapped the picture.​
    Alan, I think no wise critic thinks that all he finds and talks about in a photo or painting was consciously thought about by the photographer or painter. One of the critic's tasks is to put work into perspective and into historical context. They search for themes, for connections, for relationships to other work by other artists. What may come completely spontaneously and even in a split second to the artist can actually still be intelligently and articulately discussed in great detail by the critic. The critic seems to me to be doing something very different from what the artist is doing.

    Eggleston said this about his photos:
    "I've never noticed that it helps to talk about them, or answer specific questions about them, much less volunteer information in words. It wouldn't make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them. People always want to know when something was taken, where it was taken, and, God knows, why it was taken. It gets really ridiculous. I mean, they're right there, whatever they are."​
    And yet he still owed Szarkowski a debt of gratitude, because many other critics of the time really didn't get "whatever they were" and I'm not sure the public was ready for his stuff either, just as was the case with other photographers Szarkowski introduced and supported, like Arbus and Friedlander. It often takes a visionary like Szarkowski who can see ahead to get the public beyond its expectations and habits and help explain the significance of something new and not that easy to digest at the time. I don't know, and maybe someone does, but I suspect that the describing Eggleston wouldn't have done about his own work might have been understood and appreciated by Eggleston when it came from Szarkowski, whose role as critic, educator, and museum director he would have recognized and respected and probably given thanks for career-wise as something very different from his own role as photographer. (By the way, Szarkowski was also a photographer so he was talking from the inside as well.)
     
  20. Discussing relationships with other photographers or how it fits in historically are two areas where a reviewer can help. It's the part when he starts seeing things in the picture that aren't there or describing mental conditions of the photographer as to why he took the picture, what it means, etc.
    Even Eggleston saw the folly in this as copied from your post. As he stated (my bold):
    "I've never noticed that it helps to talk about them, or answer specific questions about them, much less volunteer information in words. It wouldn't make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them. People always want to know when something was taken, where it was taken, and, God knows, why it was taken. It gets really ridiculous. I mean, they're right there, whatever they are."
     
  21. It often takes a visionary like Szarkowski who can see ahead to get the public beyond its expectations and habits and help explain the significance of something new and not that easy to digest at the time.​
    Then Szarkowski should write plainly especially on something not easy to digest or else it's really about Szarkowski and how he seems to be enamored with his own writing gymnastics.
    Frankly Eggleston's work is easier to digest on its own for me than trying to figure out Szarkowski's take on it through his writing style. You know how many times I had to keep re-reading some of his sentences? I got so exasperated I just went to staring at Eggleston's photos. WHAT A RELIEF THAT WAS!
    Oh! Wait a minute...Maybe Szarkowski really IS on to something...torture the reader into wanting to look at the work he thinks the public should get. Now I get it.
     
  22. I think Szarkowski writes intelligently though academically. I think, without Szarkowski, none of us would have been able to be relieved by just looking at Eggleston's work because it was Szarkowski who brought that work to us. I think art can be difficult and challenging and I don't think one has to write simply or easily about such things. I don't get the ad hominem reactions to his thoughts, writings, and style. I don't think everyone needs to read Szarkowski or will think he's comprehensible or be able to understand him. I don't fault those who don't find Szarkowski's writing helpful, though obviously many have, which probably says something. I doubt he got where he got by being only interested in himself, especially since so much of his time and energy was spent being interested in photographers who otherwise wouldn't have been noticed. I would not dismiss Szarkowski as pretentious or ego-driven for writing in a complex manner about complex things and for bringing an intellectually challenging viewpoint about photography forward.
     
  23. Alan Klein - "It's the part when he starts seeing things in the picture that aren't there or describing mental conditions of the photographer as to why he took the picture, what it means, etc."
    For discussions sake, here's the picture I like from the link in the excerpt http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_qsSkaXuuU...ADc/ZbzqWi6O_qE/s1600/050820101166_resize.jpg
    Szarkowski writes "But the meaning of words and those of pictures are at best parallel, describing two lines of thought that do not meet; and if our concern is for the meaning of pictures, verbal descriptions are finally gratuitous."
    So Szarkowski is writing some words, is using a few words to illustrate that the words he wrote are gratuitous.
    And Szarkowski also says "Such speculations, however, even if not simple nonsense, presumably relate only to Eggleston's pictures - patterns of random facts in the service of one imagination - not to the real world."
    So Szarkowski is pointing out that even if what he just wrote was not nonsensical, his words would relate not to the real world, but to the picture. The real world stimulated Eggleston's imagination, he took a picture, and Szarkowski doesn't imagine that he can know to satisfaction much about either Eggleston's intent or much about that part of the real world Eggleston concretized in a photograph.
    Some photography is starting to look to me as though performed by a scarcely hidden puppeteer using the puppets of a photograph to lure the imagination of the viewer. So Alan I wonder if all we can do with a photograph at times is to just see things in the picture and not know if they are there or not, not know why a pictures was taken, and not know for sure what a picture really means.
     
  24. Thanks for the English translation, Charles. I never thought I'ld get a laugh in the POP forum and I thank you for that. I saw the picture being referenced from Phil's link.
    So Szarkowski is the real "Captain Obvious" just in a smoking pipe and jacket brandishing a very thick Thesaurus. See...now that is me writing plainly and I got to the point rather quickly with fewer words.
    I really don't see the point of writing academically as Fred put it on a subject that is so abstract and subjective.
    Why would he have to convince highly educated people of Eggleston's work by employing an academic writing style the common man can't even decipher? I was under the assumption educated people already get his work and don't have to have it explained to them.
    Or maybe they're all just a gang of like minded people who like talking this way to give credence and respect to their own endeavors much like street gangs employ their own language system that create the ties that bind.
     
  25. Captain Obvious? Yeah kind of, if you mean he uses a lot of words to say something fairly easy to understand. And he is hard for me to understand. I find myself rephrasing to get the gist of it. I don't get it all. I'll show you what I mean.
    One can say then that in these photographs form and content are indistinguishable - which is to say that the pictures mean precisely what they appear to mean. Attempting to translate these appearances into words is surely a fool's errand, in the pursuit of which no two fools would choose the same unsatisfactory words. For example, consider the picture on page 75.
    Perhaps these photographs mean precisely what they appear to mean. Perhaps. To translate appearances into words is difficult. If two translators tried, each attempt would be unsatisfactory and no two translations would be the same. Let's try a translation of the picture on page 75.​
    Think of it as a picture that describes boundaries: the boundary between the city and the country, civilization and wilderness, the fail-safe point between community and freedom, the frontier of restrained protest or cautious adventure. And the boundary between the new and the old, the new neighborhood advancing into the old land, but the neighborhood itself not so new as last year, the house in the foreground no longer the last in the line, and the '56 Buick that stands by its doors already poised on the fulcrum of middle age, still well-shined and well-serviced, competent and presentable, but nevertheless no longer young. And the boundary that separates day from evening, the time of hard shadows and yellow heat from the cool blue opalescent dusk, the time of demarcation between the separate and public lives of the day and the private communal lives of evening, the point at which families begin to gather again beneath their atavistic roofs and the neighborhood sounds with women's voices crying the names of children.
    He imaginatively free associates out loud while his eyes scan the photo. He sees boundaries. Pulls a bunch of boundary examples out of his hat and embellishes them. New/old. Day/night. Public/private.​
    One can say, to repeat, that in Eggleston's pictures form and content are indistinguishable, which seems to me true but also unsatisfactory because too permissive. The same thing can be said of any picture. The ambitious photographer, not satisfied by so tautological a success, seeks those pictures that have a visceral relation to his own self and his own privileged knowledge, those that belong to him by genetic right, in which form matches not only content but intent.
    One can say Eggleston's pictures mean precisely what they appear to mean. It's true as far as it goes, but to only go that far isn't saying much. That can be said of any picture. An ambitious photographer wants to say more in a photograph than A = A. An ambitious photographer seeks to spill his guts and impart his own privileged knowledge, known down to his bones, where form matches content and intent. [Form = content = intent. What the heck does that mean????]​
    This suggests that the pictures reproduced here are no more interesting than the person who made them, and that their intelligence, wit, knowledge, and style reach no farther than that person's - which leads us away from the measurable relationships of art-historical science toward intuition, superstition, blood-knowledge, terror, and delight.
    That's just bad writing. E.G. "This suggests" what suggests? This? What's 'this'? He has a problem. He's just said this is a picture book of mere objects. Most photogrpahers want to do more than take pictures of apples that look like pictures of apples. Here's Eggleston. His pictures of apples look like apples. He wants you to buy his picture book. But what's intersting about apples and what's intersting about a photographer who seems to only be able to photograph an apple as an apple. How interesting then can Eggleston as a person be? He writes "which leads us away from the measurable relationships of art-historical science toward intuition, superstition, blood-knowledge, terror, and delight." Measurable relationship of art-historical science???? What??? Toward what???? As best I can tell he is blowing smoke to hide that he has nothing to say here that would transition to the next paragraph.​
    These pictures are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations. We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness, that we have come half to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, grandchildren of Penrod, who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign. The suggestible viewer might sense that these are subjects capable not only of the familiar modern vices (self-loathing, adaptability, dissembling, sanctimony, and license), but of the ancient ones (pride, parochial stubbornness, irrationality, selfishness, and lust). This could not be called progress, but it is interesting. Such speculations, however, even if not simple nonsense, presumably relate only to Eggleston's pictures - patterns of random facts in the service of one imagination - not to the real world. A picture is after all only a picture, a concrete kind of fiction, not to be admitted as hard evidence or as the quantifiable data of social scientists.
    Here is where he had better tell us why we would want to buy this picture book. He says the pictures are fascinating. He says why they are fascinating. The pictures challenge our preconceptions. Lofty half believed preconceptions at that. But what are we looking at in these pictures? Who knows? What we do know is that they fascinate. What else can we know? Not only is photography not rocket science, it isn't science at all. {I think Szarkowski is in that paragraph modeling some imaginative grooving for potential buyers. Essentially he's saying groove on it.}​
    But if Eggleston's work is truly fascinating, and I do see where some of it is, then how do you explain that? Tim, I doubt anyone has adequately explained that yet. I take Szarkowski at his word when he says the work is fascinating. But he can't explain it and others criticized him for that. He had to respond to his critics, colleagues, academics. To his critics he just couldn't simply write hey, beats me why I like it, just groove on it.
     
  26. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...leston-honored-showing-America-new-light.html
    So Tim look at that one. It's from the '60's. I remember being in places like that and wondering what was the deal with the hair. And the smoking? Thinking 'what's the deal with the hair': weren't we all there at some point? Seeing a woman, a stranger with the beehive long after that style had passed, she never having changed her style? But it was impolite to notice, impolite to take out a camera and record it because that would call attention to the fact that you noticed something about another person that was private about them and not quite right or comfortable in themselves, something rigid in them. You smile maybe, but you don't say. But there it is in a photo. I smile. And that's my reaction to the photo. It's a surreptitious photo of someone's blind spot. It's banal and it is sensitively done. Is it dated? Probably. You would have to know the era, the timing of hair styles, and the charge that was in the air at that time. So it would take some study for a young person to 'get' it.
     
  27. I was under the assumption educated people already get his work and don't have to have it explained to them.​
    That would be an assumption well worth re-examining. Without Szarkowski, educated or not, we wouldn't have had both physical and intellectual access to Eggleston at the time.

    I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that art is not simply about artist and viewer. The curator and critic are often a go-between that help create the environment (the world) and dialogue/conversation of art. One of the myths of art is that all it is is a personal dialogue between artist and me-me-me. There's an entire community determining what we even see (a filtration system of sorts) and a bigger community sharing it and struggling to understand it, especially when it's something new, something for which we may not yet have a vocabulary, which is often what we want from our artists. Art doesn't take place in a subjective vacuum.

    A lot of art is hard or at least challenging. It can take a whole lot of explaining. Art can be confusing as can initial exposure to writing about it. I am becoming more literate about art all the time, both because I view more of it and because I read more about it.
    a subject that is so abstract and subjective​
    . . . really leaves out a large part of the story. Art can also be quite concrete, historically and culturally placed, and shared as much as subjective.
     
  28. Why would he have to convince highly educated people of Eggleston's work by employing an academic writing style the common man can't even decipher? I was under the assumption educated people already get his work and don't have to have it explained to them.
    Or maybe they're all just a gang of like minded people who like talking this way to give credence and respect to their own endeavors much like street gangs employ their own language system that create the ties that bind.​
    +1 Tim. They deliberately complicate a simple thing just to impress others and fill the page with confusing words to justify themselves. There's really not that much there. Heck, it's only a picture.
     
  29. Alan, does this have to devolve into ad hominem attacks on the writer? If you disagree with the substance of what he's saying, then bring that to light. But attributing to Szarkowski motives that you've completely fabricated is unfair not only to him but to those of us who take him more seriously. Earlier you said that you take the same amount of time with a photo as you do with a potato chip. That's you. Can you possibly try to understand that others might take more time and want a deeper experience even if you don't? If you want to view photos a certain way, more power to you. But why throw stones at those who do it differently?
    How is it you and Tim know what Szarkowski deliberately does and that he's out to impress people and to justify himself? Wouldn't you be better off either addressing his ideas or simply ignoring him rather than project motives onto him you don't have any clue about? You lose all credibility in this discussion by employing these kinds of indefensible tactics.
     
  30. If I ignore the critic's view as you suggest, then I give credence to their importance by remaining silent. My opinion is that much of what they write is just plain fluff to fill the page or article they have to write. Their words are a lot of nonsense. That is addressing their ideas.
    By telling me to be silent, then you're telling others their voice and opinion aren't allowed here if they disagree with your viewpoints. Don't you agree that my opinion is as valid and important as yours?
     
  31. Alan, yes, I think you're as entitled to your opinion as anyone else. I don't think your opinion is as valid as everyone else's. Just as I don't think the opinion that evolution is a hoax is as valid as other opinions, though I think those who think evolution is a hoax are entitled to that opinion.
    But none of that has anything to do with my gripe here. What I said is that your ad hominem attacks are unnecessary, especially when they go beyond the writer we're discussing and include the "gang" of those who are like-minded, like a bunch of us participating in this thread. If you disagree with my ideas, I'm totally OK with hearing that. What I'm not OK with is being told by you and Tim why I express the ideas I express, what my self-serving motivations are, etc.
    Do you get the difference?
     
  32. Fred G.
    I can personally verify that Eggleston comment (as quoted by you) express his truly held feelings. I was at an Eggleston opening in Memphis sometime in the ‘80’s. I had never seen his work. I think. he was just touted as important“Southern” regional then.
    The exhibit was of Pharaonic stuff in Egypt commissioned by someone. In the Q&A, in my view and others, he was very reticent. Annoyingly so. He mumbled vague answers and even got heckled. The work was, as I recall, high key color. I knew what hi-key color is supposed to look like, done well, so for me, he was OK in that respect. I just wasn’t impressed with what he found interesting. To me it looked like records, or something forensic. I viewed “color” as mostly about color at the time.
    WOW this topic has turned into an Egg-athon!
    Alan Z.
     
  33. Alan Z., I had no doubt that Eggleston expressed his true feelings. What I don't know is whether he would have put down Szarkowski for his writings. I took Eggleston to be talking about HIS OWN not wanting to discuss his photos, though maybe he didn't think much of critics talking about his photos either.
    ____________________________________________
    Regardless, I think photographers are best suited to photography and critics are best suited to criticism. To at least that extent, I agree with Szarkovski when he says "Artists themselves tend to take absolutist and unhelpful positions when addressing themselves to questions of content, . . . [this] allow the artist to answer unanswerable questions briefly and then get back to work." This, IMO, is as it should be and I have often said myself that artists are not always the best ones to talk about art and photographers not always the best ones to talk about their own photography. They are authorities on producing the work, not on discussing it or putting it into context or perspective or thinking about what it "means." Both photographers and critics have some very different things at stake. Conflating the role of artist and critic and insisting that the critic stick to the tools or means of expression of the artist would be, IMO, a mistake.
    Dr. Seuss said things much more simply than James Joyce which didn't make him a better writer. Just a different kind of writer. Bach's fugues are generally easier to listen to and access than Mahler's symphonies, which doesn't make Bach's fugues more worthwhile. Monet's landscapes are less psychologically challenging and dense than Munch's paintings. . . .
     
  34. Charles, the Beehive photo . . . the green is as strong as the daring-ness of taking a picture where the back of the woman's head is completely blocking her partner's face. Centered and in your face. I feel dared to both see this and not see this as a bad snapshot or as a mistake. He's toying with me. The photo, in this respect, in the way the composition and content relate and struggle, is mindfully mindless, conscientiously cavalier. It's a considered kind of offhandedness.
     
  35. Charles. Actually I didn't see anything there. But I
    didn't want to be insulting so I said I didn't see much
    there.
     
  36. Thanks Alan. And I read Szarkowski as saying that you are right, that Eggleston takes a picture of an apple and it is just an apple. Szarkowski heard exactly your opinion from many critics. Yet Szarkowski persisted in his support of Eggleston. The car in the neighborhood isn't as 'fascinating' to me as the photo of the woman with the hair. From one picture, I would think of Eggleston as a kind of joke. But in the hair picture, I felt a lot of things. If the woman doesn't know her hair is hopelessly out of style, if that is her blind spot, not knowing she looks like time has stopped for her, then the picture is taken of the back of her head. We can't see the backs of our own heads. We're blind to what we can't see about ourselves that everyone else can see. But that's how I see that photo. Did Eggleston intend for that photo be interpreted the way I see it? Or for Eggleston was it just a lady smoking in a café? There aren't answers and I find that a bit irksome.
     
  37. Phil S "Who is this "common man"? The irony of the anti-intellectualists is that they so often see and express themselves as being smarter and standing above those who are in the pursuit of ideas ( which comes from a willingness to doubt rather than stating or thinking one knows it all and has nothing new to learn ) while at the same time thinking to speak for the "common man".
    Consider this quote from Szarkowski:
    These pictures are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations. We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness, that we have come half to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, grandchildren of Penrod, who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign.​
    "These pictures are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations."
    Whose expectations are contradicted by these fascinating pictures? What specifically are those expectations being contradicted?​
    "We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life...."
    Who is 'we'? We refers to Szarkowski's presumed readers, his audience. Szarkowski and his audience have been told so often that words like bland describe American life. Is he saying that his audience has been told so often that they themselves are bland and synthetically smooth? Does his audience agree that as Americans they are bland, synthetically smooth, possessed of a comfortable, vacant insentience. Does his audience, do his readers consider their own lived lives as an extruded, stamped and molded sameness? Do his readers believe themselves in situ to be irredeemably dull, do they only half believe that they themselves are bland, synthetically smooth examples of vacant insentience, wearing a patina of extruded, stamped and molded sameness?
    Does his audience look around at other audience members and gasp at how irredeemably dull everyone is, gasp at themselvesf? Is that how Szarkowski describes his own audience, as vacantly insentient? If he were describing his reader, wouldn't the reader put the book down for being insulted by being described as synthetic, vacant and insentient? Does a writer normally insult his reader? Or, as I suspect as more likely, is Szarkowski describing the common man, the uncultured, those without a fine patina, distinguishing the common man from his cultured audience, his cultured audience of course not being synthetic, vacant, insentient, stamped, molded all the same, his audience is not irredeemably dull like the common man?​
    "....thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, grandchildren of Penrod, who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign.....Such speculations, however, even if not simple nonsense..."

    Startled? By what? That the pictures defy the preconception of a neighbor as being just an uncultured blob of sameness? Phil can you see how Szarkowski can sound like he is speaking from a seat on a high horse? Would he go into a pool hall or tavern and say "Hey folks, you vacantly insentient dullards, check out my threads?" I suspect he wouldn't. Because for his audience he is play acting above all.
    But his speculations are simply nonsense and he acknowledges that. Nonsense might also be my interpretation of the 'hair' photo.​
     
  38. And Fred gets another sense of things, and I agree that the photo comes off as conscientiously cavalier. Is there a correct interpretation? No.
     
  39. Charles, something to consider which I mentioned recently in another thread. There's a difference between an interpretation and an analysis. An interpretation will often attempt to give literal meanings to the elements of a photo: this represents that.
    I was thinking for instance that, for me, the strong green and the color in general in the Beehive photo acts as a punctuation mark to the relationship between composition and content. That's different from saying, for example and which I wouldn't, that the green suggests to me that the woman is envious, which would be to interpret the green as representing envy.
    I think the quotes offered here by Szarkowski are more in the realm of criticism or analysis than they are in the realm of interpretation.
    Interpretations, criticisms, and analyses are probably better seen in terms of how well supported they are and how coherent they seem (not how simplistic but how coherent) as opposed to how right they are. They will either deepen or make richer my experience of the photo or they won't. Those that don't aren't necessarily wrong and those that do aren't necessarily right.
     
  40. Fred for me interpretation, analysis, I don't know. So the word interpretation. Let me think. An interpretation begins with identifying literals and proceeds to associate meanings to the literals. Identify the literals, then sequentially tag the literals with possible meanings. Interpretation: two steps and you're done. Szarkowski seems to call that two step process a reading. (See below) On the other hand an analysis can begin once all significant literals are interpreted, are identified and tagged with meanings. An analysis would then take all those identified elements and compare each to the other and each to the whole thing. An analysis can also bring in other contexts, etc. Interpret elements, analyze or critique the whole collection of elements that have been interpreted.
    Think of it as a picture that describes boundaries: the boundary between the city and the country, civilization and wilderness, the fail-safe point between community and freedom, the frontier of restrained protest or cautious adventure. And the boundary between the new and the old, the new neighborhood advancing into the old land, but the neighborhood itself not so new as last year, the house in the foreground no longer the last in the line, and the '56 Buick that stands by its doors already poised on the fulcrum of middle age, still well-shined and well-serviced, competent and presentable, but nevertheless no longer young. And the boundary that separates day from evening, the time of hard shadows and yellow heat from the cool blue opalescent dusk, the time of demarcation between the separate and public lives of the day and the private communal lives of evening, the point at which families begin to gather again beneath their atavistic roofs and the neighborhood sounds with women's voices crying the names of children.​


    He walks through the picture elements, associates meanings with them (tags them). He calls that a reading:
    Such a reading might damage the picture only for the very impressionable, and might prompt some others to look at the picture longer than they would have without the encouragement of words. But the meaning of words and those of pictures are at best parallel, describing two lines of thought that do not meet; and if our concern is for the meaning of pictures, verbal descriptions are finally gratuitous.​

    Here is part of his analysis or critique:
    One can say, to repeat, that in Eggleston's pictures form and content are indistinguishable, which seems to me true but also unsatisfactory because too permissive. The same thing can be said of any picture. The ambitious photographer, not satisfied by so tautological a success, seeks those pictures that have a visceral relation to his own self and his own privileged knowledge, those that belong to him by genetic right, in which form matches not only content but intent.​

    Fred are you then saying that his methodology is to interpret then to critique? Is he being that formal in his writing? If so he is in both realms, in both interpretation and analysis.

    How good is it? How helpful? Probably not an example of his best writing, as Phil has suggested in offering a bit of a better piece by Szarkowski. But clearly, Szarkowski abandoned the notion that he would write in Eggleston's forward something that was 'right'. That's clear and I've more than well supported that conclusion of mine.
    But I should add, if I've ruffled any feathers, that I think I could have done a better job than did Szarkowski at interpretation and analysis of an Eggleston had I the background and training. What I couldn't have done is to find an Eggleston and had I found him I would have felt so much uncertainty in my own assessment of Eggleston that I couldn't have stood before a critical audience and promoted him as tirelessly as Szarkowski seemed to. With an Eggleston I wouldn't have had the courage of my convictions. I've had the courage of my convictions about other things, but not that. It's all so ambiguous and I tend to just want to crush things that wiggle around that much.
     
  41. Charles, I think I'll just leave it at what I said. I don't know that more litigation of Szarkowski will be that helpful.
     
  42. OK. Let me just say this. I found your blind spot reading a bit of a stretch and a bit too literal, for me. But I can appreciate your seeing that in it and certainly think it's supportable. It just doesn't ring for me. I find Szarkowski in these quotes less literal in his reading of Eggleston's photos and a lot of his thoughts struck a chord with me. He gives me more a way of looking than a meaning to get. The notion of boundaries seems to be like a framework within which to see Eggleston's work. The back of the head as blind spot is more specific and tied down.
     
  43. This short passage on Pollack in the movie "Ex Machina" linked below pretty much explains for me how Eggleston was communicating with his seemingly nothing moments captured with each shutter release. In a previous discussion on Eggleston a while back I saw a video of him just walking around pointing and shooting without forethought treating reality as a free form finger painting routine with each trip of the shutter.
    There is one F-bomb in the dialog...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1sFxMQj3qg
    This is similar to what I used to do as kid making my head the camera panning slowly across my environment blinking intermittently like a shutter release and relying on my memory as the film or sensor medium in reconstructing each still in my conscious wake state. The results always looked like a dream. There's no expectations and no intent but just a snippet of what we all see in our environment taken out of context within the flow of day to day consciousness.

    Eggleston makes us look at something we're all familiar with but usually pass by in our conscious awake state cluttered with expectations, purpose, motivation, desire, basically the things that make us think we need to move forward in life or we'll not survive the future while the now passes us by. He's somewhat reminding us to all just live in the moment.
    Szarkowski's reaction resembles the behavior of the apes dealing with the obelisk in "A 2001 Space Odyssey". A shape whose straight lines are foreign but whose purpose and intent are in doubt but at the same time calming due to its stillness. He's left with talking like a blithering idiot using an "intellectual" language style to express what he's feeling like some rap artist. I can only imagine his editor must've went ape as well.
    Charles, a lot of the scenes in your link showing Eggleston's POV I've actually seen growing up in south Texas back in that time. He's looking at this world as I did through a child's eyes as normal and familiar but at certain angles and lighting can look quite disturbing and interesting. That hairstyle was common back then in my neck of the woods but I do remember at my local chow house looking at the back of people's heads straight on appeared just as disturbing to me. So I share Eggleston's view of that world.
     
  44. Szarkowski quote from Phil S's previous post:
    I once heard William Eggleston say that the nominal subjects of his pictures were no more than a pretext for the making of color photographs - the Degas position. I did not believe him, although I can believe that it might be an advantage to him to think so, or to pretend to think so.
    So he didn't even believe the artist? So it is all about how Szarkowski interpreted Eggleston's work. Well I believe Eggleston.

    Looking around for scenes that will look good in color is a similar motivation Pollack employed. Don't think, react to make it look accidental even if you use a different purpose or motivation whether technical or just happenstance. Expectation is the killer of spontaneity.
     
  45. I then read it thusly.
    We have an expectation to find in Eggleston's pictorial survey of America a molded sameness in the characters. Instead we are fascinated because Eggleston presents us with Penrodesque characters, not with characters that are extruded and stamped. We're fascinated because they aren't vacant and insentient at all. We're startled, perhaps even exhilarated to see pictures of prototypically normal types, types capable of self-loathing [why self-loathing mentioned first, should they be self-loathing], adaptability [is adaptability a modern vice, an ancient one, or not a vice at all? It's a vice if instead he used adaptability as a euphemism for sneaky], dissembling, sanctimony, and licentiousness. Interesting in their lack of progress. Lack of progress? Compared to whose progress? Their progress? What about progress in the North because Szarkowski sure seems to be singling out Eggleston's South as a repository for vices. An enumeration of vices as belonging to a non progressing sub-culture is archetypally termed a shadow projection. I don't know which is worse: to be regarded in someone's ill informed imagination as a bland, vacant, insentient dullard or to be displayed in a picture book as self-loathing, dissembling, sanctimonious, adaptable [crafty, sneaky], licentious, prideful, parochially stubborn, irrational, selfish and lustful.
    Szarkowski's text asks us to be fascinated by the exotic and bizarre characters 'exhibited' in Eggleston's book. The subject IS exotic and bizarre to Szarkowski's presumed readers. Szarkowski's self-assessment is that what he says might be nonsense. It isn't nonsense when seen as Szarkowsk's confession of a deeply held prejudice of a Yankee toward the South, albeit unconscious and full of projection, Cameraonesque.
     
  46. Fred, Tim:
    I can put myself in Eggleston's place in the beehive photo, I've sat there just like Tim has in that Southern type of place in that era. Both Tim and I could have attempted to take that picture, so it is literal and real to me, to Tim. It is Tim, my and Eggleston's lived experience, it's documentary. There's nothing to interpret. For others, they can view it differently.
     
  47. I think viewers and critics have all the time in the world to make much more of a photo than it is or that the photographer considered when he shot it.
    This photo was shot at a moments notice. This toothless woman comes into a diner I was eating in on the boardwalk in Coney Island. She's carrying Mickey under her arm. What a strange sight. The rides and amusement park at Coney was closed. It wasn't the season. So why did she have Mickey? Did she keep him at home taking him for walks? Was he her friend, her child, her companion? Did my shot explain the story about this woman or was it just an excuse to compile about six items with different shades of red in it? Did the reds add to the questions or explain the photo? Was I seeking out strange New Yorker's to capture their idiosyncrasies? This could go on and on.
    The point is I wasn't even looking for any picture. The camera I had was a P&S I wore on my belt for work purposes. I was just sitting there eating my pancakes and crispy bacon with coffee during a work day. Yes, I saw an unusual scene. But a critic could read in so much that just wasn't there; at least that I thought about in my mind before I shot it. I just hurried with my surreptitious shot before the action was over.
     
  48. I think viewers and critics have all the time in the world to make much more of a photo than it is or that the photographer considered when he shot it.
    This photo was shot at a moments notice. This toothless woman comes into a diner I was eating in on the boardwalk in Coney Island. She's carrying Mickey under her arm. What a strange sight. The rides and amusement park at Coney was closed. It wasn't the season. So why did she have Mickey? Did she keep him at home taking him for walks? Was he her friend, her child, her companion? Did my shot explain the story about this woman or was it just an excuse to compile about six items with different shades of red in it? Did the reds add to the questions or explain the photo? Was I seeking out strange New Yorker's to capture their idiosyncrasies? This could go on and on.
    The point is I wasn't even looking for any picture. The camera I had was a P&S I wore on my belt for work purposes. I was just sitting there eating my pancakes and crispy bacon with coffee during a work day. Yes, I saw an unusual scene. But a critic could read in so much that just wasn't there; at least that I thought about in my mind before I shot it. I just hurried with my surreptitious shot before the action was over.
    00dVI7-558556084.jpg
     
  49. Vices attach to people as subjects, not to trees, bushes, cars, etc. Szarkowski made the attribution of vices to people, not me.
    Phil - "There is something non ordinary about the sense of place that's there in many of Eggleston's photographs but it's Eggleston's particular photographic rendering that gives it this and not necessarily the places or subjects photographed."
    Szarkowski faced the ineffable when facing Eggleston's work. There is something non ordinary about Eggleston's rendering of place, something fascinating as Szarkowski puts it. How would I attempt to explain the rendering and its effect on the viewer? Attempt?
    Eggleston is an introvert. My guess is that he is an introverted intuitive. That's a rare personality type. His rendering recreates his own perceptual field, and he uses color to accomplish that transform from our ordinary perception to his perception of the world at large. Color is the figurative that creates the feeling tones that give the viewer a glimpse of his world. He isn't a kinesthetic. It isn't perceptual in the ordinary meaning of perception as physical, sensation. Therefore color in Eggleston is a metaphor for vibes, and it is disturbing in his presentations.
    Disturbing is what any object is to an introverted intuitive. An object is disturbing because an object for an introverted intuitive is a mere transmitter of vibes, of disturbances. The object is just an object, it's banal, purely material. An object is almost irrelevant to an introverted intuitive because what the object does to such a type is primarily to create a vibe. It's the vibe to which an Eggleston as an introverted intuitive would relate to, the object in and of itself with all its material properties is almost nothing to that type, the object is more of an after thought, at best banal.
    Such is Eggleston's world, such I propose in an attempt to explain what the something non ordinary is to the viewer. Eggleston renders an object not as what it physically looks like, no, he renders his compositions to produce the vibes that he negotiates daily as the content of his own rare perceptual field. The problem is that those vibes are information rich. What a viewer is disturbed by is packed, dense information that can't be sorted out, but it is there. Showing it to the viewer is Eggleston's genius.
     
  50. But a critic could read in so much that just wasn't there​
    Alan, yes, if a critic found your photo or body of work interesting he could, indeed, read stuff in. I wouldn't be so sure he'd be reading in stuff that wasn't there.

    Just because you didn't have the time or inclination to think about what you were doing, doesn't mean all that much. You found this scene interesting enough to photograph and whether you felt like you were choosing it or you just naturally did so, you framed the scene the way you did. Someone else might not have taken the shot to begin with and might well have framed it differently.

    If a critic had access to your body of work, as Szarkowski did with Eggleston, even though you might not have been conscious of any of this, he might find repeated themes and a consistency of subject or types of scenes or types of moments and situations that moved you enough to take a picture and that could start to give some him some information about you.

    And, even if he couldn't put together a picture about you, the photo itself might have some things worth thinking about and talking about, similarities to the work of other artists, etc., again whether you intended that or not.

    One thing I love about my own photography is how much I learn about myself when I look at my own work over time. Stuff I don't realize until I see it and until I see what I'm drawn to over the course of time. It doesn't happen necessarily because I think about stuff when I'm shooting. But a lot may happen because of my predilections, my taste, my interests, my history, my genetic makeup, the culture I was born into or have adopted, the opportunities I have.

    Of course it's not a science, which makes it fun.

    Not always, but sometimes I think our photos make us much more transparent than we might think, even when we shoot candidly and spontaneously and "without thinking."
     
  51. Here are a few thoughts of mine should anyone be interested. First of all, the most recent work of Egglestons that I'm aware of was a series of mural sized photographs called At Zenith which were of nothing more then white clouds and blue sky. These were shown at the Gogasian Gallery in Beverly Hills a couple of years ago. https://www.gagosian.com/artists/william-eggleston
    I stopped by and took a peek inside and decided I had more important business to attend to then to look at pictures of clouds. Now if this is a logical progression of Egglestons work, then so be it. It might make perfect sense in a physical way. I saw Eggelston in person at LACMA a year or so prior to At Zenith and there's no getting around the fact that that he is getting up there in years and when he came out to talk and sign books he had some difficulty with walking. So maybe he just can't move around as much anymore and laying down in a field and taking pictures of the clouds made perfect sense. Who knows?
    As to Szarkowski, I attended a talk he gave at the Getty shortly before he died. He was plugging his book but his lecture was mostly about the nature of photography itself. He was an amazing speaker and didn't resort to any overly academic gobbledygook. As I mentioned before, I could have sat there all day and listened to him.
    Lastly I have to agree with Eggleston in that the photographer shouldn't have to to explain anything about his/her work. I can see why people would like to know more, I feel the same way when looking at some work, but isn't that just like wanting to know how a magician on stage makes a lady under a sheet float up off the table? I think it is and it takes away from the magic of photographs. In academic circles one expects this I suppose. I recall many years ago a young woman I know was majoring in graphic design at some local state college. In one of her classes the students were assigned to interview an artist and to show some of that artists work to the class while discussing the interview. She asked me for this favor and while I was flattered that she thought of me as an artist I really wasn't interested in talking about my pictures. I had no idea what to say about them. We met at a coffee shop and as far as I can remember I probably just talked about the techniques of using traditional photographic materials and most likely gave her the old "The work has to stand on its own so no explanation is required" statement while I handed her a handful of prints. People are always going to interpret artworks in their own personal way and they may come to all kinds of conclusions about what the artists is all about and this is OK, it's human nature. However, I think this should be of no concern to the artist.
     
  52. Fred: Thanks for taking the time to comment on my photo. The one thing I believe about my theme, or should I say temperament, is that I have a thing about balance. My pictures are always weighted towards a balancing act. If I missed that in the OOC shot, then I adjust when cropping. This may make them boring as they lose an edge. On the other hand, I lean toward aesthetic peacefulness so balance helps accomplish that. Enough of my photo. I'm starting to sound like a critic.
    Mark: I think you reminded me of a thing I heard years ago about effective communications: write in short, declarative, simple sentences. Your comment about when you heard Szarkowski speak reminded me of that. You said he didn't resort to overly academic gobbledygook. Maybe that's my concern with critics. If they would write in plain English, they would accomplish more in getting people to understand their points rather then coming off as confusing, trying to sell the art with pretentious rhetoric.
     
  53. Phil "I think it's much more rewarding - and often necessary - to look at a series of pictures rather than approach it from the single picture."
    Your presented series 1.
    http://www.chicagonow.com/neighborland/files/2012/06/3_136292-624x937.jpg
    It's a decorative flower basket hung on a door. That makes it an attempt by the basket hanger at an aesthetic, a woman's touch attempting hominess. The basket is in the way of the door knocker, somewhat impeding its function. Eggleston's photo is a comment on that aesthetic and on her aesthetic attempt. He's expressing something about what he sees. What he sees isn't perfect, and it is the image of a half salute to aesthetics that welcomes the book's viewer to his collection.
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-VnH1mU8B_...rtwork_images_230_70524_william-eggleston.jpg
    Last picture of the book. Jacket on wall. Again an impediment: the crib. How get the jacket down when the crib is in the way? You would have to bend awkwardly to retrieve the jacket. It might be the baby's jacket, but is it too big? Is it used instead as a blanket? Eggleston is noticing things that don't quite work? A door knocker impeded by a flower basket, a crib in the way of getting the jacket? Jacket picture is set within dysfunction and the ugly.
    Eggleston welcomes his viewer with a poorly placed flower basket on a home's front door, inviting. He closes his book with a fairly disturbing image where again, things don't quite work in perfect concert.
    https://antonioperezrio.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/050820101160_resize.jpg?w=590
    An old graveyard. Followed in the book by this:
    http://theclassical.org/sites/default/files/Eggleston(Grizz sting the ball on the perimeter).jpg
    An image of a prone youngster who could be taken for dead. There's a basketball hoop on a wall. The kid isn't playing, is down. Oppressive heat and humidity. Things aren't working.
     
  54. "Even photographs that don't have the intent of a maker behind them can have an embedded meaning."
    May we see an example?
     
  55. Those are fascinating photojournalism shots. Most pictures that work are simple. They say one thing. They grab the viewer with it. Their meaning is apparent. Pictures that are too complex lose the viewer. Most viewers give a picture a second of their time, maybe three if it catches their attention. They move on if they have to figure out what you're trying to say or what the subject is. If they want a novel, they'll read a book.
    Think about yourself when someone posts a picture here or when Googling or visiting someone's home and looking at their pictures hanging on the wall or reading a magazine. How long do you spend analyzing what a picture means? That's why I believe that most critics see things that aren't there. Because they aren't. If the picture is so complex with oodles of obtuse and arcane meaning, then chances are viewers will skip right over them. Maybe not the readers of the critics. But the rest of us.
    I find getting a photo that just works exceedingly difficult. They're very rare. Getting something that just jumps out is hard. Culling the noise in a scene to capture in a photo is a huge task. Our brain filters out that noise with ease. What makes good photography is often the content such as in photojournalism. But just as often, especially in landscape photography, its the light that makes the picture special. It aesthetic in nature. Long analyses are superfluous like trying to explain why ice cream tastes so good. Anyway that's my take on it.
     
  56. Simple and complex both work for me.
    That's why I love both Bach and Mahler.
    I do get it, most pictures that work for you, Alan, are simple and say one thing and grab you relatively quickly and easily.
    And I also get that for others, pictures that are complex don't lose them. Many complex pictures attract me. They don't grab me right away but percolate and reveal themselves over time. Which I have.
    Most photos on the web and most photos in homes don't command more than a passing glance. On that, we agree. This says nothing much about the kind of photography I do spend more time on or the the kind of photography most critics write about.
    The way I see it is not that critics see things that aren't there but that critics see things you don't. Honestly, sometimes they see things I don't. Whether these things are "there" or not isn't the point, to me. It's not an objective science. They're telling me they see them and I take that information and it either confirms what I'm seeing, opens me up to seeing something I hadn't or in a way I hadn't, or simply doesn't do much to affect my view of the picture. Again, it does take some time. Which I have.
     
  57. I think the discussion point that I raised has been at best deflected, at worst ignored. Let me raise that question with this Eggleston picture, already linked to, Phil's link to the first page of one of Eggleston's books, William Eggleston's Guide.
    http://www.chicagonow.com/neighborland/files/2012/06/3_136292-624x937.jpg
    I previously commented that photo, in part now with emphasis added: "The basket is in the way of the door knocker, somewhat impeding its function. Eggleston's photo is a comment on that aesthetic and on her aesthetic attempt."
    Now quoting from Szarkowski's forward to an Eggleston picture book: "We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness, that we have come half to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, grandchildren of Penrod, who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign."
    I ask, considering the flower basket on a front door photo of Eggleston's, is the hanging flower basket exemplary of what Szarkowski described as American life, of its comfortable vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness?
    A related question, is Robert Frank's The Americans an elitist aesthetic? Is Eggleston's aesthetic elitist? And I'm asking Fred and Phil those questions who quite obviously can read and who don't need my translation ability to emphasize for them the elitism of Szarkowski, which should be obvious to them anyway because both are highly educated people.
     
  58. is the hanging flower basket exemplary of what Szarkowski described as American life, of its comfortable vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness?​
    Szarkowski said we've been told this is American life. He did not describe it as such.

    I take him at least in part to be saying we've been told this in all sorts of ways, including photographically. And it's been told to us in stories, in the press, in pictures, and we start believing it. Szarkowski seems to be suggesting that Eggleston is asking us to look without those impositions we're used to in order to find a more authentic spirit in these people and things.
    is Robert Frank's The Americans an elitist aesthetic​
    Possibly in the same way that someone could make the case that Bob Dylan's is.

    Szarkowski seems to me to recognize the concreteness in Eggleston's work.
    As pictures, however, these seem to me perfect: irreducible surrogates for the experience they pretend to record, visual analogues for the quality of one life, collectively a paradigm of a private view, a view one would have thought ineffable, described here with clarity, fullness, and elegance.
    I don't see that as elitist. He's educated and intellectual. That can sound, but not be, elitist.

    I see this observation as not unlike yours that Eggleston's work is literal in the documentary sense and I agree. (I had said "too literal" referring not to Eggelston's work but to your metaphor of back of head as blind spot.)
     
  59. Knowing that sarcasm doesn't always come through effectively on the Internet and probably being overly concerned with being misunderstood because it does happen, I want to be sure to assert that I don't think either Frank or Dylan are elitist. The same person who would want to make that case for Frank would likely make it for Dylan as well. It would be, IMO, quite a stretch.
     
  60. Szarkowski also said that we half believed it and in contrast to what we've been told we instead of a confirmation of what we half believed, instead in Eggleston we see the Penrodesque along with a long list of vices. That is in the text, the text, the text. Let's stick to the text.
    I don't think there is anything wrong in calling out that flower basket for what it aesthetically is, it is a pretty sorry decoration. On the other hand, it is a fact that curators have within their authority the ability to begin a process of legitimizing works as art. Dylan legitimized becomes just so much state art. Wabi sabi in Japan was extolled, after it was found, by those at the top of that Edo period and prior basically two class society. Wabi sabi was a reaction to an elitist aesthetic, later became a part of an elitist aesthetic, tea ceremony, etc. These are complicated realities and it's hard to tell one thing from another. But any objective approach to art and art history includes an honest discussion of elite and non elite tensions that always exist and are handled in many ways in different social systems. Art is, as Fred has pointed out many times to me and to others, a conversation and it is a broad conversation.
    I haven't had time to read carefully the posts that followed my exasperated question. I'll return to them later and agree there are some good, honest, well considered ideas expressed within them and I thank you for that.
     
  61. On the subject of door knockers, I have several friends who have them on their doors, not obstructed by flower baskets. I don't use them. It's always felt clunky for me. I much prefer and lean naturally toward a simple knock on their doors with my fist. I guess you could say I find door knockers extra-functional so hanging a basket over them might say something slightly different to me. ;-)
     
  62. We do agree that those two pictures are juxtaposed by what they represent, the first of two beginning the book, the second the book's closing shot if I remember correctly. As to knockers I think I'll leave that topic alone.
    Phil - "Robert Frank's The Americans is the epitome of anti-elitism, both in a social and artistic context."

    How so? For its apparent realism? And you mean at the time of publication?
    Also I did the best I could to tie Szarkowski's text to an Eggleston photograph, that connection always in my mind. He does say 'we have been told' and that we half believed it (and why not believe it all the way?); and he isn't committed to that view expressed by his enumeration of vices, of it declaring "Such speculations, however, even if not simple nonsense, presumably relate only to Eggleston's pictures..." In other words he undermines not only 'what we've been told', but his Penrodesque characterization of what rings so true to me as a common mischaracterization of the American South.

    Fred - "Szarkowski seems to be suggesting that Eggleston is asking us to look without those impositions we're used to in order to find a more authentic spirit in these people and things."
    Yeah, so I see him as modeling for the reader a possible stance to assume when enjoying the book.
    "As pictures, however, these seem to me perfect: irreducible surrogates for the experience they pretend to record, visual analogues for the quality of one life, collectively a paradigm of a private view, a view one would have thought ineffable, described here with clarity, fullness, and elegance."

    I think that's well said and had thought if he had just said that it would have been enough. And I can relate to "irreducible" since I'm toying with the idea that art I enjoy most has an irreducible expressed within it, not sure that without something irreducible within it art can connect to me at all.
    But I do recognize that at the time Eggleston was becoming known he was considered to be southern regional, and the southern stereotype at the time was not exemplary American stereotype, it was stereotyped American South, not told to us to be "comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness". The American South stereotype in that era was worse than 'exemplary' America and Eggleston's entrance onto the scene was in some ways perhaps an introduction to a South that was in the process of adopting standard English and making a degree of progress towards refuting the notion of its backwardness compared to the rest of the USA. However down there at the time they watched Hee Haw, they didn't necessarily watch Laugh In. I mention that to note in passing a tension that exists still between two cultures in the USA, one roughly English, Yankee, the other Celt. Szarkowski was aware of Eggleston as a product of southern culture as much as he was aware that so to a product of his culture was New York born Garry Winogrand.
    I do acknowledge that color photographs were "not 'elitist' within the world of fine art photography", as Phil points out. It does get difficult for me to sort it out, that Szarkowski was an elite by the position he held is separate from the question of whether he was in the pejorative sense of the word an 'elitist'. I agree that, in Phil's words, philosophical inquiry is existential in nature and not elitist, and add uncontroversally that a juxtapostion of one's social position against a loosely defined 'nature' is also found in art.

    Of Szarkowski's photos linked to "Hey! A barn!"
     
  63. Szarkowski: In practice a photographer does not concern himself with philosophical issues while working; he makes photographs, working with subject matter that he thinks will make the pictures.

    Gordon Parks?


     
  64. Charles, what are you asking about Gordon Parks? I think Szarkowski would likely recognize that plenty of photographers concern themselves with or at least have a philosophy. I'd underscore the while working in Szarkowski's statement. How many times have we heard silly statements like, "I could never philosophize about my work because I'm too in the moment when shooting to worry about such stuff"? As if the only time one could philosophize were when one was holding the camera or pushing the button. My own philosophizing doesn't substitute for all the things I do when I'm shooting, like working with subject matter, making exposure choices, noticing lighting, relating to the people I shoot. But all the philosophizing I do at night in bed or in the shower in the morning (I try to do less of the latter in an effort to conserve California's dwindling supply of water) informs my shooting even though I'm not practicing philosophy when I'm shooting.
    Now, I'd take issue with Szarkowski to some extent, because I think there are chances to philosophize even while one is working. He probably overstates it. One thing I've come to appreciate over the years when reading philosophy, criticism, and artists themselves, is the art and effect of overstatement. It's provocative. The reader is often in the position of dialing back the overstatement but still being nudged by it.
    It would be hard to think of one philosopher or artist I've ever read who didn't overstate some things. I think that often shows up in their work as some combination of commitment and ego, which are probably necessary to both.
     
  65. I was thinking of Gordon Parks' American Gothic where Mr. Parks in an interview said he posed his subject specifically to express an issue, a philosophical issue broadly speaking. So while working with his subject he was concerning himself specifically with philosophical issues. Parks concerned himself while working with the mop. He concerned himself with the broom. He concerned himself with the flag. Mr. Parks described his working process with his American Gothic as very much a reaction to his listening to his subject's life story and immediately putting his body into motion to make a statement about that story, juxtaposing a dream of reality (philosophy with the flag as the literal that pointed to the dream) with actual social reality at that time. In the interview he addressed the question of whether or not his American Gothic was truly a derivative work. He said that he really was thinking of Grant Wood's American Gothic when he conceived of the shot. So I thought that Gordon Parks was at least in the case of his working process with American Gothic, very much working with subject matter while working to express broadly his philosophy on human bondage and freedom and justice.
    So I was offering Gordon Parks as an exception to Szarkowski's generalization or overstatement more because generalizations are generalizations and can't apply to every case. I was then trying to move the conversation forward, wasn't thinking the quote was elitist. A take away for me from that earlier discussion was that if I want to approach viewing a photograph with a method that would aid me in understanding it, I could use Szarkowski's approach of doing a visual scan of the elements, tag those elements, (borders, etc.) try and comprehend how the visual elements work alone and how those elements work in combination to try and get a sense of what a photographer is attempting to express. That's a methodology and my methodology before being schooled by Szarkowski wasn't necessarily productive.
    For myself, when I think about where I want to go with my own photography, if anywhere, it is that I want to approach it more like I've grown in my woodworking. In my woodworking I began with wanting to imitate a western aesthetic in that craft. But like a Garry Winogrand when he was in school, I began to question the general rules of composition there. Why must I round corners, why must I soften rectangles into curves, why must I blend out any mistake, why must there be symmetry. When making a small box, the working rule is to leave it without a finish on the inside. But shellac will work as a finish inside a box or drawer because it will stop off gassing whereas varnish or oil will always smell bad inside a box. But philosophically, I want to see the beauty of a high gloss rubbed out finish when I open a small box, not bare wood, not felt on the bottom and that expresses a simple philosophical idea say of how beauty is on the inside where the custom is to put in box making all the emphasis on the external. So I thought, gee, it is possible in woodworking craft to make symbolic, philosophical statements and conceptual photography then became interesting to me at least in theory as I haven't seriously picked up a camera in a while. Should I pick up the camera, and I'm getting irritated enough by my neighbors to do so, I want to specifically make philosophical statements about them and for me to do so I would have to approach it in posing, in subject selection, etc., do it while I work to produce as clear a visual expression of what I am thinking philosophically as I can in my practice, while I'm working, while photographing.
    A fashion photographer very much is working in philosophy when working, a philosophy of beauty and each muscle movement of the photographer works to give expression to a philosophical idea.
     
  66. In terms of your project inspired by your neighbors (and, perhaps, in part uninspired by them!) and in combination with your thoughts about philosophy, your rejection of traditional woodworking paradigms, your desire to be clear, and your recognition of the value of the documentary aspects of photography, I might recommend Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. This is a later work of his and a repudiation of much of his earlier work, so much of his earlier work will give a very different picture. That self repudiation in combination with his repudiation of traditional metaphysics, might, to begin with, fit nicely with where you find yourself. His Investigations are a rejection of traditional approaches to Philosophy and can be classified as being related to the (Oxford) School of Ordinary Language Philosophy. So, for instance, in thinking about the word "reality," Wittgenstein rejects it as a definitional symbol of certain properties which philosophers had been debating for centuries. He, instead, prefers to look at how it's commonly used. Loosely and very briefly described, meaning is use and grammar as opposed to definition. His Philosophical Investigations, rather than written discursively and analytically, which is what he was steeped in earlier and how Philosophy mostly proceeded, are a series of aphorisms which seem to act more suggestively and even poetically than definitively.
     
  67. How that might translate to photography is to approach the project more gesturally than symbolically.
     
  68. OK Fred I put an on line PDF of Philosophical Investigations on my favorites bar.
    Phil I'm reading the Szarkowski quote out of context. I trust that you have the benefit of knowing many contexts for that quote that I don't have. My wish is that you trust me when I say that I don't read the Szarkowski quote as Szarkowski stating that photographers don't have philosophical or theoretical ideas to express in their photography. That is not my reading of that quote. That photographers do have philosophical or theoretical ideas to express is a given and I don't read Szarkowski as saying that photographers don't have such ideas to express in their photography.
    "In practice a photographer does not concern himself with philosophical issues while working..."
    Gordon Parks described very specifically what he was thinking and doing while working to create his American Gothic photograph. Parks said in an interview that he grabbed objects (props) with philosophical intent; while working Parks concerned himself primarily with a philosophical issue, a specific philosophical issue guiding his every muscle movement. Parks' self-described practice is different from Szarkowski's statement that "in practice a photographer does not concern himself with philosophical issues while working..." Gordon Parks did, while working to get to the point of clicking the shutter, concern himself almost exclusively on philosophical issues.
     
  69. I don't have other contexts that would allow me to understand what Szarkowski was more broadly getting at. I just have the one quote. I do acknowledge and appreciate that you have broader contexts including experiences that can enrich my appreciation of photography.
     
  70. Szarkowski - "From his photographs [the photographer] learned that the appearance of the world was richer and less simple than his mind would have guessed. He discovered that his pictures could reveal not only the clarity but the obscurity of these things, and that these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful."
    I like that quote quite a bit. It's very open ended and suggestive.
     
  71. Got it. That too a derivative work then. I like your galleries.
     
  72. At what point are you done with a picture? Or, at what point are pictures done?​
    I try to be "done" with single pictures pretty quickly and make it final. It does not mean that I'm done - I may keep going back to same idea or place working on it trough the years.
     
  73. Phil, love the homage to Gothic. I much appreciate a good use of that sort of construction of a photograph!
    Here's my own NSFW Am. Goth. Loosely Inspired photo:
    http://d6d2h4gfvy8t8.cloudfront.net/17445739-lg.jpg
     
  74. Yes, loosely because it just helped me toward an idea. Didn't care whether viewers realized it.
     
  75. Strong photo, Brad.
    Unfortunately a lot of folk seem to think they can talk a photo into existence with words. Don't they Phil..
    A lack of respect for great photo, without a word; other than how wonderful they are without a photo to their name....Sad.
    Just a thought.
     
  76. "Other media do not have the burden of seeming to be a true record of what things really looked like at that moment"
    I think we have moved on from those thoughts unless we are talking about some cold truths of documentry.....but even then most folks are suspicious they are not dipped into a cold reality of a truth.
     
  77. "At what point are you done with a picture? Or, at what point are pictures done?"
    A picture is never done neither is any work of Art. We constantly move on that is our nature of our species...relentless in our search for truths in any field of endeavor. There is no done...the done has never existed and never will...ask any of the great Artists if they were ever done on anything.
     
  78. >>> Strong photo, Brad.

    Thanks, Allen.

    But, I have to disagree with you on one thing. Phil has an excellent body of work - something I've suspected for awhile. In fact, of the very most active participants on this forum, he's the only one whose work lives up to, and in my opinion goes beyond, his talk. He's actually walking it...
     
  79. "But, I have to disagree with you on one thing. Phil has an excellent body of work"
    Indeed he has....
    I would also disagree with myself...my bad. Apologies, Phil.
     
  80. As I look at the names here, I don't see anyone not walking the walk. Most have portfolios or have posted many pics in threads
    or have links to websites. Even those who show no photos at all shouldn't be assumed not to be walking the walk
    because of that. There are many reasons people keep their work off the Internet and it would be really unfair to make
    such accusations based on that. Many of us aren't walking beside you through the San Francisco tenderloin and are
    walking a very different walk than you. You may not like or think much of what some of us are doing. But it shows a
    complete lack of empathy to claim that others who are dedicated and put in the effort aren't walking the walk.
     
  81. Fred, no, it's just the truth. There really is no other way to express how refreshing it is to see his posts. I had a feeling from months ago he had a great body of work just based on his thoughtful and insightful discourse, without calling attention to himself to support his views. In fact, 3-4 months ago when he started posting, if I remember correctly, I characterized him as a "puzzler" and that he was probably an excellent photographer. The fact that he's walking his talk on this forum is a HUGE bonus and an excellent change in dynamic. Respect.
     
  82. >>> Many of us aren't walking beside you through the San Francisco tenderloin and are walking a very different walk than you. You may not like or think much of what some of us are doing. But it shows a complete lack of empathy to claim that others who are dedicated and put in the effort aren't walking the walk.
    Fred, that's a ridiculous and disingenuous assertion. First, I haven't walked the Tenderloin in four years. Second, others don't need to in order for me to appreciate and express views about their photography and walking their talk. As a photographer I enjoy MANY different kinds of photography. I have a ton of respect for Phil's, as well as many others on photonet, even though their work is very different than mine. I also have respect for, as an example, some landscape and wildlife photographers even though their work couldn't be more different. Ditto for sports, wedding, rock/event, fine art, nude, etc photographers.
     
  83. I snapped this with my cell phone in the downtown on Market Street two days ago after meeting a friend for lunch. NOT IN THE TENDERLOIN!
    .
    [​IMG]
    Communications Breakdown • San Francisco • ©Brad Evans 2015
    .
     
  84. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I haven't walked the Tenderloin in four years.​

    A bit like me being a "pop star" of a forum I rarely post in.
     
  85. What? You don't want to be like Fabian?
     
  86. My last word on the Egg.
    I have already stated I’m not crazy about Eggleston’s pictures. What I find in him and other artists whose work I may not even like is that they give me permission to do similar work and examine various creative avenues I’ve been visiting myself. Given permission to move in a new direction (paradigm shift happens) is good. You must choose who you hang with.
    Why shouldn’t one seek an affinity with someone of critical acclaim? I respect the critical writing about them. (although, I think Szarkowski's gotten way out in the weeds here) I feel comfortable knowing that I at least get it.
    AZ

    00dViF-558620084.jpg
     
  87. “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” Susan Sontag​
    I get more out of that quote today than I did a couple years or so ago. That's due to a large extent to my having participated in discussions here in the PoP forum. So I also know that I'm getting more from photographs than I did before. For example, Brad with his photo posted here comes off to me as pointing something out to the viewer. Same as to Alan Zinn's photo, he is pointing something out, not just pointing at something for the sake of pointing at it.
    So I could rewrite Sontag: To point at people is to violate them, pointing them out as they never would seem to themselves, pointing to knowledge of them that they can never have; pointing turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed [whatever that means]. Just as a finger is a sublimation of the gun, to point at someone is subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.
    What do we do with that knowledge of someone else, knowledge of them as they would never seem to themselves? How tenderly would we point to it, if with tenderness at all? Indeed, are we that tender with each other ever, or ever so tender to our own self? And if life imitates art, what is our responsibility in our art knowing that it might be imitated in life?
     
  88. Thanks for looking Charles W.

    Sontag’s shift of the conversation about photography to a postmodern, Marxist – some say more cynical, style of criticism threw many photographers into a tizzy. I felt she was completely over her head before I came around to understand her aslant point of view a bit. I went to one of her talks. She spoke of her affinity to John Berger whose writing I already admired. Sontag opened for me other interests in a picture to look for. We know close reading of the “text”in any picture reveals things unseen at the time of its creation.
    That the text in a picture can be read, was not a new idea. But changing it entirely to suit somebody’s polemical bent was. Her “guns and murder” comments were a sign of the times. “Revisionist histories” were rampant. Long-held beliefs were being shot at. This picture only reads one way. No?
    00dVll-558627984.jpg
     
  89. This picture only reads one way. No?​
    Are you being sarcastic?

    Reading 1: Homeless people get ignored while others are having a good time.

    Reading 2: Racial divide.

    Reading 3: Homeless people are a blight on our fair cities. (Probably about 20-40% of the US population would read it at least with some tinge of this, sadly.)

    Reading 4: Class divide. (New pink shopping bag / old plastic bags filled with stuff.)

    Reading 5: One photographer competing with another photographer (directions of waves and gazes).

    Reading 6: Fast food is what really counts! ;-)

    And then, of course, there would any number of combinations of the above and any number of additional readings possible.
     
  90. Fred,
    Me sarcastic?
    Why aren't you out looking at the eclipse?
    AZ
     
  91. Alan,
    Not sure I'd know how to read it! ;-)
     
  92. Seriously, though, too foggy in San Francisco today to see it. We miss a lot that's up in the sky because of that.
    Will have to rely on others' photos!
     
  93. Didn't Sontag later retract some of her statements she wrote in her book "On Photography"? I could be wrong but I seen to recall reading somewhere she did. Either way, she paints with an awfully broad brush and by doing so she generalizes that a photographer can have some sort of knowledge about someone that is not known to the subject of the photographs. Just how well can one really know another person? Not as well as many people would like to think is my guess. Can anyone look at the picture of Ricky below and say that they know what he is all about? We can make assumptions but how accurate are those going to be? What if I said that I've photographed Ricky numerous times over the years and I still have no idea why he goes out into public like this? Should I know or does it not matter? Does he do it for shock? Is he making a statement about society or politics or is he simply proud of who he is regardless of what others think? How many people can you name that are truly at peace with themselves and who they are? Is he an exhibitionist? You see, just because a photographer points his/her camera at another doesn't mean the subject is unaware of how they appear to others.
    00dVmS-558628684.jpg
     
  94. Marc she writes with a broad brush and I don't take her, or myself, too seriously. And to me it would be in a series or a body of work that we might get some better sense of Ricky.
     
  95. she generalizes that a photographer can have some sort of knowledge about someone that is not known to the subject of the photographs​
    She does and I think she makes a good point. I take most philosophy and criticism of the sort Sontag practices as ideas to mull around. They often speak in generalizations and absolutes. I can understand it, however, as throwing something into the mix that isn't absolute but is just worth thinking about.

    We are each a subjective being. We don't see ourselves without context or isolated from the context in which we exist, certainly we never see ourselves, as subjects, stopped in time.

    In some respects, I'd say, photos turn us into objects. They frame us. They objectify us (not necessarily in the negative way we tend to use that word). This is why so often many others will like a photo that the subjects themselves will often not like. Because they're not used to seeing themselves stilled, and without context, and without being able to step quickly away from the mirror.

    I don't think Sontag is saying we don't know how we appear to others. It's about how we look to the photographer, others, and ourselves in a photograph.
    I think the knowledge Sontag is talking about that a photographer has of the subject isn't facts about the person or whys and hows. As a matter of fact, knowing facts about the subject, knowing his behavior, knowing his heritage, knowing why he's doing what he's doing in the photo would be much LESS objectifying. I think she's saying something similar to you. Because the photo doesn't tell us any or at least much of those kinds of facts and the subject certainly knows all that for himself, the photographer knows the subject in a very different way, minus all those facts, minus the subject's experience. The subject can't have that. The subject has his experience with him.
     
  96. "In some respects, I'd say, photos turn us into objects." - Fred G.
    Well Fred, yes the photo itself is an object be it a physical print one holds in their hands but is the person in the photo really objectified? If so who bears responsibility for this - the photographer who is creating a visual description or whomever looks at the photo and reacts to it based on their own psychological make up?
     
  97. I didn't mean that the photo itself is a physical object, though it is.
     
  98. Marc - "If so who bears responsibility for this - the photographer who is creating a visual description or whomever looks at the photo and reacts to it based on their own psychological make up?"
    My answer would be both.
     

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