cyanatic Posted July 28, 2014 Share Posted July 28, 2014 <p>Brief background on what brought this topic to mind, and what I mean by it: This past Saturday I went to view an exhibit of Vivian Maier prints at the College of DuPage (southwest of Chicago), "Exposing Vivian Maier". The prints came from Jeff Goldstein's collection, not the John Maloof collection. There was a showing of the BBC film "The Vivian Maier Mystery" (a bit deeper in scope, I thought, than Maloof's "Finding Vivian Maier"). There was a panel discussion afterward, and later one could mingle and talk to Goldstein, some of the printmakers, Richard Cahan (co-author of "Vivian Maier, Out of the Shadows") etc. I could go on for pages about the experience, but that's not really the point of this thread. </p> <p>Along with an exhibition catalogue, there was a small 4 page foldout with a Maier photo on the cover, some discussion of the prints included in the show, and a commentary on Maier and her work by Debra Brehmer, an art historian, writer, and gallerist from Milwaukee. In making a point about Maier, Brehmer wrote at some length about the cover photo which was this one:</p> <p>http://vivianmaierprints.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Vivian-Maier_55_230-12_72dpi-632x640.jpg</p> <p>(The bolding is mine in the quote below.)</p> <blockquote> <p>Debra Brehmer: "As viewers, we stand intimately alongside Maier with her Rolleiflex, sharing <em><strong>each choice to stop and use one of those 12 precious film exposures</strong></em>. She's more of a formalist than many, <em><strong>noting the repetition of angles and shapes</strong></em>, the theatre of light and shadow that stirs beneath the pictorial surface to <em><strong>give her work integral structure as well as human content</strong></em>. While sensitive to issues of social status, Maier more strategically notes the channel between what people hope to be and the pockmarked wear that the world has imposed. The back of a woman in one tightly framed picture at first looks elegant, but the edges of the large bow on her hat are actually frayed and re-stitched. <em><strong>Then you see the formal language</strong></em>: how the curve of the hat echoes the slope of her hair and shoulders and how the animated gestures of two locks of hair escaping the hat mimic the matter texture of the sweater."</p> </blockquote> <p>Brehmer was not present that day so I could not ask her, but I take her remarks to imply that the details noted above were evident to Maier and part of the reason she chose to take the photograph. This is not the first time I have read a critique of this sort in regard to the intention of a documentary or street photographer. I cannot find them now, but I recall reading similar statements regarding certain photographs by Winogrand, Klein, Levitt, and Robert Capa. (Brehmer's example is quite mild compared to the critique which waxed rhapsodic over Capa's "intentional" timing in "Dying Spanish Soldier" and went so far as to liken the soldier's tenuous hand on the rifle to the hand of God reaching toward Adam on the Sistine Chapel: <a href="http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/08/17/arts/18capa-650a.jpg">http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/08/17/arts/18capa-650a.jpg</a> )</p> <p>I can see minute attention to detail, and much planning, in portraits and landscapes (or in some of Maier's found still lifes, cityscapes, and self portraits) but given the rapid decision making process often required in street and documentary photography, some critical claims for deeply seen intention in a given photograph strain credulity for me. In the case of Maier's photograph....maybe. Perhaps they were standing at a stoplight and she thought, "This woman looked so finely dressed from a distance, but look at that re-stitched ribbon! This will make a fine photograph." I think it far more likely that she found the woman's attire interesting and took the photograph on that basis alone. I don't know how much frayed ribbons and errant wisps of hair contributed to the decision to take this particular photograph.</p> <p>So the questions are: How great a level of detail do you think plays a role in the decision to take a photograph under rapidly changing conditions? (Whether Maier's photograph, or that of another photographer.) Do some critics give more credit to intention in such circumstances than is actually warranted? Are these truly apprehended in the moment, or discovered at leisure when viewing the print? Do you know of any similar examples by critics of other photographs with which you agree or disagree?</p> <p>I sometimes think it varies by photographer. Off the top of my head I would say someone like Maier (or Bresson) was much more intentional and formal in their approach than someone like Winogrand or Klein.</p> <p> </p> Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Create an account or sign in to comment
You need to be a member in order to leave a comment
Create an account
Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!Register a new account
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now