October 22, 2008
Licentiousness or ignorance
An Eastern Philosopher once said
"Intuition knows the whole, knowledge knows only fragments"
At a gallery opening In SoHo I overheard the featured artist say to a guest "There are no hard and fast rules in Fine Art Photography, it's all subjective" Well I beg to differ!
What if say, a photographer presents a collection of unrelated photographs in bright overly saturated
color 8 x 10's at a local McDonald's. Five years later the work is recreated as 16 x 22's in B&W with Archival Framing at say the Guggenheim in NYC, should it, could it, would it then be considered FAP? Yes I know it's never quite that simple. Yet it started me thinking about the Arts in general, The Visual Arts, and Fine Art Photograph (FAP) in particular and how they are reluctantly interrelated.
How does one judge, discern discern, or perceive when it's artistically OK, even necessary to break a photographic rule.
Discernment, does it come thru experience, intuition, thru the creation and processing of thousands of images? Fine Art is defined by Oxford in part as creative art, visual art, as "the convergence of popular culture and fine art", "imaginative skillful thought provoking" Ok well I get pop culture its MTV, Britney Spears, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Starbucks, Pro Wrestling, McDonalds, Nascar, Hanna Montana, The Simpsons, & Saturday Night Live. So I'll repose the question once again. If at a McDonald's someone displays a photograph is it then FAP? Well it fits part of Oxford's description. It's a "convergence of pop culture", being that it's displayed at a pop culture establishment & Hanna Montana Happy Meals are being dealt there. Maybe the photograph in question is a graphic portrayal of a space shuttle breaking thru the earth's atmosphere on reentry. This image depicted with bright graphic colored flames scorching the shuttles under belly along with eye popping colours that capture the imagination with it's rendering of space melding with the atmosphere. Surely this would be thought provoking to some, even provoking some kids to ask their parents what's that? Or, look at that mommy as they fiend eagerly while lying in wait for their Hanna Montana Happy Meals. Well might this be described as FAP? Although earlier that Artist in SoHo said FAP was subjective, so maybe it was his work being shown at McDonald's five years earlier. Although what if it's not subjective, then what are the objective guidelines, the rules? Can someone please email me a PDF of the FAP Guidelines since I seemed to have misplaced mine?
When is it artistically appropriate to center and image and throw that rule of thirds out the window? Are there some rules that just can't be broken?
When an image is displayed in colour does that prevent it from being FAP?
If it's displayed in B&W does that automatically define it as FAP?
Why is it that oil and watercolourist embrace colour while we seem to abhor it? I know they're different mediums so that's not really fair! But still?
Here are more Licentious thoughts on the issue.
I was recently listening to a podcast entitled "colour and the specific thing" in Lenswork Extended #78 Brooks Jensen boldly broached the issue of colour and B&W photography.
Here are some of his key points I focused in on. He spoke of colour photography as making a specific statement, as being particular, individual, specific, unique to its subject matter. He spoke of virtually all B&W as being "separated from the individual thing" he described B&W as being representative of a "universal statement"
I agree whole heartedly, especially since he included the word "virtually" which I of course choose to latch onto, and interpret as his acknowledgement that there are always exceptions be they B&W or colour. One of the ways colour imagery can transcend virtually all other colour photography and communicate a "universal statement" is by having only a hint or tint of colouring. An image that has been for arguments sake desaturated to say -75% as opposed to the -100% of a true B&W, I feel may often communicate the "universality of the human condition" as Mr. Jensen puts it. One might also argue that tinting a B&W Image is colouring it. Try desaturating a colour image to -75% and I'd argue the uniqueness, the specificity, the individuality of a visually balanced colour image will be decreased or ceased to exist. This desaturation brings us full circle to enabling a colour image to communicate a universal statement of truth just as virtually any tinted B&W can do. Desaturation of colour is virtually the same as tinting a B&W. Just as tinting a B&W is virtually the same as desaturating a colour image. So the way I see it colour and tinted B&W's are sort of fraternal twins. They both when created correctly communicate virtually the same "universal statement" although it is much more challenging but not impossible for colour imagery to do so.
Below is a colour image that I fell communicates a universal statement of truth as Mr. Jensen stated virtually all B&W's do. This image is able to communicate this message of universal truth due to its visual balance, even though its colour is not desaturated or tinted. It is the balance of the image that allows it to communicate to the viewer as virtually all B&W imagery does. Its balance is at the core of what enables it to communicate universal truth. Its contrasting matrix of lightness and darkness laid out across the entire image is what brings balance to the image. This balance nullifies the typical uniqueness or specificity that virtually all other colour images communicate. This images balance is also derived from the tree trunks weighing to the left, while the path and hillside weighs to the right. These two ways of balancing the image transcends B&W and colour. Thus enabling the image to communicate what Jensen referred to as a "universal statement of truth" as a virtual exception to its colour brethren.
Is The Zone System still relevant in this Hybrid Analog, and Digital World?
Yes I have heard of, studied, and apply the principals of the Zone system when I deem it applicable for my purposes in the photographic imagery I create. Yet how does one make artistic breakthroughs and still fit into that ever more restrictive corset called Fine Art Photography? How does one follow the rules, and then know when to break them and still be considered a Fine Art Photographer?
When Wynton Marsalis is leading the Lincoln Centers Jazz Orchestra at Lincoln Center, and playing "I loves you Porgy" he may play it in a more predictable, a slower tempo. Yet at a club on Bourbon Street the pace of the piece would probably be quicker, with numerous solos throughout. A photographer shooting Portraitures of the patrons and guest leaving the Lincoln Center Gig might for instance center their subjects and use excessive bokeh; while the same portraitures of patrons at the Bourbon Street performance might feature off centered subjects with little or no bokeh. Notice my use of the terms patronS, and giG in referring to lincoln Center, and performancE when referring to bourbon Street was that right? Is it wrong? Was, Is it all licentiousness or just plain ignorance on my part?
Most artists like women have periods in their lifetimes, biologically periods, and artistic periods of before, during, and after. Artists much like women mature into, thru, and beyond artistic periods that fluctuate greatly in their degrees of artistic fomenting, tangibility, intentionality, and productivity. As an artist, a person we progress thru an artistically formative period, during which we develop, and contemplate our artistic intention. In the Before Period we often intangibly, think artistically, but have as of yet to produce with artistic intent a work of art. Eventually we reach the During Period a more tangible productive phase where we intentionally produce tangible works of art. Finally in the After Period if we're fortunate enough and reach the end of our natural lives, we regress in our ability to produce tangible artistic works, this is not good or bad it just is. Matisse for example while wheelchair bound towards the end of his life continued to work as his ability to artistically produce tangible artistic works regressed. This regression, this ceasing of tangible artistic creation made him no less an artist. Matisse at this point epitomized an artist transitioning into this after phase of his natural, his artistic life. This after Period is often defined by a return to intangible artistic creation. Although unlike the Before Period artistic production is now intentional, in part due to the fact that intuitive-wisdom has matured. Even though the artist may no longer be capable of creating tangible art work, they are no less artists. This period can be bitter sweet, in that finding ways to artistically transition into this After Period can be a challenge. Mentoring, teaching, consulting are all ways of continuing tangible artistic endeavors if not creations. Since tangibility in the arts is relative, artistic intent less so.
No one understands completely what state of mind an artist occupies when they're creating a work of art. I believe that throughout our lifetimes our artistic abilities are enhanced through our life experiences, which allows for further acquisition of wisdom, and increased development of our intuition. Intuition and wisdom exist and interact in juxtaposition, and their development is intricately intertwined. Developing a passion in life, any passion be it art, a job, rearing a child, spiritual growth, the pursuit of knowledge academic or otherwise, etc; all allow for the progressive development of intuitive-wisdom in a more focused, a more intensive manner. This progressive development of intuitive-wisdom through passionate focus is one of the key catalysts that enable an artist to develop an enhanced level of artistic intuitive-wisdom.
Once enough intuitive-wisdom has been acquired as opposed to rote memorization which is often mistaken for knowledge, then an artist begins to further refine their ability to allow this intuitive-wisdom to guide them; through the fits and starts of a formative artistic period into a period of mindfully creating works of art. Often ones state of mind when creating art is similar to that of being in the Zone athletically. It's akin to driving to work and not remembering how you got there. This is part of what artist's taps into when producing works of art.
Although we may never know entirely what causes this state, this zone, or how it works or its affects inside of us, what we do know is some of how it effects those outside of us.
This zone, this state of mind is an example of the development or pursuit of ones passion in creating intuitive-wisdom, and then transferring it into other passions, for example parenting/motherhood.
"Parents the gardeners that till the soil, that nourish the plants that bear the fruit of predisposition which in turn acts as the spark for all human endeavors and relations" Starts here, with the work of these artists called mothers, these mothers, acting as artists. Their medium, their children, are created which the world later reaps the results of as members in our societies, or communities.
When a parent, in particular women dedicate their lives to juggling the unpaid job of raising their children and for most working a fulltime paid job on the side so to speak. They frequently blossom artistically or otherwise in whatever endeavor they so choose after their child rearing is no longer the primary focus of their lives. This child rearing experience is like a blacksmiths forge breaking them down and recreating them to be more pliable, more malleable, and stronger than ever. Only they get to decide what if anything they pursue after surviving this segment of the crucible called motherhood. Countless times the most illiterate uneducated mothers seem to just know when something is wrong with their child long before the most skilled and experienced doctors would. It's because their children become their passion in life, and so connected are they that they intuitively know when something isn't right or even intuitively sense something before it occurs to their child.
Give me most any mother at this point in her life and I'd put her up against most any childless recent BFA or MFA graduate. Their life experience is what enables them, to guide them, in mentoring, and or mothering these recent graduates, then colleagues either as independent artists or at the same job, in so many unquantifiable ways, it's these intangible skills that set them apart. People from all walks of life gain similar if not relative life experiences that are valuable and applicable in this acquisition of intangible intuitive-wisdom via these experiences that can be applied in any of life's endeavors.
All things being equal, practical experience almost always trumps theoretical or rote knowledge. It is the rare individual that can humble themselves if need be and learn from a less educated yet wiser elder, a secretary, a janitor. The knowledge gained from befriending them, treating them with respect, as colleagues, as elders, or dare I say mentors is priceless. Doing so allows us to glimpse at their acquired intangibles, these gems of practical knowledge, and nuggets of practical experience, acquired over many lifetimes. Really listening allows us to gleam some of why the often perceived intangibility of intuitive-wisdom can be invaluable, and especially so to an artist. This is one of the ways one gains by leaps and bounds in their acquisition not of knowledge but of intuitive-wisdom.
Often as artists we artistically render the seemingly mundane, which assists the rest of the world in viewing their world in a more artistic light. Being in touch with our intuitive-wisdom is part of what allows us to do so. Becoming aware and appreciative of such an intangible in a world that routinely discards and discourages its value and development for the tangible, the quantitative is an artistic value.
Well as I've stated previously one of the hard and fast rules of Fine Art Photography seems to be producing your finished image in B&W. It seems to be one of the not so subtle "Gold Standards" of FAP. Another amendment to the rule book in 2008 might be considered for lack of a better term "Shooting Old School" that is using a Medium or Large Format Camera.
Producing your own large format prints. Another, faux colouring is permissible when applied with discretion, but it must be referred to as tinting. I often wonder how many photographers today tint their images so that they and not CS or the printer dictates the tint on a B&W Image. These are just some of recondite rules in that FAP Rules Booklet.
Well here is an essential ingredient of thought that is required in the creation of my vision of our FAP Pot of Soup. It's something I let simmer till it's reached full fomentation in my minds pot when thinking of B&W and or Colour Photography. It is an artistic statement I look back on as a key and reoccurring theme in the development of a past Fine Art Masters thinking, his writings. This timeless artistic perspective in no way started when artists began to put thoughts to pen. Yet when it did reach paper it had a profound effect on the writer's artistic contemporaries like Emile Bernard, Degas, Cezanne, Monet, and most of all his "Yellow House" Housemate Van Gogh influencing them either directly or indirectly.
Gauguin once wrote
"They will not ask the correct tone of the mountains, but they will say: In the name of god, the mountains were blue, were they? Then chuck on some blue and don't go telling me that it was a blue rather like this or that, it was blue, wasn't it? Good - make them blue and it's enough"
I wonder what he might have been able to do in Photoshop today.
So could FAP have come full circle from B&W to Colour without acknowledging it, without realizing it? FAP at its inception came to fruition as an art, as a B&W medium, due mostly to the fact that technology was limiting our photographs to B&W. Then technology allowed us to create colour images. So why would not we move forward, progress, evolve, come full circle and embrace our colour as an equal, a peer to B&W as had FAPs forefathers in Fine Art, in Oil, on canvas. Our Fine Art Contemporaries had before us avoided segregating themselves to the degree we did, do, and most likely will continue if only for a little while longer. The rest of the Visual Arts World is not so prejudiced by our apartheid like view of artists, of Photographic Works of Art. A work in oil, is oil regardless of it's time period designation. It may be labeled impressionists, Pointillists, Realists, etc yet it's still respected as an oil. Yet we are still stuck in a pre civil rights, pre adolescent mentality of artistic divisiveness and rarely play on the Artistic Photographic Playground as the family we are. So swings are for Coloreds Only, B&W's act as playground monitors upon the carousels, film the Jungle Jim, and digital well there made to endlessly try to climb up the slides so as to peer into dark rooms at the tops of the slides. Meanwhile CS is only allowed on the playground after dark, to assist those of us with bruised underexposures or knees whose highlights have been clipped. Still all at least sneak a peek at Photoshop's seemingly mystical workings if only from afar.
My licentious or ignorance then brings me to naively ponder why those in the FAP World don't collaboratively show their works in a more inclusively manner with others in the Visual Arts Community. I believe this exclusiveness often intimidates, even alienates many if not most in the public. A sculptor is a sculptor is a sculptor; their choice of medium is beside the point. A gallery or museum showing bronze sculptures will often show sculpture in many other mediums alongside one another. In fact an individual artist's work in many mediums may be displayed as a body of work so that one might better understand their process their artistic development. So you might see a display of Da Vinchi's drawings, sculptures and then winged contraptions all in one display. How often do we see say Ansel Adams B&W Landscapes displayed alongside his color imagery?
Looking at FAP as a recent addition to the Visual Arts segment of the Fine Arts World, why not more routinely incorporate FAP in the display of a multitude of visual Arts. As a retrospect of how different Visual Art Forms interpret the same subject matter. Even if only incorporating three or four visual arts. This would better integrate and promote our FAP World as being a more integral segment of the Visual Arts World in general. Yes I know this sort of thing has been done but I believe it to be the exception rather than the rule. So we might look at other Fine Arts and look to them as examples of how we might promote and improve our art, our artists, and the public perception and appreciation of all Arts in general. One only need look to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio to see this type of collaboration of genres, formats, and styles in play. Well I'd guess some might say that isn't Fine Art, well what if one called it Contemporary Art?
Recently contemporaries of Classical and Jazz Music have more frequently studied, and collaborated together. In the summer of 2008 Willie Nelson and Branford Marsalis collaborated together on an album, who would have thought. We as Fine Art Photographers could learn from this, yet we often resist this public display of cooperative juxtaposition of FAP with other forms of photography or visual arts. If we in the FAP World don't soon have similar collaborative epiphany's we may soon go the way of the Silent Movie, remember Charlie Chaplin. I love this art, this art called FAP, but it must continue to evolve. Allow more like inclusiveness as opposed to being exclusive of other like visual arts even graphic artist, cartoonist, anyone wincing out there. Yes there are some articles written and small niche examples of this type of collaborative work being done.
Although still overall our collaborative interactions alongside other visual arts endeavors in the Fine Art World are pretty much none existent. Is Gordon Parks a Fine Art Photographer? Andy Warhol? Man Ray? How about Leonard Nemoy's recent work of nude rubenesque woman, was it FAP? Or was it his portrayal of Spock that got him shelf space at Barnes & Noble and Borders, how and who decides.
Looking thru FAP's Viewfinder it's becoming increasingly distorted by the visual effects of msg from a Chinese takeout container labeled photographic artistic elitism(use in moderation) This makes it almost impossible to focus on the issues at hand with even a contemporary perspective, but wait our perspective no matter how distorted is still today a contemporary one. Adding more B&W Pixels to a full frame, or even medium format sensor is simply a practice in futility. Just as stopping down a lens will eventually bring diminishing returns. Sometimes looking for the first time with a clean viewfinder allows for clearer insight when surveying the FAP Landscape. Tilting & shifting may change the perspective but the resulting barrel distortion and vignetting may again prevent us from resolving our issues. So what are our issues?
The build and resolve of a lens may be brick like, but this brick like mentality may not give us the DOF we require to see the issues with clarity, if the FAP Body it's attached to is stuck in an F/64 Group mentality while the lens is stuck on f/32. These issues that blur the world of FAP for the public at large need to be addressed with tact sharpness. So that someday in the future solutions may be formulated that will limit the chromatic aberrations that distort and discolor the public view of FAP. This folks is my two cents, and I hope I haven't rendered it as a landscape with the foreground under exposed and the sky blown out. In short more of us need to learn to work with the new digital bodies while attached to our old manual primes; while those new to photography in general must learn to work in fully manual mode and take a class in the darkroom. Although this might not keep the dust off the sensors or stabilize the lens blur completely, it would go a long way in resolving our issues.
"Fine Art Photography was sown in a B&W Darkroom; it is now refining the processing of Raw Digitized Colour. Soon we must germinate in the soil of the more mature, the more viable art forms, or lay dormant or dead under a field of lost arts. "
Writing on FAP is akin to a grandparent embracing a grandchild on holiday, and being awed and amazed by their grandchild's progression out of infancy into childhood, I too am awed by the evolution of FAP. Only I know we must observe, emulate, and learn from all the other Visual Arts mothers and children's interactions on the Fine Arts Playground. We must begin to emulate the intuitive-wisdom our Fine Art Elders demonstrate in their interactive collaborations or cease to be a part of this Fine Art Community.