September 17, 2016
Most of the photography curators are dead or, at least, retired. They were the people with a deeply studied perspective on photography, its history, its traditions, and its possibilities. They could look at a photograph and know how to read it, or they would figure it out. In this, the curators were not alone. Viewers at large were capable , even eager to study a photograph and satisfy themselves as to why the photo existed, be it for emotional, informative, or esthetic reasons.
All that seems to have changed. Today’s curators are too young to have experience with photographic traditions and too accustomed to mass media and marketing to take the time to read a photograph. To a person, these youthful gatekeepers are not interested in photographs but in story. Stories of disaster, injustice, or deep seated traumas, be it the subject’s or the photographer’s. Without that accompanying story, these people are lost, and so is the path from creation to public attention.
I came up in a tradition of getting it right or doing it over untl it worked. Doing it right meant no explanation was necessary. Requiring explanation was failure. To me, explanation is synonomous to apology, as in, “this isn’t my best work, but…” I also learned about levels of abstraction. The thing is concrete; a picture is abstract, and words are more abstract. Why, therefore, would I want to explain a photograph with words? To quote Milan Kundera,
“What is essential in a [work] is precisely what can only be expressed in that [piece of work], and so every adaptation contains nothing but the non-essential.”
July 10, 2016
On one hand, I just make photos, with no regard for external issues of definition, specialization, or potential use. On the other, I walk a thin line between documentary and art. I shoot what I see, making tiny abstractions of some huge picture of humanity.
I don’t try to tell the truth with my photos, anymore than I try not to. The camera records what’s in front of it, and except for serving my sense of esthetics with a bit of dodging and burning in the lab, what you get is what I saw. My supposition is that when all my best photos are gathered together, they will provide a view of the human condition.
I’m struck by the notion that if I arrange my photos for exhibition, based on a particular community, the work is seen as documentary, but if I gather pictures of certain things, say automobiles, and line them up on the wall, that would be art.
August 15, 2015
Is this PC?
Barefoot in the Kitchen
August 10, 2015
In response to an article by David Schonauer, http://tinyurl.com/nruedfn, raising questions about “street photography,” this subject has bugged me for awhile. It seems the term, “street photography” was coined by art critics and gallerists, who misapplied it to the photographic act in an attempt to define all photography done outside the studio.
Pinpointing what aspect of the term bothers me has been difficult. One possibility is the trouble with definitions. They are labels that become definitions that become rallying flags for trends and false movements. Street photography – really? Of course photographers spend time on the streets. Unless we’re on the oceans, savannas, or tundras, we get around on the street, and we make photographs where we are.
I made photographs 3 years in a row in the Arctic. Does that make me an Arctic photographer, therefore creating an entire genre of photography? I worked for several years on an Indian reservation. OK, reservation photography. Should I go on? Nah.
Photography is, by far, the best medium for capturing the moment, or the fraction of a second. It captures the combination of shape, position, and light in a selected area at a specific moment. (I’ll use this statement in other articles.) That’s why the medium was invented, and that’s what it does. It is, therefore, just, that we use photography for that very purpose. It’s like using a chair to sit in or a pen to write with.
Probably, the most difficult kind of photograph to make is the one involving rapidly changing position. It also provides the greatest opportunity for just the right shot. It is not surprising, or even remarkable, then, that photographers would spend their time in situations where people are moving around in relation to each other and to fixed objects. Maybe we should define pens as paper pens.
July 25, 2015
March 13, 2015
I saw this combination of patterns as a triple word score.
11 x 16.5 in.
March 5, 2015
Prompted by recent discussion by photojournalists intent on maintaining their credibility, their identity, and their jobs:
Language and ideas are closely aligned. When a high profile group or person appropriates a word and redefines it, that action can have major impact on both the language and public perception. “Journalism” has been adopted by the media to define the activity it’s involved in and the resulting product. It follows that a journalist is a practitioner of journalism. The adoption of these terms then means that a person keeping a journal has no definitive moniker.
The current discussion about the practices of photojournalism attempts to include documentary photography and apply the same rules necessary to news photography. The caveat here is that many documentary photographers are not news photographers. Often, these documentarians make photographs as a way of keeping a journal, but that journal is for their own use, not to inform the public.
“A picture is not the same as the actual thing,” to quote Gary Winogrand, one of the greatest documentary photographers ever. Winogrand’s work was included with that of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander in an exhibition, called New Documents, at the Museum of Modern Art. The implication was that documentary photography was just as easily celebratory of the world as it was indicting or even exposing. Perhaps a better word for certain types of photojournalism would be “exposition.”
Other documentary photographers include W. Eugene Smith, Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, and Anders Petersen. Their work is different from each other’s, but there is little doubt that it is all documentary and none of it can be impugned, even though a great amount of work is done in the darkroom. Smith said 90% of photography is done in the darkroom, Robert Frank recropped pictures for later editions of The Americans, and Anders Petersen’s work is heavily burned and dodged.
Why does any of this matter? Public perception. If there is confusion in the terminology, there is confusion of ideas. How about “photoshop?” Do you? Right. And then there’s “post process.” First you take the photo, then you process it. Is post processing when you hang it on the wall?
Let’s be careful out there.
Michael A. Shapiro
March 1, 2015
The following photos were all taken during a week of riding the ferries between the Fauntleroy dock in West Seattle and the north end of Vashon Island. For some, this is a daily commute that allows a transition to and decompression from hectic days in the city. All photos available as prints: 11×16.5 in.
February 1, 2015
Entropy: I’m not certain which direction this series goes, so look first to last and last to first.
Images belong to both Urban Journal and Touch of Humanity.
November 18, 2014
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Temple Bar, Dublin, 2014