I am writing this in an apartment overlooking lovely Lake Ohrid near the Macedonia/ Albania border. We were here for just two days, but already my wife and I fell in love with the region and made declarations that we’d love to retire here. Then we met a Macedonian/ American couple in the next apartment who said similar things but actually were in the process of retiring. I did a quick video of the adventure so far:
On the bus ride to Ohrid I read a bit of former Lenswork contributor Bill Jay’s essay collections on my Kindle, and while processing images on the apartment balcony I was engrossed in Wikipedia entries on Croation Nazi collaborators during WW2. The particular Bill Jay essay I read involved him slamming the quality of contemporary photography- apparently a common theme for anyone married to a particularly “classic” aesthetic. Bill was dismissive of entire genres of photography such as anything taken on a plastic camera, and I’m aware of enough people with similar attitudes (and been dismissive of certain things myself) that I thought it worth refuting the notion in a series of statements.
Ansel Adams started out as a “fuzzy wuzzy” photographer. He may never had developed into what we know of him today without that early dreamy work.
Different things excite different people’s creativity and there is no “one size fits all.” If people are engaged with photography in any way then it’s a plus for the art form.
Different kinds of pictures can be taken with these different tools. For example, you aren’t going to get any photos in a mall or grocery store or concert or other exclusive areas if you aren’t using a cell phone. Much of our life takes place in these exclusive areas.
Not all photos are destined as art pieces, so why treat them as such? And how do you know at the time you’re making art?
History makes snapshots into art. The “boring” family photos become indicators of time, space, lifestyle and human relationships.
The best, most emotional and immediate photos I took of my children yesterday were the couple Fuji Instax Mini shots, put up against dozens of “big boy” 16 mp camera images I took of them.
Conversely, the best images I took yesterday of landscape, objects, and other people were all done with that “big boy” camera.
Part of the job of a critic is to go negative, but I find myself questioning the value of negativity in art critique. Art most certainly does not have a “right way” of providing answers, like math does, and the criteria of evaluating the worth of something has never been written in stone. The worth of art may be monetary, it may be personal, it may be formal, it may be historical, and that’s a lovely thing.
Its appeal may be temporary, like a movie you loved as a kid but see the flaws of as an adult, or it may be lifelong, because the work speaks to you at all your ages.
Beyond all the above… there’s a lot of art that needs context to communicate. The portrait images of Taryn Simon won’t communicate much unless you read the card indicating that these people may be surviving relatives of Saddam Hussein, for example. There are many ways we have to approach understanding the work, and if no effort is made on the part of the viewer, that’s not the art-maker’s fault.
These are my thoughts in this Ohrid apartment as the sun rises over the lake. I’m turning 37 this year and making every effort to avoid negativity in my life- not complaining, not spending days bemoaning what isn’t, not fixating on death and war and the problems of mankind that are beyond my control, and not writing about art I don’t like. Negativity is only useful if it motivates us to not be negative.