Susan Sontag wrote:

July 24, 2006

From “On Photography” by Susan Sontag

Tall rise in the night

“Recently, photography has become almost as widely practised an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.”

I happen to be a big fan of Susan Sontag’s writings.

I don’t know about sex and dancing – nor about anxiety defenses or tools of power (maybe Susan got a bit carried away here). But I do believe photography is – on the amateur level – simply a social rite. Snap this, snap that and most of it, thankfully, ends up wherever nothing is ever seen again. The rite has been executed and that’s that. No need to go further.

You may think Susan’s statements referred to the “digital revolution” which encourages the endless shooting of undeserving targets, by amateurs and pros alike. You are wrong about that.

Susan wrote those words in 1977, just about when the cheap point-and-shoot FILM camera had its heydays. At the time, this was a “revolution”. Going back even further, not many are alive to remember the Kodak Box FILM camera – now, that was a photography revolution. It essentially marked the start of consumer photography.

Get my point? Photography, like everything else, is going through constant “revolutions”. They generally mean little or anything to the art form but does seem to encourage the casual consumer’s snap shooting as prices fall.

But Art remains Art. No matter what the tool is. And Art has nothing to do with the nonsense above.

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My shiny new Blog

July 22, 2006

Well, we all have to move on in life. It seems, for good reasons, that blogging and RSS feeds are sound ways to expand one’s web offerings. The so called Web 2.0 showsPillows great potential in its attempt to establish communities of like minded people. So here we are – jumping into shallow water head first. Actually, not really – this stuff isn’t all that new anymore.

The blog will concentrate on art and artist issues and related opinions, thoughts and feelings. It won’t explain what I had for breakfast, nor who is my hot date for tonight (hah – I must be delusional). The intended audience is art lovers, perhaps with an interest in photography. I’ll try to be somewhat entertaining and hopefully a bit controversial. Given my employment history and clothing habits, controversial might be the easy part.

Let’s be clear about this. I have no idea why you’d like to read anything I write (or even say), nor why you’d care about my thoughts. Most of my ideas bore even myself. I’m at best an mediocre writer. But I do have one item in favor. I am an artist. I know what it means to be an artist. I have paid my dues when I did not have to. I’m still paying the price and, believe me, it’s a heavy toll, emotionally and financially. But it sure has its rewards too. Sometimes. I think. People claim.

I also have an unfortunate trait of ethics and honesty, both of which land me in frequent trouble. However, I’m old enough to not really care any more. So I’m sure this will be reflected in my blog as it is in my photography and multimedia productions. In fact, it is probably the major factors in my favor as an artist.

Slate about Lorraine Lieberson:

“There was an almost incredible urgency whenever Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang. The emotions behind the music were always at the surface, on display for all to see and hear. She knew where she was coming from, and she made sure that you knew, too. The American mezzo-soprano, 52, died Monday in Santa Fe, N.M., from what was likely the recurrence of breast cancer, which she had fought off more than six years ago.

Critics did somersaults over the lustrous timbre of Hunt Lieberson’s Play Mediavoice, which was penetrating, clear, and without the husky padding of some mezzos. But both they and audiences responded to the naked honesty that she communicated about the music she sang. She would occasionally appear to double over in pain in her performances, but it never felt like an attention-grabbing, heart-on-sleeve gambit. It was, instead, the final piece of her artistic puzzle sliding into place, making the emotion of the composer’s music seen as well as heard.”

(Source Slate, July 7 2006)

My comment:

It’s probably hard for a non-artist person to understand what a true artist goes through. Being an artist means revealing everything, holding nothing back, being totally honest and facing the consequences, mostly rejection or at least criticism. A blessed few survive this onslaught, become famous and might even make money. Perhaps a few critics have kind things to say once in a while.

Two things struck me about the quote above: First, it is an excellent piece of prose about what it means being an artist. Second, hats off for Marc Geelhoed (the author) for knowing what he is writing about.

Here is one set of definitions of documentary photography:

The Poetic Mode (‘reassembling fragments of the world’, a transformation of historical material into a more abstract, lyrical form, usually associated with 1920s and modernist ideas)
The Expository Mode
(‘direct address’, social issues assembled into an argumentative frame, mediated by a voice-of-God narration, associated with 1920s-1930s, and some of the rhetoric and polemic surrounding WW2)
The Observational Mode
(as technology advanced by the 1960s and cameras became smaller and lighter, able to document life in a less intrusive manner, there is less control required over lighting etc, leaving the social actors free to act and the documentaries free to record without interacting with each other)
The Participatory Mode
(the encounter between film-maker and subject is recorded, as the film-maker actively engages with the situation they are documenting, asking questions of their subjects, sharing experiences with them. Heavily reliant on the honesty of witnesses)
The Reflexive Mode (demonstrates consciousness of the process of reading documentary, and engages actively with the issues of realism and representation, acknowledging the presence of the viewer and the modality judgments they arrive at. Corresponds to critical theory of the 1980s)
The Per formative Mode (acknowledges the emotional and subjective aspects of documentary, and presents ideas as part of a context, having different meanings for different people, often autobiographical in nature) (Source mediaknowall.com)

Here is another documentary view:

Documentary photography is, by definition, the origin of all photographic movements. Photographers in the nineteenth century attempted to create documents of their reality: straightforward images of the people, places, and things that existed all around them.
Since then, Documentary photography has evolved to include a range of styles and subjects, from images of people on the streets, inside their homes, and within specific environments, to images of animals in their natural habitats, and photos of historical events. Documentary photography is a broad category that has the power to touch viewers by allowing them to find links of similarity between their lives and the lives of others, and by awakening them to realities they might not otherwise have known.
While Documentary photography lacks the precise calculation that frequently renders other art less accessible to the average eye, it does reflect the photographer’s interpretation. What a successful Documentary photograph necessarily possesses therefore, is a certain nuance that draws our interest and that captures our attention. Perhaps it is the angle of the camera, the point of view from which the shot is taken, or the lighting in which the image is shot. These are all factors that can create either an emotionally distancing picture or one with a more sympathetic tone. (Source: artandculture.com)

And a third definition, this time of an “essay”:

An essay is a short work that treats a topic from an author’s personal point of view, often taking into account subjective experiences and personal reflections upon them. Essays are usually brief works in pros, but works in verse are sometimes dubbed essays (e.g. Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism (1711) and An Essay on Man (1733-1734). Many voluminous and famous works refer to themselves as essays (e.g. John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)).
Virtually anything may be the subject of an essay. Topics may include actual happenings, issues of human life, morality, ethics, religion and many others. An essay is, by definition, a work of non-fiction, and is often expository. (Source: wikipedia.com)

So let’s sort this out

Here are the relevant parts (slightly edited) from the above – as seen by us:

The Poetic Mode: reassembling fragments of the world, a transformation of historical material into a more abstract, lyrical form.
The Per formative Mode: acknowledges the emotional and subjective aspects of documentary, and presents ideas as part of a context, having different meanings for different people, often autobiographical in nature.
Documentary photography: a broad category that has the power to touch viewers by allowing them to find links of similarity between their lives and the lives of others, and by awakening them to realities they might not otherwise have known.
A Documentary photograph: possesses a certain nuance that draws our interest and that captures our attention.
An Essay: a topic seen from an artist’s personal point of view, often taking into account his/her personal reflections upon them.

That pretty much sums up how we approach documentary or essay projects. Note it does not mention specific subjects, objectivity or even the journalistic view of “accuracy” or “what, when, where, how, why “. Those are not key elements to us. What is missing, though, is the critical element of absolute honesty that we require.
Neither does it mention any particular technology – as it should not. In our particular case, we strive to combine all relevant technologies – often resulting in a cross breed of still photography, video or even motion film styles and music. We are still photographers first and multimedia artists second. Music is a fundamental part of our palette. We very much strive for emotional content and mood. We tend to generalize rather than drilling down. We use microcosms to symbolize a larger context.
Nor is “technical excellence” mentioned. Our view of technical excellence is simply the ability to communicate accurately the intention/goal of the project. It is not about camera formats, f-stops, depth-of-field, focus, frame rates, zone systems or any other conventional measures of “quality”. Those things are just tools – highly relevant but not a guarantee of a good photo. We do focus on compositional elements and the wonders of light to create images with the desired impact.

Welcome!

July 18, 2006

We are professional freelance digital and film photographers and designers. We do high impact, fineKarl art documentaries and essays, based on honesty, emotion and passion.

We often combine our images with other media – especially music – into powerful multimedia presentations.

n this blog, we’ll share and discuss our view on photography, documentaries and multimedia trends and what life as an artist is all about.

Occationally, we might discuss web design from an artist standpoint. We hope it will be interesting, fun and, perhaps, controversial. Discussion is always welcome.

So please check back, subscribe, pass on, leave a comment or whatever!

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