Oct 282009
 

These are tools of my father. My father was a master carpenter and entrepreneur, though his business never got even mid-sized. In a way he was – and still is – always the working man.

It is years ago that I took this image. Just look at the file name or the URL: mid-August 2006! That’s before I began this blog.

I’m still here in Carinthia, beautiful autumn days outside, the trees in their most glorious colors, I confined to the apartment, sick of being sick. Well, not much longer. But of course I was not outside yesterday, thus the archive image.

For no particular reason I began looking for an image from the beginning, browsing my early D200 images in chronological order and … they suck. They really do. Most of them do. No that’s not really differentiating, most of my images still suck, but on any given day, I can be sure that I will have a workable image.

Not so then. Oh my! Not only did my images suck, I made so few of them! I didn’t even properly try to make them not suck.

I can best see it in framing. Today when I frame an image, I normally know what I do. I attempt a certain effect, and this is so pronounced, that even after a long time, even if I don’t remember the exact incident, I can immediately see why I framed the image as it is, I understand what I wanted to achieve, even when the image was ultimately a failure. They are my images and I understand my images.

It’s not that I don’t recognize my early images, sure I do, but so very often I recognize them through the locations. I know the places, I can remember many of the incidents, but what I don’t recognize is the style.

Style? Huh?? Bold word for someone denying having one!

Indeed. Uhhh … well … there’s not only black and white, there are shades in between. I am slowly accepting the idea of style being more than a marketing instrument. I am still convinced that much of what goes as “style” is nothing but self-inflicted artistic petrification, annihilation of creativity from fear of changing from a formula that has been found to sell.

There is a deeper meaning though. While the word style is commonly understood as a characteristic of a particular artist’s work, that can be recognized by the recipient, even without knowing the artist, i.e. understood as a distinguishable property of the work, there is merit in looking at style from the artist’s perspective. Here, style is not a result, it is a process, and ultimately it is a way of thinking, a way of analyzing the world. I may frequently change tools, change between color and b&w, change between realistic post-processing and Photoshop plugins like Alien Skin Snap Art, I may do that from one image to the next, may do it within one post and change back with the next, but I change my way of thinking, of analyzing the world, only very slowly, and only due to an ever ongoing learning process.

This is what I mean when I say I don’t recognize my style in these old images. When I see them, frankly, I have no idea what I thought then. There is not much continuity with what I do now. The images could as well have been taken by someone else.

It’s pretty interesting to see how it all began and where the roots are of how I work today. I have not gone back to the early 5 megapixal Kodak images, I guess I should view them systematically as well, but I guess it won’t make much of a difference. What finally made a difference, was when I bought my second SLR lens.

My first lens was a Nikon 18-200 VR, and when I bought the D200, this long range was actually a step back from the even longer range of the Kodak. I was just used to zooming and to the universal availability of all focal lengths.

My second lens was a Sigma 30/1.4, my first prime, and though I can’t remember why exactly I bought a prime at all, I suppose it was the “myth of primes”, it immediately made a difference. Constricted to a frame of a certain size, I began to compose. Not being able to zoom, made me work harder, think deeper, and from that time on I see images that I can identify with. These are images that I have put thoughts into, and the ways of those thoughts are still traceable for me.

Now, what can be learned of all that? Two things:

Productivity may not be the only key to improvement, but it helps a lot. My productivity increased tremendously, when I began to publish a daily photoblog. If you want to get better, there is no better thing than practice, and the rigid discipline of a daily blog is keeping you practicing more than you otherwise would. It’s not as intense as doing it as a job, but it leaves you more freedom to explore.

The second thing is: the “myth of primes” exists for a reason. Restrictions make you work harder, and that improves your work as well.

The Song of the Day is “The Working Man” from the 1968 self-titled Creedence Clearwater Revival debut album. Hear it on YouTube.

Aug 152008
 

It’s Pretty, but is it Art?” Paul Butzi recently asked on his blog, quoting from an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article is about Dale Chihuly, his art glass and about why the exhibition “Chihuly at the de Young” is inappropriate.

One of the more offensive arguments is that

The word most commonly used by Chihuly-fanciers to describe the works is “beautiful,” a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists.

Paul strongly disagrees, so do I, and on that grounds we could forget the nonsense, but on the other hand it is maybe a good opportunity to reflect a little about three different notions of art:

Art as in “what artists do” is a process of interacting with reality, a process of discovery that is by necessity explorative, experimental, iterative and dynamic. The artifacts may be beautiful to the uninvolved observer or they may be not, and that really is not the question. The question is, whether they connect to the viewers, make them think, make them ask questions, make them dream, involve them in any way. If so, then art is successful. Beauty is a way to that end, but definitely not the only legitimate. I think from the presence or the absence of beauty alone, nothing can be concluded. If it works or if not, that is a guts feeling and it is individual. This is what I feel is True Art.

The second notion, art as an object of trade, has a severe problem with a couple of those properties that I have claimed for true art. The dynamics of exploration tend to produce unpredictable results. Gold is not dynamic, neither are diamonds and, thank God, neither is Van Gogh. That’s the reason why the art market loves two kinds of artists: dead artists and those who are Good as Dead.

A dead artist can’t ever produce anything again, and that keeps prices high and supply restricted. Like big diamonds, huhh?? A dead artist can’t ever say or do anything that decreases his value. Compare this to Steven Demetre Georgiou aka Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam. Someone held a record contract with him and that contract lost value with his turn to Islam, and it again lost value with the partial quotings after 9/11. OK, that is a popular musician, but the point is, no way this could happen with Monet, Picasso, Dalì or Adams.

The other kind of artists is those who are Good as Dead. They don’t change. They behave. At some point of their career they have “found their style”, as the euphemism goes, and now they stick to that, risk nothing, make a living of producing the ever same things in the ever same ways and in restricted quantities.

This is not living art, it is dead art. Most of these things had value at their time, some keep their value, but the artists have ceased to contribute anything original, new or meaningful. It’s repetition for the sake of the market.

Finally we have a third notion of art, and that is the trivialized conception of a de-sensibilized public opinion. Here we mostly find the equation “Art = Beauty”.

The general public does not care much about the process of art, but they do care about emotions. Their emotions. They do feel when they get involved, and beauty is a powerful means to that. So are ugliness and fear, but because the public does not care about the deeper aspects of art, they see it as something pleasurable to be consumed. Only beauty can easily fulfill that role, and thus the equation.

The article about Chihuly is from the elitist perspective of the art marketeer, and it is arrogant and silly, especially the quote about beauty. It’s especially stupid, because art was never only beautiful, even less so before the impressionists. Art was about power, about devotion, about passion, just as True Art is today. What does he mean by “a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists” anyway? Does he see the Impressionists as the last who had a right to claim beauty? Oh dear, they were about truth, not beauty. Some of their images just happen to be beautiful, that’s all.

Now what about Chihuly, you may ask. I didn’t know him before I was pointed to him by Paul’s post. What I see on his site certainly does not particularly involve me, and from my guts I would put him into the category of artists who know how to make a living by virtue of their style. At the end of the day there may be a case against Dale Chihuly’s art, but a plump attack on beauty is certainly the wrong way.

The Song of the Day is “Only Pretty, What A Pity” from the 1968 Lovin’ Spoonful album “Everything Playing“. No lyrics, no video. Sorry.

Oct 122007
 

Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer has written two interesting articles (here and here) about photographic style, especially in a digital age. I have commented on the second, basically saying that a distinct style may be helpful for being commercially successful, but that this is mostly due to the fact that art buyers buy art just like they buy soft drinks: they buy brands. In the art market style and brand could be used almost interchangeably.

On the other hand, for the artist, adhering to a strict style for the rest of one’s career basically means petrification. It is certainly prudent from an accountant’s point of view (why taking risks once you have found something that sells?), but this kind of art is not art any more. It is reproduction, without joy and passion, it becomes a job. In other words: Style is for the dead.

This image is made in the style of another Image of the Day, “153 – Passage“. Sigma 30/1.4 at f8, shot yesterday morning, post-processed in Photoshop using two versions from RAW with different color temperatures.

The Song of the Day is “Style” from De-Phazz’s 2002 album “Daily Lama“. Hear a sound sample here.