Thursday, February 11, 2016
Fine Art Photography — A Personal View (Part 2)
Following on from this post...
(If you haven't read that post what follows may sound obscure, since it implicitly refers to things I've mentioned in there.)
One of the subtexts—sometimes made explicit—in most definitions of 'fine art' and especially 'fine art photography' is intentionality on the part of the photographer-as-artist. Meaning that when the photo is created there is an intention, whether the artist knows it or not, to create a work that conveys some vision, meaning, subtext, message, whatever. The intent may range from capturing the beauty—bright or dark, for there are so many shades and colors!—of a landscape or a nude woman, to wanting to lay bare human suffering in the world. And everything in between and outside that; the potential scope is too vast to outline it in a few words.
But intentionality is always assumed to be involved, conscious or unconscious.
Let's restrict our discussion here to photographers, even though it extends to all 'artists' with some fairly small changes to the text.
Question: If you take a photo and then process it—maybe just a few tweaks; or maybe some major 'adjustments; or maybe major extra work, with additions of non-photographic image components—at what stage does the original photo become 'fine art'? When it's taken? When it's processed? When it becomes a component in what could be a larger work? And in that case, is the photo itself still a 'fine art' thing, or is the real potential 'fine art' object the one the photo becomes a part of?
Here's an example of what I mean—relevant to something I'm doing right now—and, though 'illustration' and 'cover art' is often dismissed as not worthy of being labeled 'fine art', the basic argument stands.
So, I took this photo of a man, standing against a wall with a sword in his hand.* The intention of this shot was to represent a man standing in front of the open door of a futuristic landing craft, which was discovered underneath an old building in a city on a planet that exists only in my imagination—plus a bunch of novels I wrote about it.
Maybe in this day and age, where bad 'art' is rampant, I could pass this photo off as deliberate 'art' with some pretentious claptrap , with weirdo meta-meanings—I don't know, maybe call it "Warrior without a Foe" or "Warrior without a Purpose" or something or other—and alter it to look like it was meant as anything more than it really was. Like this maybe?
Monochromic something instantly add an 'arty' element. I also removed the distracting elements at the bottom in what one might think of as a 'rising darkness' slowly enveloping him from below and presumably eventually swallowing him.
Plus what you don't know is that this picture is actually a crop of the original, with a rule-of-thirds applied to the model's head.
You know, I'm thinking of working on these pose images a bit—there are more with different positions and weapons against the same background—and see if I can fob them off as 'fine art photography'. I mean, why not? So many people do it; and most of it is at best 'average' and at worst just plain crap.
I spent about 20 minutes on cropping, mono-chroming and making some pretend-fine-art-photography out of this picture. Does that convert it from a mediocre model shot to something arty? I mean, all I wanted was a model for this:
My conclusion, cynical as it may sound—but therefore not necessarily incorrect—is that what you can pass of as 'fine art photography' is a question of marketing. Fashion. Culture. Zeitgeist. Same as applies to all 'art'.
All terminology after all is a matter of context and dates. Plus, when it comes to 'art', the tastes—or lack thereof—and gullibility of those willing to pay for it are major factors.
There are many, many really good and completely 'unrecognized' artists out there. For many of them, the lack of recognition is partially their own doing. If you don't put your art 'out there', who's going to know it exists, among the torrents of artistic products in all sorts of domains flooding the internet and clamoring for the attention? And then you wonder why you look at some of what's promoted as 'art', and it's like W–T–F–??
And then there's this, of course.
If it looks like I'm giving up on the 'fine art photography' thing...well, I am. I don't have much time for labels anyway, even though the marketplace thrives on them. You've got to pigeonhole your work somehow, no matter how galling that is.
So, what to do about it?
Way I see it, just go about your business and produce images that you like, are proud of, would hang on your wall or display without embarrassment in a public space. Then see what people label it as—because label it they will!—and just go with that. Go with the flow. If your work is good—on whatever level—there'll be people who love it; and sure as night following day, there will be those that dismiss/hate/trash it. If both, positive and negative, reactions are forthcoming, you know you've created something worthwhile—and not just in your own space, but 'out' in the world at large.
And, yes, you do need the haters. If everybody loves your stuff, there's something wrong with it, because it doesn't go deep enough. Anything that goes deep enough—sneaks in under their guard without them being able to stop it—will piss off somebody. The worst you could possibly face is benign "like"s—á la Facebook—or indifference.
Do your work and do it in such a way that it gets under your skin, too. Give it a character that's more than just what you saw or conceived when you created it; so that it takes over as its own thing, much like characters in a novel can take over from the novelist. (That's happened to me more often than once.) Then it doesn't matter what label is slapped on it. Then it'll stand supreme above the criticism of petty non-creatives or jealous wannbes.
That's the best you can aim for. That's 'creating' something.
* Actually, that was me, because I didn't have a male model at the time. Cheap 7Mpix Sony Cybershot, using the self-timer. Not the most effective way of doing this. But you do what you have to do.