11/27/2007:

Wyckoff Street Houses from the Southwest

Wyckoff Street Houses from the Southwest

There are a number of reasons that no photobloggers have crossed over to being serious, successful fine arts photographers:

The first is that there are about five serious, successful fine arts photographers in the world, and until one of them dies, the slots are filled (does anyone know if Gursky smokes?)

The second is that most photobloggers are using the wrong cameras-- shooting on 35mm SLR digital, when the big photographers are using medium and large format film cameras.

The third reason is that photobloggers don't design and execute original, challenging projects-- instead we roam around and shoot whatever (and whomever) we happen to come across. This weekend I saw four shows-- Robert Capa (war documentary), Jill Greenburg (studio pictures of bears), Edward Burtynsky (quarries around the world), and Thomas Demand (photographs of his original paper sculpture.) None of them just stumbled into those shots-- they designed and then executed a complex project (sometimes over many years.)

Fourth, fine arts photographers have skills and tools that photobloggers just don't have-- experience in studio lighting, advanced Photoshop retouching, large format printing, or negotiating access to restricted places-- skills that photobloggers haven't had the time, interest, or wisdom to cultivate.

Until some of these things change, we're never going to see a photoblogger break out-- cross over into serious galleries and museum collections. Honestly, that might not happen even if one of us did this stuff-- fame is unpredictable. But until some photoblogger actually takes the time to get good, we'll never know.

We have got to suck less.

Comments

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speak for yourself sucka - my next project is at the brooklyn museum!

that's why i've been referring to you as the "great white hope", dude.

I agree and I disagree.

I think it's hard/impossible to regularly maintain a photo blog and yet create a large/coherent body of work. If any of the "art stars" you reference kept blogs, we'd probably have a very different idea of who they are as artists. Fine art, especially fine art photography, is to a large degree about editing. A photo blog is the antithesis of this.

(If I've learned anything from regularly posting photos on my own blog, it's that it ain't easy to keep the quality up. If I look back at some of my older archives, I'm embarrassed by some of the mundane stuff that got up there just for the sake of posting something. I stopped posting for a while, and now when I do post it's less frequent but with (I hope) much more care and cohesion.)

(Todd Deutsch is the exception that proves the rule: http://todddeutsch.com/blog/. He gets away with it by posting only once every two weeks or so.)

I don't think that using a medium or large format camera makes you more fine art--I guess those cameras let you print bigger, but a big print doesn't automatically equal art (no matter what the market might say). Technical skill helps, of course, but skill without substance doesn't equal much. (Actually, for what it's worth, I'm kind of sick of the medium/large format pristine color photos seen so much these days.)

A larger problem, I think, with photobloggers emerging to the fine art world is the lack of a coherent "school" of photobloggers: an umbrella of ideas that informs different kinds of work. The 60s hand-held leica aesthetic gave us Friedlander, Winogrand, DeCarava, Eggleston, to name a few. The 70s and 80s gave us the large format color photos of Shore, Meyerowitz, Sternfeld. Dusseldorf gave us the Bechers and then Gursky, Ruff, and Hofer. Where's the photobloggers school? _What_ is it?

Arrg, too many ideas. My head hurts. Thanks for getting me thinking.

All I ever think about is sucking less. And incremental steps are possible, but I think at some point it's going to be important for me to recognize that even if I played guitar all day, every day for the rest of my life, I will never sound half as good as Jimi Hendrix, and likewise I probably don't have a chance of becoming the next Andreas Gursky, even though I've got a large format camera. I'm more like a guy in a band that plays in bars on the weekends.

Most of the skills you mention just take time. The learning curve on some of this stuff, like large format, is pretty demanding. One thing I've learned is that my output is tied directly to the process I'm working with. It's just not possible to post to a photoblog more than once or twice a week when I'm shooting large format. And it all has to be done on the weekend, because I, like most of us, have a day job too. The top-tier photographers you mention do what they do for a living, so they've got a lot more time to spend negotiating with problems like travel, studio equipment, printing, etc. Most of them probably don't use Photoshop, that's what assistants are for. Hell, they can take the time out of their day to just sit and think about art if they want to.

Which brings us to number three, which I think is the crux of the problem. Taking pictures just requires a bit of time and energy. Creating intelligent, passionate, and original work is a different story, and not everyone can do it. And personally, I'm not convinced that a photoblog is necessarily the right venue. I sometimes wonder if my process—going out to take a bunch of pictures, and then sorting through them to figure out what I'm going post that day—is at odds with the practices that develop into a long-term creative project. I'm not editing enough, for one thing, and some real clunkers get posted. Some people are probably much better at that than I am though.

Having a photoblog has always pushed me to get better, to shoot more, and get a little bit of feedback on my work. But I'm still not sure if it's a push in the right direction, at least in terms of me doing something that really feels important. Anyway, your post definitely tapped into something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Thanks.

tien read this post today, and when i got into the office he was all "most photobloggers aren't trying to be art photographers. that's not their goal. they just want to document their lives."

my response was that photoblogging is not well suited to life documentation-- that's what flickr is for-- and increasingly, i think you'll see photobloggers in the life documentation business closing down their photoblogs and moving over there.

that leaves the rest of us-- not quite professionals with low-volume portfolio sites, and not quite amateurs, with higher volume flickr streams. it's a delicate place to be-- and like dalton says above, i'm not sure if it leads anywhere-- if it's possible to be a photoblogger and get good at the same time.

I think Dalton's on the right track.

It takes time to become an artist. I once read that it takes ten years of serious work, day in and day out, to start producing something that might qualify as art. (If ever.) The whole concept of photoblogging isn't that old yet -- if D. Gallagher's blog really is the very first photoblog, it's just reaching seven.

And very few photobloggers are seriously pursuing anything like real fine art photography. The photoblog is the goal. Serious fine art photography might be a parallel pursuit, but it's often a different animal altogether. (Though not always -- see, e.g., slower.net)

And you're right that the serious, respected artists in the field have sophisticated, thoughtful goals, and photoblogging doesn't really involve that -- it's closer to what Tien suggested. Serious photography does indeed require more than just, Hey, I'm on my way to work and stumbled across this neat thing. (Though see travisruse.com)

Finally, I think large format cameras are in vogue, but certainly not necessary for successful fine art photos. Everything goes in cycles. Soon we'll all be back to carrying little Leicas around.


i believe i also mentioned that most photobloggers (like regular bloggers) have jobs. and maybe that photoblogging or blogging, as the case may be, is just a creative outlet. and in both, you have your shitty and your great. and just because you're a blogger, doesn't mean you're going to be the next...paul auster (that was for you, jake). same with the photo version.

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