Monday, September 7, 2009

Nostalgia or Fine Art?

If you look around on the web and do a search for "fine art photography", more likely than not you'll come up with B&W images. Somebody has got to tell me why people seem to think Black & White equates to "fine art". Is it just because there's less of it today. There was a time (actually there were two times) when there was no such thing as color photography. One was an absolute, there just wasn't any color images. The technical side of color photography hadn't been invented yet. The other time of "no color photography" is more subjective. It was too expensive and too hard for most amateurs to do. B&W printing was easy by comparison. A "darkroom" just had to be dark. Getting the film on the reel for developing could be accomplished in a light proof "changing bag". Paper wasn't as sensitive as film, so a little light leakage was okay. Developing temperatures, for the chemicals, had a couple of degree tolerance. With color everything was taken up a notch. Dark meant black. Temperature meant a half degree. No loosey goosey stuff here. Now, with everything being digital and people working in a dry darkroom (computer), it seems that pushing the Greyscale button makes something "fine art". Can't see it. Crap is crap, weather it's in color or black and white. And too much of what people call "fine art" is crap. To fine out my opinion of today's image, hit the "read more".
This shot isn't "fine art". It's a vacation shot that I thought might be interesting in B&W. Maybe, since I've done B&W in a wet darkroom, I know just how much easier it is to do B&W in today's electronic darkrooms. I saw a shot the other day of a pile of laundry, shot from a standing position, that had the contrast of mud and was being sold as fine art. What I saw was a shot of a boring subject, shot from a lazy position, that was poorly "developed".


Each spring the local college has an open house art show with the work of the senior arts majors. These kids are studying Graphic Arts, or Design, or Illustration or even a Photography option. What I see is the inane work of those who haven't been properly taught what makes a good B&W image. The teachers should be pimp slapped for allowing students to display such immature work. In some case these kids are going for a degree in a field the relies on photography for it's fodder. I have to wonder if the "professors" have any idea what a good B&W image looks like. Maybe they've never seen "Moonrise Hernandez", "Clearing Winter Storm", "Lake Tenaya" or any other prints by Ansel Adams. In the contemporary, have they ever seen the stunning work by Vincent Varsace or Jay Maisel or Katrin Eismann? Absolutely stunning.


The quality of the photography shown at the college is just a symptom of what I call the stone in the pond. If you toss a small stone into a still pond you'll get a series of ripples. Those closer to the point of impact have greater amplitude. Each succeeding ripple is smaller until the pond appears flat again. Education, in the broad sense, is the same. The scientist who makes a discovery is intimately engaged in the minutiae of the find. As more and more people are educated by more and more people, the minutiae is diminished more and more until the subject is mis-taught by well meaning people. At some point, those teaching need to re-educate themselves by going back to the initial source. To get the misconceptions out of their way. To learn the right and unlearn the wrong. To teach as purely as possible. We owe it to those who follow.