Who is this Ansel Adams guy anyway?

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I was wondering does anyone else get the impression that photography is not see as one of the serious art forms? It seems the only people who have any respect for fine art photography are those directly involved. Example flip through almost any book on modern art and you begin to wonder if the editors have even heard of photography.(Actually you might see a cindy sherman at the end but that does not count.)My local museum has a modern art section and then a print and photography section (which by the way is usually closed).The fact that they separate photography from the other art says it right there. As matter of fact looking back on a visit to the met it was the same. Even more infuriating is when they hang paintings by know frauds or will hang inferiour work by big names.(most museums will show just about anything picasso touched) To me this a tired argument that should have died with the horse and buggy. Would like to here the opinions of other photographers? Josh

-- Josh (sun79@bellatlantic.net), May 15, 1999


Josh, I think a lot of it has to do with the publics perception of photography. That is anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture. Real art takes years to learn. This is reinforced by the fact that all people have also attempted to draw or paint in their lives with little success. They immediately see how difficult it is. Now as you know most people with a modern camera experience a successful picture on the first roll. Now most photographers might look at that roll and cringe but that's beside the point. To the average snapshooter they have successfully photographed something. I believe that due to this phenomena people don't take photography as serious as other arts. You can also add to this the fact that within photography there is also many types of photography that aren't even considered art such as newspaper photography and other types of photojournalism. These draw an even more distinct line between photography and art.Just some thoughts to consider. Good light to all Chris

-- Chris Hansen (falcons_wing@mcoe.k12.ca.us), May 16, 1999.


Nice answer but I challenge your contention that "real art takes years to learn." I also challenge the implied contention that Cindy Sherman's work isn't important. I don't particularly like it either but it is important work on the nature of identity and stereotyping of people through the political and culture shaping mechanism of art. A little too political of an answer for you? Sorry that it is not the politically correct flavor that appeals to you, and that is also part of the point. Much of Ansel Adam's landscape work was extremely revolutionary in it's time ny it's promotion of a political idea: that nature is worth preserving for it's value to the human soul, not just exploiting for short term gain for it's value to the comfort and pocketbook. I am lucky to live in a city (Houston, Texas) that has a museum (the Houston Museum of Fine Arts) which has a curator (Anne Tucker) who immensely values photography as an art, including the work of both A. Adams and C.Sherman. We also have, every two years, the glorious Fotofest. A month that celebrates photography.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 16, 1999.

I certainly agree to a large extent with he proposition in the question. The position of photography within the visual art is frequently precarious to this day. When I open books about modern art, I often see photography represented only in Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe, as parts of the collages of the Dadaists and Robert Rauschenberg, and maybe as a sequence of pictures of some happening (for instance, the artist building a pyramid of some rough stones near the pyramids of Gizeh). I suspect that this is indeed due to the diverse nature of the photographic medium (the most common method of visual documentation and expression of any sort), and, among other reasons, to the images of high street photographers. But another reason is surely the historical developement of the meaning of the modern term "art": the term "l'art pour l'art" implies that art should be devoid of any other purpose than serving itself, and this view caused in this century very often an ardent quest for anything new, hitherto not seen or not presented under the label of "art". It is interesting that the invention and the spread of photography has influenced painting to a large extent, as shown in the excellent book by Aaron Scharf, "art and photography". Generally spoken, photography has released painting from its purpose of representing rerality (whatever this term means), but the way the world is seen through the lens has also influenced the vision of the painter. In my view, however, the new freedom of art (it is really a thing of this century) has proven to be a mixed blessing. "Art" takes place nowadays mostly quite far away from the general public, is pushed by a small community of collectors and curators, and leaves 99% of the artists without a source of income, and without perspective. But this situation in the art market accounts for the relative disregard of photography. By the way, I disagree with the contention that Ansel Adam's work was revolutionary: he used common categories of aesthetics, and the notion of the beauty of the landscape is certainly older than photography. The ideas of the group f64 were surely avant garde, but I would not call them revolutionary. Adams excelled through his remarkable craftmanship (like other printers before and after him, witness Demachy and Evans) which again renders him, according to contemporary notions of "art", dangerously close to an artisan. Lukas Werth

-- Lukas Werth (werthlvk@zedat.fu-berlin.de), May 17, 1999.

Lets face it cindy sherman is not sucessful because she is a good photographer shes successful because her images are shocking and hip. Same thing with mapplethorp he did not get famous for his flower pictures. Where is cindy`s love for the medium for, light, or subject.She uses the camera as her whore to communicate her high socio-polical ideals.When I look at photographs I am either left confused,disgusted or both. Wheres her passion? Her work gives off the stench of contrived boredom. I look at Edward Weston`s prints and sends shivers down my spine. That was a man with love for subject and craft. To include cindy sherman and exclude E.Weston and others is an atrocity I cannot forgive. If both were included it would be different. On to Ansel Adams some of his work is amazing (fozen lake, moonrise hernandez etc) some of his other stuff I don`t care for I would consinder him revolutionary not based solely on his photographs but on his contribution to photography. He revolutionized the way it was taught and to a small extent the way it was percieved as an art form. One other question, I read Ansel Adams autobio and he talked about the days when he and Beumont Newhall were in new york rallying photography. Apparently Newhall lost his job as the photo dept director at moma and stiechen took over. Adams did not like steichen and talked about the family of man as being a lousy representation of photography. Does any else think steichen could have negative influence? I also read his auto and he had alot big talk but not alot images or ideas to back it up.Josh

-- Josh (sun79@bellatlantic.net), May 17, 1999.

Gee Josh, I forgot what is like to be young and snotty. What a refreshing burst of passion. How to address your points? As an antidote to the sugar coated version of the Ansel Adams story read Mary Street Alinder's posthumous biography. A far better (i.e. more honest) tale. Yes Art should rank up withthe other fixed visual media but it is stuck somewhere between painting and cinema. Perhaps the advent of digital photography will awaken more curators and liberate more photographers to the power of a still image made with technologies basically refined by 1960 (arbitrary date, BTW). in the end the thing that makes photography or any art viable is the vision of a particular artist. I too find Cindy Sherman's work barely decipherable but deeply felt work. And I don't find it shocking at all, but somewhat enigmatic and mysterious: "Just what is going on in her photos? Just what am I seeing?" I find myself asking myself. If you judge her work purely by a set of aestheitc criteria the artist doesn't subscribe to then I think you miss the point. And her photographs are extremely well crafted by the way. I think you just don't like the way they look. Robert Mapplethorpe is a weird case because as good and strong and clasicly crafted as his vision is-- (the only thing revolutionary or shocking about RM's work (for me, IMO) is his straightforward unflinching gaze at sexualities and then death, every other photographic quality of his work is the sort of craft that a good commercial studio turns out on a daily basis)--it is mixed up with the marketing of his work (I can see queens all over Manhattan saying to each other, "Ewww isn't that shocking! let's buy it!" And the dealers telling the more reluctant consumers "He is a veryhot artist right now, the value of the piece is sure to continue to rise dramatically.") and the Jesse Helms controversy.

So are there young artists out there as powerful as Adams and yes Steichen and before him, Stieglitz. In the political sense maybe only Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts, but only in the sense that they influence other artists and art directors and their styles dominate American/Euro pop culture. But they aren't putting down their cameras to preach, which is what Adams, et.al. did. Are there photographic artists doing passionate and significant work? Absolutely: Nicholas Nixon, Eugene Richards, Keith Carter, Jack Dykinga, John Sexton, Sebastian Salgado, April Rapier, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, and Jodi Cobb just to name a few.

My point is to start to change the art's world view of photography you have to be in that world rather than railing about it from the outside. And if you are not going to become a curator, then do your work and get out there as much as possible. Apeing artists of the past. Build on their vision, your own vision.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

Errata: this phrase "Yes Art should rank up withthe other fixed visual media" should read "Yes photography should rank up with the other fixed visual media." Sorry for the confusion.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

Sorry to pervert your forum Tuan but CINDY SHERMAN SUCKS! The only reason why she's as 'renowned' as she doesn't deserve to be is because there are few 'art' photographers who are women. She is indicative of of an art establishment willing to suspend its critical criteria just to genuflect to political hipness and correctness. What is Cindy Sherman trying to say that cannot and has not been more eloquently said. I find her 'works' facile and shallow. Josh makes an apt description of the camera in her hands: it is her whore. Those who are bold enough to call Sherman's bluff will find that she has been mocking those who have taken her seriously all this while. And perhaps therein lies the greatest value of her 'works'. Boy, don't even get me started on Nan Goldin.

-- rene (renequan@bigfoot.com), May 18, 1999.

Rene, while you are certainly entitled to your opinion about certain photographers, you are very wrongwhen you say "there are few 'art' photographers who are women. She is indicative of of an art establishment willing to suspend its critical criteria just to genuflect to political hipness and correctness." Most of the truly interesting work being done in photography these days, in art photography and in documentary photography, is being produced by women. there is a lot of bad art being produced by women as well.

You are the one suffering from politically correct myopia because these peoples vision of the world doesn't coincide with your own political dogma of what is acceptable as "fine art". Six more examples of terrific female photographic artists with strong vision working today: Mary Ellen Mark, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Maggie Steber, Sissie Brimburg, Diane Walker, Sally Gall.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

In my second post I did not mean to imply that Mapplethorp was a bad photographer. (I throughly enjoy the flower photographs) The point was he did not get famous for his flowers photos he got famous for the homo erotic stuff. Which only represents a small portion of Mapplethorp`s work but unfortunetly it all most people know. There must be balance if work by sherman is to be shown then work by other photographers should be included. It is very depressing to go to a book store look under photography see cindy sherman,Mapplethorp, goldin, ritts ,and then some books wtih a bunch of pictures of celebrities. These are all important parts of the whole but they only represent a small portion of photography. Unfortunetly I have never even heard of alot of the photographers Ellis mentioned becuase I cannot find their work. Suprisingly the net has been the only place I can find contemporary photography. Oh and Yes Ellis is very right about the auto by Adams it is incredibly sugar coated but did have interesting anicdotes.Josh

-- Josh (sun79@bellatlantic.net), May 18, 1999.

Three more: Andrea Modica and Graciela Iterbitude (hope I got the spelling right on that one!) and Susan Meiselas.

Josh, try Photoeye Books out of Santa Fe, one of the best photographic bookstores in the world. I assume their URL is www.photoeye.com but if it is different I'll post the correct one in a minute.. Josh (and Rene) you should come down to Houston for Fotofest 2000 this coming February, you'll see work and meet photographers, curators, collectors, & editors you'll never get a chance to meet anywhere else; especially if you come during the first two weeks when there are big critique sessions all day and strings of parties at night.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

Dear Ellis

You need to chill put a little and stop putting your foot in your mouth. How long has Cindy Sherman been around? Can you say that there are equal number of women photographers who are as highly regarded as men? As it is, in your last post you struggle to come up with scarcely enough names to cover your hands. These days there is interesting work being done by women and I'll grant you that that is true THESE DAYS. But back when Cindy...

As it is you need to grow up a little; I gather that your chief pleasure comes from stroking your fragile little ego and pouncing upon other people's pronoucements and declaring them wrong. If being able to call someone wrong gives you pleasure and fulfillment I can only feel sorry for you. It is time to know that you are no longer in high school. The political dogma that Sherman's stuff represents 'ART' is yours and is the myopia that you so readily attributed to me. If you do not agree with me, fine, but your ready arrogance in pronouncing rightness or wrongness is startling. So if I do not agree with you I am wrong. Who the hell do you think you are? So tell me then, what makes Cindy Sherman's stuff 'art' as you call it. Or don't you know?

-- rene (renequan@bigfoot.com), May 18, 1999.

Rene, Thank you for the gift of your sorrow.

Hey, listen I don't particularly like Cindy Sherman's work any more than you do, I think most of it is banal and didactic and sometimes pug-ugly, but I do think it has a place in the art world. what do i like about it? That I still don't see anyone else copying her; that some of her images disturb me and make me ask questions about what is going on. Why are you so cocksure it doesn't belong? What are you so threatened by? If you had read my previous entries in this discussion you would have seen that I listed a mere handful of males doing work I consider art. I still get pissed of about people like Jay Maisel, Gregory Heisler, and William Albert Allard not being given the respect they are due by art world. To get back to Josh's original question: the why behind the comparative neglect of photography is the same reason people like Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts and bad Picasso's and counterfeit Dali's and other celebrity artists are ooohed and aahhed over by mass crowds and curators: because there is more money involved.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

Is Looking Lousy legal? The first constitutional amendment says yes. The question behind that one is. What is legitimate in Photography? Many people detest the ways some others work and condemn it as totally unacceptable. Most of us do, but then our own photo's in which, let's assume we believe without question_which we love_ may be just as unacceptable to those whose work we hate, then who's right? The too simple answer is everyone and no one. Everyone is right to follow his or her own chosen path, provided ethically and perhaps legally, that it harms no one else....

Want to know more? (quote D.Vestal) Stop this flame, go out and make images or do you just talk about making images? Respect each others work, you are not obliged to give your approval...

Looking lousy is legal.So is looking good...You choose....

Regards, John D. de Vries (pres WFPA)

-- John D. esq (jd@johndesq.com), May 18, 1999.

Dear Ellis

I stand chastened...perhaps. Cocksureness doesn't quite describe me because if anything, I am rather timorous in life and careful with my words. More hensure, actually. It gives me trepidations to put forward a view which castigates Cindy Sherman, the darling of the 'art world'. But I broke my usual code of tolerance and reticence because I see nothing in her works which is compelling. I must admit that I do not possess the right diplomas to comment on such things; I am no art critic nor am I an art historian. "What I know is what I like" (a dangerous viewpoint sometimes) and I am reacting naively, strictly from the gut. Perhaps I did not articulate it well enough but is it possible that the empress has no clothes on (metaphor unintended)? I say this because if you have talked to any art student at any 4-year university art school recently you will find that he is poor in technique with a mind full of fancy theories. Yeah, all this semiotics and postmodernism stuff where anything which justifies these theories goes. ( I remeber we traded insults on visual semiotics once). Where are the standards? In a world with no standards and only relativism there is only noise. I must apologise for my previous tone of voice for I am a passionate man and being passionate sometimes I wound with my words or have an anger that is quickly aroused. But I recognise a passion in you too, so even though we may lock horns occassionally we are bound by the passion of our convictions.

Dear John

Looking Lousy is certainly not illegal, I concur. And I believe the Constitution of the United States of America still guarantees my right to state an opinion no matter how naive or silly or uneducated as I may be, in short my right to make a complete ass of myself if I wish to is assured by this country of which I am but a guest. At worst, I may be right. At best, I may be exposed to the world for the ill- informed blowhard that I may be. But illegal? No. Flaming? No. That's reserved for people with nothing to say nor defend. Besides making images it is important that we constantly talk about images that have been made because only then will our convictions be continually held up under scrutiny and questioned. It is not enough to make them, it is also important to think about them.

Time is the greatest judge of whether Sherman shall be nothing more than a footnote or not. By the way, the problem I have with Sherman is not because her stuff 'looked lousy' which certainly reveals your reading of Sherman more so than mine, John.

Dear Tuan

Sorry for turning your LF Forum into a pulpit for hashing art theories.

Cheers to all...Rene.

P.S. For a 'real'photographer who also happens to be a woman, I nominate Carrie Mae-Weems.

P.P.S. For the record I find Sherman manipulative and thus, disingenuous. That was what I found off-putting in her.

-- rene (renequan@bigfoot.com), May 18, 1999.

OOps, one more and I shall shut up forever (all of ten seconds).

Dear John

Respect for each other's work doesn't mean that we should suspend our critical faculties nor our remit to critique or criticise.

-- rene (renequan@bigfoot.com), May 18, 1999.

Whew!That was alot of fun.Thank you all who posted. Nothing like a heathy discussion to get the blood pumping. To Ellis about 3/4 of my family lives in Houston and I have to visit them at some point. So I will seriously consinder going in Febuary, it sounds like alot of fun. To Rene I think we share some similar opinions about this whole thing. To John I would much rather be out taking pictures than sitting in front of this little box but alas I have no lens or film. but today is your lucky day because I will be accepting donnations. Josh

-- Josh (sun79@bellatlantic.net), May 18, 1999.

Dear Rene, Okay last one for me too on this subject. I have been out in the real world for a lot longer than I was in academia and I don't particulary care for political correctness, or visual art that needs a plethora of words to explain it, of any stripe. College is the place where you get to try on foolish ideas (as opposed to high school where you get to where foolish clothes!) I am glad you see that we are both passionate on this topic. As a straight man I think bring women into the art party makes it that much more interesting. BTW, I wasn't an art student, I was a English/History/ major and my favorite teachers all turned out to be ex-Jesuits or ex-USMC who didn't put up with any bullshit. Where it comes to "art" photography, I am pretty much self-taught. Any photographic education I have had-- a couple of courses in college, a couple of workshops-- have been commercially oriented as I make my living making photographs. Thank you for the give and take and also thank you for reminding me of Carrie Mae Weems.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 18, 1999.

Co-moderator's note: The heat has now gone out of this discussion, but it did start to degenerate into personal insults. While passion is fine, insults are not. Thank you.

-- Alan Gibson (Alan.Gibson@technologist.com), May 19, 1999.

I'm so isolated, I don't even know who Cindy Sherman is! Assuming I have run across her work someplace, must not have made an impact. As for photography as art, the local art colony does not think it as. And the operator of my gallery (ahem!) says that when people walk in, the first thing they do is walk over, look at my photos and then say; "I could take a picture like that." and then buy something else. I have considered an $100 reward for anybody who can "take a picture like that.

Dick T.

-- Richard C. Trochlil (My real name) (trochlilbb@neumedia.net), January 27, 2000.

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