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Would the work of Sally Mann, new and old, and Raymond Meeks be considered a modern form of pictorialism?

Many thanks eck wheeler

-- eck wheeler (ew1photo@aol.com), April 22, 2002


Interesting question. My personal belief is that there's a lot of fuzzy-wuzzy arty-looking stuff going on in photography right now, most of which falls right into Edward Weston's description of pictorialism: "Pretty stories, poorly told."

People are using a whole cadre of "effects" such as film-edges showing in prints, out-of-focus, heavily sepia-toned, printed on textured watercolor paper, heavily vignetted corners, using a Holga or other plastic camera for Atget-like look, deliberately damaging or scratching the film for an "old" look, etc. etc.

To me, those things are great if they are used deliberately to create a particular effect that goes with the meaning and artistic intention behind the image. But, unfortunately (in my opinion) many of those effects are being used as a substitute for substance, and so, yeh, here we are back in pictorialism again.

To address your question specifically, I have no opinion about whether either of those photographers' work is "modern pictorialism;" my comments go more generally to general themes I'm seeing in current photography.


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 22, 2002.

Not to mention photoshop!!!


-- kevin kolosky (kjkolosky@kjkolosky.com), April 22, 2002.

Eck, Chris, Kevin:

If I may be so bold - - -

I agree with you. Technique for it's own sake tells me nothing about the subject of the photo. However, Tech-pan used to show the extreme detail in small nature objects is showing the art in nature. Infra-red film used to show the glowing beauty in the forest shows the art that is possible.

If I may paraphrase you, Technique is no substitute for substance.

Seen in a gallery in No. Calif. about 15 years ago was a well composed, well lighted, well printed studio full length nude of a yound lady covered in surgical clamps. This was (I'd say) a case of a bad story, well told. Never figured out what the heck the maker was trying to say.

My photo instructor, H. Warren King, would say (and still does), "Keep it simple stupid". "KISS IT."

A simple image, simply stated, says more than any technique alone.

Thanks for letting me bend your ears.

-- Steve Feldman (steve@toprinting.com), April 23, 2002.

Hi Eck , i concurr with you about the definition you give of Sally Mann"s work.

About the comment of the previous post the same could be told about the too many times sterile photography of the "purists", who get lost in the "tack sharp " images, "perfect rendition of values" and "owe for nature's wonders".

Give space to people to find their way, stop being self-righteous, having the presumption to be the right judge for other people's work.

That's my job!!

-- domenico (applethorpe@earthlink.net), April 23, 2002.

domenico, your third sentence is so plainly belied by your second, that you're fired.

-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 23, 2002.

Chris, you miss to read my fourth sentence!

-- domenico (applethorpe@earthlink.net), April 23, 2002.

Jokes aside,Chris,

nobody needs destructive criticism. We are artists and many of us know that expecially amongst ourselves we need to support each other...

I am not trying to say to lie to each other , but being constructive and supportive.

Fuzzy-Wuzzy artsy looking stuff...... that statement reveals ignorance and superficiality....

Before being the exceptional photographer thar i am now,before being able to harness my incredible talent , i have gone through the struggle to find myself as an artist , to find my voice( That's artsy ...artsy crap,damned!) , and along the road i have done stuff that i would like to forget i did.

If people do what they do, if they scratch their negatives, if they burn the edges of their prints if their images are out of focus and the content is ....lacking , let's incourage them to go deeper. That is where they want to go , but sometime is a scary place to be.

When students show me their work, i don't tell them that is artsy -wuzzy crappy thingy , .....i just........leave.

-- domenico (applethorpe@earthlink.net), April 23, 2002.

I don't know that it is "pictorialism", since that was an attempt to mimic impressionstic paintings. I think of it as just a way to give people a feeling of something. Is it the fuzzy wuzzies, or just the warm fuzzies? Who knows. Who even cares, so long as it works for that picture. I don't know Meeks' work that well, but for Mann it WORKS.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), April 23, 2002.

" I don't know Meeks' work that well, but for Mann it WORKS."

Doesn't work for me. I have had a hard time understanding the accolades... to me they're just snapshots with an 8x10.

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), April 24, 2002.

"I am not trying to say to lie to each other , but being constructive and supportive."

Fuzzy-Wuzzy artsy looking stuff...... that statement reveals ignorance and superficiality...."

So, domenico, in your statement to me there, are you being constructive and supportive, or judgmental and critical? In other words, how about practicing what you preach?

-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 24, 2002.

Dear Domenico,

Criticism and opinions are worth exactly what you pay for them. Accept then or reject as you like. It is of no consequence. However, consider the source. Good source usually equalls constructive criticism. Poor source equalls nothing.

You say your are "the exceptional photographer that I am now, before being able to harness my incredible talent". I'd like to see that talent. My photo teacher used to tell me, "Don't tell me how good you are - - - SHOW ME." Do you have your work available to view on-line? You show me yours and I'll show you mine. Let others critique. I've seen cj's site. He's hard to beat. IMHO.

You further say, "When students show me their work, i don't tell them that is artsy -wuzzy crappy thingy , .....i just........leave. You are a teacher! Teach your students the basics first. Permit them the knowledge to understand the craft, art and physical techniques. Critique their efforts objectively at first and subjectively only after they master the basics.


That's an insult to the student.

But, of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


-- Steve Feldman (steve@toprinting.com), April 24, 2002.

ha! well, actually i wasn't saying any specific photographer's work is "fuzzy wuzzy artsy"; i was just applying that judgment to a whole genre, and i definitely stick to my guns in that department. i have strongly-held opinions, and that's one of them: i don't like vacuous images hidden behind pictorialist veils of edge-effects, printing tricks, and cutesy matting and framing (like tiny prints in huge aluminum frames with industrial-sized bolts, etc.); to me that whole category of work misses the point of art; it makes the medium the message, and misses out on the real communicative potential. It's Kenny G with all his reverbs and digital effects, instead of Coltrane on stage in a small club, up-close and raggedy. It's the wizard of Oz-- all ego and smoke and mirrors with no real magic to back it up.

now i don't say that stuff except in academic discussions about art in general-- i'd NEVER put down anyone's work to them in person like that, because it wouldn't help them grow as an artist. when i see a show of someone's work that i don't like, i have two words that i always use when talking to the artist: "compelling" and "evocative". Those are great noodling terms while sipping wine and looking at a show of out-of-focus junk!! HA!! And, on the rare occasions when someone asks me for advice on how to grow as an artist, I always recommend listening to Bach fugues.

cheers, and Steve thanks for your kind and inspiring comment.


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), April 24, 2002.

Mr Steve Feldman,......

i was joking......!

When iwas talking of my incredible talent......when i was talking of my harnessing etc. etc., i was hoping people would recognize my wonderful and subtle humor(!)........ instead.

C'mon people lighten up!!

When i was talking about leaving at the view of students work, that too was also a joke!

I want to apologize to eck Wheeler for being in part responsible of the silliness that has led his question in part unnoticed.

Chris, i am not trying to make you change your mind, but i want to tell you that in many images that you might find offensive because of their out of focus nature, their creators spend a lot of time in controlling that effect. Have you ever heard of "bokeh?

I also am envious of how you have finally figured out the formula by which you decide if a piece s good or not , i am sure it took a lot of sensitivity.

http: //dfoschisite.com/

-- domenico (applethorpe@earthlink.net), April 24, 2002.

Ah . . . Bach . . .

Compelling. And maybe that other word.

"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is one of my favorites.


-- Steve Feldman (steve@toprinting.com), April 24, 2002.

"I don't know that it is "pictorialism", since that was an attempt to mimic impressionistic paintings." Steve, that was one Pictorialist's version of what it its. It is the photography of light, not detail -- that's what it's about. I think these discussions of "fuzzy wuzzy" are as profitable as the silver/digital conversations.

And as to the original question, from my readings of the original pictorialists, Mann could join the club -- don't know if she'd want to join -- but she'd be welcome. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), April 25, 2002.

OK, I stand corrected. It is about light and shadow. Still, some of it "pleases me" and some doesn't. Please don't ask why because I don't know why, it just does or doesn't.

-- Steve gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), April 25, 2002.

Classifications mean nothing, a beautiful woman, a favorite spot at the beach, a classic movie, a classic car, your favorite tools, conversation with a great pal, it's like Art, certain things never stop giving you satifacton.

Nobody gets into Photography who doesn't love or get inspired by the imagination that went into the crafting of a well done image. How did you do that?....It doesn't make any difference if it's you asking or being asked those magic words about an image, it's what everybody lives for.

A picture is good for me because I never get tired of looking at it. If it's good it stays forever, everything else fades away.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), April 29, 2002.

Within this conversation lays the beauty of photography. We all have our own likes and dislikes. It makes for a very broad landscape of ideas. I, for one, love the pictorial works. And being a landscape photographer in the Adams vein I love the tack sharp works of Adams, Bond, and Barnbaum. Then there is the photography of Robert Parke-Harrison which I find extremely creative. And all the different photojournalistic genre from the past century. It is this breadth of works that makes photography so interesting and the dialog that goes along with it. So let's start really seeing beyond our own preconceived notions of what is good or bad, as I did when I first started on my photographic journey, and embrace all that is photography as practiced today. To do less is to rob yourself of knowlege and the widening of your own boundries.

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), April 29, 2002.

I'm with James, and like both styles.

These days pictorialists are mostly seen as the guys black hats who were rightly hunted down by the f64 posse. The original aims of the pictorialists were to free photography of an over-technical dogma about what made a good photograph, and that is still relevant today.

I have an old edition of the Encyclopeadia Britannica (the 11th) in which Holman-Hunt makes a reasoned case for pictorialism. The language gives it away, but the sentiment is very modern, essentially arguing that the techniques of pictorialism expand the photographers expressive range beyond the merely literal.

The debate goes on. There is a gulf of incomprehension between fine-art photographers and artists who use photography. The two camps have very different ideas of what makes a photograph worth looking at, and seem to be just as polarised as the pictorialists and f64 group.

To me, this is sad. My own photography follows fairly well-worn tracks, but I enjoy viewing a vast range of styles and see no point in artificially restricting my enjoyment by insisting on a single, simplistic definition of what photography really is.

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), May 02, 2002.

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