U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: More than 2 worth - much more

Re: More than 2 worth - much more

Thank you, Catherine, for this wonderful message below.

I face a lot of the same issues--for example, my New Orleans project that I am printing in platinum.

I was surprised at the response to Grillo's request, but, for me, being tenure track, ANY show announcement that comes my way is a blessing because "research" for a tenure track photography position is having and being in shows. Never mind that I have written three books--the only book that "counts" as research is the one that was NOT self-published, the one published by Midmarch Arts Press on the nude (Tutti Nudi). Go figure.

Anyway, the other reason I loved Grillo's request is I teach a Nonfiction photography class, which used to be called "Documentary". This year when I taught this class for the first time, I decided to teach it theoretically--and actually talk about fiction vs. nonfiction the ENTIRE semester. It provided for some great discussions, and even though tampering with photographs has been done since photography began, that does not make the concept any less important to teach to students.

The assignment they hated the most but talked about and learned from the most was the Decisive Moment assignment--they had a choice of going out and finding decisive moments for two weeks a la Cartier-Bresson, or manufacturing their own a la Pedro Meyer...only ONE student did the latter...the big joke in the dept. now is "the DM word" which is up there with f--- and s---. Most students froze with the concept of having to come up with great decisive moment images, but were unwilling to manufacture the same via Photoshop. When I showed them Cartier-Bresson's contact sheets it provided more fruitful discussion, etc. etc. Sorry--nothing to do with alt, here.

I could go on and on about this (a semester's worth as you could imagine) but I'll stop and concede that sometimes academic language can be offputting. My father used to say if you can't explain Einstein's special theory of relativity to a boy scout you don't know what you are talking about. I continually feel frustrated when slugging through art history writings (try Rosalind Krauss, for one) which use the word "trope" and "slippage" and "elide" and "hegemony" and blah blah blah--or artist statements that I read over and over and don't understand what the hell the artist is trying to say. But that doesn't make the message or the artwork any less valuable, merely frustrating to the uninitiated.


----- Original Message ----- From: "Catherine Rogers" <crogers@optusnet.com.au>
To: <alt-photo-process-l@usask.ca>
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 11:36 PM
Subject: Re: More than 2 worth - much more

I'm glad you did jump into the fray Jack - that was a thoughtful response
IMO and it gave me more to think about with respect to Michael Grillo's call
for entries, thanks. I think that the subject of his show is important,
interesting and timely. I found it interesting that he did post this to the
list, where many might not - for reasons already revealed! It is a subject
which is relevant to my own work - which I take seriously, as I know many
other photographers and artists on this list do too. It won't and obviously
doesn't mean much to others on a list with such a varied subscriber base -
and that's fine. Unfortunately, dissing academia and more difficult ideas
(and the expression of more difficult ideas) is great sport in this age of
profound conservatism.

I really like to think about what I photograph - thinking is a major part of
the excitement and pleasure of photography for me. It can be a highly
intellectual activity, both before the image and after it is made. I also
love the mix of head and hands - the practical making and doing along with
the what and why. Documentary photography is not straight forward, simple
and easy. As someone else on the list pointed out, it never was. But
documentary photography remains contentious, and things have changed.
Photography isn't an insignificant, neutral and benign activity, it isnt
simple or straightforward, otherwise photographs wouldn't be censored in the
way that they are being censored these days. It is clearly complex and
complicated, just look at how journalistic images of/from/about Iraq are
controlled and manipulated - not by photographers but by Governments. And
they aren't using photoshop either. Michael Grillo's exhibition title is a
good one - still.

A personal note on documentary and art photography:
My own photographic practice is a varied one which includes alternative
processes and has done so for 30 years. I've been on this list for over 10
years. I know there are many on this list who also work with a range of
photographic practices, i.e. different cameras, printing methods etc. I see
their names on other lists. Alternative processes, which is one aspect of
the vast and varied collection of activities called photography, is however,
primarily about process. process is only part of the whole deal of making a
photograph. Process informs subject matter - what and how one takes the
photograph as well as ways of thinking about the finished image, and that is
great stuff too. It is probably why I still work with cyanotype, for example
( I just love that process), as well as with carbon inks on old digital
printers, among other things including pinhole cameras. Can a photograph be
a documentary photograph if it is realized as a cyanotype in blue, or made
with a fuzzy pinhole camera? I think that this is a question still worth
thinking about, but then photography is my day job and my afterhours
occupation too.

I have just returned from a few days in Tasmania (that's the island state of
Australia which sits on bottom right of the mainland) where I have been
photographing in the native forests. I go there every couple of months
(roughly a 2 hour plane trip south from Sydney where I live, then 2 hours
drive west into the forest from Hobart). Along with trying to make the best
pictures I can, I am trying to make a visual record of these magical forests
before the 400 year old trees (along with heaps of other trees and plants)
are cut down, the rest of the forest clearfelled and the tall trees made
into woodchips and pulped. The remaining forest in the logging coupe is then
naplamed and burnt, including the animals. I try to photograph this too.

To say that the clearfelling these trees is a political hot-potato is an
understatement. As Jack said, the pocket-book rules. But where in the world
of art or photography does that place photographs of this forest and brutal
forestry practices? I am acting as a documentary photographer, but I am not
an impartial viewer. The dark, difficult forest is a challenging subject,
physically demanding and just plain hard work - it doesn't want to be
photographed, I can't get back far enough to picture a whole tree without
getting caught up in other trees, the wind blows my subjects during their 8
second exposure. It rains and snows, and I finish up covered in mud,
scratched and exhausted. I work hard at making my images beautiful, complex,
rich, challenging, colouful etc etc, as that is what I do well. Where and
how do these images fit into this world of the pocket-book now closely
coupled with politics and government? It is a world which is different to
100 years ago when plundering the environment was a completely different
issue - well, it wasn't much of an issue then. Subjects for the documentary
have changed, just as ideas of the documentary have changed. And as I have
also noted in one small example, the nature of interference in the
photographic document has also expanded and changed. (I can also remember
police and political arguments surrounding the bashing of Rodney King which
maintained that the real truth of the incident was not in the evidence of
these photographs but lay outside the frame of the images.)

I see that what I am doing as a documentary photographer/artist as fraught
with difficulty. For example, the world of the art museum here isn't so
accepting of photographs motivated by passion for the environment, and which
don't overtly take 'art' as their prime subject. The larger issue of
documentary photography is problematic, still, as Michael Grillo, I think,
rightly observes. While I can and do make beautiful photographs of the
forest I also want to help save these forests. I have also found that no one
wants to look at black and white images of death and destruction, and that
(generally) art museum curators don't think that such images make good art
That'll do for now.

Anyway, thanks again Jack (and Michael)
cheers all,

----- Original Message ----- From: "Jack Fulton" <jefulton1@comcast.net>
To: <alt-photo-process-l@usask.ca>
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:30 AM
Subject: More than 2 worth

I should not jump into this fray.
We, theoretically, are 'alternative' photographer processors.
Therefore we are using processes that are "different from the usual
or conventional: as a : existing or functioning outside the
established cultural, social, or economic system" (according to
Merriam-Webster) BUT, in general, we are rather conventional, even
Ludditical  at times.
PM and the French argot is not an easy read. Since the VietNam 'war'
and Gregory Bateson/Margaret Mead, many  realize much of the medium's
imagery is controlled by whims/morals/mores/biases of the maker,
hence Crewsdon, Sherman, Wall, Levine et al abound. There is fiction
in their reality. Veracity is a property of the medium used not its
truthful verification.
As Camden indicates, chuck the email or contact Michael Grillo.
What I feel most of you are failing to understand from Michael's
query is that times have changed greatly and the documentary
photograph does not hold the cache it once did.
I would he he (Michael) feels there MUST be a NEW way to look at what
is real around us.
For instance . . . . in our country here in North America, you'll see
a lot of new journalism work shot at an angle. This comes straight
from New Topographics work now over twenty years old, but it has
slipped sylph-like into the visual jargon. Too what digital hath
wrought is an ability to "alter" an image. These are major changes.
What is exigent one might ask? Is it the Iraq war or is the loss of
ocean quality more important. Only things tangible to the pocketbook
seems to make news but there is far far more that needs to be covered
AND with bias I'd say. Overpopulation, corruption/greed at the top,
lack of education can all be journalistically photographed in ways
not yet seen I am sure.
So, rather than dissing Mr. Grillo, join in with the guy and help
make the world a better place.