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Come in! There are a few adventures I’ve written about, but most of the content offers classes in photography and mentoring for photographers, including photo theory, which, although a vital part in our profession, is largely an overlooked subject in all published media that profits from and feeds our gadget minded mindset today.

The Big Apple Photo Art Scene, Part 2

July 11 2009 - Gallery News

I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a drizzly late afternoon taking photographs all the way. It seemed nearly everyone else was doing the same; most with pocket point and shoot digital cameras. I was thinking twenty, thirty years ago in the (old) film days there would be far fewer camera buffs with their APS pocket cameras and rangefinders. Seldom would I see anyone using a Polaroid back then, which offered instant gratification much like (via the LCD back) what digital camera give today.


There are several primary reasons for this proliferation of cameras today. I think the primary factor is cost. Without the expense of film and processing, and the ability to abort any undesirable picture, the taking has become cheap. Technology has made the picture taking process so much more compact, versatile, and easy to operate… and seemingly fool proof.

With it, much of the magic has diminished, replaced by instant gratification, and exponential dissemination, a predisposition for artificial representation, with a world bristling with new photographers.

I had dinner under the Brooklyn span of the bridge at Pete’s Café as the sun was setting. After a tasty meal, I headed back over the bridge to Manhattan. Along way, in the dark, I witnessed most of the photographers turning out to be avid camera buffs, posing their friends against the distant sparkling skyline or simply going straight for the skyline; those pocket camera flashes were popping, underscoring that that cameras are still far from fool proof.

This fact is seldom fully realized having a “we see, press the button, and take” copying devices and the result is tremendous confusion about photography. The subjectivity is hardly as confusing with hearing. We all can hear, but it is easy to demonstrate few of us truly master an instrument, and even the layman can acknowledge what music represents a simple pop song from complex orchestration.

The point of comparing the visual art of photography with music is noting that the latter has clear identifiers and photography does not. It goes back to the mystical “eye of the beholder” and influence of the subjective/ political persuasion of the untrained eye leading to much confusion in debating professional levels and fine art photography. In a lifetime, this conundrum will never be resolved. It explains the media popularity of photography of or by celebrities; it circumvents issues of actual merit, but not to suggest it is non-existent.

I discussed this with one of my associates, astute artist, Cuban born Marilyn Cole, the question was raised: Are technology and digital retouching reducing the gap between professionals and amateurs? To which she replied, “Perhaps…but just because you give someone a pen, that doesn’t mean they will have good handwriting.” But even handwriting has more objective identifiers than the art of capturing sight.

Another new dynamic adding to the confusion of photography is the computer and its complimentary software. From dictionary definitions presented above, until they are changed by unanimous consensus, we can agree a computer is not the camera by which we have the photographic process (although the two shall meet soon enough). Presently, it is a partner in the post photographic process to alter photography.

Consider the advertising of just one of hundreds of options that make art a snap. In large bold type it expresses how you can turn any photo into a work of art. The true talent required (it would make it seem) is the ability to select a media and click through hundreds of styles, and–whoopee!–Rembrandt would be proud. Who can say art and science don’t mix? They are now more entwined than ever before.

I have no problem with this. In all that I have ever written about photography, I have expressed my view that it is a product of the Industrial Revolution and every artistic presentation should have an attached list of credits for mechanics, optic design, and chemical formations, much like credits at the end of a film. The only difference between the Industrial Revolution and the Digital Age is the list of credits has become overwhelmingly extensive for a single frame, two dimensional image.

Back in the days of film photography the entire creative process was more hands on by the photographer, with far more one-time opportunities subject to irreversible pitfalls. This demanded both a professional and artistic level of excellence, not nearly so required today if solely subjected to “the eye of the beholder.”

When considering preparations for photography workshops today, I question if a range of technical photography subjects need review. Should there be a review of incident light meters, a discussion of Kelvin, hyperfocal distance, or—talking about confusion–how about circles of confusion, etc?

Things have changed, as naturally expected…inevitable, to be simply accepted and pointless to judge, from one era to the next. Nevertheless eras are part of an evolutionary history, they need to be researched, analyzed, and discussed in order to understand and evaluate the past, present, and future. In the 1950s, when the hobbyist picture taking really picked up speed, some two billion snaps were taken annually. Today, I venture a guess (following universal trends), it is approaching trillions of snaps.

What happens when there is an over abundance of anything? Answers may be: these things become less valuable, less meaningful, or less inspirational? On the flip side, it may contribute to universal communication or keener visualizations. These questions are debatable; it could result in validating all the above. One certain conclusion is our image saturated world is overwhelming and confusing.

Compounding the confusion, again due to computers and its complimentary software, the overwhelming volume of images, potentially, may all not be real. We have a Crisis of the Real, as was so aptly explored by Andy Grundberg in his book with that title, published in 1999. Only today, it is an overwhelming crisis.

There once was a time when a photograph was considered an image of official record. Fabricated manipulations were painstaking to make and relatively easy (compared to techniques available today) to detect, leaving only subjective framing of points of view to skew reality. There were clever constructions, but seldom for malicious or phantom deception, usually reserved for advertising or artistic endeavors and performed admittedly as part of creative processes.

This is what I do before entering into and discussing the Big Apple fine art photography scene–visual thinking about photography. My view is the era of photography, its silver years, if you will, has past. The creative images today in overcoming numbers are filtered through computers, and I say, better described or termed as Pixel Art with photographic underpinnings.

How we measure the success of these images is beyond the scope of this writing photographer’s search for clarity and end of confusion. Nevertheless, considering I believe my fine art photography to bridge photography into the digital age, and having alluded to Visual Thinking (1969), by Rudolf Arnheim, and influenced by his writings, I feel the work of Pixel Artists (or photo collage, or computer rendering artists, whatever name) of this age is to aspire to fantasy and deeper meaning (abstraction and surrealism). What they see may inspire them to think, but only their pictorial imagination will put the thought in the work. In this regard not much then has changed, only the approach and the potential of the new medium.

More important to this discussion is acknowledging how Pixel artists can benefit from freedom in their subjection from photography. Recognizing this as new art form would be a step to ending the confusion about photography and would clarify that this new art represents a new era from the previous era it is building on.

Magazines dedicated to art and photography have been unable and/or unwilling to make this acknowledgment. Possibly they lack the personnel with enough experience to tackle the issue. Possibly they have been unwilling to make the transition from the comfort of the existing photography format. Or in the interest of maximizing their potential for profits, it is determined as counter productive to enter the debate. It could be simple laziness or otherwise hectic, demanding deadlines. It may be there are no sinister motives whatsoever, and they are also simply confused about what photography is today in the digital era. Sadly, however, marketing too often overshadows merit, especially in the print media.

Photography has changed in the digital era. As a fine art it can, like much of art today, be defined in the Duchampian fashion, as an occupation that has embraced the new socialism. Written about in a recent article in Wired Magazine, this new socialism is not the old dreaded, centralized, controlling version of the past, but the 21st Century upgrade that has among other things given us the Internet and “everything under one roof” stores (where it’s hard to find help, and when you do, there may not be much help given).

Now, everyone is a photographer, and everyone with a camera is. Recently, opening up a popular American photography magazine I was reading paragraphs next to an image about a photographer. Near the end, it revealed that this person was actually a carpenter by trade, studying to be a social worker. The following day, after reading this article, I attended a public social event. I met a person who introduced herself as a photographer and gave me a business card. Later looking at the card I noticed it introduced this person as a painter, which the listed web site clearly confirmed. It made no mention of photography. Then, within the same week, a new holistic health magazine was brought to my attention where in nearly every photograph, including the cover, there were none of the customary lighting techniques applied. It’s not for me to pass judgment, but many of those with cameras seem to me confused.

The Shack, a book written by Wm. Paul Young that I’ve just finished reading has a quote at the opening of each chapter. For Chapter 8 it is “growth means change, and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” This statement is true, but incomplete; visa-versa change should also mean growth. Technology leads in forcing a change. Growth from this change will only occur by embracing our understanding of it, being forthright in debate and analysis of it, and this is done by putting it all in historical context, so the unknown can be known again.

Having relaxed a bit and after doing a bit of sightseeing, while always visually thinking, I now prepared my plans for exploring the photography market and galleries in the Big Apple. In the scheme of things I found my explorations interesting, and after reading the next and final installment, and hope you will too. My blog will soon be back with all three parts.

Find more information at www.jamesschotgallerystudio.com. You can e-mail james@jamesschotgallerystudio.com or call 954-564-1112….