08 August 2007
Everybody wants perspective from a hill, but everybody's wants can't make it past the window sill...
I don't have much to say about today's photos. I've been reading Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, and I had initially planned to include some of my thoughts on those essays in this post, but I don't feel up to it. I took all but the 1st of the above photos at Dragon's Tooth on the Appalachian Trail. It's a tough hike up to the rock, but it's one of those places that make me feel simultaneously small and rooted.
I was looking over Alec Soth's blog this morning, as I often do, and he had written about the photo-sharing network Flickr. He pointed out the lack of "good" photos and included this quote from Stephen Shore: “I went on to Flickr and it was just thousands of pieces of shit, and I just couldn’t believe it. And it’s just all conventional, it’s all cliches, it’s just one visual convention after another." I have mixed feelings about Shore's comment. While the majority of photos on flickr may be the equivalent of a Hallmark card or a McDonald's hamburger, Shore's position strikes me as overly elitist. If people are excited about pursuing photography, I think they should be encouraged rather than immediately dismissed as stupid, one of the uninformed masses. After reading the post and comments on Soth's blog, I added this rather whiny and verbose comment:
This post is interesting. Even though I love the work of Eggleston, Shore, and many others in the same vein, when people start talking about “art” photos, I cringe. It seems to me that such talk is wrapped up in egos and maintaining an elitist community as much as anything. Why do established “art” photographers feel the need to point out when someone else is an amateur? I’m in an odd position, because I really love many of the photos posted on this blog and other “art" photography blogs that I check out (Conscientious, Christian Patterson), but reading the comments often makes me feel sick.
I’m not sure how one becomes part of the inner circle of photographers that seems to develop around these questions, but it seems like many of the comments/discussions come around to deliniating who does/doesn’t deserve to be taking photos. I realize Eggleston, Shore, and others of their ilk were commenting on the history/conventions of photography when they did their “banal” work, but I also see an odd irony in them–like the Pop Artists–questioning the division between high/low art and then being so caught up in whether or not their work is sophisticated “art” rather pre-packaged consumer garbage. And at least Shore and Eggleston were doing something interesting, relatively new in the history of “art” photography. The path they helped to open is pretty well worn down by now, and many of today’s photographers who are doing the similar things–even if those things engage in theory/tradition–are doing work that is just as “cliched” as a tourist taking a shot of the leaning tower of Pisa. Jus as it could be said–if you’re a fan of Baudrillard and all the talk of simulacra–that the tourist isn’t taking a photo of the tower itself, but a photo of a photo (the same shot found in other tourists shots/postcards), so many photographers aren’t necessarily taking a shot of a banal red door or a cheap hot-dog lunch from a high-school fund-raiser, but an imitation Eggleston or Shore or whoever else.
One of the things I get frustrated about in reading these posts, I guess, is the high-mindedness and the idea that anyone who isn’t in some inner photography circle can’t understand what makes a “good” photo or makes a photo “work” or some other vague criteria.
I ended it there, and now I'm kind of feeling down that I decided to post a comment at all. I often feel sick about reading the comments on the blogs, I think, because it gets my own ego involved, just as commenting on Soth's blog today did. It's an issue that I also face when I think about continuing my education, getting a PhD in literature or philosophy. It often seems to me that the academic world is a big competition (and no one can deny the egos involved), and I'm not sure I want to be part of that. I'd like to pursue the feeling I get when I'm out photographing or when I'm lying on one of the 400 million year old rocks at Dragon's Tooth, letting the breezes wash over me.