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Monday, June 26, 2006

Cartier-Bresson Booted from Flickr

Here is a real life example of the kind of criticism Mike is mocking here. The "deleteme" group on Flickr is just that—people make comments and vote to keep or delete a picture from the group pool. This lends itself to art by committee, with hilarious results such as Mario's Bike on Flickr.

Posted by: JUAN BUHLER



Mike Comments:
The funny thing is, although the "deleters" have clearly ended up with egg on their faces in this instance, I really don't see why people shouldn't respond honestly and directly to art. I've always claimed that "I have a right to respond to art as if my encounter with it is a significant event for me," which is really all these people were doing. So, okay, I don't agree with their conclusion, but I applaud their willingness to go out on a limb with an opinion that is—ahem!—all their own. (Maybe I'm just looking for the silver lining here.)

But it is funny.

Featured Comment by pketh1: "I'm not a professional, I don't even think I'd classify as an advanced amateur (I'm not nearly wealthy enough), but I've loved taking pictures ever since I got my first point-and-shoot digicam some five years ago. And I'll look back on my own shots from years back through flickr or whatever, and it's not exactly hard to see all those weak choices of composition or unchallenging subject matter or re-experience my times of creative stagnation.

"But when I do that, I'm also glad that I started shooting point-and-shoot as someone who didn't just know any better to worry about things like all the above. You live and shoot and then you live some new experience, laugh, maybe cry and then shoot some more. That's really the only way I could ever improve myself. It's just a way that one enjoys a love that goes beyond pleasing other people or breaking others down I think."

Mike Adds: Mark Power's instructions for being a photographer: "Shoot. Think. Shoot."

21 Comments:

Blogger Max said...

It's funny. But some of the "righteous" photographers who made such a fuss about HCB being criticized were really obnoxious. And besides having a developed eye, freedom of expression is another big requirement for making art. And those who can't criticize masters freely if they feel the honest need to do so have already limited themselves.
"Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance.

9:24 PM  
Blogger terry chay said...

There is a bit of irony in your statement for in the DeleteMe pool, the conformist is one who says something especially mean followed by a DeleteMe.

Or, taking the first lines of your quoted essay:
“I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may.”

Not saying that all of us haven’t in time criticized a possibly great work with some trivial detail (or might be caught with the same egg as the DeleteMe folks). But that’s what made Mike Johnston’s essay so funny; that’s what makes this so funny.

I saw myself in Mike’s essay. I see myself in the DeleteMe comments.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Victor said...

Reading through the deletes I am reminded of the class in Dead Poets Society. When the teacher tells them there is no formula for a great poem. I can even hear Robin Williams - "Excrement. That's what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We're not laying pipe, we're talking about poetry."

If they would only let go of the neblus codes and diciplins, respect the work of another artist and own up that they just d0/don't like it.

12:14 AM  
Blogger pketh1 said...

re: this whole critiquing issue that I just don't really understand:

I'm not a professional, I don't even think I'd classify as an advanced amateur (I'm not nearly wealthy enough), but I've loved taking pictures ever since I got my first point and shoot digicam some five years ago. And I'll look back on my own shots from years back through flickr or whatever, and it's not exactly hard to see all those weak choices of composition or unchallenging subject matter or re-experience my times of creative stagnation.

But when I do that, I'm also glad that I started shooting point and shoot as someone who didn't just know any better to worry about things like all the above. You live and shoot and then you live some new experience, laugh, maybe cry and then shoot some more. That's really the only way I could ever improve myself. It's just a way that one enjoys a love that goes beyond pleasing other people or breaking others down I think.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Ballistic said...

Fantastic! Thank you for sharing. Surrealism at its best.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

Actually, what is saddest is that "deleteme" appears to be "Survivor" translated directly from TV to the world of the photoclub (online, that is). If this is life on Internet 2, then wake me when it's over.

1:56 AM  
Blogger Colin [auspiciousdragon.net] said...

"I applaud their willingness to go out on a limb with an opinion that is—ahem!—all their own."

Trouble is that is not necessarily what we read there. And I mean in both directions. Some people have been socialised to think that HCB = good and some people have been socialised to think that blurry = bad.

There are comments in that thread which go beyond that, but the laughable ones don't.

If you want to know whether your photographs are going to be popular (and/or sell) it is worth knowing what the cultural response will be. But pretty much, if it is your culture, you can guess that anyway. Anybody who puts a photo up for public criticism and who is surprised at the reaction isn't thinking hard enough.

There is nothing wrong with the blurry = bad reaction. If it were a private conversation I would want to try and peel back the layers by (probably monotonously) asking "why?". But I do think that without expansion it is a pretty shallow reaction. I think that rather than an 'honest and direct' reaction to the art, what the deleters were doing was reacting to some norm, albeit in an honest and direct way.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Ade said...

Ah but Mike, is "it should be sharper" their own opinion or one they read in a technique book?

I'm not offended by this like some of the commenters are - HCB's reputation is secure so it makes no difference - but I grieve for all the other great shots of similar ilk, taken by unknown amateurs, that were summarily deleted for non-conformity. Who speaks up for those?

3:48 AM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

Is Cartier-Bresson beyond criticism because he's Cartier-Bresson? I understand that some of the comments were petty, but let's not assume that a photo is automatically above reproach because it came from one of the "greats". I don't really care for this particular photo for several reasons. Learning that it was taken by Cartier-Bresson didn't change my opinion, or make me feel guilty for not liking it. That the criticisms are seen by some as blasphemy is what I find more ridiculous than the criticisms themselves. No one needs to beg forgiveness for daring to criticize the great Cartier-Bresson, or anyone else in the pantheon of famous photographers.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

I rarely disagree with your opinions Mike, but I can give you several good resons as to why people should NOT respond honestly and directly to Art. With freedom of expression comes responsibility, including knowing when to just shut up! Unless one can rationalize ones opinion it has little merit. Understanding why and how opinions are formed, then understanding what your opinions really mean, should be a minimum requirement to be granted freedom of expression. Having opinions is one thing, communicating them is another. "Once you participate you are responsible for your actions". To be responsible is to gain and develop knowledge to back up your opinions. The world of Art has been slandered enough by individuals broadcasting their worthless opinions about "what could have been made by a three year old" and so forth. I never applaud willingness - it can be a very dangerous and powerful thing! Instead I applaud standards and hunger for knowledge as a foundation for rational and ethical behaviour. And yes, I must confess though, it is kinda' funny!

5:04 AM  
Blogger ANDREW! said...

Both camps exhibit a fair amount of blind faith -- the deleters in the inherent worth of "sharpness" and the HCB fans in the unquestionable value of his work.

6:26 AM  
Blogger dingbat said...

It's a nice picture ... but not one of my favorite HCB's. The most hilarious comments were the ones that said he should have used a tripod and stopped down. As if you'd have the presence of mind to set up 2 minutes in advance to prepare for the cyclist coming around the corner. Of course, in today's world it would probably be staged... or even photoshopped.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Johan C said...

i make lots of HCB-like pictures - and i always delete them 'cause i don't like them

9:00 AM  
Blogger Daniel Sroka said...

What is funny about this Deleteme group is that most of the criticism thrown at the photograph is trite and narrowly technical: e.g. "blurry = not art." It's like saying Venus de Milo is not art because she's missing a couple limbs. A discussion over the "art" of a photograph has to at least try to transcend the trivial.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"No one needs to beg forgiveness for daring to criticize the great Cartier-Bresson, or anyone else in the pantheon of famous photographers."

No, perhaps not, but I think Cartier-Bresson has earned respect, regardless of what you think of one particular picture. And of course the egg-on-face aspect of the whole brouhaha is simply that people are criticizing the picture as if it were made by some anonymous contemporary amateur. It's their ignorance in not knowing who made it that makes it funny.

--Mike

9:26 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"i make lots of HCB-like pictures"

Sure you do!

--Mike

9:53 AM  
Blogger Will said...

All of those people who think they are photographers and they didn't know where that picture came from. Very sad.

11:39 AM  
Blogger André Rabelo said...

I think that the main purpose in posting that picture to the deleteme pool was to show that a great picture doesnt needs necessarily to be like A or B says, that expression has many ways, some of them are not based on perfect technical details (if such thing even exists).
Some deleteme users just want some fun. Its not a problem. But those pseudo-intelectuals that like to give pseudo tips and dont even know what they are talking about really sucks.

3:25 PM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

And Cartier-Bresson does have respect, but that's my point - if the photograph was by Betty Smith from Des Moines, it would probably be judged by a different standard, and perhaps written off as just an out of focus snapshot. But because it's by Cartier-Bresson, a famous photographer, it's art, and how dare anybody criticize it. Those who didn't know it was by Cartier-Bresson at least responded to the photograph itself; some of those who were in on the joke were merely responding to the fame of the photographer.

I think I have enjoyed reading the various responses to this article more than any I have seen on the web in quite some time. This has been an interesting discussion!

9:13 PM  
Blogger Walker Keith said...

The issue that doesn't seem to be talked about is that part of being a "master" is pioneering something new. Anyone could take technically better versions of many of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photos today. Not very many people were attempting such photos in 1932!

It is because of people like Henri Cartier-Bresson that we now think view "street photography" as an art. He did not have many examples from other "greats" from which to launch his own style. He is, largely, the one who created this genre.

That background adds to the artistic value of his images.

In looking at the responses on Flickr, it is not difficult to see why people would reject this photo. Everyone believed it to be a contemporary photo. In that context, it is pretty unremarkable.

Even without mentioning HCB, if you simply stated that it was taken in 1932, the photo would probably have received a completely different set of responses.

This type of reasoning is not restricted to photographic art. If you have ever seen a "starving artist" show, there are tons of great paintings in the impressionist style. Some might even be technically better than "the masters". The significance of a Monet, Manet, Renoir, etc. is undiminished by such. These guys pioneered the style. Pioneering status DOES add to the "artistic" value of an art work.

I am not defending the Flickr posts. I would be much happier if everyone prefixed all criticism and comments with "IMHO". In general, if you read the posts on Flickr you should mentally prefix them as such. The above is just "IMHO". :)

1:25 PM  
Blogger nickname said...

I realize I'm a lot more than a day late and a dollar short--but I would just like to point out that just because something was a good photograph when it was made-- doesn't mean that it is automatically a good photograph if taken today.
one has to consider what a photograph meant at the time it was taken, and what it means to us today in terms of history--it doesn't need to be judged as if it were taken today.
For example--Ansel Adams is hugely influential, as he should be. I guarantee you that since the 30's and 40's when he started, thousands of basically identical images have been taken by Large Format amateurs descending on Yosemite. Does that mean their identical images, take 60 years later are just as good (assume equally good printing)? of course not-- because Adams already captured that 'mode' in an era that was looking for it. Today, a photographer needs something different. Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs are deeply telling for his time period--but that was over 50 years ago. Mimicry is good for learning, but at some point we should all be looking to establish our own voice.

9:12 AM  

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