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Friday, April 27, 2007

There Goes Another Three Minutes

Hey, take a look at the featured photo on Flak Photo for April 27th. Cool, huh? There goes another three minutes of my allotted 15 minutes of fame....

Now, back to slogging away on my Leica M8 review.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Ed Taylor: "First, let me say that I love the photo. I fully understand why it was selected. I think the title helped as well.

"But, one can't help but be struck with the randomness of what is considered great photography. There are many factors involved in determining what is a great photograph, including the reputation (deserved or otherwise) of the photographer. As I show my own portfolio to people, I notice that there is no consistency with regard to what photos are selected as the best or the most original. One person will rave about a photo and tell me it should be in a museum and another will see the same photo, make a strange face and say 'ah, good luck with that.' We all know of highly praised photographers whose work looks like the photos we routinely discard, and other photographers whose work is amazing, but no one seems to care. Photos of beautiful women often get praise for no reason, and, amazingly to me, I often see photos of another artist's sculpture or wall art generating praise for the photographer, not the artist. What is up with that?

"Many of us wonder why the photos in the museum are there and ours are not. Marketing has a lot to do with it, otherwise, who knows? The logic of it really is suspect. Of course, there are many photographs that just about everyone agrees are great photographs, but does appealing to the masses make a photo great? Maybe.

"Having been around a long time, I can tell you that there are some photographers whose photographs sell for big bucks today who were considered 'cheesecake' photographers in their day (and that was not a compliment at the time). It is hard to appreciate street photography and photojournalism as well as landscape and glamour, but I do.

"I guess I can explain it this way. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder is in a position to publish, or display or promote, then the photographs that the beholder likes are 'art,' and the reputation of the photographer who made the 'art' will flourish. All subsequent works by that photographer will automatically be considered 'art.' It is the photographer's job to get his works to be viewed by the 'right' beholder."

Mike Replies: Your comment reminds me of a well-known photographer who was approached by a patron at an opening. The patron asked why the photographer's pictures were on the wall of the gallery and his (the patron's) weren't. The photographer looked at him with a deadpan expression and in a very dry tone of voice said, "because mine are great and yours are shit."

Rimshot, please....

Jokes aside, thanks for your compliment, but I'm hardly a "great" photographer. My pictures seldom get singled out for praise or attention. I'm quite certain that the reason this one got selected for Flak Photo was that the guy who runs Flak Photo liked it. That's all.

Your comment raises a lot of different issues, but it also contains an awful lot of assumptions that might or might not be supportable. As for the issue of "randomness"—it's usually not very random, in my experience. In my case it's that I've established a photography website that gets 15,000 or so hits a day (a number I'm proud of, but I'm still a very little fish in the ocean of the web), so when I put up one of my pictures, a number of people see it. It took me a lot of work to get to this point. That's hardly random. The same is true of many people whose pictures you may think get attention "randomly." It's probably not random at all; it's probably because they worked very hard to get where they are. Maybe you think your pictures are better than theirs, but the difference may be that they've worked to get theirs seen and maybe you haven't.

Second, if the pictures you're discarding look just like the ones you keep seeing on gallery walls, STOP DISCARDING THEM!

I'm serious, too. I really do think that most photographers don't know their own best work. Many photographers probably really do discard their very best shots.

Next, where is it written that everybody has to agree what's great? Do we all have to agree which women are prettiest, which sport is most fun, which music is good and bad, what kind of food tastes best? Sorry, but I don't understand this. Some people like certain of your pictures and others don't like the very same ones? Well, the nerve of those people.

There's nothing monolithic about "art" or the photographs that get shown on gallery walls. It's not like it's one big club where everyone who gets attention is a big success and they've collectively decided to keep you out. It's a great big stew of advocacy and advantage, serendipity and bad breaks, unfair conditions, luck, hard work, persistence, the trading of favors, and money, and on and on and on. Do you have any idea how many "successful" art photographers in history were simply people who had money? They made their own fame, but the opportunity they got was boughten. And for what it's worth, maybe half of the "great" photographers I've met or befriended think they've been unfairly ignored and that they haven't gotten their share of the pie. So it's not just you.

Featured Comment by Chuck A: "Finding fame in the photographic art world is like trying to hit the bullseye on a dartboard from 50 feet away. It takes an enormous amount of trial and error and lots of luck. The vast majority of photographers will net even get close.

"Whether or not you become famous or get 'a piece of the pie' as Mike said is irrelevant. Why not take photos for yourself, hone your vision and skill and show your work as much as you can. If you get known well that is great. But I really think that it is like grasping at the wind."

15 Comments:

Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

Very nice Mike. Congrats. So you thought the bed rather than a self-portrait of yourself taking a dump (from a few days earlier on that site) was the way to go eh? Thank you.

10:26 AM  
Blogger lramoth said...

Yes, they do select some pretty weird images...I think thats why I like them, but hate them at the same time (especially since they wouldn't post any of my images!).

10:36 AM  
Blogger clayton said...

A photo like this makes me think about chimps and typewriters. I suspect most of us would have deleted it, and never known it was a masterpiece.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Mitch Alland said...

Sorry to say this Mike, but you're no Eggleston and this photograph proves it.

—Mitch/Paris
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10268776@N00/

11:39 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Gee, thanks, Clayton.

--Mike

3:44 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Mitch,
Please stop putting links to your own site in your comments. It's considered bad "netiquette." I'm surprised you keep doing it.

--Mike

3:47 PM  
Blogger Awake said...

I'm serious, too. I really do think that most photographers don't know their own best work. Many photographers probably really do discard their very best shots.

But the opposite is often the rule... photographers don't discard enough. In photojournalism you probably want to keep as much as possible, but what's the deal with 'fine art' people that have 7000 'keepers' per year????

Isn't there some story about some famous photographer saying that if you shoot all the time, and get 1 'museum quality' image per month, you are doing very well?

6:05 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

With respect Michael, I just don't get "Indiana no.1" ..... help me?

7:17 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"..... help me?"

It's a bed. On the right is the headboard, with a sort of pinkish-orangeish-reddish pillow leaning up against it. On the left is yellow bedspread, with white spots on it, folded over the foot of the bed. The large area of yellow at the top with spots on it is the wall, covered with wallpaper. There's a cream-colored wainscoting on the wall, which you can see beyond the bed, under the wallpaper. There are two pictures hanging on the wall at the right, although you can only see the edge of one of them.

I think that's pretty much all there is to it. Does that help?

--Mike

9:04 PM  
Blogger stanco said...

I don't know how it is in other mediums- but I am continually amazed at how once a "made" member of the photographic art world, you can churn out whatever drivel you choose to critical delight. Robert Frank, god bless his soul, can dish out any grainy portion of his 50's classics, scribble something next to it- and instant art (and book)! Lee Friedlander (love the guy) can photograph twigs and nudes to acclaim that if submitted anonymously would make any college photo professor absolutely projectile (and rightfully so).
And good ol' Cindy can dress herself up in a clown suit (yes, literally) and she'll be genius till she drops.

It may take a while, but at least in film, if you make a dog,or a series of 'em (eg- the Sixth Sense guy), you eventually get called on 'em.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Mitch Alland said...

Sorry, Mike. Never read a netiquette book in my life — in fact this is the first time I;ve come across the word — and had no idea about not inserting links to my own site, and merely assumed that some people were interested seeing the photos of someone posting a comment, particualrly an (affectionalty) rude one such as the one I posted.

—MItch/Paris
[netiquettely yours]

12:13 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Mitch,
No worries. I'm far from jealous about linking to other sites--I figure my readers can decide for themselves what they want to go see, and I don't really care if they stay on T.O.P. or go somewhere else. But it's generally considered a form of spamming. You're essentially piggybacking on the traffic that I've built up and diverting it somewhere else, even though it (that is, the link) has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Whatever. Another aspect of my frustration at not being able to edit comments.

--Mike

12:46 AM  
Blogger dyathink said...

regarding Flak's choice...toldja!

1:10 AM  
Blogger Brambor said...

Mitch,

You can just edit your blogger account profile and add your link there. If people are interested they will look you up.

Mike,

Congrats. There is plenty of room for subtle and gentle photos to right the 'urgency ship'

6:43 AM  
Blogger Guy Batey said...

I love the shot Mike - really - my favourite of yours I've seen so far.

3:46 AM  

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