Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bad (Very Bad) Photo Exhibit...

I recently went to a Blurb promotional affair at a rather "well to do" gallery in San Francisco. I'm really not familiar with said gallery so I can only tell you about the photographs that were displayed there that evening. And to tell ya the truth, I didn't take notice of the photographer's name, didn't want to. On the walls were black & white photographs taken in contact sheet format, you know the type- multiple fragmented shots of a larger scene printed together as a contact sheet of one roll of film forming one complete picture. Now I have nothing against such presentations in theory, particularly when emphasizing some additional, overall geometric, architectural or abstract design. But this was devoid of the latter to any appreciable extent. And then to add to the artifice, each completed image was in turn surrounded by thick, uneven, "painterly" black borders.

What really ticked me off though was that many of these pictures were of people who scrounge those massive garbage dumps of South/Latin America in order to make a few miserable cents to put something in their stomachs. He wasn't showing us anything new and he certainly wasn't bringing their plight to the forefront- he was merely slicing, dicing and reassembling moments of their daily lives into very dubious "art" pieces. Of course, beauty can (in life or art) sometimes trump even the most questionable content. Had they, in fact, looked great, you could at least say, "Yeah, but at least they looked great!" Sadly, even that bit of superficiality was not the case.

At this point in life, I take no great joy in putting down a particular person's work, but this goes beyond bad art or bad taste, and smacks of exploitation. Someone using the poorest of the poor to form the crux of their "artistic vision."

Maybe he (or she) will be giving all proceeds to those pictured- I hope so. At least it would provide a few needed meals or some adequate clothing. It certainly won't raise the aesthetic level of the photographs.


Mark Page said...

Yes well said, It happens too often. Our main gallery here in Manchester (UK) has only recently had some terrible twee oil painting's of Alcholics, which tried to romantacise them in an almost pre-raphaelite manner! un f##king believable.

Joe said...

Hi Stan, i see this presentation approach allot more these day.. maybe technology has made it easier, i don't know.

At it's best you get this mele of images like my personal favourite Antoine d'Agata's Insomnia Exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery where you come close to read a powerful image, but then you drift back to take it in again only to be contaminated a bit by other vague but equally powerful images mashed up against it.

But show me someone’s project that for each image you look at you say, well it’s ok, but it would be better as a ‘supporting’ image in a larger body of work... then i’ll show you someone that’s going to exploit the fallacy formula that if i spill on you a glass full of mediocrity it might have the impact of a flash flood. Unfortunately this only results in some pent up anger from the audience that they were ‘had’ at the end, even if there was a grain of merit to some of the images.

i’m working on a project where unfortunately the powerful images i need to get the message across have not yet revealed themselves and i’m stuck with all these supporting images, it’s frustrating... but i’ll take frustration with patience rather than gamble and possible end up with a mob of hostility by going ta’da’ with something more of the calibre of something much less than ta-da- :-)

Stan B. said...

Mark- Yeah, sometimes things are borderline- other times...

joe- Sometimes a project "naturally" unfolds when you luck out with a couple of winners from the get go. Either way, you gotta tough it out, be patient and see where it goes. For what it's worth, many a photojournalism essay is built of a couple of winners with a cast of supporting players.