Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And The Winner Is...


This is totally... awesome!!! And yes, that's the first (and last) time you'll ever hear me use that Californian adjective....

But first, let's talk about the photograph. There's something kinda interesting going on with the shape of the man's shirt- almost. And there's something odd going on with the seemingly disembodied hand- almost. And there's something almost happening with the variously colored patches of grass. And the muted, pastel color palette, and what about that extraterrestrial bread loaf- and come to think of it, is he dead or alive? What does it all mean?

Put that all together and you have... one seriously overrated photo. One overrated photo deluxe that has not only been raised to the level of art, but raised to that penultimate level of A-R-T that our limited mortal mindsets cannot ever hope to understand or appreciate! A photograph that "ascends" from the depths of two of photography's laziest and most cliched beginner "genres," the sleeping student on the lawn, and/or the down and out wasted guy. Subgenre- the down and out brother. Sure, you've probably seen plenty of the latter in every visual media outlet imaginable- but rarely at the level of... Fine Art!

I've posted on Michelle Sank before, and FWIW, I happen to admire and respect much of her work. She happens to be one gifted portraitist. Hopefully, she'll take the money to produce the kind of work she's capable of, the kind that doesn't win prizes like this.  (via TOP)

9 comments:

Gerald said...

This photo seems to be raising the ire of the online world, and I’m not sure why. I suspect most people want to see a face and/or are looking for visual excitement, but to me it’s completely unnecessary. This photo raises many questions and goes beyond the retina – the place that most photos stop at. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find examples of other entrants to the competition – does anyone have a link? To me, Sank’s other portraits are not that unusual, nor much different from the thousands of other portraits currently being done in this style (Soth-like) and I find her overrated in general. Her other photos don’t have the level of mystery of her winning entry, in my opinion.

Stan B. said...

Like many others I enjoy a good mystery. And one of the measures of a good mystery is that it is not overwhelmed with plot flaws and inconsistencies. It allows the audience to think and ponder without insulting its intelligence.

This photo has a little too much mystery and no coherent plot. If it had concentrated on form, fine- but that's not quite there. If it's about content- what is said content, and in what context? And what the hell does the loaf from hell have to do with anything?

I don't think it's the lack of facial features that people are reacting to- it's about a photo being recognized and hyped as artistic genius when it is, at best, a partially formed idea perhaps worth exploring and developing into a future essay.

I do like and admire Ms. Sank's portraiture- and we can both agree that it doesn't have the level of mystery found in her "winning" entry.

Gerald said...

I read the article on it in the BJP and they said it was 'surreal and disturbing' not that it was artistic genius. I'm not sure where you got that from.

Personally, when I first saw this photo I immediately used my natural bias to see a scene of violence. The cues were the hoodie, the dark skin, the uncomfortable-looking position of the body and the object next to the head - which at first looked like a brick or cement block. All the things we often see in the media on a story form Africa. As it turns out this was not the case at all, but it was interesting for me to examine my own reaction to the image.

I also read that this was part of an ongoing project so she already has explored it further. I'm not sure if the single images were submitted or if the judges just picked photos out of the body of work that was the other half of the competition.

I think my tastes are probably different from the majority of people, but I have no problem with this photo.

Stan B. said...

A bit of hyperbole- perhaps. Nevertheless, that's what is implied by the amount and quality of hype they gave it.

Despite everything, since I do respect the vast majority of her work, I'd be interested in seeing the larger essay. As it is, all we have is a much hyped mediocre "mystery" which, unfortunately, can also just as readily be dismissed as one more stereotypical down and out snapshot from Africa or any inner city you choose.

jophilippe said...

I am not the one to publicly criticize other's work. And furthermore I do think this photo has some merits in its own right. I think the composition is well thought (by that I mean it has some sort of 'authority', an intention, clarity, etc...).

Though I am with you on the cliché argument I find that clichés can be good materials in photographs, as long as there is some distanciation, or whatever slant to make them interesting. Here I am perplex. I feel that the cliché who enters the shot are on the edge of being "uncontrolled", hence why many find this photograph lame. I am not that sure, I think the more you look at it and the more 'controlled' it looks.

But the major concern I have is not with the photo itself but with the circumstances and the contest theme it was choosen and awarded. If I were to speak with the jury I would ask : "what if the guy would have been white insead of black". The contest is about poverty in Africa (if my understanding is correct) and here the very clue about 'Africa' AND poverty is the black skin. I won't get into too much PCness... of course black people are more plagued by poverty than the white (to an extreme extent in South Africa). But this photo (or better said the choice of this photo as the winner) kind of reverses a common (and IMO healthy) way of reasoning, like if [poverty<>black-people] assessment was a postulate raised beforehand, and not a consequence of complex factors.

By the way maybe it that that has been considered as disturbing. If so I think the jury should elaborate on their choice.

Stan B. said...

A judge speaks:

http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/1811313/prize-winning-image

Stan B. said...

FWIW- I pretty much agree with said judge- that's just not the photo I'd wanna hang my hat on.

Of course, should Ms. Sank go on to leave her more classic portraiture behind and develop into a Major Star with a "new vision," he too will be heralded as a visionary who saw it all coming. And the rest of us end up looking pretty damn silly...

Gerald said...

I'm glad the judge explained it because it did receive a considerable amount of venom. I had somewhat the same reaction as the judge, except I liked it right away. I think his line about it not being the typical 'muscular' photojournalism is probably correct in explaining the negativity. But the typical photojournalism is so full of cliches that anything else would've been a tremendous let down. Do we need more photos of a poor person begging while a rich (white) person walks by with Gucchi shopping bags, or poor people lining up at a soup kitchen below a billboard advertising opulence? Photojournalism is probably my least favourite of all the genres, mainly because, like nature photography, it's always going for the biggest punch. Subtlety and photojournalism are often mutually exclusive.

Stan B. said...

The latter can also be said of photojournalism and art. But since many photojournalists are so good at raising photojournalism to the level of art, it's often come to be judged as such, eventhough its primary raison d'etre is to accurately depict and inform.