« Art Blogs Beyond Photography, And One Path Away From the Darkroom | Main | Contemporary and Classic Fashion: The Good and the Ordinary »

March 16, 2004

Painting vs Photography, and Beautiful Fuzzy Visions

I just returned from New York and the Armory Show, as I indicated in my last post, and I still have a bit to digest and catch up with. Since I never did the summary of the AIPAD photography show that I attended last month, I now have a convenient opportunity to compare and contrast my "art trade show" experiences...and trust me, these were trade shows just as focused on selling as the technology fairs I attended in my past life as a technology analyst.

I attended both shows as a photography and art lover and lurker, rather than as a potential buyer and collector, but it was enjoyable, if a bit exasperating at times, to witness the gallery-collector dynamic vis-a-vis certain artists first hand.

I'll get up my AIPAD vs Armory post in the next day or so...short summary, AIPAD quiet, genteel, black and white, "classic" representational photography...Armory loud, huge, crowded, in your face, huge color C-prints, never dull but much more exhausting. These are broad generalizations, and of course the Armory show is a broader contemporary art show with only a modest sampling of photography, while AIPAD is exclusively photography. But it was still fascinating to see (and feel) the differences.

In the meantime, here are some random links as I contemplate everything I've seen in NY over the period of a month...

Photo-like paintings (as opposed to painting-like photographs) were still highly visible at the Armory, though as a trend they're supposedly on the wane. In particular, Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice wants a moratorium on the unimaginative use of photography as a foundation or model for painting, and he makes a good argument. Actually, what I like about Saltz's argument is it could be used the other way as well...the numerous ways photographers attempt to make their images "painterly", particularly with quirky cameras, filters and Photoshop, all too frequently these days produce a predictable and unimaginative result. Mark Sink has been making such arguments for a while now, and they're nicely summarized in his artist's statement regarding his Diana camera work:

"You can not make a bad picture; the [Diana] camera is too easy. Sadly many use it because they can’t make a good picture with glass so they depend on the effects the plastic creates. It can often make very cute weak pictures look serious and seemingly much stronger. I see a dangerous similarity with Polaroid transfer. It's too easy to be arty; the majority of work I see is often empty of vision, personal style and craft. It started as a teaching tool but has spread into the a dangerous realm of interesting gimmickry with little previsualized concept among young photographers.

Ansel Adams once said most people have sharp lens but fuzzy concepts."

Going with the flow, I discovered a painter, Johnny Robertson, whose hazy monochromatic work evokes toy camera photography's fuzzy dreaminess, in a good way...and I imagine painting here provides more punch, however subtle, to the way color and texture signify. (thanks to the fascinating art blog, bare and bitter sleep, for the reference).


Road City, 2003, Johnny Robertson acrylic

Another painter who is more well-known and explicitly photographic, is Elizabeth Peyton, who's one of the hits at the current Whitney Biennial in New York. Her work is really worth seeing in real life and up close, and is particularly compromised with web viewing...not to mention it's not collected well in any one place online. However, a google image search using her name will give you a glimpse of her rich and sensitive portraits...I've always liked her style since I saw her first Kurt Cobain painting. Here's a cool interview with her as well, in which she has discusses photography vs painting, and acknowledges David Hockney as a huge influence.



Elizabeth Peyton paintings

And finally, on the "straight" photograph side of things, I discovered the work of Australian photographer Bill Henson at the Armory, though he's been around for a while...great looking C-prints at the show (though easy to get lost with all the other distractions and the crowds at the Armory), and his luscious nocturnal landscapes and dimly lit teenagers are spooky, erotic, and yes, painterly in all the right ways...they look fine online as well.


Bill Henson C-print

11:39 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Painting vs Photography, and Beautiful Fuzzy Visions:


"I see a dangerous similarity with Polaroid transfer. It's too easy to be arty; the majority of work I see is often empty of vision, personal style and craft."

I am very interested in pinhole and Polaroid transfer and this is one of my majors concerns. I want to make photography and not pinholes or tansfers...and it is dificult. It is to easy to make an appealing image.

Posted by: António at Mar 17, 2004 8:43:39 AM

I can understand what Antonio is telling there, I feel a bit the same about my Diana toy camera photos, regarding the possibility of being trapped in a toy-photo scene, instead of a simple/straight photo-scene.

Posted by: Farrolas at Mar 17, 2004 12:38:27 PM

I thought we'd all gotten over "authorial intent" back in the 80s. What difference does it make whether the process is "easy"? Shouldn't the evaluation be based on the actual content of the picture? Is it unique? Does it add something valuable to the discussion? "Easy" may decrease the likelihood that something unique will result from the process, but that shouldn't be used to write off an entire category of art, should it?

Posted by: Todd W. at Mar 24, 2004 2:08:33 PM

Todd, I'm not sure we're reading the same thing from Mark Sink's quote. For over thirty years, students have been using plastic cameras in art programs, but as a teacher, Sink sees students using them without much thought about what it is they want to communicate or create, beyond an interestingly fuzzy image that speaks to broad and hazy themes (decay, destruction, abstraction etc). Your well-placed questions regarding uniqueness and value in regards to evaluating an image speak to the issues Sink raises.

I don't believe Sink is referring to the actual "easiness" of the process (point and shoot snapshots are easy, too), but the "ease" (a sort of intellectual laziness) of creating an interestingly different picture with plastic cameras that goes beyond photography's standard way of representing subjects...he feels it's been overdone, and that too many cliches and lazy pictures have resulted.

And I don't think he's writing off "an entire category of art", just asking for more creativity. This is a call that applies to many artistic paths which have been done to death, from zone system landscapes to flower still lifes to the staged contemporary photography of today. I'm not sure what "authorial intent" has to do with it, or where the '80s fit in this discussion.

Posted by: Robert at Mar 24, 2004 7:58:17 PM

a greater loss but has had the rock, lyrics miss his talent and infected us with a rage of others, wish you were his art and his talent here with us the man was alone on their own ..

Posted by: sildenafil at Apr 26, 2010 3:39:40 PM