Man Ray On Art And Originality

May 19th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

One of the World’s Most Recognized and Unusual Artists, the Painter, Sculptor and Photographer Man Ray, Brings Insight to the Creative Process, Art and Originality

Man Ray did not pursue Recognition, Fame or Financial Success. He was broke most of his life.

Are you in it for recognition? For money? Why are you a landscape photographer?

Salvador Dali and Man Ray, Paris, 1934 by Carl Van Vechten. Public Domain image. This photograph was made in Paris while Philip Hyde was there at age 11 with his little brother Davy age 5, his sister Betty, age 16, his mother Jessie and his father painter Leland Hyde, who was studying at the world famous L' Ecole de Beau Arts, one of the art hubs of Modernist Paris.

A hot topic recently in the landscape photography blogosphere has been this variously defined idea of “copying,” that is: one photographer copying another’s photograph by standing in roughly the same place under roughly the same conditions and capturing essentially the same image. While the laws of physics prevent the making of an exact copy, many photographs come close enough to bring the intent of the “copying” photographer into question. I made a few comments on some posts on the topic.

Photography Blog Posts Discussing Copying Or Related Themes Recently:

“The Art of Copying” from Guy Tal Photography Web Journal

“Copying Other Photographer’s Images; Good, Bad, Legal?” from Pro Nature Photographer Blog

“Moving Past The Repertoire” by Greg Russell here on Landscape Photography Blogger

“Make Your Own Tripod Tracks” by David Leland Hyde on Alpenglow Images Blog

“Originality – A Matter of Perspective Revisited by Jim M. Goldstein on JMG Galleries Blog

“Creativity and Copying” posted by Kevin Schafer on the Outdoor Photographer Blog

“Iconic Locations and the Making of Art” from Little Red Tent Blog

“Copy/right and the Nature of Art” from Pomeroy Photography Blog

“Photography and Icons” from Skolai Images by Carl Donohue

“Art; an Exploration of the Unknown” also from Skolai Images

Some photographers have proposed that any photograph that is copyable is not art. Others say this is preposterous. Indeed, one could just as easily argue that any photograph that is not copyable is not art, but is merely a documentation of special effects or techniques and manipulations that go against the nature of photography to stand on real subjects. Is a clean simple, unaffected photograph of nature not to be considered art just because some smart aleck bought a topo map or used GPS mapping to find the location? Either argument may be just as theoretically vacuous and irrelevant to the actual act of making a photograph; except that the photographer’s intent and purpose behind his photography may be the underpinning not yet examined in this discussion.

This Generation Must Do Something Entirely New

As I commented on Guy Tal’s blog post, “Copying Discussion Follow-Up,” we all from time to time can benefit from some introspection. Current landscape photographers and landscape photography in general would benefit by getting away from photographing the icons in the same old ways. Here’s part of what I wrote:

…The next generation must do something else entirely. We have to ask ourselves, why we got into photography in the first place? We have to dig for our own meaning and direction. We must at all costs, eliminate anything that even hints of copying the copiers. That’s my take, anyway, for what it’s worth, and my idea of what is necessary to make any contribution to the art of landscape photography.

More on this and a related discussion on what keeps landscape photography going here on the Landscape Photography Blogger blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying.” On a similar note, a few photography bloggers recently called for discussions on the creative process. Greg Russell on his Alpenglow Images Blog raised concerns about creativity and the use of Photoshop in his blog post, “Where Does the Creative Process Stop?” You may find the comments on this post interesting as well as on the insightful post, “Was That Photoshopped?” from the Landscaping! Blog.

Man Ray’s Shocking Originality And Poverty

One of the world’s most famous photographers, a sculptor and painter, Man Ray, may be one of the most original artists ever. Man Ray was so creative that nothing he ever produced in any medium looked anything at all like any other art that ever existed. Man Ray was not interested in producing photographs that looked like previous masters to learn. He made his own style in everything. He broke all the rules and set the trends. Man Ray also had his work rejected by galleries and the public for many years. Near the end of his life he became accepted by the wealthy art establishment in Paris, France where he lived most of his life. He earlier had become known for his portraits of famous people and soon-to-be famous people such as Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud and many others. He gained a measure of success but it was not until after his death that his original Dadaist sculptures and paintings became highly sought after and sold for millions in auctions.

The point is not that landscape photographers now must be starving artists, it does not matter if you are rich or poor, only if you are unique. The point is to put originality above making money or gaining recognition. Some will starve doing this because they believe that to make money they have to do whatever everyone else is doing. Some will become wealthy through their unique vision.

In a video called Man Ray: Prophet of Avant-Garde from the PBS American Masters series, the modernist painter, sculptor and photographer said:

I never think about art and I don’t think the old masters ever thought that they were creating art. They had to express the spirit of their times and they would then start to invent. What seems to be the tricks of the day, will be the truths of tomorrow. Students ask me, ‘How do I make something original?’ I tell them, be yourself and you will be original. Who are you?

Why are you a landscape photographer?

For a blog post by Jay Goodrich that makes a similar inquiry and features some interesting responses see, “Why Do You Photograph?” To see some new, innovative photographs see also the blog post, “Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography Creations.” To learn more about a pioneer who went far beyond innovation to influence all of landscape photography see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” To look beyond creativity to photographic tools such as film and its influence on the direction of landscape photography see the blog post, “Did Velvia Film Change Landscape Photography?

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53 comments

  1. pj finn says:

    I read those posts and found the comment threads quite interesting. You’ve added considerable food for thought here. I agree — finding you’re own way, your own unique vision, is your main concern as a photographer.

  2. Hi PJ, thank you, glad you enjoyed the rich content around the internet on this topic and the diverse takes. Would you like to share why you are a landscape photographer? It’s okay if it is a private concern for you or if you are still defining it or mulling it over. Otherwise, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Greg Boyer says:

    When I stopped thinking of myself not as a photographer but an artist was the most freeing experience for me. Photoshop is my palette and I use it with great joy. A photograph captures the moment, the artist imparts the emotion.
    I have no problem with someone removing a distracting element from an image using Photoshop. I do this quite often. I also use Photoshop to emphasize certain elements in an image. But I always maintain an honest relationship with my images. I will not enhance an image by replacing a bland sky or adding any elements that were not part of the original image.
    I am a landscape artist because it is a way for me to express the feeling of “oneness” that I feel when I am out in nature.

  4. Hi Greg, thank you for your comment. I express a lot of strong opinions and I am very glad when someone shows me the other side of what I have said and is convincing to the point that I change my mind and disagree with myself and agree with them. Your message has done some of that, though I believe we are also in agreement in some ways. I greatly welcome differing viewpoints and a variety of opinions. As my Mom and Dad used to say having lived in French Morocco, “Vive la Difference.” I must say that I visited your website and blog and have enjoyed your photography as well. I can see how considering yourself an artist would be freeing. To all things, balance. With the quote of Man Ray and other statements I have made in other posts, I suppose I was offering a warning against getting so carried away with being an “artist” that you get caught up in the concept and caught up in yourself. I don’t think that my father would have done as much or impacted all of landscape photography as much as he did if he had not thought of himself as an artist but also at the same time been wary of doing so. In a sense I feel the same way about Photoshop. In the final analysis, it is quite amazing what can be done today with Photoshop to make things look MORE “real,” and at the same time more beautiful than was ever possible in the darkroom with black and white prints and most certainly with any color process. The problem is with the bad use of Photoshop. I remember one time I was railing in an e-mail about this subject and my recipient on the other end who happened to be Huntington Witherill wrote back and said, “Why are you so worried about bad art? There has always been bad art, much more of it than good art, and there always will be bad art. There’s no sense getting upset about it.” Talk about freeing for me. At that point I sort of let go of beating the over-saturation horse, but still have the urge to beat it again from time to time. I think your comment and your photography show that you have it about right and I appreciate your ability to be current with the medium as it is today and maintain artistic integrity. What you say is sort of an update on Ansel Adam’s famous statement that the negative is the score and the print is the performance, anyway. Thank you for sharing why you are a landscape photographer.

  5. Steve Sieren says:

    Stories in history like this really give us a perspective on what happens when we pass on. Will our work have any form of credit or even exist? If Man Ray did not innovate it is highly possible that I would not be learning about him just a few moments ago.

    The first link you have there the blogger is taking something I mentioned on facebook and is assuming I neglect anything that can be copied is not art. Rare or cliche, art is art and photography is just one particular subject of art.

    Charlie Borland can be very entertaining as a writer. He mentions that copying is infringement but in nature photography it would be just too hard to prove. That really makes you wonder and leaves it open.

    David, you mention this generation must do something new. What could that be or has it already been done and will we find out later? Maybe we will not find out until further down the line? It would be nice if that so called person is somebody we all have never heard. That would not be surprising!

  6. Hi Steve, uh oh, are you the one who said on the forum or on Facebook or wherever it was that any art that can be copied is not art? Or did someone else say that? Ve have ways of making him talk. Ve vill shoot him at sunrise. Okay, just fess up, what did you say? We all say things we may partially or wholly regret or don’t even regret at all but that get interpreted differently than what we intended. Please share so that we can get to the bottom of it and get it straightened out for everyone’s enlightenment. Steve, as far as the rest of your comment goes, ve vill shoot you at dawn, no not really, I am just kind of enjoying writing that and saying it to myself. I think I have been blogging too much and need to get out in the fresh air and do some real photography. Anyway, as far as something entirely new being done I have seen it. See Huntington Witherill’s new work or Miss Aneila’s interesting creations on my blog post, “Breaking New Ground With Digital Photography.” I have seen it many places. I am not sure if Carr Clifton has any of his new photographs up on his website yet, but he is doing some very unique, interesting work. I have been quite inspired myself by learning about people like Man Ray because he was so outside the box that he never came inside it. I notice interesting things being done with Photoshop and feel we are on the verge of a completely new kind of photography or something that isn’t even photography any more, a hybrid or something electric. I have seen glimpses of new art concepts around. I don’t have any time for any of it right now myself, if you are implying that perhaps I think I am onto something. I am not. I have surprised myself with some excellent unusual photographs, but nothing that breaks into a whole new arena yet. I just feel like it is brewing in the air. It is out there. I am still learning to master technique and the operation of my camera and all the lenses and devices and whatnot. I am learning more and more about photography and art all the time but my main focus is writing and representing my father’s work. Maybe something will come out of all of this some day, but for now, I will leave it to others to wow us with their new creations. Check around with some of the museums and what they are taking on. There is a lot of unusual activity in art and photography right now.

  7. Derrick says:

    so much food for thought…. I’m going to think/sleep on this.

  8. Hi Derrick, good idea. I would like to go to sleep now too, but I need to get more work done before tomorrow. Let me know what you think about it in the morning and if you have any unusual dreams.

  9. Steve Sieren says:

    I never said anything was not art and either did anyone else in the Facebook thread.

    I said “A landscape photographer’s best work will always be something that can not be duplicated, everything else is just practice.” Maybe a little bold of me and easy for someone to twist a few things in their special philosophical words of wisdom without simply asking.

    I have had a full page advertisement in Outdoor Photographer Magazine for the last three months so I have been getting some of the wierdest emails, photo requests and even phone calls so nothing at this point is surprising.

    An old guy at the office I used to work at spoke all the words in the quote before the comma. I’m not sure if it was his quote or it came from somewhere else and I added on some some to the end of the quote. The man was nice enough to explain to me how to work an old OM2 manually when I first picked up a camera in 2002.

  10. Hi Steve, thank you for the clarification. Now we have a real controversy and it isn’t the one I was expecting, typical of life. Well, first of all when you put it like that, I agree with what the old guy said, “A landscape photographer’s best work will always be something that can not be duplicated.” I don’t know if I would use “always” in a statement like that, but generally I think it stands. Second of all, I feel for you Steve in that I understand full well what it is like to be misunderstood. I know that you were planning to just let it go, except that I prodded you to speak up and set the record straight. The good news is that the miscommunication led to a great blog post by Guy Tal and anyone who wants to know what was really said on that thread can read it themselves? Can’t they? I would advise you and Guy Tal to avoid inadvertently building up the impression on the internet that you are at odds. In all of my dealings with Guy Tal he has been kind and shown good faith and good people relations. He does tear down various things, but we have to understand that is a way of getting people talking, stirring up ideas and fanning the flames of creativity in all of us.

  11. Richard Wong says:

    The last paragraph is a great quote David and one that basically describes my philosophy. If a photographer stays true to themselves and expresses themselves then we should just let the chips fall where they may.

    Why am I a landscape photographer? I find it therapeutic yet exciting at times.

  12. Thank you, Richard. That whole PBS video on Man Ray is brilliant. Whenever Man Ray talks in it, he makes powerful statements that seem almost nonsensical at first glance and some of them still are after more glances and even long looks, but they sure made me think. Most of what he says is so profound, even what makes sense is hard to comprehend and has many facets to each simple statement. You can see why his art was like nothing ever done before or since and was not understood for years.

  13. pj finn says:

    I was mulling over your question last night, I’m still mulling it over this morning, and I’ll probably be mulling it over for the rest of my days…

    I’m not even sure that I consider myself a ‘landscape photographer’, though I photograph landscapes often enough. But why?

    Beats me. I consider the wild earth my home, and I often get a powerful itch to photograph my home I guess.

    There’s my simple non-answer to a complex question.

  14. Hi PJ, thank you for posting your thoughts. What I’m hearing you saying is that it is not as consciously defined for you but you do feel compelled to photograph, which is interesting. Well, I hope the discussion and mulling was a help to you…

  15. There is a general internet “wisdom” about landscape photography that encourages copying. Copying art, copying business plans, etc. Do this and you will have success is screamed from a million blogs. I think this is what leads to copying.

    We have dropped facebook (hate the lack of respect and privacy) we aren’t pursuing portfolio reviews, contests or galleries or any of the other 10 million things the internet tells you to do and our businesses have never been more successful. If you listen to common wisdom, then everyone should copy everyone else and everyone will be successful. Take the “You, too, can be Edward Weston” workshop and copy your way to success. Or buy the “Succeed your Way to the top with Social Marketing” DVD. Internet marketers (and this isn’t new to the internet) want you to believe there are easy steps to becoming an artist and everyone can achieve them.

    To me, the real essence of art is about producing something that comes from your creative mind and soul. If you and I, David, are moved similarly, then we both might produce something under similar conditions and they might both be works of art. But if I saw one of your shots that was successful and decided that if I did the same thing then I would be successful – frankly, I wonder if it would work. I think it would be as empty as I my heart was in making it.

    I agree, David, that we need to be willing to do something different. It’s not hard to learn to crank out beautiful photography, but I don’t think that is always enough. Otherwise, calendars would be hung in museums.

    Sharon

  16. Wow, Sharon, spoken in the spirit of Betsy Ross, Henry David Thoreau or even Joan of Arc without the voices. That’s right. Be independent. I do tend to agree with everything you said in spades, but also see the other side of some of it in some ways. I have spent 100′s of hours on SEO for my website and hardly scratched the surface of what I need to do to get it right. I notice the people on Facebook spend hours and hours of time on it and I have rarely heard of any major sales come out of it. How many gallery or museum curators say, “Gee I am inundated with proposals, but rather than read any of these, I think I will go look on Facebook and see what is being offered there”? Do collectors buy fine art photography from Facebook? NOT. I just made an interesting investigation. I went around to a sampling of the top photography galleries in the nation in the top markets and I clicked on each artist’s work and then went to their website to see if they had blogs. Very few of the top photographers in the top galleries have blogs. The few top photographers like Art Wolfe who do have blogs have someone on staff run their blog. Many of the top photographers in the top galleries don’t even have websites. Very few of them are on the social media. Now if you are primarily a stock photographer, it is of course a different story. What if a photographer like you Sharon and your husband Dirck were to take that time that you would spend on trying to play the Google game and invest it in making more photographs and on the phone, calling photo buyers and curators? Your income would probably skyrocket. Let’s face it, a few photographers can make a lot of money from the internet, but the rest of us are fooling ourselves into trying to play catchup. While the internet does feed the creative flames sometimes and can be a source of ideas, like you point out it is hard to say conclusively whether it feeds individuality and originality.

  17. I didn’t mean to sound so militant. :-)

    Sharon

  18. Hi Sharon, uh oh, did I sound militant? Or imply that you were militant? I’m just stirring it up.

  19. pj finn says:

    I’ll throw in a little more here and see if I can be somewhat coherent.

    David, you mentioned that of the top few, most don’t blog and often don’t have websites. True enough, but they are also established, and don’t need to build a reputation. They are already there. To those coming up, a well done personal blog can open doors and create contacts that could, and probably would, otherwise be missed. You can reach out on a much larger scale, and much faster on the internet, much like what we’re doing right now tossing around ideas here at your place.

    I think the social media is a different story, but maybe it’s just me. I can’t say a damn thing in only 140 characters. I have a twitter account, but seldom use it except to link to something interesting I come across on occasion. I don’t do Facebook. I have a Flickr account that I haven’t uploaded to and probably never will. I prefer to run my own blog and make contact with others the way I’m doing now. I wouldn’t be able to do that without a blog, at least not to any meaningful degree. I think a well-presented blog is one of the most valuable tools a photographer can have, and that’s going to be even more true as time goes on and a new generation of photographers and buyers and dealers and editors comes along. I don’t see the new generation getting the mileage out of shoe leather and postage stamps that the old guard did.

    Either way though, it will still boil down to one thing. Solid work. However you try to establish yourself, without a body of solid, original work you’re going nowhere, blog or not. Which kind of circles back to the whole copying thing and… aw jeez, why did I go and get myself into this one…

  20. Hi PJ, excellent points ALL. As you may have imagined, I love blogging. I suppose I do get discouraged sometimes because I need to see more income coming in after all the outgo. I may not have been that smart with that. I have been in business for myself numerous times and never was all that good at keeping expenses down. I only have had successful businesses when I could make more and more income and the sky was the limit on it, which believe it or not did fortunately happen to me more than once. My father and my mother on the other hand were good at pinching every penny, which got them through the lean years and allowed Dad to be a full-time landscape photographer, which is rare. Even Eliot Porter was a doctor. It also allowed Mom to be a full-time homemaker. Also as a result of extreme frugality they did end up with a little bit at the end. My main problem with blogging and the other internet activities is that they are very time consuming and take away from working on my book and picking up the telephone and cultivating collectors and applying for exhibition opportunities. I am just trying to balance it all and noticing that many of the top photographers don’t do all the internet stuff, but I think you are right that they are mainly the ones who established themselves in the old economy. I do feel that in the long run blogging will pay off somehow, though there is some controversy as to how profitable it really is. I feel that there are a good number of quality photo blogs out there, such as yours, PJ, and many others by those in this discussion.

  21. Ed Cooper says:

    Hi David,

    I thought I would reply to your query, “Why am I in photography?” Of course, all photographers want to be recognized for their art, and there are many thousands of them out there now posting on all sorts of internet sites. For me, yes, I want to be recognized for my photography, but it is more than that. MY LIFE IS THE IMAGE. That was the case 50 years ago when I was printing B&W on Agfa Brovira, after taking the picture. It is the case now, where I take digital images, and work on them with Photoshop after I take them. I don’t have to work now, because of fortuitous circumstances. Nevertheless, I work every day on either taking new images, working on the images, either currently taken on my digital camera, or on past images, scanning them and restoring them to original brilliance. So that is why I am a landscape photographer. But it is even more than that. I also take images of many things that are not landscape. Such as the stagecoach in Tombstone, Arizona, and
    the interior of the Mission San Xavier de Bac near Tuscon taken on a three week trip with my wife, Debby, this spring. For the latter image, the crowds were a problem, even on a weekday in March. I shot a number of digital images inside to capture the magnificence of its interior. In the best image, there was a couple in a pew not far away, which spoiled the image I wanted. I waited. They left, but other people appeared in other parts of the image, but not in the area of the pews. Finally, I copied the image of the empty pews in one image and pasted it over the image with only two people in the pew. I now had an image with no people in it. I proceeded to apply perspective and scale controls, as well as Saturation and Color Balance in Photoshop and recreate the image in its perfection. And these images were really not Landscape in nature, the area for which I am known. So THE IMAGE IS KING.
    Ed

  22. Hi Ed, thank you for your experienced viewpoint here. I am honored to have a veteran photographer such as yourself join the discussion. Your photographs of remote mountain places are stunning and inspiring and I remember your friendship with my father from when I was a kid. I think I started all of this to get more attention for my father and by extension, of course, myself. It was somewhat justified since because of his mild, wilderness-dwelling lifestyle, my father never did get the recognition he deserved. While that is still in the far background, it has been all but beaten out of me by the photography industry and certain circumstances regarding my dad’s work that I will not go into here. I have gone through a number of challenges and major financial defeats lately, which have caused me to reach deep and realize that if I was only in it for recognition I would have quit a long time ago. Also, staff from a certain organization that I will not name have vilified me and said I was only in it for money. What a joke that is. I first earned a six-figure income at age 24 and I have had offers from several friends to work with them who are making big bucks. I have a significant number of things I could do that would make many times the income ever possibly available in landscape photography. However, I feel I am doing the right thing and am driven by many of the same passions that drove my father. I want to make a difference for photography and for the environment, which is ultimately for the sake of humans because the Earth will take care of itself, but our survival is questionable on the Earth.

  23. Greg Boyer says:

    Just read this blog post (Creativity and Copying on Outdoor Photographer–See link above). I think it is pertinent to a part of this discussion. Well written and concise.

  24. Hi Greg, thank you for adding to the discussion and letting us know about this article. Several days later I just tried the link and it went to the Outdoor Photographer website and a 404 error. They either moved the post or renamed the permalink. So, I will put a link to the article above in my blog post where I list the other articles about the subject around the blogosphere and where I can keep an eye on it. I agree heartily with that well-written piece by Kevin Schafer.

  25. Derrick says:

    OK…. slept on it, and really didn’t have any more bizzare than usual dreams; sorry David. ;)

    Now, to your question, or at least what I have contemplated so far.

    First, the very idea of copying a shot that someone else took just grates on my nerves. It’s like nearly every movie or song that comes out lately. Nothing is original. And that bores the hell out of me.

    With the push towards photoshop creativity, that pushes me in the opposite direction, like when your parents tell you not to drink or smoke. First thing I’m going to do is go have a beer and a cigar. I want to capture and dare I say create images that are cool and creative without using photoshop. If that’s your cup o’ tea, fine by me. But it’s not mine.

    Folks like your father and the other trailblazers took absolutely drop dead wonderful images without photoshop. So obviously, it can be done.

    That’s partially the reason I have stayed away from places like Big Bend National Park rather than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There is not a location, other than somewhere waaaaaaaay off the beaten path in the national park that hasn’t already been photographed a million times. The ranch, however, is uncharted territory.

    So, one part of the “why” for me is to prove it can be done.

    Another reason is that I simply love and enjoy the outdoors. I have hunted, hiked, climbed, camped, biked, ran, surfed, and swam my entire life. Taking a camera along lets me document a part of my life that I enjoy very much. And I want to share that passion with other people and (hopefully) encourage them to get off the couch and get out there and see the wonders that can be seen. To see the colors, hear the wind and feel the sun on their faces.

    Taking and sharing those images is pleasurable to me, on many levels, and to date I haven’t made a single dime off it, which is just fine with me. I’m still constantly amazed that someone else likes images I take.

    OK, that rambled… hope it makes sense.

  26. Hi Derrick, it definitely makes sense. Also, I would take it as a good sign that you are meant to have many happy years of using Photoshop since your dreams were not over-saturated. I’m playing around a bit but I appreciate your thoughtfully serious response to the question posed by the post. Just to keep the record straight, we had to work very hard in Photoshop to match what Dad did with his images, as Ansel Adams put it, the “performance” that is the print. Dad did a great deal with his photographs that went way beyond merely what the view camera captured. Photoshop only happens to simulate or replace other photographic print making processes. Photoshop offers more in-depth control and variability, and we need it to do what some of the best print makers did without Photoshop. In your case, Derrick, your passion for the outdoors shows in your photographs and your blog, regardless of what you earn. It is a very different era today and you are probably quite wise to be doing it the way you are.

  27. “Hi Sharon, uh oh, did I sound militant? Or imply that you were militant? I’m just stirring it up.”

    I was just smiling about your Joan of Arc reference, David. I am enjoying this thread.

    Sharon

  28. Hi Sharon, I realize you probably don’t want to be burned at the stake, but that is what we do to many of our saints. Not that you’re a saint, well, just kidding. Maybe you are an angel, rather than a saint? Okay, I have no idea where this is going except downhill and I need to stop digging…you may not be any of the labels I have put on you here, but you have shown signs of leadership and vision and that is what counts. There I hope that helps me remove my foot and doesn’t sound over-done because it is what I meant by the previous rhetoric. When I say leadership and vision, I refer to bucking the headlong race toward internet applications without looking into them much first. I am not sure I am against all of it or any of it, but at the same time none are proven winners yet either. Not that I am one to hang back from risk, new technology or advances, but I see disadvantages to where “everyone” is going in this case.

  29. Dennis Flynn says:

    Dear David,

    You asked me to contribute a comment on your blog. Previously I couldn’t find the blog entry place. Now I have. This is good. Man Ray is a favorite. University of New Mexico has a tremendous exhibit of the artist’s work up now. Everybody should be familiar with Ray’s autobiography “Self-Portrait.”

    Photography has always had a problem. It has always been about “copying.” The next step is photographers copying photographers. In painting, etc., that’s called acquisitions. I’m a painter. I’m involved in “acquisition.” The result must stand on its own feet. The result can be seen as a tribute, an homage. Man Ray copied African masks as did Picasso, many others.

  30. Hi Dennis, glad you finally made it and I am honored to have an old friend join in here who is also an internationally exhibited working painter. Probably not all photographs are copies and I imagine that is not what you are saying. Clearly many of us photographers agree with you that some photography copies. Considering you used to teach art at the University level, I appreciate you sharing the term “acquisition” for what I have described when throughout the centuries artists have used elements of the art of other artists. Also, I appreciate having your professional explanation that the new creation must stand on its own merit, add to the earlier work and as the copyright law states, “it must transform” the previous work.

  31. Steve Sieren says:

    I seriously do not have an idea why I do it. I like singling out the odd or interesting.

    In the portrait Ray and Dali both have these odd stares. Dali was known for the odd self portraits but Ray seemed to have more normal portraits. I think Dali talked him into the weird stare.

  32. Hi Steve, singling out the odd or interesting is reason enough. I find your statement captivating about Man Ray and Salvador Dali in that portrait because it is easy to suspect something unusual is going on.

  33. Greg Russell says:

    Wow, I came into this comment thread late! David, I read this post last week, and after thinking about your question, as well as reading the others’ comments, I’d like to throw my $0.02 in. I think it will sound familiar to you, based on some of our past conversations.

    Like many of us, I started taking photographs to capture the beauty in a place. I wanted to move beyond point and shoots, because those photos never come out the way we want them to. I never considered myself an artist, and in some ways I still don’t. As my own photographic vision has crystallized over the last 9 or so months, I’ve come to the conclusion that I photograph landscapes with a sense of place. I want my viewers to feel connected with the land, to have a visceral reaction to it. Not really caring whether its the prettiest photo of a place, or even the most technically perfect has helped me forge a more concrete vision of why I photograph landscapes.

    Steve’s words on Facebook are good ones. You and I talked recently about my own photographs of “the icons” and I feel that some of my best work is that won’t be duplicated. Those are the images that go on my “favorites” list.

    Finally, PJ touched on social networking For me, its been good to meet other photographers and to share my work. But, I do have mixed feelings about the “oh oh look at me” mentality that sites like Facebook and Twitter force upon us. I don’t know…the jury is still out on whether its the best thing for our art.

  34. Hi Greg, thank you for participating. As we have discussed, landscape photography, or any photography that is strongly tied to a sense of place often makes a stronger statement. My father’s friend Ben Chinn made photographs of Chinatown in San Francisco for over 50 years. When you look at his photographs you get right away that he lived there all that time and was a native. Gerald Ratto, another California School of Fine Arts graduate recently had a show in the Robert Tat gallery in downtown San Francisco of his “Children of the Filmore.” Gerald Ratto’s photography is of people but is powered by the San Francisco’s Filmore District, as is some of the work of David Johnson, another classmate of Dad’s. David Johnson’s photography of the Jazz era is also strongly rooted in time and place. These photographers have been widely acclaimed lately in the media and shown in major San Francisco galleries their whole careers. Here’s the New York Times Article on Gerald Ratto’s San Francisco Exhibition http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/arts/design/06sfculture.html . Much more to come on these photographers in future blog posts.

  35. David, I’m glad I finally found time to read this! And thanks for the link, it’s much appreciated. I’m thoroughly enjoying the discussion – you do have a knack for making people think about things. It certainly works with me!

    I agree with you 100% that the photographer’s intent is the key to the originality argument. As I mentioned on my blog, it’s entirely possible to take a shot that’s very similar to someone else’s image without ever realizing it. In this day and age, it’s almost inevitable. That doesn’t invalidate either image; as Sharon so eloquently put it: “To me, the real essence of art is about producing something that comes from your creative mind and soul.” (Loved your comment, btw, Sharon!) Many of the Masters painted flowers; if for some reason they had all been inspired to sit down and paint the same flower, they would each have come up with their own masterpiece. There’s no conflict or lack of originality there.

    … So I guess in a roundabout way I’m coming to understand and appreciate your point that if we stand on the proverbial rim of the Grand Canyon, we should each aim to produce a shot that’s different from everyone else’s. Not because the Grand Canyon is going to look any different, but because our vision of it is different. Yeah, you get my vote on that. :) At first I reacted against that idea, because I’ve seen too many images or other works of art where, as far as I’m concerned (and of course it’s all subjective), the artist has just tried too hard to be different. They’re producing something that isn’t coming from their creative mind and soul, just from their brain. And that doesn’t speak to me. So I agree: we all need to be true to that inner voice.

    As for why I’m a landscape photographer – well, I’m not, really. If you look at my website, I don’t limit myself to landscapes, although I do dearly love that subject matter. For me, it’s more about cogito ergo sum, because I don’t know the Latin for “I see, therefore I shoot.” There is beauty all around us everywhere we go; sometimes you have to look very hard to find it, but it’s there. The overwhelming thing about getting out into the wild, whether it’s a National Park or a stretch of bleak desert, is that you don’t have to look far at all – just open your eyes. The unspoilt natural world is humbling and spiritually refreshing: when the only sound you can hear is the wind in a mountain pass, or you look out over the desert at sunrise and see no trace of humanity, it puts things in perspective in a very big way. Taking it beyond landscapes, if I’m “in the zone” when I’m shooting, it’s a sort of meditation. Like any of the arts, be it painting, music, sculpture… being caught up in the creative process is energizing and renewing. Simply put, it feeds my soul.

    And it never hurts to be reminded of that, and to give thanks for it.

  36. Hi Moira, thank you for reading and writing your thoughts. You have raised a good point about the stilted, false feeling of art that tries too hard to be different. As you say this is a product of the mind getting in the way, which brings us full circle to what Man Ray said about being yourself. If you know who you are, you can’t help but create something genuine, which will be unique by default because each of us is the only non-duplicatable copy of ourselves. We do have to be careful that the idea of being unique does not also become a rule. It is ironic that you use standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon as your example though your point is well-taken. My father spoke at workshops and in interviews about the importance of the photographer finding his or her own voice. However, Dad had a sense of humor and often took the opportunity to laugh at himself. One time in 1976 he was at the South Rim on a wintry day when the snow had reached deeply into the lower elevations of the Grand Canyon. The sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the beautiful fresh snow scene. He planted his tripod right at the top of the Bright Angel Trail looking down into the Grand Canyon, composing the most obvious photograph possible, just as millions of tourists had snapped before him, but as far as he knew, no professionals had published or exhibited. This would not happen today because the millions of tourists have digital SLR’s rather than cheap Instamatics as in those days and they often publish their work. At http://www.philiphyde.com/ see the Deserts Portfolio for the photograph, “South Rim, Winter, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.”

  37. David, I haven’t heard the word “Instamatic” in years! I loved the desert shots, and I can certainly see where you got your drive and enthusiasm.

    Humor keeps us sane, especially if you’re able to laugh at yourself. It’s good to know your dad passed that on, too – mine certainly did, in full measure. I’d say we both have a lot to be grateful for, eh?

  38. Hi Moira, we do have a lot to be grateful for and thank you for mentioning it. One of the most celebrated and remembered character traits of my father was his sense of humor. Among many other subjects, he used to poke fun at what he called, “The Instamatic crowd.” They are still around but have upgraded to better cameras.

  39. Guy Tal says:

    Fantastic post, David! And thank you for mentioning my blog.

    For anyone who missed the follow-up post, I did want to clarify that I deliberately expanded on Steve’s original thought in order to make my own point. I also wanted to thank him for pointing this fact out to anyone who may have seen the original thread. I hold Steve in the highest respect as a person, as a photographer, and as an artist.

    Man Ray is a fantastic example of dedication and being true to one’s vision. Van Gogh is another. He lived in squalor and died poor, subsisting for years primarily on bread, coffee, and tobacco and sacrificing his health to afford painting supplies. Despite the hardship, he left us with an amazing legacy of beauty.

    It’s obvious to me that the lessons here transcend any current-day considerations of what to photograph or what to sell or how to market one’s work. What’s at stake is a legacy for the ages – the things that will outlive us and the wisdom we may offer for those who will follow.

    Beyond the vanity of the young, those of a certain age recognize the fleeting nature of our existence. What we remember of Van Gogh today is not the starved, sickly, disagreeable man (by some accounts of those who knew him) but the enduring beauty of his work, his intense passion for the subject, and his dedication to both the art at his subject matter.

    How many of us will be so fortunate as to have our names outlive us and be associated with meaningful art or words? Certainly not those who spend their efforts producing replicas.

    “I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.” –Vincent Van Gogh

    Guy

  40. Thank you Guy for stopping by, for the clarification and for also mentioning my blog from time to time. As I believe I wrote to both you and Steve Sieren by e-mail, I respect you both. Steve’s original point was valid, as were the points you made in your blog post. I am grateful to you for instigating or continuing such interesting discussions and giving us the opportunity to riff off of the jam you are playing. Congratulations on the new gallery. I look forward to seeing the announcement of it and getting the details on your blog. I appreciate hearing what you know of these great artists. I have a strong admiration for Vincent Van Gogh and his work. It is important to me to hear what the great masters said about art.

  41. Loving art is not limited to any country or language, thank you for posting this info on this blog, its great.

  42. Hello Tyson, that is a very good point and I appreciate you mentioning it.

  43. Erik Halberstadt says:

    Hi David,

    I suspect our fathers had this discussion more than once — I have no idea if that premise is true, but judging from what you’ve said here, I suspect they held somewhat opposing views. At least publicly, anyway.

    I think it was during the angst of my third attempt at having a creative career that had me asking Hal how to succeed (which is to say “make a living”) creating “art”. He had a lot to say on the subject: most of it boiled down to one simple, unhappy fact: “It’s all been done.”

    Now that I’m older, I may begin to understand, at least as pertains to photography. I believe that all photography is copying — we don’t make the landscape or the nude, we make them tangible. In that sense, we may be the first to capture an image, or the first to promote it, but we are not Creators in the sense that a painter or sculptor might be — our visions are less what might be than what is, and perhaps less creative in the semantically literal sense than the other arts.

    Somewhere there’s a quote of your dad saying that he didn’t wait for the light — it was that statement that brought me here, and an echo of something Hal said to Ansel, in public: “Landscape photography is easy; you just stand there and wait for the light.” Needless, I hope, to say, that that was not a popular statement, but the truth in it, painful as it may be to some, is clear — a goodly hunk of the practice of landscape photography is not of our own doing.

    What I do when I’m doing “art photography” is to try to capture a moment or feeling of the awe and wonder (or pain and despair, or… ) I experience from the universe -and- to preserve and communicate it. That some few have seen and like my work is my validation… and the echoes of my meager efforts that I see reflected in other’s works is all I need of promised immortality.

    Copying is educational — from the first caveman to spray ocher around his (or her) hand on a wall (and that was probably an accident (“What’s that in your mouth, Ogg?”)) we’ve learned by trying to reproduce what we’ve seen others do. We have the evidence of their efforts, and the tracks of the methods used as waypoints to mastery of our craft. Without copying, we each must blaze the technical trails that others have already cleared, and paved solid in granite and Dektol, as it were. Even if those waypoints are now programmed into our cameras, we copy by way of those who followed others’ paths to mastering the mechanism and chemistry that is painting with light.

    And yet copying, for most who practice it, is futile. 99% of the millions of people who park their tripod in Ansel’s spots utterly fail to make images that are more than poor reflections of the original — even in those Yosemite workshops he taught. That the direct-copy crowd enjoys any success at all says more about the audience than it does about the images — for every educated art consumer there are a hundred thousand who don’t care how an image came to be, only that it looks like “That One” and costs as little as possible.

    The techniques we share, be they large sheets of silver in gelatin or CCD sensors; Arca or Instamatic, aren’t really significant to my way of thinking (and Hal’s way of teaching)– it’s all just stuff. The tangible results aren’t truly that significant, either. In a thousand years most of it will be, at best, a memory, a reflection in some -other- pioneering eye, making copies of Ansel and Man Ray, who were translating those who went before -them-, should we be so fortunate as to have any technology remaining.

    And then there’s the unstated question (if it was stated, I missed it!) “What is photography?”

    To me, photography is what happens in the camera — I do my best to get the image I want to see in the exposure, not what I might do in the darkroom or on the computer. I learn to see what the camera sees rather than force what it captures to fit what I think it should see. Maybe that’s a failing on my part as an artist, but I think it’s a strong point as a photographer.

    Post exposure manipulations, be they 20 steps in the darkroom to print Ansel’s “Moonrise Hernandez” or HDR stacking in Photoshop are something else that isn’t exactly photography. They either save a bad exposure or use it as a foundation to create something else. I love getting a good print out of a marginal negative, and I spend a lot of time playing with Photoshop, but that’s not photography, whatever it is. (Ducking into my flame-resistant bunker now.)

    So, to cut my likely not very sensible ramblings short, photography and copying are Siamese twins. The Art in it arises in how we use that faithful reproduction of What Exists — there is as much Art in a purposeful print from an Instamatic (or my current choice, an iPhone) made with due consideration to the image as there is in a straight print from a ten zone 8×10 negative as there is from a heavily Photoshopped image-construct, all other things being equal. It’s the intent and the result rather than the “Stuff” used to get there.

    Oh, just one last rambling thing… not to name drop as much to make a point: I was fortunate enough to hear Ansel play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the Steinway more than once, both in San Francisco and Carmel. I would not trade that hearing for all his prints and all the tea in China. As much as I love his photography, it pales by comparison to his music.

    He was **copying** Bach when he played — not just the notes on the page, but the breath, the blood and bone of the music… there was more of his passion evident in those few moments than in all the lovely images he produced. For me, his photographs are only the dim light reflecting from his music.

  44. Hi Erik, thank you for this powerful contribution to the discussion. There seem to be a number of Halberstadt’s associated with photography. Piet Halberstadt of New York wrote me a delightful e-mail a while back talking about my dad and Ansel Adams and some of the others. If you don’t mind me asking, what relation are you to Piet? He’s on my e-mail list. Also, will you e-mail me your contact info because I would like to ask you a couple questions including: can I post your comment above as a separate blog post?

    Now, to respond: My father at one time in his life when he was teaching at the Ansel Adams workshops wrote in a letter to one of the lead staff. In that letter he expressed similar sentiment to what you have: It’s all been done. However, near the end of his life after he had lost his eyesight in 1999-2000, as part of an exercise from a memoir writing book, I asked Dad to dictate a letter to his grandchildren. I am still without children and thus he is without grandchildren, but the principle is the same. In his letter to his grandchildren Dad advised them above all else to find their own voice, to see their own vision. This appears somewhat contradictory to “it’s all been done,” but perhaps not. Perhaps even though it has all been done, those of us in art now can still take heart that we will be able to find our own voices. People who are young or new at something need to have reason to be optimistic, though I don’t necessarily perceive “it’s all been done” as entirely pessimistic either. Shakespeare said it and look what he created. Most, if not all of his plots were borrowed from other sources, but he certainly found his own voice. Also, it is quite evident in Dad’s early work that he often borrowed, or even “copied” as you call it, from his mentors Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and even Dorothea Lange and other early 19th and 20th century landscape photographers. Yet in my opinion, he succeeded in heeding his own advice to his grandchildren. Of Dad’s images my advisers and I have assembled for the website, the majority were selected mainly because no other photographer could have made them. I am in accord with working photographs in Photoshop, but with subtle, less saturated taste, just as Dad’s dye transfer prints. Fundamentally though, I agree with what you say photography is. I like your statement, “I learn to see what the camera sees rather than force what it captures to fit what I think it should see.” You are right on with, “That the direct-copy crowd enjoys any success at all, says more about the audience than it does about the images — for every educated art consumer there are a hundred thousand who don’t care how an image came to be, only that it looks like ‘That One’ and costs as little as possible.” That’s for sure. Those who merely wait for the light are not producing the landscape photography that will stick with mankind over the long term. There’s much more to landscape photography than picking a pretty scene and waiting for the light. Many of the same qualities that make other types of photographs great are the same as what make landscape photographs great. The idea in any art is to transcend subject matter anyway. Edward Weston said it best, “To photograph a rock, have it look like a rock but be more than a rock.”

  45. I really like to read this kind of post very interesting, thanks for this!

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