Photography’s Golden Era 2
(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Photography’s Golden Era 1“)
Are We Currently in Another Golden Era of Photography?
HEY, THAT’S NOT ART!!!!!
After the first post on Photography’s Golden Era, one of the responses has been rolling around in the back 40 of my vacuous mind. A photographer named Derrick Birdsall of “My Sight Picture” said he enjoyed the “walk back in time,” and when I asked him what else he would like to see covered on the subject he wrote: “David, as a historian (and neophyte photographer) myself, I enjoyed the perspective you shared. Gotta know where you’ve been if you want to know where you’re going. As for future topics… why would you say that the “Golden Era” was in the past? Some could argue that with all of the technology more or less readily available and affordable today that we are currently in a Golden Era today?? I’m not arguing the point, but I’d be interested to hear your views on the matter.”
Interesting questions, and put to me in an open-ended, ‘let’s see what you think’ manner. I couldn’t resist. I decided to offer my take on it here. It would be fun to hear what others think too. Are we in a new Golden Era, or in the pits of the cherries now? Here’s my response, edited again…
Great questions. I did not label the period from 1946 to 1955 at the California School of Fine Arts when Minor White was lead instructor and the time just before that in the San Francisco Bay Area when Group f.64 formed. Photo historians and curators including Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball in their forthcoming book, The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-1955 (written about in the blog post, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography“) have called it the Golden Era because the energy, creativity, optimism and serious commitment of the G.I.s coming out of WW II and looking to get on with their lives, meshed with the gathering of the greatest teachers and innovators photography has ever seen. At a unique time when there had been no fine art photography before, it all came together in one place and brought forth photography that will endure “forever” if that is possible.
Definitely a good point you raise about the current day. On the internet synergy occurs, though at times it seems much less like a coming together of the greatest talents and more like dispersion in a million directions. See also the blog post, “Is Landscape Photography Thriving Or Dying.” I’m new to the forums, though my impression is that they are mainly a training ground for the accelerated honing of new photographer’s skills. Certainly the old pros are around in places too. Photography is changing faster than ever. The technology is allowing for just about anyone to make a good photograph now and then. However, does that define a Golden Era? The various directions will have to settle out a bit to find out.
Lorraine Anne Davis, in her Black and White Magazine column “Curator’s Corner” interviewed Lynne Warren, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for the April 2008 issue. Lynne Warren said, “I was getting pretty cynical about the emphasis on large-scale color work, often poorly executed—it just seemed all the rage. Too many artists seemed to think they could just pick up a digital camera and shoot, knowing nothing about photography. But I’ve seen a change. Younger photographers seem to be getting very serious about their craft, and realizing that if you want a photo to look a certain way, you had better be able to consciously achieve it rather than accepting whatever comes out of your digital camera.” A lot of excellent work is out there. However, forgive me for being blunt, and I certainly don’t think this is always the case, but there are too many sunsets, sunrises, contrived drama, over-saturated colors and people following formulas they read in somebody’s 17 quick tips.
My father, master landscape photographer Philip Hyde, often quoted Minor White who said sunsets are cliché. Both Minor White and Philip Hyde, and Ansel Adams for that matter, taught that photography is more of a Zen-like practice of stilling the mind, opening the eyes and seeing deeply. There isn’t anything quick about it. Also, Dad said that in order to photograph nature, it is necessary to understand something about the subject, to spend time out there away from the iPod, iPad, iPhone, IBM, IPO, ISP, IMF, IOU and IRS.
Another issue that Lynne Warren and Lorraine Anne Davis did not even touch is the effects of Photoshop on the medium. Will the transformations of photography through digital technologies ultimately improve the quality of the best art? Hard to say this soon. Ansel Adams’ silver prints, Philip Hyde’s dye transfer prints and Christopher Burkett’s Cibachrome prints have yet to be matched by anyone printing in digital. It will be interesting to see later if the beginning of the digital era will indeed be seen as a Golden Era. This may be a settling out era. It may bring about some kind of Renaissance, but has the Renaissance already started? Hmmm, we’ll see. Because many of the big scenes have been done, now many museums are collecting mainly quirky, bizarre, experimental stuff. It may be “Golden” or it may be merely the birth of what is essentially a new medium, searching to find itself.
Much of what I also see are various ways of changing photographs to look more like paintings or some other related visual art that is not straight photography, but is more like a reincarnation of the pictorialism that held photography back from becoming its own art form. Alfred Stieglitz in New York, and the members of Group f.64 in San Francisco, set photography free with Straight Photography. Lorraine Anne Davis is also a prominent appraiser with another column in Black and White Magazine called “What’s It Worth.” In a piece about the work of Edmund Teske, she wrote, “After photography broke from Pictorialism at the beginning of the 20th Century and embraced Modernism, it soon became stuck in the trap of Straight Photography.” Many people believe that the parameters of realism hold photography back, but everyone is free to create whatever they choose. If you paint over old photographs, you move into a different art form altogether, as with many of the new directions in digital, often inspired by Photoshop. Read more on the effects and techniques of Photoshop in the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.” More power to them, but they are not what Ansel Adams and Edward Weston called “pure” photography and they are more experimental than “great” at this juncture, in my opinion.
So how do you feel about the current era? Is it a new Golden Age? Or the doom of everything grand? Take a gander, what will the future hold?
(Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 3“