Posts Tagged ‘Pablo Picasso’

Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion and Exhibitions

July 7th, 2011

Split Boulder Near Lake Ediza, The Minarets, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. First exhibited in the original "Perceptions" exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1954 with the work of the members of Group f.64, Minor White, his students and a few other Bay Area photographers. This exhibition many consider one of the foundations that defined what became known as the West Coast tradition.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

In reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams from the Center for Creative Photography’s publication, The Archive, it quickly becomes apparent that the times then were quite different. The first exchange of letters between the two photographers in 1933 occurred during the Great Depression, when photography was almost unheard of and even other forms of art were comparatively scarce in relation to the volumes produced today.

To compete and be heard in the market today, a photographer must not only make good photographs, but also promote tastefully. Writing well online also helps to develop a following. One of today’s photographers succeeding in all three is Guy Tal. I have mentioned him before on this blog and I mention him again, because what he writes often relates to what I am learning about the history of photography and because he recommended my blog to his readers. I like Guy Tal’s blog, not because I always agree with him, but because he has a knack for stirring up ideas, thoughts and opinions and getting people to participate. Recently he wrote a blog post called, “Small Confession,” in which he acknowledges the necessity of self-promotion but confesses that he respects photographers who do it reluctantly more than those who revel in it.

Shortly after reading this post, I started reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. These two pioneers, despite what it appears to us now, were also reluctant self-promoters. However, they lived in a time when people were looking for something new artistically and there wasn’t all that much being created of note. Along came people like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others. These people offered something that had never been seen before.

Straight photography was not a stuffy, constraining, self-contradicting notion as it is seen by some today. It was a huge Wow, and also freeing and energizing to the medium. Also, these artists did not have to promote themselves as loudly to be heard, because there was much less noise then and fewer voices vying for the public’s attention. People mobbed most of the events of the straight photographers. Perhaps those who look at straight photography as out-dated and old-fashioned, will have justification for that opinion when their events are packed because they have invented something striking and new enough to draw hoards of people.

The first time Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand, he reminded him of their meeting and mentioned meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City. Then Ansel Adams told Paul Strand that he had opened a small gallery…

My place is most decidedly not an imitation of Stieglitz’; I wrote him at great length and outlined my plans—I told him I was going to alternate my exhibits between photography and painting or graphic arts, that I was not a missionary or a promoter, and that I did not care if I made anything out of the gallery or not—I only hoped it would pay its own rent. I am trying to bring things to San Francisco that should have come many years ago.

Ansel Adams went on to ask Paul Strand if he would be interested in exhibiting his photographs at Ansel Adams’ gallery. Paul Strand wrote back…

Actually I have little interest in exhibitions—because at the basis they seem to be un-American—just a mean and meaningless affair; mean in that they exploit the artist to entertain the public free of charge—meaningless in that they seldom establish any standards.

I turned down three museums last year in just the above terms—Their impudence and complete ignorance of what they are doing is just disgusting—They think that flattery is a substitute—but they can all go to hell as far as I am concerned—for I refuse to be part of that racket—that is my general feeling about exhibitions—I can never get used to the idea that pictures are free entertainment in the U.S., elsewhere too, that the people who claim to enjoy a thing never support the individual who makes what gives them pleasure.

Paul Strand went on to explain that it was difficult to send his prints out of Mexico, where he was living at the time, for fear they might be damaged, and that he might entertain the idea if he could ever make it to San Francisco in person. Paul Strand told Ansel Adams of a show he had in Mexico under extenuating circumstances, that over 3,000 people came to see in 10 days. Not bad for someone who despised the whole idea. For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog posts, “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”

(This blog post was originally posted March 24, 2010.)

Straight Photography And Abstraction

November 1st, 2010

Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Philip Hyde, Straight Photography, Documentary and Abstraction

Reflections, San Juan River, Utah by Philip Hyde. This medium format 6X7 photograph exhibits aspects of abstract photography but is not entirely abstract. The shoreline sandbars, grasses and rocks help clarify what is depicted, while the cliff face is only abstract in that it is upside-down. It can be readily identified as a reflection. Philip Hyde on numerous occasions photographed up-side-down reflections, in some cases without any visual orientation of nearby right-side-up objects. He was the first landscape photographer to photograph an upside-down reflection without any nearby clues.

Some contemporary photographers believe that straight photography is documentary and limited to showing “reality” exactly as it might be seen on an ordinary day as you or I walk by it. A few photographers even try to “brand” themselves natural or straight photographers by sticking to realism and realistic portrayals of their subject. See photographer Guy Tal’s rant against this tendency, “No Lesser An Art.” The realism-only interpretation of straight photography is narrow and defeats the original purpose as envisioned by straight photography’s pioneers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

The objective of the photography of Paul Strand for example was not to appear “real” or to depict “reality.” Conversely, Paul Strand’s photography, without any manipulation, showed ordinary objects in a way that caused them to transcend reality.

The website, Ted’s Photographics, describes the work of Paul Strand:

Paul Strand fused together the two seemingly contradictory approaches of documentary and abstraction. For years he only produced contact prints, his pictures were pure, direct and devoid of trickery. His work represented the final break with the traditional concepts of photographic subject matter.

Paul Strand was both the “Father of Abstract Photography” and the “Father of Straight Photography.” Recently photographer Paul Grecian wrote a thought-provoking blog post, “Abstract? It’s All Abstract…” He said that all photographs are abstract because they are different than the objects they depict. While this may be true, a comment by Marty Golin argued that the reverse is also true, that photography is all “reality.” An interesting discussion developed.

Pool In Scorpion Gulch, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 1970 by Philip Hyde. First published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah" by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde. Scott Nichols of Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco has been a good advisor from time to time, helping me select images of Dad's to make into archival digital prints. He voted against this one. Paraphrasing, he said for an abstraction it was not abstract enough. He said that collectors wouldn't get it and wouldn't buy it. What do you think? I don't necessarily disagree with his conclusions, but this photograph is one of my own personal favorites, even if it won't sell. Fans of "Slickrock" probably like it. I did not respond at the time but I might have said something about Dad doing with this photograph partly what Paul Strand did. This is an example of the cross-over between documentary and abstract photography. Whether people 'get it' or not, it is a documentary recording of what was there, with a touch of abstraction.

Today some photography intentionally, some unintentionally, is going toward Pictorialism, often taking on aspects of the worst of that genre, sometimes exhibiting the best it offered. In some instances creative expression beyond and after the point of capture can be quite freeing. Extraordinary new types of work are developing. Straight photography has held back some photographers, they feel. With the advent of Photoshop and image alteration, combination, stitching, shifts in focus, and many other special effects or manipulations of color, the creative juices are flowing again. To read more on advanced Photoshop techniques see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.” On the other hand, some photographers today take subject matter that could potentially be transcendent and render it ordinary or even cliché through photographer-imposed affectations and stylization.

Alfred Stieglitz devoted the last issue ever published of his magazine Camera Work to Paul Strand. In Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz described what constitutes an important contribution to photography:

In the history of photography there are but few photographers who, from the point of view of expression, have really done work of any importance. And by importance we mean work that has some relatively lasting quality, that element which gives all art its real significance….Paul Strand has added something to what has gone before. The work is brutally direct. Devoid of all flim-flam; devoid of trickery and of any “ism”; devoid of any attempt to mystify an ignorant public, including the photographers themselves.

In Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960, Helmut Gernsheim wrote:

Paul Strand brought a new vision to photography, discovering in the most ordinary objects significant forms full of aesthetic appeal. Nearly all of his pictures broke new ground both in subject matter and in its presentation…. “Abstract Pattern Made by Bowls” and other experiments in abstraction were the result of Strand’s seeing at “Gallery 291” the work of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and others. [Modernist Abstract Impressionists.]

Paul Strand himself explained this process:

I was trying to apply their then strange abstract principles to photography in order to understand them. Once understanding what the aesthetic elements of a picture were, I tried to bring this knowledge to objective reality in the “White Fence”, the “Viaduct” and other New York photographs…. Subject matter all around me seemed inexhaustible….Yet what makes these photographs is their objectivity. This objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its limitation. The photographer’s problem is to see clearly the limitations and at the same time the potential qualities of his medium, for it is precisely here that honesty no less than intensity of vision is the pre-requisite of a living expression. The fullest realization of this is accomplished without tricks of process or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods.

Alders Reflected, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur Coast, California, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. This photograph was made in honor of a well-known vintage black and white photograph by Philip Hyde made on the far Northern California Coast in the Redwoods also called "Alders Reflected." Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" does not show any trees or other objects right-side-up, but frames only the up-side-down reflections of alders with a slight wind movement of the water that causes the reflections to break up into diamond-shaped bits of water surface in places. Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" has not yet come into the digital era and may not. We may make modern darkroom silver prints of it instead.

Abstraction, more than a technique is the result of selecting a composition that removes the objects in the frame from their context as found in “reality” and changes their nature in the photograph. Another one of the great abstract photographers was Brett Weston. Read more about Brett Weston’s influence in the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary Unabridged defines abstract as, “Expressing a property, quality, attribute, or relation viewed apart from the other characteristics inherent in or constituting an object; of a fine art: presenting or possessing schematic or generalized form frequently suggested by and having obscure resemblance to natural appearances through an ordering of pictorial or sculptural elements.” Thus, photographing a field of corn and defocusing the image does not make the photograph abstract, it merely makes it fuzzy. Photographing a corn leaf in such a way that it takes on separate characteristics from those typically associated with corn, is abstract photography.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you feel makes a photograph abstract? Are you drawn more to straight photography, Pictorialism or something in-between?

What Makes A Photograph Art?

February 28th, 2010

What defines art, in your opinion?

L’Accordéoniste, 1911, by Pablo Picasso. Public Domain Image.

With all the discussion about the relationships between art, nature and photography lately on several excellent blogs, I thought I would put in a word or two, or at least add some words from masters of the past, as that seems to be my emerging role.

I made a comment on each of the three blogs involved in the discussions, that were sharing recent posts about art, the nature of art, the relationship between art and nature, and how photography relates or substitutes in the discussion for the word ‘art.’ Each of the three blogs are well worth reading for their take on these subjects: Guy Tal Photography Web Journal, Paul Grecian Photography and Carl Donohue’s Skolai Images. The discussion veered in the direction of what made something “more” art or not and while this made little linguistic sense, the argument itself was solid.

Here’s my comment on Skolai Images:

As I wrote on Paul Grecian’s blog, the eminent photography critic John Szarkowski once claimed that Ansel Adams photographed entirely for his own enjoyment. Several photographers and photography critics including Philip Hyde made vehement and effective counter-arguments to John Szarkowski’s statement. Hopefully I can dig up that material and share it with you, if you are interested. It touches on what you say here and on what Paul recently said in his post. Echoing those who have gone before, I say as Paul did that the appreciation of art is part of the process that makes it such. An audience is part of what makes it art. However, the SIZE of the audience does not make it MORE or LESS art. Isn’t something either art or not, like the old adage about being pregnant. You can’t be MORE or LESS pregnant. On the other hand, I completely agree with your idea that art is certainly not limited to creation by humans, or even by what we perceive as “living” beings. Though perhaps it is easier for us to talk about art created by people. Harder to relate to birds and other wildlife, though some are friends of mine, maybe more so than some people.

There’s a lot going on around here currently, but I started rummaging around. I haven’t found the John Szarkowski rebuttal material yet, but will sooner or later. My dad, master landscape photographer Philip Hyde, talked about it some on a tape I made while interviewing him. I remember I asked him specifically about John Szarkowski’s claim in that interview. I will find that tape as well. In the meantime, I did run across a book called, Dialogue with Photography: Interviews by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. Hill and Cooper interviewed Paul Strand, Man Ray, Imogen Cunningham, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Cecil Beaton, W. Eugene Smith, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Andre Ketesz, Brett Weston, Minor White, Wynn Bullock and others. The interviews that caught my eye were Paul Strand at the beginning and Brett Weston at the end. For more on Brett Weston see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.”  I’ll start here with a few quotes from Paul Strand and share more in another post. Other popular posts about Paul Strand include: “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion.”

Paul Strand talked about Alfred Stieglitz and his gallery, “291.” Paul Strand said that Alfred Stieglitz welcomed and supported many of the modern art painters at the time such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Constantine Brancusi. Alfred Stieglitz liked certain modernists and their art because, “this art was being trampled on in the same way that photography was,” Paul Strand said. “Photography as an art was denied, ridiculed, attacked—especially by the academic painters, who thought that the camera might take their livelihood away. The acknowledgement of the validity of photography as a new material, as a new way of seeing life through a machine, was questioned and fundamentally denied. Well, here were these pictures by the Cubists, which were also looked upon as the work of idiots.”

This relates back to a comment on my post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Derrick Birdsall, threw out several more good thought-provoking questions: “…if you can buy a quality print from a new up and comer for less $ than from a seasoned professional – is that bad? The seasoned pro had to start somewhere and was an up and comer at some point… How does one make that transition from up and comer to seasoned professional? …other than simply putting in the time, how does that transition work? How does a photographer develop their style so that it’s clearly recognizable?”

I will address the development of style in a future post or two of interviews of photographers to come, but as far as how certain art comes to be valued higher than other art, one of the factors has to do with novelty. It has to do with the artist doing something perceived as completely new. That is one reason why an Ansel Adams print is worth so much compared to Joe the Photographer. Same idea applies to a Pablo Picasso painting.

But more from Paul Strand on the art of photography, “There was a fight going on for the integrity of a new medium and its right to exist, the right of the photographer to be an artist, as well as the right of Picasso and other artists to do the kind of work they were doing, which was a form of research and experimentation into the very fundamentals of what is, and what is not, a picture. I think it is very important for young photographers to find out about the whole development of the graphic arts, not simply come along and show photographs that could not stand up to Cezanne for a second. You cannot claim that photography is an art until your work can hang on the same wall.”

Certainly, as Derrick said, everyone starts somewhere. Most paintings are not on par with Paul Cezanne and they do not have to be. There is room for all levels of skill and talent in painting, photography and other mediums, including bird songs or beehive dances, but is it art? …And, if you claim, “It’s all art,” then what determines whether it is ‘good’ art?

See also the blog post, “Man Ray On Art And Originality.”

What defines art, in your opinion? Please share your thoughts in Comments…