|Photo: Rebecca Lawrence. Taken during a rather turbulent and depressing period of my life--and while I was sleep-deprived, to boot. Which is all part of why I like it.|
Photography is a lot harder to peg. Is it "art" when it's aesthetically pleasing--even if it's an advertisement, or if it completely lacks substance? Or is it just a well set-up photo? Is it "art" when its subject shocks the viewer--even if it's poorly executed, hideous or sloppy? Or is it just an interesting bit of photojournalism? Is it "art" when the medium is more involved [wet plate, for instance]--even if, beyond being well-exposed, it has no merits as an image? Or is it just nostalgic kitsch? These are oversimplified scenarios. But there are a lot of less simple times when I wonder what to make of someone's work, or wonder why someone else likes a body of work that I just can't see any merit in.
Anyway, ultimately, I think art is whatever the viewer decides it is--not what they're told it is. It's inherently useless--in a way, I think that's one of the fundamentals of "art", that it justifies itself separately from having any concrete function or purpose--so there's no utility in an objective definition.
[Which, incidentally, is why it's such a pet peeve for me when photographers tell me that I should charge them lower rates because, after all, they are "real artists"--first of all, what the fuck does that mean? Second of all, why does that have anything to do with money? I'll give discounts to those who hire me consistently--this job has no security to it--and to people whom I have a lot of fun working with, any day. Third of all, let ME fucking decide what I think a "real artist" is--there's no point in "informing" me of something wholly subjective.]
And personally, when it comes to photos, as a viewer I tend to gravitate towards portraits and conceptual photography. One of my favorite photos of all time was a postcard I saw out of the corner of my eye in a store, back when I was in high school. It's a portrait by Cass Bird of a teenage boy--maybe fifteen or sixteen--standing against a wall, wearing a hat that says "I look just like my daddy".
I don't get it, either. I don't get why I like it, nor why I remember it to this day--there's nothing evidently phenomenal about it, neither the boy nor the photographer seems to be doing much--but something about that boy's face is really beautiful to me, so much so that it makes me want to meet him. The photo doesn't make me remotely interested in the rest of Cass Bird's work, because I almost feel like my love of it is a complete accident. So what does that make Cass Bird? A great artist, a great photojournalist, or just someone who, by some fluke, took a picture that moved me?
And don't even get me started on famous photographers who make their name by taking "raw", "everyman" photos--photos that "look like anyone could have taken them, with any crappy old camera", like some of Terry Richardson's work.
I wouldn't know where to start, for one thing.
Everyone talks about these Guy With Camera types with a lot of derision--interestingly, I think more of the derision comes from other photographers than from models. And I understand it, of course--I've definitely done a few shoots that struck me as creepy, insulting, or otherwise profoundly awkward, and they have usually been shoots with those that most would peg as GWCs.
But what really makes a GWC? Is it the quality of their work, the subject matter, or the intention of the photographer?
What if a photographer's work is crap, but he has a genuine affinity for the photographic process and improving his craft? What if a photographer's work is sexualized and portrays girls as glamorous, but has a rich depth or quality to it? What if a photographer's sole motive is to hang out with hot naked chicks, perhaps with the prospect of sleeping with them, but his work is nice to look at?
What if a photographer has a little bit of really good work, but also posts a lot of horrific work--even good photographers have some truly awful images, they just know better than to display those. Is being a decent photographer more about the ability to be a discriminating judge of one's work [rather than selecting photos indiscriminately, or sentimentally, or whatever], then? What if this photographer with some really good work winds up soliciting his favorite models for prostitution, and winds up alienating them until he no longer has many models left?
That sounds like a silly scenario, I know, but I met a guy like that--in general I didn't like his work, but he took two photos of me that are still among my favorites, although I no longer feel right posting them, since I eventually had to stop working with him for reasons I hope are obvious. 8P
And as screwed up as it all got...if I'm being honest with myself, I think the reason he took such great photos of me was BECAUSE he had such an affinity/attachment to me. There was one other model he really, really liked, and--big surprise--she was the only other model whom I thought he ever captured well. I don't think he adored us BECAUSE we were great models for his work. I think we came out well in his work because he adored us. He had an eye for us and was able to capture us with the attention of a lover.
Granted, when I put that in context with HIM--given my low opinion of him [for various reasons that I won't go into]--that reeeeeally grosses me out to think about. But I have to admit--that doesn't make the work any less honest.
So is great art most honestly manifested through lustful creepers? Is working with a guy like that tantamount to being an exalted muse, or a random sex worker? Or both?
Did Cass Bird love that boy, or do I see something in that photo that she herself missed?