art and commerce

ok, this should be good…..i am spending my week in madrid, not teaching a workshop, but working with  young photographers who attend a 10 month course here at EFTI (Escuela De Fotografia)…i am a visiting lecturer, of which they have many….EFTI is divided into two "camps"….those photographers who want to practice their craft as "art" photographers and those who prefer to communicate with "photojournalism"….some of the full-time teachers in one "camp" or another barely speak to each other….the students are socially divided as well….art students hang with each other and the photojournalism students do the same… magnum was founded with two "camps" built in at the beginning…robert capa was the classic "swashbuckling"  photojournalist risking his life with war, wine , women and song…. and henri cartier-bresson, whose friends included matisse and  picasso,  viewed photography as something more than "reportage" and explained this at dinner to jean paul sartre ….now at magnum we are even more diverse, with antoine d’agata, martin parr and alec soth "sitting at the table" with philip jones-griffiths, thomas dvorzak and chris anderson….still, even with these two groups, magnum photographers do all have one thing in common…they "bear witness"…regardless of their vision or style, they still all stick to this one precept… much further out on the artistic limb are gregory crewdson, jeff wall , cindy sherman, andreas gursky, thomas struth,  and their followers….they  craft their work as painters do….they produce the photograph that exists in their head and eliminate the "restrictions" placed on documentary photdographers to reveal a deeper "truth" … fashion magazine photographers, and some commercial studio photographers,  have always been regarded as an artistic  "cut above"  other magazine photographers with richard avedon, irving penn, philip lorca -di corcia, annie leibowitz  and helmut newton having trumped all of the other types of magazine photographers with the most major shows at the most important venues… my question to you is obvious by now……are there really two or more  "camps" ?? can photojournalists be "artists" and/or  can artists reveal "the truth" better than documentary photographers? and further, how do the slick magazine and fashion photographers mentioned above escape being labeled too  "commercial" ?? i will give my opinions after you give yours……        Madrid_st

28 Responses to “art and commerce”


  • Yikes! You’re not messin’ around today are you?!

    Here are some thoughts off the top of my head. I am deeply fascinated with the work of Annie Leibowitz. And Gueorgui Pinkhassov. And Edward Weston. And William Albert Allard. I generally don’t think about the “truth” that their works reveal…if any. For me it’s emotion. Mood. Passion. I guess there’s truth in that, though. Their truth? My truth? Not sure.

    A photograph. In that split second of all of time how much truth can possibly be revealed? How honest is it? I.F. Stone said, “Every emancipation has in it the seeds of a new slavery, and every truth easily becomes a lie.”

    The iconic Iwo Jima flag raising. What truth does that reveal? It was the second raising of the day. It looks triumphant. It looks spontaneous. What happened that day? What’s the context? Everyone knows that image. I would guess everyone also knows the “truth” of it. Their truth.

    And then there is your question regarding art. Whew! I think I’ll wait for the others to chime in. I need a drink.

    And that’s the truth!

    Love this blog.

  • Hello David,

    This division at the EFTI reminds me of the time when I studied photography in Amsterdam at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Not only ‘photojournalists’ were divided from ‘the others’ but everyone was divided from eachother. Everyone (though no one ever said it out loud) had the idea that he or she was doing something ‘so completely different from the others’ so why bother even talking to ‘them’…Do I bring accross how stupid this is? How much did people miss out from eachother where there is so much to learn. And not only during studies ofcourse.

    All the best,

    Friso Spoelstra

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • For me photography is comunication/documentation of our culture – fashion, sport, war etc, Two years ago there was a photofestival in Oslo, People like Pelegrini, Grarup, etc was showing pictures. We were 3 so called portrait photographers that was watching. The rest of the portrait photographers in town… they had nothing to learn from such great names in photography!!

    Of course thats wrong. I think everybody should be” friends” and speak listen and learn. All photographers have something in common. Of course photographers must/should be spescialist and there are. But we can/must learn from each other and watch and talk …But what is goood pictures… I love Avedons work ……the picture I remember best is a girl running down a country road in France, I think its Allard thats have taken it….yes it is art for me when I remember it longer than next page in an magazine. But I have been wrong many times before:)

    PS this blog is better and better.

    Gunnar Mjaugedal

  • I think that Leibowitz and Avedon always combined their fashion and magazine work with personal work. In the case of Avedon…”In the American West” (to mention one) and in the case of Leibowitz “Women” or her latest “A Photographer’s Life”. I didn’t put a label in any of them because they’ve always done other things at the same time.

    A point that I want to express (from somebody that works in ad agency) is that today we’re looking for photographers that can tell a story but at the same time that can achieve a “commercial look” and high production values. The “commercial trend” is to see spontaneous and real “journalistic/ editorial style” in the ad campaings but also to “stage” a little bit that situation to make it look bigger or more “visual appealing”..One of the situations that we have here is that this new trend “editorial/commercial/art” advertising photography, is that it’s not coming out the way it should be in terms of location lighting (for example) and because of this a lot of work is done in Argentina. It looks flat

    and unreal…we have to improve a lot…

    Also, about other of your questions… to me, people like Salgado and Natchwey have te abilty to capture the most horrible things in the most beautiful way…they’re also artists.

    saludos.

    Rubín

  • What makes the photographer to me is his/her soul no matter the field worked. Photojournalists have to move fast and catch what is happening. The power of the shot will depend on the action in front of the camera. But a good photographer will offer a personal point of view with his own emotions as I do believe that a photographer’s soul goes beyond the photography taken -wish I could explain myself better in english, sorry-

    Then, there is “the other” camp – the artists that, as you said, produce the photograph that exists in their heads. They compose it and put everything as they want it to be but, there is always another fact to take into account: the emotions or soul of what he is taken. The photographer has to catch it as well to make the photo alive.

    So in my opinion and in both cases, the photographer needs to transmit something further than the action in fron of him. It does not matter if he/she belongs to one or another “camp”.

    Cartier Bresson catched moments, but those photographs wouldn’t have been the same if behind the camera there was a different photographer with a different soul.

    Best regards,

    Ana

  • All this talk about truth, the more I think about it, the less I understand. It reminds me about the story of the Roman taxi driver driving Fellini and asking “why can I not understand any of your movies”? to which Fellini replys “because they are about the truth”…

    I just want to take great shots and push myself as far as I can. I want to be as ‘true’ to myself as I can. It’ll probably take a lifetime for me to understand this. It’s all about the individual.

    Maybe ‘photojournalists’ use 35mm and ‘artists’ use 5×4!

  • Any type of photography can be art. you can make something like a landscape photograph or a documentary photograph art; or it could just be another landscape photograph or just another documentary photograph.

    For it to be art it must be something completely new and unknown to the world, it is how it is recognised as being so. I guess these fashion photographers that escape being labeled ‘too commercial’ lead the way in terms of creating an influencing the world around them.

  • David,

    Camps makes me think of campfires, roasting marshmellows and scary stories.

    What are your intentions as a photographer? How well do you execute your intent?

    Go ahead and construct all of the camps you wish and all the subjects you can dream up. Even add scary stories to boot.

    But beyond intent and execution there are no other decisions to be made…

  • Photojournalism can certainly be artistic. I think a most classic example is Larry Burrows’ photographs from Viet Nam.

    In the other “camp”, artists may not necessarily be better than photojournalists at revealing “truth”, it’s just that the truths they reveal are perhaps more introspective, whereas photojournalists tend to reveal more of the subject than of themselves.

  • I’ve just come from the river. My original intent was to photograph the vultures I know hang out there this time of year. Got a few shots. But then, down river a bit, I noticed kayakers. They were just “surfing” the troughs. Two of them. They took turns. I hurried to get into position…with tripod over one shoulder I clambered over many rocks, twisted my ankle, smashed my left middle finger between a rock and my camera, and was completely out of breath when I finally got to where I wanted to be! Set the camera on the tripod, and began shooting. The whole time I was thnking about composition. Placement of the kayak in the frame. Vertical, horizontal. Lower half of frame, upper. Left, right. Wait for the right moment. Not when he looks to the left…wait for him to look more in your direction. All these thoughts, and more, ran through my mind. I shot so much I had to wait a couple times for the buffer to clear. Those were long moments! I had no idea when they would tire and decide to call it a day. All the while my finger and ankle throbbed.

    Is this art? Truth?

    Whatever it is, I feel good.

  • A Photograph is nothing more than a point of view. I vast majority of cases it is incapable of presenting the absolute truth.

  • Hallo David.

    There are no “camps” in photography. But there are a lot of “camps” in the mind of people who looks at photographs. I think that to answer we have to look to what a photogapher is doing, for whom is working (i Mean: what kind of people will look his pictures). If one is doing a reportage, working for a magazine, or anything else connected with the news world, then his primary target should be to inform people. Art is something that is secondary: it can be present in photojournalism, it’s really good when there is art in journalistic works, but AFTER good informations to public.
    The same thing I think could be said about art photography: if one is an artist, then his primary work is to search his truth, not to inform people.
    However, I think things are not so clear: photojournalists do great aestetics works, artists say a lot of things about the world in which we are living, and that’s very good. The important thing is: to not make total confusion beetwen art and information, to make clear to people who read the minimum differences.

    Saluti, Antonio

  • Hi David
    I had not realised that you were a srious blogger. My god they are all at it!
    I maintain this is a redundant arguement, ie the two camps idea. We’re all in the same boat, but the way we earn a living is changing as the market in photography grows at the expense of magazines. I firmly believe all these avenues are there for us all to utilise and I want to be in both camps at the same time.

  • Well… i’ll start my comment with a quote from an interview that Joachim Ladefoged, from VII. (You can find it here: http://www.journalofaphotographer.com/interview_files/joachim_ladefoged/interview/Chapter_01_Interview_Joachim_Ladefoged.mp3)

    “I would call myself a photographer (instead of art photographer, documentary photographer, conceptual photographer) because I don’t want to be locked up in a box saying “this is the only thing you should do. I’m inspired also by art photographers, and i think, at the moment this is merging totally; let art photographers become photojournalist and photojournalist become art photographers. I mean, lets take a look at Christopher Morris. the thing he is doing on Bush – it’s photojournalism, but at the same time it was a really artistic approach, it looks like art. (…) so i think that at the moment you cannot lock anybody in a box.”

    And, after quoting him, i’ve got almost nothing left to say. I think that you can’t lock yourself in something. If you are a photographer you have to be aware of whats going on in the photographic word – either if it’s photojournalism, art photography, or any other kind of photography for the matter.

    The example you gave, about the students of the school in Madrid… well, I find it really stupid. Of course that I, studying photojournalism, have more things to discuss with someone who is studying the same thing that I am. But i can’t limit myself to photojournalism students or teachers. To be a photojournalist i have to be a photographer first. And as a photographer i should be able to discuss art photography, photojournalism or any other. In fact, in my class (15/20 students) I’m the only one who wants to be a documentary photographer. But none of my colleagues ignores my opinion about their work or vice versa. In my opinion, “cooperation” among the various “kinds” of photography is essential, if for nothing else, to have various points of view on our work.

  • A quote I heard once was:

    “The purpose of art is to captivate your attention for as long as the artist wants it”

    I believe that this captivation and interest must be rewarded with information. A drop of the subjects truth in a sugarcoating of beauty.

    Any artist must present some information, otherwise they are wasting your time. Any journalist must bait you to pass on their message.

    People work in different ways and see different things. Different truths are better revealled knee deep in a paddy field or from a stepladder in a London studio. We are blessed with a range of tools and visions with which, as profession, we can pass on messages about the world.

    For those who doubt that “truth” can be found in a studio:

    http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0703/a-thousand-words.html

    Of course there are a lot of pictures that just won’t come out when warm and comfortable in a studio. Nick Nichols can show you a few of those.

    Magnum could probably show you a few more.

    Just my thoughts

    Neil

  • Art is what artists do. I jump in and out of both camps all the time, though most people properly don’t think I belong in either.

    I’m not sure photography has to instil information, just makinging pretty things seems a perfectly valid reason to take pictures.

    Harry

  • hi david,

    i think that “camps” exist only in the minds of people who create them. whether we are talking about the type of photography that “bears witness”, fashion photography, fine art photography, or painting, writing and making films or music for that matter – surely the point is to communicate something about the human condition. whether the work informs us about a specific situation or another way of life, or attempts to show the way in which the creator views the world, or evoke a certain mood it still reveals something about the nature of being human.

    i think that anything that limits creatively is bad thing: why would you want to limit yourself be belonging to a “camp”? it makes no sense. i agree with martin parr, that every avenue is open to all of us.

    When Pablo Picasso visited the newly-discovered Lascaux cave paintings, (dated to about 17 000 years) in the Dordogne, in 1940, he emerged from them saying of modern art, “We have discovered nothing”. i think this still holds true, what ever medium we discuss and how ever old the work is we are still communicating about what it is to be human, and that really is a work in progress. as for truth – thats probably the most subjective thing of all, so perhaps it is all about what goes on in our heads.

    ultimately, surely the point is to break down the barriers, not build more pointless ones.

    jason.

  • hi david et al,

    Just another thought: what speaks more vividly about war: one of Robert Capa’s images from the spanish civil war, or Picasso’s Guernica? Both depict moments in the same country, they same war the same period in time.

    what do you think?

    Jason.

  • This topic reminds me of the color wheels that I studied when learning to make color prints. You have the separate individual colors or “camps”, but also the points of intersection where they overlap. In the middle is the combination of all three. Some only intersect twice.

    So with each circle is a particular type of photography: commercial, documentary, and artistic. It would seem excellent for a well-rounded photographer to have all three traits, and adapt to any category.

    For the most part, I like to consider myself in the art camp, but I do get a few jobs as a photojournalist. As a commercial photographer, I’m just not there at all.

    So by looking at a photographers work, you can tell what camp(s) that photographer is in. At some point the camps can overlap, but that’s different for different people. I would hope that those specializing in one form of photography would not alienate the others. We can all learn from another’s point of view.

    Those EFTI students should lighten up.

    As far as your 2nd question goes, David, I’m kinda stumped on that one.

    Denise says I spend too much time on the computer, and now you come up with this blog.
    Mike

  • Harry, you are right, information is too tight a word. Perhaps good photography of any kind should communicate with its audience.

  • My personal goal is to “…trying not only to portray things objectively in a documentary/photojournalistic way, but also use that same photography as a channel to express myself — to produce “art”. Combining successfully those things, that is the goal”.

  • David, another great discussion. Interesting that Jose posted the comment from Joachim Ladefoged because I brought up this very issue at the LA VII seminar last year. I posed the question to a panel (which did not include Joachim) about whether as photojournalists they were interested in creating works of art…or something along those lines…They may have misunderstood me but the responses were a little snippy…saying that they were concerned with getting the social issues exposed, etc. and didn’t care what anyone thought about how the images looked. I was more interested in how THEY viewed their own work, not the public, but anyhow…now I see that one of the participants on that panel has entered an “Art of Photography” juried exhibition. To me that shows that he does want to be taken seriously as an “artist” and not just as a journalist…and what’s wrong with that? Nothing. James Nachtwey, who is able to open hearts with images that are so horrifying yet so beautiful at the same time is the perfect example of the merge of the two camps.

  • I think that Natchwey and Salgado are perfect examples of photographers that have a tremendous sense of composition…they make beautiful images of horrible things but I believe that those images comes “naturally” to them because they have both…the sensibility and the experience.

    I saw the “War Photographer” documentary and it shows exactly the way Natchwey works and makes his decisions…the guy had a video camera attached to his camera so you’re there with him and what you see is a guy doing his photojournalistc work but also you can see when he jumps in, where does he stands, in what moment he shoots…you’re there with him and then…you see the results….great images…..different…powerful…and also art… But I don’t think he was thinking any of this when he was shooting…he was working in an “automatic mode”…making all these decisions simultaneously…but the result?…I don’t think he was thinking…”Ok..in the next attack I’m gonna make some art picutres for my next exhibition”…to me the difference is that some people make good pictures and other make great ones.

  • I feel a bit out of place here not having studied art or photography…but simply snapping photos. But I can speak from personal preference. For me anyway, photography should be about the human experience. Showing life in all its different forms. Showing how people suffer, celebrate, work, rest, play, etc. I dont think that there is that distinction in Magnum between people who do just that and who dont do that. The styles may be different but all you guys give us the human experience through your films. Where it gets different are art photographers. Take for example Man Ray. A legend of photography, true, but one whose photos Ive never liked. It simply never spoke to me. Hence Ive really never been interested in art photography, for me it lacks authenticity.

  • “The photograph, product of an origin at once objective and subjective, is both a description and an interpretation. To engage the photograph as a document is to privilege the descriptive aspect of origin. To privilege the interpretive aspect of the photograph is to privilege the expressive aspect of origin. Privileging one term vitiates the other.”

  • it seems like everyone pretty much agrees…..that the lines which seem to be drawn in the sand in some schools of photography, just really do not exist in the minds of most of us….martin parr suggests here that this is a “redundant arguement” and he is right….and he is a good example of somone who either does not have any “lines” drawn or jumps back and forth or both

    actually , i think this is true of all of us at magnum…some of us may be “conflict” photographers and some may be more esoteric, but all of us are perfectly pleased to have our work exhibited at the Biblioteque Nacional or the Tate..

    i will post my “full blown” opinions by tomorrow…..

    cheers, david

  • I think the idea of “camps” or “camps divided” is a common theme during early college years, in any school, in any study, closely examined in most bad coming-of-age films. If there are camps though, they are divided by a moon lit lake and it always sounds like there are frolicking girls on the other side—and I’m paddling like hell to get there.

    It’s an interesting topic for me because while I seek to maintain artistic integrity in the context of “I just happen to be shooting everything I’m doing,” I’d still like to be able to afford a range of insurance, a mortgage, utilities, and have enough left over for travel and beer.

    So while I’m still seeking my first paid assignment since going freelance, I’m pondering how to convey this idea to publications: the work that I like the best is the product of spontaneity and chance, far over anything contrived. It’s the great thing about not getting paid, though—you can shoot whatever and however you want—and if you end up with one shot that holds to your artistic standards, then lucky you. I think I need to see the camp counselor.

  • David, If you had one lens to use for digital work
    what size would it be and why?
    Love your work
    Hope to attend workshop someday.

Comments are currently closed.