The Urban Landscape

I opened a new online photo gallery, The Urban Landscape, in order to share pictures I capture as I walk through life.

You may visit the gallery by clicking HERE.

A Press Photographer Wrestles with the Ethics in Capturing Suffering on Film Without Intervening to Help

In her article in the June 1, Washington Post, Why I Watched a Snake-Handling Pastor Die for his Faith, photographer Lauren Pond wrestles with the ethics of press photographers who document life’s tragedies with pictures, all the while standing by and not taking action to intervene in the situation as it unfolds.

Pond contrasts her decision not to call paramedics to the scene as Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford lay dying from the venom of the snake that had bitten him and the strychnine he had ingested as part of a religious ritual with the actions of Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Kevin Carter, who was roundly criticized for photographing an emaciated Sudanese child who, under the watchful eye of a vulture standing nearby, struggling to reach a food center during a famine. Carter later committed suicide.

I highly commend Pond’s Article, in which she writes about her soul searching as she tries to come to grips with her decision.

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Tilda

I just came across a portrait of Tilda Swinton by Fabio Lovino, reproduced below.

This picture reminds me of my own photograph which I call On the Dressing Table.

FSU Camera Source

I have been shooting lately with a Zorki 4 with f1.5 50mm Jupiter 3 lens, and a Fed 2 with Industar 61 lens.  Both of these are Former Soviet Union (FSU) Leica copies.  They are 50 year old rangefinder cameras, however, you could not tell how old they are by looking at them, and they operate like they are new cameras.

My favorite seller of FSU cameras is the ebay seller, Synoptics Camera Store. This vendor services these old cameras before selling them so they perform as if they are brand new. And often they will sell items that look new too. The cameras are dirt cheap too — they cost about five percent or less of what one would pay for a comparable Leica, and the ones I have purchased are fine photographic machines.

I have been lamenting that the cameras with fixed lens do not fit as easily into my cargo pants pockets as I would like, so I decided to purchase a collapsible lens — that is a lens that pushes into the camera body when not in use.

The lens I picked up from the Synoptics Camera Store last week is pictured above. Now I will just have to wait a few weeks for it to be shipped to me from Kharkov, Ukraine.

I highly recommend the Synoptics Camera Store.

A Cubist Critique of Photographic Art

Olga Rozanova, the early 20th century Russian avant-garde cubist painter discussed the process of making art, as compared to merely copying what one sees in nature, in the journal of the Union of Youth in 1913. Rozanova states that an artist whose works are nothing more than an “unconscious plagiarism of nature,” if only due to the artist “not knowing his own objectives,” for which the artist may be forgiven, must nevertheless be rejected, and the failure to reject such works amounts to “a plagiarism in the literal sense of the word, when people refuse to reject [such artworks] merely out of creative impotence.”

According the Rozanova, the artist must be more than a passive imitator of nature. Rather, the artist must be “an active spokesman of his relationship with [nature].”

How can one do this? According to Rozanova, “a servile repetition of nature’s models can never express all [of nature’s] fullness.” And so, in 1913, Rozanova declared that “it is time, at long last, to acknowledge this and to declare frankly, once and for all, that other ways, other methods of expressing the World are needed.”

Rozanova faults photographers, who, like the servile artists, “in depicting nature’s images, will repeat them.” She contrasts such plagiarists with one of “artistic individuality”, who, in depicting nature’s images, “will reflect himself.”

Might the same criticism be leveled against the popular photographic art of today? Today’s photographic artist must be careful not to fall into the trap of the “artist of the Past,” decried by Rozanova, who, “riveted to nature, forgot about the picture as an important phenomenon, [and] as a result, [the picture] became a pale reminder of what he saw, a boring assemblage of ready-made, indivisible images of nature, the fruit of logic with its immutable, nonaesthetic characteristics.” In a word, “Nature enslaved the artist.”

For Rozanova, the then burgeoning modern art was no longer “a copy of concrete objects; it has set itself on a different plane, it has upturned completely the conception of Art that existed hitherto.”

Rozanova’s prescription for creating works of art that are not mere plagiarized repetitions of nature is, “not only by not copying nature, but also by subordinating the primitive conception of it to conceptions complicated by all the psychology of modern creative thought: what the artist sees + what he knows + what he remembers, etc. In putting paint onto canvas, he further subjects the result of this consciousness to a constructive processing that, strictly speaking, is the most important thing in Art — and the very conception of the Picture and of its self-sufficient value can arise only on this condition.”

For the photographic artist, this constructive processing must inform the editing process as one reviews the various images captured in camera.

The image set forth above, Pete Plays the Blues, is far from a mere repetition of the image I saw in my viewfinder, and yet, it is the image that was captured on film. Some may have discarded this picture because it does not look like the subject framed in the viewfinder at the time the shutter was released. But to me, this image challenged me by revealing, in the Rozanova’s words, “the properties of the World,” from which I could “erect . . . a New World — the World of the Picture, and by renouncing repetition of the visible” I was able to create a different image that I was “forced to reckon with.”

How will the viewer respond to such a photograph? Rozanova observes that, “[f]or the majority of the public nurtured by pseudo artists on copies of nature, the conception of beauty rests on the terms ‘Familiar’ and ‘Intelligible.’ So when an art created on new principles forces the public to awaken from its stagnant, sleepy attitudes crystallized once and for all, the transition to a different state incites protest and hostility since the public is unprepared for it.”

By that measure, both Pete Plays the Blues, and the photo, On the Dressing Table, which is set forth above, might be said to have gone beyond the mere repetition of nature. In each case, upon first showing these photos to a friend and critic, he responded with protest.  Indeed, it was not until I wrote this essay that that I recognized the significance of this unmanipulated photograph, which like the cubist paintings about which Rozanova wrote, shows my subject from multiple points of view all in the same frame.

Another image in which the resulting picture differs substantially from the subject I saw in my camera’s viewfinder is Boys at Play, reproduced below.

For Rozanova, and dare I say, for the photographic artist who strives to be something more than nature’s plagiarist, it is essential that one create works of art that are “self-sufficient,” that is, images that enjoy absolute “liberation . . . from the alien traits of Literature, Society, and everyday life.”

The photograph above, Maritime Abstraction, and other photographs that I hope are more than mere plagiarisms of nature, are shown in my online photo gallery at www.wmgphoto.com.

Olga Rozanova’s essay is reproduced in the book Art in Theory, 1900 — 2000, An Anthology of Changing Ideas, by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood.

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