There is something amusing about photography. You can see it mostly in “fine art” ( why is it called “fine”, BTW?.. as opposed to what “brute” art ?). It goes something like this. Take a seat and read on.
If you shoot something ( it can really be anything) either over a long period of time or at different location, or both, then people are marveled. As long as it is the same exact thing.
Let’s use an example. A long time ago,when I was a kid, my dad brought me to a photo exhibit at the Kodak Gallery. You have to remember that in those days, Kodak was like the Mount Olympus ( like the Greeks, not the camera maker) of photography. If they decided to showcase a photographer, then he must have be blessed with a natural talent gift from the Gods themselves. Little did we know.
The pictures were a series of images of a big old red sofa that the photographer had transported at multiple places in the USA. You could see it in the Grand Canyon, in New York, in potato fields..I don’t really remember. Along with the images was a lengthy explanation of how the photographer had traveled all through America iconic places, with his giant red sofa and had taken pictures of it. I am sure there was also an explanation of the deeper sense of it all. I remember thinking that it must have been such a pain to drag that sofa around and it made me think of how much time some people have. That old red sofa. Needless to say my love of photography was badly shambled and my trust in Kodak’s taste heavily questioned. One could say I lost my religion, that day.
( sorry, couldn’t find the work on Google)
Ever since this life changing experience, I have seen many, many equivalent type of works. Whether of a tree during the seasons and the course of many years, people faces as they age, or an object traveled around in different location and at different times. For some reason, this always works. People always respond favorably.
People are fascinated when they see a series. Just look at how many furniture stores will sell you these series of 3 framed pictures to hang above you wall. Not sure why that is ? Is it the need of consistency, the need for comfort, the reassurance of a repeated item? or does that remind them of their own repetitive lives. Either way, it always works. try it, and you will see. The most boring images ( individually) become masterpieces when linked together by the same subject.
All this to say that if you fail as a photographer, you always have the opportunity to try a few well used gimmicks to get noticed, let alone appreciated. Guess this is why they call it Fine. Or not.
The Red Couch is a book made from the photos. I used to have it. At the time carrying a couch around the US and taking photos seemed like a big party that I would have liked to join. William Least Heat Moon (wrote another book about travels in the US called Blue Highways…good book) wrote the text. Here’s the book http://www.amazon.com/Red-Couch-Portrait-America/dp/0912383054
People like to organize things into groups. We are hard wired to do so I think…so the fascination with series of things or photos.
I don’t want to pick on him personally. Just wanted to use him as an example. There are many, many examples..as you well know.
I guess we are wired to like similarity and repetitiveness but why ? is it because we are used to learning like that ?
thanks for the flashback… I saw the book when I was little and it turns out he is still shooting and showing his red couch! how cool is that?
I posted about it here…
you know, for some reason I did not remember the people on the couch. I just remembered an empty couch. I read your entry and you are right, I picked a wrong example. This is actually very good, as you say. That will teach me to write early in the morning.
thanks for this
Amen amen amen. I’ve been incredibly frustrated with this a a photographer and railed against it on my blog in the past.
Most often it goes something like, “I went and spent 6 months shooting Chinese children miners” and then there are 4 great/amazing/beautiful shots of said Chinese child miners and then 6, well, shots of Chinese child miners.
I’d prefer the 4 amazing shots of said miners, and 6 other amazing shots of unrealated subjects. Just make them all amazing!
Conceptualism won in the last century and we are all paying the price today. Hopefully this century will see a return to individual works of beauty (like during the vast majority of history).
The sad thing is, the majority of ways in which we as emerging photographers can gain recognition demand series, so we find ourselves forced to shoot them or ineligible for submission.
I’m not advocating on behalf of the “series”, and believe art should not be held to any rules or protocol. With that said, I’m still not sure what you mean by a “return to individual beauty”? I’m no art historian or proper grammar writing dude, but hasn’t the “series” been a part of the artist repertoire forever? Picasso did blue paintings or cubism series’ for a long period of time, Ansel shot a lot of mountains, monet liked lilies, and so on.
Does it make you better or more important if you produce a cohesive series? It shouldn’t. But I don’t agree that everyone “forces” themselves to shoot for the reasons you mention. I shoot the same way over and over again because it’s my current mindset and personal style. Sure, I might have a “blue period” or produce something completely different 5 years from now, but I don’t shoot the same way because I have to or because it is required. But don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt there are waves and waves of brainwashed art students who ARE making cohesive works because that’s what they learned and don’t have or haven’t found a voice.
For some, the “series” is integral and I don’t think they should be thrown in with masses that may or may not be doing it out of herd mentality.
p.s. How’s sunny southern Cal? I gotta get back out there soon… wife and I loved it.