A question of terminology?

sirch

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I've been pondering this for a while (months if not years on-and-off) and not come to any sort of conclusion so I thought I would trouble TP with it.

And now I come to ask on here I have typed this line half a dozen times and I still can't find appropriate words. Suffice it to say that there are some photographers whose work has more "meaning", or perhaps has more "meaning" attributed to it than others, I'm thinking of people like Gregory Crewdson, Navad Kander, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Faye Godwin, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Bill Brant, Robert Adams

So the question is: is there an umbrella term for this kind of work?

It feels to me that there should be, beyond terms like documentary, landscape, portraiture, fine art, etc. which are essentially categories by subject or style and make no distinction between a phone snap and something worthy of say a major gallery exhibition.
 
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I would beware of categorisation. Neither do I feel that it's necessary. Putting things into boxes ...
 
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'Fine art', for instance, is one of the most peculiar terms out there ...
 
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sirch

sirch

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Classification is a not insignificant part of my day job; it is important, extremely useful, is a widely accepted part of normal life and really helps when discussing "things". For example we classify a whole swath of imagery as "photography".


Yes I had considered that but I think the documentarians (Parr, Arbus, et al) would probably baulk at the term.
 
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I'm not just being facetious. People like Adams and Parr and Eggleston and Arbus are serious artists who have used the medium of photography to say something meaningful, whether they liked the term 'artist' or not. This is 'fine art' in the original sense, not as used by wedding photographers as a synonym for 'in an arty style', but rather 'art for art's sake' (I think Parr has actually identified his work as 'fine art'). If a photographer doesn't have anything meaningful to say through their work, then they aren't really an artist. There's nothing wrong with that, except perhaps when something devoid of any deeper meaning is presented as 'art' as a selling point (e.g. I would say that Peter Lik is a highly successful and accomplished commercial photographer, but not really an artist). 'There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.' - Raymond Chandler.
 
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Classification ... is important, extremely useful, is a widely accepted part of normal life and really helps when discussing "things".
Ah, things .... but we're not talking about things, are we? Classify photography as a medium, yes. Categorise methods of production (colour, mono, film, digital, large format, etc etc). Where I start to struggle is that photographs are about communication, which resists such neat pigeon-holing ...
 
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I've been pondering this for a while (months if not years on-and-off) and not come to any sort of conclusion so I thought I would trouble TP with it.

And now I come to ask on here I have typed this line half a dozen times and I still can't find appropriate words. Suffice it to say that there are some photographers whose work has more "meaning", or perhaps has more "meaning" attributed to it than others, I'm thinking of people like Gregory Crewdson, Navad Kander, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Faye Godwin, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Bill Brant, Robert Adams

So the question is: is there an umbrella term for this kind of work?

It feels to me that there should be, beyond terms like documentary, landscape, portraiture, fine art, etc. which are essentially categories by subject or style and make no distinction between a phone snap and something worthy of say a major gallery exhibition.
Has Mike Johnston hacked your TP account? It's the sort of question he'd pose on TOP. :LOL:

But to answer it anyway.

Photography can be 'art' but it's photography which can be both, or either, 'art' and 'not art' depending on the context the photographs are presented in. Don McCullin's pictures in a Sunday supplement are photojournalism, in a book or on a gallery wall they are art.

This is why I think of (but try not to refer to) the sort of photography you are referring to as 'serious photography'. Photography that intentionally goes beyond showing solely what something looks like.

And photographs taken without any serious intent can also go beyond the simple showing. Trying to categorise photography is like herding the proverbial cats.

As someone said, photography is a slippery medium.
 
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Photography can be 'art' but it's photography which can be both, or either, 'art' and 'not art' depending on the context the photographs are presented in. Don McCullin's pictures in a Sunday supplement are photojournalism, in a book or on a gallery wall they are art.
For me, work of that intent and quality is always art. It can, of course, be other things as well. But a chocolate box image with nothing beneath the surface won't become art by framing it in the Tate.
 
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People like Adams and Parr and Eggleston and Arbus are serious artists who have used the medium of photography to say something meaningful, whether they liked the term 'artist' or not.
For me, it's about saying something meaningful.

When photography required more effort/cost, the ratio of meaningful to less was much higher than it is today.
 
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sirch

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I'm not just being facetious. People like Adams and Parr and Eggleston and Arbus are serious artists who have used the medium of photography to say something meaningful, whether they liked the term 'artist' or not. This is 'fine art' in the original sense, not as used by wedding photographers as a synonym for 'in an arty style', but rather 'art for art's sake' (I think Parr has actually identified his work as 'fine art'). If a photographer doesn't have anything meaningful to say through their work, then they aren't really an artist. There's nothing wrong with that, except perhaps when something devoid of any deeper meaning is presented as 'art' as a selling point (e.g. I would say that Peter Lik is a highly successful and accomplished commercial photographer, but not really an artist). 'There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.' - Raymond Chandler.
Honestly I didn't think you were being facetious and to a large extent I agree with your general point but ... one of the fundamental tenets of whether something is "art" is that it was created by an artist as art. So in that sense a photograph is only art if the creator says it is. The term "art photography" is also problematic in that it is ambiguous in several ways.

I agree with you about the works having meaning and to extend that a little I think by-and-large the work I have in mind is metaphorical, there is the image and there is room for us to see something behind the image, something implied by the image that is more than just what is depicted.
 
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sirch

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This is why I think of (but try not to refer to) the sort of photography you are referring to as 'serious photography'.
I agree but then I'm sure wedding photographers are serious about what they do.
 
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I don't know much about serious, canonical, meaningful reference images, but I know what I like.
 
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I don't know much about serious, canonical, meaningful reference images, but I know what I like.
See there ya' go. :D

I sense that your tongue might have been firmly in your cheek with that one but I'll bite anyway. There are plenty of photos created by the photographers I listed in the OP that I don't like but they are still part of the canon. I might not be able to discern the meaning or metaphor in some of those images but they are still part of the canon.
 
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See there ya' go. :D

I sense that your tongue might have been firmly in your cheek with that one but I'll bite anyway. There are plenty of photos created by the photographers I listed in the OP that I don't like but they are still part of the canon. I might not be able to discern the meaning or metaphor in some of those images but they are still part of the canon.
If I can be on the list then you can go with "Canonical". Can't say fairer than that.
 
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Now, now, the handbags will be out if you are not careful
:angelic:
I'd better not mention landscape photographers...

I might not be able to discern the meaning or metaphor in some of those images but they are still part of the canon.
Don't turn this into a Canon v Nikon thread. :coat:
 
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...one of the fundamental tenets of whether something is "art" is that it was created by an artist as art. So in that sense a photograph is only art if the creator says it is.
But there are 'creators' who are having us on, and have nothing to say ...
 
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I agree with you about the works having meaning and to extend that a little I think by-and-large the work I have in mind is metaphorical, there is the image and there is room for us to see something behind the image, something implied by the image that is more than just what is depicted.
Yes.
 

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@sirch that list certainly covers a wide range of styles and genres. I recall debating something similar with my daughter when she was doing her photography degree. One word that we did find useful was 'stimulating'. Sometimes what it stimulated was disagreement as to whether or not an individual's work was liked but it always stimulated thought about what it was that made you look twice, or more.
 
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Daniel Milnor did an interesting video recently about photographers vs content creators. Hearing the word "creator" makes me think of them. "Content" is a thing now that can make money on Instagram and other social platforms. It's designed - like any other "professional" photography - to be "sold" and thus is aimed at a market. A good deal of photography these days is just content, designed to gain subscribers, views, likes etc. To its demographic, it is probably classed as "art". I'm drawn back to Retune's comment about "knowing what I like". As a Cramps fan, I know there are a lot of people who think their music is terrible, awful and talentless. But I'll be surfing in their swamp on a Saturday night :)
 
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Daniel Milnor did an interesting video recently about photographers vs content creators. Hearing the word "creator" makes me think of them. "Content" is a thing now that can make money on Instagram and other social platforms. It's designed - like any other "professional" photography - to be "sold" and thus is aimed at a market. A good deal of photography these days is just content, designed to gain subscribers, views, likes etc. To its demographic, it is probably classed as "art". I'm drawn back to Retune's comment about "knowing what I like". As a Cramps fan, I know there are a lot of people who think their music is terrible, awful and talentless. But I'll be surfing in their swamp on a Saturday night :)
It's an interesting perspective. I'd see artists as those who create content to be sold, and in order to make their work commercially viable will include some kind of meaning in it. Many probably didn't start that way but it's hard to imagine those who make a living through their work not having a clear eye on commercial reality as well as doing what they enjoy and may be good at. Whether one thinks that devalues it or it makes no difference is another matter, of course.
 
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but it's hard to imagine those who make a living through their work not having a clear eye on commercial reality
Usual Friday evening caveat not withstanding, that is not hard for me to imagine at all, an awful lot of "content creators" suffer from impostor syndrome and self doubt. Do you really think that Diane Arbus had a clear eye on commercial reality when she set out to photograph drag queens in the 1960's? Going back to good old Justin Jones, in one of his videos he says of Faye Godwin words to the effect "she would have made this work whether anyone saw it or not" his point being that Faye was driven to make the work and contrast that with his critique of Michael Kenna who probably is someone who has an eye on the bottom line.

I think this is where we really differ, I'd see artists as people who make work regardless, they just enjoy making work, some of them get lucky and sell the work, most don't but they still make work. Perhaps, even, "enjoy" is to too strong a word there, some, Bacon comes to mind, seem to have had to make the work and might not have enjoyed the process, a bit like giving birth but they just have to do it.



"Content" is a thing now that can make money on Instagram and other social platforms
For a work of, IMHO, complete comic genius, seek out Stewart Lee's "Content Provider" show
 
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Usual Friday evening caveat not withstanding, that is not hard for me to imagine at all, an awful lot of "content creators" suffer from impostor syndrome and self doubt. Do you really think that Diane Arbus had a clear eye on commercial reality when she set out to photograph drag queens in the 1960's? Going back to good old Justin Jones, in one of his videos he says of Faye Godwin words to the effect "she would have made this work whether anyone saw it or not" his point being that Faye was driven to make the work and contrast that with his critique of Michael Kenna who probably is someone who has an eye on the bottom line.

I think this is where we really differ, I'd see artists as people who make work regardless, they just enjoy making work, some of them get lucky and sell the work, most don't but they still make work. Perhaps, even, "enjoy" is to too strong a word there, some, Bacon comes to mind, seem to have had to make the work and might not have enjoyed the process, a bit like giving birth but they just have to do it.
I'd probably cite Ansel Adams, who shot plenty of commercial work that incorporated his methods and place him next to Michael Kenna who does both work for himself as well as commercial work, likewise I suspect Gregory Crewdson to be aware of the commercial value of what he does. From the sound of things, to you it devalues their work, where as I somewhat expect it. If you have to shoot because of what's inside, why hold exhibitions and create books of the stuff if you don't want to sell it? Just squirrel it away like a certain famous now-female togger for people to discover after you're gone.
 
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