Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Results of an Experiment, “The Neutrality of Information”

Posted in art, awareness, photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on February 2, 2010

I just finished conducting an experiment that is one part art project and one part investigative journalism. Being a self-taught photographer, I utilized the internet as an educational tool to bring what I needed to learn closer and as a testing ground to gather input and criticism about the trajectory of my creative advancement. Immediately, I discovered that online resources are flawed for both. First of all, I thought that since digital camera data (specifications) was essentially serial in nature, that there would be clear and concise recommendations based on facts. What I found was a deep and perpetual Canon/Nikon debate that extended beyond the phenomenological events of cameras made by either manufacturer (there is also an anti-big two bias that incorporates arguments for all or any of the handful of other DSLR manufacturers). Ultimately, I learned that the camera manufacturer has little to do with the eventual photography; all of them make competent bodies. Secondly, I thought that the instructional information that I was reading must be infallible, given the scientific nature of figuring exposure. Wrong again; photographers will argue endlessly over how to make a correct exposure for a given scene. However, even from the very beginning, I was aware that the public forums for photographic criticism were completely subjective, to say it nicely. This leads me to “The Experiment”.

I decided to take three pictures by several famous photographers and post them in some of the public forums available to new photographers seeking insight on their work. However, I only had two forums actually take the bait in earnest, and those were the Critique section of Model Mayhem, and a MySpace group entitled, Photography. More after the jump…

It should be noted that there are people in both forums who genuinely attempt to assist new photographers (or any photographer looking for input), but I know, from personal experience, that a large percentage of the type of criticism that is provided in those forums comes from one person’s inexplicable desire to place another person beneath them, professionally, creatively, or intellectually. I have always wondered why that was; after all, the premise of any of these forums is to bring information, unfiltered by class, background or professional stature, from those who know to those who don’t. So why the inherent dystopia?

Truth is, the internet is not the free love movement of information (or at least factual or relevant information). We now have an ability, unparalleled in all of human history, to reach out and communicate to more people than is even quantitively possible for us to speak to within our lifetimes, and we use it to spread disdain, ignorance, and misinformation. Minute by minute. Take Wikipedia for example (article on the subject here). Even a website dedicated to the exact purpose of bringing unfettered information to the masses does not succeed based on simple human neglect (of the truth); a non-subtle proof that the proxy is never as good as the real thing.

Anyway, back to the point, I thought that it would be interesting to post some photographs, from well-known series, by world-famous photographers in these forums of “experts” and see what their general consensus might find. On one hand, it is an extension of the “my kid could do that” reaction that many people have to some painted works from Modernism forward. This is an incorrect notion that art must represent the technical brilliance of the artist, which fundamentally betrays the element of concept in a work of art. Granted, these are photographers (I chose Nan Goldin, William Eggleston, Jeff Wall, and Harry Callahan) that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable as photographic art in their times, but it has been some time ago since these breakthroughs first occurred, so it surprises me that they are still so little accepted. On the other hand, the experiment goes behind the scenes to show, in point of fact, that the only worthwhile critic of your own work is you. It’s like Diane Arbus said, “Nobody is going to love your pictures like yourself.”

Here are the two situations that garnered the most reactions; commenters are in bold:
1. On MySpace (photography by William Eggleston)

Me:I’d like to know what you guys think. Double-click to make them larger.

And this one was taken over St. Louis.

Eddie Bauer:So what’s the experiment? To see if we will click on them and make them larger.

Pentax Junkie:(quoted Eddie Bauer) I looked at the last one, because I like shots like that, unfortunately it is out of focus and has camera shake. I’d say – try that again.

Facebook: Twiggy Teeluck:They’re bland.
I can see a road any day, especially at those angles. However, I do like the tones in the first photo.
Maybe playing around with your angles will get you more interesting photos. =)

And, about the last shot, Pentax Junkie practically took the words right out of my mouth.

2. On Model Mayhem (first images by Jeff Wall, then same William Egglestons)

Me:Not necessarily typical MM fare, but what do you guys think of these? Thanks!

Yosh Studio: Really, what’s the point of this experiment?

-Veronica: I like the first…

The other 2 don’t really appeal to me much, though

Modelnet: ugggg, sorry, but they evoke depression and a general negative feeling…..

martinimages: (quoted Modelnet) at least they evoked. That makes ’em art. 🙂

B

Lucy Dominga: Love the first one!

The other two don’t do much for me. I guess maybe some people might see the art in them, but they really don’t make me feel anything at all.

Bernie Browder: (quoted my original post) Ok the first one I get, looks retro and like a crime scene photo which does look authentic. You lost me on the other two though without more info. Experiment with camera? film? what?

Kris Moore: I’m not a fan of any. The 1st is the type of macabre image that always makes me wonder “WHY?”
The other two…well I’m completely lost.

Becca Synthetic: (quoted Modelnet) This.But that’s not necessarily a bad thing especially when it comes to art.

Miss Anthrope 1007: (quoted Lucy Dominga) This.

Me: These are interesting responses, thanks for your input. Here are some other ones to check out; again, I would really like to hear what everyone thinks. (and then I posted exactly what I posted in the MySpace forum)

AJ Holley: Looking at your first set, then the second, then typing this message, I feel like I wasted 48 seconds of my life. They didnt do a thing for me.

Lucy Dominga: Yeah, I’m not too fond of the new set either…just doesn’t do it for me.

But to be honest, that really isn’t the kind of photography that will appeal to most people here on MM. We might not be the best people to ask about that kind of work.

END

Looking back over these, I think that the results are pretty intriguing. Note that, if I had responded to any of these comments with defenses for “my” photos (I didn’t because I wanted to remain neutral and these aren’t my images to defend), then the commentary would have gotten more aggressive. Actually, I don’t doubt that any more verbiage on my behalf, passive or not, would probably have incited something more radical in the responses. Nonetheless, there are examples in here of some of these people trying to genuinely help, which is hopeful, but not nearly enough or conducive to assisting a student or beginner looking to improve. And, maybe most striking, not once did the “professionals”, in the exchange printed above or in the other posts that I placed, recognize any of the work as art historical. Just goes to show: “The art of our necessities is strange that it can make vile things precious.” -William Shakespeare, King Lear

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