Ah, that hair!I went to MOMA this afternoon because I was walking by and it was free and there were tons of cute young people, and we had already seen Georgia and Ansel and all their boring natural affinities so I didn't have to pay the $5 surcharge. Took some gorgeous photos on the fifth floor and new sculpture garden "with clear blue skies above," then went to the Robert Frank "The Americans" exhibit on the third floor. It's totally extraordinary and made me realize why I was appalled by the Adams. Here's a great quote I found from the photographer Elliott Erwitt:"The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy - the tone range isn't right and things like that - but they're far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he's doing, what his mind is. It's not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It's got to do with intention."
I'm afraid my hair is in an awkward phase right now -- it's grown out enough to be blocky on the sides but not long enough to part. Oh, the dilemmas I deal with on a daily basis! They would crush a lesser man.I'm glad you got back to MOMA. I went again on Monday but have not yet seen the Robert Frank show. So I am on neutral ground when I say I'm not as taken with Erwitt's quotation as you are.I've never felt it necessary to praise one artist by denigrating another, and I especially don't feel any need to do that as a viewer (as opposed to a photographer who is trying to make a living) -- why choose? Why not enjoy both? They're different aesthetic paths, and I can hop between one and the other, and the contrasts between the two can only enrich my experience of each. I might prefer one to the other, but that doesn't mean the other is a failure.Erwitt (I assume, since I'm not familiar with his work, but you say he's a photographer as well) is writing as someone with a polemical purpose. He wants to defend the quality of something that lacks technical finish. That's fine, though I'd be curious to know when exactly he said this, since preferring a lack of finish is such a widespread preference these days that I'd almost say it's predominant and even a cliche -- witness the preference in older paintings for oil sketches over the finished work, in movies for shaky camera work and jarring editing over a smooth professional Hollywood look, in acting for mumbling actors over the classically trained enunciators. (I also wonder what art-world politics is lying behind his attack.)But the implication in his remark is that the less technically perfect work is somehow more "honest" and "real" and therefore more intellectually respectable than something more polished. (His remark, especially his need to put down a very popular photographer, makes me think there's a lot of class/power stuff going on behind his thinking.)He's assuming that Adams hasn't put any thought or mindfulness in composing a photo out of nature, and he's showing his bias by denigrating the work as having the "quality of a postcard," i.e., it is conventional and merely pretty, and something tourists, who are always lowbrow, would buy, as opposed to describing it in a way that values the aesthetic qualities of Adams's work. One might find a lot of mindfulness and intent and thought in "balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth" -- these things don't just accidentally happen.Sure, you might like your nature sloppier than Adams makes it. You might also find his work expresses an inner truth about how one might feel about nature. You might simply enjoy the contrasts between textures and horizontal/vertical and the many shades of gray between white and black.I have no problem with people disliking Adams or finding him boring. But I don't see much point in criticizing him because he didn't do something he never set out to do -- that's essentially a way of saying "his fashion is not my fashion," which is fine but not all that illuminating since fashions change all the time.I do object to the notion that the technically imperfect is, by nature of being technically imperfect, more "honest". I know there's a lot of romantic potential there -- it's like seeing the one shaky and spotted scrap of film that is all that's left of Isadora Duncan's dancing -- but there's also a whole bogus romance of the inarticulate that could also be going on there.It's like the confessional poets -- some critics go on about how raw and real they are, but every single carefully scanned admission of adultery or drunkenness or whatever has been just as carefully planned and selected as the most polished and conventional ode.Anyway, I am now eager to see the Frank exhibit.
If we're going to have a major argument about the Erwitt quotation, I might as well trot out the whole thing: "Quality doesn't mean deep blacks and whatever tonal range. That's not quality, that's a kind of quality. The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy - the tone range isn't right and things like that - but they're far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he's doing, what his mind is. It's not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It's got to do with intention."When Erwitt said this, I have no idea even though I've been doing some serious Google searches and finding variations on our discussion over that quotation all over the place. ("Erwitt's an asshole, Ansel's a genius, etc.") Erwitt was a Magnum photographer who obviously felt philosophically and artistically closer to Frank than Adams. I'd seen a few prints from "The Americans" over the years and wasn't terribly impressed, but seeing them together in one show, 83 photos collated out of 28,000, was a revelation. Frank accomplished what I've been trying to do and partially succeeding with in my own photography over the last eight years, and it was fun to see it had already been done, albeit fairly downbeat and black and white. In any case, the 1950s photos are aging brilliantly and throw you into a moment and place in time with real power. Ansel, however, leaves me totally cold and always has and I've never understood quite why. And this has nothing to do with "quality." I love both polished art and rougher edges. Some things speak to me and others don't. But I understood the Frank show in an unusually intuitive way, and since most museum photography shows tend to bore the bejesus out of me, it was a wonderful surprise.
Oh, I see no need for a major argument, especially if those arguments take the form of "X is an asshole" -- I mean, maybe he is, but why bother saying so or responding to an asshole's assholery?Thanks for providing the full quotation, which doesn't change my mind about what he's doing there. I think he's coming from what I'll call a non-disinterested place, so I read it in light of that.I'm just shooting in the dark here, not having seen the Frank show yet, but perhaps the key is the total absence of people in Adams's work (as it's displayed in this show)? I'm guessing Frank's work is more human-centered.
We all come from a non-disinterested place when it comes right down it so that doesn't bother me. You may be right that the key is the total absence of people in Adams' work and the multiplicity of human types in Frank's, but it's more than that. Check it out and you can explain my reaction for me.
Some non-disinterested places are more non-disinterested than others.
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