Common Themes

Tonight, Tuesday's Photo Art Tweetchat - Contemplating "The Unreasonable Apple"

Tonight's Art Photo Tweet Chat we will have an open discussion on Paul Graham's essay "The Unreasonable Apple."

Graham begins his discussion with a quote from Jeff Wall:

This month I read a review in a leading US Art Magazine of a Jeff Wall survey book, praising how he had distinguished himself from previous art photography by:

“Carefully constructing his pictures as provocative often open ended vignettes, instead of just snapping his surroundings”

Graham goes on to say how photographer should be insulted by this. I hear what he is saying but I also understand Wall's position after seeing countless portfolios of photographers who are really just snapping their surroundings and not thinking much of it. These shooters are nostalgic for an era that, in my book, never really existed. Graham sites photographers Walker Evans to Robert Frank, Diane Arbus to Garry Winogrand, to Stephen Shore in a category of photographers that are less appreciated then photographers like Jeff Wall, or Cindy Sherman or James Casebere or Thomas Demand. While I understand where he is going I feel like the photographers he sites as under-appreciated are actually very appreciated but they are from an older generation of photographers.

We have seen their work and new photographers that want their work appreciated as are have to go beyond what these photographer have made and push the medium further. This is funny because I think thats what the new generation of photographers like Paul Graham are doing. I'm thinking about Alec Soth, Larry Clark, Taryn Simon, Sze Tsung Leong as well as Paul Graham and many others. Sure, they are shooting some sort of 'document' of what is in front of the camera but they are arranging them into a poetry all their own. A poetry that speaks in a current dialogue.

An interesting example of how this type of work fits into the art world right now can be seen at the Guggenheim Museum in a newly opened show Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance. Even at the Guggenheim there are photographers who are operating in a "snapping their surroundings" method like An-My Le, Sally Mann and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

A lot of bloggers have been talking and quoting from this essay:
Conscientious: "hyperbolic, overblown, risible"
la pura vida: OpEd: The Beautiful Burden
Conscientious: "Continuing the debate about photography"
Adam Bell: The Unreasonable Apple
Touching Harms the Art by Luke Strosnider: Paul Graham – The Unreasonable Apple
We can shoot too: "Quote of the Week - Paul Graham"

In a related post Franklin Einspruch talk about the broader ideas of conceptual art vs ideas of beauty. Its worth a read and fits into this conversation. "Conceptualism for Sale: How the Art World Uses Low Standards for Fun and Profit."

Join in tonight at 9 pm EST.
We'll discuss Graham's essay and how or if 'documentary' photography fits / doesn't fit into the art paradigm.

These Art Photography Twitter Chats anyone can join in or just read it live by using the hashtag #photoartchat on Twitter. One easier way to transform twitter into a chat room is and entering the photoartchat room here:

To keep up with the latest on these chats you should follow OcularOctopus on Twitter, here:
and me, harlan erskine here:

On Originality...

Penelope Umbrico, 4,786,139 Suns from Flickr (Partial) 1/14/09 2007-2009 4 x 6 inch machine prints (detail).

Every artist has to grapple with the question: Is your work original? Some say that no artwork is original. This statement is a cop out. Originality still exists and flourishes. A lot of original art grows out of looking at other works and reacting to it. The danger is when the artist finishes a project and knowingly or not comes up with work that is too derivative or even plagiarized from others.

Last week at a talk benefitting the Camera Club of New York, artist Penelope Umbrico talked about her work to a packed house at SVA. Her art is a remixing of photographic media into a dialogue about the larger culture of photographic consumption. For her project, Suns from Flickr, she utilized the abundance of sunset images uploaded to the popular photo sharing site, Flickr. Through a careful cropping and arrangement, she remixed their original purpose, transforming them into a random wallpaper of candy-colored sunsets.

When her exhibited work was uploaded back to Flickr, some viewers were offended by the appropriation (remixing), thus missing the point of the project. Umbrico's Suns has a very different intent from those who uploaded their pictures to Flickr. The art is not simply the imagery; it is the sum of the parts used to illustrate an idea. There might be artistry to mixing a tube of paint, but I have never heard a paint manufacturer claim that an artwork was partly theirs, since they formulated the paint.

Richard Prince, "Untitled (Cowboy)."

Another case is the appropriation of photography by Richard Prince of Cowboy images from Marlboro ads. Recently, A Photo Editor interviewed one of the photographers, Jim Krantz about Richard Prince. If you have not read the interview, check it out here. While I appreciate Jim's work, Prince has appropriated it differently than the work for which Krantz was commissioned. These images began as an advertisement for cigarettes. Marlboro used Krantz's fantastic images of the American cowboy to sell a product that has killed thousands of people. Marlboro combined these images with their logo to sell the idea that smoking their brand of cigarette was a classic American thing to do. The freedom of the American West was equated to the act of smoking. Thus, these images were no longer about anything but the lowest form of propaganda. They were selling death, plain and simple.

Jim Krantz's "Calf Rescue" (1998), taken on assignment for Marlboro.

Richard Prince's re-photography of these advertisements significantly shifts their meaning. In Prince's Cowboys, the work begs the question, What is real? Prince peers into the American veneer of the cowboy and calls it fake. In his new work, the viewer can identify the copied surface in the pattern from the advertisement. Logos have been removed. All that is left is the idea of the American cowboy. His new work is about questioning the authenticity of both the myth of the cowboy and the honesty of that idea.

In A Photo Editor's Interview:

APE: But, that's the irony isn't it. Someone steals a photograph and suddenly your work is important to the art community. That's what it took.

It's amazing to me that the curators at the Guggenheim would bring this work in without acknowledging the source or giving the viewers the opportunity to see what motivates and inspires a person. You need a footnote in a paper but there's no source recognized here.

As a photographer I understand the desire for credit. I have certainly felt the sting from not getting credit for something. But we need to remember there was no byline in the ad. Marlboro paid thoroughly for these ads. It's difficult to feel for the photographer who became part of the cancer stick propaganda machine. He sold out his images literally and complained when they were used as paint for someone else's artistic expression. If anything, Krantz is lucky. His images could have easily been forgotten, lost to the void of time. Because of this controversy he has gained recognition, the chance to make some work express his artistic intentions, and receive a wider audience than he might have received without this experience.

Recently, another controversy over originality has been getting attention. This is a case among fine art photographers. The playing field is a bit different. Jorg Colberg has written a lot about this in his blog, specifically in the posts "On Plagiarism and Similarities" (2006) and recently "When does similar become too similar?" and "Way too similar?" In his last post, he explains the current controversy of David Burdeny and his project "Sacred & Secular." When comparing this project to the work of Elger Esser, and particularly with the work of Sze Tsung Leong's project "Horizons" troubling similarities occur. This story was first discussed in the blog photo muse in this post and recently PDN magazine has posted a story "Copycat or Not? Photographer Challenged Over Look-Alike Work."

This comparison is more direct since we are looking at two photographers. At first, I thought this might simply be a case of two artists working on common themes. A while back, I wrote about artists making images that shared the theme of falling. Each image depicts falling people, but the artists go about making the images from different approaches. The more I look at Burdeny's work, the more I start to think that it is just too close to Sze Tsung Leong. Not only is the subject and angle of the shot similar, but Burdeny also utilizes Leong's method of hanging the show. If I were a curator, I wouldn't want to show art this unoriginal. Even if it doesn't meet the legal definition of plagiarism, it meets the artistic definition of unoriginal.

David Burdeny, Grand Canal II, Venezia Italy, 2009

Sze Tsung Leong, From the Horizons Series, Canale della Giudecca I, Venezia. C-Print 2007

David Burdeny, Sacred & Secular, Installation view

Sze Tsung Leong, Horizons, installation view

As you can see from the above examples the intention of the work is extremely suspect. As a community of artists we need to be aware of others' work and ideas. As an artist brainstorms for new ideas and an interesting thought bubbles up they need to be careful. You can use ideas and art from the past to inform and inspire your work but you always need to be aware of what has been done so that the finished piece is your original concept.

In David Burdeny case, is there something that we are missing from viewing the project on the web only? Because unlike the differences in the first two examples of artists remixing another person's work, Burdeny's similarities include not only the content, but the intent of his art. What do you think? Is it too close?

Further reading, Todd Walker, aka Ocular Octopus weighs in on this topic in his post "Plagiarism in Photography Is Impossible"

This will be the topic of this week's #photoartchat Tweetchat. Tomorrow, Tuesday Feb 23rd at 9 pm EST, we will be hosting David Bram, photographer and publisher of Fraction Magazine.

suburbia gone wild by Martin Adolfsson

Martin Adolfsson, St. Andrews Manor, Shanghai, China

I'm digging Martin Adolfsson's work. Especially his Suburbia Gone Wild. I enjoy how at first I thought these were rather typical suburban landscape pictures that have been popular for some time now and then you notice that this isn't America's suburbia. This is the world copying America's bad habits and bad example and its frightening.

I think I even found the real estate listing here:

From Martin Adolfsson's statement:

Within the past two decades we've seen a huge shift in the balance of economic power. Countries that didn't have a middle class 20 years ago have seen a rapid transformation from an agricultural economy to an industrial based economy so much so that a sizable percentage of the population now belongs to the middle class. How does that affect the social groups who have been able to benefit the most from the economic boom? How does that influence one's identity when the change is so rapid? What happens to the native culture amidst the economic influence of international status?

I've chosen to put my focus on the model homes built in recently constructed suburbs for the newly minted upper middle class. These full-scale replicas act as giant shopping windows decorated with a ready to buy lifestyle for the homebuyer. When the projects is finished I will have depicted model homes in 7 suburbs spread across the rising economies of the world. By omitting geographical and national traces I want to create a strong visual narrative between the suburbs. The similarities interest me more then the national and cultural differences. My intentions are to create a visual narrative that takes the viewer in front of the scenes of a new global movement.

A project by Martin Adolfsson