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Archive 2013 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?
  
 
canerino
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p.1 #1 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


I've been thinking about this for a while. Are the photographic 'greats' still relevant in today's world of photography (and more specifically, wedding photography)?

Like most, I didnt know a damn thing about photography when I first picked up a camera back in 2005. I slowly worked my way through the technicals and eventually began looking at the aesthetics of my photos. I am a History teacher by trade, so naturally I began to look to the past to see who the 'greats' were. My affinity was for people photography so I started to look at Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Walker Evans, Weegee, Garry Winogrand, Richard Avendon, Robert Frank, Karsh, Penn, etc. Honestly, for most of their photos, I saw no reason to call them 'great' or even 'good' in some cases! "Clearly these people are just called 'great' because of their names!" I thought.

Fast forward a few years and I grew as a photographer. I had an idea on where I wanted to go (family documentary) and for whatever reason I kept one foot in the past when looking to improve my photography. I began to see that the greats were truly great and deserving of their place in photographic history. I quickly learned that photographing the ever changing human dynamic with thought and intention (in my case, my family) was really hard to do.

Fast forward a few more years to now. I am a wedding photographer. I love the documentary side of what I do. Absolutely love it. I AM PASSIONATE about it. I have evolved a bit from my family documentary roots but shoot with the same/similar principles which are rooted in 'the greats'.

But as I see more and more people become wedding photographers it seems that there is less and less of the past in photography. As an example, I spoke with four different photographers who never heard of Magnum Photos. Each photographer is very good in their own right and are educated, intelligent people. I WANT TO BE CLEAR, THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. And I am not suggesting that we all read The Decisive Moment or go to magnumphotos.com.

Most of the aforementioned photographers are documentary photographers. For most of us here, a large portion of a wedding day is "PJ", unscripted, unposed (at least thats what many of your about sections say). And yet I see very little correlation in work to that of the 'greats'. AGAIN, THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. My observation is that the photography of yore is more thoughtful and cerebral (especially most of the work from the aforementioned photographers). Much of the photography I see today is really shallow and empty...vapid even.

I think all of this begs the question, are the greats relevant in today's photographic world? Why or why not? Am I off base? Are their techniques applicable to today's photography? Can the styles of the greats be sold to today's modern bride? Why dont we see more work that looks like the 'greats'?

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Chuck



Feb 15, 2013 at 04:14 PM
joelconner
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p.1 #2 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Absolutely relevant. Even for those who do know who these people are, we all stand on their shoulders. Even some of the older wedding photographers that would be seen as "boring" these days were pioneers. I look at photos more than 30 years old almost as much as those newer than that (the one exception being the photos I see on here at an alarming rate)

We do a lot of antique shopping, and I will regularly spend 15-20 minutes at the booths selling old formal photos...I just look at them and soak in the age and time spent getting the photo right.

What amazes me about so many of the street shooters is that what they were doing was just as (probably moreso) revolutionary and out-of-the-box than most of the unique/never-seen-that-before type shots than many of us strive for.



Feb 15, 2013 at 04:31 PM
oldrattler
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p.1 #3 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Reliance would depend on your perspective. Are we walking in the shadow of the "Masters", or are we blazing trails into uncharted territory? At their times they were mavericks, crazy guys trying new things. Had they failed nobody would remember their names. Would somebody else have come along and done the same thing? Obviously, and eventually, but they were the pioneers. We still teach their methods and advise "Newbee's" to view their work for they were the foundation the system was built upon. Just My .02...



Feb 15, 2013 at 04:53 PM
joelconner
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p.1 #4 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


speaking of which...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o2nBhQ67Zc



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:00 PM
form
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p.1 #5 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


canerino wrote:
Most of the aforementioned photographers are documentary photographers. For most of us here, a large portion of a wedding day is "PJ", unscripted, unposed (at least thats what many of your about sections say). And yet I see very little correlation in work to that of the 'greats'. AGAIN, THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. My observation is that the photography of yore is more thoughtful and cerebral (especially most of the work from the aforementioned photographers). Much of the photography I see today is really shallow and empty...vapid even.

I think all of this begs the question, are the greats
...Show more

What about music? Is there a similar trend in music? You could reference the comparison of classical vs. modern music or even go back less than 100 years and find music that had more substance to the lyrics instead of the last 10-20 years of generally shallower subject material...

The fact is, people think differently and have different viewpoints than before. Nowadays trends are about efficiency, in-the-moment stuff, novelty, experimentation, edginess, and of course profitability...and though some of that hasn't changed, the way we go about satisfying those foci is very different because preferences are not the same. Our society uses much more instantaneous forms of media production now, and those forms often automatically determine many values and things that we used to have to manipulate/produce manually and carefully. The increased speed, automaticity and flexibility of modern equipment permits a lot of 1. laziness, 2. hasty action with little planning, 3. smaller knowledge base. The tools have made it much easier for people to generate satisfactory work in many aspects of life without understanding all the mechanics involved. It's the disposable society. Sociology has also analyzed the patterns in human behavior, e.g. baby boomers vs the most recent generations.

Before the calculator, we had only our minds and other non-digital implements to figure out mathematic equations, so our minds naturally had more practice and were more efficient at it. Just like before the internet, when we had to look numbers up in the phone book or write out routes to places by guidance from other people. Or before cameras went digital, when people had to use film...back when you developed your own film and learned the skills to alter it. That was more hands-on. Same for cameras that didn't have automatic metering, when people absolutely had to either use a separate meter or guess the exposure...people simply had more knowledge. Same for factory jobs which have been replaced by robotic equipment now...the skills became obsolete. However, it might not be an entirely bad thing...

The fact is, we have a kind of limited volume of information we can recall easily, because we only use and experience so much in a day and memory tends to fade with time. So, because we have forgotten or never knew many of the skills of less technologically modern versions of the same trade, in a way this allows our minds to be easily opened up and ready to be filled with the vast knowledge of new and modern techniques and ideas. By not filling our minds with all of the technical details of old methods, we don't get used to or stuck in the pattern of those old perceptions. Kind of like being brought up with computers vs. learning to integrate them into life after being used to old ways. It's much harder for most people to get used to the new stuff after they've become used to the old ways. Thoreau might agree within the first few pages of Walden.

As for old techniques that still apply today (e.g. photography rule of thirds, color perception and effects, balance between objects, geometry, etc.), this I believe is the really important stuff people miss. It's also the stuff people can't afford to miss.

For the record, I respect and like Monte Zucker's lighting and knowledge of posing, and I want to understand the logic he used for posing etc., but I don't care for the look of the very traditional poses used in his time. I also never have been able to appreciate Ansel Adams (landscapes of course) photos for the most part, although I'm sure a lot of work and effort went into projecting exactly what he wanted to show viewers. There are modern landscape photographers whose photos are much more striking and appealing to me.

Edited on Feb 15, 2013 at 08:04 PM · View previous versions



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:44 PM
imaginephotoaz
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p.1 #6 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Being part of both the music and photography worlds, I'd say you are 100% correct in that comparison, Form. I think technological advances are a large part of why both music and photography have less substance. The advances in modern recording equipment have made it so that people that have ZERO business making music are able to now create broadcast quality songs in their bedroom. It used to require talent and the ability to play instruments to make music. Now you can just create it on a computer and throw it out weekly, which consequently makes it more disposable and less valued.

The advent of the digital camera immediately made it so that those with no business clicking a shutter can suddenly be a "professional" photographer. I must admit, I did shoot on film 15 years ago, but I wasn't pursuing this as a business, I was a hobbyist. Digital is all I've used since turning professional. Should I be doing this for a living? My clients think so. But I also know I'm nowhere near as talented as many, many others.



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:52 PM
dmacmillan
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p.1 #7 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


I have two trains of thought. I am steeped in the history of photography and have a bookshelf that proves it. Every once in a while, a relative newbie will come along patting himself on the back because he thinks he's come up with something totally new and exciting in photography. Actually, he is only demonstrating his ignorance, because I can almost always point back to a photographer from the past that's already "been there, done that".

Since we're on the wedding forum, however, we need discuss wedding photography of the past, which was restricted by the technology available. Perhaps we need to study the posing techniques of the wedding photographers of yore (if you need to shoot formals), but little else.

Personally, I have always been interested in a more spontaneous style of phtography. I shot weddings in the '70's and '80's and envy the technology available today.



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:52 PM
maxwell1295
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p.1 #8 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


I think the greats are relevant to the people they are relevant to.
(see what I did there?)

For some, learning from the greats is important to their own development while others avoid external influences at all costs. I can understand both approaches and constantly wrestle with each of them.

Do you have to look back in order to move forward? Or can you move forward based on what your own interpretation of what great is? Those questions have probably been around as long as art has existed. Probably since the first time some dude scribbled some stuff on a cave wall...



Feb 15, 2013 at 06:01 PM
maxwell1295
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p.1 #9 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


joelconner wrote:
speaking of which...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o2nBhQ67Zc


She was the first person I thought of when I read Chuck's post. What were her influences? Was she influenced at all? To what extent?



Feb 15, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Eyeball
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p.1 #10 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Interesting questions, Chuck, but I think you missed a step in the logical sequence of your question. Your post sort of has the implication that when Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt, and the like were in their heydays, wedding photographers of that time were echoing their work in their wedding photography. Is that really true?

My memories of wedding pics from the 50s/60s are mainly posed group shots, cake-cutting shots, and leaving-the-church-in-the-toilet-papered-car shots. I don't remember seeing many moody, "decisive moment" shots.

I could be wrong. If anyone has some examples or links for wedding photographers of the time that reflect those styles, I would like enjoy seeing them.

That said, I am totally in favor of studying the "masters". But I think one of the positive things about the wedding photography industry today is the variety of styles and approaches that are available to clients. If clients want a journalistic/moment style, there are folks like you and Evan. If clients want bright and fun, there are folks like Hassas. If people want old-school film, there are folks that do that. If people want a touchy-feely experience there are photographers that cater to that.

The style/approach that the photographer decides to pursue may influence what sources they look to for learning and inspiration. And vice-versa.



Feb 15, 2013 at 06:26 PM
 

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friscoron
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p.1 #11 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Your points are well-taken, Eyeball. My whole position on this is that things have changed so much, not that there are not gallery artists out there perhaps trying to replicate the works of HCB and others, but they are few and far between, and probably not financially viable.

The masters have their place. They are the foundation of where we are today. Their history remains important, but what most of us do is radically different than what they did back then. Your points about wedding photography are good examples of how things have changed.



Feb 15, 2013 at 07:02 PM
SloPhoto
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p.1 #12 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


joelconner wrote:
speaking of which...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o2nBhQ67Zc



Thanks for posting that. Somehow I had never seen her work.



Feb 15, 2013 at 07:04 PM
alohadave
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p.1 #13 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


imaginephotoaz wrote:
Being part of both the music and photography worlds, I'd say you are 100% correct in that comparison, Form. I think technological advances are a large part of why both music and photography have less substance. The advances in modern recording equipment have made it so that people that have ZERO business making music are able to now create broadcast quality songs in their bedroom. It used to require talent and the ability to play instruments to make music. Now you can just create it on a computer and throw it out weekly, which consequently makes it more disposable and
...Show more

I'm going to say the exact opposite. The easy access to music and photography tools means that more people are creating. People have always been creative, it was simply harder to do it in the past. What they are creating won't necessarily mesh with your interests or style, but it's not less substance because of that. They are creating what is important or fun for them.

Some things that are on the edge today will be mainstream in 30 years because of the work that they are doing today. Consider van Gogh. He struggled his entire life to sell most of his work, and now he's one of the great Impressionist masters.



Feb 15, 2013 at 08:12 PM
julieawhitlock
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p.1 #14 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Interesting. I started with a fine arts degree so art history and esp the history of photography has been in my mind and informing ideas since I first began. I'm not sure which way it would have been more helpful. I know that the " decisive moment" had always been foremost in my mind as I shoot. Would I have really progressed the same without it? Doubtful.


Feb 15, 2013 at 08:18 PM
benee
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p.1 #15 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


alohadave wrote:
b]imaginephotoaz wrote:
What they are creating won't necessarily mesh with your interests or style, but it's not less substance because of that. They are creating what is important or fun for them.
.



What is "important or fun" to the dilettante is probably going to have less substance.

More people today have a platform (for music, photography, etc). This can be a good thing, but it also means the hacks get more exposure. Hence, quality is diluted.

P.S. I am a hack myself....



Feb 15, 2013 at 08:21 PM
imaginephotoaz
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p.1 #16 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


The fact is, there are people that simply cannot step into a recording studio and make music with a live band because they don't have the skill. What they do possess, however, is a computer. That computer is doing the heavy-lifting of making music, and is allowing those that don't possess the skill of being a musician to make music. Whether or not I enjoy the music is purely opinion, but the fact is, they do not have the skill to make music without the aid of a computer.

It's a crutch, much like Lightroom or Photoshop can become a crutch when someone can't capture a decent image in-camera (we've all seen the silly editing someone does to a terrible picture to make it "good." Conversely, if one is good at capturing a great image, or even a great guitar track, and then use a computer to process it, they are simply using the software or computer as an extension of their skills or style, though they could get by without said computer and aren't using it as a crutch.



Feb 15, 2013 at 09:35 PM
alohadave
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p.1 #17 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


So what?

Not everyone is going to be successful or any good. That doesn't mean that you should poo-poo the tools that they are using and the accessibility of those tools. Hell, just the Internet alone has radically changed pretty much every industry that it's touched. How many wedding photographers nation and worldwide were comparing notes and examples of their work 15 years ago? If you do nothing else, you can be exposed to so much more influence than any other time in the past.



Feb 15, 2013 at 10:01 PM
zalmyb
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p.1 #18 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Hmmm.

I think just as you didn't care or appreciate the "greats" most couples don;t either, do there's no reason their photographers need to care or shoot that way either. In fact if they did, most couples wouldn't even want them...

Saying that, I'm in love with many of the greats, and every few weeks just randomly get some used books of Amazon (just bought like 4 of WilliamAlbert Allard's). I find their work fascinating.



Feb 15, 2013 at 11:23 PM
James R
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p.1 #19 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


What qualities do great photographs all have in common? IMO, the most important is use of light to shape the image. This holds true now and back in the old days (which can be 10, 20, 40, 80 years or more.) Great photographer create images that as relevant as today's work.


Feb 15, 2013 at 11:34 PM
asparkes
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p.1 #20 · Are the "Greats" Still Relevant?


Interesting read, Chuck. I'm with you most of the way, but I feel like there are two things that might need to be considered here:

1) Wedding photographers might not be the best examples of photographers who's work has some allegorical tribute to the greats buried within it. At least not as a whole. That isn't to say some of us aren't "doing it", just that its a very vapid business (weddings), in general, so whether we like it or not popular trends will at least bend us a bit. Also, bear in mind that, for example, Avedon's most famous works weren't the one's that he was shooting for immediate pay days, but rather at his own expense. So, commissioned work might not always be where the genius is found?

2) Digital noise. ANY conversation about quality of work, or lower ballers, or crappy trends or the general state of the industry should take into account just how obscenely accessible ALL work is now. I'm of the belief -- and others may fairly disagree -- that the perceived homogenization of the arts has a lot to do with the ease in which we communicate. Mediocrity has a massive venue that it never did before. Art used to be elite .. or, rather, by the time you knew about a certain style or artist they were elite. Now, free wi-fi is all it take to at least start a volley of one' work for public opinion. Surely this must account somewhat for why it seems harder to find the deeper work? This would apply to most visual media and/or music these day, IMHO.

Great topic. Cheers.



Feb 16, 2013 at 01:10 AM
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