Appreciating Photography


General Photography

I don’t have a formal photography or art-school education, and sometimes, it shows. When I look at a piece of art or at photography, there is not intellectual judging involved, at least not in the beginning. I look at a photo, and when it appeals to me, it appeals to me, and when it doesn’t it doesn’t, and that’s it as far as I am concerned. It is typically only after a little while that I start to see technicalities.

I know there is a whole wide set of photographic work out there that I personally fail to appreciate (or like or however else you want to describe it). As a direct consequence, there is a lot of fairly well known and widely respected photography out there that I really don’t like and that I, consequently, do not link to.

I don’t judge photography intellectually, which is probably why I almost never read articles about somebody’s photography; and I always get a bit irritated when people are trying to explain to me why some photos are to be appreciated. I do not think I have to appreciate somebody’s photography because of its social impact or because some person makes a strong personal statement. I mean it’s nice for that person to be able to make a personal statement and to be able to express him/herself; but if I do not like the photos, then the personal statement doesn’t really suddenly make me like the photos. On top of that, I firmly believe that even people who do not take photos of their family can make very personal statements, even when their photography is about as abstract or strict or impersonal as it would seem. I think you can see very clearly whether a photographer has personally invested in his/her projects or not, because in the end, the photos either touch you (in a way that’s ultimately nondescribable) or they don’t.

This kind of thinking is usually not being appreciated or accepted. It’s almost like there is some sort of codex that you have to follow. You have to be able to say something smart about anything. And you’re not allowed to say that you don’t like something, even though, ultimately - if you want to exclude academia - photography is about beauty, and your idea of beauty isn’t necessarily mine.

As you know, I’ve refrained from making to many words about the photographers I link to, because that’s the way it works for me. After I went to the big Edward Burtynsky show in New York, when somebody asked me what I thought I basically said “I really liked it”, and that was it for me. I mean, of course, the compositions were all really well done, and the prints looked gorgeous, but I could write a one-hundred-page essay about why I liked the photos (or maybe not as I just explained), and I would have still not expressed what it is that makes me like the photos.

I’ve also refrained from expressing when I don’t like some part of a photographer’s work, and even though I am usually not shy of telling people that I don’t like something (hey, I’m German, what did you expect?), I’m also not too interested in getting a lot of email from people who either complain about what basically is a difference of opinion (if you think about it you shouldn’t complain about it, you should be grateful about it! do you really want to live in a world where everybody has exactly the same opinions and/or tastes?) or who try to tell me why the photos in question are good and what it is that I don’t see in them.

There’s a whole other can of worms, which I will address some other time, and that concerns “intentions”. I always ask people when they tell me about some artist’s intention whether they buy the intentions along with the art piece, or I ask them where I can find the intentions (maybe they’re glued to the back of the photo?). And there’s actually a lot more to this whole topic than what, at the surface, sounds like some sort of joke. (It’s somewhat related to the problem of what the meaning of words is or where words get their meaning from). But that’s for a later post.