Mere Witness?

Susan on the Cape Cod Ferry 1998

“There are photographers who are mere witnesses, who see things and scoop up events. And then there are those who say what they think in their photos – those are the artists….For them, the “I” is so cumbersome that they can’t separate themselves from it.” – Robert Delpire

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13 thoughts on “Mere Witness?

  1. Dogman

    Matt Black’s photos are excellent but they seem a little too polished for the subject matter. And the book is over designed. I was disappointed when I got it in the mail. Tim’s grainy photo style would have fit the subject better IMO.

    1. Dan Newell

      Yeah, I don’t get that. I live in the Valley and it’s a grimy place with light filtered through the dust mostly.
      I gave up on shooting the 240 and converting, I just use the 246 when I’m in those areas. I just can’t seem to get the mid-tones right on the conversion.

      Maybe I’m just not with it anymore but the HDR/High Wax look just doesn’t get it for me, especially in reportage.

  2. Rob Campbell

    Hope this piece can be understood by some of you; basically, Salgado says that photography has maybe twenty years left before it gives way to “image”, which isn’t photography. He states that photography is about a tangible print, which isn’t what image is about today, in the sense to which he refers to it. I guess he’s right.

    There are many reasons for this, in my book, and perhaps one is the perfect storm of high cost of print combined with the loss of patience and the “need” to download onto social media right away, before even the author’s own interest in the picture wanes.

    Unless I’m mistaken, and at this late hour of the evening I often am, it seems he has a digital negative made, and then prints from that. Expense upon expense… it must be nice (drop in your own wish!).

    Incidentally, just rediscovered Mel Torme, who’s distracting me as I type. My son-in-law gave me a kind of pencil with a rubber tip that makes typing on this iPad – or even on the cellphone – a lot more accurate. I thought that typing on a screen of this kind required body electricity, but if the tip of this pencil is indeed rubber, that kinda kills that supposition. Amazing world.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      I think I agree with him. The print is becoming an anachronism, all the more reason we should be printing our favorites and matting and hanging them up for posterity. IMO, photography IS the well made print. All else is peripheral.

      1. Dan Newell

        I think it may just be a small group that will print but we’re still going to keep doing it. We’ve been smearing our hands with ochre and slapping it up against a wall for over 25 thousand years so I don’t think we are going to stop.

        1. Rob Campbell

          For sure, only the printed work is going to survive in the longer term.

          It sometimes crosses my mind that it might be worth printing again, digitally, but then I think of the boxes of printed stuff that even I no longer look at. On top of that, there isn’t much that I do anymore that means squat to anyone but myself, and that includes the family not being interested. Hell, even if I still had a working printer I know perfectly well that very few of my snaps would ever get printed, even for myself: not worth the money to me. While I survive, posterity is meaningless, especially when it’s obvious that more boxes of prints really signify more guilt trips for those obliged, one day, to dump them.

          Plenty of name photographers and agencies such as Magnum have covered the current – and past – world; their files contain well-protected photography of the highest order, so future generations and historians have no lack of source material to rewrite history as pleases them or their controllers on the day. Relevance and ultimate value probably depend on your achievements in your chosen world during the time you are active. As any regular reader will know, I have a great respect and love for much of Saul Leiter’s output; that said, seeing him in frequent interviews once he was so old, but had just won gallery recognition and promotion, was actually somewhat sad. I don’t believe that his legacy will be long-lasting, unlike with painters, something that sprang to mind following the fierce promotion of his work in what, really, amounts to gallerists mining whilst the seam proves popular. I don’t think they are showing any great long-term faith. Of course, he’s not alone there…

          Remove the investment factor from photography, and we are left with not a lot to interest people from a wider world than the small one enjoyed via the Internet and the groupings we follow as individuals. My daily life, as that of many other people, is not swamped with constant chatter about photographers such as Avedon, Penn, Adams or anybody else. Aside from collectors who care about the object, only a handful of folks who look at photo websites even know who those people were. I suspect most such viewers are interested in gear reviews, not people.

          All in all, it’s a murky , indifferent world out there.

          1. Dan Newell

            You worry too much Rob. You’ll never know the true extent of it so why worry about it?

            It’s a fine body of work and you consistently nailed it.

            Mix up a couple of G&T’s, kick back and consider it a job well done. And if the hoi polloi don’t dig it to the nth degree….screw ’em.

  3. Rob Campbell

    I looked slightly too far ahead in mid life, but reached a point where I stopped caring much. I am sometimes surprised that I gave up on employment to take the diversion to Soloville those many years ago. Maybe it was the courage of youth – not thinking of all the reasons why it could fail and leave me worse off than before. Truth to tell, those who jump aboard later in life deserve more respect: they usually know better, but do it anyway. That takes balls. Or just a situation where they have nothing left to lose.

    Thanks for the comment on the body of work; I only wish that I had been exposed to such an abundance of photography as is available today at the mere tap of a key: during my time, it was pretty much restricted to magazines and whatever else, illustrated, that you could buy. I never imagined a time would come when without going broke, I could gaze at photographs for as long as I could stay awake! Today’s kids have it on a silver platter; shame there’s not much paying work left, though.

    Ah, that G&T! If only I could without killing myself! Prohibition, as under three cardiologists’ orders…

    I have this vision: I see myself sitting at a table outside the Café de Flore in Paris, chatting with the ghosts of Jeanloup Sieff, Saul Leiter and the recently late Peter Lindbergh (all of them shot there.) No idea what the conversation; hope like hell it doesn’t have me fawning like a friggin’ groupie! 😉

    I ran those two Matt Black videos again just before coming back here; maybe I’ll have a go at doing the new project in that harsh, Tri-X look… so counterintuitive to go there with reasonably good files, but perhaps just the kick in the ass I should give myself. Must try tomorrow with a couple of the shots. Getting to that look might heighten the interest for me.

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