Friday, July 31, 2009

Photography: Art or Craft or What?

Photography has always reminded me of the second child.. trying to prove itself. The fact that it wasn’t really considered an art.. that it was considered a craft... has trapped almost every serious photographer. - Richard Avedon

I agree with Avedon's words, vis-à-vis photography as an art or craft, except for his words being uttered in the past tense.

Personally, I don't think Avedon's notion exists in the past. IMO, not all that much has changed in terms of how photography's place in the art-world is often perceived... except by photographers, its critics and pundits and the like.

And that's okay with me.

I'm good with that.

I'm neither more nor less gratified should others consider me an artist, a craftsman, a specialist, a mechanic, or whatever other label they see fit to bestow upon me or my fellow shooters.

In my self-perception (as it applies to my pursuit of photographic nirvana) I do think of myself as a craftsman. The fact that, occasionally, I might produce work that some consider art is gratifying and, more often than not, downright surprising! Mostly, I suppose, because it's unintended... as art, that is.

I'm not particularly bothered when my work is viewed as neither art nor craft. It is what it is. Often enough, when my work lacks craftiness, it's sometimes the result of my clients' meddling direction. I shoot what they want me to shoot and, whether I agree or not, how they want it shot. That's not to say I'm not fully capable of shooting crap. I am. All photographers are. I'm just saying.

By the way, none of what I'm writing today should be construed as some sort of subtle or indirect apology for any aspects of my work. I don't apologize for what I do or what I shoot.

Neither should you.

When clients become over-bearing task-masters, or they don't provide me with the minimal time or resources the job requires, it allows little room for craft or art. No problemo. They, i.e., the clients, are the ones writing me checks. Sometimes fat checks, sometimes not so fat. They get what they pay for. And if they prefer to pay for crap, so be it. Besides, they rarely credit me when the work is published or used for whatever. So why the fuck should I care?

Actually, I do. (Care, that is.) But, technically, I shouldn't.

"Hell no! I didn't shoot that crap!"

Plausible deniability is almost always mine thanks to them, my clients, and their uncrediting ways.

For the most part, I try to approach photography with a craftsman's eye, touch, and sensibility. I know my craft. I've spent considerable time learning and practicing it; honing it, if you will. But that doesn't always mean art and craft are always apparent in the results.

Again, I'm okay with that. Shit happens.

Perhaps my 'tude about this stuff makes me something of a whore? A photo whore? Again, no problem. I'm simply like the whore who truly loves and craves sex and would engage in it, regularly and with many partners, with or without monetary compensation.

That I get paid to hold cameras in my hands, needing to do little or nothing else to earn my keep, is something I'm quite happy about. The thought of doing almost anything else to earn a living makes me physically nauseous. (With the exception of writing and a few other things that exist, mostly, in my fantasy life.)

Whether someone refers to me as a craftsman or an artist makes no difference. Either way, I'm good with it. I'd rather be a fat craftsman than a starving artist. For that matter, I'd rather be a fat hack than a starving craftsman or artist.

I guess it's how I roll.

Like a whore.

A camera whore.

Oh well.

What'd'ya gonna do?

Sorry Mister Avedon. While I most certainly consider myself a serious photographer, the art/craft trap you alluded to has never ensnared me.

Perhaps my skills and, more aptly, my ego still have much growing to do?

Time will tell, I suppose.

I was going to write Part 2 of my Day One account of the Pretty Girl Shooter DVD location shoot at El Mirage but yesterday was a no-holds-barred ass-kicker: 15 hours on set with Murphy's Law constantly making everything more difficult than it should have been. In a word, I'm toast today. Writing this little essay was easier than writing the other stuff. Plus, near the end of yesterday's shoot, with camera in hand, I got stung by a freakin' bee! I'm not whining about it. I didn't cry. I didn't drop the camera. (It was on sticks anyway.) It just pissed me off. It was, I'm sorry to say, a fitting end to a fucked up day with yours truly on the receiving end of its final affront.

The pretty girl at the top is another of Dalia from out on the El Mirage dry lake bed. I just now (quickly and minimally) processed this on my cheap laptop while sitting in my favorite, WiFi-equipped, coffee house in between typing the babble contained in this update. If that sounds like I'm making excuses for the processing or the text, I am. And I'm not. Like the words, the image is what it is. Regarding the picture, I'll see what it actually looks like when I get home and view it on a much better screen.

Or not.

Dalia captured with available light, Canon 5D, 17-40 L at a focal length of 29mm, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125.


EleganceAndChaos said...

You brought up an interesting point in your commentary about not getting credit for most of your work. I am assuming it is because the adult industry is more of a volume business. I am curious in these days of Suicide Girls and Deviant Nation where copyrights changes hands for less that $150, whether you actual retain any rights to your work or are you doing work-for-hire. Considering that your work may be re-sold may time over and not just for DVD covers and magazine tearsheets, what is the prevailing usage rights for pretty girl shooters.

Obviously someone like Holly and Suse Randall shoot for their own site and well as for clients. Are the terms they get different from what you are able to get for your work?

jimmyd said...

I sometimes work "work-for-hire" and sometimes not. I'm pretty sure the same is true for Suze and Holly.

When I'm not working "work4hire" or even when, technically, I kind of am--yet the client neglects to have me assign rights because they either don't care or don't realize the shooter retains the copyright--I see it as something of a good thing. Their ignorance can end up in my favor should I ever need to seek remedies for one reason or another.

Mostly, in terms of the work I do in the adult biz, copyright, like a model release, is more about protection than licensing opportunities. (if that makes sense.)

For the most part, there are no established terms in the adult biz. Exceptions, are companies like LFP/Hustler, Playboy, Penthouse, and a few others. Everything is negotiable. Sometimes things are "usual and customary" and sometimes not.

Frankly, a lot of things that would be usual-and-customary just about everywhere else are all over the map in the adult industry. Less so, of course, when it involves magazines and such.

Anonymous said...

I have always considered myself a photographer and I think that in the end if we are crafters, artists, etc. will be a title that is going to be handed down by history and not by self imposing labels on to us, heck I enjoy shooting so much that I don´t care to be called in other way than photographer, I do use some craft, I do use artistic elements, etc. But in essence I´m and I will be a photographer, don´t care about any other title people self impose in their forehead.

We are brains and camera for hire that´s what we are, personal projects are the ones to go for artsy fartsy stuff, but if the client wants a simple photo of a fork for catalog I should go with the client wishes, I can recommend another way but never go against the client wish.

I enjoy it be it the crazy multi lighting photo or the simple straight forward photo, it is the act of shooting that makes me happy!... and the checks too :D

I hope you had a big revenge on that bee :D and I really hope you have a much better production day the next time :)

My best wishes!


george said...

"Photography: Art or Craft or What?"


As in everything else in life, photography is what you make it.

jimmyd said...


...I don´t care to be called in other way than photographer, I do use some craft, I do use artistic elements, etc. But in essence I´m and I will be a photographer...

Amen to that, my friend.

BTW, a conviction and subsequent sentence was quickly pronounced on the offending bee. It was dispatched, forthwith, to the Apis mellifera afterlife. No cruel or unusual punishment was inflicted on the convict.

Frank Wise said...

Great post as usual Jimmy. And I agree. I look at what I do, and I guess I'm just not pretentious enough to call myself an artist. I just try to make people look good.

Like you, I'm often working for a client (a bride no less) and normally what you and I may consider "artistic" as photographers, are images that would never sell to the client. "but you can't even see my face" is their rallying cry. So if you actually want to make money, it almost behooves you to remove the artsy.I often just shoot those images for my own satisfaction.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see the criminal bee got what it deserved :D



D.L. Wood said...

"Actually, I do. (Care, that is.) But, technically, I shouldn't."

That's because you approach and execute the - they're paying me for crap job - with same sense of dedication and pride you would your personal work. You have worked hard to learn the job of PGS and giving your best is part of the job. If they don't want or won't pay for your best. That's their decision. But it's there for the taking.

As I see it one of the biggest problems in today's society is it seems no one cares about the job they do. They show up, do what it takes to get a pay check, go home. There is art and craft in any job if you want to put in the effort. I see very little effort of dedication in people doing their job now.

D.L Wood - Caveat Lector

jimmyd said...

@Frank Wise,

When I've shot extra stuff, in addition to everything the client wanted, that was more on the artistic/crafty side, I've had clients say, "What am I supposed to do with this shit?" So, I don't ever do that anymore.

@D.L. Wood,

Yeah, what D.L. said.

Javier G. said...

Maybe its because I'm a newbie, but wouldn't producing crap be hurting oneself in the long run? Its a catch 22 since bills don't get payed with good will. But its always the blame game when something goes wrong, I'm thinking it would be better to tell the client "hey you're asking for crap" (of course in a more subtle way) and I don't do crap. I do understand for example the bland work, any kind of work that they only need the very basics with very little "avant guard". But one thing is bland and the other crap. If I agree to give crap to the client I'm getting myself in front of the firing squad when things go wrong.

jimmyd said...

@Javier G,

There's different levels of crap.

There's crap, for instance, where the shots are horribly lit, poorly exposed, and badly composed. I don't shoot crap like that.

Then there's crap where too little time is allocated to adequately provide good "stills" coverage or to "get the shot." Or, I'm told to shoot the stills in a spot that simply doesn't work well and, consequently, results in crappy-looking work. Maybe that's the "bland" you're talking about? But it's still "crap" to me.

Javier G. said...

@Jimmy, nope bland is run of the mill photography (well exposed well lit) but nothing out of the ordinary, it would be boring, safe, etc.
What you describe as crap is the same definition that I give it, and this is exactly what I'm asking.
When a client forces you to produce crap (too little time, not the right location, model, etc.) when you accept the job and know you're going to produce crap is it going to bite you in the butt in the future?
I completely understand that bills don't get payed if you don't get the check, but the professional as the client both share responsibility when the end product turns out to be crap.
Am I being too ethical in thinking this? Or is reality ambivalent to this?

jimmyd said...

@Javier G,

Personally, I think reality is usually ambivalent. 9 times out 10, most don't know who shot the offending crap and the clients themselves often have to "look it up" to remember. Sometimes, a fair amount of time passes before anyone in an art department even looks at the pics... i.e., a serious look rather than a quick perusal.