A

Coupla days ago I was pointed at this old link on B&W World, in which Mason Resnick writes his recollections of a 1970's class with Garry Winogrand. A key lesson: "He told us that the most successful art is almost on the verge of failure." Not that anyone was asking me, but I couldn't agree more.

Winogrand also told his class that "without technique you won't get anything good," but it's sad when that fear of technical failure takes over — when people become obsessed with ensuring that every print have at least one point of full white and one of full black, or fretting over blocked-up highlights or maximum sharpness. Everyone obsessed with getting an A for craftsmanship, for managing-away all the elements of risk.

As camera companies are so happy to point out, technology is a powerful leveller when it comes to this sort of craftsmanship (though of course they want you to believe that that particular brand of automation is different from the others). To the dismay of many pro correspondants (and certain members of the Bush administration), well-exposed in-focus digitally-transmittable photos are the modern norm.

Setting-aside the issues of correct exposure and correct focus, however, we come to another barrier of correctness: good taste. The camera club aesthetic, where Ruskin's mythical Fesolé reigns supreme, where every element in every photo has its pre-ordained place, is one aspect. Over-emphasis on genre can become another — adherence to the definiton of the genre becomes a wedge of correctness between the artist and their response to subject (the most pernicious of these genre interferences, I suspect, are photomemes, a "creative" exercise that, like advertising, begins with a definition of the correct result).

In keeping with the graduation theme of the previous post, I take this passage (thanks Robert) from Sean Kernan's graduation address to the photo students of Rockport College:

"And, with luck, you'll have that wonderful experience that mixes epiphany with the moment in a roadrunner cartoon when the coyote runs off the edge of the cliff and out across the air and doesn't fall. The trick, if you're a coyote, is to deliberately not take it in that you're running on air...

"...When things really begin to happen, it can feel just like something is going badly wrong."

It's frustrating that schools (even art schools) can often suppress that search for the Terribly Wrong. In schools we are taught to be problem solvers, and as we advance we become both problem solvers and problem finders. Never problem makers. Yet it's just that skill which most needs an A grade.

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June 19, 2004 09:40 PM

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