The spring 2004 issue of Modern Painters is out, containing an interview with John Szarkowski, the man who was appointed by Steichen to run the photo program at MOMA and brought us the first large shows by Winogrand, Arbus, and Eggleston:
Q: Do you think photographs become more interesting with time?
A: Most become more interesting with time. Naïve photographs always become more interesting with time. By naïve I mean photographs that were not made with high artistic ambition. On the other hand, if you take the photographs that Steiglitz exhibited at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo in 1910, those pictures have become much less interesting — and they weren’t very interesting to begin with because all they had was artistic ambition. Whereas naïve photographs almost always have something of the world in them. Misdirected artistic ambition can turn into an effort to squeeze the world out so that there is nothing left but aesthetics, because everybody can then plainly see that it is art. It has to be art, because there is nothing else there! [My emphasis]
Szarkowski’s sentiment seems very close to the advice given in this now-old /photorant/2003/07/05/Advice.htmlprotorant entry,</a> in response to what I see far too often on photo websites: “this work elicits nothing in us but a dreary impression of quality.”
Before this past trip I hadn’t been to Disney World since… well, I’m guessing 1975 or so. When I was a kid we went as a family at New Year’s, with K.C. and the Sunshine Band playing a show in Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom, as recall, was still unfinished, and the Big Feature of the place was Space Mountain — a ride you couldn’t get at Disneyland (even then, the traffic was backed up for over a mile before 9AM at the gate!).
The place has grown… a bit. Over 24,000 hotels rooms, and it’s not uncommon to have close to 120,000 visitors in a day — most of them travelling by foot. Even the cruise ship Disney Wonder carried over 2700 people, plus over 900 crew (the guests cleverly scheduled in groups so that you never get the impression that the ship is crowded, with almost no congestion save when boarding or debarking, or when a Disney character is in the atrium).
Rather than carry the Contax and the Canon, I alternated days. Magic Kindom Contax, MGM Studios Canon, etc. Still haven’t decided if one or the other was better overall, though the Contax was far lighter than the Canon plus batteries. I also felt more compelled to be sure I got the shot, rather than just blasting and chimping.
Three rolls Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50, 13 minutes.
So after much anxiety in the end it’ll be the DSLR with a minimal complement of lenses and a film rangefinder loaded with Tri-X for this trip — enough is enough (besides, Courtney will bring her camera, and we have the DVcam). Using the Contax over the weekend reminded me just how much more fluid and easy it is to handle than the digital. It also hammered home to me just how crudely abstract Tri-X and Rodinal can feel after many weeks of smooth, digital color. Which is a good thing.
Off to Florida and the Caribbean for a week, then — we leave the house and web in the able hands of the fantastic Elke.
Six rolls Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50 13 minutes.
A pair of children run headlong across my view, and their keeper shouts after them: “kids, you stop that! Can’t you see the man is taking The Picture?”
I glance at him and gently shake my head with a smile: no problem. Another tip of the head to let him know the rest of the family can proceed, they’ve done no harm, even as the klaxons are sounding furiously in my head: Kevin you idiot, you’ve been sucked into taking The Picture again. I look at the shot I was setting up: late cerulean sky, distant shops, their lights reflected on the lake, a row of matching beach chairs. Balanced, placid. In a few seconds a canopied ferry will appear below the bridge. A speaker hidden in a rock nearby plays an instrumental medley of songs from The Lion King. It’s all been laid out carefully for me, which is just the point. It’s ready-made. The lake itself was sculpted by a design team. It’s beautiful, but it’s not really my picture. It’s The(ir) Picture.