Monday, May 4, 2009

Refute: Conscientious

Copyright Bill Henson

So since Joerg doesn't allow comments over on Conscientious and I'd like to take issue with something he posted today, I'll have to do that here. I'm not sure if he even reads this but perhaps he's got me on his RSS since I'm on his blogroll. I do take comments here.

Joerg posted the following:

Photography at night might be technically challenging, but I'm always a bit of a loss as to what to make of it: This is what things look at night. But then the point is... what? Anyway, check out Levi Wedel's site for a lot of night photography.

Now, to just throw out a statement like that and not have any kind of follow up seems a bit silly (and borderline authoritarian - "What I say goes.) although I will give him credit for phrasing it as a question.

To simply discount night photography as technically challenging and a gimmick is illogical to me. Why not discount daytime photography (also technically challenging - in fact more so for me, as I've got the night thing pretty much down by now, though it did take quite a bit of work to get to where I am)?

Had Joerg said the following, we'd have all been thinking he's a bit loony:

"So this is what things look like in the daytime. But the point is ...what?"

Well, night is the yang to daylight's yin, the black to its white, so conversely the statement is equally silly. Certain things happen in the daytime, which has a specific mood or moods and others at night, which has it's own unique feel or mood. Why discount the exploration of roughly 1/3rd of our life on this planet?

Knowing that Joerg favors portraiture, I could turn his simplification to that genre:

"So this is what these people look like. But the point is...what?"

The answer, I think, to all of these parallel questions and for any type or genre of photography is that the point is what the photographer chooses to explore within the genre and show to the viewer. The deliberate selection by the photographer of subject matter and the way he chooses to portray it, in which order etc. is the point - the idea behind the work and its beauty -the voice given to it by the photographer and the feelings or ideas the work raises in the viewer.

It matters not whether one shoots in the daytime, at night or in caves - landscapes, portraiture etc. To simply discount an entire genre is a bit far-fetched. We should be asking, as Joerg did, "But the point is...what?" about every type of photography. Equally.


sal said...

thank you! i had the exact same reaction to the posting.

ryan schude said...

i almost imagine his comment to be a misunderstanding not worth validation through dialogue. it's an outrageously simple statement with no bearing for anything grounded in a legitimate point. he might as well have posted, "i don't like cheese," well thanks for that, very informative and no, we don't appreciate your opinion because, well, cheese is delicious, obviously...

Andrew said...

He is simultaneously suggesting that his readers look at the night photography of Levi Wedel, while somehow dismissing after-dark shooting.

That is the baffling part of his post.

estatik said...

Fun! You're like James Whistler, he's John Ruskin!

J. Wesley Brown said...

@estatik - I hope not!

Levi Wedel said...

Interesting refute, thank you. I agree of course, photography done at night is as conceptually capable as photography done in any other environment.

Whether my photography specifically is good or poor should require more basis than the time of day it was shot.

Joerg has since back-peddled slightly by claiming what he wrote wasn't exactly what he meant and adding an exception for Todd Hido's work:

I get the feeling he doesn't like his opinions questioned, even those that appear rash.

J. Wesley Brown said...

And again, his new comment about Todd Hido's night work (which I love, don't get me wrong) is a quick statement that it's done with clear intent without any type of explanation as to what that intent is. Why are Hido's night images of buildings not just "because things look 'cool' at night" and Levi's are? I'd appreciate some more depth on the issue and others rather than blanket authoritative statements and I think others would too, judging by the emails I've gotten.

J. Wesley Brown said...

And then there's this from Joerg's interview with Hido:

Jörg Colberg: What strikes me about your photography is the way you work with light. Your portfolio contains many images, especially the landscapes or interiors devoid of any people, which at least in part are a bit unsettling because of the lurking darkness and the often extremely bright windows or TV sets. How did you arrive at this kind of aesthetic?

- Now, I fail to see how the same exact thing could not apply to Levi's "Invisible City" series.

Levi Wedel said...

Thanks J.

I e-mailed Jörg to discuss it but that didn't go so well. Ironically I am supposed to accept criticism of my work but it doesn't appear that he is willing to accept any criticism of his criticism.

When I called his criticism into question and suggested he wasn't looking closely enough at work like the series "Invisible City" which has an obvious structure and repetition and so surely must be about more than just the night, he responded:

"But to assume that anyone not liking your stuff is just not looking very carefully is what I call the American Idol Syndrome - you know when somebody auditions and is being told s/he can't sing and then says that's just because the judges are incompetent. If I was you I'd refrain from this in the future, even when/if you're upset."

I didn't suggest that he had to see my work as "good", only that it deserved a deeper argument about its worth, whether positive or negative. And I wasn't hostile about it either.

He has since taken the whole original post down (though not at my urging; I had no problem with it remaining).

Anonymous said...

I've corresponded with him a few times as well and also was told that I was being 'hostile.'

He doesn't seem very open to discussing his ideas which is a shame because often times the discussion that follows an article or blog post is more interesting and insightful than the original post.

And to say that people who shoot at night are simply doing it because it looks 'cool' isn't any sort of argument. Basically he doesn't seem to understand logic of shooting at night so he needs to dismiss it with a completely superficial statement. It's lazy thinking.

It's interesting that he's able to provoke these types of reactions at times. I understand his view is universally respected amongst the photography establishment, but that doesn't really mean anything to me. Conscientious is like Fox News: a channel with a large audience made up of people that share a similar ideology.

For me, there's much more interesting work and discussions taking place on the margins.

J. Wesley Brown said...

@Levi - That's crazy he self censored. Your interaction sounds about par for the course based on a number of emails I've received and some of the other comments.

Levi Wedel said...

In the end his main defense was that my work was undecipherable because I had failed to provide an artist statement on my website, and so his interpretation was ultimately still valid and my fault. His recent article on the importance of artist statements ( ) is essentially an outcome of our conversation, according to his e-mail.

J. Wesley Brown said...

I don't have statements on my website either, though I do have then ready for the submissions that require them. This may change at some point, but if it does, my statements will be at the very end of the series or found by clicking on a link.

Ian Aleksander Adams posted a response to that on his blog and I commented below:

J. Wesley Brown said...

@Anonymous -

"often times the discussion that follows an article or blog post is more interesting and insightful than the original post."

I couldn't agree more.

Levi Wedel said...

thanks for the heads up, I saw that post and your comment, and I agree.

I too have a statement at the ready for anyone who asks or any need that arises (and also because doing an MFA is difficult without one, particularly if one wishes to win any grants).

While I have specific ideas and reasons for making work, that shouldn't be the limit for what the work is. I don't like work that becomes mere illustration, so I'd prefer to avoid directly influencing the images with an introductory statement; I much prefer a discussion after someone views the work.

I hate when photo books begin with an essay. An essay should illustrate the photos; the photos shouldn't illustrate the essay.