Thursday, January 25, 2024

Zeitgeist of the Banal and Me

Here's one of the photos I took of my new photo friend.  One of those would have been a nice shot.  What can I say?  I need to build some muscle memory again.  

My friend liked it, though.  

Here's a shot I posted on a Large Format Camera website.  I said it was only a test shot and was really just a note that I was happy to have my Liberator camera back in action.  

Some people laughed that it was a "garbage" photo or that it was "trash."  One fellow, though, was really smarmy about it.  His comment did two things: it made me angry and it hurt my feelings.  Why do people have to be so mean?  

"I can be mean," I thought after I went to his photos on the site, stupid color pictures of. . . you guessed it. . . flowers and sunsets.  But, to my GREAT credit, I left it alone.  I don't think I'll be posting much to that group, though, anymore.  I'm too tender.  

My new photo friend said she "loved" the portrait I sent her.  She wanted to see more of my work, so I sent her some really early Polaroid stuff. 

She "loved" this, too.  She said that our photography was opposites, though.  Now you know, I love "love," so. . . I sent her more stuff that was not so grungy.  My files are not organized at all, so I just grabbed some shots from Cuba.  

And some from NYC.

"I have a dozen different styles," I said.  

I had gone to her website and looked around.  It was what I expected from the moment she told me she was a "professional photographer."  

No put down.  She makes a lot of money doing corporate headshots both in the studio and out.  

After I sent too many random images, though, the line went dead.  I cringed.  Too eager, I "overshared," I think.  Parts of me shriveled as I remembered what I told her about people wanting to see my "work."  Twice in a day, I had to feel bad about sharing it.  I didn't have to.  "Feel bad," I mean. I am mistaken about that.  I just did.  

I looked at my stuff today, and it looked like shit to me.  There you go.  See?  It depends on where you are standing when you look.  

So last night, I came across this video on YouTube.  

Here is a great example of someone who is under qualified and way over his head trying to explain what makes "art photography."  Watch it, I urge you, not just for the comical performance of a bumbling man with a middling mind, but because he shows some nice photographs and raises some good questions he doesn't know how to discuss with any profundity.  And he does echo some good talking points from people who are not "informed viewers" about what they like and don't.  He does a good job of pointing out that most people go no further in their understanding of photography than "The Kodak Moment," too.  Pretty, pleasing pictures, babies, kids, attractive or funny people, landscapes, always with the "rule of thirds," always with the sun at your back.  Good tips.  

But when he begins to try to explain the attraction of "art photos," he shows only those of a certain era, the 1950's through the 1970s.  And he almost accidentally uses a word that more people need to understand--zeitgeist.  It is something that people wanting to cancel or correct history don't deal with well.  It is difficult to look at things you don't agree with if you believe you own the correct moral code.  The belief in right and wrong, however, is an entirely other conversation.  

So. . . what zeitgeist ran through that baby boomer generation?  It was a disruptive time, of course.  Artist's by and large were rejecting established standards and were reacting to what they viewed as the increasing commodification and "sameness" that was spreading through middle class America.  And, by and large, that is what they photographed, the "standard" and the "deviation."  They were responding to what they viewed as a culturally banal time of increasingly conformity.  Look at the people.  Look at the landscape.  There is little appealing or beautiful.  There is much isolation and loneliness.  The photos are, by and large, parallel to literature like "On the Road," and "The Man with the Golden Arm," and "Last Exit Brooklyn," and much of the Beat poetry being published by City Lights.  If you aren't familiar with that. . . yea. . . you won't get the photographs.  

In the video, the narrator exhibits photos from a book of collected slides found in flea markets and junk shops.  These are what is referred to most times as "vernacular photography."  You can see the project here (link).  Many of the photos are great.  

The difference, as the video guy DOES point out, is that these are random bits of luck as opposed to a photographer who works for years to develop an aesthetic.  As my dead ex-friend Brando used to say, "Even a blind hog can find a truffle once in awhile."  

So, what is my take away from all of this?  I shouldn't show people my photos.  They should come to them.  That has been my idea for a very long time.  

I've been tempted to send a link of that video to my ex-new photo friend. . . but I won't.  I need to live by my longstanding rules: keep your hands to yourself, speak only when spoken to, and don't bite.  These rules have kept me out of all kinds of trouble.  

I was going to write a bit about "Barbie" this morning, but for once, The NY Times beat me to it.  I'm usually a day ahead of them on many things, but this op-ed says what I feel pretty well (link).  

I made no photographs yesterday.  I did do something dangerous, though.  I bid on a Fuji GFX 50s ii camera with a zoom lens.  The price on eBay was ridiculously low, so with ten seconds left in the auction, I made my bid.  In the next ten seconds, the price went up over $2,500.  I was both disappointed and relieved.  

Let's end on a high note with something fun, shall we?  Do you like good harmonica music?  Doesn't everyone?  At eight o'clock on Sunday night's in the 1960s, most Americans watching television tuned into "The Ed Sullivan Show."  It was a variety show that had the first televised performance by The Beatles, but later in the show had acts by a comic with a hand puppet and a plate spinner.  There was something for everyone.  You can't get entertainment like that anymore.  

But this clip captures some of the zeitgeist of the times.  And. . . big confession. . . I like the Harmonicats!

No comments:

Post a Comment