jonathan pearlman

jonathan pearlman

FINE ART Photography


Consider the photograph above. It was taken during a snow-blizzard in New York by Alfred Stieglitz in 1893. It is technically a brilliant image; it is a dramatic and unforgettable image which manages to convey so many elements that combine to induce powerful emotions from its audience. 

Yet, it is an image that represents one part of the whole. Seen as a whole, the image Stieglitz actually took that day (one of many glass plates he exposed in and around the city) takes on a completely different life; it is an image that contains other elements which might dominate and intrude on this scene. This, then, is just one version of the scene that Stieglitz recorded; and it is this one part of the whole that Stieglitz concentrates his artistic energy to help create. Remember his mantra?

"The making of the negative is not the making of the photograph."

Today’s online Guardian Newspaper includes a new photography blog which, by way of an introduction, invites readers to share those thoughts that matter to them within the realm of all things photographic. 

There are already two stand-out issues to have surfaced: who really deserves to be called a photographer (and the apparent 'democratisation' of photography) and the increasing use of software to manipulate photographs.

Let me deal with the former if I may, and that will hopefully help me segue into the latter and neatly bring to the -foreground Stieglitz, in my next post.


The Guardian Photography Blog: Part One



(unless you're good enough)

I'm quite unclear as to how photography become so precious.

One would find it difficult to argue against such simple, and I would suggest fallacious statements (very much like the god principle or the flat earth theory) that would elevate photographers alongside concert pianists, the masters or even surgeons: one doesn't become a pianist by virtue of becoming an owner of a piano, one doesn't become a great painter simply through the ownership of paint brushes etc.

Owning a camera, then, does not make one a photographer.

And yet, I have seen the most beautifully crafted family snapshots taken with instamatics or box brownies that defy the cameras’ simplicity. Framed perfectly with almost perfect tonal qualities, perhaps testament to the Kodak mantra from decades ago, the authors would, perhaps, have been regarded as hobbyists or amateurs. But their efforts cannot be ignored, or dismissed, by virtue of the fact they were not photographers.

We need to define what the word photographer actually means.

We also need to define what constitutes a good photograph (or, more importantly, what constitutes a bad one) if the argument against the democratisation of photography can be a valid one. Incidentally, the advent of digital photography did not herald the era of democracy in photography. I think Kodak were largely responsible for that 100 years ago!

I consider myself a fine-art photographer and do so because the body of my work falls into the accepted definition of what constitutes fine art photography. But because I have exhibited and sold many of my prints, I can, one supposes, elevate myself to the lofty heights of photographer.

The debate has brought to mind two photographs I chanced upon whilst auditing divorce records at the Supreme Court of Victoria. They both literally fell out of two files - perhaps two weeks apart - and concern infidelity. In one, the brother of a suspicious husband snapped a photo of the wife's alleged lover. The photograph, taken in 1949, presumably using a Kodak camera from the era, is breathtaking in its audacity. The framing perfect, the subject caught in a candid and off-guard moment notices the camera just as the shutter is released. It is photo-journalism at its absolute best. The subject, handsome and virile in that typically 1940's style is both menacing and quizzical.

The second photograph concerned a couple caught in flagrant delicto by a 'raiding party' employed by a husband to collect evidence of adultery, circa 1968. It, too, is an astonishing image which displays so many elements it's a chore to even list them! Looking away from the camera, the wife is sitting up in bed fixing her disdain on her husband who is off-camera. Her lover, still lying, stares incredulously into the lens. The bedroom furniture, the bedclothes, the lighting are the props for this mise-en-scene. It would have been an immaculate still from a film-noir classic.

I have no doubt the two photographs were taken by amateurs; hobbyists at best. I have no way of ever knowing as to the consistency of their other photographic output. It may well be, having read the letter from the brother who took the first of the photographs, a very normal style for he makes neither fuss nor surprise as to the result. He is quite matter of fact and eager to present to his brother a face that fits the crime. 

The second of the two images was captured purely for the purpose of becoming a piece evidence to be tendered in court. In any event, the protagonist would have had just 10 seconds to compose his shot once the lights were turned on. 

I wish I could replicate those two images. Perhaps one day I will. I would like to believe I have the imagination and the necessary artistic flair to conjure and reproduce all the elements, emotional and organic, displayed within the originals.

If I could do that then i believe I really would have made that difference which would mark me as a very good photographer.


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