Reflections on Well Street
You may have seen this:
The story is partly outlined by clickbaiter Jonathan Jones in the Guardian here. The photographer is Joel Goodman, and more of his work can be seen here. He's a very talented photographer, although he's described getting the above shot as simply being "in the right place at the right time". What's really interesting though is not whether the shot took skill and talent - of course it did - but whether, having been taken, it merits the plaudits it has earned, and in particular whether it is comparable to a Renaissance painting or other pieces of Serious Art. Seems spurious and a waste of time? Hmm.
1. It has caused outrage - from moral condemnation of the scene and characters depicted (decline of England, destruction of the West, fall of civilisation blah blah blah), to condemnation of the photographer for supposedly celebrating rowdiness and inebriation. But didn't this picture cause outrage once?
What''s more, "further understanding of Caravaggio's empirical understanding of the signs of grief is found in the candid imagery of modern photojournalism." ('Caravaggio: The Art of Realism' by John Varriano).
2. No one cares how hard you worked. R. Mutt put an end to that didn't he, an end to the idea that you had to be a master craftsman in order to have something important to say? I happen, in fact, to think the opposite, that art does take work, a lot of work, and that the photo is but another illustration. But the Art World thinks otherwise and Jonathan Jones is nothing if not part of that world - Art doesn't have to be hard work, allegedly. So, logically, to be of art historical value, the ease of use of a camera has nothing to do with artistic merit, nothing to do with the categorisation of a photograph as important or beautiful or meaningful.
3. The photo is simply the result of "spray and pray" and therefore devalued? No. The photographer has been out on the streets before, many times. He knows his equipment, he knows his cultural context, is brave and willing to put himself in positions of relative danger in order to get the shot. Plus he's prepared to show his work, have his work appraised by the public - hey, he even earns his living at it, a difficult feat today. Yes, photographers can, and do, edit heavily and have many more misses than hits - but all artists have misses, they burn and destroy work that they think doesn't make the grade. Ain't nuthin' new. Photographers have a different editing process is all - a composer edits as they go along, scratching out, overwriting, changing; photographers do the same thing with the delete button.
4. In the end, isn't it the picture that counts? Its merits don't reside in how long it took to get the shot, how clever the artist is, when in their career they made it, in some ways even who made it - what counts is the content. A perfect copy of a Klimt is a thing of beauty to behold, even on a screen (though admittedly it is way better in the flesh). To the collector and the art snob, provenance is King. To anyone else, does it really matter? You respond to the picture no matter what. If the photo at the top of the page had been taken by Ansel Adams, would it be any better?
5. Do you like it? Do you find it interesting? Does it make you feel something?