Thoughts on Blake Andrew’s post about “The photography-integrated-into-life method”

“The photography-integrated-into-life method is decidedly unfashionable. The huge majority of photographers I saw at Photolucida were more project oriented. The prevailing model is to develop a concept of something that has photographic potential —often of personal interest but not always— and then methodically take photographs of that project until a body of work is created, with the ultimate goal of showing the work at Photolucida or similar venue.

……

I think photographs should come first.  Arrange them in projects later if you must or else leave them as is in a big loose stack. Either way, photography that is integral to life seems to me to be the strongest because it comes from purest motivation: the very simple need to translate the world into photographs. Of course I am biased because this how I approach my own work, but it’s what I like to see in others too.” -  Blake Andrews

This is one of the more salient observations I’ve come across in awhile (thanks Blake!), but perhaps that’s because it articulates a feeling that’s been with me for sometime.  And really, if there were ever to be an LPV type statement of principles, this idea would have to be in there somewhere.  What I sense brewing, and has been brewing for a few years now (maybe more?) is some tension between the fine art photography establishment and the new wave vernacular movement that has grown in communities on Flickr and other parts of the web.

Put simply, I don’t think the fine art photography establishment has much respect for this photographic philosophy or method (look at the general derision toward street photography and family photography for example).  I know plenty of studious, intelligent photographers out there who treat photography as a way of life  and don’t have any sort of fine art ambition.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to: ambition.  I have this feeling, one I certainly can’t prove scientifically, but somehow I think having an ambition to make it in the fine art world interferes with your photographic intuition to some degree.  There’s a danger that the conceptual part of your brain and eye will smother the intuitive part.  Is there a way to find a balance?  Of course.  Do I have any idea how? Nope, but I do think mixing the vernacular, “integrated-into-life method” with the project method can lead to some very exciting photography.  But will the fine art world pay attention?

Shoot first, aske questions later [B:]

  • http://www.garrytrinh.com garry

    I don’t think the fine art world ignores the work of photographers who use the photography-integrated-into-life method. I just think this type of work may be harder to process because there’s no clear starting point and end point. It doesn’t come neatly packaged.

    Ryan McGinley is one photographer who uses the photography-integrated-into-life method and have managed to find recognition in the fine art world. Others include Ed Templeton and Magnum photographer Trent Parke.

    http://www.ryanmcginley.com/
    http://www.toymachine.com/ed/
    http://www.in-public.com/TrentParke

  • http://bryanformhals.com/ bryanf

    Excellent point Dan.

    What’s new is the mode of distribution…..the internet.

    I think we all have to admit that nobody knows anything right now. There will be so many young photographers doing innovative things on the web in the next 5, 10 years that all the stuff we’re doing will look like ‘pong.’

  • http://street-level.mcvmcv.net Dan

    This post resonated with me too.

    I think you’re right to align this type of work with something that feels “new,” but at the same time doesn’t it also strike you as something kind of old? The cemented place of photography in the pantheon of art is a new development. People taking pictures back in the early days (again, sort of a strange concept given how young photography is) had no concept of their position within the art world.

  • Pingback: On Ambition and the Photographic Lifestyle | Ian Aleksander Adams

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I’ll be excited to hear about it :)

    Cost is a definite issue. I just ordered Words Without Pictures, and while I feel 30 may be reasonable for the text, the shipping was ten bucks on top of it, pushing me into an uncomfortable spending zone, haha. I know that the shipping would be free if it was on amazon or something, so it just felt strange paying so much just to make sure it got to me.

  • http://bryanformhals.com/ bryanf

    Well said Ian. I agree with you.

    I love this way of working, and I think self publishing places like Blurb can be used to add a little more permanence to these publications…

    Yes, one of the flaws of online communities that remain stuck online. One of the great new trends I’m seeing is that the work is now starting to move into the real world. There needs to be a balance. It’ll get really exciting when self-publishing services improve their quality and hopefully even come down in cost.

    Many of the goals I have for LPV involve adding more real world permanence to what we’re doing. More on that later though :)

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I think even with ambition, there is often a wall you hit.

    I know I’ve had trouble explaining to people that a project is about visual sensibility. Often they want a quick subject: “I shoot heroin addicts” etc.

    Like, with Gray Days, it really is a more poetic sequence, about the images themselves, not about subjects.

    The art world is dominated, for the most part, by a fanatical adoration of subject (so work can be easily promoted and blurbed about) and object (as in the actual salable print or sculpture, etc)

    So basically, art “projects” tend to be about some “interesting” subject, a series of a manageable length, lets say 10-20 pieces, which can be split up and sold as singular objects with assigned value.

    When people talk about the art, they talk about the prints themselves, assigning value based upon less interesting aspects such as size or edition, or more ethereal values like “quality”

    Many of the people who do amazing things on the net, often flickr but not always, care more about the mood, life, or overall sensibility that comes out of a body of images. It doesn’t matter how many times they are reproduced, and while many have the ability to create a good print or beautiful book, they print their work in zines, hand it out in any way possible.

    I love this way of working, and I think self publishing places like Blurb can be used to add a little more permanence to these publications, but I don’t see it necessarily even wanting to become the art/gallery world as it is.

    A lot of this comes from the art school, where we are constantly asked to do projects, but the art school mode comes from the commercial world, since they are trying to train us to be viable.

    In some ways, it’s totally positive. They want us to get in the mindset of constantly doing work so we don’t fall out of it after we graduate. On the flip side, it tends to burn out and frustrate people who would rather be working with longer periods of more organic creativity.

    Anyway, there will be a balance. Commercial spaces with lots of funding will be able to continue to taut their bookings as highly influential and important, but only time will really tell what the most important photographic trends are right now. I think a good deal of them are these more home-brewed projects that tend to find their way into the public consciousness.