notes
     
 

Notes From The Field

 

 
 

SWEETWATER UNDER SIEGE
March 22, 2007


Lake Superior near Hovland, Minnesota

No one told me it was World Water Day!? I need to get hooked up to some enviro-news outlets to stay on top of things...

So today is World Water Day. The United Nations created WWD to bring awareness to the importance of clean drinking water, mostly for people in third world countries where potable water is rather scarce, but closer to home World Water Day should emphasize how important it is to conserve water.

Looking out over Lake Superior one might think our water resources are limitless, and so do others who would like to tap into the lakes and export that water to other regions. Anyone who loves the Lakes knows that this is a bad idea. The Lakes are doomed to the same fate as the Aral Sea if the precious freshwater resource of the Great Lakes is diverted. The threat to export Lakes water will be one of the most pressing issues to face the region in the coming decades. Mark my words! (I've always wanted to say that)

Check out this book for more info.

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ME AND MY LITTLE RED TRUCK
March 18, 2007

It occurred to me that Ted Orland and I have the same truck. Here's mine:

The similarities between his Little House on the Freeway and my snapshot on a bumpy road to BWCA end with the hood of our red trucks.

I love his Holga stuff.

 

 

 

ON PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE VALUE OF MEANING
March 10, 2007


Untitled #56 (in a series of 948)

 

 


OK, so I’ll jump on the Jeff Wall/What Is The Meaning of Contemporary Fine Art Photography band-wagon discussion (if anything, to get extra web hits from wayward Jeff Wall Google searches). I suppose we can thank Mr. Wall for providing the spark that set off this whole dialog, even if you don’t appreciate his vision. (get the backstory here, here, here, here and here)

 
 


As much as I think Mark Hobson’s response is right on, I have to also agree with Paul Butzi’s rebuttal – they’re both right, in certain aspects. But I have a few refinements of my own. A photograph can speak to a myriad of people of different walks of life, social strata, income levels and cultural backgrounds, but I think photographs without words tend to connect the strongest with audiences that the photographer understands and has shared similar experiences and, hence, a common vernacular (aka symbols). Eighty percent of your audience won’t know what those symbols are but they know what they like – they don’t need words to appreciate the art. And last year alone I’m sure that millions of dollars in “meaningless” fine art photography was sold.

 
 


My photographs to this point in time appeal, mainly, to people familiar with the Great Lakes and any special place where the water meets the land. I happen to have lived my whole life around the Lakes and understand the topography, it’s stories and the people fairly well. My audience and I have a common vernacular that does not need to be taught. An outsider may not immediately understand that vernacular, yet anyone who lives on a coast may find meaning or, at the very least, appreciate my art because of their understanding of water, sea and sky. Or maybe they just have an emotional response to my art.

 
 


I question why we’re seeking meaning in every photograph ever produced as a means for justifying it in the fine art world. Using that criteria, would it mean the works of Michael Kenna, David Fokos and Rolfe Horn are to be cast off as “décor art” and not taken seriously in the fine art world because they do not communicate “meaning”? Would a critic of their works take fault with their images because of a lack of words to help prop them up, and that they merely exist to objectify nature’s beauty? (OK so there's some anthropocentric urban stuff in their portfolios as well but it can be beautiful too, right?) All three are prolific, highly published and collected artists, and yet only Fokos has an artist statement on his website, and it describes his overarching approach, not so much what he hopes to communicate in each piece or series. Are Kenna and Horn’s works without meaning? Does that matter? With or without words I can appreciate every one of their photographs on it’s own merits. For me their works don’t need words because the aesthetic, the graphic lines and dramatic moods in their photographs move me. I have an emotional response when I see their work.

 
 


Maybe some artists don’t want words to influence the viewer and taint their perception of the photograph. If a viewer is seeking meaning to a without-words photograph even a two-word title can influence the perceptions of the viewer. Titles are often the only way an audience is able to decode the mysterious intentions of the artist. That is, unless the title is Untitled #56 (in a series of 948). Hard to devise meaning from that, and perhaps that was the artist’s intent as well.

 
 


The flip side of the coin would be David Maisel, Edward Burtynsky, and Simon Norfolk, where words are vital in complimenting their images. At the very least a read of each of their artist statements is required to understand the scope and meaning of each of their projects. Only then can the viewer fully appreciate and connect their works with the real world. This also demonstrates that some art is created to be strictly an appreciation of beauty and some art (which can also be beautiful) is created to communicate meaning. I think both sub-genre can coexist in the fine art world.

 
 


By day I am a video editor. I take a script that a writer wrote and moving pictures that a director directed and put them together to make pure television gold (note: sarcasm). If you turn the sound down on a television show you only get half the meaning. (Something to do when you have a night to kill: rent a horror movie and watch it with the sound off. It’s not scary at all. It’s actually quite funny!) If you merely listen to the audio you miss the visual aspect of the program. Yet, radio works (theater of the mind) and video montages work by connecting images to craft meaning.

 
 


The diptych and triptych vehicle of photographic art is a way to convey meaning without words by connecting images into a sequence. Sounds a lot like film and video editing and it is. In a triptych think of the transition from one image to the next as a cut from one shot to the next in a movie or television show. One could argue that the viewer needs to understand which direction to view the work, but in Western society it’s generally left to right. Either way, the diptych and triptych can be powerful without-words mediums that also convey meaning.

 
 


I’ll stick my neck out there and say that diptych and triptych works are more cinematic or narrative in nature that Jeff Wall’s composites. His images may be (or maybe not) readily decoded by the masses but in my mind I just see a “moment in time” not a narrative when I view his works. The term “staged” may be a better descriptor than “cinematographic”, though the practices of casting, set design and special effects employed by Wall are not lost on this author as being borrowed from Hollywood Cinema (and thusly the derivation of the term). By the way, he’s not the only one out there hiring actors, building sets and securing props for inclusion in fine art photography works.

 
 


All of this begs to ask the question; does art really need meaning? Or can a photograph, more specifically a fine art photograph, stand on the merits of beauty alone? Does a photograph with accompanying text to convey meaning lack beauty? Is a narrative essential to the success of a photographic work of art?

 


 
 

PHOTOGRAFFITI #4 - SIGNS II
March 8, 2007

So you'll read on Mark Hobson's way-cooler-than-mine blog, The Landscapist, that Spring is anything but on the way for his neck of the woods, but here in Minnesota the signs are everywhere. (I know, I'm reaching for a tie-in to the current theme)

(I was thinking David Lynch meets O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

 

The opposite of a scalding hot pot of water, and you get this sign. (It's Lake Superior, by the way, it's not that cold.)

 

 

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All photographs and text © 2007 Brett Kosmider