Wednesday, December 08, 2010

All about labels...

Karl du Fresne writes about “A ruinous and oppressive ideology” to which I have commented that what he is really speaking of is the appellation and interpretation of labels.

If he is going to get too righteous about that comment, there is another – totally independent but equally contentious in its own community – example that I have come across in recent times; though the debate has been going for many years in the past.

Those who puddle around in the morass that I call my virtual home might have realised that I have a passing interest in photography. That interest has strengthened to the extent that I have resolved to join (re-join, as I am a past member) the local camera club. I originally joined in order to learn how to take better photos, how to see better images. I was successful to the extent that I did learn enough to earn (as a lower caste animal) recognition for a number of my attempts at fame and winning in the process a couple of the Club annual awards. Yes, I was a very small fish floating around in a very small puddle, but I did get a request to submit a portfolio of three images to the North Shore Salon and a specific request to include one photograph taken at the Auckland Commonwealth Games.

How does this come through to the debate about labels? Well, that starts with a question I was asked recently, “What kind of photographer are you?” My immediate response was “A not very good beginner.”. The intention behind the question was in fact to apply a label; portrait, landscape, abstract… there is a great long list to choose from.

The debate that I tripped over came from a comment concerning an image I had posted up on the net recently. It is a photo of the end of a twig, on which there is a drop of water (it was raining) and in that drop was lensing a branch from another tree. One comment (received by email) admired it as an abstract, an excellent “minimalist” image. That comment tweaked the interest; not because I want the label, I abhor them. It was an idea that had crossed my mind in the past and I was interested enough to see what others were doing…

After three days of searching around the ‘net I can report.

“Minimalist” photography is a category that does have some very worthwhile work. There are some very expert photographers included in the producers, the artists, of those images and I can admire their expertise and vision.

There is also a huge quantity of images, sincerely and seriously presented as “minimalist” work. In my opinion, the label in fact covers no more than a range of work from reasonable, landscape, still life and other generalised categories to the “almost offal”.

In general there is a similarity between the best; they are usually monochrome, with just enough to outline the subject. An instance – submitted to one debate in jest – was a white image titled “Golden Gate Bridge in fog”. Yes, I can image-ine the Golden Gate Bridge right there… That image gave rise to a side-debate about “photography in the absence of light”.

And that, I think, is a good point at which to return to Mr du Frene’s comments.

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