20 May 2011

Masterpieces Unraveled - What makes the masterpiece photograph

Alfred Stieglitz

Most of the photographers would like to believe photography is an 'art'. But thats not how it always was. For many years, untill early 19th century, photography was still considered to a technical science which was used to record the image on a photographic plate. Or so I would believe. It was not part of any galleries and never considered equivalent to other art forms like painting or sculpture. Much of the credit for making 'photography' an art form goes to Alfred Stieglitz (1864 - 1946), an American photographer, writer and curator.

But his views on 'art' by itself are quiet simple and is aptly summarized below.
"Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings… You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today" 

In his own words, even a shoemaker making beautiful shoes be considered an artist, much though my friend Meg would disagree and say thats 'craftsmanship' - "Being a skilled craftsman would enable you to repeatedly create great stuff, but would you moved to tears by a beautifully carved table?" She did got me thinking there. One could argue that a great shoe or table crafted with love and vision could probably move the craftsman to tears or probably someone who can appreciate the art. 

There are no answers indeed, atleast none that I have found yet. But I agree with a friend who beautifully said that each of his photograph has a bit of him, his vision, his feelings & emotions, what he felt when he pressed the shutter. I agree, and as I wrote earlier 'photographs are a reflection of your soul and who you are' . Is your work a piece of art or not is how it is perceived by the so called art appreciators. But in the search of what makes a photograph artistic, here is a new series that I am starting called "Masterpieces Unraveled". Its a personal journey to read more about the masters of photography and understand their work. I hope this series will bring forth valuable views from fellow photographers, as well as all you creative folks out there.  In a small way, its my tribute to the masters who have inspired generations.

It is apt to review the first photograph, The Last Joke - 1887,  that brought recognition to Alfred Stieglitz in an amateur competition. 

Alfred Stieglitz - The Last Joke Bellagio, 1887
The Last Joke - Alfred Stieglitz, 1887

With all humbleness, my take on this is
- Stood out for breaking the then staged photography styles, for its spontaneity
- The center of attraction is the lively expression of kids standing around a working women
- Probably, a reflection of everyday life then
- For technology available then, a brilliant technical shot with great details. And I love the grain 

Let me know what you think on the post idea as well as your take of this famous photograph from the master. 


Anoop Negi said...

Now you are treading on arty grounds. The self acclaimed artists would suddenly feel worthless if they were to read the view of art and aesthetics and the quest to express the creative urgings.

I so totally agree with what has been written there

Meg said...

At the very least, I'm flattered and glad that I got you thinking! which was the main goal of bringing that topic up. Also I never disagreed that craftsmanship is in any way less than art. At the end of the day it's just terminology. Because the sculptors who worked on the Taj Mahal were craftsmen according to definition but what they created is something a lot of artists today can probably never get close to in their life times.

What had gotten me riled up was being told to paint instead of taking pictures, if I wanted a creative outlet. So what your friend says completely resonates with me .. everything that I create is a little piece of me. And it's not just restricted to photos. Meaning of creativity is simple..again to me..to create something that did not exist before.  So all my point was to allow people the freedom to use photography as an artistic medium if they so chose. Whether it is appreciated by anyone or the so called 'art world' is a different matter altogether which wasn't the point I was making. And if you disagree with that, I respect that as well :)

As far as your idea about following masterpieces, it's brilliant! I had not seen this particular image. While reading about him did you come across the photos Alfred Stieglitz took of his wife Georgia O' Keefe? Some very intriguing portraits of a fascinating woman in her own respect. I learned about this guy first when I saw a movie on her life. Looking forward to this series and learning!

mayankpandey said...

Meg or Dhaami (how shud i call you), firstly thanks for the great post you had written. I dont disagree much because I dont really believe there is any need to agree in first place. We are not saying different things i can see - just different way of saying it. 
I have researched on Alfred quiet a bit, and have seen most of the popular images including Keefes portraits.. saving  them for some other day. I hope this series generates views and counterviews!  whats your take on the photograph?

mayankpandey said...

Anoop sir, its a pleasure to have you here - much though I actually pushed you here. I hope to have your views going forward specially on this series. And as you said, this is not a replacement of the photography on field but just a little more concerted effort to understand the history.  

Meg said...

Well when I started the blog I kept it anonymous so I used the nickname Dhaami. But I'm no longer posting anonymously so you can call me Meghana :)

Ok with regards to this image, I am not a trained pro. So I rarely comment on the technical aspects unless I want to know how something is done. What I love about this composition is that its a story with a lot of little intermingled stories. Sepia tones and grainy texture is usually a bit gloomy but here, there is so much light and smiles that it makes this a happy photo. You can actually feel the mirth of the little ones in the front. But what I kept going back to was the boy in the hat on the left, who is a little outside the group and even though I cannot see his face, I feel like he isn't really enjoying the joke as much as the rest of them. Also the lady in the centre leaning against the wall is a shy person..the lady who is facing the wall doing something seems to have been the one who said something which made them laugh..or at least I think so. And the fact that I can make up stories about it and feel the mood of these people makes it a great capture for me.

Sorry I talk too much !

mayankpandey said...

Meghana - thanks. U saw quiet a lot there. :)

Cloudninetalks said...

 Its too good to be a picture from 1800s:)Great photography and nice post.

mayankpandey said...

Cloud nine - thanks a lot for dropping by. No wonder the masters were ahead
of their times.

Andrew Graeme Gould said...

A wonderful image. Be it art, craft or whatever you wish to call it, from my perspective, traditional photography at its best is simply the outcome of a deep seated urge to capture the moment as it is.

mayankpandey said...

Thats an interesting point you make Andrew "capture the moment as it is".
Much of the art today is about photographers vision, they way he interprets
the reality. Probably documentary genre is what your preference is - which
is ofcourse the unadulterated form as we all like.
Thanks for dropping by and look forward to your valuable views in future
cheers -m

Cyrus Khamak said...

 Thank you Mayank for your thoughts and contributions to the photography and the arts world

mayankpandey said...

Dear Cyrus, welcome to my blog. I can and lot of my fellow readers can learn
from you and your views. Do share your comments going forward whenever you
have time.