Monday, May 26, 2008

Value and Significance Vs. Choice Of Subject

Do we value some photographs more than others because of the choice of subject matter? For example, given that we are human, are images of people inherently of more significance (we're not talking money here) than, say, a landscape? Is a landscape inherently more significant than, say a picture of a plastic candle holder (see Andy Ilachinski's images in the current Lenswork)?

Presumably Andy thinks there's as much value in the images from the candle holder, as must Lenswork since they included them (I happen to think they are extremely nice). I suppose we could argue that the only truly significant images are those of suffering, but clearly that's both absurd and unhealthy. Can you imagine if every one of the images you hung in your house was a 'Migrant Mother' type or even worse, a war image?

Arguably Ansel Adams and his landscapes has had every bit as much effect on policy and public sentiment, as Robert Capa and his war images, perhaps more. Brett Weston is as known for his patches of rust as his nudes and grand landscapes.

Pepper # 30 has no social value, other than as a beautiful image. Rembrandt's paintings were ordered by rich merchants, of their wives so the significance of the person to us is non-existent. Clearly the value or significance of the work is in the work itself, not what it represents.

Conclusion: plastic candle holders are fair game, as is absolutely anything else you care to photograph.

One of my all time favourite images is Bob Carlos Clark's 'two forks facing', an image of cutlery he rescued from the bank of the Thames River.

It may be that the significance of the rust or pepper or forks lies in their allegorical representation of something else - the pepper representing the female back and bottom, the forks perhaps a couple facing each other, perhaps making love. But the rust? And there are other examples in which the beauty is in the image and there are no obvious allegories. Mind you, given what people can do with ink blots, anything is possible.

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