Monday, February 22, 2010

More On Meaning

Following up on the thoughts about whether photographs have to have meaning, I went through my images to find an ideal pair of photographs, one with meaning, and another which has been well accepted, is beautiful but has no message. In truth, I found it very hard to find even a few images that didn't have an obvious message or mood.

With landscapes, typically there are no messages sent but the photographer has a reaction to a scene and that will show in the photograph. The viewer however will bring their own circumstances, education and personality to interpreting the scene. The photographer may have been full of wonder as the sun came over the mountains at 6 am while the viewer, reminded of visiting a similar scene with their parents, may feel sad. In general, when an artist creates a work that reflects how they feel there is the potential for great work. When the artist wants to manipulate the viewer to the artist's viewpoint, we have propaganda and the odds of great art are much less. If you really want to manipulate peoples thoughts, join an advertising agency.


Chuck Kimmerle said...

I agree on your last two posts, but not with your point about manipulating the viewers. Photography, as activism, has a long history, even in landscapes. Both Ansel and Clyde Butcher put forth much of their efforts into manipulating the viewers towards their viewpoint, which in both cases involved environmental issues. They are both considered activists, yet their work is still thought of as art.

"Propaganda" is the basis for much of contemporary social documentary photography as there is usually a desire, on the photographer's part, to open eyes and change opinions.

I agree that photography created simply to affect opinion, without substance, can fail miserably as art, but I'm not sure that all attempts "to manipulate the viewer to the artist's viewpoint" should be dismissed.

George Barr said...


good point. Typically the people who want to get a message across are the same people who feel strongly about a subject, whether it's villagers in Afghanistan or preserving some first growth forest.

Friday evening I went to a presentation by Larry Towell, photojournalist and left-wing writer and composer. He has a very strong point of view and it shows in his images but that didn't stop them from being moving and disturbing.


grant kench said...

George, I recommend you view the art of Peter Dombrovskis. His photo of Rock Island Bend stopped the flooding of one of Tasmania's last wild rivers. The photo is both art and was used with exceptional skill to promote the environmental cause that split this Island State.

Admin said...

An artist's views on philosophy, religion, politics etc are part and parcel of the person and thus the art. Having said that, I believe that politicalization of art is problematic and in the long run damages artistic expression.

Many great artists have held unsavory views. Richard Wagner's anti-semitism was part of the personality that created his great music. But I suspect that if Wagner had set out to write "anti-semitic music," no one would have heard of him today.

Had Ansel Adams gone to Yosemite to photograph "environmental issues" would his art have survived?

I am not saying that an artist cannot be an activist. But mixing art and polemics mostly results in third-rate propaganda.

Luis Sanchez said...

"If you really want to manipulate peoples thoughts, join an advertising agency."

That is really funny.

Still I think that we could have both. Art for advertisment sake and the other art -art for art sake. I believe that the first one passes away as it is a child of its time. The second one might last longer than the first one if it is worthy.

Evelina said...

Quite effective info, lots of thanks for the article.