An Interesting Rant

September 17th, 2014

D70 1618 An Interesting Rant

I read a blog post this morning that I found interesting and provocative. So I decided to take a break from posting Starved Rock photos and share that post and write a bit about it myself.

Go here to read the post by Randall Armor.

Ralph Gibson has been a “famous photographer” since the days when I was in photo school. As you can see from my self-portrait above, that was quite a while ago. Mr. Gibson is even older than me. And he’s famous, at least in the photo community. I’ve never met Mr. Gibson, though several of my favorite models have also modeled for him. I’m sure he’s a reasonably nice guy. And I often say that I’m sure he is an artist because I can only understand about a third of his photos.

But I have a pretty low tolerance for bullshit, especially the bullshit that tends to be all over the place in the world of art.

As to the whole digital vs film debate, I think it’s pretty stupid and pointless. Those are my cameras in that self-portrait. I know how to use them. The Leica was one of two that were part of my daily kit, along with two Nikons, when I was working as a photojournalist. The Leica doesn’t get much use these days, but I still use the old Speed Graphic to shoot with instant film.

All my life as a photographer there has been someone saying that the latest advance in photo technology was wrong somehow. Starting with “No professional photographer would use a camera with a light meter built in.” Of course, I started doing photojournalism with 35mm cameras when many were saying that no professional photographer would use that “amateur format.” All of that is just pointless hot wind as far as I’m concerned. And that includes the digital/film debate.

I have some very good friends who only work with film and consider digital to be an inferior way to make photos. I disagree with them, but we are still friends. Everyone is entitled to their choice of tools. That includes those who insist on using film. But it also includes me and others who have decided that digital cameras are the best choice for their use. It’s really no one’s business other than the photographer.

And I like to remind my “film friends” that it’s not really photography unless you coat your own plates. After all, if you just buy factory-made film, you are limited to what the manufacturer has decided will be the characteristics of that film and aren’t really in control of your process.

The debate is stupid. I’m sad that someone whose work I admire has displayed such a silly opinion. But I’m not really surprised to learn that he tends to talk a lot of the art-world bullshit. I guess that’s one of the requirements to become a famous photographer. It’s bad enough that the critics spout so much bullshit. It’s a shame that the artists have to get involved in too.

And that made me think of this WUMO comic from yesterday:


I also enjoyed the R. Crumb recording of Fine Artiste Blues that was quoted in Mr. Armor’s blog post. You might enjoy it too. Here’s a link to it on Youtube. I liked it enough to go ahead and buy the track.

Anyway, feel free to comment if you are so inclined. I’d particularly be interested in hearing from my friends who have met Mr. Gibson.

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5 Responses to “An Interesting Rant”

  1. 1D Swanson
    September 17th, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    Like smokeless powder, digital photos are just a passing fad. But I love both of them dearly.
    I was fondling my Speed Graphic the day before yesterday. Fondling is a good choice of words.
    The Leicas were great for candid work because they were very quiet. I took many photos in crowded areas of people without them every knowing they had been photographed. One learns to shoot from the hip in crowds.
    One of these days they will come out with a shutterless digital that just turns the sensor on and off instead of a mechanical shutter, and/or a mirror flopping up and down.
    The lenses were sharper then too. The Canon L series lenses that people get so excited about are no where near as sharp as the old lenses we used on our sheet film cameras. Maybe they don’t need to be. But I don’t see why we pay more for less sharp optic.
    But I digress…
    Cool hat!

  2. 2D Swanson
    September 17th, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

    We use to do all kinds of things to make our images “not so sharp” when we were doing portrait work. These days the optics are okay right out of the box for portrait work.
    Okay, I’m bored tonight have have nothing else to do but add to your rant page.

  3. 3Ron Compton
    September 21st, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    First, let me say that I am a huge fan of your work. Almost all of mine is in the studio, and it pains me to be so bad when I work in nature. But, I’m learning.

    About Ralph: I have known him for well over twenty years. He is a social friend, we have photographed together many, many times from the streets of Egypt to the hotels of New York. He has contributed very insightful critique of my work, which has made it better. No, we do not agree on everything.

    It seems to me that Mr. Armor’s rant was a little much. After all, it had to do with a single talk given eight years ago, and whatever it was then, it is factually not accurate now. The last several times I how worked with Ralph he has shot both still and video in digital with Leica (M 240) and, ahem, even another brand.

    Mr. Armor called him a “rare breed.” Yes, indeed, he is. He has done very, very little commercial work, having provided a very comfortable life doing books and print sales. He hangs in over 150 museums and collections. Yep, RARE.

    If some of his work seemed “uneven and pedestrian” to Mr. Armor, that says little about the work and something about Mr. Armor. Those words are value judgments, which, of course, are perfectly valid to make. But I just cannot see that his likes and dislikes should lead to words like “artspeak intransigence”, “silly”, and “self described fuckup”, which I have a very hard time believing Ralph ever said.

    In any event, Ralph is hard to dismiss. He is an amazing artist. NO, everything he does may not to be to your taste, Mr. Armor’s taste, or mine. But I would argue that he is a serious worker who’s life has been dedicated to his art, and who’s life is to be admired for his dedication and success.

    Ron Compton

  4. 4dave
    September 21st, 2014 @ 7:57 pm

    Thank you, Ron, for your thoughtful comment. I don’t know Mr. Gibson, but I have admired his work all my life. I can’t make any judgement or statement about him as a person. I was much more interested in the comments Mr. Armor made about pretentious bullshit “artspeak” that seems to go on so much. I completely agree with you that Mr. Gibson is a serious worker who has added much to the world of photography through a lifetime of excellent work.

    I’ve looked through your website and am very impressed with your work. It’s beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the Windows portfolio. Your dance work is fantastic. I’m quite honored and pleased to know that you are aware of my work and read my blog. Thank you for the very kind words about my work.

  5. 5D Swanson
    September 21st, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

    I find this to be very interesting topic, as shown by the comments.
    We all have our own ideas about photography. Dave L. and I are friends. We have stayed at each other’s homes. We have shot many of the same models together. We shoot nudes in the same landscapes, often times together. And we rarely agree on photography. I being one who despises worked based upon some person because they are related to some famous photographer; work that was done by equipment that was substandard and turned out like crap but is looked upon as artistic because it turned out like crap; and people who think that the way they do things are the only true way of doing things; and lastly by those who do not understand photography but pretend by making crap good in programs like, Photoshop.
    Ansel Adams was a crappy photographer. He knew that. He said that. But he knew how to take a negative into his darkroom and spend hours making a really good print.
    I despise the leaches that took his work and made millions of dollars off of it. And just because his son wants to work in his old darkroom does not make his son, or grandson, any good at all. My view.
    We each need to look at art and decide for ourselves if it has any value. Because value of art is really based upon what YOU think of it. Not what anybody else says it is worth.
    Dave posted some images here on his blog a couple of posts ago that he thought were interesting. To me they were crud. But what I think is of no importance. They are not going to hang in my house, so what I think is worthless. If someone likes them they are of value. And the more they like them the more value they have.
    I would not give you a nickle for an Anne Libo, whatever her name is. She is a worthless individual as far as I am concerned. And what she calls her photos I would be skeptical that she was even in the same room when the shot was taken. Hence, I would never own one of hers because I would not be certain that she was even in the same state when it was created, no matter how much I liked it. Integrity has a lot to do with art.
    The great photographers to me are the photos I would have on my living room walls. I have some hanging there. I count five from where I am sitting. They are not famous photographers, but they are more precious than Rembrandt paintings, at least to me, because they are what I consider art.
    We all have some affliction that causes us prejudice when we look at other artists. But work done by famous people does not make it art. Famous people make as many mistakes as the rest of us. Maybe more so.
    Bottom line: It doesn’t matter what someone said. Doesn’t matter what they did. Is their art of value to YOU? That is all that counts.

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Photos and comments by Dave Levingston. This is the place to see my most recent work which may include nudes, dance, landscape, nature and whatever other kinds of photos I feel like taking.

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