In my post on Vik Muniz vs. Gabriel Orozco, Kathleen writes of Orozco: “For me, his photos are just….bad. They are sketches to a larger, more cohesive idea. (One where the end product is not a poorly shot/printed c-print).”
In response, Alexandre writes: “Do we still need “good” pictures? It’s true that shots/prints of Orozco are poor, as poor as his sculptures in fact…What makes Orozco a genius is his incredible sense of the uncanny, the bizarre, the poetic poverty.”
This got me thinking about lo-fi aesthetics. William Wegman (who reminds me of Muniz) began his career by producing raw and hysterical videos.
Over time he rifined his technical skills:
His work grew up but lost some of its charm. But what was he to do? I suppose he had the option of recreating the lo-fi look by continuing to produce faux-naïve videos forever. But that seems equally unsatisfying. How do you build a career on the armature of aesthetic rawness? There has to be something else at the root of the work. There has to be a subject with depth. The problem with Wegman is that this subject is, well, dogs. The roots don’t go deep enough to survive the transition from raw to refined.
One example of someone who has survived this transition is Annie Leibovitz. Her primary subject, celebrity, isn’t much deeper than dogs. But Leibovitz has often been able to sink in her teeth and pull out some great pictures. One of her best sub-genres has been American music. Here is a raw and outrageous picture of Keith Moon in 1976:
During the eighties, Leiovitz took on lighting, props, color and a bigger negative. The pictures lost their edge and became all about artifice:
But Leibovitz worked through this. Since the nineties she has been producing incredibly refined images that nonetheless have a genuine soulfulness. Here is an image of Brian Willson in 2000 from her book American Music:
In some ways Leibovitz’s work resembles that of the musicans she’s photographed. Look at the recent revival of Bob Dylan. Sure, he did a Victoria Secret ad a couple of years ago. But he’s also mastered his craft, battled the storms and come out the other end with something both refined and rich.