In an excellent recent post, Jen Bekman said something I’ve been meaning to say: “Just because I’m writing about something doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m recommending it.”
I just returned home from a trip to California. While I was gone I only managed to put together two meager posts. The first was twenty-six words pointing readers to Chad Muthard’s Photo Final Four. The second was seven words comparing the work of David LaChapelle and Jill Greenberg.
Both of these posts generated a good deal of feedback. Since I’ve highlighted these subjects many readers think I’m recommending them. I’m not. “If I don’t specifically say I like it, or don’t,” writes Jen, “it means that I haven’t decided. (And I might never even give it enough thought to form an opinion.)”
I can see how this might be frustrating for readers. But Jen is right – opinions take time. I’m not interested in splattering my gut reaction. Sometimes I need to send up the test balloon and give it time to figure things out.
So after a little reflection, here is what I think:
1) I agree with Isaac that Chad’s Final Four game is the equivalent of sports talk radio. When I previously mentioned that I’m a fan of sports talk (even though I don’t watch sports) I wrote that “it is a joy to listen to the nerds and statisticians sink their teeth into something entirely meaningless.”
2) “Should Alec, Ulrich, and Christian Patterson really be on that list?” asks Avedont. No. But this isn’t a real tournament. It is a silly blog game. I suspect the fact that we are all bloggers had more than a little to do with our inclusion.
3) The reason I posted on LaChapelle & Greenberg was purely visual. While browsing through the current issue of Art and Auction, I saw the image of Gwen Stefani by Greenberg and the ad for LaChapelle’s show at Shafrazi. The first thing that struck me was the similar use of rear lighting and image vignetting. But as I thought about the two photographers, I became aware of other similarities. LaChapelle and Greenberg both started in the commercial arena but now exhibit regularly in galleries. Both like slick images. Both like to shock.
So what do I think of these artists? My feelings are mixed. Except for his remarkable film RIZE, a little LaChapelle goes a long way. But he has his place. That place is normally in magazines and I’m skeptical about seeing his tableaux work on the wall, but the floating figures look good. They remind me a bit of Gary Schneider’s nudes and a number of the jumping photographers: (Kerry Skarbakka, Li Wei, etc). As for Greenberg, the aura around the pictures (the lollipops, the Bush critique) is incredibly shallow. But the pictures themselves pack a punch.
4) The most valuable thing about LaChapelle, Greenberg and the Final Four is that it got me thinking about what kind of commercial photography stands the test of time. The first photographer I thought about was Philippe Halsman. Halsman produced tableaux pictures like LaChapelle:
Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman
His great Jumpology work also reminds me of LaChapelle’s floating figures:
Mrs. Edsel Ford by Philippe Halsman
Finally, Halsman hysterical pictures of the French actor Fernandel are reminiscent of Greenberg:
Halsman stands the test of time. His work is light and humorous but somehow always marked by greatness. Only time will tell if LaChapelle and Greenberg (or Alec, Ulrich, and Patterson) will join him in the Big Dance. Whatever the case, Halsman provides a great example of a commercial photographer who holds up.
One who doesn’t hold up, but also bears resemblance to LaChapelle and Greenberg, is Howard Schatz. Compare LaChapelle’s floating pictures and Schatz’s water dancers:
Or Greenberg’s children and Schatz’s actors:
What makes Halsman great and Schatz empty? I might need some time to figure that out.