I appreciate the flurry of Flickr commentary. I’ve learned a lot. But I’m worried that Stephen Shore has been unfairly criticized. If your read the full context of his comments, he is simply making a case for raw documentation:
There has to be on the web a treasure trove of brilliant untutored pictures. I’d seen the photographs that were made at the time of the London Underground bombing by people with cell phones in the Underground cars. And they have an energy to them, and an immediacy, that was pretty extraordinary. They weren’t structurally fine pictures, but, you know, this is a new world. This is people in a subway car that has just been bombed – they flip out their phones and start taking pictures. This is pretty amazing. So I thought, okay, I’m going to find a lot of great stuff and I went onto Flickr and it was just thousands of pieces of shit. I couldn’t believe it. It is just all conventional. It’s all clichés. It is one visual convention after another. Just this week a friend of mine sent me some pictures he’s been collecting on eBay. And they were fabulous. It is just stuff for sale. The difference is that on eBay the people are not trying to make art. They are just trying to show something. ‘This is what this bottle looked like. It is not silhouetted. I’m not going to do it at sunset. I’m just going to take a picture.’ That is the motive of most photographers – ‘This is something I find interesting in the world and I’m going to make it clear.’
The very anti-elitist Stephen King expressed a similar enthusiasm for raw documentation in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. While watching The Ellen DeGeneres Show, he was exposed to this YouTube video of a man dancing in Best Buy:
The crazy guy dancing in Best Buy, be he fake or fact, demonstrates the real purpose of these things we write about — to cause a sudden burst of happy emotion, a sudden rush to the head, the feet, and what may be the truest home of joy: a butt that just has to shake its happy self…
It’s easy — maybe too easy — to get caught up in serious discussions of good and bad, or to grade entertainment the way teachers grade school papers. Those discussions have their place, even though we know in our hearts that all such judgments — even of the humble art produced by the pop culture — are purely subjective.
I don’t know if these things are art, and I don’t really care. All I know is that they make me want to laugh and dance in the aisle at Best Buy.
After reading King’s article, I tried to figure out what kind of photography gives me a similar experience. Putting aside the raw vernacular of cell phone cameras and eBay, one of the things I came up with was street fashion photography.
I’ve always liked looking at fashion photography. But as much as I enjoy the lavish productions of Steven Meisel, I’m often more taken with pure street fashion photography. My favorite site for this kind of work, Hel-Looks, specializes in street fashion from Helsinki:
Karita (20) by Hel-Looks
And who can deny the pleasures of the most popular street fashion blog, The Sartorialist:
Both of these websites represent the work of professional photographers. The pictures are uniformly well produced. But what makes them so successful is (1) a lack of artistic pretense and (2) enthusiasm for a specific subject. A quick look at Flickr shows a lot of labored artistry and a lot of generic subjects. As I said in the original post, Shore’s generalization is understandable. But I know I’m grateful for having a couple hundred new ways to look at Flickr. In fact, one of the things I’ve found is a Flickr group devoted to street fashion: