How camera choices influence your image

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A little while back, I made an offhand comment about a certain camera being my choice for ‘serious’ work which spurred a lengthy subsequent discussion offline with a reader; it got me thinking: what exactly constitutes ‘seriousness’? But beyond that, how does a photographer’s choice of camera, or format, or medium, influence the final image? More importantly, is there any way we can use that to make stronger images – because ultimately, that’s what photography is all about. We’ll explore that in some detail in today’s article.

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I think the concept of ‘seriousness’ implies some degree of care and attention paid to the task at hand; there is an investment both mentally and possibly financially. A good example would be large format film: you know each exposure is going to cost several dollars, and to yield something technically acceptable, you’re going to also have to carry a tripod and spend some time adjusting the camera’s movements. I think it’s safe to say that almost no photographer would use one of those things as a casual point and shoot when out on a stroll – however, I’ll come back to this later. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the masses – ‘serious’ photographers included – will use cameraphones to document events that are of no real consequence; one is shooting with whatever is to hand, just to have a recorded image for posterity – technical quality be damned. Depending on your ‘effort appetite’ and financial means, most photographers* will land up somewhere in the middle of this continuum.

*People who actually care about the final image, not just the gear – there are a lot of people who would not qualify as photographers on this basis alone; it’s an important distinction to make now because it all boils down to intention.

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Before I continue, it’s important to note that not all equipment and intended purposes are interchangeable: unless I had very strange clients, it’s unlikely that they’d allow me to shoot luxury product with my iPhone, and similarly, if I was just making a photographic record of a document or something to email, I wouldn’t use my Hasselblad and digital back. So, there’s definitely an element of ‘right tool for the job’ in play. Still, within that range there is still some wiggle room: you might have to shoot sport with a DSLR, for instance, for its continuous AF abilities; but whether you use an APS-C one or a FX one is entirely up to you – both would work just fine. Are they different enough to produce markedly different results? At the technical level, no. How about at the artistic level? Again, probably not, because the equipment requires the photographer to use both cameras in a nearly identical way: handling of the gear alone presents insufficient subconscious cues to suggest changing the photographic process in a way that’s sufficient to produce different results.

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Understanding how our equipment can foster the production of a different outcome is ultimately the point of this essay. I think one can take two approaches: either you try to be as equipment-independent as possible, or you embrace the difference between formats and tools and let the gear dictate the outcome to some extent. The simple fact that some things are better suited to some subjects/ purposes than others suggests already that there is an optimum somewhere; using the right gear might well help you produce the best technical results, or it might give you sufficient control to be able to focus on other things – such as timing and composition. A good example here is autofocus: without it, we’d be concentrating on keeping our moving subjects in focus, probably at the expense of watching the edges of the frame, resulting in weaker compositions. If we use a camera with strong tracking AF, after ensuring it has locked on, we can focus on timing our shutter release to coincide with the right arrangement of elements within the frame. I like to think of this result as ‘evolutionary photography': we do the technical part a little better, a little more specialized each time – but there are no fundamental changes in the way we shoot.

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On the other hand, using something very different tends to result in significantly different pictorial results: this is one of the main reasons why I shoot with such a diverse mix of formats. At first, it’s the limitations of the unfamiliar camera that will make themselves felt: the inability to do what your old one did is going to be more immediately felt than the advantages the new one can offer, especially if you’re shooting with something that isn’t obviously fit for purpose. The best example I can think of has to do with format size: if you’ve always shot a compact, moving up to a DSLR, almost everybody gets obsessed with bokeh: simply because it’s new, different, and you didn’t have the ability to throw backgrounds out of focus before. The reverse is also true: most beginner DSLR users looking for a smaller, more portable rig tend to be disappointed with the lack of isolating ability in compacts.

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Is this a problem, pictorially? Actually, it isn’t. The ability to form strong compositions and isolate your subjects by light and color rather than depth of field actually results in much better images. Since you’re not relying on depth of field isolation, you’ve now inadvertently expanded your shooting envelope: you can also produce a strong image where the conditions are not conducive to shallow depth of field – e.g. when backgrounds are close to subjects, or when everything is past the hyperfocal distance. Let’s go a bit further: the enormous depth of field of a compact can actually be used to advantage under several situations: to produce hugely compressed scenes with everything in focus that can’t be done with a large format camera since you can’t stop down enough; the ability to have more of the scene in focus under situations where you’re forced to use a large aperture (low light, for instance). A weakness has now become a strength.

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At the psychological level, what’s happened here is that a restriction in the equipment has forced us to change the way we work; by changing the technical part of the photographic process, our minds are forced to reprioritize the compositional aspects, too: we land up thus putting more or less emphasis on certain compositional elements. The outcome is a different artistic result. By doing this with a large variety of formats/ equipment, one can ‘force’ oneself to experiment and shoot differently; by being consciously objective about what methods produce what changes to the outcome and whether you like them or not, you can thus build up your technical repertoire. Through knowing what is possible, one can visualize different final images; by understanding the technical whys of how to create that effect, then it’s easy to combine those techniques with the existing strengths of other formats to create something visually unique.

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One of the comments levelled at me is that my images tend to look the same: it’s deliberate, and a conscious stylistic choice. Another comment is that I use too much gear! By shooting with a lot of different gear, I force myself to experiment compositionally and stylistically; by understanding what affects what and how, I can create consistent images regardless of the equipment I’m using. I think ultimately I’m going to settle with whatever it is that allows me to combine the most possible techniques – ideally, I think that would be a compact FF35 view camera with the ability to use AF or movements; sadly, it doesn’t exist. Ironically, the heavy equipment dependence is to lead precisely to the opposite outcome: equipment independence.

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I’d like to end this article by talking about the images I’ve chosen to illustrate it with: I’m pretty sure none of you would argue that the compositions are ‘unserious’, but at the same time, I swear that all of them were opportunistic grabs with no more than a second or two’s conscious thought between seeing and capturing. To top it off, almost all of them were shot with small format consumer cameras; even camera phones. (Clicking through to the image on Flickr will give you EXIF data, if you’re curious.) Ultimately, to change the way we shoot, we need to change the way we think: though some with extremely strong wills can do that, the majority of us can’t – fortunately, there’s the crutch of equipment to help us out… MT

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Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.

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Comments

  1. Kjeld Smed says:

    “Through knowing what is possible, one can visualize different final images; by understanding the technical whys of how to create that effect, then it’s easy to combine those techniques with the existing strengths of other formats to create something visually unique.”
    Exactly- You are so right….

    I know I´m the bad boy in another thread here. I am now just lurking around the blog just to find something that fits me the best :-)

    I have now been working as a photographer since 1963 and the Work has given the daily bread for me and my Family.

    I have used so many photographic tools and filmtypes in those 50 years that I can´t even remember.
    From 8″x!0″ fieldcameras to RF-Contax and Leica M, Hasselblad, Mamiya 6X7 , Edixa , Exa, the first Nikon F and the list goes on.
    I got the first Nikon digital 1999 called Nikon E3s based on the Nikon F4. I still have it if anyone want to Trade with an Oly OM :-)

    Now I have my old trusty Nikon DH2 and a 300. A Little Olympus Epl1 – Sigma DP1 Merrill – Fuji X100, Fuji XPro 1 and X-E1 and for film the Bessa R4m with 4 lenses also used on the Fuji´s and a Nikon F4.
    I am trying caused of some lungproblems and the normal age symptoms to keep everything as light and small as possible and are going the mirrorless way. Most of the heavy tools is now sold.
    Thanks
    Kjeld

  2. I guess I’m in the ‘right tool for the job’ camp. In the good light I use small monster Sigma DP2M, when I can no longer shoot below ISO400 I use Fuji X-Pro1. When shooting film it depends more on what I’m after, walk around and street is done on Leica M6 and Voigtlander 50 Nokton and small VC 15. If I’m after HQ results from film I use Hassy with 80 or 150 lenses and for landscape and architecture I use newly acquired Mamiya 6 with 50 lens.

    • Welcome to my world of chiropractors and mules. :) Just one of the many reasons we try and keep everything as small as possible, because chasing ultimate image quality is super heavy!

  3. Joseph Grunske says:

    Great post, Ming!
    I’ve noticed that what I shoot and how I compose varies depending on whether I’m using a P&S, DSLR, or 35mm film camera. I never put the thought into it that you have done so here, and you have given me much to ponder. For that, I thank you!

  4. I’ve enjoyed this blog entry and admired your photos very much, thanks. I don’t think that the photos are alike, but I do see how you have seen something and captured the unusual. As also the photos have captured and revealed lots about you, or at least the you on the day of those photos and the assembly of that collection.

    It has been my experience, since the beginning of digital photography, that my perception has been changed by it, I have been drawn into seeing things in new ways. I see more, I see detail, contradiction, irony, oddity. And I see how putting a frame over space renders that image into something that wasn’t there outside the photo, sometimes… when it connects with the right pods in brain and heart.

    I see that in your images. At first glance the photos, the design vision, are hard edged, but they challenge sensibilities. And three of them contain people and I am struck by the privacy and individual mystery of those ordinary people.

    Photography is one aspect of my life and i recently moved to the Fuji XF1 because it’s unobtrusive while producing results that I like with a colour palette and style that suits me. I’ve done with mucking my brain with multiple cameras and now want to write images with just this one brush, a brush which enhances my perception and does not bugger me around with its doodahisation. I’m old enough to have a white beard and with two Rycote Mcrowindjammers now tucked (very usefully) over the stereo mikes below edges of the lens turret, the XF1 now looks a bit of an elderly Chinese man with wispy grey beard tufts either side of chin. We bond… :-)

    I don’t think photos I took last weekend http://dennisargall.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/a-walk-in-city.html are alike, but they represent successive blows to my photobrain which I succeeded in capturing using available light in available moods. I enjoy walking through images, I enjoy being brought to a halt by something special which I suspect I would not have noticed before I became wired to a camera. I think something is there and I get excited when it appears on the screen with a new reality.

    Be careful what camera you use, it will eat into your circuitry one way or another. Stay in command!

    Half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, fabled philosopher of communication theory

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan

    observed that

    the wheel
    is an extension of the foot
    the book
    is an extension of the eye
    clothing, an extension of the skin,
    electric circuitry,
    an extension of
    the
    central
    nervous
    system

    The Medium is The Massage, Marshall McLuhan p 31-40 http://www.liquidinformation.org/mcluhan_quotes.html

    McLuhan didn’t have a digital camera. He would have been excited.

    • Thanks for your thoughts – certainly an image says as much about the photographer (and their way of seeing) as the contents of the shot itself.

      Most of us go through the whole equipment dance in trying to find something that works; there is really no one size fits all. But like shoes, we might find a pair that’s more comfortable than most, and stick with that. Oddly, I’m finding it’s a 6×6 Hasselblad, or a smaller sensor – not so much DX or FX. Can’t explain why, it just is.

      Sometimes…I think too much when I really should just get out and shoot.

  5. Peter Boender says:

    Running out of WordPress levels Ming… :-D

  6. Charm?

    Ming, you have charm. Charm comes and goes. Some people have it more than others.Some days, I can go out in the early morning and come back with more pics than I have time to print. Other days, nothing works out… Not one decent pic! (no charm) I know you work extremely hard at your work, and are truly a master photog, but don’t ignore the power of charm.

    M.C.

  7. Wonderful post, Ming. Very thought provoking and I agree that stronger composition is the key to ‘better’ (subjective, I know) images whereas it is all too easy to utilise shallow dof to isolate. This is something I am learning to rely on less and less the more I shoot though I understand that on occasion, some compositions scream out for little dof. Your images never fail to surprise and inspire even from what on the face of things, appear to be ‘obvious’ compositions just ‘waiting to be noticed’ but seldom are. Except by you and a handful of others perhaps. You have a very talented ‘eye’. No matter what equipment you’re on. Thanks for sharing your knowledge – the amount of comments and clicks is a testament to your influence. Regards, Rob.

  8. Jock Elliott says:

    I think it is all about the photographer’s eye and heart and what you are willing to carry.

  9. Peter Boender says:

    Another intriguing blog post, Ming. One that made me stop and think again, and for that you are to be applauded. But I’m also not really certain what to make of these particular philosophical musings. I mean, it sort of starts out with reasonings about “the best tool for the job”. Then we migrate to thoughts about how another set of tools forces us to approach our craft differently, and that (more importantly) we can even advance that craft by deliberatly using those other tools and embrace their different technical possibilities. But in the end our ultimate karma is “equipment independance”? I’m probably too much of a layman, but I’m still on steps 1 and 2 of this path of photographic enlightenment. But the journey is certainly fun, so I’ll continue to do the Buddha thing and it’s good to have somebody light the way.
    Another thing that struck a chord with me in your text is the term “consistency”. I’m not entirely convinced that’s an artistic goal. It maybe helpful in developing a style, in a sense that “repeatability” can help in removing the staines in one’s photography over time and make progress. But consistency in itself? I think i can be pretty consistent in outputting Instagram results, but that doesn’t equal a certain level of artistry…
    And in the end, what is art anyway (to reopen another philosophical Box of Pandora)? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And a case can certainly be made that what is ultimately defined and accepted as art has much to do with the depth of the pockets of the promotors. As for me, having unmeasurably shallow pockets, I totally get photos #3 and #6, whereas photo #9 doesn’t work for me at all. Why is that? Again, you left me with many things to ponder about, and I respect that in the best possible way. Keep it coming Ming!

    • The honest answer for the meandering position is that I have no idea myself: yes, we use the best tool for the job – for client work at any rate – but experimentation does force us to try new things, and those learnings might be applied to our ‘best tools’ for better artistic results. Does this make some sense?

      Consistency = consistency of style and/ or artistic intent; not necessarily content. You might be consistently different, for example…

      • Peter Boender says:

        I totally understand your meandering position! To me, this endless search and questioning is a great part of the fun, and very much devoted to the effort of reaching (if ever…) a satisfactory end result, i.e. a beautiful image in the case of photography.
        To me, so far in life, the acquisition of new tools had always something to do with feeling limited by the equipment I was using at the time. Your musings give it a new twist: use other equipment *on purpose* to broaden your horizon, improve your skills, reach new levels in your craft. I haven’t tried that so far, so maybe I should… The next step… (A wonderful year so far Ming, photographically speaking, going forward again, starting in New York…). I doesn’t need to cost anything. In the same spirit, Thom Hogan wrote some time ago about just using your iPhone camera for a while, and try to apply the same shot discipline as you would with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. A useful experiment probably.

        I understand what you mean with “consistency”. I get you want to be consistent, because through consistency you can have your body of work to be recognizable as being Ming’s works. In this sense “consistency” can (must be) a goal. Personally I’m not that far in my photographic development, other than that I can be consistently bad :-) Still searching for a style, I guess. And again, going through some changes this year… So another eye opener: maybe I should try to be more consistent, and let this repeatability be of help (with a lot of backward comparing) in the development of a personal, recognizable style. So, for me, at this moment in time, i look at consistency as a means instead of a goal. But that’s just me…

        • I do just that when I shoot with my iPhone. Maybe that’s why I get the results I do, but I suspect it’s more down to understanding light and the limitations of the device.

          As for style…look to January for the two videos on that :)

  10. Reblogged this on Nobody says BLOG anymore. .

  11. Hi Ming, I like the general theme of this post, but after seeing the explosion in the range of images people consider serious (or at least serious enough to make an effort to distribute to an audience), I’m starting to feel like the subject matter really determines the level of seriousness – without being able to pin down an exact definition yet.

    Even a pinhole photo or Polaroid can contend for the title of serious if the subject matter warrants it. The painter David Hockney seems to experiment with instant photo montages that I would say are pretty serious, but the image quality and camera choice doesn’t add gravitas. Considering his choice of tool, it seems the seriousness of intent of the artist behind the camera producing the final work to be displayed is the key.

    Link to some examples here: http://rosehockneyness.blogspot.com/2012/01/david-hockney-photomontage.html
    The third one in this bunch is one that I’m fond of as an example of the sum being greater than the assemblage of parts.

    • That’s also true. In such cases, it falls down to the intent of the creator: did they mean to just take a record snapshot, or was there a greater idea behind it? In which case, does the execution work? And does the medium help or hinder? Etc. A good artist – or creator, at least – will ensure that the whole thing comes together, intentionally, as you describe…

  12. Chair / shadow flickr link seems to be private or otherwise broken.

  13. Oh and the comment about your images all looking the same – it’s not that they look the same, it’s that the post-processing is consistent. Your images have a certain ‘pop’ to them. I like the crispness, the contrast, they almost jump off the page. I think that’s the kind of ‘sameness’ that we all need to strive for!

  14. I only have two cameras so it’s not that hard to choose :)

  15. The kit determines the facture

  16. Great post as always! And I really like the images–especially the chair and shadows.

    Your comments here help challenge me to improve my skills with whatever camera I’m using. Thanks!

  17. The Ricoh GRV influenced my style a lot. I can do this kind of shooting with my dslr gear as well. It is rather this way: The Ricoh GRV engourages experimenting and spontanety and showed me another very valid approach top photography. Nothing difficult about soing the same kind if shooting with different camera. It is rather that a certain type of camera naturally leans toward a certain style of shooting. Once I got used to this I could easily transfer this to all my other gear.

    There are some exceptions to this and admittedly: It’s rather pointless to choose a Linhof for candid street shooting. But you could apply the deliberate setup process of a Linhof to a dslr and get technical perfect photos.

    So yes, if you have different types (not brands) of camera they’ll most certainly influence you as a photographer.

    cheers
    Stefan

    • Bingo. And certainly some tools are better for certain things than others, but more importantly, some tools encourage you to work in a certain way which produces certain results…

  18. Hi Ming,

    Thanks for the continued thoughts and photos. I can’t however look at some of the items in flickr for eg. Cable and plug. They are marked as private.

    JR

  19. Hi Ming, I have used a number of cameras over the years for street and travel, as well as the occasional event shoot. I am currently culling my images and have had an opportunity to review the metadata. With the exception of the film pics and those taken with an awful Panasonic zS10 I have a hard time telling which camera, lens was used for what.

    My style has always been what I call ‘seat-of-the-pants’ photography except when i am shooting film – then it’s more deliberate – 36 FRAMES SO MAKE EM COUNT – however the images tend to be more ‘graphic’ in nature in terms of lighting and composition. That’s how I (film) roll :)

  20. Tom Liles says:

    I’ve honestly never understood “gearhead” leveled at people as though it were an insult. Would you criticize an F1 team for being gearheads? A NASA team? DaVinci, a man supreme — and an artist — was so fascinated with gear he’d invent his own. All that treating “gearhead” as a pejorative does for me is illustrate that the critic probably holds a fear, a weakness, that it really is the camera and not the photog that makes the picture. To each his own… though that’s a truly sad way to live. Better gear is, better. It’s just that what “better” means, depends.
    The angle you left as an implication in the essay was that the photog himself a variable too—the way a camera makes us feel has a huge bearing, in my opinion. And that isn’t set in stone. What I am besotted with right now, and makes me feel a certain way now, may not be so in six months. Who knows. That’s the rub. And the converse may even be true: I read Araki once say that good cameras have something like an aura.

    The yellow and blue photo, #6 — IMG_1665b copy — really stood out to me, as the level of saturation seemed very un-MT like. Judging by the fact it was an iPhone4 shot, I assume it was taken and processed a while back. Maybe the PP gestalt wasn’t at then where it’s at now? Would you have still left it so saturated if you’d taken and PP’d it last week? This question is more interesting to me than which camera you took the image with. Though don’t get me wrong, I am interested in which cameras were used for which image [generally].

    Best photo, for me, here: #3

    The previous just said—I don’t want to know, and I don’t care, what camera it was taken with. In fact, knowing might spoil it in some way.
    How’s that for hypocrisy!
    [what could be more human :) ]

    • Actually, I shot Provia last week at relatively high latitudes, so yes.

      Being a gear head is not an insult, but something to be wary of especially in a pursuit where the gear matters less than the output. And those inks can be somewhat independent. It isn’t the same as F1: there is no such thing as an ‘artistic’ lap – performance and output are quantified. Photography is not quantifiable.

      • Tom Liles says:

        !!! Ming can I just prologue this comment with a gripe about iPhone iOS7, the unmitigated turd that is the new iOS7 Safari and its interaction with the WordPress template for the blog. I have tried to reply to you on my iPhone six times before giving up and pulling the laptop out instead to do it. The comment would suddenly blank out, jump to the search box [this did happen a lot before, admittedly, but it's just ridiculous now], or worst of all, just randomly jump to your top page mid comment tap. The browser or the iOS or whatever can’t keep up with the speed of text coming out — and this was tapping tender like a Grandad, not my usual pace — and you get a blank comment box after writing a whole line… you have to wait a few seconds for the text appear. Did I mention how mid-comment it just suddenly jumps to the top page out of nowhere. $$$$$! I’m ready to murder someone at Apple. So so frustrated with this TURD they foisted on us. A million years of bad karma to them for this. Really. I’m so close to just giving up on them !!!

        OK, so, I was going disagree about F1: there’s plenty of artistry, craft and experience that goes into a lap time, no? Likewise a car design. Aerodynamics especially. But, at any rate, art, craft, experience: all things in common with photography. If you’re saying good lap times are just a matter of physics and optimization—well, so could be photography. But a computer will never get a meaningful and therefore beautiful photo, just as an algorithm would never make the best lap time [because you couldn't efficiently program split second decision-making to counter unexpected conditions, car/track behavior---only the human mind can react to something unexpected, i.e., not in the code to begin with].
        On quantifiables… Well, we do have a measure for photographs, like it or not. Two actually. Both intertwined but not interminably linked: 1) how much is the image worth?, and 2) how many people know/like it?

        Anyway, lost all appetite for this because of that flipping iPhone. Gah!

        • Hmmmm, well …. not really. There is more psychology to photography than racing, other than strategy surrounding pit stops. Put the average driver into an F1 car, or any high powered race car, and they would likely crash it quickly, if they didn’t stall it trying to launch. Compare that with some buying a high-powered camera, and expecting to immediately hit top lap times … err, image captures.

          I think you are heading down a terrible path trying to quantify images through money and popularity. Keep in mind that Vincent van Gogh was incredibly poor and had great trouble trying to sell any images, yet look how we now consider his images. I’ll throw in Richard Prince, just to keep this ridiculous. While Prince received accolades for Marlboro Man, the reality is that Sam Abell gained far less income from the original than Prince got from his giant print copy; all that proves is that Richard Prince was well connected to people with deep pockets. You seriously need to reconsider your metrics.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Well, mmm, but, those metrics existed before me and will persist after. I just point in their direction and say, like it or not, there they are.

            Naturally counter examples exist. But, put the other way: can we think of a non-subjective, non-solipsistic route toward judging a photograph?

            I often go from a combination of what other, respected, people say and my own instant reactions to a work. But, again, this just falls under the rubric of (2) above. And isn’t much better than the punter judging a book by its cover. Metaphorically or no.

            On the F1 analogy: when two car guys disagree, I think it’s probably better to do an orderly retreat :)
            Until the next analogy!
            [though really it only came up in connection with pursuits that are heavily tech. dependent. Though we all pay lip service to not needing much to take photographs, just look down at what's on out hands as we say it]

            Sorry about the frustration on iOS, MT. Is anyone else getting this tapping comments into the site?
            You’re dead on though, I’m sure they have tuned it for the latest phone and older handset users are expected to upgrade. That highlights a certain arrogance and a may backfire spectacularly on them—as I for one am not going Apple again on phones. Next phone WILL NOT have an apple on it, simply because of my disgust with this dog of an operating system.

          • Tom Liles says:

            And in true l’esprit de l’escalier style, the Van Gogh example ultimately supports the theory rather than falsify it. We just don’t care for the timing. But still, a lot of people know Van Gogh; and his paintings are worth a lot of money.

            • But as with all successes, we don’t see any of the failures: history writes the winners and all that…

              • History writes the winners; but that’s what I’m saying. There is literally a mountain of evidence — i.e., history itself! :) — pointing to the fact. You allude to there having been unrecognized winners, but I’d humbly point out: since they remain unrecognized, on what basis were they “winners” in the first place? We just get back to personal opinion and taste, the plain opposite of the proposed metric at hand.
                [But enough coincidence of the same taste, opinion, hype, whatever and the unrecognized become recognized. My thesis isn't fixed in time.]

                As in Gordon’s Richard Prince example. It still seems sensible to me as — rich and powerful friends included — the context makes for the strength of the image. Gordon above all should be savvy to this as we both mentioned it on another thread about pictures hanging on a gallery wall. The precise same image becomes different because Richard Prince, love it it hate it, modified the context surrounding it. This is a sensation well known to both chefs and advertisers. A marketing manager at Suntory once told me that the way to think of it as: a cup of green tea presented in a high res product shot vs. a cup of green tea in the hand of a neighbor sitting on a porch sharing a cup with their host while they talk in the evening sun. One of those sells more green tea than the other.
                The Richard Prince Marlboro Man example — which is painful to me, no doubt about it — is the same kind of thing, all the contextual legwork was something as simple Prince himself, and his cronies, sorry network.

                • Sorry for the terrible English there: eating ice cream with my daughter as I commented :D

                • I don’t agree with you on that Tom, but we shall have to leave it at that. Richard Prince, in my opinion, simply rips off other people, and he is defended by rich friends who make his work more than what it really is in substance. That anyone has been sucked in by the hyperbole (b*llsh*t) just proves that people are gullible, and sometimes gullible people have money.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Hi Gordon,

                    No, I think we’re actually of the same mind on Richard Prince, it’s just that I recognize his success, perhaps. But his success is not a matter of my opinion and therefore not something that could be agreed or disagreed with. I’m just laying out that, at this point in time, he is a made man, so to speak. My opinions about the fact may be this way or that; but it is a fact of life, nonetheless.
                    It seems to me that what R. Prince is up to is not much better than a circle jerk, and as such I’m not really so bothered about him as it seems plain that once he’s gone, the circle jerk goes, and so too any noteriety [success] he’s managed to create. I seriously doubt anyone will care about, or even know of, Richard Prince in 50 years. Nevermind a hundred. Forget a thousand.
                    Though plenty know about him now and pay bonkers prices for his work.

                    I suppose all I’m doing is sexing up my trite observation that: it is what it is.

                    • I’ll try one more time Tom, though I don’t think you understand my point. I’ll throw in two photographers, one famous at the moment, and another one a master of the past. First off is Vivian Maier, whose work was only just discovered. In her time, it appears few ever considered her images to be noteworthy. In other words, while she was still alive her images held no value, and only she appeared to like them.

                      Second photographer of consideration is Jacques Henri Lartigue, now regarded as a master photographer. While some knew of the images of Lartigue, and he had some magazine commissions, his work was mostly unknown to many, until a chance meeting when he was already quite old. So for Lartigue, some of his images had “value”, as you put it, though that “value” remained largely unlocked until more people “knew” about the images. It was not the images that changed, rather it was the wider knowledge of those images. The “art” was there long before value and knowledge came into question.

                      If neither of these photographers had been “discovered”, then under your premise their images would not be “quantifiable” and “measurable”. Instead both meet the idea that Ming put forward, in that they both were mostly “failures” in their time of being photographers. Vincent van Gogh was also a “failure” in his time.

                      Just as we see with investing and market dynamics, moving targets are not quantifiable for long. In the case of Forex trading, that is from the close of trading in the United States on a Friday afternoon, until the opening of trading in Asia on early Monday morning. There may come a time in the future when the images of Vivian Maier return to an unknown and ignored status they held at creation, in which case you just lost the ideas of quantifiable and known, despite that the time may be longer than the average Forex trade. Basically, in so many words, I think you need some new metrics, and a rethink of the idea of quantifying photography.

                    • I’m going to jump in on your end line: you cannot quantify the artistic/ aesthetic portion of photography. It’s simply impossible because by very nature the whole damn thing is subjective, and there are exceptions to every rule.

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Gordon, Tom, very interesting exchange of ideas and opinions. To me, both of you are right (and my impression is, actually not far apart in intention). What’s interesting to me, is that this discussion is migrating to a study of society behavior. It’s much more an anthropological thing than a photographic issue per se.
                      As Gordon states: “The “art” was there long before value and knowledge came into question.” Indeed. But I would like to rephrase the word “art” into “artistry”. Because in the beginning, after the birth of a particular piece of “artistry”, when value, knowledge and a certain level of acquaintance to a larger public are not yet established, can we already call this particular piece “art”? When is “art” “art”?
                      To me, “art” has as much to do about the artistic merits of the piece or image itself, as it has with the reaction from society.
                      In that sense the artistic level of Richard Prince’s “art” (and the quotes are here for a different reason, as personally I regard him more of a creator than an artist) can certainly be questioned, but there is an unmistakable reaction from the artistic community. Do deep pockets and patrons come into play? Most certainly they do. But, to throw another artist out here, would we have the same discussion about a painted can of Campbell soup and Andy Warhol? Interesting stuff!

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I think I am missing something, so thanks for trying again Gordon. I am royally confused because likening what I’m talking about with metrics for photographs to a dynamic and fluid market like FX is EXACTLY what I mean. I want shout Yes! at that rather than No.
                      And I have been at pains to say these are not my metrics—people have put cash-money values on art before I just mentioned it; people have have flocked to whatever the crowd flocks to and looked at/ remembered / rated such works, before I just mentioned them doing so. And that has not been some esoteric, niche thing… They are not my metrics as much as — as far as I can see — *the* metrics. It hadn’t escaped me that no one has offered any other means of quantification that amounts to more than the prejudices of one person. The response might be that outside of solipsism, there is nothing (boom boom!). In which case, I’m confused again. Since we all seem to recognize that there is an art market and silently consensual critical tradition that quantify and trade in the works as a matter of course. As I say, love it or hate it: it’s there.

                      though that “value” remained largely unlocked until more people “knew” about the images. It was not the images that changed, rather it was the wider knowledge of those images. The “art” was there long before value and knowledge came into question.

                      Well here’s where it is, perhaps. For me, since art is only worth anything, and only means anything, to people, it follows that it cannot have any objective place or existence outside of us. So how art could be there before anyone’s recognized it isn’t a proposition I could assent to; and seems a troubled philosophic premise to work from.
                      But, yes, on my view I’d write it as you did except the last line:

                      The “art” was there as soon as value and knowledge came into question.

                      Without knowers, how could there be a known?

                      How about this, Gordon: your art existing in the works before people/an audience has recognized it, is really about a way of appreciating the work which opens up some vein of meaning so fundamental that most any human at any time could relate to it. In this sense art is in the work; though it’s really a short hand for saying the art lay undiscovered in us, and a new way of seeing a work unlocked it.
                      But still, this treatment requires a recognizer to do the work. Once this step is taken, I can’t see any other route than the one people everywhere at every time have seemed to take: place a value on the work for its qualities and reach, modify with respect to time (trends, tastes, hype, etc etc).

                      But thanks for trying with me again, Gordon. I will read your words again, slowly and mediatate on it over my post kids-to-bed cup of tea. Always enjoy rapping about this stuff with you and Ming and Peter and the guys.

                      Cheers!

                    • David Babsky says:

                      I can’t understand your position, Tom ..or maybe I’m just completely missing your position.

                      You seem to equate “art” with “the art market”. You don’t seem to allow room for artistry which is just pleasing and delightful in itself, unless it’s tied in with the amount of money which people are paying for that type of thing.

                      Both M. Lartigue and Vivian Maier – to take Gordon’s examples – took photos just for themselves (M. Lartigue started when he was just a little boy and his dad gave him a camera). Their thoughts, when they took photos, were of what pleased them: they weren’t in it for what they could get in the marketplace.

                      So if I give a camera to a child – or anyone – and they take what I consider to be delightful, observant, novel, intriguing and perceptive pictures which I want to hang on the wall and look at daily, would those pictures, in your terms, not be “art” ..unless someone slapped down $1000 or so to buy one?

                      Can’t you – or shouldn’t I – judge something on what we consider to be its own merits (..though these may be culturally defined..) as “art” ..or can we only make a proper judgement based on what the “market” for similar things may be?

                      If the latter – which I think is your point of view – then I think your point of view is seriously weird, daft and impoverished.

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      David, please regard this response as my personal opinion and in that sense only worth my proverbial 2 cents, but I can relate to what Tom is saying. So, call me seriously weird, daft and impoverished, but I think Tom’s position deserves some credit. (Isn’t it nice to have some sort of philosophical exchange about the meaning of “art”?).
                      I’ve questioned it here before (and many much more intelligent world thinkers before me), when is “art” “art”? You yourself mentioned the fact that the merits by which “art” is judged may be culturally defined. Which implies that a larger group of people has some sort of opinion about it, a certain acceptance by a particular society. I personally believe (and hey, it’s just me) that’s where the line is drawn between “artistry” and “art”. I may not go as far that a particular piece or image must have a certain market value, or be worth a certain amount of money, but it does need to have a certain public acceptance and admiration to be called “art”.
                      To stay with your example, this child’s photograph may be very “delightful, observant, novel, intriguing and perceptive”, may very well be very “artful” and you yourself may admire it very much (by all means go for it), but in my definition that doesn’t constitute “art”. For that, it needs a larger audience.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hi David,

                      No, not at all. Reading everyone’s comments it seems, to me at least, we’re all of very similar opinions; but I seem to be the odd one out. I’ll just take a step back and reiterate:

                      1) MT gives us a premise: Photography is not quantifiable
                      2) I would humbly point out that there are two well known ways we quantify: i) fame, and ii) monetary value
                      3) Everyone assumes these are “my” metrics and represent my worldview.

                      (3) is not completely unfair as, yes, I am an “it is what it is” type: there is no need to over-think things—especially when the phenomena, the real world results, are right there in front of everyone’s eyes. The art market, any market actually, is right there; don’t tell me popular judgement runs independent of them. My view is that:

                      a) I have my opinions on a work. And no one is going to tell me anything: I know what I like, and that’s that. And I will argue for my tastes. Art because I say it is; art just for me is just fine with me. And in keeping with the religious side of art: I don’t mind trying to convince others –> being evangelical. Cindy Sherman took some flak here the other week, and I stood up for her. I don’t really know much about art criticism or Cindy Sherman, or yada yada… but I came across one of her images a good while ago, loved it, printed a copy off on a crappy office printer and pinned it to my cubicle wall. I found out about who made the image and who she was after the fact. I can’t say for sure, but it didn’t, and doesn’t, really make much difference to my feelings about the picture. I just like that image, and look at it everyday. It’s the one where she’s lying on the floor, shot in plan view. Orange on orange color scheme. Will fight for that photo and its author, any time, any place. But, this is just one man’s opinion and can never be anything more.
                      b) I am also a scientist [a very rusty one now] and a realist. The (a) type of approach just leaves us all a disparate bunch of individual opinions with not much common ground — and by definition, since I’m me and not you and vice-versa, and so on for everyone — we’re just stuck with, debates always ends with, what amounts to a defeatist attitude of “each to their own” and no-one’s any the wiser. But no! We do have a halfway objective [out of "me"] system that weighs up images and places judgment ==> all the stuff I’ve been talking about:

                      how many people know it?
                      what’s it worth?

                      At the moment, the art market is the conduit for that. I also like gesturing to it for contemporary reasons to be outlined below. But first: anyone who’s attempted printing one of their images knows -> when you’re paying 10 smackers a go for the privilege, from your own pocket, it’s not such a simple proposition. In fact, it’s a really good way of sorting out what you really like. So why are we so dismissive of the prices paid for artworks? And rather than “well, this work means this to me…” type talk — completely valid and interesting to me — isn’t the more general and intra-personal way to do it be to consider what people/the market would be prepared to pay for a work? Isn’t that a little more concrete? Useful, even [even if to disagree with!] Though, yeah sure, we may all be uncomfortable with it. But, as I’m at pains to point out: there it is. Greater than you or me, or our individual opinions.

                      So if I give a camera to a child – or anyone – and they take what I consider to be delightful, observant, novel, intriguing and perceptive pictures which I want to hang on the wall and look at daily, would those pictures, in your terms, not be “art” ..unless someone slapped down $1000 or so to buy one?

                      Oh yes, of course they would. In the way of (a) listed in this comment. But David, to add a thought: delightful, observant, etc., isn’t this just economics in a different currency? But again, the valuation is limited to only yourself and non-fungible. This way of valuing is a kind of solipsism. And, at any rate not the conversation/point at hand.
                      The approach to art we were talking about is at a level greater than your opinions and mine; at the level of the group, of intra-personal quantification. And at that level, in lieu of any better system, yes, whether a $1000 price tag is slapped on that picture or not, decides it. Let’s not pretend like this isn’t the way it works. We had a great conversation the other week about people’s reactions and feelings about great works of art displayed in out-of-context places [out of context here means, a place that doesn't signify "this is great and deserves your attention" to the viewer]. Andre, I think it was, gave a brilliant example of a concert violinist giving concert grade recitals in a train station, as a busker, and people just walked past, on the whole. The context isn’t everything, but it is way way, way more heavily weighted than given credit for. Ian mentioned some great paintings hung in a cloakroom. Hardly anyone noticed; those that did weren’t sure what to do.

                      At heart, I’m actually vehemently anti-economics and nothing turns my stomach more than the dominance of economists and economics in our age. A book by David Sandel What Money Can’t Buy said most of it for me. But just as with (a) and (b) above, I’m into hypocrisy and I’m savvy that the age I live in is the age of corporatism and economics [the discipline] triumphalism—economics escaping its proper place as a glorified kind of book keeping and expanding into all corners of our lives, even our morals. Economics thinking it can model everything from how to dole out medicine and programs of care to how prisons should be administered. Even how to make kids learn. This expansion brought to us by the same economists who didn’t see the Lehman shock coming. Economists are very confident that they can predict human behavior and their tool for doing that is economics… Yet, their super tool falls at a hurdle Dostoyevsky stepped over over a hundred years ago and wrote about in Notes From the Underground: that people will act, willingly, against their own self interest. Dostoyevsky knew that people spite themselves all the time. We all know of the fact that people even go as far as killing themselves! Economists seem unable to deal with it.
                      So, you can see, I don’t have a lot of love for Economics and its practitioners; the markets and their [anti] morals; corporate and its masters of the universe. But they are the flavor of the age—what better way, more than ever in history, is there to rate artistic works than on plain fame and dollar value.

                      Every other piece of mass culture seems to go along. Are we saying photography is not part of mass culture?

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hi Peter,

                      Yeah, I think we’re quite philosophically close on this. I don’t see it as a binary, black or white choice, either. Fuzzy logic is my way. Hegelian logic even better. But any logic, is ultimately an a-posteriori pattern seeking response which, in a way, is a kind of cultured ignorance of the plain facts in front of everyone.

                      While we can argue about whether art is quantifiable, subjective/objective, etc., etc…

                      While we do that, art is bought and sold for cash-money prices. And those cash-money prices are based on not much more than fame, hype, history, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter to our purposes… And laymen may read about such a sale in a newspaper and make a mental note: oh that must be a good one, it’s worth $XXXXXXX; though out loud they’d probably lambast the artworld for its stupid ways.

                      Same with footballers.

                      But this has been a good MT.com discussion—thanks Peter, Gordon, David, MT and everyone for it :)

                      OK, I’m off to watch Star Wars VI now. Cheers!

                    • Tom, a couple of comments:

                      – it was Gordon who first brought up Joshua Bell busking in the Washington DC subway. There’s a great candid video of it if you search for this, BTW
                      – you truly amaze me as one of the few people who bring up the need for a critical, normative tradition for art because outside of field historians, most people belong to the my-opinion-is-as-valid-as-yours camp. I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, but I think the reality is a bit messier with plenty of trash promoted, and perhaps some good pieces unknown.

                      The last comment does beg the question: if an artist makes art in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still art? I say no. I suppose the artist has to see it, so it may be art to one person. But should the question be about what is art? I don’t think that’s a very interesting question, because I can see the anti-normative crowd’s point of view on this. A more interesting question is how much a piece of art says and to how wide of an audience, because it’s not about the artist’s intention anymore, which is neither mostly knowable nor preservable if it was known. It’s now about an artwork’s contribution to the collective mess and mass we call humanity.

                      Another, perhaps friendlier, less money-dependent way to phrase your metric might be, if you were told that MOMA is going to be burned down tomorrow and you could save only one piece, which one would it be? I bet there would be some sort of ordering if you asked a whole bunch of people.

                    • I disagree with your second paragraph: I think the highest form of art is created by the artist purely for the sake of it, and he or she doesn’t care who sees it. That has purity and a lack of corruption by popular influence.

                    • The “value” in art does not need to be monetary.

                      One difference between Commercial Art, Advertising, and Design, in comparison to Art, is that Art is creative effort with no intention of monetizing it’s value. A painting that never sells, and only a few people see, is still a work of art. Once more than a few people have seen a work, it is considered as Published, though that is a different (legal) definition.

                      We have a long history of wealthy patrons, which enabled some of the (now classic) works of art to enter the realm of art history. We also have art history books littered with individuals who were unable to monetize their artwork in their lifetimes. Even today we have many people exhibiting in various places who are unable to monetize their creative endeavors. Art is not just the Art Market, nor is it restricted to art history books and museums.

                    • “Even today we have many people exhibiting in various places who are unable to monetize their creative endeavors.”

                      It’s called the internet. But – and this has always been the case – exhibition does not necessarily imply merit!

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Yes Andre! Hear hear! Thanks for writing that down so eloquently. I agree with you 100%.

                      Tom, I sure hope you enjoyed watching Star Wars VI, a piece of art in it’s own right… :-)

                  • David Babsky says:

                    Sorry Tom, Peter ..I’m with Gordon on this.

                    I don’t think that “art” is just what “the crowd” or “the market” defines as art. You may want to use “the market” as a yardstick, but all that it indicates is that a certain number of people are prepared to buy a certain kind of thing which – rightly or wrongly – they believe to be worth a certain amount of money. When Charles Saatchi decided to buy up Damien Hirst’s work (pickled shark, sheep, cow, etc) then “the market” thereby deemed it to be “art”. It was self-evidently “desirable”, so Hirst’s prices, or supposed “value”, shot up.

                    Hirst had decided that his pickled creatures were “art”, and Saatchi responded by inflating their prices. And others then bought Hirst’s work at high prices. But the prices do NOT, I believe, confirm that Hirst’s work is “art” ..they simply show that that’s what some people will pay for certain things ..that is what’s called the “art market”. But you could call it the “sculpture market”, or the “painting market” (in the context of Hirst’s spot paintings) and then it’d just be relevant to sculpture or to painting, and not to the all-embracing term “art”, and then, in those terms, “art” would be quite independent of the no-longer-existing “art market” ..because there would no longer be such a thing.

                    But I don’t think – as I’ve tried to explain above – that “art” can or should be defined by whatever art market may exist. And I include photography in that “art”.

                    Should what is worth talking about be determined by the “publishing market”? ..Is conversation about anything which isn’t in paid-for newspapers not of any value?

                    Is what would be worth watching on television to be defined only by what is currently on television, and what people are paying to watch? Sidney Bernstein, when he ran Granada TV in the north of England, decided that Granada should broadcast Shakespeare. That went against the perceived, or received, TV professionals’ – and marketing people’s – opinion that what the “market” wanted was quiz shows, variety shows and a bit of news. But he prevailed, and left a cultural legacy of Lawrence Olivier – on film or videotape – in TV productions of Shakespeare.

                    Should we spend our days thinking only of the trite dross which is printed, and sold, every day in Britain’s “Sun” so-called “newspaper”? ..That’s what people buy: they lay down their money for a daily dose of drivel ..that’s “the market”. That’s what people pay good money to buy ..nonsense about actors in TV dramas, drivers causing havoc on motorways, and who’s going to have whose child. That’s what Rupert Murdoch’s “market” proves is worth money ..so is that all that we should occupy ourselves with?

                    Art, or photography, can offer insights, new ways of appreciating the world ..or, at least, ways in which we individually hadn’t considered the world before. So can, let’s say, theoretical physics, too. But I still think that it’d be a weird, daft and impoverished way of considering art – and theoretical physics, too – if we thought only about what the “market” will stump up money for. Einstein was paid for assessing patents, not assessing what gravity is, or the curvature of space. But he used the artistry of the mind, in his unpaid hours, to redefine how he believed the universe works.

                    Monsieur Lartigue – who had plenty of family money anyway – took photos which, to our present era’s eyes, define much of the 1920s and ’30s. Rather like Lee Miller’s photos in many ways defined an era. Or Bill Brandt’s. Bert Hardy’s photos also defined an era, but they’re generally not considered to be art, so much as “artless”, or snapshots. Some people manage to work their way up the institutional ladder and become curators or directors of museums or galleries. When they then exhibit a particular person’s work, that work often becomes “desirable”, so that when it’s offered for sale, prices may climb, and they may become famous for having their work sold for huge amounts. But that doesn’t make their work any more, or less, “art”. It just means that (some) people are prepared to pay a lot for it. And if a person’s work makes the same amount of money by selling in volume but at low prices – like Tretchikov’s “Chinese Girl” – does that market make their work “art” or not?

                    Is it individual high prices for individual works which make the work into “art” in your opinion ..I mean the opinion of “the market” ..or is it cumulative massive totals for many works, and for reprints of single works in sufficiently large numbers? Are Lucien Freud and Andreas Gursky artists because their works cost a lot of money each? Or is it because they offer unique views of a subject ..or are their works actually worthless (in artistic terms, not monetary terms)?

                    What if Monsieur X gets 10 million dollars for a photograph of Y? Does that make his photograph “art”? ..And what if it then fades away, and there’s nothing left but a blank sheet of paper? Is the paper worth $10 million? Was the “art” in getting someone to part with $10 million for a rapidly fading photograph? “If it’s paid for in truckloads of dosh, then it’s art” appears to be your argument (and Damien Hirst’s, too!)

                    In response to Andre’s “..if an artist makes art in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still art?..” ..I’d say yes, it is art. (Incidentally, that sounds like what Andy Goldsworthy does.)

                    In response to Gordon’s “..A painting that never sells, and only a few people see, is still a work of art..” ..I’d say “..may still be a work of art”.

                    But I’m tired and weary; I’m sorry if this is wandering and incoherent, but I felt that I had to respond. But not any more. I’m off to bed. You and the others may kick the argument around as much as you like ..I’m all spent.

                    (By the way, send me $1000 US and we’ll call this post “art”.)

                    • My next grand’s going on a monitor, David. And it will take a supreme act of temperance to do that and ignore the upcoming E-M1 — at about the same price (body) — which has phase detect on sensor and offers me and other out in the cold 4/3 users a chance to at last give our lovely lenses, in my case my lovely Leica-Pana 4/3 lenses, a run on something with more bits in its RAWs and more pixels on the subject.

                      Thanks for that in depth and purposeful comment, David. But you seem to be so preoccupied with your own points, it blinds you to mine:

                      I don’t think that “art” is just what “the crowd” or “the market” defines as art…

                      The first three words! This is your opinion. I have almost exactly the same one. But you don’t seem to see that my whole view incorporates more than just myself and my opinions.

                      …but all that it indicates is that a certain number of people are prepared to buy a certain kind of thing which – rightly or wrongly – they believe to be worth a certain amount of money…

                      So here, it looks as though you have understood my point, and in the same moment instantly dismissed it [your value judgement; but as I continually say, your opinions do not change the facts of concrete reality---that art is bought and sold. It's right there, happening in front of and around you]. I can’t understand the dismissive tone in “all that it indicates.” All? All is the operative word! And while you use it to infer “not much,” I prefer it literally read and to mean “a great deal.” I don’t think, and can’t understand why, you’re unwilling to credit the art market, or any market, for what they are.

                      It seems to me you’re just trying to do the equivalent of batter rich art buyers over the head with your taste. The way you mention Saatchi, for instance, showcases your disapproval of his purchases—which in turn gestures to your value judgement on the work and therefore Mr. Saatchi’s taste. But on what grounds are we to take your word over his? In fact, isn’t he just doing what you’d do, but with different works? I could just as arbitrarily take Saatchi’s side and praise his taste and demean yours, couldn’t I? What evidence is there that he over paid, or what he bought wasn’t art commensurate with the value? [which, by the way, highlights the inconsistency in your position by your disapproval of the price = you recognize that monetary value and artistic value are linked with an unhappy "it's not worth that!"].

                      Perhaps you do mistake what I’ve been saying as a form of me saying Saatchi has better taste than you. I’m not sure [about whether you were mistaken or not; I'm your taste is impeccable]. I also felt like I’d made it clear that I’m no friend of “money talks” or the art-cultural equivalent of Gordon Gekko; yet, you seem to try and approach my view as though I were. It’s OK, I should write more clearly, perhaps, but I think Andre and Peter have a clue where I’m coming from. Andre — smart, smart man — wrote it much better than I did, and in way less space:

                      A more interesting question is how much a piece of art says and to how wide of an audience, because it’s not about the artist’s intention anymore, which is neither mostly knowable nor preservable if it was known. It’s now about an artwork’s contribution to the collective mess and mass we call humanity.

                      This is the pure crux of it. Thank you Andre!
                      I haven’t chosen money and fame as my barometers out of nowhere. They seem to me the most enduring and permanent way people have answered this question throughout history [and with something that matters to us all]. I’m sure, if we looked, we could find cuniform tablets written by Babylonians, detailing how many head of cattle or sheaths of wheat an artwork commission may have cost [been valued at]; I juxtapose this with a headline in a newspaper for how much Charles Saatchi paid for a shark in a box.
                      In fact, my view is a little more meta than that. You might have noticed my quip about this money stuff being a particularly fitting way to answer the question in this day and age. I’m sure the previous line about Babylonians didn’t seem strange to anyone reading because in today’s day and age it’s all about the money and we look at and judge anything with economic spectacles on [of one kind or another] as a matter of unthinking course. While the Babylonian artist had to make a living too — and he would’ve worked for payment, that would be a fact supported by the tablet — this may have been an inconsequential or insignificant detail to the culture of the time [and the artist, perhaps]. This is what we unthinkingly skip over. I bet you artworks in the ancient world were largely, if not solely, devotional works and the true measure of them may have been how many worshippers they attracted or how well they exulted the glory of the Gods.
                      My view, I’d hoped to say, is ready for this and works more like a market of proper sentiment—-the currency of that sentiment changes with the times and we have to be sensitive to it. The proper measure for sentiment now, I think it’s plain, is money and fame. Every child’s dream, it seems, is to be rich and famous. And their parents too. Love it hate it, whatever, it is what it is.

                      Should what is worth talking about be determined by the “publishing market”? ..Is conversation about anything which isn’t in paid-for newspapers not of any value?

                      I’m not sure if you noticed this or not, David, but this passage read a lot like the two philosophies of product creation for the marketplace. There is the “MD” [merchandising] school of thought, which says you go to new product from real world sales data, which is a concrete barometer of what people want, though retro-active. “Big data” is a frightening [in a nicely chiaroscuro way] example of this, where unimaginably huge data sets, if they can be tamed and modeled, make for advertisers being able to do stuff like tell if someone is pregnant or not by their internet search patterns—but before they’ve even confirmed the pregnancy with a test. That is powerful. And they can design products from it. Products designed on this measured basis [which may include going against what the market likes because the data points to saturation], likewise, will often hit the spot. But it’s a bit 1984, isn’t it.
                      The other philosophy is the one of impresarios like Steve Jobs, who famously said the customer doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it. Which is also inarguably valid and true—though obviously fraught with danger and a high-risk high-return proposition. Any search for the new is. But it does sound like the sort of thing we all say about art, doesn’t it? You just don’t know… you get in front of a work and it does it for you or it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t do anything for you then and there, but ages later might suddenly hit you. Or slowly grow on you. Who knows. This is the point.

                      Take both approaches. But there’s no a-priori way to know which is right and make the claim for it. I just sit and watch. Go by what the outcome was. This seems the most philosophically robust and unbested position. You can’t deny reality. Or you can, and drown like King Cnut did.

                      Your quip in there about value and worth is a little confusing to me, as you’ve left it undefined what you mean by value, worth, and to who? [I refuse to use a telephone voice and write, "to whom," sorry]. It’s certainly worth cash-money and consumer interest to newspapers to talk about what they talk about. Their income only comes from one place, customers, i.e., people. So it was worth something to people. A lot of people. Are these high-selling topics of newpapers’ worth more than my thoughts on what to eat for lunch today, or my thoughts on the artistic merit of David Lynch’s shots of trees waving in midnight breeze in Twin Peaks? Easy answer: yes.
                      [Complete answer: to me, depends, probably no; to my circle, depends, probably yes; to others, yes.]

                      It is my responsibility, and others’, to change that answer. There it is.

                      Some people manage to work their way up the institutional ladder and become curators or directors of museums or galleries. When they then exhibit a particular person’s work, that work often becomes “desirable”, so that when it’s offered for sale, prices may climb, and they may become famous for having their work sold for huge amounts.

                      Precisely! This is it, David. As I keep saying, my view is dynamic. Never stays still. I hate to be so cliche, but may I refer to Bob Dylan:

                      Come writers and critics
                      Who prophesize with your pen
                      And keep your eyes wide
                      The chance won’t come again
                      And don’t speak too soon
                      For the wheel’s still in spin
                      And there’s no tellin’ who
                      That it’s namin’
                      For the loser now
                      Will be later to win
                      For the times they are a-changin’.

                      But just because they are changing — or haven’t changed quickly enough — there’s no need to throw our hands in the air, write it off completely and stick to “well, each to their own” nimbyism. Yes, of course, our private opinions are completely valid and valuable; there is also what groups of us think, in time. And waving away the verdict of the market is not much better than giving up and sticking your head in the sand. Or, as I say, wishfully battering other people over the head with our superior taste.

                      But coming back to those curators and etc. It baffles me a little when you bring things like this up as you seem to miss the bigger picture you yourself introduce on purpose. You seem to be recognizing that someone recognizes these unrecognized works [confusing line, I know] and fights for them, brings them to fore, creates value, temporary or no. The market, i.e., art consumers [the public or an individual], decide that value in time. This is to say, in time judgement is passed. Yet, having laid this out, you’re also presenting a case of work under appreciated. Dare I say undervalued? The “gotcha” for me, is when we get laundry lists of artists — not yet made men or women — presented as though that were the proof that markets don’t decide valuable art. For a start, the lister has noted them. Where it goes from there is up to the artist, the lister, and others. By all means, as Andre rightly said, reality is a lot more messy and unfair than that—sure, by all means! If anything could be taken as read, it’s that!! Name a pursuit involving humans that never goes tits up. While I’ve got Andre in the line though, let me say, this point relates more to your response to him about the art going off in the woods, so I’ll come back to it. But for here, and please please don’t take this the wrong way, David, because I think you’re a cut above and do listen to you, but, it does strike me that you’re resentful that the things you like and approve of require elbow-grease on your part and you resent the thought of having to fight for them. Nine times out of ten that battle will be in vain. Probably. But, what? Just give up on it and settle for potshots at Saatchi’s taste from the sidelines? I said it to Ming in a private mail a while back on the topic of commercial photogs having to fight for jobs and to convince customers that they are worth it: good. People are annoyed that they have fight tooth and nail for what they want? good. That seems like a healthy state of affairs to me. Not an unhealthy one. Comfort is for OAPs. Until then we fight the fight—unto the breach! That’s why naysayers for Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96, for example, to them I say: bring it on. I may be wrong and lose the argument, but will go for it and struggle and press the point home that it is great and valuable and worth it—yes, every penny of whatever someone paid for it. $Millions, no doubt. I’ll put every rhetorical sinew I have into it. My confusion is that the other side seems unaware its required to reciprocate. Demure from the same verve but demand credence and airtime. It’s not taken as read that we have to listen to anyone, and when the price tag on a work is a point of fact, wouldn’t you say it’s on the naysayer to prove otherwise with something a little more substantive than a “I don’t think so.”

                      But I do think you’re more open to my view than you’d like to admit to. I think Gordon ran into this cake-and-have-it-too problem a little when we saw how many inverted commas he needed in:

                      So for Lartigue, some of his images had “value”, as you put it, though that “value” remained largely unlocked until more people “knew” about the images.

                      They seem a little grudging to me. Forigve me if I’m wrong, Gordon! [And I usually am!!]

                      I have trust in groups of people. Especially over time. I do trust that the rightful art will rise to the top, in the artist’s lifetime, or not. I’m sure MT would say not. But either way, when the time is right, it will be recognized. When it’s wrong it will be out of favor. How many times have we heard people trot out “being in the right place at the right time” why should art be any different? The greatest works must speak to something deep in our humanity because they persist. And we rightly value them in cash-money terms [our current mode of value attribution] for it.

                      This comes to the main theme again—recognition. Here is where all the friction is, you say:

                      In response to Andre’s “..if an artist makes art in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still art?..” ..I’d say yes, it is art.

                      This is inexplicable to me. I mean that literally. It’s logically and philosophically untenable. Excepting the creator, who has seen and recognized the work, how on earth is a definitionally undetected phenomena to be detected?.. never mind appraised, judged and labeled “art.”
                      Again, I’m at pains to point out –> art is a value judgement! You yourself say you decide as much — the child’s photo, for instance, you decided that was art, you said you did in your earlier comment — yet at the same time, in the worldview in the above line, you demand an ontological status of “art” is not bound in a value judgement, and therefore no such thing as value or judges to exercise it exist. Not sure what to think :o

                      But just because this position doesn’t make sense to me, I won’t write it off, David. You probably don’t have much appetite left, and that’s fine, but if you felt like another spin on the merry-go-round, above all else, could you explain that one?
                      The unseen art in the woods, why is it art?

                      What if Monsieur X gets 10 million dollars for a photograph of Y? Does that make his photograph “art”?

                      I did this before in an earlier thread, but if in doubt consult a dictionary—there really is a lot more philosophy that goes into these things than people give credit for, from the American New Heritage:
                      ———
                      art 1 (ärt)
                      n.
                      1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
                      2.
                      a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
                      b. The study of these activities.
                      c. The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group.
                      3. High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.
                      4. A field or category of art, such as music, ballet, or literature.
                      5. A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.
                      6.
                      a. A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building.
                      b. A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer.
                      7.
                      a. Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation: the art of the baker; the blacksmith’s art.
                      b. Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties: “Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice” (Joyce Carol Oates).
                      8.
                      a. arts Artful devices, stratagems, and tricks.
                      b. Artful contrivance; cunning.
                      9. Printing Illustrative material.
                      [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin ars, art-; see ar- in Indo-European roots.]
                      Synonyms: art1, craft, expertise, knack, know-how, technique
                      ——-

                      Note the meaning in 8a and b, as well as the more well worn definition. There’s nothing in there incompatible with what you or I are saying [save for your allusion to art having objective existence outside of any humans whatsoever, in the woods quip].
                      And save my mention of money. Now then. There is not any mention of money, is there? This would seem to torpedo my point—though again, the material existence and plain fact of an international art market is a bit more than “a point”!!! No, but there’s no mention of markets or money or what people putting money down on a thing claimed as art making it art… That’s a problem for me.

                      My response to that is that the dictionary needs updating. I’d petition for a meaning #10 along the lines of:

                      a material object or idea presented as “art” and paid for as such

                      This captures both the performative aspect and the economic one. And, as I don’t need to make any other argument than to present the art market on a platter, is obvious and in motion. Prescriptivist dictionary writers might not go for it, but Descriptivist lexicographers surely would.

                      Finally, and I know this has been a mammoth, forgive me for that, my favorite point of all your points:

                      And what if it then fades away, and there’s nothing left but a blank sheet of paper? Is the paper worth $10 million?

                      Well, easy answer time again—no! Who would pay $10 million for a piece of paper!!
                      BUT! But. If someone would, the question turns on you, David—why is that not art [though not the same art as the original, that'd be a silly argument to make]? Difficult question to answer, on your terms, as you only have your own opinions to appeal from…

                      That was a useful scenario to think about, though David, as it reminds me that not even the picture, once glanced at, was the work, but my response to it really was. Of course this is a symbiosis and can’t be reduced down to one or the other—it needs both the work and me [my responses to it] for the proper unity and, at last, status of “artwork” to click. A perfect memory wouldn’t even make the reduction possible and many artworks require the physical presence of the creation itself. Anyway. The next logical step is for me to value that work. Warm words are nice and all that, but in today’s day and age, money talks.
                      Note the passage to monetary value though –> it starts with a bona-fide response to a work. This can’t be permanently written out of the equation. If people paid out on hype alone, that will, as I say, be found out in time. If Richard Prince really is a charlatan, if Damien Hirst really is a charlatan—they will be found out. There is no physical law of the universe, like gravity, that makes us like and rate these people.

                      My last words now:
                      I thought, intently, about what you and Gordon have been saying to me on this topic, on my train ride in to work this morning. I’ve used my lunchtime to write back to you. But what I thought was this: yes, you are correct about the falsity of the art market in one way—since one guy ends up buying the painting, photo, whatever, and in effects sets the price, the value… that value is only a reflection of *one* person’s opinion. A terrible metric. In effect, it’s your position, on economic steroids. Though let’s remember mine also incorporates popular appeal/fame to balance.
                      The line about newspapers, David, was really quite good because to stay in business they have to sell to a lot of customers, not just to one very very very rich one. So, your intended effect with that example may have backfired and actually emboldened me: I think newspapers represent a radically more fair and useable version of what topics are of value than anyone personal opinion. In fact, demanding personal opinion be more important in that instance — as well as the art one, perhaps — is philosophic narcissism of the highest order… and perhaps signals an unhealthy desire for attention/recognition. No?

                      My price for this post: 2 cents :)

                    • At times it can be tough to follow your thought train Tom; if only I had a really tall monitor to avoid needing to scroll so far. ;)

                      Well, no … actually the quotation market were for emphasis, and because those were terms you have chosen. I was trying to use what you stated in a form of explanation.

                      It seems you have an intense desire to quantify things. Many people do that, because it can make the world seem less unpredictable. So with that in mind, it would seem that the anti-matter to your matter is this: Art is that which cannot be quantifiable. ;)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I know, and my apologies for that Gordon. I must have the worst word to impact ratio ever. Maybe if you turned one of those Thunderbolt displays on its side it’d be possible to get through a Tom comment in one—assuming sleep didn’t get the better of you first. Understood on the quotation marks—though I’d humbly point out that, take them away and your line there becomes the mirror image of my argument.

                      It seems you have an intense desire to quantify things

                      Here we go again! Ha. Gordon, I’m pointing out, as an anthropological fact, that people everywhere at every time have quantified artworks with a monetary value. We can like, dislike it, etc., but there it is. It’s what people do. And have done for thousands of years. Just maybe there’s something to that. I choose not to ignore it. My point seems completely sensible to me: rather than demand that everyone else and all of history is mistaken, perhaps it’s worth taking this empirical fact into consideration and marking it as something of critical [as in critique] value. Certainly it has functioned as a “best of the worst” ways to attribute value over and above something as small and short lived as personal opinion, demonstrably so, and it persists beyond the lifetimes of those opinion holders. So I say:

                      1) I have my opinions. MY opinions. I could care less what anyone says. And I will argue for my subjective point of view on a matter; no, stop there, that extends it past the main point I’d like to you remember: I am not some roving quantifier rulers in each hand who seeks consistency or a robotic Vorsprung durch Technik style, art terminator, Henry Ford, ISO approach to artworks; who has his set of rules and programming and it fries his brain if he encounters something outside of it. Quite the opposite, and everyone’s reluctance to step away from “each to their own” touchy-feely relativism [actually as cold as cold shoulders get] makes me think you all may be closer to these rigid computer men than me! Well, that’s hyperbole and it’s unfair, of course you’re not. But do you see what I mean. It’s like trying to debate with Logical Positivists who allow for no shade of grey, duality or inconsistency in a point of view…

                      2) The other half of my view –> I am not all there is. From here come the two things: fame and monetary value. Which give a decent [and that's a relatively] idea of the importance of a work outside of me and my opinion. I’m not sure what to do with thousands of years of this being the case on the one hand; and individual arguments that amount to not much more than “no, that’s not art! [art's value]” on the other. That seems a little asymmetrical to me, like one atom versus all the matter in the sun unbalanced. So it seems like someone has some explaining to do. So, Gordon, why isn’t what Richard Prince did art—outside of your opinion on the matter? As I remarked to David, that seems tough to answer as you have no intra-personal, intra-temporal metric to answer with, other than the ones I’m pointing out—and if you reach for the ones I’m pointing out, you can in turn only reach the conclusion that Richard Prince, right now, is art.

                      The greater question of “what is art?” well that isn’t directly what we’re talking about — we’re talking about value attribution, a kind of quantification — though it is impossible to talk about what we’re talking about and not broach the subject. As I’ve said in the past, it’s self-evident that art is religious in nature, a belief system, and a dynamic battle between:

                      art/not because I say it is —– art/not art because we say it is

                      A never ending feedback loop, which will never be answered. There are only moments in the movement which we can glimpse. As soon as someone correctly gets it down on paper and verbalizes the movement, in all likelihood the moment has already gone. I’m just guessing.

                      Art is that which cannot be quantifiable
                      :)

                      I mean, Gordon, it is. Whenever you tut at the price a work goes for, or the adoration it garners, you are effectively saying “it’s not worth that!” and you are assenting to exactly what you say cannot be. I won’t touch on the questionable compatibility the above thought has with you being able to have your own opinions. So, it is. This is what I’m saying. And when I say “I’m saying” I don’t mean it in the sense “this is my opinion,” I mean it in the sense of “I am reiterating real world, real life, really real occurrences that have happened for thousands of years and are happening right now and will happen again tomorrow and the day after and the week after and the year after and decades and centuries after, i.e., people put a price tag on a work and buy/sell it, i.e., how on earth is that not quantifying art to you guys??” Let’s forget about whether we like it or not:

                      i) Are we aware that this is happening?
                      ii) Are we aware that this is a form of quantification?

                      I mean, right? Right?

                      If no, my name is Thomas Liles, from the Planet Earth, in the Milky Way; please take me to your leader.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      P/S Gordon, I’m not sure if that came across all hardball, or not. But it certainly wasn’t intended in other spirit than friendly. You and David and everyone are my heroes. And I’m not just saying that. I actually think of you all as heroes and listen to what you say and look at your photos and basically always hide away the fact that I think you’re right and I’m wrong. And I basically reiterate all your points as though they were mine when I talk to my wife over dinner, etc. :)

                      Thanks again. And now I have to scan some 135 film from disposables!!

                      P/P/S Peter!

                      Star Wars was good. Prettay prettay good. Art? I think it’s passed over to something more like folklore or myth now. But good, oh yeah. Though the American actors getting their British telephone voices on whenever Vader or Obi-Wan or someone of importance was in the room was too funny to take seriously. Carrie Fischer the worst offender! Great films. Shame Lucas had to do all that CG crap over the classic ones… painful painful stuff… I have Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in DEVIL’S ADVOCATE lined up for tonight; a real classic from the vault :)

                    • David Babsky says:

                      Tom, I’m reminded of that scene in “Back To The Future” in which Biff inadvertently drives into a lorry-load of manure, and it pours all over his head. I feel just like Biff, drowning beneath a screenful of shit ..as if mugged by Bruce Gilden, with his flashgun in my face.

                      So I’ll not write much – you didn’t answer many of my questions up there, so I’ll answer just your one, and then I’ll go and take a long, hot bath ..for several days.

                      I did write: “In response to Andre’s “..if an artist makes art in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still art?..” ..I’d say yes, it is art.

                      And you wrote: “This is inexplicable to me” ..and “..above all else, could you explain that one?
                      The unseen art in the woods, why is it art?

                      The answer is in the sentence, Tom: “..if an artist..” ..that’s someone who – by someone or other’s definition – is an artist.. “..makes art in the woods..” ..well, that’s what they’ve made. In that sentence; they’ve made art in the woods.

                      Let’s substitute somebody else: a boat-builder makes a boat in the woods. A camera manufacturer makes a camera in the woods. A potter makes a pot in the woods. A blogger creates a blog in the woods. It doesn’t need a boat market to validate that the boat-builder has built a boat. Who cares if no-one ever goes into those woods ..the boat-builder has – by their own, or the narrator’s, definition – built whatever it is that they build ..a boat. It’s what boat-builders build, whether or not it gets shown and seen and bought, or rejected, at the Earls’ Court Boat Show, or at the Southampton Boat Show, or anywhere else. Whether it gets bought or not, what they’ve used their talent, knowledge, nous, experience, temperament and expertise for is to build the thing which boat-builders build: by definition, a boat. It may not look like any boat you’ve ever seen before, you may not recognise it as a boat; you may think it’s not a boat but a caravan or an anchor. But if it was intended to be a boat, and was built by a boat-builder then – even if it looks like a peacock – it’s a boat. And that’s what the – paraphrased – sentence about it has told us: “If a boat-builder makes a boat in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still a boat?” ..yes, whatever it looks like, or behaves like, that is a boat. It may be the same as, or completely different from, any other boat ..it may not even float, and we may have to revise our definition of what a boat is. Maybe it’s a “flying boat”. Maybe it’s a submarine. But, by definition, it’s a boat.

                      Same with the camera, or the pot, or the blog. If that’s what they’ve made, then that’s what they’ve made.

                      “..if an artist makes art in the woods, and no one is around to see it, is it still art?..” ..using any of the definitions of “art” which you hit me on the head with up there, if an artist made it, and it’s described as art, then – whatever it looks like, and whether it’s bought or not, and whether it’s there for centuries or is as evanescent as a soap bubble – it simply is ..and it’s described as such in the sentence.. art.

                      It is there in the sentence: “..an artist makes art in the woods”. That’s what artists make. And we’re told it in that phrase.

                      You say: “This is inexplicable to me”.

                      Then I can’t help you. Look for your definition elsewhere. And that’s the last I’m going to write on this topic.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      David, well I’m not sure how to approach this—the last time I gave you a gentle tap you disappeared forever and if you’d like to say you were busy and have more important things and yada yada, go for it, whatever salves your ego, but that’d be “dog ate my homework” level see through. Maybe you’ve never really been challenged before. It’s either too annoying or you just can’t cope with having to stump up a defense for your opinions. Probably both. Either way, plain lazy. You’re satisfied with your own opinions; cherry picking bits you like, ignoring the rest when responding; just run of the mill internet fare, I’m afraid.

                      Wow, so the artist made the art, so it’s art! That seals it! Aha!! That must be the first time the thought has ever crossed my mind or come up here, David. Groundbreaking stuff.

                      I’m joshing with you, but don’t throw reading comprehension at me, David. Think now, is it me who needs to read a little closer? The question begins in response to Andre’s… I don’t think you actually read Andre’s post and question, did you? If you did, you’d see that appealing to the creator is not what we’re on about, not me or Andre, and this has been dealt with from the get-go. From the very first, David. Why respond if you’re not genuinely paying attention? It baffles me, I admit.
                      It took me an entire lunchtime of writing to you — for you David — to get this far: where everyone else was after spending a couple of minutes to properly read Andre’s post. I am jaded that you want to call that a truckload of shit—I will remember that. And how small a man it suddenly makes you look. I don’t expect praise or even thanks; and those would be morally corrupt reasons for choosing to contribute so extravagantly. But manners, yes, maybe I expect that. They don’t cost anything you know. And you should know that you shouldn’t step in the ring if you don’t want to get swung at. What would be the proper response to the writing of a guy who calls what I did yesterday lunchtime a truckload of shit? I know what the Old Testament might’ve recommended. I won’t get into a shit slinging match with you David. Though just as with Biff, all bullies need is a smack in the face.

                      How about the internet version of a glove slapped across your face?

                      If pots and boats solve the woods scenario for you, what would a performance artist leave behind? E.g., a dancer? A musician?

                      “…boat ..it may not even float, and we may have to revise our definition of what a boat is…”
                      Except revising the definition to include or point to what a group recognizes as “a boat” is not valid. Oh no! That’s not allowed. Only the opinions of one man will do—let’s not earnestly pretend it’s that of some boat-builder, David…

                      You just cling to this idea, and conversation, that no one is talking about: that the creator attributes the label “art” to a work. I’m not sure even one person disagrees with this.
                      Maybe it was your one theory that you have down pat and all you can reach for when the comment gets debatey… I don’t know, I don’t believe it… But perhaps it gives you a clue why I’m not answering your questions, nor anyone else, because they aren’t really what we’re talking about. We had the “what is art” talk a few threads ago.
                      It is annoying to get the time-honored internet “you’re not answering my questions” treatment, when the conversation — which you joined, and welcome too, but you didn’t start — was about:

                      Premise: Art cannot be quantified

                      Response (Tom): Art is quantified all the time in money and fame terms. Outside of one’s opinions and attributions of value and status as “art,” these two offer a quasi-objective means to measure a work. Evidence: the art market, in particular historical bought/sold prices; an art-history and critical tradition; popular opinion

                      I have bolded some to make it easier for your short attention span.

                      So far, all anyone has managed to do is confirm that they have their own opinions, so there!
                      [While doggedly refusing to admit there is an art market it does quantify and value art, and this does affect popular perception of what is art]

                      I can’t see that you’ve done much better, David. The bath and bed quips may work to your ear, but they don’t come off “too cool for school” so much as too lazy to think. If that is a little too sharp edged a criticism for your constitution, perhaps you might reconsider your own delivery.

                      And don’t worry about me. I used to eff and blind, and get effed and blinded at, by six foot, eighteen stone nuclear plant technicians with tattoos on their faces and bona-fide histories of violence. I can certainly take it. Though it’s disappointing that here I have to.

                      Still, I’m not going anywhere.

                    • Gentlemen: please keep things civil. Opinions are opinions, photography is subjective, and we can agree to disagree and still be friendly. It does not change the merit of each argument when there is no quantitative measure; nobody can be absolutely right or wrong.

                    • Tom, I think David left a fantastic reply. I suppose you could chat me up in circles, yet I still would maintain the same position. Perhaps that is part of the culture, because I am German. As my father (who was Dutch) use to say, the Dutch may have wooden feet, but the Germans have wooden heads. ;)

                      I was trying to be subtle about Richard Prince, but you have boxed me into a corner. My feeling on this is what Prince did with Marlboro Man was a blatant copy. If I had rich friends to back me up on this type of activity, I could re-photograph an Ansel Adams image and claim I was doing something profound. Maybe we could call this Performance Art, though when I hear people talk up that sort of thing, the bullshit gets so deep I feel like I need a snorkel to escape. Richard Prince rips off people, and he has been sued for his “art”. Just because you have money, rich friends, and attorneys, does not give anyone the right to be a complete douche and trample over people.

                      Just to throw something out there more positive. I walked through a Japanese garden this afternoon. It was a great experience seeing all the myriad details of carefully placed rocks. I suppose it took a ton of work to create this experience, and I thoroughly enjoy the walk. This garden exists due to donations, and today it was free to walk there. Perhaps someone looks at that and wonders why it is not a money making venture rolling in cash, or that the land isn’t sold to developers to generate a large payout. Obviously there is a great deal of focus upon money in the world, but I am glad there are places like this that ignore profit to share a great experience with others.

                    • Obviously there is a great deal of focus upon money in the world, but I am glad there are places like this that ignore profit to share a great experience with others.

                      Why thank you, I try ;)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Well I apologize unreservedly for my frustration coming through.
                      I couldn’t let it lie. I perhaps should’ve—but like “each to their own,” to do so seems unnecessarily anti-social and defeatist to me. I have more interest and faith in people. And I like a good conversation.

                      I am sincerely amazed that it is this hard to petition people to acknowledge plain reality, just forget their own opinions and feelings on the matter for a minute — since we’ve already said that everyone has their private thoughts and feelings on it and they are valid and legitimate, it’s ok you’re allowed to keep them — to stop reaching back for them, because it’s not the point, and recognize that there is a normative means of judging and valuing (and therefore labeling) art. There is, and we all partake when we tut at how much a Hirst went for. Nevermind just, there is.
                      ["is" --- the verb to be: there is an art market. Yes or no?]

                      It really is hard to deal with the response to this being: no that doesn’t happen, there is no existence outside of my opinion on the matter. Or even worse, in the next demand that art can be in something and requires no observer to mark it in precisely the way the same advocate just did! The whole of science and reason and history and their own position is against them there.

                      I am thick, I know it. I’ve made mistakes and oversteps in my arguments, most probably. But my basic idea — better explained by Andre — how can these responses to it be right?

                      Anyway, shall we forget it for today. It hurts to chalk that up as a win for David’s view, but if I’ve been uncivil it’s better to withdraw, call it my loss, and live to fight another day.

                      No sour grapes.

                    • Gordon, thanks for your charity.

                      I think if this conversation has proved anything, it’s proved that I have the wooden head!
                      I’m stuck at a typhoon stricken train station, so I’d like to use my time and write to you.

                      I’ll do bad news, good news:

                      Thanks for your take on Richard Prince. But I can’t go for that. My private opinion is the same as yours; my whole opinion is that I’m not so sure—as I say: won’t posterity sort this out for future generations?

                      I could re-photograph an Ansel Adams image and claim I was doing something profound. Maybe we could call this Performance Art, though when I hear people talk up that sort of thing, the bullshit gets so deep I feel like I need a snorkel to escape.

                      Likewise. But if there were enough likeminded people, wouldn’t this conversation never happen? I get the weakness in my argument, that it only takes one very very rich guy to completely tip the balance and wreck the measure; but I thought I’d tempered that the idea of fame, and fame and value in time. The R. Prince, The D. Hirst is very highly valued but has a similarly very, very limited fan-base, perhaps only of one at the limit [in which case, yes, all idea of value goes out the window as no other person is prepared to attach an attribution to the work other than "no"].
                      Say, a Richard Prince work — which we both dislike and can see, to us, plain as day, “that’s not art!” — was bought for crazy money, instantly awarded “that’s ART” status because of the price [please just play along for now]… and say that because of that notoriety, it was hung in galleries and tons of people flocked to see it, and they internalized the thought presented to them because of the context and price tag “that Richard Prince photo, the copy of the Malboro Man, that’s art,” and this reputation persisted after the original fatcat and audience had passed away and people centuries from now, critics included, all maintained that that Richard Prince photo was art, great art. Then, what’s to say it isn’t? Isn’t art-history reality what we make it? [it has to be]
                      Who’s to say it isn’t? –> There are only you and me, and our individual opinions. These are not greater than everyone else’s until we make them so. We petition for our view, convince people, evangelize, take apart Richard Prince’s reputation brick by brick, get ourselves into curation positions and introduce our view on the public—perhaps even present the original Marlboro Man and make the art-cultural case that Richard Prince is a phony. We may be successful. Note: other people now have to agree, it’s not just about our opinions singular, it’s about our opinions plural. A rich fatcat may then buy that original Marlboro Man for gazillions; the Prince may be instantly devalued; the public would sway to the new view, it would be upheld by future generations… Some distant future art critic may argue for Richard Prince again…
                      To know where we’re at at any point in time, just look at the art market, the critical tradition, the culture at large. The barometer for what is and isn’t art, and how we quantify that, is right there in front of us, right now. It seems obvious to me. People’s opinions, are difficult to parse, art critics included, but they are part of a feedback loop which involves one thing which is inarguable and out-of-us enough for my purposes: money and monetary value. I have searched for other ways—I don’t see anything more organic or agreed upon, consented to and partaken of, now, historically, and most likely in the future, than the economic value we attach to works in time. Just like that dynamic Forex market, or any market, Gordon, something you know a lot more about than me.
                      At the same time, I have my own opinions and quite a few of them don’t fit with what seems to be the general one. Not a problem to me. I don’t feel like choosing one over the other when both are so obviously valid. But then, I don’t approach this like it’s some question that can, and has to be, be answered—there is only the thesis-antithesis-synthesis evolution, the Spirit, I ride the wave, am part of the wave, in my time—and that’s all there is. But it is there. I make sure to acknowledge it. That’s all.

                      Good news:
                      On the Japanese garden. They are good for the soul, aren’t they. I read a western critique of them once that said the dominion the Japanese gardener exercises and desires over the plants and fauna in his garden betrays an ingrained Japanese irreverence for nature. But, anyone who’s ever walked through a garden like that could never agree—the gardens may have been sculpted, but lovingly ["lovingly" in a certain way, perhaps not so much Mills&Boon romance as Jackie Chan's dad in DRUNKEN MASTER, a kind of stoic love]. Reverently [to the idea of nature], I think so. Yes. As always, the critic’s critique said as much about him as his subject.

                      Perhaps someone looks at that and wonders why it is not a money making venture rolling in cash, or that the land isn’t sold to developers to generate a large payout. Obviously there is a great deal of focus upon money in the world, but I am glad there are places like this that ignore profit to share a great experience with others.

                      I’m with you. I unsubtly name-dropped David Sandel before, and I think you might enjoy that book of his. If you ever see it at a flea market or the library, etc., please give it a go. What Money Can’t Buy is the title; it’s a good one [the title; the book is a good read, but Sandel isn't much better than me at resisting the sound of his own voice]. But I think here, and previously, we’re confusing our feelings on ethics — totally righteous and airworthy — our aesthetic tastes too, with the way things are and the spirit of an age [love it or hate it]. Yes, we might wonder: wouldn’t this be profitable in another way? That this thought, this fear?, crosses our mind implicates us as participants in the zeitgeist. Perhaps that’s why we recoil from it. But take another step on this route: it would be profitable another way — by definition if it’s run “not for profit” — but the garden isn’t monetized [hasn't been yet, for the cynics]. Some people have done that garden from motives other than economic. They do exist, it does happen, it’s not a wash. I’d wager their contribution would last longer than a strip mall or whatever on the same spot. But that’s just my opinion—I hate moneymen, so I would say that. But I can’t just say that. Why is permanence desirable? Why is sharing a great experience important? I have my arguments for why they are, I have to make them. I do. Because at the moment, in this day and age, I’m in the minority. Impermanence and selfishness are what the Spirit of the age has landed on, and is the right answer. When there are enough people like you and me, Gordon, the spirit of the age will turn, no? When there aren’t enough, we will lose. This goes beyond theory; it’s what actually happens in the real world. The terms “winner” and “loser” contain within them a value judgement on who is right and who is wrong ["right" and "wrong" outside of our opinions]. We can stubbornly dispute those values — and in fact this would be part of our effort to turn the spirit of the age — but that’s all it is—-a “wrong” answer being repackaged as a right one. And vice-versa. And then another movement in return. And again, and again. But not just going back and forth like Pong. Going up and up like Super Mario.
                      For me, the interesting nuance is that it might not even take majority numbers to achieve this turn—only the impression of that. Ming often said in connection with artists and reputations, that whoever shouts the loudest wins. I wouldn’t phrase it as shouting; I’d say, whoever best creates the desired perception [whatever it happens to be for the case at hand], that’s who wins. Usually the first to create a perception wins [not the same as "the first" full stop]. I was having this conversation with a colleague, and he mentioned to me that the Bolsheviks overturned the Russian Empire with what was a minority of men and opinion. Once the perceptual wind was at their backs, they won over. And their system persisted for a good while didn’t it—people just went along. Until they didn’t :)
                      [to steal your phrase]

                      OK, I’m very sure I’ve outstayed my welcome.

                      Please everyone, just remember one thing—it’s not real paper down here and no animals were harmed in the production of this comment!

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      I want to thank everybody (Ming, Tom, Andre, Gordon, David, et al) about their invaluable contributions to the “art” discussion. I’ve been reading everything with great interest. It’s wonderful to have a place where we can exchange our ideas and opinions (and vent our frustations…) about the more esoteric things in life, the stuff that is not so much set in stone. Amazing isn’t it? We flock here as gearheads (and I use that term in the the most positive possible way), but it turns out we are really layman philosophers… So thank you Ming, for making this place available, and thank you and all the others for creating and developing it, by being frank and candid, firm sometimes, while keeping it polite and civilized (mostly :-)), with much room for mutual appreciation. Also, every time I’m opening the blog (and I spend waay tooo much time here), I am in awe and deeply humbled by the level of eloquence here. Inspiring stuff!
                      I was collecting my thoughts on the “art” discussion and wanted to chip in another round (I wanted to go back a few steps, since we got hung up on the money thing quite a bit, and was wondering why “art” is there in the first place, aesthetics, sustenance for the soul, one of the things that seperates us from the animals and all that), but enough is enough. The topic has been discussed to death for now, and frankly we were starting to repeat ourselves and redrew into our (forced) corners. So maybe, another time (over sake and sukiyaki?). Until then, cheers!

                    • It’s my pleasure. Yes, we’re gearheads to some extent, but I’ve always been about the images. Whether we get the improvements through gear, philosophy, technique or all three – I’m happy to explore it.

                      If you get bored of the eloquence, there are plenty of alternatives that will leave you finding yourself with a lot of free time :)

                      Art: we create because we can, and because we want to. And that’s not something that an animal can say – assuming it could even speak in the first place.

        • I hate to say this, but I suspect all will be well with 7 if we bought 5s models.

          As for F1 and computers: most of the testing these days is done on simulators because of the limits the FIA puts on actual track days to keep budgets fair for all teams…

          • Ming,
            Any chance you’ll review the 5s…? I think it would be interesting. People are more and more surprised at the output of their cell phones and the capability to take fun snaps. It used to be a serious photog would never even consider a compact or cellphone to take pictures at all.

            In regards to the right tool for the right job… I would argue that sometimes the tool with limitations is what pushes us to challenge ourselves, compose and see things differently. I’m always surprised at how people generally gravitate towards zooms, as they offer the most flexibility. However, what the beginners find is that it often leaves them with too many choices and a struggle to decide “how to compose a scene”. If I remember correctly, some photography classes would force you to use a 50mm, as a starting point. Heck some folks have used cctv lenses to great effect.

            Simplicity or limitations allow us to get out of our own way?

            The D800 is ironic because it gives us a lot of choices, but at the same time it narrows the room for error and really tests shot discipline.

            • Sure, if I buy one. I actually think the camera in my 5 is superior to most compacts. And the one good thing about iOS 7 is that it’s now blazingly fast – it’ll shoot as fast as you can hit the button. The color-balanced LED flash looks good for two things: being illumination for another camera, and much better color balanced fill…

              As for the D800: I see it as a scalpel, like all specialized tools. Capable of wonderful things in the hands of an expert, but just liable to slice off the thumbs of the inept/ uneducated.

              I’m slowly gravitating back to zooms, actually. Partially out of convenience, partially because modern optics have given us some truly excellent choices. But I think of them as a collection of primes in one lens, not a lazy way to frame.

    • Hi Tom. Gear doesn’t matter, until it does. ;)

    • Switching gears from the philosophical … but thanks everyone for their enlightening and considered comments!

      I think at the level at which F1 or NASA practices their craft, everything has to perform at the highest levels, including their gear, so they have to be gearheads. Ansel Adams gets to be a gearhead because it matters to his art, which is being done at a very high technical level. Most Internet photographers (and I include myself squarely in that bunch) have way more camera than talent or skill, and their gearheadedness doesn’t make them better photographers. That’s when it gets to be pejorative.

      I often ask people who don’t think their car is fast enough, “Could Senna or Schumacher drive it faster?” If the answer is yes, then they need to work on their skills instead of adding unobtainium parts to their car. That’s the nice thing about quantification: it simplifies a lot of things.

      I think that’s one of the things I appreciate about Ming’s technical articles too: when he can, he distills down what some might think is subjective into something that we can act on. The 4 qualities of an outstanding image is a good example of this. The rest of the time, we get to test out WordPress’s reply levels arguing about subjective things. :)

      • I like to think that I can get the most out of my gear, too :)

      • Tom Liles says:

        Andre your posts and point of view are, as always, adult and awesome in equal measure.
        [just as others' are too]

        Thanks.

        Just one thing: someone on here said it a while back re: gear –> “not being a pro I don’t have to justify my purchases, I just have to want them.” That might rub a few of the meritocrats and idealists the wrong way; but I’ve found I agree with it—for most of us this is a hobby, maybe even an escape, what’s wrong with enjoying the gear qua the gear.

        I went to play with the E-M1 on my way home today…
        You are going to LOVE that camera Andre, I’m so so jealous of you. But I found myself going back to the Panasonic GX7 more than E-M1. Both are lovely—the E-M1 is the smart pick [and a different class of camera, to be fair]; but maybe because of my ownership of the DMC-L1, I just like the GX7 better. No PDAF or weather sealing or battery grip body like I like… but I kept going back to play with it. And the RX100mk2, and the GRV, and the CoolpixA, and the Nikon V2 in 30fps!, and the E-P5, and the D610, and the D800e, and the NEX 7 [out of nowhere I have suddenly warmed to these] and the Pentax Ks, and wait for it, the Fuji X-Pro thing…

        If I were Charles Saatchi, sod Damien Hirst, I’d be buying every last camera and lens in the store. Every cycle.
        A shameless gear head!
        m(. .)m

        • And when you see The Beast in Tokyo, the rest will somehow fade away into the background. I promise.

          • Oof! Counting down the days. And wow, actually, we are getting close. End of November right? Crikey, I better get researching a sushi restaurant for us! Though at that time of year, there’s a lot to be said for steaming hot “nabe” food [tons of vegetables in fish/meat in broth, it bubbles in the middle of the table, and you ladle yourself helpings out while the conversation flows]. I bet the camerahunter [sorry his name escapes me this moment] is more well up on this than me. Table for …5 to 6 yeah? [two of my intended guests can't make it; I'm working on John Sypal esq.]

            We have a typhoon on tomorrow morning so it’ll have to wait until Wednesday, but I’m getting the SQ off for a full service. The service will cost almost as much as I paid for the camera body and lens and back and finder, so I was unsure whether to do it or not, but my romantic half won over and reminded me of how stupid I looked standing there doing a cost-benefit analysis for something that’s just my hobby and source of pleasure and culture. My SQ shall live on [and on]. That’s all that matters. Who knows, it may hold up another 30 years!

            Viva the mechanical cameras :)

            • End of November, yes. Sometime during the week of 21-27th. And there’ll be a reasonably large group – three from my side, you, Bellamy, Peter Boender (quite likely), Mr. Sypal (if you can convince him to come), and a couple of my students from the previous Tokyo workshop. So that makes it 9+ anybody else who wants to come. It’s a good-sized group.

              I discovered that The Beast’s L-bracket also makes a good handgrip when rotated the other way around. Add one of those rare 90deg finders, and presto, I can now shoot verticals easily with the CFV!

              • Excellent—the more the merrier. But please God let us be going Dutch**. Hup hup Holland! Or otherwise let’s get Peter to pay the bill :)

                **except for you MT: I’m paying your bill. And you can show me the basics of the mirror alignment thing which we’d originally talked about for the D7000 when I had one; but you can show me on the D3, instead. How about that? And I only mean show me, you don’t have to do anything. I think the alignment there is actually pretty good; though I haven’t gotten around to critically checking it yet, having too much fun taking photos on it!!]

                The beast! Yes, I saw your L-bracket contraption in my facebook MT. Prettay prettay good. Not quite M9+bellows+visoflex or multi-spectral NEX 5n territory; but prettay prettay good. Though, the photograph you took of the setup impressed me more than the setup! :) So, the CVF didn’t rotate like a Mamiya back? Aha, yeah, I can see how that might make one want to fiddle…
                I passed up a Zenza Bronica Am [motorized version of the Sq-A that I was after, with built in hand grip like your l-brakcet---but intentionally designed :) ] because I didn’t think I’d want to be holding the camera like a smaller 35mm single lens reflex camera; and definitely didn’t want to be locked into it. It was a good decision, though sometimes I do wonder what it’d be like to shoot an MF SLR like a 35mm one… it’s not even a case of the square format mooting the point, there are times when you want to shoot moving targets with the big units, and WLF isn’t optimal for that—or at least for me it isn’t. Eye level finders and standard two hand SLR grip, is.
                Just my small story, but my most targeted equipment for the MF setup is an 80mm and an extension tube or the screw on +1 diopter magnifying lens for the 80mm. I’d like to fill the square frame with a face and take a photo. The above two are cheaper than a close focusing macro, and more flexible—I’d like an 80mm anyway as this length [whatever the format's diagonal measures] is my preferred focal length now. That’s sounds so pretentious when I say it, but all I mean is: that focal length, I like it.

                OK, time for bed…

                • Sure and thank you. It can be done to some reasonable accuracy if you have 1.5 and 2mm hex spanners; or at least that’s the case for the FX bodies.

                  I can actually hold and shoot this for long periods, unlike the M9-Viso-Bellows combination which requires a tripod and two positioning rails to work properly…

                  There must be a hand grip that will work for the ‘Blad the way I’m using it now. Preferably a nice wooden one. I’m going to need to do a little hunting in Tokyo…perhaps Bellamy will know of an option.

                  I presume you mean 80mm equivalent. Because 80mm on 6×6 is barely the same diagonal FOV as 45mm on FX. So you’ll need to look in the 135-160mm range…

                  • Ming, I know a company that makes pretty awesome wooden grips but they might be too busy making them for Sony P&S cameras right now. :p It’s kind of ironic actually.

                    Also, yikes. The discussion’s kind of blown up. I have more to say but couldn’t resist the Hasselblad joke.

                    • Haha, that’s a good one though.

                      If it goes any further I’m going to step in to moderate. But, it’s still (mostly) civil and there are valid points, so…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Yeah, that’s what I mean, MT:

                    ~80mm on 6×6
                    ~45mm on 35mm/FF/FX
                    ~25mm on 4/3
                    ~17mm on CX
                    etc

                    Rather than one 6×6 macro — a 110mm or 150mm etc — for the close focus to do what I want to do, the 80mm plus ring or diopter is better because I can achieve the close focus I want for that one thing, and have the standard fov I like there for everything else. Tough finding an 80, though—when something as rightfully ubiquitous as a “standard lens” is this thin on the ground, you know you have an old camera!

                    Be good to get that grip! If not available, perhaps there’s product number two to follow on the scanner. One of favorite lines of Japanese copy goes:

                    ないものは、造るしかない

                    The rough translation: we have to make the things that don’t exist

                    Holds for art too.
                    Oh no, was David watching?? :o
                    [tongue firmly in cheek!]

                    • Not quite: the macros are optimized for close range, the 80mm is not. There’s a definite difference in performance between my 80/2.8 and the 120/4 Makro, and both are Zeisses…

                    • Agreed. So it was a call on utility versus quality. I went for utility—though I don’t know why I’m talking in the past tense, I haven’t found an 80 and rings yet! :)

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    I won’t go any further than I did above, Ming. It wasn’t Jane Austin, it was firm; but civil, I thought.

                    Do tell if I cross the line—Ming, Andre, anyone.
                    I’m a lover, not a fighter.

                • Peter Boender says:

                  Ha ha ha, you devil Tom! Count me in for an 80% chance to be there :-) Since I’m Dutch, I like going Dutch :-) We’re the frugal, thrifty type, you know. But I will certainly buy you one of those brewskies we talked about, no escaping that…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Great news. Hope to see you there Peter!
                    [wallet in hand :o :)
                    I joke I joke, let us do it the Japanese way and pour each other a glass and laugh and talk and drink and have a competition of how many shots of each other we can get unnoticed. Ming is a HCB level ninja, so Ming is to be handicapped and only allowed to use something big or loud, or both: ah, the beast! I demand to use one of those watch cameras David, I think it was, mentioned the other day! All eyes on what Bellamy'd bring along for a stealth camera...]

                    • I’m only bringing two cameras anyway – The Beast, and the GR.

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Ah, the good old Japanese way: “pour each other a glass and laugh and talk and drink” And afterwards zigzag the Ginza streets, with arms around each others shoulders, our shirts unbuttoned with loosely knotted neckties and the odd inebriated sidewalk puke…? Ha ha ha! Joking aside, it would be very nice to “pour each other a glass and laugh and talk and drink”. Bring it on!

                    • And I’ll use the two of you to make Moriyama-esque photographs afterwards. ;)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      …Do as the Romans do eh Peter :)

                      My apologies if the conversation on art turned to sludge and it deterred you from having a say. The comments box encourages you to “Speak Your Mind” and if not today, then sometime soon I hope that you do Peter. Get what you wanted to say down. Type it, tap it, scribble it; record it as best you can because you will forget and it’d be waste to lose it. You can always disown it later. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I hope to read it soon!

                      Actually, on the cameras to dinner thing, Ming and Peter: I really was joking there. I don’t intend to bring anything [i will have my phone, who knows if it will be an iPhone anymore!]. No grandiose reason, I just don’t feel like I need to bring one. I reserve the right to touch other people’s :o :P

                    • Well, I’m not going to leave it in the hotel room…

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      I’ll bring my E-M5 with a small set of Oly m43 primes. I have an E-M1 and Oly 12-40 on order. I’m hoping those will be in my hands before the second half november (latest update: according to my trusted dealer Olympus Netherlands will start deliveries “in the next few weeks”). Next week I’m also getting the Oly 75mm f/1.8. I’ll bring to Japan (and even to dinner :-) ) whatever m43 stuff I have. So we can gear lust… Also with this much GAS going already, I need to put a lock on my credit card if we’re gonna browse the Yodobashi’s of this world…

                    • You’ll probably be put off by local prices. But there might be some hard-to-get accessories that might tempt you, or vintage film gear :)

        • Thanks for your thoughts on the E-M1 Tom — you’re just making it even harder for me to wait. If the B&H order status page had a refresh key, I’d have worn it out by now. I also ordered the PanaLeica 25/1.4 with it while I wait for the 12-40 zoom to be released (and all through Ming’s links of course), along with the 4/3 adapter because it’s essentially free after the US rebates. The GX7 does look like a very nice camera, and I doubt anyone could go wrong with either, but for some reason, I just feel more connected to the Olympus design ethos …

          I thought the Sony FF (and that acronym sounds suspiciously close to my favorite bit of English slang I learned here: faffing) NEX might make me regret my choice, but if anything it’s reinforced it. The Sony seems like a camera designed for stuffing a FF sensor into as tiny a body as possible, lens size be damned, while the Oly seems like it was designed as a working photographer’s tool. The Sony seems to be designed mainly to fulfill some gearhead’s wish list. Yes, it’s not a fair comment, but there it is.

          • Thanks for the support, Andre. They’re supposedly shipping the body already, but the kits with lens will have to wait until next month – at least in my part of the world.

            It’s not an unfair comment – though I reserve judgement until I get to handle one in person; the ergonomics might be much better than they look. That said, the E-M1 felt like a glove, and I voluntarily use far worse things (think: Hasselblad).

          • Tom Liles says:

            Not at all Andre. I went to fondle the E-M1 again on my lunch break today. Except today I have brought the DMC-L1 with the original D Summilux 25/1.4 on it—I like it to call it “d original.” My little joke with myself. A hip-hop artist called Jeru The Damaja [I know I know] had a track of the same title, with one of the best crunchy drum samples ever on its intro. D original [please don't click that if you don't care for hip-hop. I did once, not much anymore, but can still respect it]. I hear those drums every time I pick the camera up.
            Anyway, see how you get on with the adapter; I brought my 4/3 DMC in today to try the adapter and d original out in-store and see this on sensor PDAF hot stuff for myself. It works. Oh yes it does :) But can I caution you: with my lens and the shop’s E-M1 and adaptor, the lens made the most unhealthy noises ever. Like “cripes, are we sure this is OK?” level disconcerting. Any of the guys have any 4/3 to m4/3 user experiences to confirm/deny this? I was quite disturbed by it. But it’s a minor quibble, really. I’ve actually gotten to thinking the m4/3 lenses — designed for purpose — are what the E-M1 best deserves and wants. Spot on getting the m4/3 25/1.4, Andre. The old 4/3 glass, while you could happily use them, mostly have m4/3 equivalents… or if I’ve understood most of Ming’s writings on the topic, there is enough of a serious m4/3 lineup, with gems in all the right places [lengths], to make needing 4/3 glass an non-concern [for nearly everything].

            Assuming I wouldn’t use my 4/3 glass? Between a GX7 and the E-M1, I’d still pick the E-M1 as the better camera. Most would [/secretly hoping we get a fire sale of GX7s sometime next year]. As you say, Andre, the E-M1 just seems more camera-y, than the rest. The spec and feature set, yes, but also the build and accessory support. I must admit the torrent of menu choices and buttons are a bit much for me… but as someone on here said, you don’t have to use them [see, I can agree with David!]. I could live with lots of buttons that confuse me, but I don’t have to use [unless I want to].

            On the Sony. I read Ming’s news with interest. I have really warmed to Sony cameras, or the idea of Sony making good cameras — as I say, out of nowhere — these last few weeks. Not sure why really. Maybe I’m getting tired of classic camera gestalt. On my stop at the electric store on my way home yesterday, I picked up a Sony lens brochure for light bedtime reading [my wife bursts into laughter when I break these things out]. I’ve never understood their mounts, lenses, camera lineups and this was in the hope of educating myself. I’m more confused now after their brochure, than before. I’ve tried to read the brochure twice. And cannot lock in my mind which is the E-mount, what is the E-mount?? Which is the alpha-mount, what it is; what the differences are and why I should be bothered. I knew that Sony owns the Minolta mark—but I couldn’t find in this brochure what mount that is and which cameras support it and how… I’m not going to try anymore, that’s just a “no sale” already. The search for the perfect digital back goes on.
            Hearing that yet another mount is on the way for the new A7 and A7R [sound like Audi cars to me], is the frustrating side of Sony again—honestly, they are a real “the joy… the pain…” type brand, aren’t they. They’ve got me for tellies, for life, but that goodwill has been well and truly reeled back in for all the other stuff. I have two boxes full of mini-discs in my storage… I’ll not forget that one in a hurry. And I think most of their other stuff will go the same way. I’m poised to jump on a 1st generation RX100 once this new RX10 comes out, and the hype dies down and everyone is bored of the RX100mk2 and RX10—I bet you I could get a mint gen. one RX100 for a hundred dollars, maybe a bit more, on that day. It’s an awesome little camera for what it is. If the mk2 were priced down that low, of course I’d go for that: they’re even better [but not worth, to me, what Sony, the shops, or the used market wants for one now]. Hopefully it will play out as Ming and the guys say: these two cameras will create a virtuous loop, and we get Faffing mirrorless Nikons and Faffing mirrorless Canons, and better Faffing Sony lens lineups in response. And no marketing faffing about with numbers :)
            [just great cameras]

            Good times to be into photos and cameras and have money in a bank account. Some quality stuff out and coming out—it’s never been better? :)

            • Nothing to do with cameras, but oh lord I hate the abbreviation of ‘The’ to D…it’s everywhere here. Text speak taketh over, aargh!

              Sony mounts: Alpha, DSLR; E, for mirrorless; new E, for full frame mirrorless. Three mounts for one company? That is not a good sign, because it means one third the R&D budget to spend on lenses for each one.

              A used RX100 might not be a bad way to go, actually…

              • Tom Liles says:

                In spoken word, at any rate, changing “the” to “d” is probably prettay prettay old. I’m not sure if it’s my memory playing tricks on me, but Mark Twain used it when he did his African-American voices in the Huck Finn novels. And I’m sure there’d be instances before that.
                But I know exactly what you’re talking about MT, and, no, it doesn’t sit right does it. I did read an interesting article that text speak is actually a new, fourth mode of communication. Yes, I know. But hear it out: 1) Writing, the written word is like a telephone voice most of the time—no one really talks like that; writing requires hands and eyes, paper and pens. 2) Talking, is of course d original, sorry the original :) and is our in-built natural form of communication [we don't need to school babies on how to use their vocal apparatus, but we do need to school them on how to read and write---that's not intuitive to the species, yet]; you just need a functioning voice box to talk, proper hearing helps a lot. 3) There is also body language—more important than people give it credit for; acutely important in other species, dogs for instance, but this strays from the point… And now, we have a brand new mode: 4) Texting. Not as formal and constricted as writing, not quite as fluid as speaking, and avoids all the pit falls of body language and face to face communication [in common with writing]. It requires only hands and a digital, social device.

                So, let’s be careful of the text-speak… It could be the main mode of communication in a hundred years! :o
                [but I doubt it. Everyone knows we'll all be telepathic by then]

                • I’m sure the language will evolve. Elizabethans will think we’ve made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. But I’m not going to condone any further degredation, if I can help it.

                  Related thought: how you write is very similar to how you think, and vice versa: if the syntax isn’t clear and precise, chances are the thoughts behind it aren’t, either.

            • Ming, I ordered the lens and body separately, so in theory, I should be in line for a body soon … That Sony NEX-5N gets more painful to use every time I pick it up, and I hope to relegate it to only film digitization duties soon.

              Tom, a wag a while ago accurately labeled Sony as a maker of interchangeable camera bodies rather than interchangeable lens cameras. I’m not sure people have realized how much it’s going to cost them to fully exploit the capabilities of that 36MP sensor in not only money but also weight and size. The Zeiss Otus is huge for a good reason.

              The 4/3 lenses that are interesting to me are the f/2 zooms, and the macro 50, though the former make Sony Zeiss lenses seem like bargains. I do have a Canon EF 50/1.8 and that thing always sounds like it’s about to break in half when it focuses. I imagine it’s the old non-ultrasonic motors that’s making all that sound. Robin Wong has a video of the M1 focusing with 4/3 lenses that was illuminating.

              I’ve not seen the contraction of “the” to “d” here in the States, but we do have our own language abuses …

              • The 4/3 F2 zooms are enormous! Again: to me, they completely defeat the point of the small body. And the extra stop you gain isn’t worth the extra size. You might as well carry small primes at less weight and size.

              • Morning Andre, Ming, all

                I had to do a double take on “wag.” It was surely a typo, Cupertino effect, or a new word on me, but “wag” is some more English slang: it’s usually used in the plural and means “wives and girlfriends.” The newspapers, newspaper football writers, coined it when our spoilt national team players took their other halves along to a previous World Cup. And the circus that follows in their wake. So we got plenty of pap shots of wags shopping at Louis Vuitton with Christian Dior sunglasses on. And random gossip stories tagged on afterward by hacks. Not much football writing; and not very good performances on the pitch. Anyway, it gave me a smile, and pause, to think how well up the wags are on the state of play in mirrorless and Sony’s business model. Shall have to read HEAT magazine more :)

                Yeah, wow, on the sound of AF motors with the mount adaptors. It’s reassuring in one way that that’s normal; but disappointing in another that that’s normal. Normal? Well, not unexpected, let’s say.
                I’ve been around this more than once in the past with computers and target rifles, but bolting on bits that weren’t specifically designed with that end in mind, rarely if ever delivers a quality outcome—either part performs at less than the optimum. Typically both. So I’ve always had a latent distrust of things like adaptors and bolt on gizmos; I would still use my 4/3 glass on the E-M1 [hypothetical talk], but it’d be for pure novelty value. The 25/1.4 I own and love — D original — a big reason, to me, for considering an E-M1, is therefore no longer a serious reason: if I wanted this fov and speed, and to give using them a serious shot, I’d do exactly what you did Andre and go for the m4/3 incarnation, built for purpose, the DG Summilux.
                I think this philosophy holds for all mount adaptors, which means the new Sony is feeling like a tough proposition to me (and my tastes). Why spend out on so much resolution — even 24 is a MASSIVE amount of res in my book — and all that vorsprung durch technik just to beggar it with stuff never designed for purpose or optimized to sing on it. There will surely be sweet spots and cult classic combos, but these will be the exception not the rule; and it seems silly to shell out 1300+ USD (assuming you already had the legacy lenses etc here) to do so—that looks just like throwing the same amount of cash on a roulette table. Get an Epson R-D1 or GXR for a quarter of the price and ten times the fun (most likely).
                If it were me and market forces (people’s insecurity) wasn’t a factor, with a design brief of “digital back/ everyone wants to use legacy lenses/ OK, let’s be honest, everyone wants to use m-mount lenses…” I’d plug in less resolution and not more. 16Mpx at the very very max. It wouldn’t be right to say “the lower resolution…” because 16Mpx is seriously chunky, but put the other way, the high res of 24 and up is incommensurate with how many real world lp/mm legacy lenses put down, plus all the foibles from optical formulas designed to focus on a film plane show up when focused on a digital one. I’m not saying anything we don’t know, and indeed everyone knows this better than me, so it’s all the more weird—the precise reason a lot of the guys on the other thread are going bananas for this seem like the worst possible outcomes of this really great technology to me. Like someone stuck a W12 in a go-cart, and then insisted that Goodyears from 1950 be the tires. I’d rather have a better chassis and the most modern tires possible—in the hopes of not crashing and burning! Though I would definitely elbow my way to the front to see that cart at a car show, or even someone race it!

                No way, Andre! The “the” to “d” was born right there in the US of A, no!? Not especially slang, though I like that too, but I am an unrepentant fan of American English—I think it’s WAY more classic than British English, and that stands to some reason since we have 17th/18th century English making it’s way over there and starting a new branch on the linguistic evolutionary tree. If American English were spoken in a porcelain English accent = perfection. It has evolved and is very new; but more so than English English, I’d argue, American English still retains many of those older, gooder, traits. And in time too. An easy, relatively well known example, “Soccer” which stupid people berate our American cousins for using, is an English English invention—when portmanteaus were all the rage in Britain in the 20s. Soccer is a mix and shortening of “Association Football.” The Americans just heard this, at the time, and faithfully did as the Romans did. Now they have to endure being battered over the head with it for perpetuity.

                A shot across Ming’s bows to end on! (I’m joking of course, MT. You’ve sucked up quite enough flak, for no good reason, already)
                I let it go last night because we’re all tired and it wasn’t the moment for it, but having been around paid professional writing for almost a decade now, in my small opinion (I’m not a noted or famous or famously paid writer; I’m just another jobber who fell into it and isn’t much better than the average untrained adult) in my small opinion, thinking that syntax, or even forget tense and order, just consider plain grammar or even more basically, just plain denotation (you could add in connotation if you like), thinking that these are capable of precision is quite a naive approach to language. The more I’ve learnt grammar, the rules, the whole lot, the more I’ve grown to reject it as a precision tool. It’s as imprecise and unsure and fuzzy as anything.

                It’s raining

                Super simple sentence, thought. Seemingly precise and in the pocket.

                What does “it” refer to?
                What article of speech is “it”?

                Our language is littered with this. The most precise that language can ever hope to be is something like a surface veneer of controlled intent and perfection. But only a veneer. Try drilling down into anything, the whole shabang falls apart very quickly. Russell and his student Wittgenstein wrote some good stuff on this. After them W.O Quine (of them Russell is the only one who’s halfway understandable, but he’s also the least advanced: no free lunch eh!). Stephen Pinker is probably the best of the best when it comes to approachable, persuasive and pragmatic writing on language. Highly recommended (if you hadn’t already tried).

                I do agree that language and thought are intimately linked. There is plenty of very persuasive theory that says they are literally the same thing—these words here are quite literally my mind on digital paper. It means taking the “speak your mind” phrase more seriously than just a figure of speech. I’m sympathetic if not sold on this view. Though at the same time, given how imprecise language, any language, really is, and they are, it has to give pause for what that says about the human mind…

                And that in mind (boom boom), I can see why the Greek cynics or Pythagoreans would take vows of silence. The moment you open your mouth, imprecision sets in.

                Though Secundus the Silent, I ain’t! :D

                • What you’re describing is analogous to the whole precision vs feel vs soul debate for photographs: you can get the message across without much technical control at all, but perfect technical control doesn’t mean you’re going to say anything at all, let along anything worth listening to.

                  And that perhaps is the biggest problem with these cameras: they’re going to encourage a whole new generation of pixel-peepers who derive a sort of masochistic joy from viewing details at 100%, but yet cannot create a cohesive image as a whole. Inability to see the forest from the trees never seemed more apt.

                  • On this note, shooting film has been the best therapy for the pixel peeping frenzy and paranoia I felt creeping in after only a few months of taking photos. I can get sharp shots with my film cameras, though it requires a little elbow grease and conscious intent; but it always shocks me when, the next day or whatever, I go out with a digital [and excepting the Sigmas, my digitals are all older than 5yrs] and take pictures and drop them onto the mac and then see how clear and sharp sharp sharp they are. That’s relativity for me.

                    It is easy to fall into the trap of going from technically precise = soulfully dead. And it bothers me that many lazy critiques of your work fall into it. As though living breathing, sentient being Ming Thein is some sort of rote programmed photographic terminator. It denies your personhood in some way. We all know, or should know, what it is: one part jealousy, more parts incomprehension.
                    I’d said here, amongst my dumper truck payload of sh*t [ :) ], that I’d defend and fight for Cindy Sherman and one of her pictures that I know and like, anytime any place. And the same definitely goes for MT photographs [the ones I like, and even the ones I don't---this is a special case]. Particularly when that unexamined cookie cutter criticism gets leveled at you [I won't pretend it's leveled at "them"]. Technically precise is the precise opposite of un-soulful, if it’s anything. People have lost track of what a soul is if they think it is. It’s a doddle to make the case that perfection or trying to attain it is more, yes more!, soulful than pouting, planned-unplannedness disposable-camera photography taken by people who cross their arms when they smoke a cigarette [probably a Gitanes no doubt]. That’s not to say the organic, feeling, mess it up! people are mistaken—they just have one view of an entity that can’t be so easily summed up. It is, I’d advocate, a basic and lesser view, though. The other, the more interesting and unexplored [in our times] side to me, is that of perfection and mixing mind and matter and soul and emotion with intellect and contemplation, being purposeful and yet touching spontaneity—I always liken it to meditation, because I think that’s the closest analogue.

                    So I see my digital pictures coming out sharper and more technically pleasing [not the technique of photography; the technical aspect of image reproduction] than the film ones. I like both, I will continue to do both, there is no need to choose one or the other… though to be frank we really can choose one over the other. It’s OK, to me—once we do it we notice the clocks didn’t stop ticking, the sky doesn’t come tumbling down, in fact not a lot has changed. And, to top it off, we can even change our minds later! So I see them coming out better, and take the easy step that more technical perfection is a better thing. I dare not to tag a “for my photography” on the end. It’s a good thing to do that because it will probably start an argument, within myself if nowhere else, and is in effect a step on the road to somewhere. You can’t name the destination and if you could, you know you haven’t really taken any step at all and haven’t been daring enough, with opinions or actions. The more people get stuck in DOES NOT COMPUTE! reactions to your technically polished work being more than just inert captures, Ming, the more right and interesting your way seems to me.

                    But the digital files: sharp, wow!, so so sharp to me, and this is 6 to 12 Mpx stuff I’m talking about.

                    Where I have enormous and almost unending respect for you Ming, is that you can handle even more resolution and make it pay. This is miraculous but evidently doable at the same time. In fact, you teach people how to do it—if they’d listen.

                    One the one hand, anything less than an MT-level photog handling the 24 of the A7 with the assumption they are going to exercise that power [Clarkson: Paarrr!] is laughable. Past that: you yourself admit that 36 pushes you, and there are quite a few situations where even you can’t reliably use it, so the A7R or whatever it’s called, is even funnier.
                    But on the other—yes, so what! If I had the money I’d be on one of these as quick as anyone. Give me the F1 car to stall! I secretly know I can do it! I want it! That’s inconsistent.

                    C’est La Vie!

                    • “The more people get stuck in DOES NOT COMPUTE! reactions to your technically polished work being more than just inert captures, Ming, the more right and interesting your way seems to me.”

                      Interestingly, the wife said the same thing to me yesterday. She also added that anything else would be odd, because it would not be a reflection of my personality – and thus ironically that would be more soulless. I also think that anybody who hasn’t tried it has on idea how difficult it is to get the images I do (my students usually get a hard shock when they see me at work and then attempt it themselves) – isolating simplicity and order in a chaotic world is finding and sharing the unusual, and that in itself has conscious intent, and arguably soul.

                      “…you can handle even more resolution and make it pay. This is miraculous but evidently doable at the same time. In fact, you teach people how to do it—if they’d listen.”

                      I try. This is shot discipline. And that’s where the second hard shock comes for my students: on day four of the workshop, where I open files at full size in PS and start discarding anything that isn’t pixel-perfect. (I don’t know if it’s the discarding or the remaining results that do the shocking, though.)

                      My hit rate with the D800E and stabilized lenses handheld under normal reportage conditions is disgustingly low; sub 1-% for captures that actually justify the use of that sensor. I am not the most stable person in the world, but I’m also not at all sloppy in my technique. So, for those who cry ‘crap’, let’s see your files at 100%. It’s a very different argument if you just say ‘I want’, rather than trying to justify it in tangible gains.

  21. Right on, Ming. Nicely put, as usual :-)

  22. Great article, especially for a rainy dark Sunday morning :) I am quite a novice, photographically, and used to be a ´gear-head’ but found that becoming a distraction and limitation to my expressions. I’m now lucky to own some gear I have collected and selected for specific tasks. Every camera/lens has a purpose and I try to use it solely for this. It keeps the clutter out of my mind (maybe this is also why I prefer shooting film), and lets me focus on developing -or rather finding- my personal style. But, truth be told, sometimes it’s quite rewarding breaking out of this pattern and experiment.

  23. any tips for shooting out of airplanes? i try to shield the camera space to reduce glare, but theres of course still always a “haze” on the photo thats not easy to alleviate with PP

    • Unfortunately it seems very much down to your luck with the window and atmospheric conditions…a UV filter and/or polarizer helps sometimes, but not often.

    • Either a polarizer or one of those cheap rubber lens hoods can help. Other than that, figure out which side of the plane will get sun, then sit on the other side, if possible.

  24. Ming,

    Funny, the past couple of weeks I been struggling about this very same issue. Which one camera I should use period. I am sick and tired of keeping on changing various gear every now and than. i love my leica M9, but lets face it, the manual focus could be a big let down for a day to day camera. I have also the Canon 5D, but its huge. So that left me with my Fuji X100 and the My Leica X2. And to make the matter worst, I thought is there a camera that would combined all the above camera in one, i.e. Small, good quality, day to day. And I thought of the new OM-EM1. So you can see my dillema

    I beleive my decision thus far is the Lieca X2 with the Optical View finder. What do you think?

  25. What are your thoughts on wide angle lens quality and its impact on photos? For example the RX100, Ricoh GR, D800e with Zeiss 21mm (or pick a lens).

    • WA lenses are harder to use because of the need for strong foreground. I like the GR with and without the 21mm converter very much; I could shoot it as my only camera for personal work, but it’s to taste…

  26. I like trying to use my cameras for things they were never intended for. Action with the DP3 Merrill is a lot of fun, albeit difficult. It’s much more rewarding when you get it just right, though; far more than it would have been with, say, a D3. And , as you say, it forces you to improvise and see the shot from a different angle.

    The other thing with the Sigma is that the battery life is so poor that even carrying 3 spares, like I do, you still have to be very careful with your shots. I find I take fewer “wasted” shots with the Sigma, because I’ve almost come to think of a single battery as a 36 exposure roll of film…in terms of the number of shots you get, they’re not that far apart:-) Consequently I’m very careful with metering, framing, etc, and this leads to a better percentage of keepers.

    • For some odd reason, I didn’t find the DPM battery life to be that bad – not great, but 200-250 or thereabouts. Certainly less restrictive than two or three rolls for the Hasselblad :)

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