Tag: photography

Souvid Datta and the stench of sulphur

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 4.22.10 PMSouvid Datta, Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta. Say the name, roll it around your mouth and remember its taste, the taste of a once promising wine turned sour and foul. A tragic tale of wasted talent, desiccated morals and perverted ambition.

Where to begin? Chances are that anyone reading this already knows the facts, but a brief resumé follows just in case:

Souvid Datta, an up-and-coming photojournalist, cloned a figure into one of his images for a series on Indian sex workers entitled ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’, thus passing the original off as his own. The source photographer had been none other than Mary Ellen Mark, so the theft was doomed to be discovered sooner or later.  Even so, it took an Indian social worker to uncover the theft rather than a picture editor (which does make one wonder how some of these people get their jobs!), but no matter, for Datta was damned. Petapixel publicised it, and Datta commenced his downhill slalom from there. He has now crashed and broken both his neck and career.

The scandal had barely emerged before it was further revealed that this was by no means his first transgression. As things turned out, he had stolen others’ images on previous occasions, a fact he confessed in an otherwise lily-livered interview he gave in his defence in TIME shortly after shutting down all his social media accounts and website. Moreover, it also emerged that he had happily snapped away while an underage sex worker was violated in an Indian brothel, then proceeded to publish an image showing her face.

On the back of these breaches of pretty well every single ethical rule of photojournalism Datta had built a meteoric career, receiving one major grant and award after the next. Pity the worthier photographers who missed out because the funds were allocated to Datta.

Particularly extraordinary was that all of this emerged over the course of little more than a week. Datta, who had previously been the apple of the eye of editors worldwide and bodies as significant as the Pulitzer Center, Alexia Foundation, Getty, Visura and others, was suddenly exposed as a first rate fraud with no moral compass. He cares for nothing and no one except his own success.

In the aforementioned TIME interview by Olivier Laurent, the really tough questions were consummately avoided and he was given every opportunity to make his excuses (post script: another article by the same author has since appeared, taking a far more critical approach). In essence, Datta would have us believe that he was simply too young to understand that using Mark’s work was wrong, that photographing a child being abused was wrong, that appropriating others’ images was wrong. He would have us believe he will now set about ‘making amends’.

But we believe nothing. There can be no trust for this person. Apart from his self-massaging in TIME, he has effectively gone into hiding, and let us hope he stays there.

But on the off chance you’re reading this, Souvid, let me tell you one thing: the only way you will make amends is by burying yourself in a hole, never to emerge. Your lack of respect for your subjects (people who trusted you), your public (people who trusted you) and your colleagues (people who require trust) is beyond redemption. Your credibility is shot and you deserve no future in the field of photography. You have had a life of immense privilege, attending one of Britain’s finest public schools (Harrow) and studying law, and yet you have the gall to use TIME as a platform in which to tell us that at 24 you were ‘too young’ to understand the ethics of your trade? Honestly, how dare you?

I could write hundreds of additional words here about the need for photojournalism to subject itself to a searching self-examination in the aftermath, and perhaps that is a topic for another time. A similar diatribe could be written about picture editors’ abject failure to identify this sooner, or why TIME has tacitly (or actively?) sought to give Datta a forum in which to seek a second chance. But the real point is that I hope and pray that Souvid Datta never, ever has a voice again, other than as an example of worst practice to be studied in photography courses around the world.

I did not think it was possible, but Souvid Datta has set a new Crap Factor benchmark, never to be surpassed: Crap Factor 20/10. May you and your kind rot, Souvid. I don’t just crap on your photos, I crap on you.

Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta. Say the name, roll it in your mouth, remember the taste, then spit it out for the poison that it is.

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Glenn Sloggett – Crap Factor 10

Glenn Sloggett – Crap Factor 10

All images copyright Glenn Sloggett.

Oddly renowned Australian photographer Glenn Sloggett bears the distinction of being the first snapper to take away my ultimate accolade: Crap Factor 10.

Whereas other photographers I have covered can rightly point to any number of excellent images to offset the poor ones I have critiqued, Sloggett’s work really is rubbish from beginning to end. It is an insufferable, poorly-executed exploration of banality, a spindly imitation of Eggleston perhaps, and Australian to boot. The horror!

That said, he has enjoyed a certain degree of success in his country, so there must be something I don’t get. Perhaps there is latent artistic merit in a straight shot of a red brick suburban building in shadow, for example, or in any of the innumerable other suburban facades he has photographed. Perhaps there are arguments of a deeper social commentary underlying the images, observations on dreary, mundane environments very occasionally coupled with a sniff of a quirky juxtaposition. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Then again, maybe what we are really seeing is a lazy photographer so bereft of ideas that all he can do is walk around and photograph slightly decrepit scenes in somewhat down-at-heel neighbourhoods. Because that’s the feeling we get: he walks, he snaps, he goes home again. Martin Parr does this too, but that’s where the similarity ends. With Sloggett there’s never a sign of real thought, consideration or patience. No waiting for the light to work, no extra elements, no decisive moment. Occasionally he’ll reach for a flash, but there’s a sense this is just so he won’t have to come back when the light is better. Then again, maybe I just don’t get it. Then again…

Thus we turn to the first image:

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With all the respect I can muster, which is actually quite a lot, what is this shit? I don’t for one moment deny Sloggett’s right to take this photograph. But to offer it as ‘art’ is an insult. It is an image bereft of a single redeeming feature, revealing no talent, no brain, nothing. Yet somewhere out there are people who have purchased this. What does that say about them? I would actually prefer to hang Gunnar Smoliansky’s concrete wall in my home, which is really saying something.

The second image is hardly an improvement:

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This may well have been taken around the corner from the first image. Or maybe it wasn’t. But who actually cares? All I see is a corner on ‘Hope Street’. Does the tenuous, shall we even say ironic, nexus between this drab setting and the notion of ‘hope’ really compensate for this nothing image so as to elevate it to ‘art’ or ‘social commentary’? Apparently some would maintain it does, but for me it’s rubbish. Too obvious, too little, too didactic. The only thing missing from the image is a bin to symbolise the garbage the viewer is being forced to meditate.

A final image to round out today’s diatribe:

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Oooh, the number of the Beast! Well observed, Glenn, you really nailed that one. Is the hand of the Devil involved in the car crashes that keep the neighbouring business running? I bet it is, and it took the all-seeing eye of Sloggett to decipher this suburban Da Vinci Code and maybe save Rosemary’s baby as well. The one really good thing about this image is that it does have a garbage bin, so let’s open it and drop in this photo.

As you might have guessed by now, Sloggett for me represents a nadir in photographic practice and it actually makes me a little angry. His images are lazy, desperately short on wit and underwritten by juvenile ideas at best. I see these pictures and feel a strong urge never to meet the person behind them.

That said, he is fully entitled to be this way, especially if he has an audience stupid enough to buy into it. No one forced the market to embrace him or the critics to croon. So perhaps the real concern is that there are galleries and clients who connect with this material. At the end of the day, they are the real idiots, they are the ones admiring the Emperor’s new clothes.

Sloggett as Emperor, now there’s a thought.

Conclusion? I don’t know whether I will get another opportunity to critique work as godawful as this, so it would be remiss of me not give Glenn full marks. Crap Factor 10/10.

 

The Problem with Gursky

The Problem with Gursky

All images copyright Andreas Gursky.

Today’s featured photographer is Düsseldorf School alumnus Andreas Gursky from Germany.

Like other photographers who will appear in this series, I’m not saying that I dislike all his work. Indeed, there are a great many images I do like, not least 99 Cent and similar frames that contain more elements than the brain can comprehend at one time. It’s fair to say that he has made this type of imagery so much his own domain that the typical response when seeing similar work by other photographers is often ‘That picture looks like a Gursky’. So credit where credit’s due.

This said, Gursky has had — and still has — real low points, at least in my opinion. Some may question whether my opinion counts for much when Gursky has succeeded in selling prints for millions of dollars. My response would be that even a mind-boggling sale price doesn’t validate an artwork as just that. ‘Rhein II’, which will be addressed below, is of course the standout example here.

The point is that despite extraordinary success, Gursky — like other photographers who will feature on this blog — fails to present consistently good work or dispose of his garbage, yet the audience plainly doesn’t care. This mystifies me. The images I’m borrowing here are all meaningless in my opinion, yet they include the most expensive photograph ever sold.

Am I missing something? You tell me, but until then I’m classifying Gursky as the Damien Hirst of photography, i.e. capable of the sublime and ridiculous in equal parts, either way for high prices.

Let us turn to the first image:

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Entitled ‘Madrid’ (1988), it stems from the early part of his career, but this does nothing to change the fact that it is a monumentally banal image (for what it’s worth, my guess is that it was taken near Paseo del Prado, perhaps in Retiro Park). In my eyes, it is dreary to look at and devoid of any meaningful concept, so why should a viewer stand for more than three seconds in front of this image? Applying the Instagram test (i.e. to scroll or not to scroll, the lowest common denominator), would you even notice it? I certainly would not. Yet it is doubtless worth a fortune.

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This second image, ‘Gasherd’ (or gas stove) dates from 1980, and is therefore very early Gursky (which some might call an ‘Ersky’). It’s not unreasonable to cut him some slack here since we all took questionable pictures when we were younger, and indeed the vast majority of us continue to do so now. What is annoying, however, is that this image continues to do the rounds, presumably solely by virtue of being an ‘Ersky’. This perhaps gives it economic value, but if I were he, I would want to see it disappear, because it’s a crap photo, no matter how much supporters might roll out the ‘art in banality’ credo. I do hope he remembered to turn off the gas.

This brings us to the final image, ‘Rhein II’ — the highlight or lowlight, depending on your perspective:

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A print of ‘Rhein II’, for those who do not know, sold for over USD 4 million to an unknown buyer. While this may not be much compared to the tens of millions regularly forked out for paintings, it remains a vast sum for something reproducible with an email to your master printer, beyond the scope of most people’s dreams and capable of achieving great things if spent on something else. Is a print of this image really worth that much? The one thing we know for certain is that three people definitely think so: Gursky, his gallerist and the buyer.

What makes it even stranger is the fact that the image is a product of Photoshop. Gursky went to considerable pains to remove the background and replace it with sky, since the original image showed trees and structures on the far side of the river. So while it is called Rhein II, the end result is a Rhein that doesn’t actually exist. Hence, perhaps, the ‘II’, suggesting some kind of parallel universe. And hence, perhaps, the extraordinary price tag.

But all of this begs the key question: is it actually a good photo? In turn, this spawns an even trickier one, which is what is a good photo in the first place? I’ll chip away at the second question in subsequent blog posts, but if I’m to answer the first question in a single word it would be ‘no’.

Photography is so much about emotional response for a whole range of reasons, yet ‘Rhein II’ is so flat that it leaves me flat as well.  I feel nothing looking at this, except a pang — ok, a roar — of jealousy at the sale price. What’s more, it has been manipulated to make you feel flat. Really, only a German, Lithuanian or a Scandinavian would do that to you.

Also perplexing is the fact that Gursky produced this work following a consistent run of seriously interesting images. Then, after years of ‘busy’ pictures, he hit us with something different: nothing. This is a nothing picture. And not a little pretentious in its nothingness. That said, it just goes to show how wrong King Lear was when he observed that ‘Nothing will come of nothing’. As it turns out, with a little marketing nous, nothing is worth four million dollars.

Conclusion? Gursky didn’t force the buyer to spend the money, so he can’t be blamed for that. But for me the photos discussed above are rubbish. Despite his manifest Photoshop skills, this leaves me no option but to crap on some of Gursky’s photos. Crap Factor 8/10.

 

 

 

 

Gunning for Gunnar – Gunnar Smoliansky’s Emperor’s New Clothes

All images copyright Gunnar Smoliansky.

Today’s photographer is a Swede, which is not to criticise him in the least. Some remarkable work has emerged from Sweden, not least Anders Petersen and Christer Strömholm. Indeed today’s subject, Gunnar Smoliansky, was a student of Strömholm’s, not that you would know it from the first image below. Or from the second or third.

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Gunnar. It’s not fault his name is Gunnar. That was his parents’ decision and surely taken after only great thought and deliberation. While Gunnar would not be the first choice for my male offspring, one can at least say he dodged a bullet when Mum and Dad didn’t opt for Stig or Knut, which would both have been distinct contenders since he came to this world when older-style names were well in fashion in 1933.

As mentioned, Gunnar studied under Strömholm and one can indeed see this influence in Gunnar’s humanistic images. And three cheers for those, nothing wrong with them, in fact many are really great. But at some point — the 1980s to be precise — Gunnar decided to try something different.

Now there’s nothing wrong at all with trying something different. Indeed it is to be encouraged. Artists should push themselves, experiment, test their limits and their audience. But if the result is shite, then they should put the failed work away and not try to pull the wool over our eyes with it for decades to come.

So the reason I’m picking on Gunnar today is because I received a newsletter a couple of months ago drawing my attention to his exhibition at Galerie Vu’ in Paris. A selection of the images being shown accompanied the newsletter and it would be no exaggeration to say that my immediate and unequivocal response upon seeing them was, ‘I crap on these photos’.

Let us start with the image of the wall above. I don’t want to be rude, but why the fuck would anyone take this picture? And why the fuck would anyone hang it in a gallery? And why, for Christ’s sake, would anyone actually pay money to hang it in their home? This photo is rubbish.

I could meditate on this concrete wall for a year or more, and I still do not believe it would reveal itself to me. I’m not interested in its texture. I’m not interested in the plant jutting up from the ground either. Is it because I’m stupid? Or is it because this image is a photographic emperor’s new clothes and needs to be called as such?

No doubt someone out there will tell me that I’m the one at fault and I simply don’t get it. Well you know what? You’re right—I don’t get it at all. If you know the answers, do tell me what I’m missing, because I think a monkey could have taken that picture.

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The second image is no different. It is nothing. I have taken my time and looked at it closely, but my emotional response is zero. There is no depth, no intelligence, no strength, no message, no story. In its favour, I don’t think a monkey could have taken this one, yet even so the shadows say nothing interesting to me. It is a poor photo, in no way satisfying. Yet there it is, hanging in a significant gallery.

Do I have anything better to say about the third image?

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Sadly not. Perhaps some very minor redemption can be found in the symmetry of the three bushes or the stubble of the wall. But it’s very, very minor. In truth there’s nothing there, no vision of note. It’s rubbish. In fact, the entire series is rubbish. Rubbish, I tell you! Or maybe I just don’t get it.

Conclusion? Hej Gunnar, you have done some lovely work back in the day, but you seriously jumped the shark with this stuff. Spare us once and for all your empty ‘conceptual’ offerings (if that’s what one would call them), since they sadly leave me with no choice but to crap on your photos. Crap Factor 9.5/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Eggleston – Licensed to Shoot Anything

William Eggleston – Licensed to Shoot Anything

All images copyright William Eggleston.

The first post. It needs to be big. It needs to be controversial. It needs to be someone much-loved and famous. It needs to be William Eggleston.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s much to love about Bill. His use of colour and his observations of the mighty and mundane USA are often terrific. The term ‘iconic image’ is overused, but he has created a few. Quite a few in fact.

But he has also put out some real shite. How or why I can’t tell you. If you ever meet him, ask, then let me know. Perhaps he bought into his own legend. Perhaps no one was honest with him. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I’d say it was the latter.

There’s nothing a photographer needs more in this life than a good, frank editor, especially if the photographer in question sees things in his/her images that simply aren’t there. In the same spirit, there’s nothing worse than a photographer who has grown so big that no one dares tell him/her when his images are rubbish.

Even the greatest photographers shoot a lot of rubbish, but in the best case (for everyone) the public never sees it. Now I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that Bill acquired such a big aura over the years that for quite some time no one has been willing to give him an honest opinion anymore. He entered that artistically hazardous zone in which every work is greeted by a gasping ‘Ooooh’, even if the viewer doesn’t particularly get the image, much less like it.

This, I suspect has various causes, not least the viewer’s own confusion about the fact that a great photographer is presenting rubbish. The viewer panics and begins to think he or she is missing something and that it can’t be the legendary photographer’s fault. Well let me put it out there: it most certainly can be.

Let’s take the image at the top of this post as an example. It’s rubbish. It really is. If you saw it on Instagram you’d scroll straight past it. Even if I try to view it in the context of its time — the 1980s — it’s still rubbish.

Yet because it’s Eggleston you’re supposed to stand and ponder the significance of the clouds on the horizon, the curve in the road taking us to an unknown future. Rubbish! I say this is a nothing photo, not worth the pixels it occupies. At best it begs the question: at what point can an established artist shoot anything, no matter how meaningless, and transform it into art by dint of his reputation?

Let’s look at another example below, taken from the same series (The Democratic Forest, 1989):

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This photo is crap. I hate to say it. I know it’s not nice. But it is crap, no two ways about it. If a student brought this to me I would fail them. Using the Instagram test above, I would scroll on by. It’s a B-grade screen saver.

Don’t come at me with ‘But look at the tonalities and the depth’, because none of this saves it from being at its core a bog average picture. Someone he respected needed to tell him this when he laid out the proofs, but no one had the balls. Am I to worship this tripe simply because t’was Eggleston who stood there and clicked the shutter? Well sorry, but I just can’t do it.

To round things out, I’m including one final image, again from the same series:

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Now unlike the other two, I can see why some people might argue in this one’s favour. There’s something — not much, but something — going on with the lines, the tones, the composition, the shadows. They might say it asks questions about middle America and the humans who sometimes lie in this moribund space.

But in all honesty, aren’t we clutching at straws to validate the artist? Is this really enough to justify veneration? I say it’s not. In fact, I say it’s rubbish, and not just because I’m a decisive moment kinda guy at heart. It’s rubbish because it’s rubbish. And the greater sin, perhaps, is that it spawned imitators of such rubbish. Bill built a career on documenting banality, but it doesn’t always work.

Conclusion? Bill, I love a lot of your work, I really do, but when it’s not good enough, please keep it to yourself. As things stand, sometimes I just have to crap on your photos. Crap Factor 9/10.