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Saturday, May 30

Pseuds' Corner

Copyright of Tim Pearse

This photograph has just won photographer Tim Pearse the British Journal of Photography (BJP) Breakthrough award. It's a lovely image notable for two things beyond it beauty: the fact that Tim is a film photographer who chose to make a lith print and the art-speak that he appended to it.

I have absolutely no problems with the photograph. It's subtle and ethereal and a real change from the overly worked output that characterises many (but not all) digital photographs. My problem is with the art-speak.

When it comes to this sort of thing, I'm an unreconstructed neanderthal. In short, I think most of it is complete bollocks. A photographer takes a photograph and thinks, "that's a nice snap". But a nice snap won't win anything and so begins the "creative process" which is more to do with creative writing than creative photography.

But judge for yourselves. Here's Tim's explanation:
“I wanted to create a discourse on constructed memory through the perception of ambiguous form,” says Pearse.

“I wanted to illicit (sic) the asking of questions of self… we can look at any object or place and it generate something intangible within ourselves.”
Ten out of ten if you looked at the photograph and found your thoughts coinciding with Tim's. I looked at it and thought, "that's a nice snap of a sheet".

Call me shallow and unsophisticated (that's what artists encourage people to think of themselves if they don't "get" the message) but on the basis of this single image I cry "bollocks!".

Here's my interpretation of what Tim's written. He wanted to start a discussion about how a slightly mysterious image can cause the viewer to have a false memory. He wanted us to ponder for a moment and see if it sparked any fuzzy feelings within us.

On that basis - and I can only speak for myself - Tim's failed miserably. Maybe you're all sitting there drinking your coffee and thinking, "It's obvious, Robbins! Why don't you get it?" Of course, some clever types might try to argue that just by my writing a post about it then Tim has achieved his goal of "creating a discourse" and eliciting the "asking of questions of self".


To some extent, I suppose, the latter argument can't be denied but then I'm a blogger and have to find something to create a discourse about! Had he described his photograph as "Sheet hanging on something" then the chances are I wouldn't be writing this. But if that's the only criterion then why not take a portrait of an old man and call it "Sperm whales having sex"? Add some bollocks (great word, that) about how all men come from sperm and the whale, for all we know, may be the most intelligent creature on the planet and you can guarantee I'll cover it.

It's also true that every object we look at is bound to "generate something intangible within ourselves" unless we're looking at it with the 1000 yard stare of a Vietnam veteran. But that argument devalues art because the cup of tea sitting in front of me right now must, by definition, also provoke some sort of response when I look at it. What are you saying to me, cup of tea? Buggered if I know. Ah, that must be the "intangible" part!

I may be doing Tim, a former BA photography student at Plymouth College of Art, a slight disservice in that the image is apparently part of a longer, untitled series of lith prints but I suspect my reaction would be the same regardless of how many similar images he presented.


The BJP's online story about the award said Tim "took the image on a Mamiya RB67 camera loaded with Ilford Delta 100 film, and printed it as a lith print using lith developer, which gives the image its soft, hand-drawn quality".

Tim said, "I learnt this process while I was at university and have worked with it ever since. I like being part of every point in the making of the photograph, and being able to have complete creative input.”

Top marks then to Tim for working in the much more difficult medium of film and alternative processes and producing a cracking pic that I've no doubt was a worthy winner of the award. But the art-speak? Really?

All I can say is that with linguistic skills like that, Tim is clearly bound straight for the upper echelons of the art world.


Regular Rod said...

Is it a sheet? It looks more like a towel on a towel ring. I made one like that in the 1980s but kept it sharp.



DavidM said...

For heaven's sake! It was part of his degree. One of the things you learn on a degree course is how to write this sort of thing. It's a specialised techncal language, not the Boys' Own Book of How to Look at Photographs.
And it greatly increases the price he can charge for his prints. Well worth it, in my view. He'll probably be able to afford a new Leica in a few years time. And then a lens or a Ferrari a few years later. If he plays his cards right, he might be able to buy a house!

morris1800 said...

My eyes glaze over when I see photographers describing their work in such a way. I prefer film, dev , camera information. I.e the tools they used to get the result. I say tools because I have always considered photography as a skill to be learnt and practiced to achieve results not artistic talent. Regarding this image I have done a lot of Lith printing myself and must say this image is a beautiful result. I do love it but appreciate the technical skill in achieving the result, more than the description of the motivation of the photographer to produce the image. I too wonder if the description came post rather than pre firing the shutter . A great image congratulations Tim excellent photograph, great idea,well deserved award.

Bruce Robbins said...


Can we agree on bath sheet? :)

Robert Burns said...

Students have to write this sort of nonsense. It has nothing to do with photography or art. Koudelka, who does not even caption his work suggests that people who have to write about their work possibly say little with their images. For amusing examples of bollocks check out I think that this image is not very good at at and no amount of arty bollocks improves it. Of course these people consider themselves to be artists but as a n old friend of mine used to say "History will decide if you are an artist!" Koudelka is satisfied to be a photographer.

John Robison said...

Your post reminds me of a funny bumper sticker;
'Just because nobody understands you doesn't mean you are an artist'

And of course, I believe you are right on the mark with your comments. I've always wanted to present some fuzzy print and then write an 'artist statement' that would read something like this;

"Explore blah blah blah.
Consciousness blah blah blah.
Reflection blah blah blah.
Belly button blah blah blah."

Or would that be too clear?

DavidM said...

Oh, dear Mr Robison, you'll have to try harder than that.
If you've "always wanted" to do it, why isn't it done already? Can it be so difficult? I'm sure, if you butter him up a bit, that nice Mr Robbins would be delighted to publish it here. I'd be delighted to see it and I'm sure I'm not alone. No cheating with the app, mind.

Donato Chirulli said...

I agree with Bruce about Art speaking....

There's a nice italian movie, made by a writer/philosopher/photographer (Luciano de Crescenzo) where a Professor try to explain modern art to some simple people with great words and sophisms.... When he ended, the simple people look each other and one says: "Prof. It seems to me that's all real bullshit".... The Professor answers:"Well, I think that.....well.... YES".... ;-) ;-)

It's so hard (expecially nowadays) to talk about and understand what's real art..... :-(

Digby said...

I too applaud Tim's use of film and lith printing, but the image does not stir any emotion in me and the associated commentary is five-star arty nonsense-talk, which even when translated as well as Bruce has done (had a bit of arty-talk linguistics training, Bruce?) does not serve to illuminate understanding nor ring true as a motivation.

Folker said...

The less a photo has to speak the more words it obviously takes to declare!
To me that is kinda pseudo intellectual balderdash!
My hair always stand on end when I read this sort of blabber, sorry!
But technically the image is a good one ;-)

morris1800 said...

Consider the photographers description of his work but replace the declaration that "this is a lith print" and replace it with " here is something I did in photoshop this afternoon" . Would it be considered art or even a great piece of work ?

steve said...

illicit trafficking in artistic thoughts, sounds Orwellian.

Paul Blanchard said...

Those who can,DO
Those who can't, TEACH

shooter said...

You are absolutely spot on with this, I to think this is bollocks as a lith print it's very good but to say that he has drawn all of that diatribe from it is hilarious. I want to scream every time I hear some "artist" use one of the favourite buzz words "organic" this is a word that should apply to food, plant or growing in the ground nil else, but they persist in doing so.

Steve Barnett said...

Has anybody asked if it was obligatory to add an explanation? In which case 'art speak' rules, because if judges expect an explanation they both need a photograph explaining to them, and in a language they feel comfortable with. It is very easy to adopt 'arty bollocks' as a language, but sometimes you need to speak to the ruling class, not 'the man down the pub'.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Actually Bruce - it does remind me of something . . the towel I used to dry my b****cks with when I got out of the bath last night . . .

Kudos to the guy for using film, lith and proper printing though . . even if the speak makes you want to stroke your beard and say "Hmmmm, doughnut stapler bundle, don't you think? . . . "

Greg Brophy said...

It's called International Art English and it's a tool for the rich to help identify the people who do not know the current terminology. See here for a good laugh:

DavidM said...

It was part of his course, so he would certainly have been obliged to add an explanation.
One of the things about photographic education is that it tries to make you into a thinking photographer, rather than a purveyor of pretty snaps. Inevitably, this means some sort of specialised language. As a lay person, you might well find it off-putting. Perhaps you might care to read and compare the language used to describe the simple matter of fifteen men, twelve sticks and ball in a field.
This attempt at encouraging thinking photography seems laudable to me, even if it often seems to fail.

paul w said...

Please, enough of the 'it's part of the course', or 'we are told to examine why we are doing things'
It's none of that, it's the same poppycock as found in corporate mission statements or CVs sent for jobs in supermarkets (i.e. self-starting, passionate, team-player, etc).
We know it's all crap, he knows it's all crap, and everyone else knows its all crap, but it's the verbal gymnastics one needs to say to appease the high priests in charge.
In other words, if this is the crap I have to say, I'll say it.
I like the photo, mind.