Re: Crappy/Krappy

From: Katharine Thayer ^lt;[email protected]>
Date: 01/05/05-03:27:59 AM Z
Message-id: <>

I'm still pondering over Schuyler's original question: whether in order
to claim that one has created something, one must have started with a
precise goal and have been in complete control of the process of
executing that goal in the form of a tangible art object.

I have found in painting that when I follow the above scenario, the
resulting painting will be very controlled, but not very interesting.
Only when I let go and allow the creative process to take me somewhere,
rather than trying to control it in some rigid and constrained way from
the beginning to the end, do I make interesting paintings. The whole
control thing is a left brain thing, and the best art comes out of the
right brain, in my opinion. And if I can't say that I created those
paintings, then who should I say did?

In my photography, it's different; I usually start knowing what I want
to do and then use the technique to achieve the results I want.
Technique is essential, but only because it allows me to get where I
want to go. So when it comes to gum printing, I suppose that in a way I
agree with Schuyler, although I wouldn't make an imperative of it, I'd
just say that for me, I'm glad I am in control of the technique because
it lets me do whatever I want to do in gum.

This applies to the printing process, but when it comes to obtaining the
image to print, I have lately felt more the same way I think about
painting: I want to let go, I want less control, I want to be surprised
and see something I've never seen before, something I didn't know was
there when I looked with my own eyes. This is why I've been drawn to the
Holga and to pinhole cameras and to old crummy lenses. Unfortunately,
like Christopher, my Holga takes "too good" pictures, as do my pinhole
cameras and my old lenses; I'm so disappointed when I look at the film
and it just looks like any old regular photograph. So I'm working toward
more randomness in generating images.

During this process I came across something that I've thought about many
times, David Plakke in Pinhole Journal (Vol 6 #1): "I first started off
with a real traditional sense of photography and worked with the zone
system. By nature I can be very objective about things. When I started
off I understood all the things about the chemistry and the camera --
that came easier to me than the artistic, esoteric side. The more I
understood, the more staid and rigid my images were. A real change
happened when I started working with a blind man. I gve him my Widelux
and he photographed...what really got me was how beautiful his images
were. He wasn't seeing as I see, he didn't have any aesthetic
considerations like where to place the camera, he just shot, shot, shot.
He got beautiful images. I did some work with Henri Cartier-Bresson when
he was having a show in New York; I had a chance to sit down and talk
with him. He said that was what he meant when he talked about the
"decisive moment" you don't have to look and calculate. You just shoot,
shoot, shoot. That was the changing point, that freed me from having to
calculate. I didn't look through the camera any more, I just shot and

Another point: as far as communication, the ability to communicate to
your viewers precisely what it was that you intended, I would say after
years of showing my work that while many people do get what I hoped to
express, there's no guarantee of that. The way it usually works is that
some people get it and some people don't; people bring their own stuff
to viewing art.

My current favorite story along those lines: once I made a gum print of
a photo of the trolley that runs along the waterfront in the town where
I was living at the time. I wouldn't have shown this picture in a
gallery, because it seemed too touristy to me, a postcard shot. But I
had promised to donate something to a benefit auction and I needed to
print something up for that, and I thought well, people will like this
for its local interest, so it's a good one for the auction and the
college will make money and what the heck. So I printed the thing,
framed it and sent it off and didn't think any more of it. But last
summer, by coincidence, I met the person who bought the print. He is a
very cynical songwriter and musician; his songs have lyrics like "we met
for breakfast/ she said we're through/ I ate her toast." performed in a
sardonic and lethargic manner, accompanying himself on a ukelele, very
funny. He said he fell in love with the trolley print and bought it
because it reminded him of the bus in "Into the Wild," the bus in Alaska
that the kid starved to death in; my trolley had that same ominous sense
of doom to him that that bus did. In that case, I was delighted that
someone saw something different in the piece than the tourist shot that
I was seeing it as. But it just goes to show, there's no way to control
what something is going to mean to someone.
Katharine Thayer

Schuyler Grace wrote:
> "the point is that the krappy kamera itself
> should introduce some softness/abberation/flare, you know, something that
> adds some weird charm to the image quality. Lack of control and cheapness
> are important attributes."
> Maybe it's just me and my unsophisticated sense of art and the creative
> processes, but it seems to me that there are all too many "artists" out
> there whose work is completely (or mostly) accidental. Now, that's not to
> say wonderful things can't come about by accident, but to truly create
> something, don't you have to be in control of the process of creation? In
> this case, snapping off a bunch of shots with a "krappy kamera" and
> searching through the results for the one or two or three that look(s) kind
> of cool isn't terribly artistic.
> That said, knowing how your tools work as well as you can and taking
> advantage of their inherent qualities to make something you intended seems
> to me to be the real artist's ultimate pursuit. Still, there will be
> unforeseen results sometimes, no matter what level of control you have;
> however, knowing your tools and medium and voice will help you recreate the
> good accidents and avoid the bad ones in the future. I don't mean to
> disparage anyone's work in particular, but why would the arts community
> promote lack of control in the creative process as an attribute? If you're
> not in control (for the most part), are you really creating something,
> yourself, or are you just setting events into motion?
> -Schuyler
> P.S.: Notice I did not use the word "proper" one single time in the above
> e-mail.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> Sent: Sunday, January 02, 2005 12:30 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Crappy/Krappy
> >Do cell phone photos count as crappy/krappy?
> If they are krappy picture mine. In a few years collectors
> will be scrambling to get the first generation picture phones so they can
> "make art." ;^) No seriously, the point is that the krappy kamera itself
> should introduce some softness/abberation/flare, you know, something that
> adds some weird charm to the image quality. Lack of control and cheapness
> are important attributes.
> I heard from SOHO gallery today that they are still getting a boatload of
> last-minute entries. You could drop one in their mail slot this weekend
> and probably still get in the show. Looks like there will be something
> like 20 trays of slides to judge. They better bring in some good pizza
> for the juror!
> Dan
> Dan Burkholder
> P.O. Box 111877
> Carrollton, TX 75011-1877
> 972-242-9819
> fax 972-242-9651
> Author of the book nobody should be without:
> "Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing."
> "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
> - Albert Einstein
> "Knowledge in moderation ain't bad either."
> - Dan Burkholder
Received on Wed Jan 5 11:24:01 2005

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