I Won’t Go There

I was quite surprised (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been) upon seeing the cover and main feature portfolio in this latest issue of Asahi Kamera. The cover shot is of a white woman’s right shoulder, taken from around the angle of 4 o’clock if her face is 12. She is wearing a sleeveless party dress and her pale skin is slightly overhanging the top of her dress, though not in a way that might suggest a weight problem. The photograph looks like someone’s weekly selection for their profile picture on facebook.

The feature portfolio inside is about vertical photographs and kicks off with a nighttime shot of a plant outside a window – plant a bit too far to the right for my taste, leaving a blank wall to dominate half the scene – shot with a strobe that gives the impression of a very amateur photographer capturing a poor documentary image of his latest garden addition to send home to mom or post on the Internet for sharing with his friends. The rest of the photographs are no more interesting than this. One is a table level shot of white people with red-eye from the strobe, eating at an izakaya. Someone’s arm has blocked the view of the table and is washed out because of its proximity to the strobe. Again, another facebook night-out-with-my-foreign-friends kind of photograph.

While this might be a fun shot to see on your friend’s latest social networking site photo album, I thought it didn’t suit being part of the main feature portfolio in a high profile magazine like Asahi Kamera. But I say I shouldn’t have been surprised because I must also add that this kind of – ahem! – rubbish being passed off as quality art is typical of the magazine. I agree there is a place for this kind of work and for some it has its charm. But to see what I would have deleted as a failed capture or stored and forgotten about because it lacked creativity or interest flaunted as a top billing portfolio makes me think that I am either in the wrong field or the world is going crazy.

However, instead of reviling this “style” (“So much style without substance, so much stuff without style” as the lyrics to Rush’s Grand Designs go) I considered taking the if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em approach and devising my own scheme for submitting haphazardly captured photons that may pass for photographic art. First, I figured I could delve into my files and pull out the worst of everything I bothered to save and find a common theme for them and submit the whole set as modern photographic art. But then I got the idea to visit famous landmarks in Tokyo, turn my back to them, and shoot over my shoulder. The photos that have someone walking in front blocking half the scene, or that have the main subject cut off, or obscured in one way or another, or simply blurred, will likely be the most successful. These can be passed off as art, I think. I could submit them and see what comes out of it. A cover shot? A main feature? Oh boy, how the money would roll in. I’d get my train fair and lunch money back and then some! But then I might be known as a photographer of such ilk and my credibility as a landscape photographer might become tarnished. Maybe I will just leave up to others to celebrate shoddy photography as high art.

2 responses to “I Won’t Go There

  1. Agree that over-the-shoulder shots would do little to enhance the classical compositions and restrained palette of Tsubame. But they do have their part to play in thick-of-the-action climbing photography, as a way of getting the viewer involved. Whether this is “Art” or not is a question I’m always happy to leave to the criticks….:)

  2. PH, I think in the climbing world over-the-shoulder shots could have their place. A lot of cool possibilities come to mind. Certainly in the world of journalism there are many news images made by the photographer holding his or her camera in the air and shooting in the general direction of the target. I think in the end, it’s not how you made the photograph that matters. It’s how it affects its viewers. Therein lies the art. What I saw in that magazine the other day looked like someone had been given a compact digital camera for his birthday and without understanding a thing about photography, went out a shot a bunch of images that normally would be considered haphazard grab shots by untrained eyes and hands. And these made the feature portfolio of the magazine, the pay for which should be around 120,000 yen. That both riled and flabbergasted me.

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