What is Worth a Picture?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Everhandy, Jan 8, 2014.

  1. Everhandy

    Everhandy Guest

    At the risk of being labeled a cynic (of course, I am), I would like to open for discussion a topic near and dear to my heart and a philosophical matter that has been perplexing me lately.

    The title of this post is plagiarized from a post in the Canon Powershot Talk forum on DPR. I had to jump into that one and it's getting quite interesting so I thought I would share my thoughts here.

    The OP of the post on DPR asked "what is worth a photograph?" and linked to this article, a photo essay on cigarette butts:


    Then another link to the OP's own essay on smudges and cracks on the sidewalk:


    As I write this post, I find it difficult to contain myself and not erupt in non-stop laughter. But, this is serious business because we are "serious" people, us enthusiasts.

    My initial response went something like this:

    <a href=http://year77.com/images/art.jpg>http://year77.com/images/art-2.jpg"></a>
    What do you see?

    I call it "Engulf". The struggle of the larger but slower brick as it attempts escape from a multitude of insatiable quartz stones, hell bent on ripping the brick to pebbles.

    Actually, it's a shot I took of the ground by accident as I was carrying my camera. Really, it's just crap. But, that's art too isn't it? Does it not conjure up some deep inner emotion, the empathy for the underdog, the horror of consumption, the study of neutral earth tones?

    In my world, the above shot is more pleasing to look at than 95% of the "art" I see on the photo forums and elsewhere. I reserve the right to feel that way. If someone walks around town, taking pictures of stains on a sidewalk or cigarette butts and wants to call it art, whom am I to say it's not. You can call whatever you want art, I suppose. But, here's the rub. If you display your art you invite criticism.

    I think to define art is like trying to explain life itself. Really, who knows? One thing I think we can all agree on though, art must have some sort of function, else why would any of us waste time on it. I contend and some may agree that art's intent is to create or instill some sort of emotion in the human spirit (whether that exists or not is a matter of dispute) or imagination or whatever beans we got floating around in our heads. It can be joy, or sadness, it can be euphoria or dismay it can be love or hate or just a plain good feeling or sense that we can't explain but do indeed value.

    If I look at a picture of a crack in a wall or a piece of bubble gum wrapper on the sidewalk, what emotion does that instill within my spirit? None. Why? Because I see that every day, nothing unusual about it, nothing beautiful no matter how over-saturated in Photoshop it may be. It's just plain uninteresting.

    I see photography today as a form of expression on the decline. A friend of mine said he thought that digital photography has cheapened the photograph. We are bombarded by images anymore. I think that there are so many cheap cameras out there that you have people shooting everything and anything and putting it up as art or photography. That's fine, do whatever makes you happy.

    Personally, I use my camera to chronicle my passage through life. It's a life recorder, if you will. Some people look at a camera and see a paint brush, others see it as a professional tool and so on.

    What is worth a picture? The answer can be, anything. The real question should be "What is worth a second look".

    That ends my first reply to the OP on that Forum and I would like to expound on that thought a bit here.

    Take a look at this

    <a href=http://year77.com/images/graph.png>[img]http://year77.com/images/graph.png"></a>

    In 2013, 40 to 60 Million (yes, million!) images were uploaded to Flickr every month. let me repeat that, 40 to 60 million pictures every month! That's about 600 million pictures a year and that number is growing.

    I think my friend was right when he said that pictures aren't worth anything anymore. They aren't special. For me, this is especially true as I see photo shopped "art" that looks more like cartoon work than photography.

    So in my mind, the question is not whether it is worth a picture but more what is a picture worth?

    For further consideration:


  2. caimi

    caimi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 13, 2012
    middle US
    Caimi caimiphotography.com
    Interesting subject. What is art? What is photography? Look way back in the closet of almost anyone's house and you'll find a box full of old crappy pictures. Probably taken with an instamatic camera. Now long forgotten in that old box back in the closet. That old box was the facebook and flickr of its day. We don't have worse photographs or worse photographers today. We only have a more immediate and more public way of disseminating bad photos than we had in generations past. The speed and ease with which we upload photos today doesn't devalue either photography or art any more than the last generation's old box full of bad family photos did. And just like that old box of photos, those images you see on facebook and flickr are largely forgotten within 24 hours when a whole new group are posted. It doesn't devalue a great photograph and neither does it support the notion that anything can be art. Art requires intellect, patience, grace, knowledge, hard work, training, close observation, soul and a whole lot more things than what is required of a picture accidentally snapped while pointed at the ground at your feet. What is worth a picture? Okay, granted, it could be anything. But what is art? I would argue very little but when achieved, it's worth everything the artist put into it. And everything a viewer gets out of it. Art ain't easy. That's what gives it value.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    caimi, you said it so well I don't think I have anything to add. :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 1
  4. alex66

    alex66 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jul 23, 2010
    I think the two examples miss the mark, the photos of discarded tab butts says nothing and too much tries to look slick when the subject matter calls for a different approach. A more interesting use of discarded butts would be something to show the effect of the smoking bans and the litter created, so something like a sea of cigarette ends outside a nice building or such, there are other approaches but it is hard to create something beautiful from such subject matter. There is a lot of things that work as art that are just ugly, ugly by nature or ugly by style, Araki went to New York and walked around taking photographs of ugly people, the book of the series is fantastic though well out of print, the work that brought Nan Goldin to light is of ugly things, drug abuse domestic violence and so on as a body of work it is quite disturbing and moving. The great Avedon took pictures of his Father dying and after he died a stunning series and very moving. Now the initial question of what is worth a picture? the answer is any thing and is put best by Garry Winogrand "I photograph to see what the world looks like as photograph".
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