Artistic Integrity

Cyanotype

Consider today the day for rants.  I don’t usually get on my soapbox, but this one has been bothering me for a while.

I follow one of the “big names” on his blog – he’s made it.  He’s a well-known artist that works in alternative photographic processes with lovely images and a wide array of processes.  I’m in awe of his work and he’s pretty down to earth – he posts on some forums I read and shares techniques and all the generous things some artists don’t do.  One of his more recent blog posts discussed what he’s working on for one of his clients.

Not one of his art clients – an artist client.  He’s printing her photographs in an alternative process for her.  He’s not the only one either – you can find tons of specialty labs across the US that will print your photographs for you in the alternative process of your choice.

Now, I have a problem with that in a big way.  Alternative processes like cyanotypes and Platinum/Palladium are much more artistic than printing photographs out of a big machine.  It’s very hands on.  Decisions like how to coat your paper and even what kind of paper makes a huge difference in the final print.  Alternative processes are just as much about the process – the way you do things – as the initial photograph.  Farming that out to someone else and then calling it your work seems dishonest.  It’s like having someone else build the cabinets and you putting the door handles on and saying you did it all.

There’s more than a few counter arguments here.  After all, most artists send off their color prints to someone else, didn’t they?  And many artists, especially back in the heyday of silver prints, had assistants or labs print their black and white photographs for them.  How is that any different from sending off for an alternative print? 

There’s a huge difference.  The artists that I’ve read about or talked to who sent out their color prints spent hours upon hours working with the print lab until they got exactly what they wanted out of the machines.  They had a vision in mind, and the print labs had to match that vision – and I bet in 90% of the cases, if the artists had the equipment to do it themselves they would have.

The black and white photography was much the same way – they had a vision, often had a sample print to compare to, and they were strict about what came out with their name on it.  While they may not have done the actual work, their fingerprints were all over it.  (and for what it’s worth, I’m not too keen on having someone else print my black and white images and then call them mine either.)

I’m not sure why the alternative process thing bothers me so much more.  Perhaps it has to do with the expertise level – those of us who put in the sweat and the time to figure out how to get things just right resent the ones who send it off to someone else.  It’s lazy.  It’s misleading – I assume that the photographer mastered the process, when really they did no such thing.  

Perhaps I’m the only one annoyed by this – the only one whining that it’s “not fair” while the adults ignore the little nitpicky details and concentrate on the big artistic picture.   It bothers me.  It bothers me that I have to go do the work to see if the artist actually printed their photographs themselves, or if they farmed it out.  And if they didn’t do it themselves, I lose respect for them – I can’t appreciate the work because I’m too busy thinking “but it’s not really their work!”

Call it my personal pet peeve – a mental hang-up.  Soapbox mode off, carry on.

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3 thoughts on “Artistic Integrity

  1. Well, it’s really a matter of degree, isn’t it, and as such it is almost impossible to make a consistent argument, ’cause most of the time we sure don’t know the facts In printmaking, [as in etching, etc…] artists have forever employed printmakers to do their prints for them. And in photography I think some ‘photographers’ don’t even take the photograph, but direct assistants. The same is true in other media.

    I guess my point is, that although I know what you are talking about, and feel somewhat the same way, it is absolutely a waste of time to grouse about it.

    Cheers,

    christian

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