Fifteen is an eternity in photography years

Richard Misrach – Stranded Rowboat, Salton Sea (1983)

No time to write seriously about anything. No time even for complete sentences. . . .

But I thought y’all might be vaguely interested in a short note about the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of landscape photography. I give you people’s exhibit A: Between Home and Heaven: Contemporary Landscape Photography (ca. 1992). Originally shown at the Smithsonian and later developed into a quickly out-of-print book, “the photographs represent a variety of themes and concerns of this generation. Many artists are deeply motivated by a nostalgia for the American wilderness, their work referring to an earlier romantic pictorial tradition.” (PSA)

But are these photographers memorable?

A quick glance through online exhibit says — sadly — no. The only names I remember seeing before are Terry Evans and the extremely talented Richard Misrach.

Insert conclusion here . . . .

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3 Responses to Fifteen is an eternity in photography years

  1. Todd W. says:

    The online exhibit is mostly useless for evaluation. Some of those photos are quite large as prints and the tiny online images are a poor substitute.

    Is name recognition really valuable as a tool for determining how well any individual image stands up over time? Certainly I’d assume the curatorial decisions of that show would reflect the idiosyncrasies of the time, but the longitudinal success of the artists is so dependent on a range of factors (mainly market factors) beyond the quality of any individual piece.

    Terry Evans and Richard Misrach are undeniably masters of the genre. Karen Halverson’s work was just included in the Getty show “Where We Live” and is quite impressive as well.

  2. Jeff Mather says:

    A few things . . .

    (1) Thanks for the comment and tip on Karen Halverson.

    (2) I definitely don’t want to conflate critical success with artistic worth. Nor did I intend to single out individual images as more memorable than others. The quality of a portfolio certainly matters a lot more than any particular image.

    (3) But I do think it’s interesting how curators and collectors have their darlings at a particular time and how fleeting name recognition can be. I often wonder whether landscape photography isn’t more prone to this because of the sheer number of people with cameras who turn them toward “place.” It takes a lot of effort and talent to say something new and compelling and even more to distinguish oneself in a crowded field.

    Oh, and it’s funny to see websites from the early ’90s. They’re so quaint in their badness and low-fidelity.

  3. Todd W. says:

    Broadly, I think the issue of longevity and building a progressively accomplished body of work is a huge challenge for any artist, photographer or otherwise. However, photography, by its nature, lends itself to serendipitous works that are good as individual objects but which the photographer has difficulty repeating or building upon. This is most obvious the case with “found” or anonymous works. This may also explain why some photographers cleave close to an early “hit” in terms of style and subject, building up the hit by repetition. But, obviously, long-term respect is built on the ability to “repeat the trick”, so to speak.

    The issue of image saturation (your point 3) is, I think, one that more directly affects street photography than landscapes. I often feel constrained to make photos of the New York City environs because I know there are about 10,000 Williamsburg hipsters doing the same and I just don’t know what my photographs are going to add to human knowledge of living in the city. When I go home to the West (Colorado or Nevada) I suspect my less conventional eye might break out of the pack of post-card photogs and I feel more inspired by that landscape.

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