August 2008 Archives

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De-script and non-descript.

Larry Fink makes lots of black and white photographs, and over many years many of those have been notable especially at their first viewing, when they were surfacing still very near the moment that their subject event had surfaced as well. The connection between the historical timing of the event and the timing of the photograph's debut is not in itself something that a photograph will necessarily convey, whereas the publication of the photograph can easily wrap the photograph(s) in many contextual elements that effectively indicate the non-visual facts. Outside of that "time" content, there is still, however, the effort in the picture itself that forms an arche-typical image of the event, enough so that although we view the image outside of knowing the precise moment of the subject, we recognize from it the nature of the occasion shown -- so much that we can conclude what event was taking place and then infer when the event might have been.

The photo poster shown below presents those conditions but also a couple of additional ones of interest, beginning with the prominence of the name Larry Fink instead of the name of the featured central individual in the picture. In some corners, it is theoretically possible that the viewer would know neither who the central person in the image is nor who Larry Fink is. In that case, the poster issues the problem of deciding whether we are seeing a picture of someone named Larry Fink, and furthermore wondering why.
















In this presentation, there are (hypothetically) two other ways we can approach this photograph. One of them is to assume that the availability of the photograph is represented by someone known as Larry Fink -- which in other words means the picture is labelled for property ownership. The other (for the sake of this discussion) is to assume that the photograph is "signed" for creative ownership. In neither case is the photo "titled" for subject.

In the realworld case here, the poster intends to ascribes creative ownership to the picture, which makes the picture almost ironic. It is not so important that we recognize the central person in the picture -- but instead that we realize the picture is about all the picture-making that this person apparently provokes. Everywhere around the main figure there are extended arms and aimed cameras directed at him. We are given only one of those pictures that we understand are being made at that same moment shown; and now, only for us in the real moment of viewing the picture, is this picture more special than any of the potential others we see being made...



















There is a conventional sense of photo-journalistic and even competitive success in getting this central figure so fully isolated from the crowd and captured so directly in the image. And rather than truly isolate him by excluding the surrounding activity, the point of the picture clearly becomes to show the surroundings -- namely, all the other camerawork.

Net: the enduring interest that this picture will have is in the way it is a picture about making these kinds of pictures.

This aspect is only underscored more heavily by the similarity of another photograph -- one taken by the same event's own "official photographer" Scout Tufankjian, whose prints are available by arrangement through his website that features groupings of shots such as "Moving into the general election", image number 13 of 77. There may be quite a distance between the one picture and the other; but between the images, there's not much distance at all.














( Observing copyrights means not showing the pictures here as they may be seen by proper request to the Pace/MacGill Gallery 212.759.7999  Larry Fink, The Democrats, July 4 - August 15, 2008  -- or at Tufankjian's website )


about this fotosite


about artdotdot

artdotdot (also "artdotdot dotcom", or is a web-based workspace of stored copyrighted digital pictures and commentary published as an open studio by Malcolm Ryder. (



Pictures on artdotdot are always thumbnailed and frequently linked to full-size files viewable in a browser. For images that are not currently displayable full-sized but need to be, contact Malcolm Ryder with your request.

artdotdot can be researched, sorted and selected in several different ways to allow ad-hoc definition of picture "collections" which are to be used as virtual exhibits, topical departments, or inventories.

That selection capability amongst a stored collection simultaneously provides for spontaneous walkthroughs of the content and for magazine-style evolution of the content organization as standard topics updated for a planned and/or recurring publication event.

Content on artdotdot is generally cataloged by Malcolm Ryder under three standing types:

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- pixelopia: digital pictures made from broader graphical design techniques or interests that may or may not include photography, with or without commentary.

- sightings: pictures not made by Ryder but presented by Ryder for commentary; and/or theoretical and critical writing about these pictures and about picture usages in general --as well as introductory interviews of Ryder.

The web-based features of artdotdot include basic tools for content search , hyperlinks and dynamic categorization.  The features do not include on-site commentary and responses by visitors to the site. Responses should be sent to ... 



Most pictures and nearly all commentary on artdotdot is the property of Malcolm E. Ryder under U.S. copyright, unless noted otherwise.

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artdotdot updates and publishes on an entirely discretionary basis determined by Malcolm Ryder.

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Interview: Ryder : shortwinded


Outside of this interview, you talk and write about "images" and "pictures" being different things.

Right... images are in your mind, and pictures are things you make to present the images.


Almost all of your pictures are photographs, but you usually call them "drawings" or "postcards" or something other than "photographs". Why is that?

I like what it implies about process and scale and portability and not being precious. Besides, before the fact, drawing is more interesting than shooting: composing is more interesting than finding. After the fact, the way the photos are used is more interesting than why they are initially made.


Does this mean that people are unlikely to see your images and pictures as prints?

I don't make the pictures thinking about printmaking. But no, I think it means that the only reason to make prints of them is if those prints turn out to be good enough to be useful. A lot of the pictures just won't make good enough prints for certain uses. I'm not really a printmaker.


Alright. What about the non-print thing?

I always liked projections. I had a Kodachrome fetish. Now I guess it's RGB LCDs. But here's a problem: you can control a print so it's the same, under the same light, everywhere. But you can't control everyone's screens. There are way more screens than there are galleries. It's okay. Screens are getting a lot better at every price point...


How did you start thinking, initially, about the way that you do photography?

I lost a lot of different photographs I'd collected, from friends, magazines, and newspapers and my Polaroid. Then I tried to re-produce a bunch of them from memory.Then I just "pretended" some memories -- invented some -- and tried to produce them as pictures.


What about your training? Did it make your approach stronger or more exclusive as your method?

Approach? Yes. But I wasn't very cooperative, and emotionally I didn't need anything exclusive. So hardly anyone noticed a method from me, and no one cared much about it but me.  Emmett Gowin and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe got first shot, and Gillett G. Griffin (a painter) got the next;  then a Robert Adams book, a Guy Bourdin portfolio, a bunch of free-lance commercial work, and several years at the Arts Endowment in D.C.  Emmett is sincere, which made me want to grow up. Otherwise, I got most of my attitude from musicians.


What do you mean by "attitude" ?

I mean that I got much more involved, or invested, in the process than in the product. More in the playing than in the score. 


Don't you care about the product?

Yes. But it's more important that I'm busy making new pictures, than that someone wants old ones. It's like being my team's shortstop: nice game I left out there the other day, but it's the one coming up that counts. I don't want the product to be more important than me! Besides, on the web the product has a life of its own way beyond me, including what looks like imitation either by me or by someone else.


How about theory, criticism and reviews?

I prefer my longwinded answer to that. But whatever: art forms need theory, artists need critics, and buyers need reviews. I think a lot of the people who do that stuff don't know the difference, but I do. Meanwhile, I do theory by making more photographs.


What about copyrights, the market, and collectors?

All of that depends on controlling distribution channels. It's all very time consuming, making a competitive brand. If I start caring enough about that, I'll pay someone to get it done for me. It doesn't make the pictures better.

Interview: Ryder : longwinded


Outside of this interview, you constantly talk and write about "images" and "pictures" being different things.

Right... images are in your mind, and pictures are things you make to present the images. Thinking and feeling gets you to the image; design gets you to the picture.

Almost all of your pictures are photographs, but you usually call them "drawings" or "postcards" or something other than "photographs". Why is that?

It's because of how pictures mainly figure in my experience, some aspects of which I then re-produce. Great images aren't defined by only certain kinds of pictures produced or used in certain ways. Today, most wide exposure of most pictures is on a tabletop, a page or a screen -- commodity mass media. A huge amount of that is good pictures of great images. And another huge amount of that is not. Also, I'm not a printmaker. That is, I don't make photographs with an intent or expectation that they will need to succeed as limited edition prints. Instead, I'm usually involved with the camera and worried about the problem of accepting what is included in the image and in the viewfinder before and after I start making decisions about the pictures that follow. No specific picture starts out obligated to look a certain way; instead, it wound up being the way it is. I think my decisions amount to marking a neutral surface -- that is, both literally and by analogy, drawing on it. I also think that all pictures are disposable, so I'm more interested in their circulation than I am in their rarity. 

Does this mean that people are unlikely to see your images and pictures as prints?

No, I think it only means that when prints are made of them, the prints have to be worked on for the particular desired use. But it isn't guaranteed that the outcome will be great for that use. It depends on who makes the print and how much money and time they spend, and what they really want to use the print for. The necessary compatibilities with the desired use just may not be there. For starters, I use lots of different small cameras, and I make lots of low-res picture files as a consequence, not just hi-res. A lot of the pictures just aren't going to allow prints that are good enough for certain situations.

How did you start thinking, initially, about the way that you do photography?

If I try to answer the question the way it is asked, then the answer is this: I became thoughtful about making photographs when I had to replace photos that I had collected earlier but lost. It was an assortment of different pictures, from friends, magazines, and newspapers, and from my Polaroid camera. At the time, most of these were difficult or impossible to replace. But many of the ones that I lost could be approximated by other pictures that I then made or that other people made. And more to the point, the memory of them made me see other pictures differently,both comparing other pictures to those memories, and viewing the others as new independent pictures, simultaneously . So, producing pictures of images became, to me, a clearly distinct action... and it was also evident to me that the viewer then consumes a picture in a way that means the viewer generates a mental image from the picture.

What about your training? Did it make your approach stronger or more exclusive as your method?

Training is a broad term. I studied with Emmett Gowin, while I also studied film, video and photography concurrently for an academic degree.  Emmet is a truly sincere person and artist, which made me want to grow up although I procrastinated. I shot events and locations for newspapers and did lots of photography tasks for libraries, museums, theaters, painters, and other institutions. I worked for years at the NEA with Jim Melchert and Benny Andrews. It all counts as training, but I would say these influences were strong on my methods while not gelling explicitly as a style of any great distinction.  The biggest influence cut across all of that: it was simply the recurring need to be able to explain to myself why I would keep one picture and discard another when it was time to show something to someone. I actually got that attitude and approach from writing music and trying to get other performers to play it. Then the sensitivity got microscopic: why play something this way instead of that way? Why that note instead of this? And so... why make this mark instead of that mark? Why stand over here to see something instead of over there?

What do you mean by "attitude" ?

I mean that I got much more involved, or invested, in the process than in the product. The realization was this: no one in particular needed me to do something for them; they always had another option. But there was also no point in my doing it if I didn't care how it was done myself. So I decided to put most of the efffort into how I "see" things in the first place, and to just make "seeing" a competency and bring that on demand, to shape what came next. Like being the starting shortstop on my softball team. I can't control the score, but I can influence where it comes from. It's nothing new.

Don't you care about the product?

Yes. But, especially these days on the web, the product always has a life of its own. Meanwhile, I'm the least disposable part of what I do. Products are assets. I don't spend much time thinking about how my pictures influence someone else's asset management. As for my own asset management, I'm not a professional artist. I do something else professionally. But a while back, as part of teams that ran Visual Artists Fellowships grant programs for the U.S. and for New York City over nearly eight years, I saw thousands of professional artists who competitively did mediocre work. So again, to me the point is to make work that is appropriate to its use. Normally, I'm the first one to get to use my work; I'm the first audience that counts. From there, somebody else might want it, and I'll try to get it to them.

How about theory, criticism and reviews?

Reviews are about matching products to preferences. Criticism is about describing how evident choices made (by the photographer) are important compared to evident possibilities -- important in the context of a proposed kind of value that the picture has generated. Theory is about how and why pictures can generate value. I think making more pictures, and more varied pictures, is an excellent way of theorizing and of critiquing. Unless the picture is commissioned or I'm collaborating with someone, I'm not much interested in reviews. Or I'll do the reviewing myself. A lot more stuff gets discarded or ignored than is kept or promoted.

What about copyrights, the market, and collectors?

I don't have any new ideas about that -- they don't mean anything unless they are somehow practical for you. All of that stuff depends on controlling distribution channels. If you aren't a controller, or you don't have an agent, then you're not playing in that arena even if you are passing through it. Sometimes you may need a court to become your agent, but the "work" you're protecting is actually the labor you put into relationships (which have expectations and agreements), not the labor of producing the pictures and not the product itself. Agreement is nice, so if you want to pursue agreement then I guess you worry about what gets in your way or helps.