Friday, April 26, 2013


I am on the record as questioning whether people like Garry Winogrand and Vivian Maier actually were all that great as photographers, and how much of their perceived value lies instead with the curators of their archives. I am also on the record as suggesting that process doesn't matter, and that a purely accidental photograph can be and should be considered to be just as good or bad as one made deliberately.

One might legitimately ask why I am such an inconsistent dog. There are two reasons, one of which is that I am an inconsistent dog. I am ok with that. The other reason is that attribution does matter. An accidental photograph that has been carefully curated out of a massive archive is, I feel, arguably the work of the curator and not the photographer. At best it's some joint effort. In general, editors and curators are under recognized, and in these cases of heavily curated massive archives it's clear that they are even more woefully under appreciated.

Even if Maier was a genius, even if the process of curation consists of selecting a random handful of images, because it's all gold, the curators are still doing a great deal of work here. She didn't even develop much of the film. Selecting, cropping, and printing photographs is a real part of the creative process, and Maier didn't do any of that. Suppose, conservatively, that her archive contains the usual percentage of keepers for the superb street photographer the hype machine suggests she is. This is still a low percentage. Lots and lots of grunt work has been done, lots of creative choices have been made. Much of the art has been done by the curators, even if we assume she was superb.

The most important act of photography, circling the right frame on the proof sheet, was not done by Maier.

This work ought, in a just world, to be properly attributed. It's not, and it won't be, since the Maier legend sells a lot more books without mucking it up by spreading the artistic credit around more thinly.

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