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Monday, July 4, 2016

Vernacular Enigma

I present here some pictures all posted by the same person on a fairly popular internet forum. You're likely to react negatively to them, sorry about that. I'm going to ask you to slog through them before you read what I have to say after the jump. Titles and accompanying text as given originally by the poster. All copyrights yadda yadda, I am copying them here explicitly to discuss the work, which should cover it.

Alternate Universe

This Sepia was actually converted from the original using a mirror process to simply reverse the image vertically. He came up on me from my left to quite my surprise, and he actually did fit the profile for the shop and neighborhood to some degree, yet still he looks a bit out of place here. He had no clue I was photographing him. I like people shots, they're my favorites when it comes to photography; when I take them that is. Take and look and thanks for viewing.

Easy Street

'Hi Mom, this is me...' at work, outside, it's cold here. Did you notice Spuds Mackenzie in the background? I had a good time taking this picture. By the way, I just took it an hour ago.

The Tell Tale Heart

Oh, this really tickled me. This guy is getting sideways.

Near Phase

I got this and it looked the time around dark.

Critics Agree

Only in america

Parts and Labor

I think of this one like a postcard. I cropped the bottom off so as to not detect any sense of well being coming from a full sized photo. In fact, it might be missing more after all to the left, top and right, including the bottom. Who knows.

First Hand

Think about what it might be like to be another person. From a certain point of view, I take I have the situation under control.

The Third Reich

These guys got into it. A big fight. It amused me some so I took another picture. Not only had it been going on for awhile they were threatening one another. My ambition is for this little picture to make it all the way to the top so we can remember who they were.

This guys rolls in to the aforementioned forum every now and then with some more of this stuff. Been at it for 2 years or so. I have no idea if he's a diagnosed schizophrenic on heavy meds, or just twitting these people, or what. It doesn't, ultimately, matter much. What is true is that the forum regulars hate this guy, despite the fact that he's never (literally never) said an unkind thing. They hate him because he refuses to be "taught" and he refuses to rise to any kind of bait, and he refuses to go away. He simply will not comply with the local norms.

It's possible, but unlikely, that some of them hate him because what he's doing is approximately 1000x more interesting than anything they will ever do themselves.

Just look at this stuff. Open your mind to the possibility that it might be brilliant. Put a mass of this stuff together (and what I show above is a sampling, less than half of what he or she has posted) and you get some kind of wild multimedia poetic meditation on America, or something. Or not. It could easily be the random ravings of a madman. Or both. I lean toward both, to be honest, but that's just my opinion. One by one the pictures are nothing, put them together and you (well, I) feel a sort of drive getting going. You know it's not an accident, not just some dumb illiterate guy, it's someone on a mission. You might not understand the mission, but by golly, there's a mission here.

Part of my attraction to this body of work is the simple truth that any collection of photographs can be viewed as having some sort of worth, there's something in there. The essential reality underlying a photograph gives it a weird power. Whatever on earth this random scenes of nothing could possibly be, they were there, they were real.

There does strike me something inherently American about these pictures, something genuine, and distinctly not of any other place. Definitely not European, certainly not South American or Africa. Just fundamentally American.

The near word-salad that accompanies each picture seems to fit, somehow.

I get it, I think. Whatever it is.

I know I'd rather look at a museum filled with this stuff than anything by most self-styled photography experts on the relevant forum, or really anywhere on the internet. There's a sort of mad life here that is lacking in the sterile work we see on any number of web sites.

Undeniably vernacular, quite possibly crazy, and maybe, just maybe, Art.


  1. I like 'em! Well, more than half of them, anyway.

    And that's despite their very obvious (and in a few instances, nearly complete) lack of technical quality, too! ;^)

    However, I wouldn't go as far as you have and claim "I get it, I think," because I very much have no clue what the photographer is saying (or trying to say) with them. (This is also something I hear said about my photos on occasion, so perhaps I'm a kindred spirit in this respect?)

    Even so, this doesn't mean I can't enjoy them for what they are on their face -- the photographer's actual intention for them, whatever that may be, notwithstanding! -- and do so on my own terms.

  2. I don't get it but I think they're brilliant in a way... but only when image and text are combined. I'm not sure either would work by themselves: then I might say, "I get it," or "meh."

    (These also make me think of the musician who records under the name Jandek, especially before he "went public" in 2004.)

    And yes, very American, or so it seems to this Canuck.

  3. Andrew, perhaps this essay is another small piece of supporting evidence of your views on bodies of work, rather than stand alone iconic images (a view of which I agree) .
    What I like about this selection is your anecdotal evidence regarding the hate he / she has received and how little effect that hatred has had!
    Good on the photographer for sticking to his / her view.

    Is it just me or is there a very very faint whiff of Eggleston here?

  4. I guess I wouldn't say I get "it" whatever that might mean, but I get *something*.

    And yes, I see a hint of Eggleston here, but I think because this is what he was using as source material, rather than the other way around. This is, arguably, the undiluted raw material, and Eggleston is the distilled, derived, product.

    1. Could very well be the case.
      This photographer may have a way to go - or not - in creating a great body of work, but his or her attitude is quite a breath of fresh air.
      After all, isn't that a great place to start?

  5. There is something here, I think, especially in the combination of words and pictures. Seeing the first photo I sort thought "Huh?", but as I kept going and saw more I got a feeling of something going on. Putting that feeling into words is beyond me, but I somehow thought of Robert Frank and The Americans -- in a very vague sense.

    There is a sense of time and place here -- a sense of how this corner of the world is right now -- that I find much more interesting than technical perfection or adherence to the "rules" of composition.

    It's a bit like "the sound of one hand clapping" -- the more I think I get it the less I can explain it. And just when I think I have it, it slips away completely.

  6. Would be interesting to read that forum - can you give the link? Google didn't help.

    1. Much as I hate to send these jerks traffic, no matter how small, the place is thephotoforum.com and the user in question goes by Sicboi which should get you there through the forum's search function (even if you're not a member).

  7. The titles would tend to indicate that there is something very intentional going on here. They have a very different vibe to them than the word salad.

  8. I don't think there is anything in the photos, nor in the accompanying text. I think it is because I'm not American - imho there is nothing that a non-American dweller can relate to. And this is strange, because I like very much Eggleston and Frank... so perhaps they can convey something "universal", and this guy can't...

    1. Honestly, as far as I can tell, you might be right and the rest of us might well be sniffing traces of something that's not there.

    2. But photography is wonderful just because any of us can find something interesting that some other would readily dismiss!!!