Just sticking to the Fine Artists, we have:
- modern fellows like Alain Briot and so on who sell brightly colored landscapes in shops they refer to as "galleries."
- closely allied but not quite the same, the black and white Serious Photographs who appear in LENSWORK and that Mike Johnstone likes.
- the even more serious artists, who get big gallery shows. Sally Mann, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, etc.
- The random crew of people I dig up from time to time, which surely represents 1000s of artists, very serious, very good, but obscure.
- the MFA crowd who take themselves terribly serious but mainly turn in derivative lightweight muck that's trying to be political. This is mainly where Colberg hangs out.
- the digital artist crowd who are mostly in it for the social media likes and maybe do ads as well. Google up Antti Karpinen.
What is curious here is that even in this narrow world of Fine Art photography, within each we have very little acknowledgement of the other groups in it. Most of these groups don't talk about antecedents, heroes, sources of inspiration except in terms of one another. Mostly, each group behaves as if Photography consists of their kind of work, and a bunch of irrelevant snapshots nobody cares about. The most serious group is the best at acknowledging their antecedents, and as you get into crappier and crappier art you get less and less talk about antecedents.
I am working my way through a book of contemporary female photographers, Firecrackers, which truly has much to recommend it, and which I will have more to say later. It is entirely the MFA crowd, being a diverse and multinational group of artists who all went to the same very very short list of schools.
At least three of the artists are dressing up in costumes and photographing themselves in constructed scenes in order to comment on some aspect of the feminine in culture. Anyone who had not been under a rock will recognize this as Cindy Sherman's schtick. Sherman, of course, is cited exactly zero times. The editors manage to equip the Ethiopian one with one antecedent, Malick Sidibe, who worked in a completely different country, 60 years and 2000 miles away, and whose work I hardly need to say has exactly no resemblance to the artist's other than being pictures of African people. This is roughly like saying that Ansel Adams pictures shows clear signs of the influence of Julia Margaret Cameron, because they're both white and sometimes photographed people.
As an aside, I find this particular reference to be very dubious. It is as if the editors could only think of one other African photographer, and so decided it was fine to lump Ethiopia and Mali together in this way.
The MFA crowd in particular seems to be very distinct. They acknowledge nobody else, and nobody else seems to pay the slightest attention to them.
The lighter weight but still serious landscape people seem to intersect pretty much at Ansel Adams, more or less universally claiming him as an inspiration, but otherwise ignoring everything and everyone else. The lighter weight but still serious everything-else people usually acknowledge 2 or more from a standard short list: Cartier-Bresson, Kertész, Koudelka, less often Capa, almost never Smith, and that's about it.
The digital artists don't acknowledge anyone because they're free, man, to do whatever the want, man.
The actual major players can, in general, speak at some length to their antecedents and who they attend to, where they came from, and where they are going. Some of them aren't going anywhere interesting but they are at any rate thoughtful about it.
It may be a wrong-headed feeling I have, my I cannot shake the sense that the more an artist knows and cares about their own historical context, the better they're likely to be. It's not a road to awesomeness, but it does feel like a necessary pre-condition.