Saturday, March 21, 2020

The "I Hate" Genre

Our friend Jörg Colberg has started doing live video presentations of photobooks, which I cannot for the life of me remember to tune in to. Luckily he's recorded one, and it's on youtube for our viewing pleasure:

Jörg on Schmidt

Did one of you idiots make some annoying comment on this video? He's gone and disabled comments on all his videos.

I didn't know what to expect. Would it be incoherent mumbling? Would it be an insightful, keen, analysis? Well, neither really. I think it's worth watching, as much for the insight in to Colberg as for the book. There's a lot of stuff he doesn't talk about, but he does do a lot of useful work giving context, I think. You learn, maybe, a little about how he thinks about photographs.

Anyways, it really brought home to me how much this is a genre. Schmidt's books all show an obvious relationship with Kleinstadt which I have talked about at some length. There really seems to be a distinct genre that boils down to I really hate Germany. Michael Ashkin's HORIZONT seems at a glance to fall into the same general theme.

Now, is that what Schmidt is really going for? I dunno. Maybe the dude just really really liked cement. The Mahlers seem, based on the blurb on the back of Kleinstadt to see some optimism in their pictures that I simply do not. But what I see in both books is a real dislike for the things in front of the camera.

This has some sort of relationship to Alec Soth's addiction to the tawdry, the shabby, Ashkin's recent If it were not for which is basically HORIZONT for the Mojave Desert, and every MFA student's first book.

It is all, at least on the surface, simply a simple and blockheaded condemnation of whatever the camera is being pointed at.

Allow me now to quote the finest thing ever written on criticism:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

God knows I am fully aware of how easy, and how fun, negative criticism is. The quote, by the way, is from a Pixar movie, and I am dead serious about its stature. It did not hurt the speech to be spoken by the one and only Peter O'Toole.

It strikes me, though, that the I hate... genre of visual book is also easy, and kind of fun to read. It is a form of negative criticism, easy to make, fun to read. The Germans get double benefit, because it also constitutes a good wallow in the Official National Guilt and therefore also constitutes of act of atonement.

These things are without nuance, which is fundamentally what makes them easy. Which picture should I stick in, and which to discard? Toss the less glum one, obviously. There is only one note that need be struck, here, there is no complex of tones in play, no harmonic relationships to consider. Just keep hitting glum over and over until you've got the required number of pages. Apply some basic Walker Evans sequencing, if you want to get fancy, and you're done.

It's not that I hate negativity and want everything to be rainbows and puppies, I just like a few more notes in my songs, and in my books. There are nuanced books out there, lots of them. There are books that function as criticism of something or other, without being relentlessly, clumsily, negative.

I like those books better.


  1. I don't think "hate" is the right word here. I attribute the phenomenon you are describing to phony gravitas; the hallmark of the callow, wannabe 'serious' artist.

  2. I think it’s also part of the “dead pan” genre which, to me, says, over and over and over,
    ‘I can’t be bothered to engage with the subject I am phototographing.
    I think that worked for one or two portfolios/books and then it just demonstrates that the photographer is a spoiled brat.

  3. Ah, but the ratatouille recipe from that movie is superb.

  4. IT finiSHED yet??? IS he STiLL Droning ON??? All I needed to start Lockdown Week 3, a terminally dull guy describing a terminally dull photobook a dull monotone with about as much engagement and emotion as the cement in the book. Actually, less.