writings blog

Buy one get one free/Niko J. Kallianiotis

Besides the mechanical differences between a 1967 Chevy Impala and a 1985 Buick Regal, there are stark formal and aesthetic characteristics that differ from one another. Possessing a more edgy interior and exterior than the Buick, the Impala tends to be a little more aggressive with a rawer attitude more suitable to the macho man or tending to the imagination of Supernatural fans. Like photography’s “subjective” tenor and contemporary motif, this disposition might be utterly debatable, as it should be. One thing is for certain though, and regardless of your preference between these two fine machines, what makes them unique is the fact that they are aesthetically different. For the car experts out there, please abstain from any auto-commentary, since I am using this as a metaphor. I admit that I am a fan of the Chevy Impala and one day my dream may come true (crowd-funding?), but I believe the above example is prevalent to the current state of contemporary photography in all its manifestations. The pernicious fad for visual innovation and forceful relevancy has pretty much resulted, and still results, in imagery that pretty much looks the same.

© Photograph by August Sander

© Photograph by August Sander

But how and why did we get here? My hybrid background and spicy personality (my friends would agree) would suggest that what makes us unique are our cultural differences, controversial histories, as well as our identifiable physical characteristics, and God Bless the Balkans for that. That’s pretty obvious you might say, and indeed it may be, but within our current photographic affairs and the strive for relevancy and instant fruition has resulted in imagery that lacks distinct visual characteristics that truly reflect a unique or developing vision. From example, you can probably spot a Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, August Sanders or Irvin Penn (and many more) photograph from a distance, and although each worked within different parameters and motifs, which at times overlapped, there are visual differences in their style. Differentiating photographers today is not an easy task.

To clarify, I am not suggesting that photography that offers an intriguing style lacks today, but what we see promoted thtough popular platforms (too many to name and there is no point in naming) is a consistent and canned aesthetic that often oscillates between a reincarnation of the masters or a new overused style that I don’t find to be effective nor inspirational.  Basically, you can take twenty photographers from any genre and make a portfolio that can be mistaken for one individual. Please don’t ask me to actually demonstrate this because I can, but I am not interested in the particular task.

© Photograph by Harry Gruyaert

© Photograph by Harry Gruyaert

The usual large-format portrait of the visually interesting person of a particular social class, embellished with glorious and divine light, bluntly looking at the camera with a passport aesthetic, has become a common theme that lacks depth and purpose. I am fortunate to have not been exposed to art and artists at a young age and blessed (many people don’t like the word blessed, but I love it) to have worked in a newspaper environment. Since I was not influenced by an artistic background and education, when my photos sucked, they would tell me, and I would tell them if there’s did, always in a fun and entertaining way. I appreciated and valued that relationship. This is how we learn and grow both as photographers and as people. Within the fine art/contemporary photography, this simply does not exist, with a few exceptions here and there, of course.

Now getting back to the main point and question, the reason that I find this to be resulting in a pastiche of similarity has to do with the reason of why one makes work. I feel, that the goal for instant success and the obsession with particular visual fads, or what sells, has become a major problem within our medium and hopefully there will be an end, or at least a dialogue about the issue. Life experiences and reason of intent, in my opinion, plays a pivotal role in this “accepting everything not to be rude” era. Again, I am not interested in showing examples of this kind of photography because my intent is to start a conversation with my colleagues and friends.  What is more worrisome is the fact that although there are a myriad of great photographers and projects out there, they often go unnoticed and we always end up with the same bland aesthetic that reflects the ultimate disconnect between image maker, subject, and intent.  Word of mouth has been a frequent research tool of discovery.  The theoretical gurus of our medium as well as friends of friends, who do not want to hurt their friend’s feelings, therefore, doing favors, are the villains of our medium.

© Photograph by Lee Friedlander.

© Photograph by Lee Friedlander.

I am not suggesting this approach in making work is intentional (although sometimes it is) nor do I dismiss the effort and value put in the work. The process of making something of substance that will identify the photographer with his work on a deeper and more meaningful dialogue is a challenge, an invaluable lesson as well as a personal struggle.

All copyright belongs to the respective owners of the photographs. All materials are used for educational purposes only. 

 

 

 

 

 

by Niko J Kallianiotis