How do you know what this photograph means?
April 23, 2008 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for websites that analyse the work of successful or well known photographers in the art genre (as opposed to documentary or portraiture styles).

Building on this earlier question , give me some links that tell me not what makes a photograph good, but what this artist is saying, what envelope is being stretched, what's the metaphor, what School influenced or is represented by this work, what's special about the use of space, colour, and other analyses that I don't know that I'm looking for.

The Photography Book is an example of what I'm looking for (except it's a book and it covers pretty much all genres).

Bonus question: If there's no artistic statement, how can anyone be sure that the artist is saying X?
posted by b33j to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't exactly it, because it's not all well-known/successful photographers' work, but there is an extremely good, long-running series called The Daily Critique at Radiant Vista (a good site in general). The photos are of all kinds, including the genres you're not interested in. But certainly you'll find something there that piques your interest, and Craig Tanner (the critic) does a great job of describing what he sees about it, both good and bad.

Many of them are the basics, composition & lighting. But occasionally he goes off on some wonderful tangents. Highly recommended.

Bonus question: If there's no artistic statement, how can anyone be sure that the artist is saying X?

There are different schools of thought on this. My opinion? Once a work is released to the world, each person finds his own meaning in it, artist's statement notwithstanding. Thus, there can't be one "right" meaning to find, even if there was a particular intention on the part of the creator.
posted by knave at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, but I am definitely not looking for technique, composition or lighting ideas. I really want to know about famous or successful photographers, people like Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Hockney - why are their works considered outstanding?
posted by b33j at 7:23 PM on April 23, 2008

Postmodernism says, rightly so in my opinion, that the interpretation of artwork lies in the viewer, not the creator. That said, a lot of works will elicit the same response in most viewers.

You aren't going to find any one page that will answer all your questions about this. I've been trying to find the answers to your questions for years with little luck, but I have found many great blogs that analyze photography and help inspire me:

Conscientious from Jörg Colberg.

[EV +/-] Exposure Compensation from Miguel Garcia-Guzman.

Muse-ings from Tim Atherton.

Shane Lavette's journal.

Subjectify, which is more deliberately about portraiture, and probably the most directly related to your question.

All of these blogs are amazing and well worth subscribing too. I watch about forty RSS feeds but these are the most consistently worthwhile. No one or two posts will answer your questions, but I promise that if you read any of these consistently you'll get a better idea of how to analyze pictures, how they relate to each other, and what the artist is trying to convey.

On the buyer/editor side of photography there are two good blogs worth mentioning:

A Photo Editor from Rob Haggart.

Heather Morton Art Buyer.

Both of these blogs have very keen, and very worthwhile perspectives on the world of photography.

On the non-internet side of things, Stephen Shore's The Nature of Photographs and John Szarkowski's The Photographer's Eye (pdf of text here) are both great resources for looking at photography.
posted by ztdavis at 7:49 PM on April 23, 2008

You asked for a website so this might not help, but a book which covers pretty much exactly what you ask for is Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images, by Terry Barrett. isbn 0874849063. He walks through image criticism using examples by Mapplethorpe, Sherman, Penn, Kruger, Michaels, etc. etc.
posted by gyusan at 10:04 PM on April 23, 2008

I don't know if there's a website that will give you what you want. It sounds like you want an art history book. Seizing the Light is a great photography-centered one, and Criticizing Photographs is an excellent book for learning to talk about images.

The blogs ztdavis linked are all great too, I read APE and Heather Morton's blogs first thing every morning.
posted by bradbane at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2008

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