Post from August, 2011

The Helmut Newton Exhibit: A Question of Authenticity

Monday, 29. August 2011 0:02

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is hosting an exhibition of Helmut Newton photography until September 25, 2011. The MFAH is showing very large reproductions of images from Newton’s first three books: White Women (1976), Sleepless Nights (1978), and Big Nudes (1981). Newton was a world renowned photographer, specializing in fashion and nude photography. His work has always been controversial. This show concentrates on his personal work which, in turn, reflects his fashion work, at least in style.

This show raises a number of questions: Is this really a worth-while show? Just because you can print images that large, should you? Is Newton really an artist? Does he really have something to say about feminism? Society? Fashion? Is his work merely black and white pornography? Where is his place in the photographic canon? And now here is another: are the works presented authentic?

Why would I question the authenticity these images? Since this project began in 2007, three years after Newton’s death, and the images on display “were made specifically for the exhibition,” it stands to reason that Newton could not possibly have printed, approved of, or signed these prints, any of which actions might be taken to be proof of authenticity.

There is no question the subject matter is his; Newton’s work is unique to the point of being iconic; anyone who has studied photography will recognize it. There is no question the negatives or original prints, whichever were used as sources for the digital files, were his. But since he was not involved in the printing process, mustn’t one say they are reproductions, not prints?

Perhaps this is too fine a line for some people, but it speaks to the issue of what constitutes a “real” or “original” work of art. This is not such a difficult question for those who sculpt or paint: the original is the one the artist made; everything else is a reproduction. This is not necessarily the case with printmakers, and certainly not the case with photographers.

So the question becomes, when is a photographic print “real?” Is it an image that the photographer physically made him/herself? Is it a print perhaps made by an assistant that the photographer approved? Is it a print made by an assistant according to instructions of the photographer? Is it a print that is signed by the photographer? The Ansel Adams Gallery takes great care to distinguish between original photographs and other types of prints and reproductions. Should we expect less from museums?

The size of these images brings up another question: Are they a true representation of Newton’s art? We must remember that Newton shot originally for print. That is, his fashion work was for magazine publication, and his personal work, at least initially, was for book publication. This is a far cry from the size of pictures on exhibit at the MFAH, “some reaching nearly 8 x 8 feet.” Although the images are presented unframed and unglazed “in order to show how Newton’s work appeared in magazines,” the difference in size makes that impossible.

And another more general question arises: is the art in the concept or the execution? As noted above, these are certainly Newton’s concepts, but not his execution. Still everyone says that this is a show of Newton’s images. And I suppose they are his images, just not his prints.

So perhaps the MFAH is not misleading the public. Maybe this is not so much an exhibition of Newton’s work as it is an overpowering display of Newton’s concepts, of Newton’s subject matter, of Newton’s style, and, by extension, of Newton’s influence. Maybe the art is in the mind and eye of the artist, not in the creation of artifacts. This is indeed an idea worthy of thought, but a curious position to take for any museum that prides itself on showing only authentic, original work.





Category:Photography, Presentation | Comments (7) | Author:

Need to Revive Your Creativity? Try the High Desert

Sunday, 21. August 2011 23:52

There was no posting this past weekend because I spent it in the high desert. This time it was central and northern New Mexico.  The trip was to explore Santa Fe, but it became much more than that. As always, I returned with feelings of being refreshed, inspired, and disappointed that I had to return to my normal life.

Santa Fe itself is an art fair on crack–everything from affordable earrings to six-figure artwork by world-renowned artists. There are not only hundreds of individual artist/vendors at tables, in tents, with wares spread on blankets, but there are hundreds of galleries with more high-dollar work than I have ever seen in one concentrated area. Santa Fe may be the only city in North America where you will find a clothing store sandwiched between two art galleries.

But you have to get out of the cities and towns to find what the area really has to offer:  an amazing austere, unique landscape that exists in solitude and silence, surprising outcroppings of rock, mountains, arroyos, canyons, rivers, crystalline air and Ansel Adams clouds, warm summer sun with a cool breeze, an amazing canopy of stars overarching the cool evenings.

Count me among those who are in love with this part of the world. Admittedly, I am much more familiar with west Texas since I have spent much more time there. It is much less an obvious tourist destination, but it has the same vast expanses, the same quiet, the same ancient solitude.

There’s something magical about the high desert, something very seductive.  It is a place that gives me focus—I begin to think about what is important to me, instead of what is important to all of those who make demands on me, particularly in terms of art. I think about art a lot, but a trip to the high desert settles my soul, makes me reevaluate and reconsider old ideas and allows new ones to take hold. I always come back with a new approach, a new way of seeing, a spiritual rejuvenation.

I’m not sure what causes this: the ascetic, ancient landscape, the unbelievable stillness—almost a living presence, the amazing weather—winter or summer, the character of the land and its people. It is certainly more than being in a different place: the lack of familiar television or eating places. There is a different set of smells on the air, a different feeling, and, outside the cities, a pleasurable lack of traffic. I have been to other remote places, other pleasant places; no other impacts me the way the high desert does.

I am not the only one who seems to be influenced by this unique locale.  It has been sought out as a place to work and create by various artists. Artists as diverse as Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd, and D. H. Lawrence, among others, have found the open beauty of North American high desert irresistible. One can never be sure what they found in the high desert. Maynard Dixon said, “You can’t argue with those desert mountains — and if you live among them enough — like the Indian does — you don’t want to. They have something for us much more real than some imported art style.”

In the midst of that reality, I find the freedom to let my mind drift, really drift, in a way that it cannot in the surroundings of my everyday existence. And in drifting I rediscover where I want to go and how I want to get there. I often find myself wanting to stay.

It may be a place you would like to stay as well—or at least visit. So whether it’s west Texas or New Mexico or some other area of high desert, go. Find out. Discover this place of magical artistic renewal for yourself.

In addition to peace and solitude, you may find that the high desert engenders a lot of questions—it does for me. By way of warning, if you happen choose New Mexico as the target of your artistic wandering, there is a question that is unique to that “land of enchantment.” That question is, of course: red or green?






Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

Beating the Creative Doldrums: Refocus you Creativity

Monday, 8. August 2011 0:09

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way series says that the cure for the creative doldrums is to do morning pages, three pages of longhand writing every day. She says that this effort will keep the creative juices flowing. Steven Pressfield in Do the Work says much the same thing: get out of your own way and do the work that needs doing. So what do you do when creativity is not forthcoming?

Last week was such a week for me. Nothing seemed to be working. Nothing was going right. The desire, the need to create was there, but I couldn’t focus somehow. No new ideas surfaced. Old ideas were unsatisfying. I was in a creative funk.

So what did I do? I had previously tried the morning pages and did not find them helpful. I did a little work, but most of it was very routine—the sort of mindless thing that you do on autopilot. But I did require that the things I did at least be related to the creative work I normally do. I decided that my marketing strategies needed a bit of thought, so I spent some time on that. I cleaned the office. I developed a couple of ideas for the blog. I completely redesigned my business cards and sent them off to a new printer that I had recently discovered. I named some unnamed images. I went to two plays, which always causes me to analyze, evaluate, and consider, whether I enjoy them or not.

Only after I had done all that did I realize something—something important. I had thought that what I was doing was “working,” showing up, waiting for creativity to return; what I was really doing was a different kind of creative work, or, to be more precise, creativity with a different focus. It felt like business-y things related to creativity, but each of those tasks required its own creativity, some more than others, certainly, but creativity nonetheless.

Pressfield is right. It doesn’t matter that you do different work, or that maybe it seems peripheral to your main task of making art—so long as what you are doing is not done to avoid the work you want to do. What matters is that you show up and get the work done. It’s that getting work done that causes the creative centers in the brain to engage. Cameron’s version of this is showing up at the page. Almost any work that you do when you show up can and will involve creativity. So this type of work can sustain you during “less productive” times. And even though it may not result in additional marketable artistic output, it can certainly facilitate such an increase in productivity.

So if you find yourself in a creative funk, unable to move forward, at least momentarily, I would encourage you to look in a slightly different direction. What changes could you make that would enhance your overall artistic effort? Aim your creativity in those directions for a little while, and you will discover that it is not only there, but working just fine. It just needed a different kind of fuel for a while.

In my case, I got done some peripheral things that needed doing, and in the process, I discovered that there appeared new theatrical ideas as well as new photographic possibilities.

So spend some time using your imagination for planning and preparation, and for the business side of your art, and you will soon find you are once again ready to focus on your primary work, with the added benefit of having done some work that needed doing.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author: