Techniques, Reviews and Commentary
Seen in Vegas
As said I was not entirely impressed with what we saw, actually I am just being polite here, I was pretty disappointed.
But I thought, Brad lets approach this with an open mind, maybe we just saw a bad bunch of images. Lets revisit the concept on the next trip.
I probably should make a distinction here, for although many of these places are called galleries, they are in fact set up purely to sell photo artworks to tourists and collectors, rather than display work of new artists.
Some are devoted to a single artist and others sell perhaps the works of maybe 2 or 3 artists.
We spent quite some time visiting galleries and in particular those in Las Vegas, which is the subject of this blog entry.
Remember when you were a kid and you were given a "paint by numbers kit"? All you needed to do was follow the instructions and apply a little care and you too could produce a Cezzane’ or Picasso or indeed something far more rudimentary.
Few folk would have imagined themselves artists as a result of such activity, but no doubt it could be fun and “paint be numbers” helped many kids pass the cold winter afternoons.
The characteristics of these little "artworks" were typically unsubtle, colour whilst broadly accurate, in no way emulated the originals, brush strokes were not so much stroked as blobbed and the substrates they were applied to were either low grade art paper or poor quality canvas.
Naturally those who had a real interest in art soon moved on to higher callings.
So how you may wonder does this relate to "Vegas"?
Well gentle reader, lets start by saying that Vegas is a city designed from the ground up to rip the last dollar from your pocket, it permeates every pore of the sidewalk, every brick of every building and seemingly every word that flows at machine gun pace from its army of workers. Your dollar is our business should be the moto of the sin dripped city.
But Vegas is also exciting and most definitely surreal, its a great place to visit....once or twice, I love Vegas so please don’t think of this as a stab at the big V.
Most tourists are either walking around half inebriated or looking totally mesmerized, which is just the state you need people in before you can perform the various local methods of friendly wallet extraction.
The tricks to getting people into this hyper excited state are quite well established, they involve alcohol, the promise of easy wealth and visual stimulation, which of course is found on the strip sidewalk, in the neon signs and especially in the adornments of the slot machines festooned throughout every casino. Vegas is all about colour, subtlety has absolutely no place in Vegas.
And having set the tone now we can perhaps partially understand why the vast majority of the photographic art on sale is just so.......fake!
At first I thought that all the galleries were selling the same artists work, I just kept having “groundhog day” moments with every shopping centre I visited. The same images, printed in the same way, taken from the same spots, all badly edited to within a millimetre of the smallest possible colour gamut.
There is MTV colour and then there is Vegas colour, and lets just say Vegas colour is pretty similar to the Vegas strip.
The general principal seems to be that colours are to be reduced almost to primaries, skies are painted deep blue, rocks are red, anything yellow is distilled to pure buttercup yellow.
I well realize that artistic expression is about finding ones vision and pushing the boundaries, but honestly the only boundary being pushed here is the available gamut of the printing material and if this is artistic expression, then everyone is expressing the same artistic concept.
All of the galleries claim they are selling "fine art collectible images". Now you may call me a cynic, but how can it be fine art, if they are all the same scenes, taken at the same time of day, edited in the same overcooked way? Only the names on the bottom of the prints have been changed.
And these images are not just of areas around Vegas, no sir. These are images of all the better known West US landmark icons...the same views of Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend in the Grand Canyon, some pier in LA and on it goes.
But it gets worse! Even when these "artists" are not shooting known icons they still plagiarize each other mercilessly. I swear I saw the same Aspen Grove from three "artists" shot identically, the same backlit autumn bathed tree from somewhere else also shot almost pixel for pixel by at least 3 photographers.
Monochrome images were conspicuous by their absence, between all of the galleries we found just one with mono work, and it was average at best and seemed to have been included as a token measure rather than a serious attempt at the genre. I guess a photo without colour in Vegas is like the strip without neon.
What is one to make of this sad situation? Well for one, I am sure these galleries offer what sells for this intended market. A market I would summarise as high on cash and low on taste and discernment. Somewhere along the line someone worked out that what was needed was hamburgers dressed up as fine dining with a high price attached and some slick marketing. Everyone else then followed lockstep, only trouble is I can't work out who jumped first!
The second take home is that "fine art photography" is a pretty loose term.
If this is indeed representative of the US fine art photography market it still has some way to go to reach maturity, in fact it is probably heading in the wrong direction.
Ultimately the whole experience was quite disappointing, I expected so much more. I expected message, individuality, technical excellence, original vision and subtlety. Instead we got Vegas.
Postscript: though this blog perhaps sounds a bit depressing, there was one brilliant bright spot. One of the galleries had on display photographic works by Art Wolfe, these were the real deal, wonderful in every way and a pure joy to behold. Art has a particular approach that is compositionally sophisticated and often quite abstract and he really knows how to use colour. Funny thing the prices for his works were about the same as those of the pretenders! If you get a chance check out his work on-line. artwolfe.com