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Collector's Focus

What I Did Over Summer Vacation

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By John Bennette

I started writing for Focus with the idea that the person reading my words would be by my side and that it could be as relaxed as having coffee with a friend. That was about a year ago. I have tried to shy away from telling you what to buy or who is the next great artist. I really want you to look at photography. A new season filled with new excitement and new photographs to look at has started. It is by now October; the auctions will be in a few days. Please try to visit the previews this year.

Collecting is not about what you can buy but about what and why you choose to leave something out. Collecting is another art form. It could be why the larger collectors of today with money and power have started to build their own museums to keep their visions whole and undiluted. We are not there yet — maybe one day.

This column was inspired by what I did during my summer vacation. Collecting is a joy, but like anything else, you need a break, a different direction— maybe to realize that you have reached your goal. For the summer I decided to stop looking for images to acquire. For the summer I decided to put myself to the test that I usually give to my students, that is, to curate an imaginary exhibition of 16 images based on a theme using photographs from many sources, mostly from printed matter and, most importantly, not iconic photography. I use this as a way to help them see and understand what it is they are looking for. Usually we have a session where they all show their ideas and we talk. The process hopefully expands our thoughts about what it is that drives us to collect.

Finding a subject was easy because I love looking at people. More and more I find myself looking with the understanding that something lies within the borders of the image that the sitter is trying to tell me — something more than the conflict of revealing the private self, more than the blank gaze or defensive glare, more than the artist’s manipulation. I want to see it all. I want to be there in the second when no one is looking, knowing of course that it is all in my imagination, that a photograph does not provide me with the privilege of someone else’s life.

I gave my effort the title of “Degrees of Separation.” Previously in my class exercises I had used as a unifying theme people holding photographs of lost friends and family. I am moved and fascinated by the power of the photograph that comes to represent the missing. While I was working on finding photographs that fit with my conceit, a New York gallery approached me to do a summer show. My notebooks were filled with nearly 600 portrait images. The show gave me an opportunity to force myself to edit, to crystallize what was important about this group of photographs. The gallery has as its primary objectives the striving for quality, diversity and affordability. So all of a sudden I could no longer borrow big-name artists from high-profile galleries. I had to establish a sense of cohesiveness to communicate to others a simple idea about repetition in presentation, and I could not use all 600 photographs to do this.

The decision not to use a Diane Arbus or an Irving Penn had a profound effect on me and on the way the show looked. To frame the exhibition—maybe to give pause or a visual rest to what eventually became 95 photographs — I chose six large format photographs of interiors with family portraits and snapshots displayed. This is the way most of us live with portraits. The artists were Mary Presley Adams, Sheila Pree Bright, Annabel Clark, Wyatt Gallery (a person not a space), Joelle Jensen and Jessica Rowe. There were 61 artists from around the world including 17 women. Most are working artists, some with long and distinguished careers. A number I found when visiting galleries and online sites. It was also for me a pleasant chance to show work by artists that I have met over the past 15 years while I have collected and visited places like FotoFest and Photolucida and Rhubarb-Rhubarb.

Rachel Dunville, Heard; Courtesy Peer Gallery

I guess I should give a little overview at this point. There is a wonderful Shelby Lee Adams picture called Mother and Baby, 1999, a homage to Mike Disfarmer taken for the Sunday New York Times. It had never been seen before, but it recalls some of the great paintings on the subject. Placed near it was Heard by Rachael Dunville, a tender image of a family gently intertwined on a porch in an old glider swing. Taken in Missouri, it is beautifully colored, yet there remains something that is a little off. Most people who see Heard say that it reminds them of a Pieta.

“Degrees of Separation” is a portrait show with a number of issues under discussion. One is Identity. How much does a photograph tell us about a person? Marco Arbus’s photograph from Two Cultures in an Armchair — of a handsome black man sitting in an elaborate chair — could have been taken almost anywhere, but it is part of a series taken in Verona, Italy, of a Pentecostal group of West Africans living there. The man evokes George Rodgers’s famous photographs taken in Sudan in 1947.


To some viewers the image suggests the work of Seydou Keita. Against this lushly colored image where the subject injects his presence and connects with the viewer, you are asked to define a person by what is left behind. Vicki Topaz’s keen observation in #302 San Francisco, California gives only a single clue: a lovely piece of lingerie left in a well-appointed hotel bathroom.


We feel that we know this woman based on many images that have come out of advertising in the past. The portraits balance ideas about who is looking. Roger Eberhard’s Taxi Driver, Russia, 2006, taken on the streets, carefully frames a man parked smoking and waiting, a man who appears to be unaware of the camera, yet the viewer is led to where the driver is looking, his gaze focused on his rear view mirror. At what could he be looking so intently? Maybe he is a spy.

Another small silver gelatin photo by Radek Skrivanek of Two Teenagers with a Cassette Player, Wadi Hadhramawt, Yemen, 1995, leaves no doubt as to what engages their eyes. The response to the exhibition was close to what I wanted to create. People took the time to look, and some came back more than once. They looked at details and asked questions. They noticed that some artists posed their subjects very carefully while others seemed to let life happen.

I think Joelle Jensen’s Portrait Hall, 2006, best represents the essence of the show. The artists, their subjects and the viewers are like a large family. Maybe we don’t always talk to or see each other, but we know we are there. We like to stop in that hallway and remember and reflect; we like to look.
Collecting is about looking and then deciding what stays with you. What stays with me is a conceptual piece by Mauro Altamura consisting of 1000 14 x11-inch black and white photographs. Twelve were in the exhibition. The body of work is called Anonymous and they are re-photographs of people in the background of pictures published in the New York Times Friday Metro section.


So this summer I had a lot of time to look at people. I would suggest to future collectors that they try my little exercise. Maybe it will help them see too. The artist who made “Degrees of Separation” a reality are listed below. Most have websites.

Shelby Lee Adams, Mary Presley Adams, Mauro Altamura, Marco Ambrosi, Dave Anderson, Roswell Angier, Sheila Pree Bright, David Wilson Burnham, Julie Dennis Brothers, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Peikwen Cheng, Albert Chong, Annabel Clark, Valdir Cruz, Rachael Dunville, Roger Eberhard, Amy Elkins, Martine Fougeron,  Allen Frame, Wyatt Gallery, Stan Gaz, Justin Guariglia, Charles Harbutt, Jefferson Hayman, Jason Horowitz, Joelle Jensen, Jimmy Katz, Rafaelo Kazakov, Mark Kessell, Yasutaka  Kojima, Milomir Kovacevic, Jason Langer, Li Jie Liu, O. Rufus Lovett, Joseph Maida, Gratiane de Moustier, Mladen Pikulic, Dan Nelken, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman, Sung Jin Park, Paolo Pellegrin, Matthew Pillsbury, Nicholas Prior, Chris Rauschenberg, Frank Rodick,
Jessica Rowe, Junsik Shin, Elizabeth Siegfried, Inbal Sivan, Radek Skrivanek, Will Steacy, Maura Sullivan, Joseph Szabo, Brad Temkin, Vicki Topaz, Charles Traub, Preston Wadley, Ann Weathersby, Frederic Weber, Marc Yankus.

John A. Bennette is a well-known New York photography critic and scholar whose passion is collecting and supporting emerging artists. His 1996 AIPAD address on “The Joy of Collecting” brought him to national attention within the photographic community. He is a frequent panelist and lecturer at photographic symposia nationwide. He is also participating in Focus Feedback. To contact John with comments or questions, please e-mail him at johnabennette@focusmag.info.

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Collector's Focus

Gallery Trends

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By Daniel Cooney

When considering the current trends in commercial photography galleries, there are the obvious and already well-stated. Digital manipulation has become the norm, as have large, bold color images. Many galleries known for their emphasis on photography have begun to integrate non-photographic mediums into their programs, and the search for the next “young art star” is more intense than ever.
Something I have begun to notice lately is the reemergence of black and white photography in contemporary art. While it might not yet be considered a “trend,” I am starting to see a trickle of black and white images by working artists. While conducting research for this article I contacted a few colleagues who said they were also beginning to notice this, but only in bits and pieces. Many said they did not see it at all.

I started to consider this idea when one of my artists, Sarah Pickering, explained to me that her new series of photographs include both color and black and white images. The idea made sense, considering the series and the varied formats of her previous work. The idea of mixing black and white and color was exciting to me. I brought up the idea to a collector whose opinion I value greatly. He pointed out the recent exhibition of Vera Lutter’s monumental black and white photographs at Gagosian Gallery and the wonderful exhibition at Postmasters by Anthony Goicolea. Later he followed up with an e-mail mentioning Gregory Crewdson’s Fireflies exhibition at Skarstedt Fine Art and the integration of black and white images in Sarah Anne Johnson’s work shown at Julie Saul’s recently.


I enjoy the thought that black and white is being “reintroduced” to the world of image making, considering photography was black and white for most of it’s history. It is inspiring to see the work of artists who never abandoned the practice. One of the reasons I love photography and feel compelled to devote my life to it is that there is no other artistic medium that is constantly challenged by technology. Photography was born of technological advances and has continued to evolve because of those continuous advances.


On this subject, Sarah Morthland of Archive Consulting and Management Services in New York had this to say, “In no other artistic arenas are processes so easily dismissed as obsolete, or identified so strongly as belonging only to certain eras. Large color works are now ubiquitous and have lost some of their initial impact. It would be a natural tendency for artists to turn to black and white as another option in terms of utilizing whatever process best complements and promotes what they desire to express, rather than suffering the constraints of technological developments in the medium to provide the only acceptable source of materials for the creation of contemporary works of art.”


The collector who I mentioned earlier added, “As a collector of photography for nearly 15 years, I’m not sure if I’m convinced that black and white is a trend, as much as simply another way for artists to express themselves. Today, there are some great examples of contemporary photographers stretching their craft into the black and white realm. It seems odd to think of black and white as a stretch, but after years of big color, it feels like a refreshing venture. There is simplicity to black and white images. When color is taken out, the image becomes the main focus.” Charlotte Cotton notes in her essay The New Color: The Return of Black and White, “I am sure I’m not alone in beginning to think that the more complex, messy, unfashionable and broad territory of black and white photography is where we are going to find some of the grist to the mill in photography’s substantive and longer term positioning within art.”


From the perspective of the artists, Anthony Goicolea commented on the use of black and white imagery in his recent work, “I was interested in playing with the idea of traditional black and white photography versus digital and I like the film noir references and that it undermines the technology behind the image.” Sarah Pickering added a similar voice, “I’m currently using black and white as it suits the subject matter, dark and monochromatic environments. My work appears to have digital manipulation and I have been asked about that in my previous work where there was none. Although photography has always had the potential for manipulation, authenticity is much more of a concern now that digital technology has permeated the medium. I enjoy this ambiguity and with my new work I’m returning to traditional silver gelatin printing, but using digital methods.”


Looking to the future it seems that traditional black and white printing may become less common as silver-based papers and established darkroom processes become obsolete. As Anthony and Sarah mention, they are using digital production as a means to produce their images. Perhaps traditionalists will begin making their own papers or maybe it will become a cottage industry for artists dedicated to preserving the gelatin silver image. No matter how they are made, it seems that we might be seeing more black and white photographs in the world of contemporary art. It’s only natural after many years of color work becoming increasingly more saturated, brighter and bigger that artists would start to engage with the subtleties that a black and white image reveals. It is a refreshing look at an approachthat some have forgotten. Perhaps with the combination of technology and creative minds the “new” black and white will be something totally unexpected and truly new.

Daniel Cooney has over fifteen years of experience as an instructor, gallerist, curator and auction specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. He taught photography at the University of Illinois for three years and has lectured widely on contemporary and historical photography. Currently, Cooney is an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Studies Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his gallery career at the James Danziger Gallery and continued as Associate Director of the Julie Saul Gallery. He was also the Director of Online Photographs at Sothebys.com. He has taken appraisal classes at NYU and is on the Board of Advisors of the
Center for Photography in Woodstock.

Daniel Cooney has over fifteen years of experience as an instructor, gallerist, curator and auction specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. He taught photography at the University of Illinois for three years and has lectured widely on contemporary and historical photography. Currently, Cooney is an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Studies Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his gallery career at the James Danziger Gallery and continued as Associate Director of the Julie Saul Gallery. He was also the Director of Online Photographs at Sothebys.com. He has taken appraisal classes at NYU and is on the Board of Advisors of the
Center for Photography in Woodstock.

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Collector's Focus

Dare To Go

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By John Bennete

My wish for all collectors is to dare to be brave and go outside the much-hyped name artists that are being shown today—to begin collecting with an open mind and a willingness to take risks. The best thing about this moment is that we have greater choice, yet I fear by not supporting lesser-known established artists, we will doom the visual voice of a generation. Most artists need some support either intellectually, the nod of a sale, or preferably both. Too many artists, too few galleries and lists touting high six and seven figure sales tend to mask the reality that many good photographs sell for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

For all purposes the art world is making a final dash before the summer season begins. March/April have become prime months in the photography world. This year the Photograph Show and a number of major and special auctions have taken place in New York. Then there was Photo Lucida, a bi-annual event in Portland where photography is celebrated with a communal intensity that will not be seen again until Fotofest 2008.

Spring also signals a hungry new group of photographers being unleashed on us from every art school across this great land—hungry young photographers with starry eyes and dreams of being the next new name. For some weird celestial reason that I have never understood, I have the good fortune to see a lot of this new work, partly because I spend time on the review circuit, partly because the word has gotten out that I am easily approachable, and partly that occasionally I say something that makes a difference.

One of my favorite collectors says the only thing you need to collect is money. I thought it was just a good way to get a laugh; it was. But the one thing we would both say is: look and look, some more; study, and then edit. Collecting is very much like love. It happens, but most of the time you have to work hard at it, and nothing is ever guaranteed. This thought leads to the real reason I am writing this column.

Today a letter from a reader of Focus, who happens to be a photographer, arrived. It read:

Dear John Bennette, I am writing to thank you for writing such a well-researched and informative article in the February issue of Focus magazine. It is my first issue, and I am looking forward to the rest. As an emerging photographer based in Philadelphia, it is good to know what the art world is looking for and thinking. I have just recently started to show my portfolio and selling prints, and there is so much to know. I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but do you have any recommendations for an emerging photographer in Philadelphia to get started? I have heard that competitions are a good way, but at the same time, there are so many out there I don’t know which ones are any good. Also, I understand that cold-calling galleries is usually not recommended. One thing I have learned is that networking and getting to know who is who is very important, so I thought I’d reach out and start building my own network. Warmest regards, PE

My response:

Dear PE, The strangest things have happened in the last few years. Photography has broken away from being considered a second-hand art form. A few photographers have become media stars, and a new breed of collector has arrived on the scene with the galleries evolving their ideals to meet these new needs, as well as covering the escalating cost of keeping their space open. The artists are spending so much time promoting their photographs and trying to get into a major gallery (New York, preferably) that I am surprised there is any passion left for making art. I spent a little time at the Armory Show, an event for high art, and I was overwhelmed by the mass of people that congested the space. The fact that a lot of collectors spending large sums of money had an advisor at their sides to say, “This is worthy of taking out your checkbook,” was not really a problem, but it made me pause. What happened to the passion for creating art because you know nothing else, and you would have no life otherwise? What happened to the passion of collecting, which could cause you to give up food and debate how to pay the rent in order to own an image? I would like to share the following thoughts with you.

1. As an artist, you must have some knowledge of the history of art and photography and how your work fits in, reflects or extends that history. The reality is that the basic themes were established long ago; most artists can only hope for a flash of brilliant reinterpretation.

2. I don’ have an exact number, but let us say 3,000 artists finished institutions of higher learning with degrees this year. Competition is fierce, and that is a given for the ages. I have heard both sides of the argument for and against the juried show. I believe that all artists should enter them once in a while. I suggest this even to mature artists because it causes you to focus and reevaluate your work. Sign up and visit the many reviews that are conducted around the country. Create a web site that works, and link it to other sources. I noticed in the recent photo la catalog that artists are taking out ads for themselves. Having your work seen is an important part of the creative process for most.

3. The review session process, such as found at Photo Lucida (Portland, Oregon), Houston FotoFest and Review Santa Fe, is a good way of networking; in some ways it presents a level playing field. When participating in a review, remain positive. Remember, you go to reviews to meet other people and exchange ideas. Although sometimes people walk away with promised galleries, shows and book deals, what you should hope for is that your work is remembered, so if there is an opportunity for it to be shown, the reviewer will remember you. For example, I recently curated a show in New York City. The artists I chose for the show, which took place in a Chelsea gallery, were people I met at either Fotofest or Photo Lucida.

A new trend is the CD with the artists images written to it. I love them, though I suggest the artist please use an image on the label—when a reviewer goes through them later, it is easier if they can see an example of what is stored on the disc.

4. There are many highly respected career advisors and art coaches. Two that come to mind are Mary V. Swanson and Maria Piscopo. If you feel that you are stuck, then maybe it is time to find a consultant who specializes in getting you moving.

5. Be disciplined and devoted to your art.

I will name a few artists whose work I have acquired since I began writing this column. In order to do this, I need to be transparent and up front: a gallery for which I have curated an exhibition represents one of the artists. Added to my collection in the past year are photographs by Arthur Tress, Charles Traub, O. Rufus Lovett, Thomas Kellner, Dan Nelken, Carl Burton, Randy West, Roger Eberhard, Jefferson Hayman, Seth Dickerman and Stan Gaz. You can Google these artists to view their work.

My Stan Gaz is from the “Ash Drawings” series. Each image in the series is a unique hand-processed toned silver gelatin, negative-based print. Stan’s work is about loss, memory and grace. The image I acquired is 40 x 50” and called Lensboy X. I first became aware of his work on a studio visit. Stan was donating a piece to charity (another way to get some exposure of your work to the public). I was blown away by the tension between the lush and tactile surface and the calm mystery that lay beneath it. I was also impressed by the development of the work, how it related to art in general, as well as other bodies of work created by Stan, a very thoughtful and mature artist. Stan represents the shift away from the tiny box in which many photographers have placed themselves. For artists such as Stan, all media are part and parcel of the language they use to express their ideas and concepts. For me, Lensboy X evokes wonder and awe.

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Collector's Focus

SPEAKING OF TRENDS…

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By John A. Bennette

It would be irresponsible for me to name what I think is or will be hot in 2007. I want anyone who reads this to go out to the many galleries and look, find and discover the joy of seeing for yourself. Pick up a book, talk to your friends, meet and support an artist in your town—set your own trend. Vincent Libretti once said, “I don’t own the future, I just let it come.” Vincent was on to a good thing—the future is better in hindsight. I feel that the most remarkable aspect of 2007 will be the fulfillment of the past’s future—most of the predictions of 15 years ago are now being accepted as part of today’s photographic world. Some of these are scale, color and new technologies. To help me resolve this enigma of trends, I asked three questions of a few people each representing a different level of the photographic art world: gallery owners Bill Hunt, Yancy Richardson, Andrea Meislin and Michael Mazzeo and several artists.

The Three Questions

What are the trends in photography that you see? What directions are you taking to meet changes? For Bill, Yancy, Andrea and Michael the third question was: Which artists will you be showing in 2007/08 and will their exhibition reflect the trends? For the artists, the third question was: Which artists from your generation do you admire?

Bill Hunt – Hasted Hunt Gallery

1. People love new toys: home printers and Photoshop. But I am always knocked out how nothing is ever really new. I am not interested in trends, but ambitious to be ahead of the curve. The general level of photography talent is very high, but again I am more interested in what is extraordinary. Unfortunately, I don’t see any trends towards greatness. I think there may be less emphasis on separation within photography, that is, fashion, photojournalism, fine art—talent is talent. If this is a trend it is a good one.

2. Education. Listening. Patience. Guessing. Looking. Also we will phase out prints with face mounted Plexiglas and return to conventional framing.

3. We have two artists, which demonstrate two different things. Jean-Paul Goude created works in the ’70s that made it possible for artists at the turn of this century to make staged, Photoshopped work. Of course, he did it with an X-Acto blade and paste. Nothing is new. Everything old is new again. Andreas Gefeller has taken contemporary technology and used it to see something that doesn’t exist. He is the first contemporary photo-based artist whom I have encountered to see something that could not be seen before.

Yancy Richardson – Yancy Richardson Gallery

1. The biggest trend I see is the disappearance of black-and-white photography. Of all the new work I look at, I see very little good new work being produced in black-and-white. In addition, there is a continuing push towards larger and larger-sized prints made feasible by technology and the buoyancy of the art market.  Finally, there is a great deal of interest in work from the ’60s and ’70s.

2. I cannot do anything about the lack of interesting work in black-and-white, as it seems fewer artists are choosing to work that way. I just look for the best work I can find, regardless of the medium. As for scale, I am renting more storage space!

3. Our upcoming exhibitions include Don Donaghy, a long-forgotten New York school photographer who made work in the ’60s in black-and-white. In 2005 we did two shows of the ’60s photographs by Ed Ruscha. This December we will be showing the work of Andrew Moore, whose breathtaking photographs made in Russia, Sweden and the American West will be printed as large as 70 x 90”.

Andrea Meislin – Andrea Meislin Gallery

1. The gallery has been open for just over 2-1/2 years, so I may not be the right person to talk about trends. What I have noticed recently is that some collectors who are new to the gallery are buying photographs for the first time, after collecting contemporary paintings, drawings and sculpture. It is no longer just photography collectors who are interested in photographs. The medium is now another form of contemporary art to collect.

2. We will be adding at least two painters to the gallery’s stable of artists. The gallery will be participating in international contemporary art fairs—not only those devoted exclusively to photography. Most of the photographers we work with produce large-scale color images that are not limited to the earlier expectations of photographs: portable, black-and-white, etc.

3. Our schedule for 2007/2008 is still being worked on. That being said, we hope to do shows for a variety of artists ranging from a photographer who does traditional black-and-white portraits to a very smart older female “naive” painter who has never before shown in Chelsea.

Michael Mazzeo – Peer Gallery

1. Technological advances and global, political affairs will have the greatest effect on trends. Looking ahead, I expect to see more influence from Asian and South American countries as their economies grow and Internet access proliferates. As far as content and style, the ever-present narrative will give way to a more elusive poetry; we will see a greater confluence of Eastern and Western ideologies; social and political issues will be prominently addressed and environmental awareness will continue to be an important topic. I also expect to see more work from older artists. Successful photographers will need to have a good understanding and connection to the art that has come before, as well as an openness and awareness of current issues.

2. I keep an open mind and look for work that moves me on a visceral level.

3. So far, we are showing Jeff Jacobson, a photojournalist and Stan Gaz, a multimedia artist. Jacobson’s recent photographs are reflective, visionary and transcendent in a way that can only come from age and wisdom. Gaz is a prolific artist whose work, inspired by geology, art history and mythology, addresses memory, family, life and death.

These opinions and answers reflect the responses I received from other dealers and curators whom I queried. I feel that the majority of collectors will still “follow their gut,” as Bill Hunt would say. Yet we must understand that what collectors buy will be influenced by what they see and the serendipity of life. The artist’s answers were surprising in that the majority were unaware or unwilling to give in to the idea that there are trends. Most said that focusing on the creative process and their art was all they will be thinking about in 2007. This was a response from the youngest to someone like Lillian Bassman, who has made photographs for over six decades and made accommodation for the continual progression of technology in photography. Not only is she working with new papers, but also she is using, when necessary, new digital techniques. The idea of keeping an open mind about the “New Age of Photography” was also on the mind of another working photographer from the mid-century, Frank Paulin, who was excited about what could be accomplished and things he could improve upon using new systems. Frank spoke to a group of my students recently and I can say this vital 82-year old was enjoying making pictures in the 21st century. I will only be quoting one artist, Doron Gild, but I think he sums up most of what the others had to say. Here are his answers.

1. Our culture lends itself to trends, whether it’s Ryan McGinley, the Yale Girls, or one of the Britney Spears pop star things. People like certain things because they’re hot or fresh. But, at the end of its cycle, it all looks and feels the same and, for that reason, it withers away just in time for the next big thing to come onto the scene. As for photography and art in general, there will always be trends, but the images, paintings and other art forms that are really great will last. They won’t just be trends; they are timeless. They are the tools that shape our culture and history.

2. I’m trying to stay passionate and faithful to what I believe in about photography and the process. It is a very real thing for me. At the same time, I am trying to be realistic about our culture and the digital age, realizing that an evolution is happening around me. I have to adapt to the accessibility to photography. With this revolution . . . no one is necessarily forcing me, or us, to live by it. But we absolutely have to learn about and find ways to be inspired by the bombardment of images and, if need be, apply some new knowledge accumulated through these changes. Basically, I’m doing whatever feels right and moving forward in my own way.

3. Phillip Toledano inspires me with his desire to make beautiful photographs. His generosity and support of others, both artists and the people he works with—behind and in front of the camera—is amazing. He makes people around him want to become better artists, better people. He makes people smile. Phillip makes art because he loves to make art, not to prove anything to anyone. That is rare in a photographer in New York. Simon Johan’s first body of work inspired me to take my .photography to the next level. It gave me a sense of drive that pushed me to put my all into my photographs and make them my own. Even though it’s cliché to say—me. I try to make photographs AS photographs. I try to understand why I am making each individual photograph. I’m not trying to make the photograph fit within a body of work. I want to make something specific. My school of thought is not such that I say, “Okay, I’m working on a show and I’m going to make these 12 pictures.” Then, there’s the show and I’ll just move on afterwards. I like to make photographs where I enjoy my train of thought surrounding the creation of the image. That’s what I admire about Phillip Toledano. He’s currently in the process of completing four bodies of work. Not because they are projects necessarily, but because each of them is something he is passionate about and he wants them to open a dialog with the viewer; to share his passion and vision with the world.

Well, that is what the insiders have to say. What more can I add? I spend a lot of time talking to artists and realize that for them the least concern is trends. The idea of trends feels too much like commercial hype. Appreciation and understanding of their vision by others with the hope of sustaining their creative process is what concerns them most. Everything else is fluid. Is not the need for narrative depth, color and even new larger scale a type of pictorialism? I fell in love (heat) with a photograph recently, the photograph was by Leora Laor, Untitled #154, that was shown this fall at Andrea Meislin Gallery it was 32 x 42”. Except for the fact that it was a photograph it was almost timeless, painterly. I felt as if I were eavesdropping on a beautiful, yet awkward moment, the rush of a voyeur. The predominate mood was quiet longing and detachment filtered through an amber and absinthe-green palette. There were historical and layered suggestive hints, that allusions and my memory reinforced every time I visited. My soul welled with desire, but in the end, it will be a lost love. I wait to see it published somewhere, so I can rip the page out as a souvenir. So what do I feel about trends? Most of them mean nothing to me. Technology is not a trend; the demand for an artist to create is not one either. The struggle between art and life and fashion and what defines them is a constant.

   The market place needs and creates trends, one of which I think is Focus magazine and others like it.  I think that because of the number of artists that the market place must now face, Focus magazine becomes another tool, like a website to help artists showcase their images. I see that these types of publications will become a multi-purpose directory and a forum for discussions about photography. I see the need and the evolution for this kind of publication . . . I also see that every man woman and child will someday have a camera. Vincent was right—let it come!

John A. Bennette is a well-known New York photography critic and scholar whose passion is collecting and supporting emerging artists. His 1996 AIPAD address on “The Joy of Collecting” brought him to national attention within the photographic community. He is a frequent panelist and lecturer at photographic symposia nationwide. To contact John with any comments or questions, please e-mail him at johnabennette@focusmag.info.

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