Monday, January 08, 2007

Soth vs. Polidori - Trump and Rosie?

A small skirmish is taking place between two contemporary Large Format colour photographers – both of whose work is sometimes concerned with the urban/suburban condition (among other things) - Alec Soth and Robert Polidori.

Soth (Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagra) often likes people in his photographs. Whereas I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person on a Polidori photograph (Zones of Exclusion, Havana After the Flood etc) – okay, maybe one.

A while back on his blog, Soth wrote about (among other things) the crop of projects and books coming out of the Katrina disaster – by Chris Jordan, Robert Polidori, Katherine Wolkoff etc and bemoaning the lack of people in the work:

"...I think these are all terrific photographers. And they’ve done admirable work. But after awhile I find the absence of people in the pictures a little frustrating.

Katrina is a good example of why I often defend the efforts of photojournalists. Certainly photojournalism has numerous faults, but I admire the attempt to connect the subject (in this case Katrina) to real people."
Now, it appears Polidori has taken it personally and responded with plenty of vigour:

"There were no people in these neighborhoods.
The place was empty. I happen to have a press pass.
That was the only way to get in unless you were
police, army, FEMA, or some other government entity.
The city was evacuated. What am I suppose to do?
Track down some owner and fly him him or her in and pose them
like stick figure props in front of their house? By this method maybe I would of taken 10 photos in the cumulative 3 months I spent there. And besides, and more to the point, that is not my intention. What more are you really going to learn from having a person here?
My belief is that you should take stills of what doesn’t seem to move, and take movies or videos of does..."

It gets better…:

"...Furthermore these comments about museums and galleries underpresenting photos populated by the human figure are ridiculous and sound as if the Great Lakes had become a Sour Milk Sea."
who knew blogging could be so much fun – two contemporary photographic egos marking their territory (more comments from Soth: here)


Anonymous said...

FUn exchange. I’ve never been able to make up my mind about Polidori – neither fish nor fowl – architectural photographer? artist? Industrial photographer? And Soth still seems something of the Wunderkind, not quite a Dusseldorf Struthsky, not quite a photojournalist? (despite the Magnum credentials) Not quite a Shorefeld

Edward Richards said...

I have to side with Polidori on this one. I have done a longer term large format survey of the Katrina damage, and there are no people in my pictures either. ( The places are not habitable, the only people will be doing demolition. There has been some good LF work done of people post-Katrina, but they are the folks whose homes were not destroyed.

tim atherton said...

Thanks Edward. Interestingly, I don't think Soth mentions the work of his Magnum colleague Larry Towell and his book In the Wake of Katrina

just going by what's on the Magnum site it seems split about 50/50 people and no people (and both are good)

Anonymous said...

you have to wonder about intent though, people or no people.

in polidoris "chernobil" book there is a text by the author stating that "this must never happen again" etc. etc. etc...

however when i sent his agent a petition to use these photographs in the "greenpeace" magazine for the 20th aniversary of the disaster (free distribution to 90,000 members), i didn't even get a reply, oh yes, you can but the prints through galeries in limited editions, you can sure you'll get a reply to one of those enquiries...

tim atherton said...

Jörg over on Conscientious blog has a rather convoluted comments system, so I can't post this there.

This may well be an interesting topic (people vs no people, art vs. photojournalism etc etc) but in the final analysis, it's not a terribly important one

"Do we always need a spectacle?" No – but do we always need to be so serious about art...?(especially when to – apparently talented and intelligent artists seem to be making not terribly well thought out statements about each other)

Anonymous said...

I think if you read Conscientious and the Soth blog, it's probably much more about blog buddies than anything else