Teach a Man to Fish...
February 11, 2007 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Dude gives a homeless friend a camera. Months later, dude receives prints in the mail.
posted by tylermoody (63 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not months, but years later. This is a sweet story. It's always nice to see kindness rewarded.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 PM on February 11, 2007


Wow. In the end, SomethingNotThatAwful. SomethingKindOfGood, in fact.
posted by psmealey at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2007


Not only a nice story, but very interesting, good photos. Thanks!
posted by synaesthetichaze at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2007


That's pretty neat. Thanks.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 4:39 PM on February 11, 2007


Very evocative- each picture seems to ask so many questions. Given the back story, I look at the pictures and wonder where it was taken, and why he was there...if he'd eaten today...what particular impulse struck him to chose that particular shot. Each of these photographs suggests so much while saying so little...what a unique photoset.
posted by baphomet at 4:46 PM on February 11, 2007


Very cool. I liked the old house up on cinder blocks, the rear wheels of the truck and the general store shrouded in mist.
posted by caddis at 4:52 PM on February 11, 2007


Terrific post. Thanks.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:54 PM on February 11, 2007


[this is good]
posted by drezdn at 4:54 PM on February 11, 2007


Wow. That is good stuff. Thank you. My attempts at photography seem so weak in comparison. These are the pictures I want to take. And I can't even get my shit together enough to do it while being non-homeless.
posted by blacklite at 4:56 PM on February 11, 2007


I really like #29, the black-and-white of the field with the crooked, half-dead tree in the left side.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:02 PM on February 11, 2007


I don't know if you had the same problem as me, with some pictures on the first page not loading, but if you do, someone reposted the pictures to another site and relinked to them. I saw some pics I hadn't seen the first time around. It's on page 3 of the comments. Jeefrs further comments are also pretty interesting.
posted by Kattullus at 5:08 PM on February 11, 2007


My college roommate did something very similar to this for his senior thesis. He gave two local homeless men video cameras and then edited together the footage they gave him into a documentary.

The film is on the Internet Archive. We thought it was pretty interesting.
posted by teferi at 5:17 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


what drezdn said.
posted by shmegegge at 5:19 PM on February 11, 2007


Nice post. Some great photos.
posted by snsranch at 5:21 PM on February 11, 2007


Thanks for the fine post, tylermoody!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 PM on February 11, 2007


Interesting stuff. Nice!
posted by snsranch at 5:51 PM on February 11, 2007


This just proves that you don't always need the latest Nikon 10 megapizel $5,000 camera and a whole collection of lenses to come out with some damn good photos.

If we didn't know this story, would we still think these were good photos? I would still think they're decent photos.
posted by drstein at 6:04 PM on February 11, 2007


I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
posted by mhh5 at 6:06 PM on February 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


Incredible. I love the spent beer can behind the fence. I'm with you, baphomet: I keep wondering where this kid went and what he had been doing with himself. He seems to focus on the old and the decayed.
posted by gc at 6:06 PM on February 11, 2007


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Not here. It's what is not said that speaks volumes. Thirteen is a silent scream, and in a way, all of them are silent screams. We know these images are talking to us but we'll never fully understand what they say.

I just deleted several paragraphs of my attempting to convey... there are no words. I'm forced to leave it at that.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:20 PM on February 11, 2007


Maybe its just my cold heart, but I thought the pictures were perfectly average, at best. It's a good story and I applaud the person who gave the kid the camera for trying to do something good for this kid and the community, but I thought the pix were just ok. Sorry. Thanks for the post Tylermoody.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:25 PM on February 11, 2007


I love the spent beer can behind the fence.

The way the guy is reaching for it in one photo, my guess is that's the drug stash.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:32 PM on February 11, 2007


Without the framing story, would you have thought these were as amazing as you said they are? They look like what I used to take with the cheap camera that came with my TIME magazine subscription. Maybe I'm a photographic genius, too.
posted by Eideteker at 6:33 PM on February 11, 2007


I was disapointed. With that set up, this could've been a glimpse into a different world. Not great photography and no real human connection. I went into that reminded of the photos from an older post, where a guy gave disposable cameras to favela kids in Rio (scroll down).
posted by john m at 6:41 PM on February 11, 2007


Maybe art is context too, Eldeteker.
posted by Mercaptan at 6:43 PM on February 11, 2007


I liked the photos and the context helped me like them more. But several of them I would have liked on their own.

But i like grit...in photos, in film. So the crudeness of them was appealing to me.
posted by django_z at 6:49 PM on February 11, 2007


Thanks for the post, but for the most part, they were just average photos (unfortunately, as I really wanted to like them!).

I think by now, most people are used to seeing digital photos more so than film prints, so anything that has film's characteristic grain and roughness creates a secondary atmosphere that is usually taken positively.

For example, the one with a green window -- its only saving grace is the nice bokeh, the shallow depth-of-field, and the saturated color (which probably came from a slightly underdeveloped negative). Taken with a digital camera, it wouldn't look like anything much. Perhaps it would have been nicer if we were certain that these all was deliberate, with specified contrast and exposure.


The concept is somewhat exploitative as well -- a bunch of different photos with varying subjects coupled with the context of homelessness is just playing off a moderate form of exoticism. E.g., "Look at his unique and different experience, their special point of view versus ours!", a kind of quaint pop-armchair-anthropology, the arrogance of unconscious condescension.

This might as well be taken by some teenager on a road trip, if not the fact that the captions tell us that they were taken by a 'homeless kid'. I think that there's a degree of interpretation taken by ourselves, an attempt to force the photos as documentation of homeless life (as already seen in this thread: The way the guy is reaching for it in one photo, my guess is that's the drug stash.). These are just some photos from some kid with some film camera, and clearly they came out that way.

I do like the spiderweb one, though.
posted by suedehead at 7:25 PM on February 11, 2007


The photos were interesting, but the story is really what captures my imagination. It's interesting that this kid remembered your kindness. It really makes me want to invest some effort in strangers. Not to be sappy, but that was a really cool thing to do.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:42 PM on February 11, 2007


Um, they're fakes. Homeless kids travels to many different setting in different parts of the country? And spends money years later to print and mail the pix. Um, I could even get the improbability...but just look at the pix. No way that happened like it's described.
posted by orchidthief at 7:43 PM on February 11, 2007


It would have been so much better if the kid had written captions for the pictures... But, it's still an interesting story and the photos are intriguing.

On preview, I hope it's not a hoax, but orchidthief's skepticism made me think "hmmm."
posted by amyms at 7:49 PM on February 11, 2007


I gave a homeless friend a camera. Years later, I received a pawn ticket in the mail.
posted by chudder at 7:51 PM on February 11, 2007


Um, they're fakes.
yeah, yeah, another fucking super genius know it all. how about some proof Einstein?
posted by caddis at 7:53 PM on February 11, 2007


I have to say that 13 looks more like goofing off rather than brooding misery. ("Go on, pretend you're Pennywise") It's tempting to ascribe partially obscured meanings to some of these images.
posted by fFish at 8:11 PM on February 11, 2007


orchidthief: Um, they're fakes. Homeless kids travels to many different setting in different parts of the country? And spends money years later to print and mail the pix.

Jeefsr, the guy who gave the kid the camera commented on this later in the Something Awful thread:

Also some people seem to think that homeless=living under an overpass begging and eating out of garbage cans. He wasn't homeless in that way, he was bouncing around from different friends and family until he got his life back in order. Who's to say that a concerned uncle or whatever didn't pay for the film to be developed? Or the kid himself paid for it after he got a job somewhere?
posted by Kattullus at 8:12 PM on February 11, 2007


Um, they're fakes. Homeless kids travels to many different setting in different parts of the country? And spends money years later to print and mail the pix. Um, I could even get the improbability...but just look at the pix. No way that happened like it's described.

Some photos are cool, for sure, but I'm skeptical too.
posted by Tube at 8:15 PM on February 11, 2007


How come some are in color and others in black and white? Obviously these photos span several different rolls of film.

There is more to this story than just "I gave a homeless kid a camera, and a roll of film; he mailed the photos to me." I'm sort of cynically with orchidthief.
posted by wfrgms at 8:18 PM on February 11, 2007


I think it's a cool post. Thanks for sharing.
I wonder if there's any chronology to how the photos are displayed on the site - is it just me or does the quality of the photographs increase the more you scroll down the page? Very interesting stuff.
posted by tiger yang at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2007


How come some are in color and others in black and white? Obviously these photos span several different rolls of film.

There is more to this story than just "I gave a homeless kid a camera, and a roll of film; he mailed the photos to me." I'm sort of cynically with orchidthief.


Perhaps when the guy states that "I gave a camera and some film to a homeless kid," he means more than one roll of film. Or perhaps the homeless kid bought, borrowed, or stole some additional rolls of film.

The scenario as described in the Something Awful thread is entirely plausible.
posted by good in a vacuum at 8:41 PM on February 11, 2007


I imagine the cynicality comes from people feeling burned by that "I found a camera in the woods" thing a few years back that they really wanted to be true.
posted by setanor at 9:01 PM on February 11, 2007


suedehead - I'm going to have to politely disagree with you on the grounds that this work is relevant even if it is not great photography. They show great emotion, even if it's not intended; there is a loneliness to the photographs, and a dirtiness. This is the portrait of the type of homelessness that the kid is experiencing. One which is isolated, dirty, and yet not lacking in good experiences either. One in which there are no clear faces, but the mountains are still beautiful. In my opinion, no matter the brilliance of execution, these photos should be taken as an (unintentional, perhaps) commentary on life spent amongst a backdrop few of us have or will ever deal with.

That a piece must be technically brilliant or even just technically better-than-average to be special seems to run counter to the concept of modernity in art (Dadaism, Duchamp, the Fountain). We are intellectual creatures, and intellectually stimulating pieces of art do not have to be aesthetically pleasing or have technical merit.

orchidthief - I would be just as impressed with the message in the photos if the original story turned out to be fake after all. If that were the case, then one could argue that the artist wanted to evoke an emotion in his audience; one which helped to elucidate his own feelings about homelessness, and the backstory he made up was an important (and extremely well executed) piece of the work.

P.s. Thanks for this thread, tylermoody, and thanks suedehead and orchidthief, you guys got me to actually stop lurking and register so I could post a disagreement!
posted by lygaret at 9:17 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who chose to live like this for a while, bouncing around without a home and living wherever the wind took him. He was gone for just four months, but in that time he traveled from Minnesota to Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans (volunteering there pulling junk out of destroyed houses), Tucson, Phoenix, and San Fransisco, only coming back because of a family emergency. Along the way he caught rides, hitchhiked, and hopped trains. His meals came from generosity or dumpsters, his shelter from acquaintances or the sky. And he stole a whole freaking lot of stuff along the way- its not hard to barter stolen merchandise for food or transport.

So yes, orchidthief, the story as presented is completely plausible. My friend came from an average middle-class suburb, his parents are well-to-do. And yet he traveled a pretty good span of the USA in three months- imagine where somebody living like this could wind up in the space of years. As others have said, being homeless doesn't mean you spend your time smoking crack in a box in an alley.
posted by baphomet at 9:20 PM on February 11, 2007


It seems more plausible to me that the guy might lie to get more attention for his own photography. Still, I enjoyed the pictures, so no need to gripe.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:43 PM on February 11, 2007


That 76 gas station is the junction of soda lake Rd and hwy166 in eastern San Luis Obispo Co.
posted by hortense at 9:58 PM on February 11, 2007


lygaret -
I do agree with you that a few of the photographs have something, whether it be emotion or atmosphere -- the 67 gas station, for example; the shallow range of darks and lights, and the soft focus, and the semi-sepia tone of it all lends some voice to it.

At the same time, I'll also have to politely disagree and say that I feel that the stronger, if not strongest reason that these photographs exude some sort of atmosphere is that they were taken in film, with a half-decent SLR camera and lens, and that the resulting image quality looks more appealing, more rounded, fleshy, more warm. Much like how vinyl-lovers and tube-aficionados will describe such 'retro' tendencies. The thing is, film has always been this way, but the flood of digital images and megapixel-love has turned the general focus of visual images towards the super-sharp and super-clean. Now, a homeless boy gets an old 35mm film slr, takes some photographs, and his generous benefactor posts them on the internet, and with this description of dirtiness, starkness, some sort of down-to-earth connotation comes these wonderfully analog photographs seen as wonderful instead.

Duchamp and the other Dadaists were being playful and said that bad art was art if designated, proclaimed as such. I'm not sure if this 'homeless kid' really intended all of these photographs to come out this way -- I'm skeptical as to how much control and thought he took with the printing/touching-up process, if (as the original link says) there were many, many others that were overexposed. Part of interesting photography is good editing.

But I do agree that with themselves, they stand as nice 'found photos', almost devoid of context, with more meaning impacted by the viewer. And I definitely agree that if the original story was a fake, then I am impressed (and humored) by the person if he purposefully forged a story and photographs to match...
posted by suedehead at 10:01 PM on February 11, 2007


What I find interesting about this thread is the fact that after a long string of posts lauding both the photographs and the thread, as soon as the first "Eh, these photos are only ok" post was added, the whole thread turned critical, and then skeptical. I'm not a sociologist, but it's probably a common, plottable curve with a "tipping point."

As a set of photographs, these provide a worldview and even an ideology that presents a strong voice and skewed, specific point of view -- exactly what novelists try to do with their main characters. (And overall, in composition and subject selection, there's a really striking Walker Evans meets Huck Finn kind of aesthetic at work.)

In the context of narrator vs. author, I agree that it almost doesn't matter whether the collection is authentic or manufactured; it's conjured either way, and to good effect.

However, having worked with homeless people --and having been homeless myself, for a few months (although not on the street) -- I have to testify that the question of where and how one lives really doesn't comment on an individual's past, education, editorial eye, aesthetic taste, or skill with tools, although homelessness as a sustained lifestyle can certainly shorten one's future.

Oh, yeah -- and just because the guy gave the kid only one roll of film doesn't mean the kid had to consider himself constrained to shooting only 24 pictures. Sheesh. Mean circumstances often make people more resourceful, not less.
posted by tarintowers at 10:33 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


What I find interesting about this thread is the fact that after a long string of posts lauding both the photographs and the thread, as soon as the first "Eh, these photos are only ok" post was added, the whole thread turned critical, and then skeptical. I'm not a sociologist, but it's probably a common, plottable curve with a "tipping point."

Yeah, I've wondered about this as well. I've always thought it's a combination of 1) the time it takes to write a multi-paragraph criticism versus a one-line statement of praise -- the one-liners win as soon as the post is up -- and 2) because the general atmosphere of praise can invite criticism, but not vice-versa, as people would rather criticize something that everybody likes, than proclaiming to like something that everybody's criticizing. Or maybe it's just me.
posted by suedehead at 11:11 PM on February 11, 2007


I think there's a lot to your second point, suedehead, but as to your first point, it seems to me that it can work just as easily the other way 'round.

Also, I'd like to reiterate that the corect view is that the photos are good.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:33 PM on February 11, 2007


"Duchamp and the other Dadaists were being playful and said that bad art was art if designated, proclaimed as such."
You're right, suedehead, though I would add another dimension to it: Duchamp and the other Dadaists were being playful only to challenge the view that an artists worth was about technical skill rather than emotional and intellectual depth.

By the way, you make a very good point about wonderful vs. wonderfully analog, though I'll make the argument that the analog nature of the photos, the low-tech quality to them, is part of what makes them more emotionally powerful, in addition to appealing to the analog aesthetic. Combined with the backstory, they make a much more powerful statement: instead of "here's some photos of my life as a homeless person," it's "here's some photos of my life as a homeless person, done in old technology and less than desirable circumstances." It adds a depth to the story that a more refined technique might not have.
posted by lygaret at 11:58 PM on February 11, 2007


Today I found a flickr group that would have made a perfect second link for this post. Tell a Story in 5 Frames.
posted by tylermoody at 4:52 AM on February 12, 2007


"Maybe art is context too, Eldeteker."

Whoa, I like, get it now. Pass the toke, man. (Eldeteker? That's a new one. Usually I get Eidetaker. Maybe El Deteker is my Mexican cousin.)

"As a set of photographs, these provide a worldview and even an ideology that presents a strong voice and skewed, specific point of view..."

No, you provide it. In your head. You believe the story and so feel sympathetic. Your sympathy makes you romanticize the photos and want to see things in them that aren't there. You want to post your observations of those things publicly so others will see you are not only enlightened, but a kind individual towards the homeless (oh look, and you mention having worked with them!). Cognitive dissonance makes you stick to your story even after an alternate explanation has been provided.

Whether or not the story is true, etc., I don't find the photographs to be all that inspiring. That's the great thing about art; it's subjective. It is great that you got something out of them, don't get me wrong. I just don't see it. That's how it goes.
posted by Eideteker at 5:19 AM on February 12, 2007


What I find interesting about this thread is the fact that after a long string of posts lauding both the photographs and the thread, as soon as the first "Eh, these photos are only ok" post was added, the whole thread turned critical, and then skeptical. I'm not a sociologist, but it's probably a common, plottable curve with a "tipping point."

I think I was the first person to say "meh". FWIW, as a point of information, I did not read the posts previous to mine prior to my posting my comment. As it was, I was slightly defensive about posting that these are average pix. I am pretty confident that had I read the previous posts, I would have chosen to just not post a comment at all. I most likely would have said to myself, "Self, these pictures are ok, but why post that and spoil everyone's group hug?" I assume going in that I was with the majority. And, to add to the MeTa thoght about this post, I think it was a good post, just not good pictures.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:29 AM on February 12, 2007


I nominate Eideteker for the coveted Douchebag of the Thread award. Mail your ballots in the self-stamped envelope provided.

Seriously though dude, somebody made a point to perhaps help you get the point of this (which you obviously don't) and the best you can come up with is "pass the toke"?

No, you provide it. In your head.

That's the whole point of what (some of us think) makes this really cool- and when somebody points that out all you can do is misconstrue them as stoners (as if that were a bad thing)? Try harder to participate in the discussion next time.
posted by baphomet at 8:10 AM on February 12, 2007


lygaret -- excellent point about Dada.

it's "here's some photos of my life as a homeless person, done in old technology and less than desirable circumstances."

And that's why I worry about backstory and such, because they can be unnecessarily colored by connotation and impressions. I'm not sure if these photographs would appeal as much if they weren't by a homeless person. In fact, it seems that the word 'homeless' is crucial to our (or my) attempt to reconstruct, and eventually misconstrue this as something more than a set of photographs and instead of a narrative --- but only because there's an unconscious condescension that's going on.

For example, for the photographs with the favela kids in rio -- I thought before I clicked through, for a moment, that I would see some kind of documentation, some insider view of the favelas, somehow more authentic, a kind of neutral photographic statement about the way things were there. Would the project been with kids in a reasonably well-do-do town somewhere in the US, I think that everyone would go into such photographs with the expectation of seeing the point-of-view of children, and we'd be talking about the untouched eyes of children, void of any standard compositional rules or ideas about photography.

Instead, because these kids are from a favela, or because the kid's homeless, I worry that words like street, garbage, drugs flash before our eyes, even though the original link says that he was just living with friends and family for a while, and that this leads to an overcompensation for what are nice-but-plain-and-average photographs. That these colorings may not lead to, but are on a path parallel to concurring exoticisms and unrealized compensations and adjustments made, exactly because we place ourselves "higher"...
posted by suedehead at 8:13 AM on February 12, 2007


"I nominate Eideteker for the coveted Douchebag of the Thread award."

My first one! It's okay, I expected someone to misread the tone of my comment. The text was caustic, but the context was not. Or maybe vice-versa. What I said was, you may like this for the reasons you stated, or you may like them for the reasons I stated. You like them, I don't.

My original comment was: "Without the framing story, would you have thought these were as amazing as you said they are?" To which I got the response that it basically is the framing. The rest of my reply was basically having fun with maybe a little piss-taking. I apologize to all the people I've hurt and peed on, it was all in-character, I don't hate you or think less of you. Will you be my Valumtimes?
posted by Eideteker at 8:29 AM on February 12, 2007


First of all, the SA forums are not exactly known for being super-honest all the time. I mean these are the guys who created the Greenlighting Hoax. Second of all the pictures are pretty average. And no way were they the first roll taken by some budding amateur. They might be his best X shots over the years, even if the story is true.
posted by delmoi at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2007


Hmm, pix are real. Some are ok. Story is ... questionable. I echo the sceptics here. When you get down to it, the ONLY thing that separates this from my own amateur (and emminently not-publishable) attempts at photography is the storyline. If you choose to believe - enjoy. If not, well then it comes across as pretty lame.
posted by elendil71 at 9:45 AM on February 12, 2007


I live in San Luis Obispo, California. Where the photographs were taken. I can confirm that yes, these pictures are very likely "real"; the things in those pictures are all a short driving distance away.

From the pictures, it seems that the kid spent most of his time in "North County". Which is loosely defined as the part of San Luis Obispo County just north of the city of San Luis Obispo. For example:

At least one of the pictures appears to be somewhere in the storm drains under the city of San Luis Obispo.

There are several oil fields within about an hour of where I live, one of his pictures reminds me of an oil field north of Paso Robles.

Views like this one can be had on many of the roads that go into the nearby mountains, views like this one are common on offshoots of said roads.

For what it's worth, most of the pictures seem to be consistent with what a bored kid would do in this county: explore the storm drains, sneak around abandoned buildings, go on long car rides.
posted by jpf at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2007


suedehead -- you make some really good points; I think I understand your position more fully now, and I think we are probably arguing different points all together.

Correct me if I'm wrong: you contend that we (the royal-thread-we) ascribe some sort of aesthetic to the photos purely based on the assumption that they were taken in dire circumstance. And I agree with you, one hundred percent. My contention is that that assumption and the resulting emotional depth of the photographs is the art. They are cathartic precisely because we assume the worst.

Imagine finding a love letter on the street, picking it up and reading it. To the writer, and the intended recipient, it might be an everyday thing, or a romantic gesture; but to you, it's literature (read: art). And if it evokes an emotion in you, it's important and good art.

By the way, people interested in this thread might want to take a look at Tom Stone's excellent flickr stream: he does portraiture of homeless people and provides their backstory along with the portraits. Some of the best photography I've ever seen, and deeply, deeply touching. These are my favorites. Note that the second link is sort of disturbing.
posted by lygaret at 6:48 PM on February 12, 2007


And I wanted to throw that up as an FPP, as I did a search and it doesn't look like it's been put up before, but I only signed up the day before yesterday ;)
posted by lygaret at 6:50 PM on February 12, 2007


lygaret -- you make some great points as well. I really do agree that the idea of a personal created context imposed onto created things is art, I do. And I wholeheartedly agree with your interpretation of as art being the viewer's choice/right.

But I worry about non-artistic, 'political' ideas. You're right about what I say, that "we ascribe some sort of aesthetic to the photos purely based on the assumption that they were taken in dire circumstance."

I worry that not only is the dire circumstance the key point, but some kind of condescension is as well, because in the process of creating an expectation of a certain narrative, we differentiate between the normal and the different -- because the different has the power to be worthwhile as such a narrative. I worry that this splitting of norms versus abnorms is a kind of me-versus-them that the viewer actually thinks of internally as a us-versus-them ("we think these are great"). When we're giving favela kids disposable cameras, we're making it as clear as possible (albeit unconsciously so) that those kids are different from 'us', and that we are interested in their view because they are different; not 'us'. I worry that the 'us' part stems from patronizing expectations and an arrogant camaraderie with an assumed norm.

In short, regardless of whether or not they have legitimacy as art is the viewer's choice, but I worry that the idea of an 'other' attached to these photos, in the vein of old curiosity shows, are what ultimately propels them as intrigue and post material. I do hope not

The photos you posted are great, lygaret (and most certainly worth of an FPP). I'm just hoping that I don't think they're great, because their subjects are homeless people.
posted by suedehead at 11:10 PM on February 12, 2007


Whoops, take out the 'I do hope not' in there..
posted by suedehead at 11:11 PM on February 12, 2007


Actually, any body of work by an individual expresses a worldview and most expresses the artist's ideology; some critics refer to this as the "filter" of the individual's background and experience

Not only is context relevant, context is inseparable from the product. So is process, and if the process is known, it can reveal more. Even titles and captions are context separate from a work -- when you see a painting on a museum wall, the title is a separate entity that can be approached or skipped. I find context such as the date of the work and the age of the artist invaluable in understanding the artist's take on her or his own body of work. And such biographical context isn't just my personal preference, it's art-historical data.

Artwork -- but photos and writing in particular -- is often "tagged" with the identity and background of the artist: gay, black, female, homeless, etc. This is the whole postmodern vs. "postmodern" debate: is the identity of the author enough to justify the product, if the product's "quality" conforms to different standards than those of our Modern and Classical forefathers?

cf. debates about the aesthetic worth of the genres of punk rock, grafitti and stencils, zines, various DIY installations vs. commissioned installations, public art vs. vandalism, etc.

cf. DIY vs. outsider art vs. the academy

and soforth
posted by tarintowers at 11:31 PM on February 12, 2007


When I first viewed this group of photos I dismissed it as the equivalent of that plastic bag blowing around in American Beauty: what any kid who thinks himself an artistic soul aims his camera at. Urban squalor, domestic emptiness, the lonely landscape. Those full of praise for a new genius talk of a homeless kid as if he was raised in a jungle far from civilization, but the homeless have been exposed to the same collections of images as the rest of us, from advertisements, movies, music videos. They can know the impact of a closeup versus a wide shot, black and white versus colour.

On second viewing I had more appreciation for them as a collection. However, while I'm no expert on photography, I see little consistence in the quality of the way they've been reproduced. Colour mixes with black and white. Where some see the muted colours on the gas station photo as an artistic choice, I see similarities to the way cheap prints from the 70's and early 80's fade. If someone wanted to select a variety of photos to construct a narrative of the artistic streetkid, they'd chose a grouping like this. Sensitive closeups of piano keys and shoes contrasting with flat depictions of urban grit. In a time when we want to see tattoos and graffiti as authenticity, we eat stories like this up. How many fraud books have their been recently that presented us with the artistic genius living the edge lifestyle? Sure, a homeless kid with a free camera could produce a grouping of photos like this - they're not that special. But the story being told fits the pattern of other put-ons. The person telling the story presents himself as a benefactor, and is the only possible access point to the subject.
posted by TimTypeZed at 4:49 AM on February 13, 2007


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