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Monday, March 15, 2010

Eric Ogden creates haunting photographs:

We went to the Scope Art Fair at Lincoln Center in New York, and his work really leapt out from the aisles full of art that fell mostly into the categories of "ugly," "huh?" and "oh, yeah, that." There's an even more haunting picture of this particular model in a doorway that says GENTS, and you wonder if she's coming out of the gents or beckoning someone to come in.

Lately I've been seeing a lot of staged art photos, and some of them are quite amazing. We have this Amy Stein up on our wall, and it wows me every time.

Obviously it's staged. None of us wants Amy Stein this close to a bear.

So I certainly don't object to staged art photos.

But here's the thing. The model's name in the first photo is Penelope Cruz, and she has done some work from time to time in the movie business.

And somehow, from the moment that I know the photo is of an actress, I start to question my fondness for Mr. Ogden's image. Is it somehow cheating to get a world-quality actress to pose for your lens? The photo starts to seem like a still from a movie that you happen not to have seen. And we don't see stills as art photos, do we?

But on the other hand, is that fair? Movies are art. Why should I feel somehow betrayed by a posed, cinematic art photo that practically radiates a feeling of a narrative. What is going on there?

Sure, the artist isn't alone in creating the image. He's probably hired a hair stylist and a makeup artist and a wardrobe gal and a production designer. But so what? Every movie director does that, and they're considered artists.

Why does it bug me so that it's Penelope Cruz?

Is it because images of this quality when they're movie stills just don't seem that rare or special? Because you can pick up movie stills of just this quality and narrative quality with expressive actresses emoting, sometimes from very impressive photographers, for $10?

You tell me.

Eric Ogden's exhibition, A Half-Remembered Season, opens at HousProjects, 31 Howard Street, on March 18th.

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Photographs from Amy Stein's Domesticated: Modern Dioramas of our New Natural History, are on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, MA, thru April 18, 2010.

By Blogger Blue, at 11:50 AM  

An excellent question!

I think we perceive "candid style" photographs more like documentary films. The magic comes from capturing something raw, real or remarkable.

Recently the "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" was stripped of his title after it was discovered that it was "likely [emphasis mine] that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes." (

Same brilliant picture, but now it suddenly had a different context.

Like, you say, there's nothing wrong with staged photos. But if Penelope Cruz is in it, we're overwhelmingly cognizant of the contrived nature of the photo. It nullifies our momentary suspension of disbelief, which diminishes our enjoyment.

So for pictures of celebrities to stand on their own as art, I submit that they either must have a raw (candid) or remarkable (visually stunning) quality. This photo has neither.

My two cents...

Love your blog.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:38 PM  

Well, my comment pretty much boils down to 'what trevor said'. :) There's a vulnerability in that image, and it's very different to appreciate the cultivated reproduction of a vulnerable moment, as opposed to feeling the delicate gratitude created when one views the vulnerable moment itself. Sympathy is evoked in the latter, and feels cheaply gotten when the moment was staged.

By Blogger alice, at 11:16 PM  

I don't know Eric Ogden's work, but if he's doing work in the vein of, say, Jeff Wall (and I'm guessing he is, given the artificial pose and the use of a famous actor), there's no intention to make this seem like an authentic moment.

Instead, he's playing with our expectations of finding a "real" emotional experience in something constructed, and saying that all photography, even documentary photography, is constructed, as are our emotional responses, especially to something as melodramatic and banal as the Cruz photo.

By Blogger Elaine, at 11:13 AM  

It doesn't bug me at all that it's Penelope Cruz. Obviously Ogden had an idea and Cruz in his mind personifies it. I wish all photographers had access to talent like that.

By Blogger Norlinda, at 1:55 PM  

The Cruz photo feels extremely staged to me because of who is depicted. But I kind of like it for that; as with any good piece of artifice it's a comment on the constructed nature of art. That said, I'm still iffy on it - probably because I want to be intrigued by the narrative that it hints at, and that's difficult when I'm so forcibly reminded that any such narrative would be illusory.

By Blogger Unknown, at 11:48 AM  

Okay, but nobody stresses about a movie's narrative impact being fictional or as you put it, illusory. So why stress about a photo? And yet we do.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:03 PM  

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