I pulled out my camera and took a picture

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“I always feel as though there’s supposed to be some deeper meaning behind my pictures, a meaning other than ‘Something inside me connected with what I saw in front of me, so I pulled out my camera and took a picture.’  That does not seem to fly as an artist statement.  Why, I’m not sure.”
Emily Shur (here).

Reminds me of a favorite photography quote:
“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” – Garry Winogrand

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. I attended a photographer talk at Photo LA this weekend by David Meisel. This very fine photographer talked endlessly about the meaning behind the photos in a new book. He was great in doing the artist talk and perhaps he understood that the talk was more important than the photos.

    The photos themselves were well seen and appropriate to the subject manner, but they looked as though they could have been made in a weekend.

    Was the story the driving force behind qualifying this project as a book and calling them art? Should the outcome of making the photo be more important than the artist statement?


  2. I enjoy a similar struggle with the Artist’s Statement, but not because I feel that there should be a deeper meaning behind the image. Rather, it is because I don’t intend any deeper meaning. In fact, it would be false and pretentious of me to claim any deeper meaning, since I tend to enter a kind of Zen state when shooting. I shoot what I see.


    • I also “shoot what I see”, but I switch between using it defiantly (a declaration of my style) and meekly (an excuse for what I shoot).

      It’s an unresolved conflict; maybe that’s the point?

  3. ‘Something inside me connected with what I saw in front of me, so I pulled out my camera and took a picture.’

    I can identify with this statement. If I don’t why I’m making what I’m making but am compelled to make it anyway, then I believe that something is valid, even if I can’t articulate it. I agree that it doesn’t fly as an artist statement, but is that not what makes art exciting? The unknown? If I knew exactly what I wanted to make every time I pulled out my camera, you can be sure the results would get pretty stale after a while.

    In art, we can crash our planes and still walk away, as Brian Eno said.

    • @Aaron, and let me make myself clear. I really DO agree that it makes a lousy artist statement. I think of the unknown “something” that I connect to as an X, and the photograph is part of the equation that will give me the answer. I won’t bullshit you, I’m still struggling, but I know I’ll get it right. I have to.

  4. If photographs make a connection with the viewer, they must first connect to in a similar fashion to the photographer. If you cannot articulate the “why” – is it any less valuable as art?

  5. LOL!!! Haha! That was a big belly laugh for me! I just had an art show in the beginning of December. I featured some photographs from a tribal fusion belly dance performance. I had just flown in to Los Angeles from Denmark and was completely jet lagged, and there I am, glass of red wine in hand, trying to appear “artistic”, “cool”, and “charming” to the buying public, but really hardly awake, and fielding questions like, “So, tell me, when you chose to add the handwritten poetry over the background of the pieces, was it a hidden statement about the dance or a statement about the dancers?” I really really wanted to say, “Because it looked good and I liked it,” but even when I tried a version of that it didn’t work and my attempting to ask questions to better understand what I was being asked only resulted in further confusing inquiries about my motivation and deeper thoughts about the connection between the dance, the dancers, and… I don’t even remember what .

    This is why I have always enjoyed Sally Mann. In an art history class I saw a documentary on her and in it there is a scene where she was taking pictures of her dog’s bones. As she’s doing it she said, “One day a few months from now these will be in a show and an art critic will come up and write a review on how these photographs are a commentary on the struggle of our feelings with the eventuality of all mankind or something like that, but really, they’re just my dog’s bones.”

  6. I once remarked about how unremarkable a show I had seen at the Reina Sofia was and the woman I was speaking to said she thought the same thing until she went with a group through the show with the artist, whoc explained his motivation and ideas behind the work. She said it completely changed her mind and that she loved it after that. This made me a bit sick to my stomach.

    Why should visual arts require literary explanations? I think if visual work needs to be explained, it is not good visual work. Too bad the art world and virtually all submissions demand statements these days (not always the case, especially during the vast majority of art history)

    When, outside of a solo show, do you wanlk by artwork in museums and see statements? You don’t. You shouldn’t need to.

    • @J. Wesley Brown,
      Why should visual arts have to exist completely on their own? I think if work never requires any explanation, that it is shallow.

      Okay, that’s not true, but my point is that a work being enriched by explanation of things you might not have seen doesn’t mean that the work is crap. On the other had, to play devil’s advocate to my devil’s advocate, I do find it out to go from unremarkable to wonderful with an explanation. Ideally, work would be enjoyable on first glance and just continue to be enjoyable as you learn more about it.

  7. That is a great quote. Isn’t that the essence of why all photographers like photography. To find out what something looks like photographed. Every photo is just an experiment.

    I’ve had some great shots turn out just cause I took out the camera and took photo.

  8. An artist statement can be:

    * An artist’s defining statement that motivates a current project in order to create a cohesive set
    * An artist’s excuse for art that don’t stand up it’s own
    * A buyer’s excuse for paying too much for the above
    * An artist’s deeper reflection on their art after the fact
    * A way for critics and journalists to fill their word-count requirements with the editor
    * An artist / critic / journalist attempt to sound smarter than they really are
    * The answer for a fan’s longing to immerse themselves completely in the work, like the album art and liner notes of an LP — an attempt to experience the art holistically

  9. I think a great artist statement will illuminate what part of you those images connected with. Of course, this requires a considerable amount of reflection and self-knowledge….not something that fits very well into today’s commercial art world. But I’m amazed when I look back at my pictures and see parts of myself in them that I had absolutely no idea about when I took them. Photography is an interesting psychological journey that way.

    @1 I suspect David Maisel’s artist statement for that project could have been, “I was bored with taking aerial photos but I’m still drawn to the same unearthly metallic color palatte. I found these cans.” They’re beautiful pictures but I’m so tired of typologies and redundant series in photography.

  10. The words of Robert Frank pop into my head as i read this.
    “Less art more truth”…..and something a bit lighter but just as glorious that was tossed about back in the days of punk rock…”Fuck art lets dance”.I agree wholy
    with the statement that if visual art needs to be explained than it ain’t too good is it?The artist statement is a concoction of the media and “artists” too full of themselves to ever care what the truth is.Art doesn’t need to be explained…ever..does it?