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Me …Fine Art Photographer!


Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle

How many times have I heard this phrase that particularly horrifies me: “I am a fine art photographer”? Whether in a more or less known photographic festival, at a family meeting, in a contemporary art exhibition (sic), in a social gathering, the chorus always remains the same. I just met the artistic photographer. I will not discuss this self-proclaimed “artist”, the notion being totally subjective, I do not intend to oppose such a categorically affirmed self-sufficiency. It is not the same for the claim of being a”photographer” which is the subject of a very objective and very understandable definition. The photographer is, to date, a natural person who masters the techniques and who knows how to apply many technologies likely to use light to freeze an image in space-time.

I will add that the personality (sometimes quite special) of the photographers included, very often, humour and humility (the famous double H). These characteristics have evaporated with the insertion of personalization of authors at the expense of the value and merit of their artworks.

All the photographers of yesterday had in common an excellent mastery of all the tools (sometimes a little complicated) useful and essential to the realization of an image with as long a life as possible. The distinction between all these creators was made according to their favourite subject, which were as varied as the potentialities offered by our planet and its space. These authors were not, and above all, did not claim the title of artists. However, whether they are portrait photographers, advertising photographers, astronomical photographers, fashion photographers, ethnographic photographers, street photographers, archaeological photographers, school photographers, etc. they all left us with incredible images. This quality – often irreproachable – was the essential base for the entry of photographic images into the world of Art.

Unfortunately, while this path became one of the royal ways of the imagination, a global humanitarian drift (photographic techniques are unfortunately not the only ones concerned) generated a swan song. A multiplication of users resulting from the placing on the market of increasingly sophisticated tools has sounded the death knell. If I add a self-valorization (too often maintained by the thesis which imposes that everyone is an insufficiently known exceptional artist), the die is cast. All these new prodigies of photographic creation find themselves incapable of finding the slightest place in the classification mentioned above. Their total incompetence in the technical realization of a photograph denies them access to all these potentials. Thus, technical knowledge has become useless in showing off the great poverty of all new creative reservoirs. I can only offer you a new classification better suited to the new knights of the new photographic universe.

To begin with, honours to whom honour is due, I offer you the fresh person just released from a multitude of schools, academies, workshops, associations which claim to make each applicant the genius of the photographic art of tomorrow. The ambition is quite laudable and almost always very very remunerative for the organizer. But still, it would be necessary that in the quasi unanimity of these organizations, we teach, at least, some technical rudiments of photography to the future graduates. They are very touching, when they are not excessively arrogant, all these young adults who come out with batteries of diplomas calculated in so many years after post-baccalaureate. Take the time to listen to them condescendingly judge the artwork of well-known and recognized photographic figures owning over thirty years of experience. All this is not for them, their primary objectives is to accumulate a considerable number of more or less phony competitions, to expose everything and anything and to ensure that a sponsor distracted or artistically ignorant can serve as their money pump.

My second group is formed of photographers who frequent photo clubs. As with training, we have gone from excellence to worst in just a few years. The large majority of the members of these institutions were made up of absolute enthusiasts. These men and women had no other ambition than to advance both technical and creative research. The objective was to bring their club to the top of the photographic hierarchy to the same level as the very great professionals. This collective and individual ambition has aroused many vocations, it has left remarkable artworks, and it has validated the recognition of their authors. This is no longer the case, today’s photo clubs have become a social refuge for the elderly and permanent calls for personal recognition (… my ego how I love you …). This is how the members of these associations are more attracted by joint outings – called photographic – and by the display of their productions on the railings in the entrance hall of the city’s social services than by an apprenticeship and a confrontation of ideas between themselves.

For professional photographers, a category still existing but with very indefinite borders, the world has completely collapsed. Technological development undoubtedly bears some responsibility for this intellectual and economic disaster. The cameras flooding the market claim to do it all, so it stands to reason that the owner of one of these miraculous tools is also a photography prodigy. Why bring in, and more importantly, why pay for, a professional photographer? When the sports coach, real estate agent, dentist, or other shop manager can push the button and get what looks like an image instantly ( or almost) on his screen. It is the same for the photo-reporters, since from now on it is the witnesses and the victims of the acts of war who declare the “shock of the photographs” on all the information channels likely to be diffuse on the planet and beyond. The height of the situation, with the few financial resources still dedicated to these photographers, we are helplessly witnessing the birth of outrageous pimping (of the uberization style) which has become the obligatory passage for the survivors of the stagnation.

My list is not intended to be exhaustive, which is why I feel compelled to abbreviate this panegyric without, however, forgetting the latest fashionable category. So I will not forget the art photographer. A little preliminary clarification seems necessary to me. In the two centuries preceding the current one, the mention “art photography” very often appeared on the famous ivory folders with crystal in which the customer discovered the portrait of his kid, the group of his staff in front of his shop, the wedding picture or his workshop with workmen looking like statues. The use of the term “art” meant that all photographic procedures were carried out in the rules of the art by a qualified professional. Which was always the case since, as with all other professions, photographers were trained during a long, justified apprenticeship. These famous rules of the art being respected, the photographer could claim his membership in the seraglio of photography and the fraternal recognition of his peers. It has been quite different for two decades, during which the art of know-how and mastery has been replaced by an art without evolution and without creative transmission. Strengthened by the legitimate place taken by a few rare but essential photographic artworks in the pantheon of our heritage, a few stupid people have gone astray. At a time when the triggers of cameras were replaced by the click buttons, these innovators imagined that the simple fact of pressing this button would transform them into Praxiteles, Vinci, Mozart or others of photography. They never stop accumulating the rules of narcissus for their egos and complaining like poor artists in need of a recognition that is slow in coming. However, I must admit that in this somewhat insipid swamp, some exceptions emerge from time to time, with strong potential. They are obliged to emerge through this desolation to show true creative works. We are reassured about the capabilities of these passionate and conscientious users of photography to ensure the future.

In the end, nothing changed: many feel called; but few will be chosen.

Thierry Maindrault – April 08, 2022

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