CRITICISM – 6. DESCRIBING STYLE

Jerry Uelsman

Jerry Uelsman

Style indicates a resemblance among diverse art objects from:

  • an artist,
  • movement (pictorialist, surrealist, documanter, etc.),
  • time period, or
  • geographic location and
  • is recognized by a characteristic handling of subject matter and formal elements.

Neo-expressionism is a commonly recognized, recent style of painting, and pictorialism, “directorial” photography, and the “snapshot aesthetic” are styles of photography .To consider a photographers style is:

  • to attend to what subjects he or she chooses to photograph,
  • how the medium of photography is used, and
  • how the picture is formally arranged.
Frank M. Stchklife
Frank M. Stchklife

Attending to style can be much more interpretive than descriptive. Labeling photographs “contemporary American” or “turn of the century” is less controversial than is labeling them “realistic” or “straight” or “manipulated” or “documentary”. The critics of Avedon’s work being considered here are particularly interested in determining whether his style is “documentary,” or “fictional,” or “fashion.” Determining Avedon´s style involves considerably more than describing, but it does include descriptions of whom he photographs, how he photographs them, and what his pictures look like.

Of all the treatments of Avedon’s style considered here, Weiley’s is the most complete. She begins with his earlier portraits, claiming that he “Avedonizes” his subjects. She generalizes his early portrait work as “confrontational” and typifies it as “frontal, direct, with a single subject centered, staring directly out at the viewer.” She explains that he undermined the glamour of the famous people he photographed-that he stripped them of their masks and “brought the mighty down to human scale, assassinating all possibility of grace or vanity.

Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon

” Weiley is much less sympathetic to Avedon’s treatment of his subjects in the American West work; she finds his manner of working “disagreeable,” “condescending to his subjects” and “frankly arrogant” in its exploitation. Whereas the famous people he photographs are media smart and used to being photographed and publicized, the westerners are not, and she thinks that in the hands of Avedon they are “like innocents led to slaughter.” Thus, on the basis of descriptive facts about Avedon’s style, namely whom he photographs and how he photographs them, Weiley goes beyond describing and interpreting his style and forms a negative judgment about it.

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Lars Melberg

Lars Melberg

Bob Carlos Clarke

Bob Carlos Clarke

David Hamilton

David Hamilton

Ernst Haas

Ernst Haas

James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey

Bogdan Zwir

Bogdan Zwir

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References / Resources:

  • Barrett, Terry (2006). Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images. Mayfield Publishing Company, California, U.S.A.
  • http://www.artnet.com
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