The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr

Lomo Aqui-Ali
Aqui-Ali, one of the Flickr photographer’s mentioned in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine article.

Virginia Heffernan – The Medium – Television – Internet Video – Media – Flickr – Photography – New York Times

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article that will run in this weekend’s paper on the new art represented by Flickr and online photography.

The article contrasts the predominant popular styles on Flickr with the old fine art photography of the past. I was interviewed for the article.

Personally I believe that one of the greatest things that Flickr represents is a new democratization of fine art photography.

For the past 100 years, much of what the world considers fine art photography has been bestowed upon us by a very small handful of influential gatekeepers. Literally, at any given time, probably less than 100 people control 95% of what the world is told to consider fine art. These are a few major museum curators, select gallery owners, and other influencers. These individuals not only control the prices that fine art photography will fetch, they quite literally control what is considered the best fine art in the world today. They tell people what photography ought to be deemed great and what ought to be deemed amateurish.

With the advent of the web much of this is changing. In the past without the cooperation of the art elite most photographers saw their work fade into obscurity. Sure, they might win a bronze sticker at the local county fair for their photograph, but really nobody would ever see it.

Today the web is allowing a new breed of photographer as artist. An artist that is increasingly able to bypass the fine art elite and promote their work directly to the public. Although the fine art prices have not yet been attached to today’s new “Flickr Famous” photographer, this too will come in time. Step one is simply getting the exposure.

One of the stories that I conveyed to Virginia Heffernan, the reporter at the Times who wrote this article, was a story of a Cartier-Bresson photograph which a critique group of Flickr shouted down as inferior photography without knowing it was an actual Cartier-Bresson. While one take away from that story might be that the general Flickr community simply has poor taste in art, another take away might be to question the previously unquestionable. Was Cartier-Bresson actually that good? And would his work stand up today as it has in the past?

Many in the fine art and photography community would immediately label me as heretical for suggesting the possibility that Cartier-Bresson, regarded by many as the finest photographer the world’s ever known, might not be all that he’s made out to be.

And yet Cartier-Bresson prints sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, while my Flickr famous Pal Merkley sells his prints online himself for hundreds of dollars instead.

But the mainstream press is beginning to take notice of the new trends in fine art photography that are beginning to take form on Flickr. For some of the photographers mentioned in the NY Times article this is a whoo-hoo moment. The NEY YORK F***ING TIMES!

But mark my words. The naysayers will be here shortly. The fine art world has a lot to lose. Literally millions. But more significantly, control. Control over what is good fine art and what is not. Right now the the wealthy patrons that they advise still believe in what they push. But as the marketing of art by a talented new bunch of artists and photographers learn their very same promotional techniques — it won’t be long.

And this is what the internet does best. Tears down old ways of seeing the world and brings entirely new ones.

Don’t get what I’m saying wrong. I do believe that some of the photographers that the fine art world has historically bestowed as worthy are very much in fact worthy. But there are many new photographers that I believe are every bit as worthy. And I think that they too will begin to see the success that they equally deserve — even without an MFA, even without networking like hell with the fine art crowd, even without the right group shows or whatever that civ thing is that the fine art types tend to obsess over, and even without being 21 and beautiful and just the right type that just the right curator likes to sleep with.

Worthwhile reading: Merkley’s treatise, “I’m Not a Photographer.”

NY Times article on digg here.