Friday, December 6, 2013

Carol or Herb or something

I've had fun following this recent Mike Johnston column and its aftermath. 50 Photographers You Should Know. Where does one even start? Any such list is bound to be problematic, but it's also a fun parlor game, the type of topic it's fun to discuss into the wee hours over beers. Who should be on it? Who shouldn't? Why 50? What does should even mean? What does know mean? Everyone seems to have an answer. So far the post has generated a few hundred comments. They're all over the map though generally skewing toward the straight documentary shooters that compose a large part of TOP's readership.

I'm guessing Johnston's post was inspired by this book published a few years back. I don't own it but I've peeked at it in the bookstore. It lists Evans, Frank, Cartier-Bresson, and the usual suspects, plus some others slightly further off the beaten track. I can't really argue with any of the picks. Photographers probably should be familiar with the folks in this book. Hey, relax. It's just a suggestion. Take it or leave it.

One thing that makes Johnston's list different from the book and quite intriguing, is that he's restricted it to the 21st century. In Johnston's words, "people who have been important, or formative, or who emerged, post-2000." Hmm. Now that's interesting. In fact that changes everything. All of the sudden we can get out from under the shadow of the photographic canon and start over from scratch this millennium. Who has emerged since then into prominence? In other words, who should be on such a list now that would not have been on it in 2000? Warning: Wee hours may be required answering this.

Against my better judgment I've decided to make my own list (with some input from trusted photo friends). I'm slightly embarrassed about it. I don't want to call it 50 photographers you should know. The internet has enough lists like that. I'd rather call it Carol or Herb or something innocuous. In this case the meaning of should is quite clear. I know I shouldn't make such a list but I did it anyway. 

I'll get to the list in a moment but first let's pin down that word should. It sends shivers down my spine. Should has probably created more damage than just about any other word in human history.  You should follow my god. You should accept these geographic boundaries. Etc. I'm very uncomfortable telling anyone what they should or shouldn't know, do, say, or think. It's not my business or anyone else's. If someone doesn't know of Edward Weston or Diane Arbus I'm a little uneasy, but who am I to say they should? In fact a good argument could me made that ignorance is helpful to photographers. It fosters originality. So fuck should. 

But... common reference points are sometimes helpful. It's fine if you don't know Weston but you might find yourself repeating him unwittingly. What's more, photography tends to build on itself. You can't get to Friedlander without going through Evans. You can't get to Soth without going through Sternfeld. And so on. The photographers who are prominent now are laying the groundwork for what's to come later. Reference points mark the terrain.  OK, maybe that still doesn't mean should know certain photographers, but it might be helpful. Sure, you can be a rock musician without knowing the Beatles. But it's tough. Not that any of the folks on this list are comparable to the Beatles. Yet. But you get the point.

Finally, a disclaimer about demographics. I know my list is biased. Some dates are slightly stretched, and I know it contains a disproportionate number of whites, males, Americans, and generally people like me. Sorry, that's just how it is. I'm me. You're you. Your own 50 may be very different. But instead of posting a nasty email or comment about how lame my list is, why not put forth your own suggestions? Throw out some names? Who should I know? 

Carol or Herb or something:
Roger Ballen
Asger Carlsen
Broomberg and Chanarin
Gregory Crewdson
Thomas Demand
Dorothee Deiss
Rineke Dijkstra
Abraham Dominguez
Carolyn Drake
JH Engström 
Roe Ethridge
Jason Fulford
Stephen Gill
Andreas Gursky
Mishka Henner
Todd Hido
Rob Hornstra
Pieter Hugo
Ron Jude
Rinko Kawauchi
Saul Leiter
Richard Learoyd
Deborah Luster
Loretta Lux
Margot McNeeley
Ryan McGinley
Vivian Maier
Raymond Meeks
Enrique Metinides
Ed Panar
Alex Prager
Max Ritzow
Torbjorn Rodland
Mason Rubino
Viviane Sassen
Collier Schorr
Michael Schmelling
Lieko Shiga
Taryn Simon
Malick Sidibé
Alec Soth
Miroslav Tichy
Mark Steinmetz
Zoe Strauss
Juergen Teller
Ed Templeton
Wolfgang Tillmans
Michael Wolf
Mark Wyse 


Anonymous said...

Thomas Roma?

Blake Andrews said...

Talent wise he is right up there, but I think his career was fairly well established by 2000.

microcord said...

This is a funny sort of list, because a lot of the names already seem repeated disproportionately often. Are these perhaps "The fifty we've had enough of, thanks"?

(Indeed, the title "Carol or Herb or something" may hint at their forgetworthiness -- though this seems unfair to some people here who do merit the coverage they get.)

For a list of names with which you must be familiar if you hope to avoid embarrassment in vernissage smalltalk, perhaps more pairs are needed: Wassink and Krebs and Lundgren and Onorato. But it all seems a bit narrow: I think "What about photos of, say, elephants?" and thereupon come up with Nick Brandt and not-Stephen Colbert the brown wrapping-paper man. And then "How about bees?" and thereupon Rose-Lynn Fisher.

The original post by Johnston gets at least one thoughtful vote for somebody I think is very good and happen to know personally (though not well) ... but then I just wonder whether half of the votes he'll amass will be for friends, teachers, classmates of his swarm of commenters.

I enjoy the macabre, and thus the most (chillingly) thrilling comment there was the one starting I have to admit I'm a huge fan of sleek, highly polished, reeking with high budget eyecandy.