Thursday, December 26, 2019

RIP Bumbershoot, Long Live Bumbershoot

“Bumbershoot” was (is?) an annual festival held at Seattle Center over the Labor Day holiday weekend.  “Bumbershoot” as in an umbrella for a festival of music, art, dance, and general good cheer.
The notion for Bumbershoot was pretty much hatched by Anne Focke — an arts administrator for the City of Seattle — as a morale builder during the “Last Person Out of Seattle Please Turn Out the Lights” days of the late 60s as the City Arts Festival.  By 1971 it had evolved into Bumbershoot, a goofy, volunteer-powered, community event with free admission (later low cost admission) that featured mostly local music in a wide variety of styles, an extensive visual arts exhibition, and a steady stream of impromptu performances.  Each day of the festival there was at least one ad hoc parade of some kind, often accompanied by a lusty if inept brass band.
“The Big Naso” was leading one such parade.
So Bumbershoot remained for perhaps thirty years.  A combination of volunteer burnout, declining individual donations and reduced support from the city during the recent recession precipitated a search for a sugar daddy to pay the bills.  Enter AEG, a national promoter of music festivals, who contracted with the city and One Reel but took over booking and management of the event. 
Over the next several years, AEG morphed Bumbershoot into a high-priced, high-intensity, headliner-driven, music festival that eliminated or downsized areas for dancing, squeezed out most of the visual art, seriously restricted pop-up performances, buskers, and prohibited cameras with interchangeable lenses, ostensibly because the headliners “don’t permit photography during their performances.” 
Three years ago I was denied admission even with a paid daily pass because of my vintage Canon SLR.  (Hmmm, how do the modern pancake 20 megapixel digital cameras with ISO 10,000 and 20:1 zoom lenses fit into this picture?)
I haven’t even bothered to go since then long lines of people waiting to get into the headline venues (all staring at their smart phones) don’t seem like good photograph fodder to me.
The tide may have turned once again.  AEG, noting a precipitate drop in patronage and a national overabundance of headliner festivals, declined to renew their contract with the local One Reel organization and the city after the 2019 event crowds were less than 50% of expected. 
My opinion: good!
One Reel took over once more as the festival organizer and says: “While the details won’t be announced until early next year, we can tell you this: Everyone at One Reel is excited to usher in a new era for Bumbershoot that embraces the festival’s long legacy of multi- generational programming and community participation.  We are currently working with the City of Seattle and Seattle Center, to create a new model for Bumbershoot that honors both the festival’s origin and history, while ensuring the festival is sustainable for the long haul.”
My opinion: hooray!
Best of luck to One Reel, the city and a small army of volunteers.  This will be the 50th Bumbershoot and all of us ol’ timers are holding our breath.
My cameras still work.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Acquiring a tiny bit of art karma

At a place and in a time I do not remember I bought this button.  I thought it was a giggle and I agreed with the statement it makes.  I have worn it on various sweaters and sweat shirts for years.

I have received quite a few comments on it -- most recently from the toll booth at the ferry terminal in Anacortes where the attendant looked me over and said "Ok, I'm not afraid." as he handed me my change.

A couple of months ago at the Pike Place Market the young woman behind the cash register at the tea shop said "Ooooh, that's a Miripolsky!"

Does the name Miripolsky ring a bell?  (It didn't with me.)  But I said "It sure is."  and looked him up as soon as I got home.  Turns out that Andre Miripolsky is a big-name pop artist from Venice California (where else) and this was kind of his break-out piece.  Ok, cool, here's an 81 year old geek like me running around with a pop art icon on his sweater.

Earlier this month I went to the opening of a middle-school student art show at the local community center.  The event was fun, mostly because the kids from all over the school district who had pieces in the show were having such a good time.  The I believe 6th grader who took the first price was a rather shy girl.  Her piece had a cartooney, kind of goofy look that reminded me of Miripolsky so after the awards were all done I asked her if she would show me her piece and tell me about it.  

She was obviously pleased to have a random grown up take interest but told me with a straight face that she wasn't good at talking about it.  Then she treated me to an articulate, well-reasoned explanation of why she did that particular piece and what it meant to her.  I loved it.  As we walked back towards her proud parents she very quietly said "I really like your button."  What would any softhearted parent do?  I gave it to her and she pinned it on her blouse.  I also wrote down the url to Miripolsky's website for her.

That ought to improve my art Karma just a bit.

I also ordered a couple of more of them from the website -- having one to give away suddenly seems like a good idea.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Stendhal Syndrome Anyone?

Once in a while some piece of art or music catches me out and I have a very physical response to it.  I call it the "weak knees and cold chills" response. I love it when that happens.  It leaves me feeling very alive and at peace.

The finale of Mahler's Third Symphony does it every time.  Live performance is better but the CD of the Berlin Philharmonic will do.

As does "In Moses Soyer's Studio" (photograph by Larry Fink -- Portland Art Museum has a copy) does it, too.

So does "Paris Street; Rainy Day" (painting by Gustave Caillebotte -- at the Art Institute of Chicago)

The queen, however, is "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (Painting by Vermeer -- at a show in the de Young in San Francisco).  I walked from left to right in front of it.  When I got to the far right my eyes met the sight line of the girl in the painting.  I stood there dumbstruck until my wife came and dragged me away.)

Turns out a visceral response to art isn't that unusual.

I stumbled across "Stendhal Syndrome" while looking for something else (the only way I find unusual bits of information).  The first definition according to Professor Google:

"Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations, allegedly occurring when individuals become exposed to objects or phenomena of great beauty"

I have a mild case of it and I wouldn't want to lose it.

Any other sufferers out there?

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Contrarian View of Garry Winogrand

Apart from seeing a print or two in books on the history of photography I have had only three brushes with Winogrand’s work: the book “The Man in the Crowd, The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand” (Fraenkel Gallery and DAP, 1999), the retrospective at San Francisco MOMA (“Garry Winogrand”, 2013) and the recent PBS program (American Masters, 3306, 2019,

His photography was the hot item at the time I was becoming serious about photography and it puzzled me.  In fact, it still puzzles me.

The American Masters episode combines a good deal of Winogrand’s work with interviews and commentary by photographic luminaries and Winogrand’s three wives as well as by Winogrand himself.

The director’s statement that “His ‘snapshot aesthetic’ is now the universal language of contemporary image-making.” strikes me as considerably more than a bit too broad.  One writer, Leo Rubenfien opined that Winogrand was the defining photographer of the American 1970s in the same was that Robert Frank was for the American 1950s and Walker Evans for the American 1930s.  I believe that is a more accurate statement – but still not very satisfactory to me.

The “American Masters” program set me to thinking about my mixed reactions to Winogrand’s work.  I went through the 1999 book (again) and read my own journal entries about the 2013 SF/MOMA show.  I’m still sorting out my thoughts and I have come to some (tentative) conclusions about his work that I find more satisfactory. 

Winogrand was your prototypical brassy, outspoken, pushy, often sarcastic New Yorker.   He had no use for those that philosophize about photography – a position with which I whole-heartedly agree.  His statement that he “photographed to see what things look like photographed” or that “Anything and everything is photographable.” are about as analytical as he got.  When a critic stated to him that his work was “very subtle” Winogrand’s answer was “Subtle?  My work is about as subtle as a sour pickle.”  He also was adamant about being purposeful in his photographing.  When asked how often he shot without looking through the viewfinder.  He hotly stated that “I never shoot without looking through the viewfinder.”

Digression:  It would be easy to think that he didn’t look through the viewfinder.  Videos of him at work show him continuously fussing with his camera (and likely doing nothing but keeping his hands busy and looking like he wasn’t ready to take a photograph) then raising it to his eye for perhaps two seconds before going back to fussing with the camera and unobtrusively advancing the film.  One tidbit from the PBS show was that he worked with a 28mm lens.  That allowed him to hyperfocus the lens to get enough depth of field that, combined with his “in your face” practice of being close to his subjects he rarely had to focus – and depending on the legendary latitude of Tri-X for shutter speed left him with nothing to do but glance through the viewfinder and tag the shutter button.  He had done that so often and for so long that he was able to see what was about to happen and in the 2 seconds or so the camera was at his eye get the negative – sometimes.  Thus endeth the digression.

That is not to say that Winogrand was an unpleasant person or that his taste in photography was narrow.  All the interviewees in the PBS show seemed to have warm regard for him.  Robert Adams, landscape photographer and writer about photography says: “Garry Winogrand’s subject was, I now believe, also perfection, though many of his street scenes appear to tip under the weight of roiling confusion – so much so that for a long time I did not appreciate his accomplishment.  I even wondered if I would like him in person, though when I met him one afternoon at a conference in Carmel I certainly did, as anyone would have.  He was cheerful, ardent, and without pretense.  … After Winogrand died, a mutual acquaintance told me that he had said he wanted to make pictures related to mine.  I could hardly believe it because our work seemed so far apart …” (Robert Adams, “Why People Photograph”, Aperture, 1994, pp18, 19)

In the following paragraph Adams noted “he was accepting of complexity in a way that I admire.” (op cit, p19)

And that statement, after several more leaps of thought, kind of turned on another light bulb for me.  I propose that Winogrand was one of photography’s equivalents of the great Louis Armstrong.  In the world of jazz there are a handful of musicians that are respectfully called “horn changers” – that introduced a new way of using an instrument.  Armstrong was one of them – probably the best known outside of jazz circles.  Before Armstrong came on the scene small group jazz was almost exclusively that of collective improvisation by the entire ensemble reacting to what else was going on and hoping for the best.  (Playing that way is really fun, by the way.)  Louis Armstrong introduced the notion of featuring a single instrument, trumpet in his case, improvising a melodic line with the ensemble reacting to what the soloist was playing.  He added a new way to play jazz – but by no means invalidated the older way nor did it become a universal language for future jazz musicians. 

Winogrand’s “accepting of complexity” (I would say “chaos” or “disorganization”) was in a way a reaction to the then-gospel notion of “the decisive moment” (more accurately translated as “images on the run”) pioneered by the great Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Did Winogrand invent the snapshot aesthetic?  Well, no.  Every family album full of 4x6 prints on glossy, deckle-edged paper has lots of them.  What Winogrand did do was to take that style of photography from the (private) family album to the (public) arena.  Did he add anything?  Well, yes.  He was very good at what he did.  And he took it there to an extreme that could never be matched until the dawning of the digital age.  His thousands of rolls of film are no match for the billions of photographs on photo-sharing websites now.

I also quarrel somewhat with his statement that he “photographed to see what things look like photographed”.  He left thousands of rolls of film, many not even developed, when he died.  In that way he could be compared to the much less famous Vivien Maier – who also left a lot of undeveloped film when she died and seemed to be obsessed with leaving a record of the world around her.

Which brings me around to the SF/MOMA Winogrand show of 2013 and the much smaller Photographic Center Northwest show of Vivien Maeir, also in 2013.

The SF/MOMA show was about half of negatives that Winogrand selected and either printed or were printed under his direction.  The other half were selected after his death – by friend and fellow photographer Tod Papageorge and printed by Tom Consilvo, who printed for Winogrand during the last decade of his life.  The great John Szarkowski, who championed Winogrand’s work from the beginning, commented that he felt Winogrand’s later work, largely from Los Angeles, was losing its edge – an opinion that was hotly debated at the time.  I agree.  In my opinion neither the content nor the print quality had quite as sharp an edge as the prints from negatives that Winogrand himself selected.  Whether that reflects a change in Winogrand or, in my opinion more likely, the difficulty of going through thousands of somebody else’s negatives and trying to second guess what Winogrand would have selected and how he would have printed them.

Vivian Maier made few prints during her lifetime and was, it seems, an indifferent printer.  Her show was made from negatives selected by a person who had never even met Maier and was printed by a master printer using his own judgment. 

Both shows were a peek into the world in which the photographer lived – one the uneasy streets of New York and Los Angeles and the other the gritty streets of Chicago’s south side and snooty streets of an upscale suburb. 

In discussing Winogrand’s work with my wife she noted that in a way both of these photographers may have been trying to record and even make sense out of the world around them and that the eventual artifact of a print was a side effect.  The act of photographing may have been the important bit – almost in the way of a hoarder or perhaps a diarist trying to compile a record of their life and times.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Call me old fashioned (well, I am) but I'm not on Instagram

On the train into Seattle a few weeks back the morning sunlight streamed in the window and onto the face and wonderfully braided hair of a young Latina woman sitting in front of me.  I asked her for a photograph and she said it was ok.  After a few photographs I gave her my card and my standard “Send me an email so I can send you a print.” then showed her a couple of samples of my work that I “just happened” to have in my shoulder bag.  I  She oohed and aahed at them and asked if I was on Instagram.  I allowed that I was not and she said “You should be!  People would see your photographs!”

I get that comment from time to time. 

I’m certainly not averse to people seeing my work.  Rather to the contrary.

I do have a website.  The traffic to it is, well, modest a couple of hundred page views a month (not counting mine).  I have made some contacts, met (in a virtual sense) some interesting people, sold some prints, sold some books through people finding my website by keyword search.  One as far away as Poland.  So far it’s just enough to make keeping the website up to date worth the trouble.

I do have a subscription newsletter with a vanishingly small (by internet standards) audience that grows slowly.  (Unpaid advertisement:  see to subscribe) However, the “open” rate is 80%.  The average “open” rate for an online newsletter is 20%.  Hmmm.  I would rather have my newsletter go to a few people who are interested in what I’m doing than go to a larger audience most of whom don’t even bother to open it.

But Instagram?  I suppose I could let those who subscribe to my newsletter and those who reach me through my website know that I’m on Instagram and ask them to “follow” me.  So what?  I just looked it up:   there about 40 BILLION photographs on Instagram and 95 MILLION go up each day.  The probability of anybody who isn’t already familiar with my work finding it amidst that tsunami of images is vanishingly close to 0.00000.  If I went full court press and did all the right things with marketing tricks to bring my work up out of the noise level maybe I could get the probability up to 1% (but I doubt it).

This leads to an interesting question.  How does an aspiring photographer “get the work out there”?  The signal-to-noise ratio of the image sharing sites is so low that’s no it.  Neither are the portfolio reviews that (see a previous rant) are little of anything more than a cash cow for the sponsor.  “The media” is depending more and more on underpaid gig photographers or volunteer PWC (persons with cell phone).  You don’t get your work in a gallery without a reputation and you don’t get a reputation without gallery representation. 

It is no shock that in an annual survey of professions “photographer” was rated as one of the worst both in getting into it and in making something vaguely resembling a living out of it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

“Here’s a Thought”

Warning: grumpy post follows.
Brooks Jensen is publisher, editor, designer, and probably janitor of the magagine “Lenswork.”  There is a lot to admire about him.  He and his wife thought up the idea of Lenswork and made it happen – and keep making it happen – with a barrage of marketing ideas, some luck, and a whole lot of hard work.  They moved Lenswork from a home-printed rag one step above a memeographed newsletter to a very high quality, tri-tone printed monthly with state-of-the-art reproductions of photographs and a high-quality digital edition that even publishes color.  He does workshops on project development, has a podcast and even gets some of his own photography done.
He writes a column for Lenswork and his latest project is a “usually daily” short video – a minute or less – called “Here’s a Thought” – available free to Lenswork subscribers. 
All that said – his field of view on photography is very narrow and he is very prone to grabbing an idea and pushing it to what I consider an outlandish extreme.  Which statement brings me to the grumpy part.
I watched a sample edition of “Here’s a Thought” in which he was discussing how big a print can be made from a given sized negative (and, by extension, a given sized digital file.)  His going in position is that a well-exposed and carefully developed negative can make a 3x print.  That is, a 2 ¼ square negative could be enlarged to 6 ¾ x 6 ¾, a 35mm negative to about 3 x 4 ½ inches.  A fine negative can go up to 4x and an exceptional negative to 5x.  Beyond that the smooth mid-tones begin to break up, the grain begins to show, the print isn’t critically sharp.
He has just dismissed nearly every photograph not made from a 4x5 or larger negative.   Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt, Eisenstadt, Boubat, Doisneau, Ronis, Mary Randlett  – you folks all missed the boat.  I’m sorry (no I’m really not) to say that I have seen spectacular prints – not only content but print quality – made by each of these folks and many others in sizes way more than 5x.   Even some of mine look pretty good.
The problem here tracks back to an observation made by Ted Orland in the book “Art and Fear”.  Orland was Ansel Adams' printer for several years and his own photographs were, by his own statement, baseline west coast, tack-sharp, 10-zones, fine-grain prints with lens-cap-to-horizon depth of field.  But then, in a blinding lightning bolt of insight, he realized that he doesn’t lead a tack-sharp, 10-zone, fine-grain life so that kind of print does not express what he wants from his photography.
All Jensen had to do was to add “To make the kind of prints I want to make …” to the beginning of his pontifical statement to make it an expression of his taste rather than a sweeping generalization.
I am often annoyed by his apparently narrow view of photography but this one really got me.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Let me count even more ways.

My friend, Christopher, added to my list of ways to neglect details in the darkroom.  (my responses in red).

  • have you ever put the negative in upside down? Yes
  • have you ever forgotten to stop the lens down after focusing? Yes
  • have you ever forgotten to close the door tight? No, but in my former darkroom there was a crack under the door that needed a throw rug pushed against it -- that I forgot from time to time.
  • have you ever forgotten to rinse AND dry your hands before going over to the dry side (sorry, i couldn't resist)? No, but likely only because I wear a glove when sloshing about in the trays.
  • have you pushed your chemistry past it's pull date? Only very mildly -- "one more print to do before I quit for the day"
  • have you ever missed the stop bath, putting your film in the fix right after development? No, missed that one.
  • this is one of my favorites, have you ever forgotten your prints in the wash, leaving them there for a couple of days? Yes
  • and can't forget, have you ever left the wash water too warm, remembering just in time to see your print's emulsion peeling away? No, but I did do that to a tank full of Ektachrome once.  Does that count?
i didn't think it fair to mention leaving a throwaway work print on the bottom of the sink to dry emulsion side down and over the drain hole.  Yes.

It's reassuring to hear that photographers whose work I respect klutz it up too.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Meeting Mary Randlett

Mary Randlett died last week at the age of 94.  Her passion was landscape photography -- done with a 35mm camera in defiance of conventional wisdom about landscapes.  Her modestly-sized prints, 16x20 or smaller, were very nice indeed.  My favorites of her work, however, are portraits.  She did portraits of artists, writers, art administrators, curators ... for decades, largely for the Seattle PI.  Dozens of portraits, hundreds of portraits.  Most of her portraits are casual and all are in available light. She was friends with nearly every heavyweight in the Northwest art scene.

Her reputation was that of a kind of Imogen Cunningham "I don't put up with much." person who did her own thing and wore comfortable shoes.

She continued to work in her darkroom nearly every day until a couple of years ago.

While I heard her speak a couple of times later, I had the pleasure of meeting her only once -- at the time of her wonderful show at the Tacoma Art Museum in 2007.  She was scheduled to give a talk about the show on, I believe, a Saturday afternoon.  Always unsure of traffic, I got there about an hour before the talk was due to begin.  Pulling into the nearly-empty parking area behind the museum I saw an older woman getting out of her car and pulling a portfolio box out of the back seat.

Suspecting the best I went over to her and asked if, by chance, she was ... and offered to carry her portfolio box into the museum.  With an obvious "I'm perfectly capable of carrying it but since you offered." attitude she handed me the portfolio box and we walked in together.  We had a friendly conversation about scouting locations, care and feeding of portrait subjects, film, the craft of printing, the upcoming show -- for about 15 minutes until TAM's curator grabbed her to begin getting ready for the talk. 

Another hero gone.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Let Me Count the Ways!

I am getting back into the rhythm of printing once a week since my darkroom is (finally) finished.  Sloshing about in the darkroom is a good time to think – even with music playing on the stereo.  (Jock Sturges says “It’s a dark room, not a quitet room.)

I have a rather orderly work flow in my darkroom.  I contact print my negatives then stare at the contact sheets for a while before marking the negatives that look promising.  I make 5x7 (or so) work prints on RC paper of each of these and stare at them for a while before deciding which ones that look good enough to finish print.  I make all the work prints using a #2 filter and a guess at the exposure time based on the look of the contact print.  This makes the work print a good source of further guesses on how to begin a finish print.

First I decide what HAS to be right – in most of my photographs that is the skin tones – and I make one or more (usually more) test prints until I’m satisfied with that part.  Then I make further test prints to make the remainder of the print look like I want it to.  Now since I do not live a Zone System life, by this stage of the game I have used at least two contrast filters and added dodging and burning with each of them.  It’s not unusual for me to have a dozen or so steps (written down, by the way) before I’m ready to make the final prints. 

Here’s where the thinking noted above kicks in.  During last week’s darkroom day I was making a mental catalog of the various ways to botch up the final print ….

Forgetting to close the cover on the filter tray so that when the enlarger light comes on white light fogs the paper.

Thinking about changing:

a.       Enlargement factor,

b.      Filter grade,

c.       Exposure time,

d.      Or f/stop
is not equivalent to doing so.

Dropping the dodging tool on the floor and not being able to find it without turning on the room lights.

Forgetting one or more steps.

And my very favorite – after I have the printing strategy in mind I usually rehearse it a time or two before actually putting paper in the easel – forgetting to put paper in the easel.  

Have I missed one that you do?

-- and one more from my printing session yesterday.

When using more than one filter on a print, forget to take the first one out of the filter tray before loading the second one in.

Friday, January 4, 2019

"Craft Doesn't Matter" -- Oh?

I have no idea where this blog post is going.  There are several, intertwined issues involved and getting them braided in a way that makes sense isn’t going to be easy.  A journalist friend, Elliot Marple, was noted for the clarity of his writing.  He rated his essays by the number of “trips through the meat grinder”.  At the end of the post I’ll let you know how many trips this one took.
Thread #1:  A friend, photographer with a razor-sharp eye who is also a master printer, was asked to review the work of an aspiring (but not by any means beginner) street photographer.  When said friend noted that many of the photographs were interesting but that the prints were diminished by blown out highlights, blocked up shadows and muddy midtones.  The haughty response was that content was all important and print quality is merely craft that doesn’t matter.
Thread #2:  Blue Sky Gallery in Portland Oregon recently showed still photographs, films, and books by Robert Frank.  The announcement of the show states:
Conceived by Robert Frank and Gerhard Steidl, this exhibition shows Frank’s work in photos, books, and films in a direct, accessible manner. Frank’s images are printed on sheets of newsprint and hung on the walls or from the ceiling. Frank’s films and videos, which are so often overshadowed by his photographic work, are shown on small portable “beamers” projecting them directly onto the walls. Finally, the exhibition will be disposed of after display, thus circumventing the normal cycle of speculation and consumption in the art market. When the idea for this pop-up show first reached Frank in his small, crooked house in the Canadian village of Mabou, he said: “Cheap, quick, and dirty, that’s how I like it!
Well, that’s not exactly how it is.
The prints are not on newsprint.  However a copy of Süddeutsche Zeitung, in which the prints are on newsprint, is on display in the gallery.  The reproductions are no better than you would expect in a newspaper.
The work in this show is ink-jet printed on long strips of semi-gloss paper.  Print quality is scattered — from barely ok to what I would regard as throw-away.
I understand, even applaud, the emphasis on availability as opposed to the creation of precious objects only seen by the elite in upscale galleries.  On the other hand — I question the assumption that “cheap, quick, and dirty” is an appropriate display strategy.  It would have been pretty easy and not at all expensive to tweak the digital files and produce high-quality digital prints.  Would that have diminished their availability? No.  Would that have made them more compelling?  Yes.  Would that have compromised the notion of destroying the prints after the show comes down?  No — at least not significantly since the digital files would be available to print them again for the next venue in which the show will be shown.  (That practice, however, strikes me as pretentious.)
The prints are accompanied by copies of the many small books that Frank produced in his long career.  I had no idea how many!  In most cases the reproductions in the books, while smaller, are more compelling than the prints on the wall.
Thread #3:  Also in Portland, the Art Museum was simultaneously showing early (1938-41) photographs of the Portland river front by Minor White.  The great (and I say “great” even though I’m not a fan of his work) Minor White lived and worked in Portland from the late 30s to the early 50s.  Before he moved to the abstract style for which he is best known he did a lot of more documentary work.  Among other things, he photographed the Portland riverfront and the historic downtown in Portland for the WPA.
Work from that period was on display in the photography gallery at PAM.  His riverfront work was up then and the downtown work later that spring.
What is obvious, at least to me, in the riverfront work is that even then White was obsessed with the shapes, the lines, the fall of light on an object as opposed to what the scene showed.  With the exception of perhaps four portraits they are totally without living creatures.  They see more than a bit sterile to me.  What is also obvious is that he was a superb printer!
Thread #4:  I subscribe to a service of the wonderful Duncan Miller Gallery in Santa Monica.  Each day they post a few photographs one “vintage”, one “emerging” and one or more just because.  Most of the “vintage” are not by the top tier photographers but sometimes are.  Recently an 8x10 of Margaret Bourke-White’s “Gold Miners, Johannesburg” was listed at $1500, discounted to $950 as their daily bargain. In the same post the “emerging” photograph was a 13x19, ink-jet print of part of the roof and dome of a 1950s vista dome passenger rail car listed at $450 discounted to $400.
Thread #5:  Each year I go to the BFA show for graduates of the Cornish College of the Arts and to the certificate-completion show at Photographic Center Northwest.  There is a little something for nearly everybody at both of these shows but there is a common thread the pieces, by hatchling artists without a non-academic show or publication to their name, are prices from several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.
Thread #6:  A photographer in Portland (name on request) makes sensitive, exquisite studio portraits, still lifes, and nudes.  He sells them for modest sums, $225 for the platinums and a bit more for the one-of-a-kind wet plate and polymer prints.  A second Portland photographer (name on request) does environmental portraits of his friends and neighbors with an 8x10 view camera and contact prints them.  I don’t know how he prices his prints he doesn’t seem to be very interesting in selling.
OK here goes.  There are three issues tangled together here: one is the how art and craft interact in photography, the second is the setting of prices, and the third is how fame influences prices. 
How art and craft interact:  I don’t know where the “art” and the “craft” collide in photography or painting, or sculpture, or drawing, or music composition, or music performance, or dance or …  For everything but photography my guess is that “art” is seeing or hearing the finished piece in your mind and “craft” is the ability to make the reality look or sound like that.  Perhaps the practice of photography as done with a large format camera on a tripod emphasizing pre-visualization of the print fits that definition as well.  Maybe it doesn’t even have to be a large format camera Mary Randlett did pretty well with 35mm.
For the kind of photography that I do it seems to me that “art” occurs twice.  The first bit is the ability to see what is before me and get it on a negative before it vanishes.  Oh, wait if I don’t have the craft of camera handling down to muscle memory then how clearly I see what is before me probably doesn’t matter because it doesn’t hang around long enough for me to fumble about with camera settings before I record it. 
Second is looking at the contact sheet and deciding which frame should be printed and visualizing what the finished print should look like.  Then craft takes over in the darkroom or on the computer.  Is there room for changing your concept in mid-craft?  You bet another collision with art. 
I often wonder how photographers such as Imogen Cunningham could work with a printer without standing over the printer’s shoulder and directing each step.  Even Ansel Adams, with his “the negative is the score and the print is the performance” seemed to deal successfully with a printer.  Perhaps he was willing to accept Ted Orland’s or Al Weber’s performance in the same way that a composer accepts the performance of his or her music by another musician.  Perhaps the photographer has worked with the printer for so long that the printer has absorbed the photographer’s way of seeing.  Perhaps the photographer and the printer should both sign the finished piece.  Actually, that sounds like a very good idea to me.
What I do know about the collision of art and craft in photography is that craft does matter.  The ability to look at a negative or a work print or a raw file and decide how you want it to look is art.  Making it “look like that” is craft and without the craft at your fingertips or your printer’s fingertips it is going to take a long time to do so.
Saying that you don’t care about craft is a cop out unless (and this is a very big “unless”) you have good enough chops to make if look any way you damn well please and you choose to make it look it look like that.  Salvador Dali once noted “: Learn to draw and paint like an old master. … then you can do whatever you want.  Dali could choose to paint like Rev. Howard Finster but certainly not vice-versa.
The aspiring photographer in Thread 1 has neither the keenness of vision (unlike Robert Frank) to make the content strong enough to carry the day nor the chops (unlike Minor White) to make the prints beautiful enough to carry the day.  (I’ve seen quite a few of his prints.)  My guess is that Robert Frank does have the chops and that his choice for the appearance of the prints in this show reflects both his very gritty view of the world and  using them to reflect his dystopian approach to recording shape, line, light and shadow.
John Barth said (slightly paraphrased) “My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in lovemaking. Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill; but success comes with PASSIONATE VIRTUOSITY.
While I understand and certainly admire both the work of Robert Frank and Minor White I would, in simplistic terms, place White on the “heartless skill” side of the fence.  I wish I could place Frank on the “heartfelt ineptitude” side but I cannot because I believe he has the chops to make a splendid print but chooses not to do so .  While I’m being simplistic I’ll place both of the photographers in Thread 6 and the friend mentioned in Thread 1 as “PASSIONATE VIRTUOSOS
How fame influences prices:  The short answer is “a lot” (no kidding).  Photographs are an oddity in the art world (no kidding again).  My art purchase budget does not include popping $950 for the Margaret Bourke-White “Gold Miners” no matter how much I admire that image (a lot).  Would I be equally happy with a modern silver print of that negative at, say, $200?  You bet.  I happen to have a beautifully printed book with an approximately 8x10 reproduction of that print in it.  If I ripped that page out of the book (an immoral act in my opinion) matted and framed it and put it on the wall could I tell the difference between it and a silver print?  Well, yes with a careful look.  Would I admire it as much as I would the silver print?  Well, very nearly every time I walked by it.
That’s not the case with other mediums at least not that clear a case.  Part of that, of course, is that a modern silver print of “Gold Miners” would be indistinguishable from the original at least to the naked eye at least to my naked eye.  Moreover, the making of such a copy would be relatively inexpensive, albeit requiring the skill of a master printer to do so.  Would the copy carry the same price tag as the original?  Of course not.
Paintings, well not so much.  Would a skilled copy of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” carry the same impact as Vermeer’s original?  Well, when art museums in the United States were being established they often sent copy artists to European museums to copy famous paintings that were unavailable to them.  Many of these very expensive copies are still hanging in sundry prestigious museums and the few I’ve seen look pretty good.  Would they hold up well when hung next to the original?  I’d love to find out.  Would the auction price or insured value be as much as the original?  Of course not. 
Meat grinder count is up to six and I’m still not satisfied with how it wound up but I’m going to post it anyway.