Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"I love his pictures, I just can't stand to look at them for long periods."

A reaction to The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia
This film is about one artist's attempt to portray a group of people in their environment according to his own vision. Shelby Lee Adams considers himself a documentarian. Almost everyone else considers him to be a fine artist. He has spent half a lifetime creating a collection of photographs that may be the most emotional images I have ever seen. There are endless adjectives that can be associated with his work; beautiful, ugly, intense, offensive, real, staged, stereotypical and authentic all apply and depend on the viewer's interpretation.

This variance in interpretation is common with all forms of art. I believe the meaning of a true piece of art should be left for the viewer to decide. This is not the case with a good documentary. I think a documentary should show its subject(s) in a unbiased manner. Shelby Lee Adams attempts to do both. His subjects are being themselves as Adams arranges them within the frame of his camera and lights them in his personal style. By doing this he has successfully merged documentary with fine art.

An interesting moral dilemma is raised in this film. Many people interviewed believe Adams is only perpetuating a streotype of poor white people that are inbred and ignorant. The subjects themselves do not feel this way and say they like the pictures. One woman doesn't like the photographs because they are not pretty. She wants her sister to be groomed, made-up and posed in a flattering manner. Adams rebuttals with the fact that the girl is not really like that and he wants to show her how she actually is. He is not creating these photos to please everyone, nor is he trying to offend anyone. He is simply attempting to show the world how he sees it.

My goal with my photo essay project in New Orleans will be to portray the people and the city as they are. I will arrange subjects or position myself to create the composition I see in my mind but I do not want to "pose" people or "create" a scene. I don't want to tell someone to smile or look at a certain spot. I want them to be themselves and to feel comfortable. Some people like to smile while others do not. Some people will look into the lens while others would rather look away or past the camera. I think this is where a lot of the documentation comes from while the art is created by the arrangement and lighting.

1 comment:

  1. In Adams' blend of art and documentary, what is his responsibility to the viewer? Is he asking them to believe the images are truthful? Are they?