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CALL + RESPONSE: DANNY LYON vs. PAUL GRAHAM

09/06/2009
laspina

David La Spina from Neighborhood Goes There, 2008-2009

Check out the two articles attached below – End of the Age of Photography by Danny Lyon and Photography Is Easy, Photography Is Difficult by Paul Graham – and pick sides/straddle the fence/share your thoughts.  The two seem to approach photography, and the current state of the medium, in different ways and with different attitudes.  Yet I feel that there are some similarities evident as well.  Which do you identify with more, and why?  And what do you believe are the similarities between the two views?  Talk amongst yourselves…

End of the Age of Photography PDF

Photography Is Easy PDF

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. pavloskaralis permalink
    09/11/2009 02:15

    In terms of differences, Danny Lyon holds photography to be a craft which requires serious dedication in order to perfect. He also disregards the accessibility of digital photography as something which takes away from the art, rather than alters or enhances. George Awed, however, embraces digital for yielding new opportunity for many to embark into the photographic realm.

    Overall, both agree on two things – that photographic ideas require time and experimentation to develop, and that ones work must be true to the self. According to Awed, you can do anything you want so long as it leads to discovery, and for Lyon, you must do what you want and not what you think others want to see.

    Both writings are coherent, yet I envision digital and the older practices as subcategories of something even greater developing. So I would side with Awed, because I prefer to focus on what digital offers, rather than what it takes away.

  2. arisslater permalink
    09/11/2009 13:42

    That is a positive way of thinking about the affects of the digital age of photography, and I agree it is more constructive to use this new and seemingly limitless resource to our advantage instead of just shunning in and shoving it under the bed.
    however I also agree with a lot of what Danny Lyon is saying. About doing what pleases you as the photographer and kinda screw everyone else. But also just listening to your own inner eye as an artist, and corny as it may sounds staying true to you own beliefs and what really drives you to create art. For him that is sticking to the old and not so everlasting film based photography, and here I am able to identify with his concerns, because I also prefer film and am concerned what that also means for my own future. He wrote this article in 2007, it is now 2009 just think of the films, papers, masters from this age of photography that are now gone. Leaves my future sounding pretty destitute.

    With both articles I preferred the closing few paragraphs. Paul Graham was too ham handed. He posed too many blatantly obvious questions to being a photographer. The majority of the questions were phrased in a rhetorical and profound context, but then he just answered them himself. I have read more interesting personal thoughts and philosophy on present day photography and where it is headed, that I will post once I find it again.
    Danny Lyon, although far more cynical offers a richer explanation on how and where he felt photography was headed. I may not have agreed with everything he was stating, but his ideas were presented in a more intriguing manor that invited debate and questions more than Paul Graham’s article. Lyon stated his opinion strongly and concisely, Graham was more wishy washy, and did not state a strong opinion to to ether side of his argument, “Photography is Easy, Photography is Hard.” but stayed down the middle answering the questions posed with what seemed like yeahs, sometimes, kinda, not really, no, but maybe.

  3. dsutherland permalink
    09/11/2009 17:21

    After reading both articles I found that Graham and Lyon spoke negatively/positive on photography. Both concluded what makes the ideal photographer; finding your inner passion, experimentation/discovery, and devotion to the photograph, all which are positive and inspirational. Using rhetorical questions Graham made numerous points on how easy it is to snap a photo and in that sense what makes it a worthy. Lyon biasedly stated how photography is coming to an end due to the digital age; and for a present photographer to be appreciated stay away from digital and the media.

    To an extent I agree with Lyon, addressing the rapid dying use of film and wet chemicals. It is sad to see them go because it has been the one constant variable in photography for hundred(s) years, making it so true to nature.I love shooting film, developing, and printing it; the rawness of it is a beautiful thing. But I also agree with Graham, to embrace this digital era and all it has to offer, which is a lot. I preferred reading Lyon’s article over Graham because Graham’s rhetorical questions and answers were frustrating. It felt more like a journal or thought process where Lyon just stated his opinions.

  4. rios permalink
    09/14/2009 01:03

    Danny Lyon dealt with absolutes, Paul Graham dealt with possibilities.

    I’m not sure if I can express just how annoyed I am with Lyon’s argument. Photography is dead, there is only digital photography. Let’s rephrase, silver-based photography is dead, and digital photography killed it. Right, now let’s step back a generation. Alternative process photography is dead, and silver-based photography killed it. A recurring cycle? No, if anything, Digital photography has created a resurgence of alternative process photography, making these obscure and esoteric art forms approachable. The fact that people have become aware that alt. process was more or less extinct until the digital age, has also made them aware that they can’t let the same extinction happen to silver. Danny Lyon affixed the word digital to photography to imply that it is foreign, and somehow less than silver-based photography.

    Digital photography has not ‘killed’ anything, sure we’re loosing various cameras, papers, and films, but aren’t these items of little value to photography? Isn’t photography about the image? Not what camera you have, or what film you use, or what you print it on? Oh, you only shoot with a Polaroid? Well I shoot with a Nikon, therefore my photos are better than yours. Right?

    And of course, everyone is going to cite Kodak’s pulling of film, paper, and film cameras from production as the beginning of the end. Anyone remember why George Eastman got into the business in the first place? Mass produced cameras available to the masses -affordable, small, and convenient. Sound anything like their digital counterparts? And a victory for enthusiasts, Leica fired the guy who attempted to make them all digital a few years ago.

    Photography isn’t about absolutes, there is no right answer in photography. If there was, it would truly be dead. So let’s not focus on the prefixes (Alt. process, silver-based, digital), and remind ourselves that the suffix (PHOTOGRAPHY) is still alive and well.

    (Oh, and one last note on Danny Lyon’s hypocrisy:

    “And if you survive and, and make silver prints and wash them a long time, if you then live long enough, you will have plenty of fans, and can sell your silver prints for much more than they are worth. This is a big country, or what the people like to call “a big market”.”

    Oh, he’s not about the money or the fame at all.)

  5. ninethings permalink
    09/14/2009 18:31

    Danny Lyon’s view that the age of photography has come and gone is just ignorant. For example, Herodotus’ writings of the Persian wars by oil lamp. Just because its not difficult and arduous doesn’t mean it isn’t legitimate. I guarantee that Danny Lyon drives to get to wherever he’s photographing. Does that make whatever work he creates after that drive less legitimate? He’s contradicting himself. The way I see it, with photography being such a young art form in the grand scheme of the word, digital is just another inevitable step in the medium. First there was glass, then metal, plastic and now, digital. It is true, digital has taken some of the renaissance-like “romance” out of making a photograph but I’d be willing to bet the prominent art-oriented photographers alive when the plastic negative first became popular made very similar arguments. Paul Graham on the other hand, makes some more solid and less politically convoluted points.
    Graham holds photography in a more contextual and conceptual light. In a world full of possibility and growth. Sure the process has a lot to do with some photos, for others its irrelevant. Like we’ve read and experienced; the digital revolution happened. No going back. Now photography is becoming more and more about the idea, or not. Photography has reached a point that painting and sculpture started over 80 years ago with Magritte’s “This Is Not a Pipe” It is a point that will be argued over for decades to come. I still dont know what makes that “great photograph” and dont foresee myself knowing it for years and years to come. The point is photography is important. Its ever-relevant. No matter the medium, be it glass, metal, plastic or digital, it is important.

  6. Cortlandt Glover permalink
    09/14/2009 20:22

    There were several things about Lyon’s essay, The End of the Age of Photography that I liked. He reminded me of my grandfather, Papa Bob, so automatically there was some chemistry there, but on the whole it was too morose for me to appreciate. Some valid points were made concerning technological advancements and photography, but the author was so resistant to change that it was difficult to tell whether he was trying to make a point, or whether he was complaining because things change. I understand that sometimes the future of photography looks bleak, but there comes a point when admitting that is no longer constructive. Regardless, I think we would get along.

    As for Paul Graham’s essay, Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult, I found it to be more optimistic and liberal. I’m of the thought that art is one thing that doesn’t have to be about anything, so I appreciated the openness of this essay. The question and answer style of writing was exasperating at times, but this style helped me to believe that Graham was embracing the way photography is changing. He began the essay by saying photography was ridiculous and easy, and by the end I’m not sure if he’s convinced himself of anything other than to keep doing it.

  7. nicpersinger permalink
    09/15/2009 05:25

    I more or less agreed with Paul Graham’s thesis, so I won’t say much about his essay. My thoughts about photography are pretty similar–taking a picture is easy, but understanding what makes a photograph “good” before you take it is almost impossible to decipher. Photography is largely intuitive and over-thinking the process tends to spoil it.

    As far as Danny Lyon is concerned, my reaction was actually kind of violent. Declaring the end of photography is absolutely ridiculous and near-sighted. The introduction of digital cameras and processes isn’t the death of film, it’s simply an addition. That’s like saying that the invention of the microwave was the death of the oven. Microwaves are convenient, easy, and fast, but that hardly means that 5-star chefs are now going to cook exclusively with microwaves and we’ll only see Viking ranges in museums. Many, if not most, cooks prefer traditional ovens. College students in tiny dorms will use microwaves for their accessibility and size, but there’s no comparison between Easy Mac and rack of lamb.

    Digital photography is already widespread, both in the art world and amongst civilians, so to speak. However, fine art photographers still use the film medium. In fact, despite the advent of plastic film, plenty of photographers still like to work with glass plate negatives. Sure, it’s closer to being a lost art than digital photography, but die-hards still do it. Digital photography–and even really high quality, almost-film caliber digital photography–has been around for years, but film is hardly dead.

    In this sense, photography is no different from any other artistic field. Acrylic paint dries faster than oil paint. It’s easier to clean up than oil paint. It doesn’t contain lead and other toxins like oil paint does. It doesn’t damage clothes like oil paint does. But a huge amount of painters still prefer to work in oil paint. For Lyon to declare a “digital Holocaust” is melodramatic, and a non sequitur to boot. The introduction of one new technology does not mean the obsolescence of another technology, at least not in the art world, because artists use different mediums to express different emotions, to employ different qualities, and for different means. Art is too personal for everyone to use the same process.

    Of course, in the industrial world, this is different, because producers are concerned with efficacy and proliferation. However, photographers (and other artists) are not factories. As long as there are people out there in the world who want to use film, it will be used. Maybe Ilford and Kodak will stop commercially mass-producing film and paper, but the elements necessary to mix chemistry will always exist. It may become a huge pain in the ass to work in film, but people will still do it.

    For Lyon to write some elegiac dissertation about how digital images are ruining life as we know it is just silly.

  8. Esther Yi permalink
    09/15/2009 08:44

    Between Paul Graham’s and Danny Lyon’s readings, I can identify with both, equally. Both are on opposite fences of the new digital photography era. In Graham’s article, he addresses that there is a difference between film and digital photography but digital photography is a new challenge and a new start. Lyon irritably agrees that digital photography is a new era coming, but he disagrees with the fact that it should take place. My thoughts on digital photography are similar to that of Grahams; it is a new start, and a new challenge and it is still a growing concept. However, I my thoughts on digital photography are also similar to that of Lyons; I fail to believe that digital photography should be replacing film photography. Less paper is being made, and the whole photographic process from shooting to the darkroom to matting is slowly increasingly, decreasing in numbers. Lyon takes his disagreement with digital photography a step further than myself, taking matters back to the first written accordance of history. To think in that matter, we should all still be cave men and women without photography at all. As are many ideas and beliefs about “real” art, both Graham and Lyon agree that it takes time, and much growth and experimentation is involved in creating great photography. In addition, both writers comply that the mind behind photography, ethically and emotionally, are key to great photography as well.

  9. sjwinston permalink
    09/20/2009 17:20

    Lyon is dramatic while Graham is encouraging.

    Lyon’s ideas disturb me. To approach this topic with the proclamation of a “digital holocaust” as the death of film, leading inevitably to the death of photography, is the wrong attitude towards the growth of the medium and its accessibility. Film still exists and will continue to exist for years to come (according to Ilford at least). The advent and the refinement of digital technologies in photography allow all of us photographing today more options than ever before.

    Graham describes the digital age of photography as being ridiculously simple and easy without any badmouthing. He simply breezes past it as another option in the realm of image making. Graham focuses more on the concept of making rather than the formats of producing images. He is encouraging the reader to see and to create, by any means available.

    Graham’s attitude, I appreciate. Photography is not dying as it evolves. There have been some unfortunate casualties, but those who appreciate trademarks of the past will persevere them in any way possible. Together, these two views offer modern photographers perspective, options to consider in the execution of photographic image making.

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