St. James Court Art Show (Louisville KY)--Musings

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by MikeSeb, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

    Jun 12, 2005
    Denver, CO
    Medium Format
    Apologies if I've posted this in the wrong category--please feel free to move as you see fit. And warning: my wanderings will touch upon the dreaded D-word, but I hope in a manner that comports with the spirit of APUG.

    This being the first full weekend of October, the St. James Court Art Show is in town once again. With over 700 artists participating, it is one of the largest (and oldest--52 years) juried art shows in the US. Last year's attendance was around 200,000, despite unseasonably hot weather; with this weekend's more usual cool fall temps and cloudless skies, a quarter million visitors are expected. The show's worth visiting just for the beautiful Victorian architecture represented in Old Louisville, the neighborhood along whose tree-covered streets the show booths are arrayed. Not shilling here; my only connection to the show is as a regular visitor and spectator. I've never entered work for consideration, either, so no scores to settle.

    The quality and quantity of photography has waxed and waned over the ten years I've been attending the show. This year, there are 57 photography participants according to the website's search-function listing; I estimate I visited about a third of them during the three hours we could spare yesterday. (My wife may begin speaking to me again sometime this week. :wink: ) What's my point? Well, not sure except for a vague sense of unease about the medium.

    Seems like the photography fell into two broad categories, based on my unscientific survey: work with captivating subject matter but lousy craftsmanship, or work with excellent craftsmanship but which left no cliche unvisited. Yes, I realize I generalize here.

    I'd say that five or fewer of the artists I visited work in strictly analog / traditional media from start to finish; I am happy to say that their work was at the highest level of craftsmanship even when the subject matter didn't grab me. (This is Kentucky; one can only suffer so many pictures of backlit early-morning steam rising from the lathered flanks of playful yearlings trotting around the track.) The few strictly silver-gelatin or platinum printers I visited are doing magnificent, flawless work, and seemed to be selling their work at a decent clip. That's the good news, I think, for us afficionados of traditional processes.

    Some of the work, however, had me scratching my head in wonder that it could have gotten past the jury. Not here to slag all digital work across the board (I do most of my own work on film, but print digitally, leaving out discussion of that part here out of respect for APUG's ethos), but even well-considered subject matter was in many cases dragged down by simply awful digital printing that even jurors with limited photographic expertise should have rejected.

    Not sure what it all means, if anything. Talking to the photographers, I got the sense that many of them had tried, unsuccessfully, to make a transition to digital output without understanding the medium's limitations, especially as it concerns resolution limitations and color management. One fellow was particularly disappointing; he was shooting magnificent images with a 4x5 on film, and scanning them into a pixelated muddy mess on a consumer flatbed. Makes you want to weep. Another guy, though, was doing a spectacular job with drum-scanned large-format color images output digitally.

    You have to wonder whether some tipping point has been reached, where even mediocre digital printing is now considered acceptable to a large part of the art-buying public; and equivalent in the buyer's (and maybe the photographer's) mind to well done digital or analog printing. I took heart in that, even though their ranks are thinner than in years past, the best analog-only work remains at an exceptionally high level of vision and craft.

    My visit also reinforced the suspicion that a giant consumer art show---with macrame purses and cross-stitched puppies selling briskly next door to mahogany tree swings and corn dogs the size of pythons---may not be the best venue in which to cultivate an appreciation for the highest quality traditional photography.

    Your thoughts, folks?
  2. CPorter

    CPorter Member

    Feb 2, 2004
    West KY
    4x5 Format
    I regret that It will not be open on Ocotber 9th as we have to take our daughter to Louisville for a medical exam on that day----I would have liked visit there and to see what you saw. Interesting that you mentioned the "old" architecture as I always see interesting photographs to be made on the few times I've been there. I would like to visit for that reason alone someday with my 4x5---would probably get some weird looks, IDK.