When Can We Say “Goodby” to Deadpan Photography?

Here is a definition I found on Yahoo Answers today.

Deadpan refers to a plain lack of expression – applied to the sitter / subject

Wow, doesn’t that say it all. I just received my new issue of The New Yorker, and Jeff Minton has two pictures that really say it all. Nothing. Am I being too harsh? I am not so sure. Nothing  against his success in the industry, its more the entire genre that I have issues with.

I was raised in a different time, an era when I was introduced to beauty; paintings, music, and photography that moved me emotionally. I have always had such a low tolerance to art that subscribes to theories and preconceived concepts. Throughout my entire life I have been emotionally moved by so little. Perhaps that is why  I spend all of my time trying to create something that works for me. I love exploring with colors, shapes, balance, and depth. I have always had a connection to the Abstract Expressionists who lived in New York during the 40′s creating the New York School. My photographic mentor, who I apprenticed with before starting my first photographic career with National Geographic, was Jules Alexander. His studio was on East 69th Street, in the former Mark Rothko studio. I was very much aware of this connection. It meant a tremendous amount to me.

“Silence is so accurate,” Rothko would say, fearing that words would only paralyze the viewer’s mind and imagination. In their manifesto in the New York Times Rothko and Gottlieb had written: “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.”

Let me know if I am the only person in the world that wuold like to say “Goodby” to this photographic fad. Let’s bring back emotion to the world of photography.


9 Responses to “When Can We Say “Goodby” to Deadpan Photography?”

  • Peter J. Crowley Says:

    The current trend of as you call it Deadpan Photography I think mirrors the Vanilla world we exist in to actually say something with an image is almost criminal “I” is all that can be said. I was represented by IBID during the last two years of the forty years the agency existed. Quoting the owner when she felt it time to close “We simply cannot compete with the giants that outsell us by undercutting prices and have successfully turned lower standards into the art buyer’s habit and necessity. In short, we have
    become an anachronism; too excellent for mediocre times.” That says it all. I for one was told in college early 70′s that every image you make is a self portrait. That mantra I have carried on with and hope that all my images speak. enjoy pjc

  • Laura Barisonzi Says:

    Hurray to that. You are right on. At this point I think that deadpan is a default that photographers go to when they do not know what expression to go with. The subject is so bored that they are sitting there saying “what do you want me to do” and the photographer says nothing so the subject just stares bored into the camera. Whenever I see deadpan I think about the person’s pores, and then think, what a lost opportunity.

  • Lois Levin Says:

    I’ve often wondered if I was alone in my opinion of this style of photography, hence I had no comment – until now.

    I appreciate your honesty in challenging what seems to now be a status quo in commercial imagery. My husband and I are partners in our photography business and we work hard to incorporate beauty and emotion in our work. How many times have we seen the temptation of succumbing to “what sells” versus the focus of being true to ourselves. We’ve remained on our own path, and hope that our work appeals to our clientele.

    Is this really a trend? Do you have any other insights to share?

    Your work is amazing. Thank you.

  • Chris George Says:

    It’s so good to find photographers who feel the same way as I do! Many thanks for this blog entry I don’t feel so lonely now ;-)

  • bill kinzie Says:

    How true it is – not only do we have deadpan photography, take a look at TV, fashion & films – It would appear that for todays ‘artists” beauty has been treaded for dull. Deadpan, death and dull seem to be the default for many of todays culture mavens. In a time when you can be sued for saying just about anything I guess it makes sense that many are saying nothing.
    thanks-bk

  • . Says:

    if you actually bothered taking your discipline seriously and reasearching the origin of deadpan you would have found its not just a trend and that there is evidence of this objective form dating back to as early as the bauhaus movement in germany in the 1920′s. It then became popular as a style in the 1970′s at the dusseldorf academy of fine arts. Its a way of ducumenting someone/something in a unpredjudice clinical way. THIS IS NOT A TREND.

  • Marge Hargrove Says:

    Thanks a lot very when it comes to this write,it has been a outstanding read,can’t look ahead to more messages Lock & Key Service 618 Church Street, Nashville, TN 37219,615-834-7689

  • Charles King Says:

    Very late comment here, but WTH…

    I can’t help getting the impression that you feel deadpan (which is obviously an alien idiom to you) represents a threat to your style of image-making. I suppose it’s a natural reaction – when you see other photographers getting accolades and spreads in high-profile magazines you tend to think, ‘Is this what’s ‘in’? Do I need to copy this to get commissions? Will my current style still sell?’

    Well, don’t. There’s nothing worse than someone parroting a style simply because they think it’s the current fashion. ‘Fine Art’ is easily the most horrendously abused term in modern photography, and most work labelled with that tag has only the most peripheral connection with the development of Art as a cultural movement. Simply put: don’t worry about it. If your aim is to produce accessible work that sells and is enjoyed by a wide range of people, then do that, but don’t kid yourself. Don’t try to label it as ‘Art’ in the hopes of inflating its value. If the work sells, then it has value, QED. Don’t confound the process by trying to compare your work to that of those who are trying to do something completely different.

    ‘Deadpan’ is not a fad, as was pointed out above. It is also capable of stirring deeply complex emotions, so the crux of your argument is simply misguided. But it also takes a lot of time, and takes a lot of effort on the part of the viewer, so there are a wide range of situations in which it’s inappropriate. It’s a way of seeing that tries to reach deeper into the way we perceive the world, but it’s not a threat to those for whom current ways of seeing work just fine.

    Someone who rails against the importance of theory and concept in Art is someone who Just Doesn’t Get It. But don’t worry, you’re in illustrious company, Elliott Erwitt (who ‘views with consternation the cold and vulgar photography that is currently in fashion’) doesn’t Get It either, and he’s produced loads of witty and amusing photographs.

    Erwitt doing deadpan would be like Seinfeld playing Hamlet, just ridiculous. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Jerry Seinfeld can go to a performance of Hamlet and enjoy it, without having to pull it down and wonder when people will get over their fad for tragic drama. I wish photographers could do the same. Get over it.

  • Sean Esopenko Says:

    Deadpan photography is a reaction against both the commercialization and the accessibility of photography. I suggest you learn a thing or two on the history of art before quoting the first 3 links you find on google and forming your opinion. Quoting yahoo answers? Come on, have some criticality!

Leave a Reply