Friday, December 19, 2008

Does This Photo Suck?


At least one blogger thinks this is the worst photograph ever taken.

I disagree. It's not the most beautiful, but it's not the worst either.

Here's the deal. Mike Johnston, who writes the wonderful photo blog The Online Photographer, says this shot by Annie Leibovitz for the Lavazza 2009 Calendar, is "the worst photograph ever made" and offers "inspired badness."

I'm a fan of Mike's blog and his writing. I've followed him since he was associated with two of the best photography magazines ever produced: Camera & Darkroom (the original one) and PHOTOtechniques. But I don't always agree with him. This time I only half agree with him.

Here's what he says about the Leibovitz photo that I agree with:

But for inspired badness, this recent "photograph"* by Annie Leibovitz for the Lavazza calendar has it all: a pandering (unto capitulation) to empty style; excessive color which is nevertheless unattractive; an attractive model who is also unattractive (though she got legs! But what the hell is with that expression?); a really woeful idea (Romulus and Remus and their wolf-mother—oh, please) that nevertheless doesn't even work; heavyhanded overproduction; no trace of irony; a blatantly fake background that doesn't even try to match the studio-shot foreground; a baby butt, for that touch of smack-you-with-a-dead-fish cuteness; campy makeup, kitschy hair; and, to top it all off, a hilariously incongruous product placement like an embarrassing pimple.
Yes, the photo is all that.

But, he also goes on to say this, which I don't agree with:

This picture as a whole has absolutely zero connection to reality or honest depiction, but is unredeemed by any countervailing expressive or artistic purpose. And (and this puts it out in front of many other contenders) it was all done intentionally, front to back, top to bottom, money-no-object, by an army of the most talented professionals, from art director to stylists to make-up artists to baby-wranglers to lighting assistants to photographer to digital retoucher, all working assiduously in concert in pursuit of the utterly pointless.
That's what I call the "Well, Duh!" paragraph.

This is advertising, not art. Lavazza is in the business of selling Espresso coffee and by extension Italian culture. Of course it has "zero connection to reality," it's advertising. It's fantasy, fiction, fake, stylized unreality. Did I mention it's advertising?