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Salon is not for us...(sure ?)
In Malaysia, or for that matter, the South East Asian (including Hong Kong). Salon photography was a very popular mainstream photographic medium since the fifties. I used to remember when I was a school boy in the late sixties while I resided in Perak those days, I used to go around some local photographic events and many local studios operators in my home town are quite fond of having their works hanged around and displayed on their shop's windows to impress customers.
Those days, where color photography was generally regard as a luxurious hobby and black & white commanded the medium at large. Well, in fact, to many families such as ours, photography was still considered as an expensive hobby especially to many lower income groups. Most studio photographers, have been "ranked" as doctors, bankers, lawyers and established merchants. When did photography penetrated into the orient ? Well, most would believe either it was brought in during the colonial days where expatriates who stationed here could have had generated such interest among locals and some said it was spearheaded by those who has picked up the hobby or acquired the skill from overseas during their stay/studies abroad.
General consciences were simple, as salon photographers they were being idol led among the lower income public when international awards were given. Local media helped to extend the publicity - some of these reasons were relevant to help indirectly establishing a very good foundation and generated a very strong following for Salon Photography during those days which extends until now. There were no yardstick to measure and rated the standard, naturally, started in Hong Kong, through submissions of entries to "recognized" photographic international societies like the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and slowly extended to some major annual events of competition in the US, where awards and titles were given, and that leads the oriental photographers chasing for more glories and for personal recognition within the photographic community. Well, reasons is simple - after all, one that is not well educated has a equal path to acquire a Master or Phd degree in a medium dominated by creative sense and not necessary on educational merits. Why not ?
Salon photography is immensely popular in this region, in particular among the Chinese community and it has a huge following worldwide. Recently, I had an conversation with a friend through the Net relating to this topic, he is young and has just graduated from an "internationally recognized" art institute from US and naturally, it doesn't ended up with common understanding to the existence of this special unique style that came from this school of salon photography. Well, to me - I would like to see this carry on and let it find it own path for evolution in the future as this culture of photography is very unique, raw and "oriental", and if this special approach can has its following so strongly which lasted for 50 years or so, you have to respect its existence.
First, before anyone should jump into the conclusion of the conservatives of the Salon's style. You have to visualize how it was originated during the colonial days. That was way back a few decades old, before even most of us were born ! Those glorious awards form the foreign soil meant a lot during those days which I can imagine the respect you can gained from others. Everyone new into photography was lead to believe that was the right approach and the correct direction of photography, and that was the sole art form for the medium.
Unlike today, those days photographic publications were limited, even if it has, they were published in English and were being translated. It taught basic essentials in getting a successful photographs but never tell you things like how to explore the a layer of vision beyond the visual. Well, the 1/3 rule, good contrast in color, textures and form; illumination, the right time of the day, nature of subject matter and crystal clarity of images taken - all these factors were a MUST elements before a clear consideration of a "good" photograph. You can't say pictures taken with all these elements contained in are wrong - saving the fact that, these are what the western "gurus" that were teaching you about photography with publication from Kodak etc... Even, by today's standard, these are the "right elements" in a good photographs if used creatively and it lasts.
When these elements are combined and incorporated into a image making process - especially with an aim of winning some international awards, it becomes an essential rule in order to achieve a goal state - because international JUDGES are looking for these elements in a successful photograph too ! Anyway, what I am trying to bring to everyone attention is - who the hell are we to tell these guys are wrong ? Because neither one of us are great master of modern photography here, right ? Thus, when it comes to applied imaging - the circumstantial factors dictates. The unique oriental way of interpretation on supplementary factors like poetic scenes morning mists, sunset, human factors on expressions etc.. all came into effect. The emphasis is on beauty and atmosphere - with distinguishable titled images. (By the way, Chinese language is a very beautiful tool when used creatively and it is a very important element in Salon school to title a image taken). In short, Salon is about the golden rules, contrasts, compositions and well titled - that what everybody says.
Don't feel defensive before you even try to accept them, as Salon photography plays a very important role in the course of development in Asian photography. To summarize Salon photography as what I mentioned earlier, is far from the truth from this fact. The popularity and the rapid development of photography in Asia is well recognized with the foundation that the early Salon photographers fought and laid. Where the enthusiasm of chasing glorious moments lead to hundreds of competitions organized each year around the region can often attract more and more amateurs to go serious into this medium with the attractive and technically sound images displayed. To certain extend, the culture and concepts of Salon photography were modeled and followed by many western photographers (Please noticed more and more entries in the international Salon competitions are foreign based each year - you might not realize, because you are not even bother). Thus, if a concept can "export" itself to the outside world and gained its acceptance, you have to respect that too.
Well, my personal interpretation is this: Salon photography is here to stay. And for that matter, no one should disrupt its development. You can only inspire a Salon photographer that, with the technicalities, sound knowledge and foundation that has laid himself/herself as a Salon photographer, expand the scope with the traditional way of seeing things in a Salon eyes around you, applied in the creative image making process. The key to such possibilities to see Salon photography to evolve is via medium. The Internet medium is passive, you decided what to click and see because you are not being lectured (which is very important, because it never has to confront anyone and it never hurts anyone's feeling - it is a self acquiring process), regardless based from the school of salon or contemporary fine art to see others works and digest the essence and groom into individual unique style in the interpretation in the process later.
I have some friends are heavily engaged in Salon photography. Many of the local photographic clubs have seen healthy sign of a good mix of different photographers who practiced both school of Salon photography and the School of Contemporary Fine Art photography. Styles are changing on a healthy note, such as some photographers have started to experiment to merge traditional Chinese ink printing into photography and so on..(we have a reference portfolio here with this approach) topics and subject matter are broader than ever, all these are either individual or on a smaller scale efforts too. To conclude Salon photographers is still confined to their own conservative world is too harsh of a statement. It may not please many free thinkers outside - but that variations on the differences of style and approaches make photography so interesting and enjoyable. Remember, just like asking you to change your style to suit theirs, it's hard. So, why would you do that the other way round ? It wouldn't make anyone (including me) happier, if Salon style is gone and vanish - because this is one of a main stream along with the development of photography in this country, and we have to respect that.
Contemporary fine art photography, which on the other hand, with its approach centers itself through creativity, originality and believe very much in self expression and visual art that fills with content. - are primarily photographers who are mainly from the pool of artists from art schools, graphic artists, designers or general public who usually loves visual arts forma and like to express such free form via photography. To many of them, the Salon photography is an outdated medium, photography is not confined to basics and rules. They are the free thinkers that moving along with the trend and direction in international modern arts. I have to stress here for this fact, without offending any party, that: Art is very subjective and there is no such distinguishable boundaries where it says, what is right or what is wrong, so - just don't try to tell others "you are wrong.." because neither you can claimed rightfully that you are right.
As far as I am concerned, Salon photography is a very oriental medium via how it originated, it carries a very original Asian values in its approach of how we see and feel things around us. Asian are generally very conservative in their cultural values, these values is dissolves into interpretation when they have a medium to express themselves. Anyone can have their own rights of appreciating things around them. Some may argue that, art is not meant for photographic competitions, then, may I ask: What is it for then ? Personal exhibitions that can held in art galleries or museums ? print out calendars ? postcards ? a successful giant billboard advertisements or some Favorable reviews from critics ?
As long as your images is displayed to the access of the public... the 'classification stays the same...you are headed for the recognition just like the others, the differences are just the medium of how you wish your images be displayed.
We are here just for the passion that we have for photography - regardless of what we intend to achieve. And neither anyone of us to have the capacity to criticize anybody's effort to enjoy and promote the medium at their own right with their respective individual approaches. If we feel with what we think when we see a stunning image, we appreciate and thanks for it, regardless of the way of how it was taken. In Malaysia, I have seen some positive responses from Salon photographers that are changing their style in more open manner - this should be encourage to establish our own identity, though those images still cast a heavily taste of Salon. Who knows, one day, they may lead to create a new dimension of another main stream in photography on its own.
I always appreciate and enjoy good images when I have the chance to find one, regardless of origin of how it was created. Though, expression of opinions here is entirely personal (and neither I am good in writing - definitely that segment is not my strongest asset), but you can freely mail me and express yours. After all, you are an enthusiast in photography - that is why you are responding to what I have written here. If not, just stay as who you are.
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