In one of my previous blog posts, I mentioned that I'm generally a pretty positive person. While we can't control what happens to us, we can control how we handle things. In that regard, I try my best to be positive and see the good side of things most times. This blog post will not be one of those times...
Peter Lik. Just saying the name will usually draw an emotional response. To his fans, Mr. Lik's work represents the apex of landscape photography. To them, his vibrant images are the work of a true master. Mention the name in any type of forum that takes landscape photography seriously and you will get a much different response. To these people, his work is an abomination of fake color and overzealous marketing.
I tried my best to stay away from either extreme. Sure, his work wasn't my style. As I have grown as a landscape photographer, my tastes have migrated to a more realistic representation of nature. Some of Peter's earlier work qualifies as realistic, but not much that he has produced recently. His marketing skill, however, is second to none. Since I am deficient in this area regarding my own work, I always admire people who are superior in this field. As I am typically a laid back person, I also admired his enthusiasm when speaking about photography. Besides, hating on Peter Lik would make me seem jealous, and I am most certainly not jealous of Mr. Lik.
That all changed last week when the New York Times released an article on Peter's work detailing his recipe for success (link here). A photographer I follow on Twitter linked the article, and I opened it expecting to hear about his recent $6.5 million print sell. What I got was an alpha douche waxing poetic about himself (and his sexual conquests).
Then he did the unthinkable...he insulted Ansel Adams.
NOBODY INSULTS ANSEL IN MY PRESENCE AND GETS AWAY WITH IT!!! Therefore, it is now Peter Lik rant time; this has been a long time coming.
Let's start with an anecdote from one of your peers, Mr. Lik. I was speaking with a fairly large "name" in the landscape photography world once, and we got on the topic of famous prints. This photographer of course had many, and me...not so much. I did have one story with an image of mine getting a VERY, VERY small amount of exposure. (And believe me, I cannot emphasize how small my "famous" image was. A few years back I entered an image into Popular Photography's Reader's Contest. Of course mine didn't win; ironically Peter Lik won that year. However, the next year Pop Photo used my image, uncredited, to promote that year's contest. When you clicked on my image, it went to a page containing Lik's winning image...) After telling this story, this photographer said, "First of all, you're pronouncing it wrong. It's Peter Dick."
There was absolutely no trace of professional envy in his voice or demeanor. He was giving his honest opinion; as it turns out, it was a highly accurate opinion.
Second, let's talk about his work. At one point it was what I consider to be good landscape photography. Beautiful scenery with maybe a bit of extra saturation. Not really a problem for me; after all I do shoot Velvia. That photographer, though, is long since gone. The first time one of his images offended me (and yes, I actually mean offended me...as in I was angry at what my eyeballs had just experienced) was when I saw "Bella Luna." (Did the Google work for you here.) Look closely; when is the last time you saw the moon IN FRONT OF THE CLOUDS?!?! If I ever see that, something in my life has gone horribly wrong. And why is the sun setting on the same side as the dark side of the moon??? And to add further insult, there was a time where this was presented as a single exposure (although that information has since been removed from his website). I once tweeted that this image made "Lone Wolf" t-shirts on Amazon look good. I stand by that statement.
Does anyone actually think his stuff looks good anymore? It's just an oversaturated mess that has been through Photomatix. Take a look at his "Aviator" series (here). That's not even well done HDR. It's like he realized at some point that his marketing schemes were so superior that he completely stopped trying to even be a decent photographer. Honestly, I think he's probably getting amusement from it all...seeing how terrible he can make images while still selling a mountain-ton of them.
Speaking of marketing schemes, I felt sick to my stomach reading in the article about those people who thought they were making an investment...only to find resell values of his work were absolutely horrendous. Look, I get that in the digital age it is necessary to add a sense of urgency to make photography sell. (There was a time long ago, when printing processes were much different, that early editions of an image were desired because it was physically a better print. With the advent of superior inkjet and lightjet printing, this is no longer the case. The 500th print will be identical to the first.) I have no issue charging more for later prints as a method to sell. What I do have issue with is how much he marks them up with regard to the resell market for his images. If the numbers in the article are correct, he sells late edition prints for about 10 times their "worth."
Then he goes and brags about it, saying he sold the most expensive piece of "art" ever. First, the now 2nd and 3rd most expensive photographs sold at auctions, allowing their extreme value to be determined organically. Peter picked a random, astronomical number and then contacted his "collectors," eventually finding some gullible putz to pay that amount. A fool and his money are soon parted I guess. However, in spite of the buyer's poor financial sense, the fact remains that the 6.5 million dollar total is artificial. Secondly, it's clear that this was ONLY a PR move for Mr. Lik. After all, it was his team that made the announcement, and it's kind of hard to ignore when it's the landing page for his website. It's ALL about the money with Peter Lik.
Which brings me to the final point of this rant: Ansel Adams. The blatant disrespect Lik has for Ansel Adams is appalling. To say that he was only at the right place and the right time? BS First, you think it's coincidence that he just happened to be in certain spots when the lighting was perfect time after time after time? This makes my blood boil. Lik's complete ignorance of what goes into scouting light when shooting large format is laughable. Adams was a master of his craft; he didn't just use garbage HDR and saturation sliders to make up for subpar talent. And the one time when he was literally right place at the right time (Moonrise Over Hernandez)? The technical knowledge he used to calculate that exposure is mind blowing. The light changed so fast that he didn't even have time to take his customary second sheet; forget about bracketing multiple exposures
More importantly though is how Ansel used his work. I truly believe that conservation and protecting the land was more important to Ansel than even photography. To that end he used his images to educate the masses. From reading the article, I get the feeling that Peter Lik has a deep desire to be important. However, he will NEVER matter because he only cares about himself and making money. Ansel is an important historical figure because he was so much more than just a photographer who sells prints; Peter Lik is only a person trying to make money. When he is gone, his art will not matter or be of any worth. We will not remember or celebrate his birthday decades after he has passed. He will merely fade away as so many pretentious douche nozzles have done before him.
Also, contrary to his own belief, he is not God.
And finally, I work with the public on a daily basis and occasionally come across men who brag about their sexual exploits (as Lik did in the article). Without fail, they are always compensating for something. Always.
Oh my gosh, that felt good! I was literally shaking I was so mad writing the last few paragraphs. This blog, of course, will never be read by Peter or make a difference in anything at all, but man did it feel good to rant about that! I'll have to do this more often...