To the students participating in the Jefferson State Scavenger Hunt

November 13th, 2008 by Rebekka in Uncategorized

“What?” you may ask, regarding the odd title of this post..

“what the f***??” was what i asked no one in particular when i recieved the first of what ended up being 10 mails today from middle-school students in Oregon, all seeking answers to a question presented to them on some scavenger hunt they’re taking part in.

The question apparently starts out with a quote from an article published in the New York Times earlier this year. The quote is as follows: “Cartier-Bresson is no Guoleifsdóttir” The rest of the question has to do with where i post my photos, and how many megapixels my favorite camera has. (who made up this question in the first place is what i’d like to know..)

Now, before i go any further, let me state the following:
My last name is Guðleifsdóttir, not Guoleifsdóttir. Misspelling my last name, however, was only one of several things that pissed me off about that article, that quote being another one. The way I saw it, the point of the quote was not to make me appear to be a better photographer than legend Henri Cartier-Bresson, (that in itself would have been ridiculous anyway) . But rather, to point out that if Cartier-Bresson were just starting out today, and were to post his photos on Flickr, the average flickr user wouldn’t recognize their brilliance because they don’t adhere to the aesthetic values that we modern folks have become accustomed to, in light of the extra dazzle and special effects that digital photography and photoshop have enabled even the most amateur photographer to add to their photos. The average flickr user would not appreciate the precise framing and mood of the masters black and white photos.
The point of the comparison was, in short, to point out that even tho my photos have become hugely popular on Flickr, it doesn’t count because (according to the writer of the article) the average flickr user is an idiot that doesn’t have the necessary background in photo and art history to know a good photo when they see one.
For this condescending assumption, I begrudge the writer of the article. Even tho it may well be true that the average flickr viewer does not, in fact, have any background in studying art or making profound and enlightened statements on the validity of a photograph, I personally believe the average person should not in fact NEED such a background to appreciate artwork. I’m interested in reaching not just people who can sound really smart at a snooty NY gallery opening, but normal people, who feel something when looking at my photographs, and are in some way moved by what they see.
Art should be for everyone who enjoys looking at it, and you can quote me on that.

Now, having gotten that much-needed rant out of my system, I’m going to answer the kids’ question.
My favorite camera at the moment is a canon 5D, as its the best camera I’ve owned so far.
It has around 12 megapixels;)
I post some of my photos on flickr, but as of last month my more artistic work has been removed from there, and is only visible on my personal website, .

Good luck with the rest of the scavenger hunt guys.

Read 47 comments

47 comments for this post

When I read that quote, my initial thought was that it refers to Cartier-Bresson not wanting being in front of the camera whereas you produced many (wonderful) self-portraits – thus enjoying or not minding at least being photographed.

Only later I thought about the whole Cartier-Bresson Flickr riot, which I found both: unsurprising and irrelevant. Some of my favourite photographers would probably not score more than a 50% in a popularity vote if random people were to judge their photographs without knowing who they are.

That being said I just heard the following words from a model’s mom who said “I really like this picture. I don’t think I am the best person to judge whether a picture is good or not though”. I think she is at least as good of a judge than I am. Everyone is. Some photographers seem to be thinking they are taking pictures just to be judged by other photographers or people in the industry. I think we should all be taking pictures for everyone (some that they will want to hang on their wall) and in that regard, Rebekka, you have already won :)

Hey Rebekka,

I think this discussion strikes an interesting point anyhow.

For me personally I want to learn to love the work of the “old” masters, but it doesn’t open up that easily to me and doesn’t touch me so immediately as the photos on some flickr photo streams … like yours.

I still think though, that there is something missing in my perception that needs to be build over time. Once I gather that I hope that this doesn’t mean I’ll lose interest in the photos I like today.

You should post more often ;-)

yeah, seeing as i usually have loads on my mind, regarding any number of things, maybe i should indeed post here more often ..

also, i’d like to mention that i am of course, myself, still in school, studying visual arts, (graduating this spring with a BA, will probably continue for a masters later on) . I’m little by little building my own knowledge regarding art and photo history, which in turn opens my eyes and mind a great deal, and will of course lead to my work becoming more .. solid… for want of a better word.. Everyone benefits from learning about these things..
I just don’t think it should be a prerequisite for being able to enjoy art from the start;)

thank you some much you have been a great help i loved your landscape pics and hope you have good luck in your career your a great photographer and hope to see more of your work
-Ruch schools 7th and 8th graders.

thank you alot for the answer. hope u arent still p/o

You SHOULD post here more often. Aside from always enjoying your musing, I constantly feel a bit lost as to when you add more photos to your site now. I am left with just my imagination of what pretty photographs you are creating.

As for the art issue: This is not an issue that will go away soon. It is a change in perception in the art world. I feel it WILL change over time as more and more people are finding accessibility to art. There will always be snobs, but around this country (US of A – I would imagine around the world as well) there are a lot of smaller galleries that have been more open to art for the masses. Across disciplines even: painting, photography, even architecture (which, as an architect, I do my best to help facilitate).

The best things we can do is to keep educating the snobbish and keep bringing art to disenfranchised and the everyday people.

For me it sounds much like the old media trying to devaluate the new media in their death struggle.

And who says quality in art has to be the same for everyone on the whole world? I personally do have the right not to like the work of a worlds highest praised artist and to like a work, all others think of as naïve or not compliant to their rules created in centurys of leveling the worlds taste of art.

I like your sentence very much and surely will quote it some day. :-)

I like your photographs even though I am a philistine when it comes to art and I would prefer to go to a library than an art gallery.
This argument that you can only understand artistic work when you have a full understanding of its context and the techniques used is tripe. The same argument is often made about literature by people who have degrees in English. In my view art should be accessible and not be loaded with all kinds of preconditions. Of course some works can be understood better with some guidance but that does not normally require a degree in art history. You don’t need a degree in Electronics Engineering to turn on a television either.

Hi Rebekka,

after reading your post I first have to say:’hopefully you wasn´t pissed by the article/-interview we did for COD this summer?’

I´m sure you didn´t meant to be a better photographer than Henri Cartier-Bresson… so.

I quite agree with you when saying that Art should be for everyone who enjoys looking at it (due to the fact that´s just one reason the artist made it for). But I think it differs a lot how people behold to Art or adept a certain style when they never studied a subject in this direction.

Art by itself is claimed apart by so many people for their works, that it´s sometimes quite important to have a funded background to differentiate between art and crap. For that reason, technically spoken I agree and the average flickr user, in your words, may be an idiot, but, and I think that´s even more important, he/-she partly get´s access to fine art there and therefore, it does count a little bit ´cause people have one more venue where they may learn to differ fine art from poor rubbish… ;)

i didn’t say that the average flickr user was an idiot, i said that the woman who wrote the ny times article implied that the average flickr user was an idiot..
there’s a little difference there ;)

…but just a tiny little difference… =)

Applegate School 6th 7th and 8th graders wrote on November 14th, 2008

Hello, and thank-you for the answer. Sorry we made you upset. We couldn’t find the answer anywhere else though. I really liked the photos i saw and my my teammates probably did to although i can’t really speak for them but any way thanks.

nono…. YOU didn’t make me upset! the article that quote was taken from made me a little upset..
i was in fact quite pleased to find myself the subject of a scavenger hunt question :)

It looks like you stepped on somebody’s toes, Rebekka:). No surprise. New media, such as Flickr, bring power shift in the art world. Not so long ago art critics, galleries owners, exhibition curators etc. were influential enough to decide what should be treated as art. Now everyone can surf the Internet and make their own choices about what they like. In effect, elites loose some of their authority. What else can they do, than sniff at people’s vulgar taste:).

For me, the ultimate test of a work of art is whether it can stir any emotions or simply make me think. Things that are average don’t interest me, no matter what any art critic has to say about them. I don’t think it is possible to create something that is objectively good – it all comes down to individual taste in the end.

As far as your photos are concerned, I really like them. Some of them make me dream, others – make me laugh. How people pigeonhole them, doesn’t make any difference.

Take care!

alejandro wrote on November 14th, 2008

hi rebecca
i just want to say , that i totally agree with your conception of what art is, or to whom must be conducted, everybody deserves the right to express their feelings, may be that not ilustrated people, like me perhaps, it will cost a little bit to understand a more complex way of art, but i think the only way is education that can reduce the gap between “both words”.
Thank you for letting me be part of your blog, and learning a lot of your trully ART.
have a nice weekend

The reason your name is misspelled is because the idiot typesetter does not have access to Nordic fonts, and the best he could do was an “o”

I also agree that the reporter here is very unprofessional. She should have tried to contact you before publishing the article. How the NYT has slipped in the past years . . . .

@Doug: they did contact me, or rather, she had her assistant call me, and we talked for a good 45 minutes.
One of the things i mentioned was that I would greatly appreciate if they would refer to me as “Rebekka” in the text, as i was aware of the strange american custom of referring to people by their last names in articles. Doing so for an icelandic person just sounds , well, bad, mostly because of how last names in iceland work.
Most people here have last names derrived from their fathers first name.
My last name literally mean “daughter of Guðleifur”. My mom’s last name is “Baldursdóttir” (daughter of Baldur) , and my dad’s last name is “Kristmundsson” (son of Kristmundur)
So the idea of being called “Guðleifsdóttir” in an article bothered me beforehand. When I saw they also managed to screw up the spelling, i was mortified. If you take a quick glance at how my website URL is spelled, you can see that i replace the bothersome ” ð ” with a d, which is the closes corresponding letter. The typesetter should have had at least that much sense.
Also, the assistant i spoke to never gave me any feeling that the article would be written in a condescending way, but rather implied that the author was a great fan of mine and she gushed a great deal about what a great artist i am, bla bla bla..

The moral of the story:
Never trust a journalist.

I see lots of options:

1- if you don’t like the article
ignore it

2- why would it matter in the first place ?

3- as to typos, mispellings ..

If you are so picky … this world gets a bit more complicated. I’ll take one example:
Let’s say i send you an email: would you respond?
if you didn’t .. would you want me to start assuming
1- that you don’t like me
2- that you are too vain?

or just forget it. You see my point?

Think positive: you had an article; and you are better than Cartier-Bresson .. did I get it right?


did you say somewhere that you have a temper? and you went through 1/2 dozen boyfriends? ( or jobs?) because of that? j/k

Well no, i don’t really see your point, any more than you seem to have seen mine.
if you think i was implying up there that i see myself as “better than Cartier-Bresson” you may have missed the part where i wrote that implying such a thing would be ridiculous..

For what it’s worth, I would argue that Flickr (and the whole social network / UGC world) is at least as much about the cult of personality as it is about the actual quality, in whichever way you look at it, of the content.

In other words, if you take two members, with equally great photos, the one who is better at self-presentation and self-promotion will probably “win”.

And as far as I can tell, from having read several biographical and autobiographical works by HCB, he was also pretty good at promoting himself, using the means of the day, and in act he gravitated towards photography as a medium because it was a more effective way to reach people than his preferred medium of painting and sketching.

Plus ça change, hein ?

ps – The Flickr format and community doesn’t really lend itself to in-depth, thoughtful discussion – so there’s little evidence one way or the other that its members are idiots :-)

james fenneberg wrote on November 17th, 2008

i studied art for7 years, and i havnt been more inspired to go out and take photos than after finding your work on flickr. I cant tell you the amount of exhibitions or hour video instillations of some self indulged conceptualist ive wandered into over the years that have left me more depressed and unispired. yeah your good looking and yeah you use photoshop! so what… the numbskull. no one can deny the mass interest from so many people looking a the work, thats whats important!

Just out of curiosity — how is the character pronounced? It appears to be like the Old English character pronounced “eth”

I had an article on computers in the classroom published many years ago and thought it was going to be right — the journalist sent me the galleys to proof (the last step before printing). But he decided there were not enough quotes, so he made up some quotes that were outside what I had said, but still close enough so I didn’t complain.

2nd moral to the story: Walk the journalist to the press with a gun to his head!

No doubts… you are an artist, drawing or shutting… AN ARTIST!
And I appreciate that!
I agree with Mariano up here, you shoud post more often…
Kisses & hugs from your brazillian fan (here is as hot as Iceland…hehehe),

I love your work and enjoy your commentary. The article in the New York Times Magazine was laughable. The author (I will not put her name here because she does not deserve another searchable mention) has a real chip on her shoulder. She was, according to Wikipedia, a television critic of some talent.

It is a great pleasure to be paid to create works that people call art. However, what is and is not art is not for us to decide, nor should we create work in the hopes that others label it “ART.” I believe that for a work to be Art it must survive many generations. John Fisher, a wonderful stone carver said that he preferred not to sign his work. He feels that if a piece of his art is to survive, it should be preserved on its own merits not because it has a signature on it. I don’t have any idea how digital art will be transmitted to the future, but I am confident that it will be. As it is passed from keeper to keeper the works which continue to pull at human emotions will be preserved. Works that lose their impact because they rely to heavily on cultural reference will not be preserved.

I find your works compelling on many levels. No matter what medium you create in or for what audience, if any, you choose to create for, please continue to create. The world can never have too much beauty, inspiration, or deep thought. Thank you for adding to the collective beauty of the human experience.

Let me begin by saying, it is your gift to be a Photographer! You have a responsibility to use your creative spirit. Your energy needs to be focused on expressing Rebekka. It is through your eyes others will be inspired to create.
Why let others get in the way and take away from your spirit? I will miss commenting on your work in Flickr. Hope, you provide a medium to do so.

You would appear to have at least 40 years to go before anyone can make any sensible comparisons with Bresson, and judging by the quality of your work it is almost certain that you will be as influential as he was, just maybe in a different way.

It was flikr that first brought me the chance to admire your extraordianry talent, and while it may be full of complete morons, I am grateful for the delight that you bring through your vision of the world.

You and Richard Heeps are the artwork of choice on the walls on my office. Thank you.

Hear hear… it’s nice to see your passionate but civilised retort to that article.

Hi Rebekka,
Interesting thoughts, although not new. I just attended a seminar at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in NYC on “creating a power web site” or something like that. It was the annual PDN conference and sponsered by Live Books. There were 5 female panelists from the advertising/marketing community. The flicker website was mentioned…one and only one panelist responded something like ” I consider it an amature site and do not look/use it for professional services.”
By her tone inflection and body language it was clear that her point was that the site was “below her.”
In response to your remark about the NY art community…you got that right. I am a born & raised NYorker and to put it in my best NY voice…”there are alot of assholes here.” How ignorant and pathetic for people to judge others. Too bad on them that their eyes are so closed. Many of these so called art critics are not born and raised NYorkers….the real NY art critics are the people you meet on the streets, who have better things to worry about than “what is art and what is not.”
Final thought…there is alot of snobbery in photographer…i.e. the status symbol of the kind of gear one uses…Is a photographer considered more talented if they use a digital SLR vs a point and shoot? The bottom line is the photo created and the emotions it generates.

Thanks, Liz

thanks to the last few people for their thoughtful feedback, i’ve been lazy updating my blog and hadn’t checked comments for a while, nice to see people read my occasional rants :)

oh, and Doug, you’re right, “ð” IS pronounced a bit like “eth” ;)

I have a flickr account and an art and photo background…and enjoy your vision quite a lot.

I’m just a different type of idiot…haha.

I have a few different thoughts on your rant. One, I recently had an argument with an old acquaintance that said Flickr didn’t foster any artistic value. The reason this popped up was because he recently published a website and asked me to look at his photos and tell him what I thought. I did, and when I did, I wasn’t impressed, and he needed to work a little harder at it before he tried to go public. At which point he asked what authority I had, or experience I had to give such a comment. (besides asking my opinion) I mentioned I looked at Flickr photos all day while at work and I think there are so many photographers out there with such amazing stuff, you really need to step up your game. He then said Flickr was not a valid reasoning for determining whether or not his photos were any good, and several “professional” artists loved his sight and his photos. And herein lies the problem. I’d say about 20% of my contacts on Flickr have websites and sell their work professionally, as artists. They use Flickr as a testing ground of their work, build their confidence, portfolio, skills, and move on from there.

So isn’t art what is perceived by its audience? No one can ever figure out why something is loved or hated, because true art is loved and hated across the board. So who is to say that one person can be a good judge of art, and another cannot. Wherein lies the other problem. When people get so far removed from certain things and into specific worlds, they work to please that audience, and then use them as a crutch. (unless of course that audience is themselves) Later figuring out that when the ass-kissing is over all that is left is the work to speak for you. This was something he couldn’t quite figure out, nor ever will. But it’s also the reason his work will lack the fire it needs to get him to the next level.

Speaking of fire, I enjoy your firey passion over such things. It reminds me so much of me, I don’t think I’d want to marry you (even though you are quite beautiful), but rather have you as a sister.

Finally, as if this wasn’t long enough. Screw the purists. I think art in this day in age is stepping so far into other realms, its mind-boggling. Some people can’t handle that and choose to compare to the “Greats”. Funny thing about the “Greats”, if they had the technology we did, they’d be just as keen to test and explore, that’s what they did that made them such a “Great” in the first place.

But, sometimes there is no comparison, as in with your work. I’m not saying that to be nice, I’m saying that because I have studied photography for a lifetime (as my old acquaintance doesn’t realize), I work with cameras and photographers as a profession, and still am blown away by your vision. THAT is art I wanna see. All the purists can go to hell.


Sometimes it is best to keep one’s true feelings regarding a friend’s art work to yourself. Art is a “touchy” thing… if you really hate the work or think it is inferior maybe just say “interesting” and offer some minimal suggestions. I know the artist asked your opinion…but, a positive approach can go a lot further. At least your friend is creating.

liz baller…I checked out your website. To get an idea of who you are as an artist. I love your work. It’s innovative and filled with thought provoking images. I will check it out more thoroughly. Thanks for speaking up and turning me onto it.

As for my acquaintance, I gave several positive reinforcements to his website, but suggested ways he should work on enhancing it. I never said or inferred I hated anything. He was “touchy” because I was the first to be honest in my opinion, and I wasn’t of the “professional” stature – according to him- to give that opinion. My honesty, something he used to cherish in our friendship, he now finds offensive. As an artist, one should have tough skin and realize criticism is part of the field of work. The criticism was to help him get better, not belittle him. He’s a big boy. He should understand that. But yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s in my nature to speak the truth and sometimes the truth is indeed best left unsaid.

1) Art is that which I cannot do: there has to be technique involved, something that takes years of training. Then we need some form of vision, some ‘concept’ or whatever, a plan for a message to the audience. A plan without technique is just like a monkey smearing paint (it might pay well, though :) Technique without vision leads to formalism (Salieri vs. Mozart)
2) I don’t think any reasonable photographer would claim that you lack technique, there is a lot of attention to lighting, framing, perspective, whatever. The vision thing is of course somewhat more subjective, as the work has to speak to the viewer’s (or listener’s in the case of music) soul. I guess one cynical parameter to measure this in a flickr world is how many hits do you get without having to ‘butter up’ others’ pictures in return. If people flock to one’s site and rave while getting no invites or faves in return, that seems a reasonable ad-hoc measure of appeal.
3) What makes the NYT writer think he is a Hemingway, and has the authority to declare who is a Bresson and who isn’t. Typical MSM arrogance :) I will celebrate and gloat the day the Times and similar presumptuous rags will close their doors and reminisce about what went wrong with America, that people rejected their benevolent guidance so decisively.
4) I like your pics, they are quite haunting and otherwordly. Makes we want to visit Iceland :)

@Dusty: would you mind if i ended up quoting part of your first post in my upcoming BA thesis?

of course not. As long as you don’t paint me as an idiot :)

The photographic art establishment is threatened by what they see on Flickr, blogs, etc. because so much of it is so creative, beautiful, and captivating. They’re threatened because they can’t control it, and if they can’t control it, they can’t make money from it. The power to profit from our photography is in our hands now.

The art world labels our work as vernacular photography, in an attempt to cheapen what we do. Whatever.

We should just keep photographing and editing and posting, and love it, share it and enjoy each others work as much as possible.

How did the thesis go?

my thesis isn’t due til february 14th, i’ve got endless work ahead of me writing the damn thing. i’ll let you know if , and how, i used your post. Not sure yet if it will fit into the context.


Quote: “I personally believe the average person should not in fact NEED such a background to appreciate artwork.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.

What worries me is that even though you express yourself in words (and not even in your primary language) as well as you do in your art, some people STILL don’t seem to get the message. :/

P.S. I wish I was part of a scavenger hunt (whatever one of those is). I doubt it will ever happen, but my ultimate dream would be to be the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit. Unfortunately, the question would most likely be “Who is the biggest idiot on Flickr?” :D

some people don’t seem to get the message because they’re obtuse, and find it easier to dislike me for what they think I’m doing, rather than respect me for what I’m trying to do.

hehe. at the moment, however, i’ve become so lost in reading and thinking about art photography and the self-portrait in particular, that i’ve lost temporary track of what it is that i’m trying to do …..

being the answer to a question in trivial pursuit would be awesome..

Stephen wrote on February 5th, 2009

a case of elitism me thinks!

Rebekka. Honestly, your photos, the power it brings, the energy far outweighs that of the the legend. You are on the same level as him. His photographs do have their strengths that it’s more people centered and melancholy. But that’s the beauty of art and the artist. The world need different varieties. You will be a legend yourself:) More power. Gbu. Happy Easter.

I have worked as a photographer for 40 years and don’t look at photography as a ‘Art’, but some photographers
are Artists and you are one of the gifted artists that produce amazing images with their camera.

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