The Digest – February 5th, 2012


©Evgenia Arbugaeva – Magnum Emergency Fund Announces 2012 Grantees via LightBox

It was a busy week. I might have too much to share so be prepared. Which gets me to thinking, are there things that we think are mandatory to be reading or looking at, or are most people taking the choose your own photography approach these days?

Inspired By Too Much Photography

In the summer of 2010 I wrote an essay called ‘The Photography Surplus.’ In the last few years, it has resurfaced periodically, including this week. For the most part, I still feel the same way about the photography landscape.

The biggest hurtle to having a broader understanding of the photography surplus is organization.  Currently, the landscape is far too fragmented for anyone to really understand all the work that’s being produced and presented on the internet.  Blogs do a reasonably decent job at filtering through the work, but even so, there’s far too much work for anyone to consider and consume.

Every so often I’ll follow a link and find myself looking in from the outside on a photography community I didn’t know about. It’s always interesting to see what they’re discussing, and more often than not, it’s the same issues with the amount of mediocre work on the internet.

It makes me think, how many of these communities are completely ignorant of each other?  Probably many. Then I wonder if any of them ever think like I do, and wonder what else is out there?  I’m not sure, but I do know that we all know that there’s lots of “noise” and the internet is filled with ‘mediocre crap.”  Perhaps thinking about everything out there is just too overwhelming which is why we often just give up and say things like “it’s all mediocre.”

Data mining will play a big role in our future photography consumption. We’ll be able to more efficiently find work according to certain variables. It’ll take some time and effort to get there but I’m confident this will signal another transformation in how we appreciate photography.

There’s plenty of negativity and complaining in the photography community. It’s hard to avoid, or even partaking in from time to time. But at the end, I’m certain we all love photography, just like Allen Murabayashi does.

I love photography.

Why am I telling you this? Isn’t it self-obvious? Don’t we all love photography? The answer is no. There is a percentage of photographers who hate photography. They do not appreciate photography. They do not consume photography. They don’t look at photo books or photo magazines. They hate the guy with the iPhone taking Instagram shots. They hate the guy who just bought the D4 because they don’t have one. They hate people using digital because film is what real artists use. They hate photographers who embrace social media because images should stand on their own. They hate Getty, Corbis, the AP, day rates, photo editors, assistants, rental houses, camera stores, point-and-shoots, iPads, zoom lenses, padded camera straps, wheeled suitcases, younger photographers, older photographers. The photo of so-and-so on the cover of whatever it’s called sucks. That guy copied the other guy, he sucks. Terry Richardson sucks. Chuck Close sucks. Vincent Laforet hasn’t taken a still in 17 years. Kodak hasn’t been managed well since the 70s. Blah, blah, blah.

I love photography. Let me show you why.

Martin Parr doesn’t seem to have a problem finding new subject matter, nor should you.

“We live in a difficult but inspiring world, and there is so much out there that I want to record. However you cannot photograph everything, so I have to select subjects that throw light on the relationship I have with the world. This is often expressed as an ambiguity or a contradiction. Look at tourism, for example. We have an idea of what a famous site will look like as we’ve seen the photos – but when you get there, the reality is usually different. This rub between mythology and reality is the inspiration – and the contradiction.

Inspiration can also come when a good connection is made with the subject. The nature and quality of this connection can vary enormously. It may range from getting into a small community and winning the trust of the subjects over a number of visits; but it could also come from walking in the mountains and feeling a certain affinity with the landscape.

The knack is to find your own inspiration, and take it on a journey to create work that is personal and revealing. – [via artsmia.org]

Speaking of Martin Parr, filmmaker Neil Broffman is making a documentary about him photograph in the south. He’s raising fund through Kickstarter.

What Are You Trying to Say and Is It Good?

Jin posted a couple excerpts from Art/Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber about artist statements.

“No amount of poor padding with theory is going to make work look any more convincing or intriguing than it already is. I look at everybody’s images first. Then I go to project statements. Then maybe I read the artist statement. I am looking for plain language: ‘I am doing this and I am going to do this thig with it.’ I have stayed away from reading the more poetic, theory-heavy, phiosophizing artist statemnts because they kill it. Leave the interpretation to us, the audience. Someone else will put it into words at some point.”
- Shannon Stratton, ThreeWalls

Now that you’ve got your statement down, how do you know if your photograph is any good? Editor Mike Davis offers some tips. 

Maybe you could ask a series of questions about a given photograph: Do I feel something from it, does my eye travel from point to point of the frame down to the smallest of elements that still engages somehow, do those four aspects work, would I hang this on my wall, do I care about what was photographed because of the way the photograph was made.

And maybe you could ask a bunch of people. I used to that in publishing environments. It’s also educational to see which pictures people respond to and to learn what draws a response.

Lots of conversation about critics and criticism recently. The Guardian asks, ‘Is the age of the critic over?’

More than shame, though, the internet’s greatest strength is enthusiasm. The tussle, the argument, the fun of criticism has moved online. While mainstream critics have narrowed their focus to a handful of novels, movies, and television programmes, the field has never been wider. The same few dozen books might be reviewed in every print publication but meanwhile hundreds of thousands are published every year. In literary criticism there are huge gaps in what gets written about in print: books by women, translated fiction, comic books, books released by small presses, science fiction… Online, though, every niche has its community of producers, critics, and readers, and it’s fed by passion and dedication.


©Alex Catt – via The Great Leap Sideways

Photobooks As The Final Object

Kramer O’Neill wrote an insightful article about the challenges of ‘self-publishing’ his two photobooks.

If you have a coherent project, or a series that could be made coherent, having a well-made book that represents it is a great thing. You aren’t just making a book; you’re commencing a process that will take you to new places. As photographers, isn’t this something we always want? It can open doors, it can clarify your work, and it can help generate interest and backing for future projects (fingers crossed on that one). It’s an object that documents the world you lived in and how you navigated through it; you never know what will happen with it, how time will alter people’s perception of the record you created. It’s a time capsule, a time machine, and a great way to present photos. It fuses art and craft in a unique way that can resonate deeply with your audience, simultaneously ethereal and physical.

And not incidentally, it might minimize your stammering the next time you have to answer the question “What do you do?”

There’s a short interview with Alec Soth about Broken Manual on Interview Magazine.

O’REILLY: Why are books such an important vessel for your photos?

SOTH: I’m a project-based photographer; I think in narrative terms, the way a writer thinks of a book, or a filmmaker a film. The thing about a book is that you can control the entire shape of it, unlike an exhibition where the parameters always change; you might have three rooms in one and one room in the next.

Tumblr Tipping Point

Something is happening with Tumblr. Over the last month I’ve noticed more activity from certain photographers as well as several others jumping on board. Tumblr is probably my first destination when I’m browsing around the web. It’s not perfect by any means. I wish it were easier to organize content in the dashboard, and there are still issues around attribution, but overall I think they’re on the right course. They hired two writers last week to cover the Tumblr community. I think it’s a brilliant move. Essentially I think they’re going to build a dynamic ‘front page’ portal that will feature the best of what surfaces in the community as well as original features. I think they’re evolving into a media company but I’m not sure they’ll go fully in that direction anytime soon. I do envision at some point they’ll probably have a weekly show that will feature some of the best and brightest from the Tumblr comunity.

Wired UK has an interesting piece about David Karp and the evolution of Tumblr.

“The social network that emerges out of Tumblr is interesting because it’s driven by content, not by the social graph that these other networks are building around,” says John Maloney, the company’s president. And that content spreads quickly: on average, a Tumblr post gets reblogged nine times.

Karp sees Tumblr not as a network, but as a product he’s designing. “We’re striving towards perfection,” he says. “We’re trying to build the iPod.”

This short piece on The Five offers an insight into the Gen Y Tumbling mindset.

Enter gen-y, where user generated content reigns supreme. As the userbases of sites like Reddit, Tumblr, and YouTube grow; so does the spread of user-generated content. Some Tumblogs consist of only re-blogged material, and it’s members are perfectly content with that. It’s not about where the material came from, it’s about who picked it and their propensity to appeal to their network on a consistent basis. The same concept exists within retweets, shares, likes, and upvotes. Welcome to the generation of personality curators, the generation that uses the internet to represent their personalities, the latest form of entertainment. We love memes, and they’re here to stay for a while.


©Matt Wisniewski – via LightBox

Links of Note

‘Meditations on Photographs: A woman sits for a final photograph with her dying mother’

In this new ongoing feature, Joerg Colberg will write about one photograph. It’s a great idea, and I’ll probably copy it at some point!

‘On the Beat: With a Gun and a Camera’

I enjoyed this feature in LENS about Antonio Bolfo who took his camera with him while he worked for the NYPD.

“It was a hard job emotionally and physically,” he said. “To get the stress off, I would use photography. I would never let it interfere with my police work.”

‘Spotlight on Jason Fulford’

A nice interview with J&L Books founder Jason Fulford on the Fall Line Press Blog.

There are basically four types of pictures in the archive.
1. Pictures that have been published or exhibited.
2. B-sides or sketches for number 1.
3. Early seeds of something that has not yet fully formed.
4. Pictures I made simply to remember something.

I don’t spend much time looking back at 1 or 2. But when a new idea starts to take shape, I often go back through the archive to look for number 3. Number 4 I like to think of as pictures I want to show my mom.

This Week In Photography Books – Vivian Maier

Jonathan Blaustian writes about Vivian Maier, a photographer I’ve never heard of until now! Where have I been. Ok, I’m officially retiring that joke.

So let’s wrap this up, shall we? This is an excellent book. I love it, and any fan of B&W street photography likely will as well. One oddity is the lack of information about the exact dates and places in which the images were made. (Nobody knows…) But a little mystery isn’t such a bad thing, is it?

Life Beyond the Status Update: Patrick Tsai’s Talking Barnacles

Dan Abbe interviews Patrick Tsai about his interesting journal + photography project.

Crowdfunding platform Emphas.is launches publishing arm

Great move from the guys over at Emphas.is.

Adam Gopnik Writes About Mass Incarceration In A Manner To Which I Can Only Aspire

An excellent piece from Pete Brook, in which I was quoted anonymously. Up to you to guess which one is me.

Eggleston Shore

A short clip about Eggleston and Stephen Shore that was cut from Eggleston in The Real World.