The Digest – November 25th, 2012


Ezra Stoller – via ‘Recording Modernism: The Work of Ezra Stoller’ [LightBox]

Last Sunday we were migrating to a new web host so I had to skip the Digest. Next Sunday I’ll be in New Orleans for PhotoNola so I’ll have to skip it again. It’s ok though. I suspect for the remainder of the year photoland will be talking about lists, and which books deserve to be on those lists. I generally make a list of websites but I’m probably not going to do it this year because I don’t think much has changed, so maybe I’ll just ramble about photography online. I don’t mind the lists though. They’re a nice way to find new work. I suggested to some friends that it might be interesting to go back and review the lists to see if the books still hold up after a few years. I suspect many of them will. I also wonder about the books that didn’t make the lists. I suspect certain books gain their reputation over time, especially if they fall into the hands of the right person. Anyway, enough about lists and books, lets talk about Instagram!

Instagram and War

Wired published an insightful discussion between Pete Brook and Stephen Mayes about the impact of digital photography. Some of this stuff we’ve heard before but Mayes always seems to have some new ideas or at least new ways of articulating old ideas.

The way we relate to imagery is changing. Our new relationship is less about witness, evidence and document and much more about experience, sharing, moment and streaming. The cell phone is a harbinger for something hugely significant.

The wireless infrastructure is also very important. The hardware would be insignificant if there was no way to upload the imagery in near real time. What’s going to happen when we start to upload larger files? It’s going to cost more money to send more data. I haven’t done enough research into the wireless infrastructure but if it’s like any thing else, then I imagine there are going to be some problems. But this really has nothing to do with photography, so I’ll move on.

The digital image is entirely different; it is completely fluid. You think about dialing up the color balance on the camera, there’s no point at which the image is fixed. That fluidity cascades out from that point – issues of manipulation and adjustments are obvious and rife. More importantly than that, images now live in a digital environment. Given that an image is defined by its context it exists in a perpetually fluid environment in which the context is never fixed. Images’ meanings morph, move and can exist in multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; it has contradictory meanings all at once.

Bold and italics are mine. I think that’s a good seque into Michael Shaw’s article: Game Change for Social Media, Media and Photography: Israel, Hamas Draw Us Literally into War

Without the temporal and editorial mitigation that has emotionally and intellectually abstracted visual news, welcome to a media space in which we are consuming hostility and processing raw data and raw propaganda almost as quickly as the war correspondent, the fighter pilot, the governments, the diplomats and the antagonists themselves. With the rapid evolution of Twitter and Instagram, and the now-essential nature of these services (as Steven Mayes explains in a new interview with Pete Brook at Wired, and I outline in my three-part “State of the News Photo” essay), the imagery has literally become experiential.

It’s understandable why Twitter and Instagram drive some people crazy. You really need to have a healthy appetite for news and information. And once you step in, it’s tough to get out. I use Twitter everyday and it’s where I get most of my news. It can certainly be interesting watching a story unfold though because when you get down to do it, when news is happening in real time, there’s always going to be lots of misinformation, rumors and propaganda.

John Edwin Mason wrote an excellent piece on propaganda with some examples from Instagram. 

Propaganda has been a part of every war that history knows anything about, and creating and disseminating it has largely been the job of professionals — war doctors, priests, reporters, photographers, politicians, bureaucrats. Social media and smart phones have let amateurs in on the action.

Media studies should be a required discipline, just like math, language and biology.


©Tim Barber – ‘Over, Under, Around & Through’

Links of Note

Tom Griggs wrote an excellent review of Flak Photo’s ‘Looking at the Land:’ 

Another question this exhibition raises: what does it mean to take images from their original context and present them together in the 21st century? On the point of curation and authorship, Nick Vossbrink of n j v w has written much of what I would like to write here and I would recommend reading his review of the exhibition. In essence, he points to the exhibit as part of the trend of curation being increasingly viewed as a creative act.

What exactly is Adams’ role? Photographer Mark Powell has been working on a project curating images from the Spanish-language equivalent to the website “Hot or Not.” Photographer Paul Shambroom in an interview with Pete Brook, revealingly titled “In Digital Age, Sourcing Images Is as Legitimate as Making Them,” recently explained why he’s giving up actually making images, instead working on projects in which he’s culling the images from Flickr. Isn’t Adams’ role sourcing images very similar, besides the fact he’s generally working with better images by photographers who would like a “name”? But is this really any different from the role of the curator mounting an exhibit fifty years ago, any different from The Family of Man? Is the exhibition a work of art? Are we moving to the idea of a hybrid photographer-curator?

I’ve always considered LPV a creative project. I enjoy editing and know that it has helped me improve as a photographer. I doubt that many photographers want to edit others work though. It’s tough enough editing your own. To run a blog or magazine, you need to enjoy the media and marketing aspect as well. That becomes a bit much for most people, which is why you don’t see too many really good blogs or magazines. Sure, there are more and more but most won’t last very long. Some will though, and it’ll make photoland more interesting. I think a thriving photography ecosystem will eventually develop online. But most of it will be on the margins.

Mike Johnston on ‘The Difference Between a Photographer and an Artist:’

The way I think about this is, which photographs are truly mine, in that they fully meet my idiosyncratic approval? I can go to an event and take a perfectly good record snapshot that the relatives will like, but that doesn’t mean it’s one of “my” pictures. I might take test shots and throw them up on this blog for illustration or discussion purposes. That doesn’t mean they’re “my work.” I might even take a picture that excites me, that I put a lot of time and work into, but that later proves to be…nothing. (Doncha hate it when that happens?) “My” pictures are the best I can do, the ones that I love, the ones that hit the spot for me. The ones I’m proud of. The ones that fully satisfy my opinion about what one of my photographs ought to look like.


Larissa Leclair of The Indie Photobook Library interviewed by Time: 

Do I think they will replace the big publishing houses? Probably not. But self-publishers, independent/collaborative publishers and print-on-demand services are challenging the traditional publishing paradigm. A photobook is a photobook, no matter how it was published. A self-published book should not be judged differently. Doing-it-yourself is just as valid as publishing with a big press. All are part of the current photobook discussion and I have been championing that for many years.

JH Engstrom interviews Anders Petersen on Aperture: 

There is not a big difference between life and taking pictures. That’s my approach. The answer lies in that. But questions interest me more. You’re in the middle of life, you’re living, making love, eating, sleeping—and photography is part of it. And I don’t say this because I’m being romantic. I say this because that’s just the way it happens to be.

Brooks Jensen asks When does a photograph become a work of art?:

Produce your work to the very best of your ability. Send it out into the world. Listen to feedback, but measure it against your instincts. Learn from the feedback, but don’t supplicate yourself to it. Produce more work to the best of your ability. Be honest with yourself. Strive for deeper understanding and expression with all you’ve got. Give your work and yourself time to mature. Finish things so you can let go and move on. As has been so often said, even a fool who persists may eventually become wise. Then produce more work and plunge deeper into the process of awareness and expression. Soon, you will no longer care about the terms used to describe your work — snapshot or “Fine Art.” Do not confuse the map with the territory.

Isa Leshko on ‘Sustaining a Long-Term Photo Project’

Pursue other avenues for publicity beyond the photography blogosphere. As many of you reading this article know, there is a tight-knit online photography community that is a wonderful resource for photographers, particularly emerging ones. I am very grateful to this community for their support and have made close friends online.

But, it’s important to keep in mind that photography blogs are not the only media that publishes fine art photography. Furthermore, many collectors do not even follow photography blogs and instead find out about artists through other media, exhibitions, and word of mouth. There are also a large number of people who love art but don’t consider themselves collectors. They may occasionally buy art, but they don’t frequent galleries. Receiving press in diverse publications (see more about this, below) enabled me to connect with these people as well as first-time art buyers.


©Susannah Ray – via Recalling the ‘Right Coast,’ Before the Storm [LENS]
Rineke Dijkstra on Joel Meyerowitz:

There was this beautiful silence with no people,” Ms. Dijkstra said by phone from Amsterdam. “It affected me.” She added that while Mr. Meyerowitz came of age toward the end of the great era of the street photographer, his pictures have always evinced a tension for her between the real and the ideal. “You can see that it is a moment,” she said of many of his best-known images. “But they also look like, in a way, he tried to compose reality somehow.

Torbjørn Rødland interviewed by VICE:

One-dimensionality is uninspiring, and the age where a series of photographs only needed a strong idea to be exciting is over. All in all, I believe viewers are getting more sophisticated. Photography is no longer a new art form.

Bill Jay on Ferenc Berko:

‘It would be comforting to know how a reputation is created, but fame is fickle. It depends on a vast intricate web of influences and the subtle interactions of a myriad of forces, few of which are under the control of the artist. The photographer performs a delicate and finely tuned balancing act on a tightrope of chance. It is never certain that even the finest photographers will achieve recognition during their lifetimes. Others have recognition thrust upon them for a short time only to observe, with some puzzlement perhaps, that it is as quickly withdrawn. And we cannot speak of those photographers throughout history who have never received recognition, no matter how well deserved, because their names remain unknown.’

Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram‘:

Looking forward, they foresee a world where biological storage would allow us to record anything and everything without reservation. Today, we wouldn’t dream of blanketing every square meter of Earth with cameras, and recording every moment for all eternity/human posterity — we simply don’t have the storage capacity. There is a reason that backed up data is usually only kept for a few weeks or months — it just isn’t feasible to have warehouses full of hard drives, which could fail at any time. If the entirety of human knowledge — every book, uttered word, and funny cat video — can be stored in a few hundred kilos of DNA, though… well, it might just be possible to record everything (hello, police state!)

Etc.,