The Digest – May 13th, 2012

©Stacy Kranitz – ‘Regression to the Mean

After taking last week off from The Digest, we’re back and there’s plenty to share. Almost too much really, so I’ll do my best to stay brief and to the point. It’s interesting how many of the same themes keep popping up in one way or another: the economics of photography and art, the impact of the internet and social media, controversy over the use of new tools, etc.

The Various Interpretations of Appalachia

Photographer Stacy Kranitz has been working on a project about Appalachia called Regression to the Mean. Here’s an excerpt from her statement:

This concept outlines my process, which requires many visits in order to gain a photographic series of images that averages these extremes. I am initially drawn to stereotypes. Then I look to demystify these stereotypes only to find that they are rooted in some sort of reality. I do not exclude the stereotypical image from my representations, nor do I only seek it out. The resulting images are a regression to the mean and the mean is interwoven with both typical and atypical lives captured through controlled and chance operations.

On her website she has well over 100 images from the series. CNN published a series of 16 on their blog and big surprise, they chose the most stereotypical photographs which didn’t sit to well with Kranitz, as it shouldn’t. Photographer Roger May has a nice summary of the episode on his blog.

As you can imagined I am in a state of shock. I feel ashamed and humiliated for trusting CNN. I am stunned that they would take my work out of context. I spent a long time looking at their website before agreeing to show my work and in no way did I see any indication that they were subverting photographers work to lead to controversy that would provide greater visibility of their site. Still, I take responsibility for not knowing better.

After contacting the editors at CNN, Kranitz convinced them to make some changes but by that point the damage had already been done. So what can we learn from this? Colberg has a couple of ideas.

I think there are two things we can learn from this. First, the internet can serve as a corrective when it comes to these kinds of events. Second, this story can also teach us a valuable lesson about stories that come from places outside of the US. It’s very important to keep the mechanisms that created the CNN story in mind when viewing, for example, photography produced in places like Africa.

Those are excellent points. I think this really is where the internet can play an important role in showing different perspectives on stories. I think the mainstream media also needs to participate in the dialogue a bit more. This would have been a good opportunity for CNN to explain why they chose the edit they did, but from what I can tell they’ve been silent. I tweeted that I thought it’d be interesting if the LENS Blog or Time LightBox showcased edits as well. This is where things could get really interesting. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Stacy about an LPV feature. What do you think?

The Hipstamatic Instagram Photojournalist

I can barely muster up the energy to comment on this issue. Thankfully others have done a better job than I can. It started with Ben Lowy’s (the Hipstamatic Photojournalist) LENS Blog feature.

If you make an image look different enough, peculiar enough, I think that’s that hook,” he said. “I think that if you create a different aesthetic than people are used to seeing, you can attract the public — you can bring them in and then all of a sudden that is when the content is delivered.

Oye. I think Mr. Lowy may cringe at that quote in a few years. Jon Anderson has a really great post on the issue that is definitely worth the read. It’s probably one of the best pieces I’ve seen on the use of hipstamatic/instagram.

Certainly anyone involved in an aesthetic practice — anything tied to perception and communication — is looking to innovate, to experiment with the form. That is a given. But this emphasis on the need to look different in order to attract attention and somehow correct the effects of so called image fatigue begs questions about the nature of image-based reportage, its status within the news industry, and the qualities that make it meaningful, which are not solely a matter of achieving a ‘different look.’

As Colberg points out, the filtered iPhone hipstamatic instagram look isn’t really different, not by a long shot really. And this is what has always perplexed me about anyone who complains about filters. It’s not new! The whole point is that the filters mimic many different “old school film cameras.”

The problem here is that using a Hipstamatic/Instagram app is not at all “a different aesthetic than people are used to seeing” – everybody and their grandmother are now using those apps or filters. On top of that, these apps mimic old film cameras. So it’s not a different aesthetic at all – it’s a trendy aesthetic. In fact it’s so trendy and popular that Facebook just paid $1b to buy Instagram – a site centering on those kinds of images!

What I want to see is a project created with an iPhone in which the words iPhone, Hipstamatic, or Instagram are NEVER mentioned. Certainly with the tools available a skilled photographer could process their iPhone 4S photos to look like they were taken with any old point and shoot digital camera, because that’s exactly what the iPhone is and the sooner we accept that, the quicker we’ll get past these type of debates and focus on what matters, the content of the photographs!

©Noah Kalina – General Electric

Links of Note

‘Saatchi captures the confusion of contemporary photography’: This would fall under the ‘photography is dead, photography is confusing’ category, whether either is true is up to you I suppose.

Photography is a very strange place to be right now, either inside looking out (the producer) or outside looking in (the public)” – then takes us on a humorous journey though the various continents that currently make up “the entire World of Photography”: Commercia, Documentaria, Amateuria, Artistica and Artcontemporanea. As Ewing rightly points out, these continents view each other across vast oceans of mutual disdain. Many commercial photographers, for instance, think documentary photographers are hopelessly old-fashioned, while the latter view the former as corporate whores in thrall to the filthy lucre of advertising. Both watch the continent of Amateuria, “a continent so vast it has never been properly mapped, never mind explored”, with a mixture of pity and contempt that cannot quite conceal their nervousness.

Photography Is @Higher Pictures: Another great review from DLK Collection. If I had a list of five blogs you should absolutely follow, DLK would be on it for certain.

I think this kind of show is a message from the future. It indicates that the simplistic Photoshop effects of a decade ago are far in the rear view mirror. What lies ahead, at least on the bleeding edge, is the mature investigation of multiple media in concert, with the artist employing increasingly sophisticated levels of control to achieve his/her desired results. The camera is just one tool in the overstuffed tool box, and the thought patterns we bring from the world of vintage photography will be increasingly irrelevant. This show is fresh, and challenging, and unexpected, and this new style of “photography” is going to knock us out of our comfort zone until we begin to accept that the edges we once drew around the medium have been erased.

‘You Don’t Always ‘Get’ Art, But We Still Need More Of It’: Jonathen Blaustein writes about art in A Photo Editor.

I believe we need more Art, not less. More people out there making cool shit, pushing their brains sideways, and hopefully eliciting interesting questions from the people who look at it. More public support for the Arts will lead to more monkeys typing away, which of course will lead to a more intelligent society. Make it so.

‘The business of art fairs’: Felix Salmon writing about the Frieze Art Fair.

Which is why it’s fascinating to me that the imprimatur of high prices is still conferred almost exclusively on those artists with high-profile gallery representation. You’d think that the internet — a medium made for disintermediation — would by now have done a spectacular job of cutting out the middleman and allowing branded artists to sell directly to awed collectors. But that hasn’t happened, and galleries continue to happily introduce big-name collectors to their top artists, comfortable in the knowledge that neither artist nor collector is likely to try to do a deal behind the gallery’s back.

‘New Art MAGIC AMID THE MONEY’: Jerry Saltz with some thoughts on what’s going on with art these days.

But now, all of a sudden, more art is coming from private places, looking almost outsiderlike, untaught, odd in ways that feel pressing, impatient and important. In from the wilderness. A lot of it is smaller, made of less expensive or found materials, and more provisional, or at least bad in ways that aren’t so annoying.

‘Ryan McGinley’s Menagerie’: I saw this show the other day and well, didn’t really like it, but I think McGinley’s a smart guy and in this interview offers some good insights.

It’s weird being a photographer because you really have to divorce yourself from the image. After a while the early photos of mine that keep coming up and appearing in exhibitions or in books no longer give me the feeling that I’m looking at a family album anymore. I had to let go of them as personal moments or else I’d be living in the past, and who wants to live in the past? I need to keep the wheel moving forward.

‘Are you mom enough’ cover controversy’: I don’t have much to say about Time’s controversial cover about breastfeeding or attachment parenting, but I do agree with the assessment from the guys at 1/250.

Now, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening here. TIME is presenting a deliberately provocative photo, and people are being provoked. This is nothing new. But I’ve found the reactions — mostly dirty jokes, of course, along with a smattering of indignation — to be really refreshing.  Most of the time, lately, when people got excited about anything related to photography, it’s to do with things like digital manipulation, intellectual property, Instagram, etc. Many of these discussions fail the 1978 test. And even the ones that don’t are usually still really boring.

‘Interview: Jon Rafman, The lack of history in the post-Internet age’: Great interview with Rafman by Marc Feustel.

I was very aware of photographic history when working on this project. I really believe that photography was the medium of the twentieth century, because of the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether it was or was not art, due to photography’s mechanical nature. I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.

‘Interview: Blake Andrews, Part I’: Has Blake Andrews retired from blogging? Maybe, maybe not. But even if he has, I think he’s still going to find ways to voice his thoughts about photography. Maybe he’s moving into an ‘earned media’ model where he only writes on others blogs and magazines.

Another aspect in that photography is very egalitarian. Everyone has a camera and so everyone has to come to terms on some level with what role photos play in their lives. Few people have fine art paintings in their homes but everyone has photos. So there are 7 billion ways to approach it, and no one clear path, and so photography tends to attract thinkers and theoreticians who want to sort it out. That’s part of its problem. Sometimes it can become buried in hyper-conceptual rhetoric. And it is pretty widely open to interpretation. I’ve often wondered about photos in relation to music. You can play a song for someone and within ten or fifteen seconds they will generally know if they like it or not. There’s a societal construct from early childhood which trains one in musical appreciation and taste, even if it isn’t always conscious. But show that same person a photo and they will probably have a much harder time deciding. Is it good? Bad? Interesting? There’s less of a societal baseline for determination, so I think that invites in all the thinkers and theoreticians.

©Jiri Makovec – via LENS Blog


“I’m interested where photography collides with history. Any kind of history, whether it’s personal history, cultural history, political history. So I guess I’m trying to get some kind of intersection with history with my photographs.” – Gerry Bager

  • Annie Shepard

    If we’re going to have a conversation about photography in Appalachia, Shelby Lee Adams has got to have a starring role. He introduced coal country to Chelsea galleries with his beautiful black and white images of Appalachian families. But he also ignited criticism that he exploited their poverty and staged them in unrealistic situations.

    Thanks for linking to my White Trash post and inspiring some follow up commentary on

    -Neon Mamacita

  • Blake Andrews

    I’m actually moving toward an “earned comments” model.