“My siblings and I spent much of our childhoods traveling with our parents. They kept us in backpacks and kept us asking questions, opening up our sense of the grandeur and complexities of every community we encountered.” – Kitra Cahana
What do you do?
For my entire professional career I’ve always worked on side projects, whether it was ill-conceived screenplays or photography and publishing these days. I’m fortunate that my day job involves something I’m passionate about so it’s a little easier these days to explain what I do, but for many photographers, artists and younger people it’s a tough conversation. I got to thinking about this after reading an interesting article by Elizabeth Spiers in Medium:
Among the niceties and travails of meeting people for the first time, there’s no more loaded question than “What do you do?” I would almost prefer to respond to “What is your favorite sexual position?” or “How do you feel about your mother?” because people would be less likely to read into my answer. I have European friends who loathe the question because they think it’s coded language that only means one thing: How much money do you make? But that’s only part of it. It means that, and several other things. It can also mean: Is what you do significant? Do you have control over what you do? Where are you in the hierarchy of your company? Are you allowed to be creative in your job? Does your job give you status, professionally and personally? and so on.
Answering that question in photoland can be even more difficult, something I touched on with Carl Gunhouse in the latest podcast. As I’ve said in the past, my own photography is so entwined with LPV at this point that I feel it’s all apart of “what I do.” Spiers went on to use Tim Hetherington as an example:
There’s a danger in conflating work with self, even if work has consumed everything we do. In Sebastian Junger’s recent documentary on the late photographer and documentary filmmaker Tim Hetherington, Which Way to the Front Line?, Junger chronicles Hetherington’s work in West Africa, Afghanistan, and Misrata, Libya, where he was eventually killed. Hetherington did extremely important work, and in his documentary, Diary, he explores the tension between his life at home and his life in the field. Just before he left for Libya, he expressed reservations about continuing to work in conflict zones. It had cannibalized other parts of his life. He wanted to pursue a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. He wanted a family. He wanted to explore doing different kinds of work. But he decided to go back into the field one last time and didn’t come back.
It would be disingenuous to argue that Hetherington’s work wasn’t part of who he was, but as Junger’s documentary so beautifully illustrates, it wasn’t all there was of Tim Hetherington.
Producing good work has many benefits, and it certainly contributes to a stronger sense of identity and purpose. But fullness of self is about more than that. It’s about those ancillary but more direct questions: What are our interests? What are our values? Where did we come from, and where are we now? All of these things are qualities that can develop in tandem with work, but they’d probably develop even if we had a job and not a career.
Now, what if I ask “What do you do on the internet?” How do incorporate the internet into your photography? Whatever your feelings about the internet and how it impacts photography, it certainly seems to be a topic that stirs up strong opinions in people. I recently started using Flickr again because I felt it was a safer outlet to share random stuff. Is there a hierarchy? Personal website for your best, Tumblr/blog for the flow, Flickr for the archive, Twitter for the news chatter, Facebook to prove you still exist and say happy birthday to people you barely know. That’s probably a little simplistic but my point is that we can always use the tools in smarter ways. It’s something I think about often which is probably why I was so fascinated by Brad Troemel’s latest essay “Athletic Aesthetics:
Visual artists, poets, and musicians are releasing free content online faster than ever before. There is an athleticism to these aesthetic outpourings, with artists taking on the creative act as a way of exercising other muscle groups, bodybuilding a personal brand or self-mythology, a concept or a formal vocabulary. Images, music, and words become drips in a pool of art sweat, puddling online for all to view. The long-derided notion of the “masterpiece” has reached its logical antithesis with the aesthlete: a cultural producer who trumps craft and contemplative brooding with immediacy and rapid production.
I’m sure that essay will cause a few rage blackouts, but there’s plenty to think about. Or you could just skip it and not think about it. I do that sometimes. If you do read it, you’ll find this quote from Franco Berardi:
Today psychopathology reveals itself ever more clearly as a social epidemic and, more precisely, to be a socio-communicational one. If you want to survive you have to be competitive, and if you want to be competitive you must be connected, receive and process continuously an immense and growing amount of data. This provokes a constant attentive stress, a reduction of the time available for affectivity … If we bring this analysis to the internet we see two movements — the expansion of storage and the compression of time — making online work so stressful.
Can you relate?. I mean, I’m sure if you’re like me you often ask “what’s the point?” Why share anything? Why participate? What’s going on here? Perhaps thinking about it doesn’t do much good. It can be exhausting. Why not leave it to the experts like Jaron Lanier. I haven’t read his new book but I did read this excerpt in IO9 which made me realize that I probably should read the book.
The clamor for online attention only turns into money for a token minority of ordinary people, but there is another new, tiny class of people who always benefit. Those who keep the new ledgers, the giant computing services that model you, spy on you, and predict your actions, turn your life activities into the greatest fortunes in history. Those are concrete fortunes made of money.
If there’s a fortune to be made publishing an independent photography magazine, then I’m certainly doing something wrong. But it’s not really about that anyway, is it? Reviewing all these quotes is making me tired all over again so I’ll wrap it up with a few quotes from n 1′s essay “Cultural Revolution:’
Challenging art and radical thought, with no hope of a large audience truly susceptible to being challenged, slip easily into administering “provocativeness” to the jadedly unprovokable. The idea of an avant-garde leading a general charge becomes, as it has, impossible; the infantry of a would-be popular audience has deserted, and an officer corps with no troops merely redesigns its uniforms according to cycles of fashion. Squabbles over medals and rank take the place of what Gramsci called the war of position; cultural hegemony?—?a prevailing climate of opinion?—?is left, uncontested, to capitalism.
Young people might give up hopes of gainful employment through art or serious writing?—?without giving up the production or consumption of those things. Holding down uninspiring and ill-paid day-jobs, they would huddle together in select neighborhoods of big cities and devote their evenings and weekends to culture (and laundry, shopping, and cleaning). This doesn’t sound so bad; it sounds in fact like the cozily disappointed existence, streaked with fear of unemployment, of half the people we know.
Links of Note
The romance of narrative is perpetually at odds with reality,” Mr. Roth wrote. Despite this, many photographers “routinely submit the intrinsic factuality of the medium to the shaping and manipulation of storytelling. The ‘road trip,’ the ‘cycle of life,’ the ‘coming-of-age,’ ‘the war story’: all these are staples of photographic constructions. - “A White Road and an Ambiguous Narrative” [LENS]
…after two years taking pictures of Soviet and post-Soviet urban spaces and leisure facilities, he declared the project a failure: the images were uninspiring and his own narrative struck him as untruthful, contrived and oversimplified. So, he explained recently, he made a vow to himself: “First images, then ideas.” He would “photograph, learn, absorb, then go back to my work and look for patterns.
Finally, Goldblatt and Evans also share a photographic sensibility. In both there is a sense of distance, of an analytical step backward, that, in Goldblatt’s case, never threatens to become disinterest. There is also, in both photographers, an instinct to make understated images that refuse to draw attention to themselves, images that are much more about the subject than about the man behind the lens.
There is, however, an excellent corrective to tendentious, cherry-picked accounts. I would encourage anyone curious about retracing the tangled lines of recent art to spend a few hours paging through back issues of art magazines from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. There you can glimpse the raw footage of art history in all its messy, contentious, inchoate glory. Appearing side by side are ads for shows of forgotten artists at high-profile galleries and ads for debuts of now-famous figures in long-defunct venues; page after page of exhibition reviews written in the moment, before meaning is frozen, and perhaps never read since but preserving within their columns of dense type a sentence or phrase that might forever change your sense of an artist’s work or of the period.
12. Look out for your artist friends.
13. Respect everyone, even the intern; you never know who will rise to power.
14. Do everything with grace. Just because someone is being a jerk does not mean you have to respond in kind.
15. If you are with an associate and you run into an acquaintance, always make an introduction. Otherwise, it is awkward for everyone.
16. Do not alienate people with unprofessional behavior. If you have no place to hang your hat, then how do you expect to show your work?
17. Stay in touch with the people who have supported your work in the past, especially in the early years. It is the right thing to do, and you never know when you will need their help in the future.
18. Be honest about what you want from people and your expectations.
19. Get it in writing.
20. Stay humble and hungry. To quote Sean Combs, “Treat every project like it was your first.
When I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school in 2011, I began making photographs at my husband’s grandfather’s house in the San Fernando Valley. Once home to seven people, the large house is now inhabited by my husband’s grandfather alone. The ball machine on the tennis court is overrun with crickets. The pool is faithfully cleaned, but rarely receives swimmers. Many rooms have gone unchanged in the decade and a half since my husband’s grandmother died. Particularly intriguing to me is a suite of four now-unused rooms at the front of the house—an entryway, a parlor, a formal dining room, and a half-bath—all done up in shades of pink, still and well-dusted as period rooms in a museum. Filled with opulent furniture, silk flowers, and delicate figurines of porcelain and glass, they seem to me deliberately feminine rooms, designed for entertaining, not living. I made more photographs in that part of the house than any other. – Janna Ireland, The Spotless Mirror [via LENSCRATCH]
What I say to people now is, you can make a book tonight,” says Gittins. “For less than the cost of a pizza, just make a book and get it back and see what you think. Do you like the paper? The printing? Don’t think of it as, “The Book,” think of it as a maquette. You can send that out to publishers, too. It may not be the be-all, end-all design, but it shows the work curated in a way that makes sense.
I think photography and literature are both driven by the impulse to show something about life, to give our observations some kind of form. There was a time when I wanted to write. The desire isn’t so strong now, but I can see a connection between it and the role that photography plays in my life. Both involve imposing a narrative onto experience, noticing details, making connections, figuring out what is important or interesting about a situation and trying to put it into a form that makes you feel something. So much of the literature that moves me has a wandering theme. Stories from the road, people on the move, on the run, or looking for something, the recurrence of the familiar amid uncertainty and change. Such work is reflective of the spirit that made it. It carries the charge of life, always moving, always searching. My process is very much about wandering, being out in the world and coming back with pieces of a story that is hopefully held together by the thread of my own sensibility. I don’t know exactly what I will find when I set out, and that is the point. Photography, like writing, is a means of discovery, a filling in of (or working around) blanks, a fleshing out of ideas or feelings.
Reality has become a parallel universe with photographers returning with different versions of what it truly looks like.
I was more interested in taking pictures, and most of the time, I just didn’t pursue it,” Sid, 75, said. “I don’t like that whole system. Besides, to publish a book you have to be able to schmooze, and I just don’t have the technique.
I think it’s safe to say we all have a fascination with the aging process – how our faces and bodies change over the years. That reason alone was sufficient for me to begin this process of updating the pictures from “The Space Between.” - Gloria Baker Feinstein via [LENSCRATCH]
Much of what gets immediate attention in the book world I perceive as almost too well thought out or just extremely clever. It looks complete and well designed yet it leaves me wondering why I should ever pick it up twice. I sense almost a distrust of photography on the part of many bookmakers now. But I am also a self-described dinosaur. I want the pictures to make me fall under their spell when they are irreducible in form, not by the ideas laid upon them.
The works I show together don’t necessarily have anything in common, except for the fact that I find them significant,” he says. “It’s my little kingdom. One of my clients is on the committee of a museum, and other committee members were calling him crazy for buying outside of the zone they deemed safe. ‘Why’d you buy that?’ they’d demand. I told him what to say the next time they ask — and it’s the only answer I think is valid. ‘Because I like it.’
…one of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.” I think the key to seeing the target no one else can see is in being patient, waiting for it to appear so you can do the right thing, not just the expedient thing. Learning to wait is one of my greatest accomplishments as I’ve gotten older.
I got into the idea of living your work, which was a really bad idea,” explains Kasnic. “I always thought that shooting party stuff was new and no one had done it. Then I went to Brooklyn and figured out everyone was doing it.
After 25 years, the enthusiasm and excitement are still palpable when Rosenheim discusses his latest exhibition, and the future of the field. “I think we’re going to continue to have breakthroughs and new bodies of work,” he says. “I think there are photographers who are right before our eyes who we don’t even know about yet.
I think that people are constantly thinking about capturing things that they’re not actually present for the moment they’re trying to capture. I’m quite sure of this. I think it’s insane how many pictures have to be taken these days. We have to realize there’s a level of documentation that’s just chatter, it’s noise, and beyond that, people who are truly documenting are going to have to find a way to puncture that.
One of my guiding principles has always been to photograph for myself, to please me, and not to play to the market. I want my work to be honest, real, genuine. If others appreciate it, great, that’s a nice bonus. The work rewards me, not the market place or other people’s opinions.
Bottom of the Page
- Controversial copyright framework receives Royal Assent [BJP]
- “Too Much Is Enough”: A Talk on Garry Winogrand by Tod Papageorge [SFMOMA]
- Flash Forward – Emerging Photographers 2013 [Magenta]
- At Home With Elliott Erwitt [Nowness]
- Redheaded Peckerwood, III and some thoughts on photobook editions [Joerg Colberg]
- Al Jazeera’s New African Photography [Okay Africa]
- Hurtling towards photogeddon or why taking your photos off the net is possibly the worst thing you can do if you want to retain copyright [duckrabbit]
- Janette Beckman on What It Was Like to Photograph the Punk Scene [The Cut]
- RECREATING THE WALK by Jeffrey Ladd [hatjecantz]
- Announcing the Six Finalists for the 2013 Aperture Portfolio Prize [Aperture]
- Issue #15 of 100 Words
- Welcome to the New BagNews Originals [BagNews Notes]
“In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn’t become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice we’ve ever come across, and perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education. We made this video, built around an abridged version of the original audio recording, with the hopes that the core message of the speech could reach a wider audience who might not have otherwise been interested. However, we encourage everyone to seek out the full speech (because, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie). -The Glossary”