The Digest – Sunday, January 29th, 2012

©Mark Steinmetz – Via Time LightBox

This winter has been strange in New York. Only a few days of snow, and the temperature has fluctuated between bitter cold and spring like warm. This doesn’t have anything to do with photography but when you don’t have much to say, you can always talk about the weather.

Amateurs & Professionals & All Their Photographs

I find the tension here to be a bit tedious. Then again, I don’t make my living from making photographs, so the stakes for me aren’t that high. My feeling though is that if you want to make money creating photographs then you should be prepared for the challenges and accept that it’s a brutally difficult profession. Always has been, always will be. The guys at duckrabbit linked to an interesting Facebook comment about the current photojournalism market. It’s unattributed which is a bit problematic, but still I think it’s worth sharing. From what I gather, a middle age photojournalist posted on FB about the difficulties of finding paying magazine work. Which provoked this amusing and insightful response.

There are broadly two types of photographer – one says ‘everyones a photographer’ with a sneer, the other says ‘everyones a photographer’ with a tone of excitement and wonder. Or maybe there’s a third, someone who says ‘everyones a photographer’ with utter bewilderment, because I have a hard time keeping up with it these days.

But more people taking more pictures is not, and can never be a bad thing IMO. Bearing in mind photography is one of the most democratic art forms ever invented – thanks largely to Kodak funnily enough – the difference in underlying attitude is quite telling, in that it measures the photographers ideas about their audience, and their assumption as to where they are in ‘the pecking order of things’. Most of us have seen the massive trend in photography towards universality and democratization – from the iPhone, to Flickr, to people in the Middle East chucking samizdat videos and pictures around.

And then at the end, a great summation that I agree with.

There is a very small number of photographers who ‘get it’, and who are engaging with grassroots audiences as peers and fellow collaborators (instead of the Old Skool ‘Attention Peasants! I bring you truth! Now shut the fuck up and take it’ model) using the very same tools available to the audience – digital capture, social media. I think its a hopeful sign and wish them every success.

Who cares if everyone is making photographs? It doesn’t matter. Joerg articulates it nicely in ‘Photography and Trust.’ 

There are billions of photographs online (in reality any person has access only to a very small fraction of them), and the question often becomes how one can have any faith in one’s photographs if there are so many others already out there (you might have noticed: I just called it faith, instead of trust – pick the word that comes closer to what you feel). For me, the answer has always been very simple. It comes in the form of a question: What does it matter if other people take photographs? What do other people’s photographs have to do with your own photographs?

So, what separates the amateur iPhone snapper from the photographer? Well, I think most of can answer in some form or another. Intent and editing certainly play a large role in the differentiation. The following excerpt is from ‘Robert Frank and photography: Art in the age of image overload.’

Julia Dolan, the Portland Art Museum’s photography curator, says digital technology may have many more people taking pictures but that doesn’t change what constitutes a photographer or a good photograph.

“It’s an issue of intention,” says Dolan. “That’s what separates us from Robert Frank. I can make a grocery list, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning poem.”

Dolan also thinks it’s a tad grandiose to assume this is photography’s democratic era.

“Photography has always been available to the masses,” she says. “That was true way back even in the 19th century. Digital technology has just amplified that perception and added new abilities for us.”

Intention, as Dolan meant it, suggests a few things: a knowledge of photographic technique and composition, and also photographic history. That means the best pictures have a larger design behind them, a skill that often eludes amateurs.

“Robert Frank made, what, 28,000 photographs for ‘The Americans’”? says Jim Leisy, a fine art photographer, book publisher and head of the Portland Art Museum’s volunteer-based photography council. “But he edited all of that down to 83. That’s what separates good from great, the professional from the amateur. The great ones are also editors. They are willing not to cling to a photograph.”

But why even make photographs in the first place? More than likely only a handful of people will actually enjoy your photographs. It’s a harsh reality Blake contemplates in ‘Reject.’

But the broader issue, not really addressed in the FPN discussion, is What if the star you’re chasing is in fact a dud? What if you’ve devoted your life to something you’re actually not very good at, but you don’t realize it? I see a lot of photos in galleries made by people who probably believe in themselves, but that doesn’t mean the work belongs in a gallery. But the thing is, the photographer himself can’t tell. Everyone believes in their work. I feel great about my photos, but so does every other Joe Shmoe on Flickr. Maybe I am Joe Shmoe.

Ok, I’m not sure all of this really ties together in any sensible way but I thought I’d try to put some pieces into play. At times it seems like we’re having the same conversation about all of these issues. And I’m sure that conversation will continue in some way next week! Moving along.

©Corey Arnold

Twitter and Instagram

The grumpy tend to make Twitter and Instagram their main targets when ranting about social media. But they often miss the point of both. Jin Zhu doesn’t. In her post, she articulates why we’re so drawn to social media tools like Twitter.

What these people don’t realize is that a tweet about the morning coffee is not really significant for its content. It’s the act that is the key – people are reaching out for a social connection, and as long as humans have this urge, social media will thrive. And it will thrive in shortform. Shorter attention spans may have something tangential to do with the rise of Twitter, but I suspect the real reason is that most people want short bursts of interaction that mimic conversation, not primarily one-sided broadcasts.

Before Web 2.0, the technology was not truly capable of enabling short real-time interactions that can be simultaneous targeted toward specific organizations and individuals yet public and therefore injected with the exciting potential of hearing a strange new voice from the back of the room. We wouldn’t make as many horror films as we do if we didn’t enjoy the buzz of this scary surprise factor. Now that tech has caught up, we are sowing our conversational oats everywhere, just like we’ve always wanted in our caveman hearts.

To focus on the content of individual messages is to miss the real draw and usefulness of Twitter: the ability to see in one place what the masses are thinking and chatting about, and that has been something we’ve been deeply interested since the beginning of it all because, lt’s face it, we are all motivated to eavesdrop on what other people are saying about us and figuring out where we stand in the social hierarchy. (Full disclosure: I favor evolutionary explanations.)

With Instagram, the typical lament is that ‘adding some filter to your crappy photograph doesn’t make it art!’ No kidding genius. But it’s really not about that. Like Twitter, when we post a photograph to Instagram, we’re mostly saying “here’s where I am right now, this food/drink/art/band is so good! I’m happy to be with these people and I wish you could be here too!’ Except we do it with pictures, using filters to enhance the mood and atmosphere. It’s not a big deal. Relax. Mr. Luckett writes about the charms in a more lyrical way. 

to peruse a nexus of Instagram connections and to contribute your own photographs to that well, is to play a part in the real time accumulation, a steadying (re)valuation, of some of what gets us, singularly and together, through each day: friends, family, pets, places and food; something beautiful, something funny, something seen, and something done. it is in this way that the common practice of judging the relative merit of an individual photograph falls flat in the face of the Instagram interface. for the import of Instagram is in the very fact of each photograph having been produced and of the near-instantaneous shared profusion of countless such photographs across a network of exchange in which the legal tender is ? and minds [ie comments] and the reward, irregardless of the likes, is a reinforced sense of identification. every photograph a shiver not unlike your own.

 ©Frank Oscar Larson- Via Gothamist

Links of Note

‘Should We Let More Artists Starve So Some Can Succeed?’

More artists exist than can possibly make it without a change in the way society consumes visual art, that’s for sure. But the reason for this phenomenon likely has at least as much to do with how goddamn alienating non-artistic labor is as with how naïve artists are — that is, with the ruthless realities of the market that Abbing looks to for salvation. - [Artinfo]

‘NYC Street Photographer’s 1950s Photos Found, Headed To Queens Museum Of Art’

The photos will keep coming from out under the beds and inside the closets. These are from Frank Oscar Larson. - [Gothamist]

According to Soren Larson, “Photographs dating back to the 1920s attest to the fact that he was always the family shutterbug.  But it wasn’t until the early 1950s that Frank’s passion for photography blossomed. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Larson made weekend expeditions around New York with his Rolleiflex Automat Model 4 camera around his neck, producing thousands of images which he developed in a basement darkroom.

Congratulations to the Second Edition 2011 Hot Shots!

Meike Nixdorf, Michael Cappabianca, Phillip Jung, Cristina De Middel, Brendan George Ko[Hey Hot Shot!]

‘Mark Steinmetz’s Summertime’

His latest publication, Summertime, released this month by Nazerali, echoes the sentiment of his previous three books and features images taken over the last decade. Steinmetz tends to think about work over long periods of time, keeping the various bodies of photographs in his head and weaving pictures of the same spirit together. However it is not only process but also circumstance that resulted in the work taking so long to surface. When Steinmetz, who studied at Yale, began making his intimate black-and-white portraits in his twenties, interest rested in fabricated color photography, not photography documenting the way the world actually looked. With the world in a more sober place, viewers have been more receptive to Steinmetz’s point of view – [Time LightBox]

‘Jake Stangel – A New Chapter’

These exploration-quests set the tone for me to always be present on the real, live moment, the situation, the snippets of life/human interaction/engagement that mark our lives, our personal experiences, our memories. It lets me shoot quickly, loosely, and lightly. It also lets me jump between locations alot quicker, and allows me be on the lookout for great light and settings to shoot in, and not worry about all 9 strobes firing or wishing I hadn’t planted all my lights in one place. - [A Photo Editor]

‘Arnold Newman and the development of the ‘environmental portrait’

Whilst Newman’s methods had more in common with the photojournalistic style of portraiture, as practiced by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) or Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), that that of Avedon or Penn; he remained in control, first getting to know his sitters and putting them at their ease, and then rearranging the spaces to create compositions that symbolised his understanding of their characters and achievements,’ says Giles Huxley-Parlour, director of Chris Beetles Fine Photographs — which is currently exhibiting 50 of Newman’s portraits — ‘So Mondrian, for example, is placed with the angles of his easel as an echo of the pure geometry of his painting.’ – [Wayne Ford]

‘Insane English copyright ruling creates ownership in the idea of a photo’s composition

This isn’t good. – [Boing Boing]

LenssWork Daily

Worth bookmarking or subscribing via RSS – [LensWork Daily]

Side by Side Official Trailer (2012)

The documentary investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation. We show what artists and filmmakers have been able to accomplish with both film and digital and how their needs and innovations have helped push filmmaking in new directions.- [Vimeo]

‘They stole our choice of aspect ratios. Now we’re getting them back

A bit of gear geekery for you, especially if you’re thinking about one of those mirrorless cameras. I am. Tiltable LCD with 1:1 aspect ratio would be awesome. – [The Online Photographer]

TRANSPORT from Noah Kalina on Vimeo.