The Digest – April 15th, 2012

Robert Doisneau’s Contact Sheets – Iconic Photos

I had plans to check out the Woodman show at the Guggenheim on Friday but it was too sunny and warm, so Katie and I decided to spend the afternoon in Central Park rather than looking at photographs from someone who committed suicide. I will make a second attempt in a few weeks. Issue #4 should be out by then.

I’m still debating whether or not I’m going to offer a subscription again. It’s a bit more work (for a number of reasons) than it’s worth at this point, so I might just sell the issues individually. I also decided I don’t want to be tied to putting out a specific number of issues per year. I want flexibility. I have some ideas for future issues that wouldn’t follow such a stringent formula.

I was on vacation this past week and didn’t pay as close attention to the web as I normally do, and yet I still seemed to gather a good number of links and articles.

Facebook Buys Instagram, Some Photographers Sad

This was a bit unexpected but not surprising really. Instagram was growing incredibly fast and Facebook stinks at mobile, so it was a nice fit. Naturally, there was a whole bunch of commentary. Here’s Om Malik on the sale.

Facebook and Instagram are two distinct companies with two distinct personalities. Instagram has what Facebook craves – passionate community. People like Facebook. People use Facebook. People love Instagram. It is my single most-used app. I spend an hour a day on Instagram. I have made friends based on photos they share. I know how they feel, and how they see the world. Facebook lacks soul. Instagram is all soul and emotion.

Yeah, not sure about the ‘soul’ metaphor but what most cranks generally miss about Instagram is that it’s more about your network and community than the stupid filters.

Ian Crouch wrote about Instagram and nostalgia in the New Yorker. I’m not sure the nostalgia impulse is all that strong though. I honestly think the simplicity of use and desire to share what we’re up to in a visual way is more important than preserving memories. I mean, I rarely go back and look at my Instagram photos. It’s much more about visual immediacy than nostalgia for me.

Although the means and ease of transmitting images may be novel, photo-sharing networks didn’t create this urge. Susan Sontag describes the central role of the camera in everyday life in “On Photography”: “Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself—a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” Substitute the word “family” with its contemporary replacement—“friends”—and you get Instagram’s product statement. Sontag, writing in the nineteen-seventies, couldn’t have known just how portable that kit of images would become, but she was attuned even then to the ways in which we actively construct a “portrait-chronicle” of our lives. Essentially, we become our own documentarians and archivists in order to impose meaning on daily life, to show that we are honoring moments with the seriousness we are told they are supposed to possess, and to preserve that honor for posterity. We once did this in the semi-private realm of our families and social circles. Now we do so on a larger scale.

The best article that I read was from Paul Ford in NYMag.

When people write critically about Facebook, they often say that “you are the product being sold,” but I think that by now we all get that. The digital substance of our friendships belongs to these companies, and they are loath to share it with others. So we build our little content farms within, friending and upthumbing, learning to accept that our new landlords are people who grew up on Power Rangers. This is, after all, the way of our new product-based civilization — in order to participate as a citizen of the social web, you must yourself manufacture content. Progress requires that forms must be filled. Thus it is a critical choice of any adult as to where they will perform their free labor. Tens of millions of people made a decision to spend their time with the simple, mobile photo-sharing application that was not Facebook because they liked its subtle interface and little filters. And so Facebook bought the thing that is hardest to fake. It bought sincerity.

I don’t think Facebook is going to mess with Instagram too much, but who knows. I find myself using Facebook less than I did in the past. It’s a nice digital Rolodex I suppose, and it might be good for planning events and such, but in terms of daily status updates and content distribution, it’s a bit of mess, especially with Timeline. Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr keep things relatively simple, although each has their flaws too. I also think more and more people are gravitating to small, closed networks.

©Luke Norman & Nik Adam – via Conscientious

Links of Note

A Conversation with Christian Patterson: It was interesting to learn more about how Redheaded Peckerwood came about in this conversation with Jorg.

Digging into the archive was like falling down a rabbit hole; it opened up all possibility, in my mind. I saw how all of these different visual materials worked together to tell a story, and how they related back to what I was doing. It didn’t matter that these things were produced by different sources in different formats or different times. I let go of the old way of thinking about photographic documentation, truth and representation. Suddenly it all looked fluid; everything became the archive, everything became documentation. The only thing that mattered was telling a story visually, using my research and calling on my imagination as needed. Doing this with a well-known, pre-existing true crime story was unusual, I suppose.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, a ‘superstar’ in Europe, brings his series of everyday images to a major London exhibition for the first time: 

You learn more about images when you work with them, when you collect them,” he says. “When I see one thing, I have an idea about it. When I collect more, I have a different idea.

The One-Gig Card Challenge: I’m sure many photographers can relate to Derek Shapeton. [via A Photo Editor]

But has my photography improved with all those extra images? I would argue not. If anything, it’s diluted the faith I have in my photographic convictions. I used to work much more thoughtfully, knowing that I had a mere dozen frames available before I had to change backs. I would see something and then decide, no, I’m not going to waste this next shot — a thought that almost never crosses my mind anymore. Granted, I sometimes get great stuff that I never would have with a more careful approach, but for the most part I’m just generating garbage disguised as pictures. By shooting all those redundant, useless digital images I’m simply passing the buck to my future self, the one sitting despairingly in front of the computer.

Art Review: Elad Lassry at David Kordansky Gallery:

Despite a press release filled with illustrious nonsense — Lassry “anchors tangible artworks in an elusive experience to which direct access can no longer be granted,” we are told — the production falls so flat as to risk calling into question even the appeal of the earlier work.

If the indiscriminate shuffling of the banal and the beautiful left one occasionally wondering what it all amounted to, the answer offered here would seem to be: not much. Not yet, at least. If some portion of the energy that went into the eager colonization of other media were channeled into thinking the ideas through, substantiating some of the vague speculations concerning “the picture as an ontological category,” the result would likely be a far more satisfying show, one that came closer to embodying the formal tautness and visual vitality of which Lassry is clearly capable.

Understanding Photography Competitions: A view from a jurors side of the fence: A few excellent tips and insights from James Dodd.

Play by the rules.
Make sure you fit the theme and history of the competition. You’re not as likely to progress if you’re not a good fit for what they want to present as a winner.

Do your research, look at past winners if they have them, or look at what they use to promote the competition. With first year competitions it’s hard to judge, and this is why some have fewer entries, especially if they are quite prescriptive with the theme. But as they don’t have this history you will have more chance to help shape it.

But look at what they present as a whole, if they have a history of showcasing portraiture, hold back on that reportage submission and save the cash for something more appropriate.

©Max Sher – The Wedding of a Man Who Once Nearly Drowned in his Bathtub – via Constantin Nimigean