The Digest – April 22nd, 2012

©Steve Rubin – ‘Vacationland’ [via Time LightBox]

LPV headquarters will be moving from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens in the next week, which basically means, I’ll be in a new apartment soon. Fortunately I don’t have much to move but unfortunately that means I’ll have to pull out the checkbook for some new furnishings. I know this doesn’t have much to do with the week in photoland, so I’ll move onto The Digest.

“You Don’t Look Like a Victim”

I think we should refer to this as the ‘You Don’t Look Like a Victim’ discussion. It was kicked off by Colin Pantall when he wrote about Thomas Hoepker’s controversial 9/11 photograph, as well as Spencer Pratt’s 2006 World Press Photo winner from a bombed out neighborhood in Beirut.

The idea is that one should look a certain way in the face of tragedy, part of the simplistic narrative that is expected of people when they are part of a photograph – a simplistic narrative that does not have an equivalence in writing. Here it is easy to explain the contrast between the glorious sky and the casual dress, the trappings of the picnic and the relaxed poses. These are all allowed to happen, but when it comes to a photograph, God forbid if anybody is caught doing anything that lies outside a very narrow band of expected responses.

Colin’s post provoked a response from Jorg Colberg.

If any of the things we see don’t suit us, guess who is to blame? It’s never us, it’s always the photographer. It’s never the fact that we want to see certain things, it’s always that someone else is not showing us what we want to see. There is “manipulation” going on, there is “deception” – you know the game.

At this point, what I objected to most was Hoepker’s statement about the photograph: “It’s possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it.” For me, this is an incredibly superficial reading of the photograph and scene. Isn’t Hoepker also seeing what he wants to see? From my perspective, the people in the scene are having a conversation and are engaged. Are they suppose to be hugging, crying and acting hysterical? 9/11 was a day long event. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that people will be ‘stirred’ during the entire day, especially if they’re witnessing the event from a distance. I suppose it is possible that the event didn’t effect them but that doesn’t seem likely. I find it nearly impossible that anyone in New York City that day didn’t have some sort of reaction. I suppose there might have been a few people who were more worried about their dinner reservations than the victims but I think it’s reasonable to say they’d be the outliers.

The most salient article thus far in my opinion has been by Tom Griggs of fototazo.

I will add a question to the conversation – if the emotional state of the subjects and the narrative cannot be extracted from an image, and the photographer’s intentions cannot be known, how about allegory and metaphor as a strategy for correctly reading images? They do not work either if the word “correctly” is left in the sentence, but do as long as the observer remembers that their conclusions also remains in the realm of conjecture. Reading and concluding – or better yet, creating – the allegorical and metaphorical meaning in an image is informed by one’s life experience and knowledge, a matter of subjective insights.

It’s an excellent and important discussion. I’m certain it will continue into next week. I think vossbrink is onto something when he says: “It’s not whether we like or agree with the image, it’s about being honest with our reactions and figuring out where those reactions comes from.”

The Rise of the Winogrand Archive

I know amongst street photographers Winogrand’s unseen archive is legendary. It sounds like we’re about to finally see just exactly what he left behind which may end up completely changing how we perceive his work. It’s rather amazing to think a photographer of his status and influence has so much unseen work. It’s really a testament to his prolific nature and passion for his work. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will have a retrospective in the spring of 2013 and from there it will travel to Washington, NYC, Paris and Madrid.

New curatorial research undertaken for this project has enabled the first thorough review of the prints and proof sheets from Winogrand’s complete working life, and will reveal to the public for the first time the full breadth of his art through more than 200 photographs. Roughly half of those have never been seen publicly; close to 100 have never before been printed.

The NYTimes ran a feature of unseen Winogrand photographs from the 1960 DNC. These are interesting from a historical perspective but I wouldn’t say this is Winogrand at the top of his game. It’ll be interesting to see the response to the retrospective. I suspect there will be some interesting discussions from both the love and hate camps.

©Garry Winogrand – via NYTimes

Links of Note

Influenced By The Way Computers See The World: Those that spend too much time online looking at photography and art are probably aware of ‘The New Aesthetic‘ by now. After a series of articles the last few weeks it seems that it’s starting to make its way into broader photography circles. Naturally, most of us have encountered some of these ideas, especially as they relate to Google Street View projects.  Rob Haggert makes an excellent point:

I stumbled upon this idea called “The New Aesthetic” yesterday while I was thinking about photographers harnessing and making sense of the photographic noise online. When I think about people tackling projects that are important and ambitious they almost always include writing, photography and video. What I see as the elephant in the room is ignoring the millions of images already available and sitting online in social applications and the images being churned out by the second as you work on your project.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.

A Letter from London: Thomas Ruff – ma.r.s.: Apropos to the above.

In a soon to be published interview, I asked the question: ‘Is the role of the photographer changing from the maker of images to the person who makes sense of them?’ The question was asked in relation to the ever expanding photographic archive humanity has been contributing too since the mid 19th century. Ruff is one of those artists who, I think, finds this snowballing archive of humanity more affecting than that of his ‘own’ photographs.

This Week In Photography Books – William Eggleston: Thank you Jonathan Blaustein! Next time you’re in New York, the beers are on me! This is probably the most accurate interpretation of the intent behind the ’10 Photographers to Ignore Article.’ Although, to be perfectly honest, at the core of it we were just trying to be funny. Well, at least I was, I can’t speak for Blake.

The tweet might have gotten mad publicity, but the article was actually rather tame. The authors’ thesis was that photographers, (particularly younger photographers,) face a danger to their creativity when they push hero worship too far. Great work depends upon a fresh vision; a unique perspective. The more closely photographers emulate the greats, the more likely they’ll end up with derivative nonsense. It’s an important point, but the article would likely have drawn yawns, if titled “10 photographers that you should be careful not to be influenced by too much.”

Photography Reconsidered: Some insights and thoughts from Matthew Drutt about MOMA’s new photography installation which I’ll have to be sure to check out soon.

This new installation takes full advantage of MoMA’s holdings across different departments in a tightly integrated joyful celebration of photography’s unresolved contretemps.  Moreover, at a time when so many private collections are either being broken up by being sold at auction (e.g. Henry Buhl’s photography collection being sold this December at Sotheby’s) or gifted to museums with the stipulation that they must remain segregated from the rest of the collections to retain the owner’s intent, it shows the legacy of giving at MoMA across time, departments and taste. It is an homage to the endless retelling of art history that can occur when one is allowed to reshuffle the deck, mix things up, disregard boundaries, be discursive, self-critical, and while we’re at it, irreverent.

Photographic notes from a madhouse: Photographer Lauren e. Simonutti passed away a few weeks. I wasn’t familiar with her work but from the reactions this week, it’s evident that she was very much beloved and admired.

For some reason I only listen to music in the darkroom. I find watching clocks tiresome so I time film processing by music — I have a range of songs of the proper length. Film goes in, music goes on (Tom Waits, Bowie, Bauhaus), song ends, film comes out.

I have reached the point where if I do not have a photograph of something I cannot be certain it happened.

Alex Prager, Compulsion @Richardson: I have not seen the show yet, and I’m not all that excited about it because the work doesn’t really resonate with me but I’ll probably check it out on my next Chelsea visit. The always exceptional DLK Collection has a good review of it.

So is Prager’s work a guilty pleasure or is it smartly mining visual/cultural stereotypes to create new kinds of contemporary story telling? I suppose it’s both at some level, but I think she deserves credit for defining her own playing field and then consistently continuing to expand it. My conclusion is that it’s overly easy to linger in the retro fabulousness of her world, and thereby overlook the fact that Prager’s work is getting better and more complex with each successive project.

Photographs Not Taken: A Chapter by Tim Hetherington: Last week marked the one year anniversary of the deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. LightBox published Hetherington’s entry from ‘Photographs Not Taken’ (Obligatory hat tip to Michael David Murphy).

There are many reasons not to take a picture—especially if you find the? act of making pictures difficult. I was not brought up with a camera, I? had no early fascination for pictures, no romantic encounters with the ?darkroom—in fact I didn’t become a photographer until much later on ?in life when I came to realize that photography—especially documentary ?photography—had many possibilities. One thing for sure was that? it would make me confront any inherent shyness that I might feel. It? did, but I still find making pictures difficult, especially negotiating and ?confronting “the other,” the subject, and dealing with my own motivations? and feelings about that process.

©Lars Tunbjörk


“You grow up, you’re illegal photographers. Get out!”