The Digest – April 28th, 2013

©Will Steacy

“The internet, for lack of a better metaphor, makes up the branches of the tree,” he says. “But newspapers have centuries-long traditions of being the roots of the tree. If the roots of tree rot and crumble the rest of the tree will fall with it.” – Will Steacy, “Philly Inquirer’s Hard Years Are Microcosm of Newspapers’ Long Goodbye” [Wired Raw File]

The bombing at the Boston Marathon has dominated coverage in the US the last two weeks and naturally photography played a very important role. It was almost too much to follow, but it did bring up some issues that we’re going to thinking about more in the future. The biggest concern for me is the way that Reddit and 4Chan used photography to hunt for suspects in plain view on the internet. Not surprisingly they pointed fingers at innocent people. There were condemnations but at this point I don’t see how this type of behavior can be curbed. I followed much of the news on Twitter and it was a disaster. The amount of misinformation flying around was ridiculous and worse, much of it was coming from supposed reputable outlets.

I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts with Dougla Rushkoff who has a new book out called “PRESENT SHOCK: When Everything Happens Now.” I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to. It seems more relevant than ever.

Rushkoff identifies the five main ways we’re struggling, as well as how the best of us are thriving in the now:

  1. Narrative collapse – the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.
  2. Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self – at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds – home and battlefield – simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.
  3. Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives – freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.
  4. Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.
  5. Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists – prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information.

Links of Note

©Vitas Luckus

Meanwhile, Mr. Luckus grew into a lightning-rod figure in the region’s art scene, a man whose brutal honesty, seemingly boundless creativity and aggressive empathy had the power to both divide and inspire the bohemian community in which he lived. Socially, he was “brilliant at certain moments, impossible at others,” the journalist Herman Hoeneveld wrote in “The Hard Way,” a 1994 book of Mr. Luckus’s work. “He had a unique inspiring and stimulating effect on others, and would work for days on end with a minimum of sleep and alcohol. - Vitas Luckus, Once a Luminary of the Soviet Photography Scene [LENS]

Sean O’Hagan on “How photographers joined the self-publishing revolution:”

Having long since shaken off the kind of stigma that still attaches to, say, self-published fiction, the self-published photobook is currently a mini-phenomenon within the bigger thriving culture of photography book publishing. The wider context for this DIY approach is the availability of relatively cheap digital technology and the attendant rise of social media-led networking, which allows photographers to disseminate, market and sell their own books without recourse to the traditional artist-publisher relationship. […] In an age when the alternatives to mainstream publishing are increasingly affordable and creatively liberating, self-published photography in all its different forms may yet become the norm.

Peter van Agtmael on “Revisiting Memory and Preserving Legacy: Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros:”  

The portrait of the journalist as hero is at-once seductive and misleading; after all, as journalists, we’re trained to probe beyond the societal and self-created narratives. In the wake of a colleague’s death, objectivity can feel like an impossibility. As time passes, a more complex and nuanced reality can find space to slide into focus. As Christopher Anderson explained: “Tim was really smart and really talented but he was a real human being too. He was so opposed to this idea of photographer as myth. It was kind of an obsession with him. To know he was being made into a myth was totally contrary to who he was. Part of him would be appalled, part would be silently flattered, and as the professional story teller it would make sense to him.

PDN’s “5 Financial Steps To Launching A Photo Career”

I think it is good to have an out,” such as a part-time job, says photojournalist Michael Christopher Brown. “This also allows one to spend more time and energy taking pictures of things they are genuinely interested in or passionate about, as opposed to being a professional photographer, which is time consuming and draining on one’s creativity.

I am intrigued with other people’s photographic recording of their lives both for the generic quality they possess — the family and social rituals, studio portraits, vacation shots — and for the feeling of sadness and nostalgia that acquiring other people’s memories provokes in me. I feel somehow that it should be illegal to own them, yet since they are for sale it might as well be me who buys them. – Lisa Koken, ‘Sewn Found Photos’ [LENSCRATCH] 

Second Acts: Why “Rediscovered Artists” Are the Art Market’s New Darlings:”

We had a collector come in and ask about an artist we were showing,” said one art dealer who asked to remain anonymous. When the dealer told him the artist was close to 40, and had taken some time off before getting her MFA, the collector lost interest. “He thought she couldn’t be a true artist if she was starting so late in life.

“Adrian Fisk: Capturing the Fearlessness of the Youth:”

The beauty of digital cameras is that it costs nothing to take a picture, so shoot as much as you can. Like the athlete who runs every day, you need to do the same with taking photographs. There are lots of websites you can show your work and if you pursue it hard, have a talent, people will begin to notice your pictures. But it should be noted that never has the photography business been so tough as it is today. Right now it is going through a process in which all media is becoming digital and conventional magazines and newspapers simply don’t have the money to pay photographers. The market is flooded with young photographers all hoping to make a living from their hard work. This is not to put any aspiring photographers off the idea of trying to enter the professional photo world, it is simply to make it clear you are trying to break into an exceptionally tough business and it’s good to know this first and not be blinded by the romance of becoming a photographer. I am a firm believer that like anything in life, if you really believe you can do it, then you will do it.

“I am frequently asked by people who have not seen my work why I spend my life documenting one simple place like Decatur County, Georgia,” he wrote. “People confuse simple with small; they’re not the same thing.” – Paul Kwicki, “A Life Sold on Photography” [LENS]

Interview with Sean Stewart on

I’ve fallen in love with photographs that occupy this gray area between mistake and ‘useful’ photography. I usually venture out with the intention of making a traditional photograph, either portrait or landscape that’s effective in telling a story or reaching an audience that can understand it. Instead, I often end up with images where the language is broken and the narrative is non-existent. By sequencing these one-offs, or mistakes, together in a series, it creates confusion (not intentionally), and elicits a response that is unlike the expected. For me, photo-journalism has the same problem. Photography is almost never factual, but it’s there as an aid our understanding of a fact.

Joerg Colberg, Reviews: After the Threshold by Sandi Haber Fifield:

Photography’s immediacy allows it to operate in pairs, triplets, or even larger groups. The larger the group, the trickier it gets – after all, the human brain does require a small amount of time to take in a single image. But that amount of time is small compared with how long it takes to take in a video, or listen to just enough of a piece of music to be moved by it. Two photographs next to each other thus manage to “speak” in ways that two videos or pieces of music never could. Use three of four photographs, and you get a little sequence that almost operates like a melody, a little line of music that hints at something larger, but that (potentially) triggers a reaction that results from something beyond the individual notes.

Christopher Schreck:

I just don’t think there’s any sense in shovelling sand against the tide. As far as my own work existing online, I think it’s important to have one central location – my website – where things are presented intentionally. I feel like I’m responsible for that much – beyond that, it’s really out of my hands. That lack of control can be a strange thing, for sure, but it can also be enlightening. Personally, I get something out of seeing how the content I produce can end up in these strange corners of the internet, in contexts I never could have predicted. It gives me a different perspective on what I do. I also think that observing how images function online can be instructive in understanding how people respond to art. If anything, it tends to refute the idea that a given work might ever have a ‘correct’ reading or stable meaning, which is something I’m very interested in.

Alec Soth on Wandering, Storytelling and Robert Adams vs. Weegee:”

LBM Dispatches,” a series of short newspapers Soth and writer Brad Zeller are creating, which are published by Soth’s company Little Brown Mushroom, grew out of “the desire to be a suburban newspaper photographer,” Soth said. To create the newspapers, Soth and Zellar pick a place, then go and tell a story about that community. Quickly after they return from reporting trips, they print and release the newspapers. Soth noted his appreciation for the immediacy of publishing work so quickly, and for the processes of self-assigning and self-imposing deadlines.

©Jenn Ackerman

“Most of the time in winter you’re running from your car to the store,” Ms. Ackerman said. “You don’t stand in the middle of winter. You do that in summer. You stand and look at the sun, and that’s acceptable. There was a connection that I was able to make with people that were willing to do that.” – Jenn Ackerman, ‘Frozen in Place and Time’ [LENS]

Blake Andrews on Soth’s Portland Lecture:

Soth loves lists. His former business card is one long list, and I think he uses lists to guide his photo projects, not exactly as checklists but as rough guides. So he opened the lecture with a list. I think it was called Portland Lecture 4/19 or something similar, though I don’t remember exactly. There was The Eggleston Question. Robert Adams Vs. Weegee, John Cage and Ping Pong, Looking For Love, etc. There were about 15 items total but I could only write a few down before he was on to something else. Most of them remained unexplored. Each time someone asked a question it would trigger some brainstorm that he’d already considered. A folder on his desktop listed a few hundred of them roughly by topic. And inside each one were the bare bone graphics supporting a small train of thought. We’d watch him dig around through various files until he found the proper one, then launch into a 5 minute presentation. Adams/Weegee triggered one, as did Eggleston. We never got to John Cage and Ping Pong. For someone so focused on narrative, the lecture came off as something approaching the opposite. It took its structural cue from narrative’s enemy, Hyperlinking. That’s the form of the web and the trending structure of much creative content.

Romke Hoogwaerts:

In my essay I argue that, without discourse, art loses density. I set up the interview blog to begin with so that art online wasn’t just re-blogs, “likes” and comments, but had some real sentiment and context to feed the viewer’s imagination and understanding of the art. In the introduction I’m talking about art that rarely leaves the Internet, because it’s seen as inherently amateurish, valueless or net-kitschy. We can freely self-educate now and as a result there’s a wealth of brilliant artists online, getting next to no real exposure. They deserve it! Ultimately, this problem really gets me going; there’s so much to talk about that hasn’t entered contemporary art discourse yet.

Tom Griggs ‘On the Money Part II:’

While art institutions benefit from limiting the field, art photographers continue to search for ways in. The strategies used in the commercial market to stand out have begun to overlap with many current art photographer strategies for navigating the art market. The result is that fine art photography seems more blatantly a business than ever before, with similar dynamics to the commercial field and photographers employing similar strategies to stand out in the crowd. Flyers, leave-behinds, sleek websites, the right (i.e. expensive) gear for creating salable prints, and the co-ordination of fonts across publicity materials. We talk openly of our “brand.”

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