The Digest – August 19th, 2012

©Walker Evans – via [Time LightBox]

August is a slow month, right? It might not seem like it on the internet though because the flow of information and news never stops. I’ve had a few weekends where I just couldn’t bring myself to put together The Digest because I needed to stay away from the internet. I’ve been thinking that it might actually be better suited as a bi-weekly feature but I’m not sure yet.

In other news, I’m in the process of putting together Issue 5. It’s always nice talking to photographers and learning more about their projects and process. I’m also contemplating starting a podcast. I’m not sure whether that would be of interest to anyone, or if I have the time and technical chops to pull it off, but it’s on my mind.

Big Changes at Luceo

We would like to extend our wishes for continued prosperity and luck to newlyweds David Walter Banks and Kendrick Brinson and expectant father, Matt Eich, as they leave our organization this month to refocus their efforts on personal endeavors. Their vision will be deeply missed.

This was a big surprise and certainly a huge blow to Luceo. Brinson, from my understanding was their social media maestro and Eich is  the most accomplished photographer in the group (IMO!). Speculating can be dangerous, but what the hell, I’ll make a few guesses here. I’m thinking that these three probably realized they could be more financially  successful on their own, and could probably get more work done without the distractions that come with being in a collective.

I think Eich probably has a decent chance of getting into Magnum in the next few years. He’s a young guy and has already produced highly accomplished and recognized work. Again, this is just speculation.

I’m curious to see how these new collectives progress in the next few years. I think this change at Luceo may be the first sign of serious cracks in the new collective model. It’s never going to be easy. My hunch is that many photographers are struggling much more than we even realize. There’s some rather sobering comments about the state of industry from Edward C. Greenberg in a recent post on A Photo Editor. Take a look. 

Have  you heard of Instagram?

Seems you can’t go a week or even a day without hearing something about Instagram these days. They recently launched their latest version in the same week that Hipstamatic laid off most of their staff. The best piece I’ve read in awhile is this interview with Andre Hermann, the man behind ‘Hiding and Seeking:, a photo book.’ 

Mobile phone photography, whatever you choose to call it is just an old tool in a new packaging. It is not limited to any one type of photographic genre. It is a multi-tool that is quickly moving into a position to deem regular digital point-and-shoots obsolete. Mobile photography is still just photography with an added wi-fi upgrade.

Mobile photography, iPhoneography, phoneography and all the different variations of the term, I would prefer not to use, it makes photography sound like a novelty, gimmicky, and assumes that this is a new genre of photography that is dependent on the mobile device, which is absolutely false. It really isn’t anything new except for the form the camera takes, embedded in a mobile phone. It still is just a lens that focuses light on a light-sensitive surface. I like to keep it simple and honor it for what it truly is, photography.

And soon most cameras will have Wi-Fi, not to mention that the camera in the iPhone will continue to improve. What happens is that so many people are distracted by the aesthetics of the filters that they lose sight of what’s actually important and that’s user behavior. Instagram is essentially a real time, mobile photo sharing network. I don’t doubt that we’ll see variations on this in the future. Just think if you could subscribe to a real-time, mobile network of highly edited work by esteemed photojournalists?

©Ed Panar – via Issue 3

In Defense of the Single Photograph

Joerg wrote a great piece about the single photograph the other day.

The project “problem” thus changes once you consider the various nuances that are involved. But there is more still. As it turns out, there are quite a few photographers who essentially produce single, individual images. Those photographs might exist in some sort of project (or photobook), but they are only loosely connected to each other. Loosely, but not so loosely that there isn’t something that holds them together. At the very least, there always is something that holds photographs together: The photographer. Of course, if you cast your net very wide, every photo lives in a project. I wouldn’t want to necessarily go into that direction, but it’s important to keep this in mind.

And even if none of this convinced you, if you are the photographer who only produces single photographs that have nothing to do with each other – isolated little beauties – why wouldn’t have you a place in this world? Why or how would what the rest of the world affect you?

Blake Andrews “shoot first, ask questions later” mantra comes to mind. Over the years I’ve had numerous conversations about how people develop their projects. Some develop an idea, concept or theme and then go out and make photographs. Others take Blake’s route and figure it out as they go, usually through the editing process. But what if you just have a collection of singles? This is certainly how most street photographers work I think.

I have a funny feeling that the answer might come across the lines of: “I will not be as accepted because I am supposed to do projects” Which is simply not true. As convenient as the idea of the art world being dominated by a small cabal of people might be, a cabal that dictates what is allowed and what is not allowed, the reality is that that cabal does not exist. If you’re a single-photo photographer, it might be time to stop fighting the “project” windmill.

This is a bit tricky because I do believe that the fine art photography world prefers project oriented work. But no, the cabal doesn’t exist. You can do whatever the hell you want and you’ll be fine. The key is being true to your vision and having the conviction to follow through on it. The problem is that so many photographers want success, success, success and status, status, status. This need for recognition and acceptance can be poisonous. Sure, it’s important to put your work out there, and I’ll never judge anyone for being highly ambitious but the you need to be careful. The work always needs to come first.

Criticism in Photoland

Ok, we all know that everyone tends to play nice in photoland. You don’t really find too much harsh criticism. It’s true for other mediums as well. In the New York Times, book critic Dwight Garner laments the online backslapping in book culture.

I’m a professional book critic, someone who is paid, week in and week out, to take some of those shots. It’s a job that mostly suits my temperament. I like people — artists and civilians — who aren’t rude or censorious but who aren’t mush-mouthed either. Since childhood I’ve been a loather of America’s feel-good, everyone-on-tiptoes culture. Give me some straight talk. Give me a little humor. Give me something real. Above all, give me an argument.

This lead me to an article in Slate by Jacob Silverman titled ‘Against Enthusiasm.’ 

A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions.

The issue over the lack of real criticism in photland has come up before over the years. I’ll admit to saving my most critical thoughts for when I’m hanging with friends over a beer or in private forums. It’s a bit of problem because if you’re perceived as overly negative, I think people tune out or will question your motivations.

©Aaron Huey – via [LENS]

Links of Note

‘Photographing, and Listening to, the Lakota:’ A great piece in LENS about Aaron Huey’s fantastic Pine Ridge project.

A few months after the Lens piece was published, Mr. Huey received over 40 letters from students at the Jesuit-run Red Cloud High School. Many of the letters asked why he couldn’t show families like theirs: sober, employed, “normal.” The students wanted him to balance the story and to include them. The letters stuck with Mr. Huey.

“I had been dissatisfied for years with the limitations of traditional journalism,” he said.

“A flaw of all journalism is that someone else is telling your story,” he said. “It was always through my lens, and they felt like that lens was distorted.”

The Leica Blog has a great interview with Bruce Davidson. The following excerpt is fantastic.

She ran up to her room and came down with this huge book of photographs called The Decisive Moment, a collection of images by Cartier-Bresson, and we sat together looking through all of the amazing photographs. I had never seen anything like it. She said to me, “I really love this photographer.” So, I said to myself, “If I could take pictures like this guy maybe she will love me too.” So, I went out and spent all my monthly allowance on a used Leica. I actually tried to imitate the imagery of Cartier-Bresson. Of course, it didn’t work. The young female student ran off with a history professor, and I was left with Cartier-Bresson. That’s what started me off. I began to take street photographs.

‘Criminalizing Photography’ - A great discussion between James Estrin and Mickey H. Osterreicher on LENS:

When all else fails, unless you’re willing to be arrested, you have to consider trying a different approach. Walk away, and see if you can get another angle. As news photographers, you’re there to break a new story, the last thing you want to do is stand around arguing with somebody while the images you want to take disappear.

For the general public, just be aware that this may happen to you. Tell them, “I’m on a public street, this is America, I can take pictures.”

‘How the Art World’s Lingo of Exclusivity Took Root, Branched Out, And Then Rotted From Within’ – An interesting article in Artinfo by Kyle Chayka.

Speaking at an international event series of lectures called Creative Mornings, artist Jonathan Harris argued, “Curation is replacing creation as a mode of self-expression.” What he meant is that we no longer produce, we just intelligently consume, and the consumption is our primary outlet for satiating creative urges. Carina Chocano, writing in the New York Times, is more accurate in describing this curation as satisfying “visual addictions” rather than forming true self-expression.

‘A Tyranny of Ones:’ David Burnett wrote a lengthy piece about his experience at the Olympics using his old Speed Graphic.

For me perhaps the strongest feeling of kinship which took place at the Olympics surrounded the way in which my camera was welcomed by so many photographers.  People I didn’t know would see me carrying this kludgy beast, in addition to far too many cameras & lenses, and wish me (or the camera itself) good luck. There was always a faint glimmer in their smiles, as if seeing the old film camera in the middle of all the digital gear was like running into a long lost great-uncle, one who you’d lost track of, who you thought might have died barely noticed a decade ago.  Some part of your family which for all those reasons we know so well, just didn’t stay connected, and who you assumed had lived his life, and passed on.  Yes, there was a kind of affirmation, that even though we have entered this world of a digital presence (and not just photography but in every other aspect of our lives) that there still remained some role, some kind of leavening effect, something that couldn’t be ascribed to merely Zeroes and Ones on a piece of silicon, which would give us satisfaction and pleasure by its mere existence.

©Dina LitovskyStyle Tribes Vol. 3: The Cavalli-Loving Russian Ladies of Brighton Beach [The Cut]


Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures from Creative Time on Vimeo.

  • John King

    Bryan, despite your disclaimer about August Apathy, this issue provided some excitement for me. Thanks.

  • John Goldsmith

    That is a shocking development over at LUCEO, especially given their apparent success including write-ups on the NY Times photography blog. I feel like I can’t open the Internet without reading about the collective and others. In related news, several long-time and influential
    photographers including Tamara Dean, Jesse Marlow, and Steven Siewert departed from the prominent Australian collective Oculi. That was a bit of a surprise as well. 

    I guess in time we’ll learn more about the state of collectives but perhaps “sobering” is about right.