The Digest – December 23rd, 2012

©Deb Schwedhelm‘The 2012 PhotoNOLA Review Prize Winner’ [LENSCRATCH]

We are entering the slowest week of the year for the media. I suspect photoland will be no different. Later this week I’ll publish this years ‘Photography Sites of Note’ which will be different than the last couple of years. I’m going to model it after The Atlantic Wire’s ‘media diet’ pieces. I’m also planning on creating a section for recommended magazines and blogs. Something more than the list of links I have right now. I’d like to create a real resource, but that will take time.

I’m also planning on interviewing other independent publishers that I respect to help promote the work they’re doing. It’s very difficult to build an audience. It takes years of consistency to build up that type of trust. And these days it can vanish in a second if you don’t keep challenging yourself and improving. I believe in independent publishing and would like to see more outlets established. I think we all benefit by working together and supporting each others initiatives. Of course, it’s tough to support everything, so we do need to make choices based on our own sensibility. If you’re an independent publisher interested in creating a dialogue, by all means, drop me a line. I can’t promise that I’ll interview or promote everyone, which I hope we all understand.

Onto the news. Have you heard of Instagram?


The Instagram TOS Debacle

If you’ve been in the Australian outback and disconnected from photoland, basically Instagram changed their terms of service, saying they’re going to sell your photos, make a zillion dollars, and you won’t see a dime. Photographers across the spectrum marched the virtual streets declaring they were going to quit Instagram unless they rolled back the changes. A few days later, Instagram did just that.

But has the damage already been done? I’m not sure. I’m still using Instagram and I’m not worried. The most salient article I read about the mess was from Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic. Basically, he says that we should start paying for the software that we like to avoid the icky complications that come with using free, advertising supported apps and websites.

Truly, the only way to get around the privacy problems inherent in advertising-supported social networks is to pay for services that we value. It’s amazing what power we gain in becoming paying customers instead of the product being sold.

Maybe Jonathan Jones is right when he says: ‘Join Instagram, join a collective act of self-delusion:’

How can you fool yourself about this? For every wacky picture you take and upload, a million just as wacky are being taken. Dogs, flowers, fairy lights … each one as gorgeous as the next. On Instagram every passing moment has a pseudo-Baudelarian beauty. Random shots of ordinary things are touched up for instant allure. It is so easy with these technologies to believe you are Baudelaire’s “painter of modern life”, the ironic flâneur capturing the passing life of the modern world, or a latter-day Atget, but really you are the servant of a computerised eye. Instagram’s apparent claim of ownership of every image on its site would actually be a logical next step, for the reality is that no individuality exists in the creation of digital images.

My camera gathers dust. The act of picking it up fills me with embarrassment. Taking a picture feels like signing up to some mad collective self-delusion that we are all artists with an eye for beauty, when the tragicomic truth is that the sheer plenitude and repetition of modern amateur photography makes beauty glib. If Instagram did deny that its users are the authors of their robotic images, it would only be stating the obvious.

Yeah, ok, that’s a little too misanthropic for me. I prefer Rachel Wolfe’s take on ‘Interrelationships with Photography and the Internet:’

Things have changed, and the democratization of all things in our culture, not just photography, has made things perceptibly more challenging to navigate, to capture the attention of the masses. And yet again, I see this as perfect, divine order. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the power in just doing the work, loving the whole damn process of the work as best as we can-in it’s glory, in it’s dim glim and in its ferociously exhausting moments. Moreover, what a wonderfully less-than-subtle nudge for us to turn inward and use what we see to fish around beneath the surface of appearances.

Creating artwork of any means is an energetic process, a working from the inside out. Subtle ripples of change begin to affect the undercurrents of our society starting with the first relationship we can behold, the relationship we often overlook or dodge entirely-the relationship with the Self. Some relate to this relationship spiritually, some religiously, some with animosity-but we cannot deny its presence.

There’s always Flickr too. They released a great new app and have always provided tight controls on how your work can be used. Take a look at Hyperallergic’s excellent article: 

Now, onto the biggest advantage. For people like me who love to control the ownership and use of their images, there are two words you should know: Creative Commons. Flickr has long been a stronghold of Creative Commons licensing and those of us at Hyperallergic are strong proponents of their use as they “provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists, and educators.” As online citizens, it seems crucial that we find ways to share imagery that is respectful of others.

I don’t envision these types of clashes abating anytime soon. Photographers are going to need to learn to navigate these waters and make the decisions that are best for them and their work. There is no single answer or solution.

©Michal Chelbin - via [Feature Shoot]

Links of Note

Irina Rozovsky, on How to Start a Project:

I keep track of mental images, the kind the brain makes independently when there’s no camera around. When I was a kid my mom taught me to make mental pictures and after all the rolls of film I’ve gone through, the mental photos still endure as a kind of living, invisible sketchpad. Many times before going to bed I run through all the things I saw but didn’t photograph. So when I actually pick up my camera, the real pictures are rooted in a kind of abstract place, like a distilled fantasy. That’s what forms the base of my way of working and the rest is details and the constantly tested ability to react to the particulars, decided by geography, subjects, ideas – all followed by endless hours of editing, sequencing, shuffling and reshuffling.

American Photo says ‘Hamburger Eyes Is Putting Prints on Your Wall—for $33:’

“If you spend time looking at photography online, and reading some of the existential hand-wringing that’s posted about the state of the medium, you could pretty easily get it into your head that we’re living in some dark times. After all, it seems like every few months there’s some new threat to what I would call “authentic” photography that sends people into a tailspin. (The most recent one was Instagram.) Hamburger Eyes is an excellent antidote to all of this chatter. The San Francisco-based group consistently pushes good photos, without making a big fuss about whether they’re digital, analog, cell phone, whatever.”

Gerry Badger wrote a piece on Paul Graham’s ‘American Trilogy’ on the BJP. I like this quote from Graham:

I have dissatisfaction with classic documentary language. It was wonderful when it was invented. But it has to be alive, to grow and develop, just like the spoken word. We don’t speak the same way we spoke in 1938 or 1956, so why should we make pictures the same way?

There’s an excellent profile of Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times Magazine that includes some good nuggets about craft that I think apply nicely to photography:

I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.


Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.

This article in Artinfo analyzes the players attempting to make money selling art online. This excerpt about 20×200 caught my attention: 

When I started, people were very skeptical about how selling a $24 print could be profitable,” Bekman recalls. “In fact a significant portion of our business—about 15 percent—comes from purchases over $500.” All told, Bekman has brought in approximately $15 million in cumulative revenue. Although several years in the red followed a profitable first year, 20×200 anticipates making a profit again in 2013.

©Mark Brautigam - via [LENSCRATCH]

Pete Brook talked to Ash Gilbertson about social media:

We’re from a new generation. The photographers I knew growing up were either dead or very mysterious. I remember picking through magazines and trying to find little scraps of information about Ron Haviv or James Nachtwey and these giants in the industry. They were so mysterious it was almost part of the allure. They’re not the story; they’re behind the camera and they are not there to talk about themselves, they were there to talk about their subjects and that to me was very effective.

But now, I realize that to reach the widest possible audience you often have to engage yourself in the production of the story. I need to explain how it was meeting hundreds of families who had lost a son or a daughter to the war. I think that adds to the story and to people’s compassion for the subject. But, it doesn’t sit well with me. It might look like it does because I am so open to it, but still I wonder if I should shut my mouth, close down all my social media, and just get on with photography.

There’s also a lengthy piece on Gilbertson’s battle with PTSD in The Atlantic that I didn’t get around to reading, but you may enjoy.

PDN on Jessica Eaton’s Abstract Analogue Photographs: 

Eaton rejects the “everything’s been done” banter that she reads, both about her own work and about the photographs of others. She posits that at least some of the reason she’s won prizes and recognition for her work is that her photographs simply look different. When she applied to Foam for the Talent Issue, she says, “Out of the 900 [applicants], 800 people are photographing in the world and using the exact same automated machine,” she notes, referencing the proliferation of the Canon 5D Mark II as a tool of choice for many emerging photographers. “Of course I don’t think cameras make pictures, but those cameras all have the same sensor and the same automated functions and they all react the same way if you’re using it set to any of the automated settings … If you let it override you, you end up with a lot of pictures that look exactly the same.”

Blake Andrews on the books that fell ‘Under the Radar:’ 

LBM Dispatch: Bumfuck
Alec Soth and Brad Zellar

For the latest installment of Alec Soth’s continuing photographic study of regional Americana, Soth and writing partner Brad Zellar traveled to Bumfuck, Idunno, where they spent a week photographing and interviewing local residents. As with all of Soth’s explorations to date, the residents of Bumfuck prove amazingly resilient and insightful, and make for wonderful photographic subjects. It’s a bit cliche to call the local denizens salt-of-the-earth from Bumfuck. But the resulting portfolio, published tabloid style on newsprint, fulfills that label and more. It proves the universality of the term while confirming that in our heart of hearts, we all live in Bumfuck.

Don’t shoot the aggregator Alec!

The New York Times talked to Quentin Tarantino about his career. This maybe the quote of the week:

I’ve always been pushing that envelope. I want to risk hitting my head on the ceiling of my talent. I want to really test it out and say: O.K., you’re not that good. You just reached the level here. I don’t ever want to fail, but I want to risk failure every time out of the gate.


In case you forgot….