We’re recording the podcast today. After a few test runs with the introduction, I’m convinced this is going to be a disaster. But that’s not going to stop me! Hugo Lindgren the Editor of New York Times Magazine wrote a timely rant about ideas and failure:
Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course, you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.
And that sort of reminds of me the Chuck Close quote that every creative person the internet has shared at least once in the last few years.
Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will – through work – bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you [did] today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.
I guess I don’t have any big goals or resolutions for the new year. I’m just going to do the work and see where it all takes me. I’m going to make some mistakes along the way. Hopefully, though in 2013 I’ll be wrong as fast as I can.
Anyway, here are a few articles the internet sent my way this week.
Links of Note
It’s OK to step back from the roar of the crowd. I think we should create one day a week where we stay off the Internet, off our phones, and begin to hear our inner voices again while strolling through a museum or staying in our pajamas all day reading the New York Times. We become more interesting people when we shift our focus even slightly. It’s OK to fail. You learn more from failure, than from success. It becomes a time to take stock and reassess. Success is fleeting anyway…it’s all about being true to yourself and making the best work possible. And often, your best work rises from the ashes of failure, when you change directions. It’s OK not to show up at every party and to submit to every opportunity. Don’t be so serious. We need more humor in our lives and in our work.
Because our digital photographs are inherently social objects, and because mobile platforms now create a massive global audience for companies to directly provide tools and software to, digital pictures have transformed into a strange, fierce battleground where bigger platform giants test the limits of privacy, throw friendly punches at their rivals, and experiment with new business models. Most coverage and analysis of this trend focuses on the end consumers, but for the purposes of this post, let’s consider digital photographs as being a byproduct of the advances in mobile camera technology, as the camera itself is perhaps the single most important sensor on our phones and tablets. As the camera sensor improves over time, the opportunities around photosharing increase with it. Therefore, my belief is that we are still in the early innings of this digital photography craze, so if you’re tired of the meme, brace yourself because it will take years to unfold, and if you’re excited about this future, it’s a great time to get your hands dirty.
And that, I believe, is what has happened over the past few years: The act of photographing, the gesture, has become part of our interaction with the world. You photograph just like you look. You know that you can never look at all of those photographs again (in all likelihood you never will – who has the time?), but it’s not about the photographs – it’s about the photographing. The act of photography might have turned into the equivalent of whistling a song, something you do, something that might or might not have beauty, a communicative act just as much as an affirmative act: I was there, and me being there means I had to photograph it.
But, whether due to the absolute saturation of diaristic images now in circulation on the Internet, or some other turn, the fact is that in the last few years, the rift has widened between the kind of snapshot, documentary-style photography Goldin champions and — except for certain perennial favorites — the majority of photography in contemporary. More and more, in an art setting, photography is used as a process to create abstract or self-consciously composed imagery, often as a component of a larger conceptual frame; it tends to present reality through metaphor, or by way of a signifier, rather than by straight documentation of subjects’ lives. So, yes, it may be fair to say that people no longer believe that a photograph in a gallery or museum or art book is true, precisely because they are no longer being asked to do so. The question, for the time being, seems almost irrelevant.
But the more we define “success” as that which appeals to as many people as possible, the more we forgive dumb things because they went “viral,” the more we monetize stupid bullshit because we’re at a brief, fleeting moment in our culture where we’ve convinced ourselves that’s what matters … the more we forget what was initially so fun about the Internet in the first place. The beauty of the Web is that it belongs to you, and me, and to each of us, individually. What are other people doing on the Internet? Who the hell cares? I’ll just find people who like doing what I’m doing and talk to them. Is that the best way to make money on the Web? Probably not. But that’s their problem: Not ours.
I don’t think I became a real photographer until I made a real acquaintanceship with music. That’s why I make my layouts the way I do. Photography happens to be my means of communication. But I do not feel I am a photographer singular. I feel that my art or my necessity is communication, and this could apply to many branches of the communicative art — whether it be writing or photography. Since I am somewhat adequate as a photographer, I remain with it. I am probably more in command of it than any other medium. I respect it highly as a medium. It has its own very definite purpose.
Since about 1970, serious contemporary artists, art critics, and curators have done their damnedest to quarantine the word “beauty” from inclusion in any discussion of art. Instead, borrowing heavily from critical theory, they’ve larded their talk about art with such academically saturated fats as “dialogues,” “hybridization,” “critical practice,” “semiotics,” “dialectics,” “synthesis,” “political discourse,” and others too enervating to mention. With Invisible Dragon and Air Guitar, Hickey dared to drag beauty out of hiding and place it back at the center of art. One might have thought the art world’s reaction would have been dismissal or ostracism. Instead—almost perversely—artists, critics, dealers, collectors, art professors, and, especially, their M.F.A. students bought the books and showed them off on their coffee tables. Professors even placed selections from them on their syllabi.
The position I always took in making art, or books, or doing shows has always been based on the old punk rock DIY world that I grew up with. The idea was basically if we weren’t invited to your party, then we would make our own. We would set up our own shows, print our own books, albums, everything. I spent a lot of time wandering the U.S. with my friends’ bands, watching them play in basements or silkscreening their own T-shirts and record covers. They weren’t able or allowed or often interested in participating in the music industry that existed, so they just said “fuck it” and built their own community. So why couldn’t we do that with art? Why would you need someone’s permission to put on a show? My first book was printed after hours at a Kinko’s in Portland, Oregon, where a friend of mine worked. I’d send him the files and he would print the pages when no one was looking, and then shipped them back to me to assemble. These days it’s a more refined process, but I would rather have a handmade book or a limited zine from an artist I like than a book I bought at Barnes & Noble.
I have a lot of respect for people who work in daily journalism, and local news in particular. These are guys who go out every day and find new stories or angles in the same tiny village for 25 years. That’s not easy,” says Bendiksen. ”This is all very good experience for me to apply to all my photography. Sharpening my eyes a bit for finding images in the everyday. This I’ll definitely take with me.
Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.
When looking ahead, I don’t make plans because – I just don’t know. I can’t. I’m always looking around for things, and I’m always working on projects. I usually have five or six projects I’m working on right now. The closest to press is the new Ryan McGinley book. We’ve been working on that since 2004. (chuckling). Some books take longer than others. Our first emails with him are from 2004. I’m not very good about schedules either. I’m famous for publishing books in January. People say, “Oh, you missed the entire holiday season.
As I made this work, I allowed my ideas to come to me from almost anywhere, as long as they related in some way to some version of the story — even if it was a version that only existed in my own head. The ideas could be based on reported facts from books, newspapers, interviews or court transcripts; from highly interpretive literary or cinematic accounts like Badlands, or based purely on my own imagination, which of course was completely interpretive. I think my work has more mythical or atmospheric meaning rather any real basis in known fact. Badlands was my starting point but it ultimately ended up being just one of many, many different sources of inspiration.
Second, I’m going to start writing a column of sorts, longer essays that roughly run the length of a New York Times Op-Ed piece (plus or minus 800 words). These pieces will not dive into the specifics of a particular show, but will tackle many of the issues (large and small) that surround photography, from collecting and the art market, to the impact of changing technology and the coalescing of trends. Ironic types might say I am going meta. I used to think that someone out here on the interweb would eventually ask the questions I wanted to hear discussed or at least mentioned, but sadly, at least so far, I was wrong; perhaps this is a function of being an entrepreneur, investor and collector rather than a working photographer, gallery owner, or museum curator – my mind seems to be wired differently. In any event, using this longer form approach (and working on my craft as a writer in the process), I’m going to dig in and see what I can swirl up. I’m either going to be the guy who has timidly raised his hand and finally asked the question you always wanted to ask, or the jackass in the back row who has burdened the entire class with his annoying, tangential ramblings. Either way, I plan to have some fun and hopefully spark some broader and more analytical photographic debates.
When I look at a photobook I ask myself, ‘what is the purpose of what I’m looking at here?’ I also try to establish if there’s a front-to-back linear structure or if we are just meant to peruse the thing as a catalogue. The trend over the last few years in high-minded photobooks has been to get away from the catalogue, but often I find that many books are just trying too hard to be artful without being clear. Lick Creek Line is firmly exploring the former camp. It walks that line of threading curiosity with carefully employed ambiguity as it unravels a life and a story one image at a time.
Like just about every other art, photography is “in crisis” right now. Time and time again, we hear about the “death of photography”. Or, that at the very least, the art form is in decline and that no one could possibly make a new and interesting photograph at this stage in the game.
This is where the photobook has become an interesting proposition. And Lick Creek Line delivers nicely on that promise where many books try and fail. Lick Creek Line is not a simple reading, but it rewards time spent with it, and not just for its nice set-piece ending.
I think that’s a wonderful way to end the week. FYI, here’s my review of Lick Creek Line.
- photoNOLA, New Orleans, 2012 [A Photo Editor]
- Gordon Parks: “A Harlem Family,” Life Magazine, 1968 [John Edwin Mason]
- The Power of Non-Experts [Hyperallergic]
- Hodgson’s Choice: ‘Ady’s Poem’ by André Kertész [FT]
- How Long Until High Res Video Stills Replace Photography Altogether? [Gizmodo]