The Digest – July 22nd, 2012

©Philip Scott Andrews – via ‘Stirring Photos Chronicle the Final Years of the Space Shuttle Program’ [Wired]

Have you seen It’s a daily digest of world news. I also recently subscribed to Dave Pell’s NextDraft, a daily email of ‘The Day’s Most Fascinating News.’ Good stuff, usually. Here’s a good article on ‘The Slow Web by Jack Cheng. I particularly like this quote:

Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Naturally one of the problems with depending on filters and ‘digests’ is that you’re at the mercy of the editor. You can easily get caught in a filter bubble. Maybe that’s unavoidable though? Unless you can spend hours sifting through news and information yourself. I’m guessing most photographers would rather be making photographs. I think the ‘fast web’ in photography is what drives people nuts. Too much stuff just streaming by. I work in the real time web and can only see a fraction of what’s out there about photography! Then again, most of it is probably irrelevant.


Speaking of irrelevant debates, or at least debates that need to evolve, this week there were a bunch of article on Instagram. I’m just going to list them and let you make up your own mind. There’s really not much to add to the silly debate. Getting upset over the aesthetics of Instagram or the filters is pointless. It’s sort of like worrying that cat videos on Youtube are a threat to cinema. What people seem to fail to understand is that for most people Instagram is much more about sharing than about photography. It’s mostly people sharing what/where/when/who with their friends.

I think the real issue with Instagram for photoland comes down to photography education. People yell at instgram because they wish others would look more deeply into photography and discover all the good stuff out there.

But that’s just a losing battle. We can’t expect everyone to invest as much time into our passions as we do. After all, I’m sure there are plenty of mediums that we enjoy casually that devotees wish we would look more deeply into…but we don’t because the human mind only has so much capacity for art and culture.

I like this quote from Ben Lowy, who was featured on Tumblr’s Storyboard.

There are still purists who hold onto that idea that the iPhone is not still a real camera, or doesn’t make a real image, and quite frankly, I think those arguments are bullshit. It’s the same argument that people made when color film was invented, or that painters made when photography was invented. People don’t like change, and they don’t like to adapt. There’s nothing real about black and white film photography that is any more or less real than me taking a picture on my iPhone.

And then David Campbell really nails it:

The vehement opposition to these apps commonly operates in terms of ideas of ‘legitimate photography’ versus ‘illegitimate photography’, in which a supposedly new realm of popular manipulation is undercutting the cultural status of established photography, all infused with a professional anxiety about the influence of ‘amateurs’. We’ve got to get beyond this frame. I’ve long argued that we have to reposition debates about photography so we recognise the inherent and unavoidable place of aesthetics and representation in the production of each and every photographic image, no matter who is making them.”

©Landon Nordemanon Instagram

Photography and Progress

AD Coleman has published a series of articles about photography education and homogenization. It’s up to five parts now.

Beyond the specifics of image construction, there’s a pervasive homogeneity of project conception that I find no less numbing, which we might call the well-made project. It manifests itself particularly, but by no means exclusively, in projects with some documentary or sociological premise. The concept gets elaborated thus:

  1. Identify a literal subject matter. Just about anything will do: teenagers in their bedrooms, veterans suffering from PTSD, discarded purses from your local thrift shop that you’ve frozen in blocks of ice . . .
  2. In their own environments or in some version of the studio, photograph 40 examples of your chosen subject matter (preferably using the image-structure template described above).
  3. If your subjects are human, transcribe interviews with them, or get them to write their own stories to accompany the images. If they’re animals, or inanimate objects, find apropos text fragments or create your own.
  4. Draft an artist’s statement explicating the significance of what you’ve chosen to point your camera at.
  5. Voila! C’est fait!

Meanwhile, Tom Griggs of fototazo has been publishing his own series about photography and progress.

The limited guardians of the gate. Photographers attend reviews that don’t exist for other art forms that in large part are about networking. Many of the same reviewers appear at Santa Fe, Photolucida, FotoFest, etc. The number of major photography blogs is actually fairly small, a dozen or two. Thankfully we’re not in the John Szarkowski era (nothing against him at all) in which a single person is really the definer of what is considered quality and contemporary in photography. However, the people in charge of selecting work to show in well-considered venues is not very large – and they mostly know each other and I believe are influenced at least to a degree by each other. We remain a community of too few guardians, and a lot of those guardians have a fairly similar vision.

If you give me a photograph, I think I can pretty much tell you if a certain blog or reviewer or gallerist or editor will respond to it and thereby predict your “success.” On top of that – and this is where the problem lies – the image’s chances of success are fairly consistent across many of those venues. Seen a lot of the same names across a lot of sites, galleries, and at the top of awards lists? Out of hundreds of thousands of photographers? That’s not good.

And then Joerg takes us further down the rabbithole.

Serialized work would, by construction, move away from the simple idea of daily consumption – some project today, something by somebody else tomorrow – and I believe it would thus enrich the experience of photography online. And serialized work would also subvert the Facebookization of the web – the incessant focus on PR and instant, quick excitement. Serializing work, in a meaningful way, would try to alter the attention economy – inviting viewers to move away from the incessant flood of one thing here, one thing there to seeing one thing slowly develop, over the course of days, weeks.

For more on serialization, here’s an article I wrote earlier in the year: Narrative and the Serialization of Photography Online 

©Noah KalinaFire

Links of Note

Geoff Dyer introduces The Guardian audience to Google Street View projects. Not much new here really. I get irrational when it comes to GSV so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.

There are, however, broad differences in approach between Wolf and Rafman. Arranged in series, Wolf’s work retains something of the systematic nature of his search; while sharing Wolf’s fondness for certain things – people flipping the finger, roadside hookers and traffic accidents – the style of the 30-year-old Rafman seems far more aleatory. One gets the impression not simply that he lacks Wolf’s formation as an old-school photographer but that he has, quite possibly, never set foot outdoors, that his knowledge of the world derives entirely from representations of it. Even this is to understate matters somewhat, for while Rafman is apparently based in Montreal he might as well be gazing at life on Earth from a distant space station – and gazing on it longingly. There is something extraordinarily poignant about this apparently haphazard collection of grabbed snaps from everywhere and nowhere in particular.

If Google Street View has gone to Antarctica, does that means it’s over? Maybe ‘gone to Antarctica’ can be the photography equivalence of jumping the shark.

Blake Andrews points his finger at the reblogosphere:

OK, so big deal. Articles are written. They gather notes and reblogs. Fingers can be helpful. What’s the problem? For me the problem occurs when linking begins to crowd out content or, worse, is mistaken for content. And because the web is always hungry for the latest buzz, this “content” can convey a false sense of what is actually news and what isn’t.

Reblogging and linking is fine, but once in a while someone has to get off their ass and write something new. And I’m not talking about some subcontractor in the Philippines. I’m talking about you. Now. Reading this. Sometimes you need to give the finger the finger.

‘Pinterest, Tumblr and the Trouble With ‘Curation’: A bit of a different take on the curation debate from Carina Chocano in the New York Times.

Like other forms of pastiche — the mix tape, the playlist, the mash-up — these sites force you to engage and derive meaning or at least significance or at the very least pleasure from a random grouping of pictures. Why not dive into an alternative world full of beauty and novelty and emotion and the hard-to-put-your-finger-on feeling that there’s something more, somewhere, where you’re not chained to your laptop, half dead from monotony, frustration and boredom?

The Online Photographer Mike Johnston on ‘Dreams and Goals’:

People have a tendency to overvalue the things they’re not good at, but we also tend to “assume” that the things we are good at are at least moderately simple for everyone. If something’s really easy for you, you tend to assume it’s at least moderately easy for most other people, and that if they won’t behave accordingly it’s just because they don’t want to, or they’re weak, or undisciplined, or belligerent about it. I assume that slow drivers are just trying to annoy me, and that people who spell porely and punctuate, incorrectly are acting out their contempt for their long-ago English teachers or simply flouting conventional rules—deliberately. That is, I assume it’s a stance. It doesn’t occur to me right off the bat that maybe they just struggle with spelling and punctuation. (I did figure out that some slow drivers are driving as fast as they’re comfortable going. I’ve learned to be patient.)

People who are good at making plans and setting schedules assume it’s simple, that anyone can do it. All anyone has to do is try. It’s hard for humans to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

‘Hot off the press: The newsprint as a medium for photographers’: I wonder if any bloggers will experiment with newsprint. Maybe a monthly?

Hornstra has been able to do the same thing, reaching audiences that don’t usually pay attention to photography. But, he says, we’re still at the beginning. “Often, in seminars, I ask people why they want to make photobooks, and often they won’t have an answer. They want to tell a story, to share it. But if you do a photobook, your story won’t be seen by many people. With a newspaper, you can spread it around.”

And, he adds, newsprint offers many opportunities. “In Japan, they are producing some really beautiful newspapers that are really different from what we expect newspapers to look like. That’s the problem we’re facing, people are still thinking about the idea of it being an actual newspaper. You shouldn’t. You should think about it as being a series of pages with which you can do whatever you want. Most of the newspapers I’ve seen are still fairly conservative. But you can turn it in all directions; readers can create their own layout and sequence. You can fold it in two or in four. You can print images across several spreads to make posters. We can learn a lot about it from the Japanese market. I think it will be very interesting to see how it’s used in the future.”

Joerg reviews ‘The Afronauts by Christina De Middel:

I had seen photographs from the project on the internet, but I thought that they were just a tad too cute. But then I came across the book, and that made all the difference. The Afronauts, self-published by De Middel, really makes the project come alive. I suppose there are all kinds of aspects at play here. For a start, the selection of photographs I saw online only contained the images that would work well online, an environment that is not necessarily known for its long attention span. The book, in contrast, fleshes out the project with a large variety of photographs, creating a narrative, with quiet images and flashier ones intermixed. What is more, The Afronauts comes with additional material, ephemera (that might or might not be real), such as typed letters and reproductions of vintage photographs.

Steve Giralt tells you why he hates his camera:

No matter how good reviewers say a camera is, I still hate it. The camera is always the thing trying to get in the way of me making the picture I have envisioned or I am witnessing before me. You are in front of an amazing sunset but the image the camera makes often doesn’t quite lives up to what it was like to be on that beach watching that sunset. Is it possible to make a picture of an amazing sunset that lives up to the moment? I think so, but most of the time the image just a disappointment.