The Digest – June 17th, 2012

©Lucas Foglia – ‘A Natural Order’ via [Time Lightbox]

This time I’m serious! Issue 4 is finally ready and will be released this week. We’ll also be announcing a new collaboration in the next few weeks that I’m very excited about. For now though, here’s what I was looking at and reading last week.

I’m always fairly active on Twitter and Tumblr (sometimes Facebook) if you want to keep up with what I’m up to during the week.

‘Murky Brown Waters’

Last week I covered the controversy over the censorship of Katie Falkenberg’s photograph. This week, Joerg Colberg and Michael Shaw weighed in with some insightful commentary.

Joerg Colberg:

I personally think that it is in the public’s interest to be able to see the photograph and to come to a conclusion about the underlying topic: Why do children in this country – not in some post-Soviet country thousands of miles away, but right here, in our midst – have to bathe in brown, polluted, water? Why is their health being put at risk so that the coal-mining industry can make a profit?

This isn’t even about whether you are for or against that kind of coal mining. It’s a simple issue of the public having access to information, of being able to see what some of the effects of the type of coal mining in question are. In a democracy, information must not be suppressed, regardless of whether you agree with it or not. And there are cases where the concern about the public’s right to be educated trumps photographic discussions.

Michael Shaw:

Once we start censoring images with this kind of significance and visually infantilizing our citizenry, especially in this increasingly image-driven culture, I think we’re lost. Perceptually lost. And I don’t care if we’re talking about the left doing it, the right doing it, or the White House doing it (which they’ve done over and over).

What’s Next for Photography?

Maybe Joerg does think ‘photography is over?’ Or he could simply be attempting to provoke some thought and debate about the evolution of the medium.

Painting erupted once its burden of depiction was lifted. Maybe as photographers we can do our own lifting, realizing what it means, for example, to say that every photograph has already been taken. Seen in that sense, photography could maybe be the first medium to move forward because it has made itself obsolete, at least to some extent.

I think my sentiments would echo Tom Griggs intelligent and articulate response on fototazo:

How many photographers are capable of a thrilling, creative, masterful employment of the elements of the language we have developed? How many provide a fresh vision by their unique play of these four cards? It’s rare in relation to the number of photographers working today. It’s an insanely fascinating, difficult game we’ve developed. There is a lot of ground still to cover in photography – it’s just not in terms of the “new” – it’s in how we combine the established variables of photography with increasing eloquence and move beyond formulaic combinations of these elements to create – in response to another question Colberg asks – a photography that is not just a new variant of the old, but instead something genuinely new.

In some ways, we’re in the strongest position we’ve ever been – we have the most at our disposal, our language is at its most highly developed. We are liberated from boundaries and limiting notions of form, we have gone through questioning the medium itself. We are free of the pressure of living with an avant-garde – we no longer have to stick to a style of working to be considered current. We can move beyond the search for new ground via technology which results in work that feels gimmicky. Everything – from 35mm photographs of our cats to large-format industrial landscapes to square medium-format deadpan portraits – is equally cliché or equally full of potential for being combined eloquently into a fresh vision that we can term progress, depending on the hands its in.

I’ve tried to put some thought into this but I haven’t gotten very far which either means I’m not that smart or simply don’t care that much. I know that’s probably not the right thing to say for someone who comments regularly on photography, but I’d rather spend my time looking at photography than speculating about what it might look like in the future. After all, even though I’ve tried, I simply can’t predict the future. Maybe somebody will create the ‘future of photography’ app so we can all know what’s coming before it actually arrives.

Mediastorm Pay Per Story

Mediastorm launched a pay-per-story video player with the release of stories by Phil Toledano and Maggie Steber this week.

“We’ve been able to reach millions of viewers by distributing our stories for free,” Storm said. “But the reality is, no company or industry can sustain itself for long without producing a product for which people are willing to pay. Our industry is in need of a sustainable business model that will allow us to continue to report and produce compelling stories.”

As you can imagine this was met with excitement by many but there were also obviously some people that weren’t too thrilled with it. Maggie Steber responded to some of the critics.

Rather than debating it among ourselves, we should all get onto the same band wagon and start pushing for payment of our work, no matter the format.

We do nothing but complain about losing rights, being paid too little and then we shoot ourselves in the foot by saying something costs too much at $1.99 to have unlimited access.

That’s cheap beyond words in my book and for anyone who knows how much time, effort, expense, emotion, sacrifice, thought, risk, daring, courage, vulnerability, and innovation goes into anything like this, it is a silly discussion that needs to end because we need to start understanding the value of what we do.

Naturally I support photographers and content producers charging for access to their work but I think we need to do a better job of understanding the market forces and dynamics that are at play. When you charge money, you’re forcing people to make difficult choices. The poor latte always seems to be the sacrificial lamb in these discussions but in reality if people are going to pay for this type of content, it means they’re not paying for other forms of content. That’s competition and that’s fine, but it also means that other artists and content produces who work equally as hard aren’t going to get paid. It’d be wonderful if everyone who makes art could get paid, but that’s just not going to happen.

Now, for the business model. I don’t think it’s going to work unless there’s widespread adoption of a digital wallet. Let’s say numerous other documentary photographers and filmmakers adopt this model. Do you think people are going to whip out their credit card 5 times a day to shell out $1.99? Not likely. It’s easy to applaud this model when it’s one content producer like Mediastorm, but what happens when there are hundreds, and people are expected to pay for every little piece of visual content they view on the web? You’re gong to hit a major  stumbling block unless the process becomes frictionless. I’m not a big believer in micropayments. I think a subscription model is a much better idea. Naturally this is much more complicated than I can summarize here so maybe I’ll address it in another article.

©Stefan Ruiz – ‘The Factory of Dreams’

Links of Note

‘Sitegeist:’ Michael Johnstone with a few insights about the fragmentation of photography in the internet age. Also, if you follow the trail, there’s the typical arguments about street photography which for some weird reason is very polarizing.

It’s much harder to be critical of that these days, because now there really is much less of a comprehensible tradition in photography, much less of a shared experience. It was never monolithic, but now it’s positively atomized. Thirty years ago it would be tough to imagine any photographer or photography enthusiast who hadn’t heard of Gene Smith (although it wasn’t so tough to find Americans who hadn’t heard of Eikoh Hosoe). But now you can mention Ara Güler or Paul Caponigro or Raghu Rai and get blank stares—like “what forum does he hang out on?”

‘Kurt Markus – The Portrait: Finding Your Voice’: Some good nuggets in this interview on A Photo Editor.

Something happens over time that you can’t exchange for the moment. And that’s just loving the person that you’re photographing—not spiritually, but you have to really be into that person because the act of doing a portrait is truly collaborative. And that collaboration may be very subtle, but it’s there.

‘Look3 Report: Stanley Greene on Luck, Film and Supporting Young Photographers:’ Greene is the man. I’m a big fan.

I honestly believe photography is 75 percent chance, and 25 percent skill,” he said in response to a question from an audience member toward the end of the talk. “In accidents, we really discover the magic of photography.

Then Greene recounted how he was on assignment in New Orleans photographing a story on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He was using a Leica M8, which is digital. “I got a great shot of some people throwing a flag at George Bush’s car” as the then-President’s motorcade was trying to avoid a street demonstration, Greene said. A few minutes later, when his smart card filled up and he was swapping it out of the camera, it slipped from his fingers, through the steel grate of a bridge he was standing on, and into the Mississippi River. “I was really upset,” Greene says, and then to the amusement of the audience he added: “I took out a roll of film and dropped it and it didn’t go through the [grate]. So there you go.

‘What Galleries Want: ClampArt in New York City:’ Brian Clamp offers some insights into what galleries look for in new work.

“The more times I see something, the more confident I feel about showing it in the gallery.” Her galleries [Amy Stein] also began bringing her prints to art fairs. “I’m often walking around art fairs with clients and that’s a chance to gauge their reaction when they see the work in person,” Clamp observes. “If [artists] have shown in galleries and art fairs, you can get a sense of what the public reaction will be and how well it might sell.” He adds, however, that waiting until an artist has a proven track record of sales before representing them carries a risk for a gallery. “If their three best images are already sold out, it may be too late to take on that body of work.”


  • selbe

    Jörg Colberg Piece on whether photography is over shouldn´t be taken seriously. first he was making fun of the people who were saying photography is over, now he is the one saying it´s over, Either he totally arrogant or he is begging to attention.

  • duckrabbit

    Great set of links and interesting thoughts as ever. Thank you Bryan.