The Digest – March 11, 2012

Courtesy of MOMA ©2012 Cindy Sherman

Was it a slow week, or was I just not paying attention? I went gallery hopping in Chelsea on Friday and saw some excellent shows (thoughts, reviews later in the week). I normally only hit the photography shows but this time I decided to take a look at some painting and sculpture. It was refreshing and habit I’ll try to cultivate in the future. I think it’s important to explore and at least have an awareness of what’s going on in other mediums, which I think is common sense for most people.

DLK Collection Reviews

If you want to get an idea of what type of photography in showing in Chelsea (and other galleries in New York) , there’s really no better site to bookmark than DLK Collection. Their reviews are always insightful and accessible.

On Paul Graham:

For those who would claim that everything has been done in a genre like street photography, Graham’s work is proof positive that there is always room for frame-breaking, original innovation. His images are both an homage and a deconstruction, an appreciation and a rejection. In some ways, they aren’t about the images at all, but about capturing the in-the-moment present tense of the street that swirls and changes continually around us without ever being actively noticed. The only reason I can’t find my way to three well-deserved stars for this show is that I find the pictures so disposable and boring. Of course, I know, this is exactly and entirely the point, but my mind is hard wired to seeing in the old way, and I need some more time to get my head around experiencing the world as gaps and absences. But without a doubt, the ideas here are revolutionary, and they merit a robust, public airing, if only to show that we can still coherently parse this ever-changing medium. This is the kind of show we should be talking about, folks, not the packaged-for-easy-consumption art with which we are all too familiar.

On Cindy Sherman:

My ultimate reaction to this exuberant show was a kind of maddening schizophrenia, where I was truly awestruck by certain rooms, only to be disappointed by the ones that followed. This reaction had nothing to do with the quality of the photography and everything to do with the chain of thinking that was being presented; it just didn’t hold water for me. That said, I did come away with genuine respect for Sherman’s craft across the years (especially in the age before Photoshop where her staged constructions were all done by hand), and for her unique ability to hold up a mirror to ourselves. For nearly 40 years, she has consistently and unflinchingly shown us our stereotypes and roles, our categories and cliches, our delusional hopes and shattered dreams. For those who are passionate about photography, this exhibit is not an optional excursion; it’s on the required three star syllabus, and for many, its parade of undeniable greatest hits will be more than enough to happily fill an afternoon.

©Jessica Eaton

Instagram Anxiety

Oh yes, it was one of those weeks. Photographers and their love/hate relationship with technology. A couple weeks ago photographer Nick Stern wrote a piece on CNN called “Why Instagram photos cheat the viewer.” You can probably guess at the tone of the article. This week, Heather Murphy wrote a rebuttal of sorts in Slate: “In Defense of Instagram: Why News Photography Goes Well With Vintage-Filtered Cat Pics”

“It’s like when people started moving to the Web in ‘95,” said John Poole, a photographer and videographer for NPR, one of the few news organizations to post campaign photos by professional photographers in its feed, instead of using it solely for lower quality outtakes by political reporters. Poole, who started at back when it was still more of an experiment, is familiar with the freakouts inspired by change. But he says that many members of the photojournalism world are missing an opportunity by acting as if they’d be tainted by participation. “People don’t understand it necessarily, but some idea they’ve gotten of it touches a nerve, and so they start projecting all this garbage onto it, regardless of whether it’s applicable to Instagram,” he said.

Yes, ‘projecting garbage’ onto new technology is something photographers seem to be fond of doing these days. It really is a distraction from what we should be discussing, as Jorg has mentioned time and again.

Of course, this all points to the underlying problem here, which I’ve addressed ad nauseam before: Instead of talking about what images look like, in a news context we should really be talking about how images are used and what they say (and don’t say).

©Judith Joy Ross – Interview, Ahorn Magazine

Links of Note

Book Review: ‘Interrogations’ by Donald Weber: An excellent review from Pete Brook

When we are faced with decidedly uncomfortable (abusive) scenes in photography, we cannot help ourselves but to think of the photographer as in some way complicit. This is a sure way to derail inquiry; it is an emotional response that centres on the act of photography instead of the subject. As Susie Linfield lays out in The Cruel Radiance, photography of atrocity can as easily provide an opportunity to dismiss the act, distance ourselves from the images, and move away from topic at hand.

Weber’s work is in our face, but that doesn’t mean we should turn away. An illustrated prologue of Weber’s six years in the former Soviet provide some context for Interrogations. These darker, exploratory more ambiguous images temper a presumption that Interrogations was a smash-and-grab job; we know Weber spent years in the region and that he built-up to this particular project.

Opinion: Make New Friends! Addressing the Problem of Access to New Sources of Arts Funding: Tom Griggs of fototazo addresses a thorny issue regarding crowdsourcing.

So the question becomes: to what degree do crowdfunding platforms reinforce the existing dynamics of art world resources? And to what degree do these sites, which require tapping into an online world of social media savvy people with connections and the money to contribute, limit funding to projects from a very specific sector of the world arts community? And an uncomfortable question: to what degree is this sector also the most likely to have access to funding their projects outside the crowdsourcing model, including the traditional methods of awkward family conversations resulting in support, credit card debt eventually paid off through access to decent-paying employment, and small grants and loans?

The inability for much of the world art community to tap into the strength and opportunity of the new model of arts fundraising is deeply problematic: the arts, photography in particular, inform our thoughts and decision-making by giving us images from artists across classes and across nations that make us aware of realties beyond our own.

©Ed Panar – Interview, Issue #3

Animals That Saw Me: Blake Andrews reviews Ed Panar’s wonderful book, and offers an interesting insight about bookmaking in the age of Tumblr.

In style of sequence, size and subject matter, Animals That Saw Me fits well into The Ice Plant catalog, reminding me of Jason Fulford and Mike Slack. None of these shooters will be confused with a jet-setting National Geographic journalist. All revel in the everyday, the power of context and suggestion. The style of the book borrows too from the online world, in particular the Tumblr fashion of pulling disparate elements into a meaningful chain. And in the fashion of Tumblr, the door has been left open to add more later. The subtitle Volume I suggests this may be the first in a series.

Chat with Paul Graham – Hasselblad Award Winner 2012: Congrats to Paul!

The problem is that the term ‘documentary’ is used to describe nearly every photographer who works from life-as-it-is.  If someone makes food with  vegetables from their garden, are they doing documentary cooking? It’s ridiculous. We have to think in bigger and better terms than ‘documentary’. Unfortunately there isn’t a perfect word as yet!

10 minutes with Naomi Harris: A refreshing perspective on pursuing a career as an editorial photographer.

Go into this field with eyes wide open. Yeah it’s fun to take photos but does that need to be your money making source? Perhaps you’d be better off having a day job and taking photos for yourself. Being a starving artist is cute when you’re in your twenties but not so sexy when you’re approaching middle age.