The Digest – May 20th, 2012

©Jessica Eaton – ‘Cube, Color, Cosmos’ [Time LightBox]

I hope you’re enjoying your weekend and not thinking about photography too much. I’ve spent a few hours walking around with the Mamiya 7, enjoying a beautiful New York weekend. I’m not sure I made any memorable pictures but that doesn’t matter. It was good to be out looking again. Over the years I’ve tried to make a clear distinction between LPV and my personal work but as I’ve started down the process of editing my book I’ve found it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep them separate. More to come on that later, here’s what caught my attention last week.

Paul Graham Reviews

I haven’t seen the book of Graham’s ‘The Present’ yet but I’m looking forward to it. This week there were two stellar reviews of it. First, Colin Pantall  on the photo eye blog.

Graham’s New York is a bit crappy for a start, an anti-nostalgic place that is run-down and anonymous. It looks pretty much like any other run down place. The people are the same. They’re not glamorous or striking or eccentric, but rather they’re harried, harassed and distant; no relationships were struck in the making of this book. These people could be anywhere; they stride purposefully along streets that hold no attractions to jobs that hold no attractions, their faces set into grimaces of urban stress. They walk along cold and uninviting sidewalks, past tired, functional shops and facades. There is a poverty of experience and environment here, an existence that appears deprived environmentally, emotionally and culturally. That’s the narrative; it’s a miserable life. Welcome to the Present.

When I saw the show at Pace, Graham’s depiction of New York never really entered my mind. This is a nice piece of writing by Colin and I think there’s some universal truth to it in terms of modern city life, but as someone who walks those ‘uninviting sidewalks’ every day, it’s a bit extreme. If you hang out on a corner watching the flow of life go by, you’ll discover more nuance and drama. I don’t think Graham was really interested in digging into the narrative of people who live in New York. I think he was using New York as the universal street photography city so he could de-construct the history of street photography. He did a good job from that perspective, but it really has nothing to do with the way New Yorkers live. I mean, fuck we all have to get from point A to point B during the day. To try and extrapolate anything meaningful from that journey is a cosmic joke played on idealistic street photographers everywhere.

Jorg’s review and flip through of the book offer up some good insights about the design.

I caught myself treating many of the pairs like the puzzles I remember from trying to solve as a child in a TV magazine my mother used to buy: You’d get a picture plus a variant of the picture next to it, with some parts missing. The puzzle was to find the missing parts. In the case of The Present I found myself treating the pairs of images pretty much like such a puzzle, trying to identify the characters in both images, to see where they had moved etc.

I also think the presentation of the book could have been simplified. The book relies on all kinds of ways to present you the images, with pairs of images on top of each other, next to each other, on different pages, or using gatefolds. This is all very fine, but for me, the different gatefolds and tricks end up feeling a bit gimmicky. I do think the design ends up overpowering the images a little bit. The images don’t need all that trickery.

Vanity Publishing Blah Blah Blah

Francis Hodgson wrote a very good piece about self-publishing that made the rounds.

As photography has spread into every corner of human activity, we have lost the ability to keep track of our responses to it. A culture of name-checking has grown up to replace judgment. Never heard of X or Y ? But he’s published by Hatje Cantz, or Twelvetrees, or whoever….it must be OK. This allows for stupid snobbery: treating pictures as somehow ‘different’ just because they don’t come from the precious world of photography but maybe smell of commerce or hobbies or even journalism or fashion.

I followed up with an article that was more inspired by, than a reaction to Hodgson’s piece. Nothing is going to stop self-publishing and that’s a good thing. There can never be too much photography, especially in print. The people obsessed with extracting monetary value out of what’s being produced will find some way to discover the work that has the most value in the market.

©Ben Roberts‘Occupied Spaces’ [The New Yorker]

Links of Note

‘Worker Bees of the Art World, Unite’: It’s great to read well written articles about the art world that don’t try to confuse anyone. The team at Hyperallergic does this very well.

Like it or not, we have an official visual culture, and that culture is determined by an entrenched hierarchy. This is no different from any other historical era, though the hierarchy has evolved from emperors, popes, cardinals and kings to museum directors, biennial curators, collectors, gallery owners and select members of the media.

‘How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet’: This lengthy article from Mat Honen of Gizmodo deconstructs exactly why Flickr fell behind the social networking game. It was a tough read for me. The way I became immersed in photography was through the amazing people I met through Flickr. Many of them are still close friends. There was something truly special happening in the first few years. But the web evolved and so did many of the people that made it a special place. I don’t regret the numerous hours I spent in the forums on Flickr. It was a good time. A time I’ll never forget, but at the end of the day, we should never really get too attached to these platforms. Their whole game is to convince us that they’ve created a special platform, when in reality they’re just trying to exploit the data we share with them.

Because Flickr wasn’t as profitable as some of the other bigger properties, like Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Sports, it wasn’t given the resources that were dedicated to other products. That meant it had to spend its resources on integration, rather than innovation. Which made it harder to attract new users, which meant it couldn’t make as much money, which meant (full circle) it didn’t get more resources. And so it goes.

As a result of being resource-starved, Flickr quit planting the anchors it needed to climb ever higher. It missed the boat on local, on real time, on mobile, and even ultimately on social-the field it pioneered. And so, it never became the Flickr of video; YouTube snagged that ring. It never became the Flickr of people, which was of course Facebook. It remained the Flickr of photos. At least, until Instagram came along.

‘Photography and Place’: Jorg is really doing an exceptional job of clarifying many of the issues that pop up in photoland.

When it comes to photography and place, the photographs really are only the beginning. We do need to talk about the biases that might be present in any body of work claiming to portray a place. But we also need to include our own biases in the discussion. We must not overburden photography with something it cannot do – providing us with an accurate portrayal of anything. Instead, we must acknowledge the maker’s hand, and we should talk about its role – and our reactions.

‘The Most Important Occupy Wall Street Photographer You’ve Never Heard of’: This article is months old but I just came across it through Petapixel this week and I think it’s fascinating.

I care more about experience than money. I was at a party once where someone asked me about my work and she said I must make a lot of cash. When I said I give my photos away to the public, she looked at me like I was a fool. She derisively asked, “Why would anybody do that?” and I replied “What did you do last Tuesday?” She said that she came home from work late and watched Law & Order on her DVR. I said, “Last Tuesday I had a four-hour dinner with Augusten Burroughs, and then I photographed him. I didn’t make any money off of it, but it was a hell of a Tuesday night.” Then she smiled and got what I was about.

‘Why Your .JPEGs Aren’t Making You A Millionaire’: Brad Troemel often reminds me how much more the young art community has thought about the internet than the photography community, which tends to stubbornly want to believe the good old days will come back.

Internet artists, for all of their digital-native wisdom, should know better than to think .JPEGs are a viable commodity when they’ve seen multi-billion dollar industries like music, film, and newspapers run around like baffled idiots for the past decade trying to figure out why they can’t sell MP3s, MOVs, and PDFs like they used to in traditional media.

Jade Doskow – via [Searching for the Light]


“Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what is difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity.” – W.M. Hunt