The Digest – October 28th, 2012

©Bryan Schutmaat – via ‘Beauty, sorrow of American West’ [CNN Photos]

I’ll be publishing the next issue this week. It’s nice to finally see it come together. Alexi and I have been calling it LPV 5 so I think I’ll stick with that. I learn something new each time I publish an issue which always makes me excited and even anxious to get started on the next one. I’ve asked a few friends to help out with some of the editorial agenda for #6 which should be interesting. So far I’ve made all the editorial decisions, so bringing on more collaborators should add a new dynamic to the magazine. I don’t have any grand agenda for what I want to accomplish with LPV but I know I won’t keep doing it if the magazine doesn’t keep evolving.

I’m going to start sending out a newsletter. It’ll probably be once or twice a month, never more. You can sign up here.

“Diversity in Photography and Contemporary Image Distribution Problems”

A few weeks ago I met up with Tom Griggs for a few beers and conversation in Greenpoint. In that discussion he mentioned he was working on a long article about online photography. I was excited to hear what he thought and this week he delivered. His two part article is a must read for anyone interested in how fine art and documentary photography are being published and distributed on the web. The starting point for the article was Joerg & Colin’s call for photographers that were pushing the boundaries. The resulting lists were called out by John Edwin Mason & a few others as being heavily dominated by American and European photographers. Anytime there are lists, there are going to disagreements and I think part of Joerg & Colin’s objective was to create dialogue, so here we here.

I have some disagreements with Tom, and we ended up having an interesting exchange on Twitter. There’s too much in the article to really summarize but I’ll pull a few quotes. I apologize if this might be confusing to those that aren’t at least superficially aware of the discussion. This is one of those times were you probably need to be very, very interested in the nitty gritty of publishing on the web. I think Tom’s post is about much more than though. The issues he raises can easily be applied to other mediums.

From part 1:

Regardless of why we started our respective sites, with prominence and visibility comes power that also creates a degree of responsibility to serve our global audience in addition to our local one. A general awareness of international photographers is part of the job of the contemporary editor.

To be blunt, the lack of diversity in this particular initiative flows from more general curatorial problems in terms of the search for and promotion of global photographic work. Most major sites tend to stay local, with the famous, or recycle names from other sites. A small group of photographers show up on most major sites, often times showing a new project on one site right after another. While some of the work deserves it, one could fairly say that blogs, magazines, and pages should do more “original research” in the sense of looking for and searching out strong photographers that come from beyond familiar sources and from other well-known blogs, sites, and pages. The end result of these curatorial tendencies can be seen in the lack of broader racial and cultural representation among selected photographers for Pantall and Colberg’s initiative.

This is a common criticism. It’s the echo chamber argument. Sure, there’s going to be a handful of work that shows up on multiple outlets, but I don’t think that’s necessarily objectionable. Amplification is how strong work reaches a broader audience. In the past I’ve told people that I won’t publish a body of work because it’s been on a several blogs that I read. Here’s the problem though. Just because I read those blogs doesn’t mean my audience reads them, so by not publishing that work I’m not serving my audience. Not everyone has the time be reading and looking for photography online. I consider reading photography blogs to be ‘original research.’ In many ways I feel it’s my responsibility to read many of the prominent blogs out there! In fact, I think the reason ‘The Digest’ resonates with people is because it helps keep them connected to what’s happening online.

Broadening the work we present beyond the contemporary cannon of online all-stars and beyond graduates from MFA programs of the east and west coasts of the United States – which slant heavily towards white photographers and towards a narrow range of aesthetics – not only fulfills the responsibilities of power as international photography forums and guardians of international exposure, it also serves both our global and local audiences by presenting a range of images that will expand their understanding of what is happening out there in contemporary photography – and therefore in the world – today. Everyone wins, including the editors, who will be showing a broader, more dynamic, more aesthetically diverse range of images which creates a better product.

This inclusion of global photographers on major photography sites is especially important today because visibility is also bringing online editors increasing power offline; they are moving beyond the internet to participate in real world initiatives, serving as conduits for photographers wanting to show work in the brick and mortar world, expanding the importance and the responsibility of their role in the process.

You can find blogs dedicated to all types of photography. If you dig into the archives of Conscientious or Flak, you’ll find work from all over the world. Maybe the work broadly shares a similar sensibility but that’s called taste. I’m not going promote work that doesn’t resonate with me aesthetically in the name of diversity. I also think he’s over inflating the influence of blogs and online magazines. When I go to openings in Chelsea and say that I publish LPV Magazine, only a handful of people have ever heard of it. We’re small potatoes, and I think most online outlets are still on the margins.

I think Tom has made some good points in the first article but in general I think targeting independent blogs and online magazines was a little mis-directed. Most blogs and mags were started to specifically to show a broader range of work than what you find in the mainstream. In fact, I think Tom’s argument is more appropriate for mainstream outlets, and the “portfolio-review-exposure-complex.”

Thankfully, he addressed those in the second part which I found much more agreeable.

From part 2: 

Photography sites such as those run by the people involved in this initiative (I’ll just use “sites” to stand for all blogs, pages, magazines, etc.) are almost all run by people who are also professors or photographers or do other work that actually pays. The hours they commit to this are in most cases a gift, not a job, and they are necessarily limited in the time investment they can make.

Let’s say one of these editors responds to and agrees with the premise of part one of this post. How are they going to source the work? While editors can be criticized to a degree for their local editing in this initiative and for general curatorial tendencies of largely using local work, there are also major problems in facilitating their – as well as anyone else’s – encounters with and knowledge of international work. We all have limited time and digging through what’s out there and finding sites that feature global work specifically is difficult.

We frequently think about and talk about the sea of images online. Ironically in the digital era of ubiquitous images and information-sharing, there are very few sites specifically focused on showing international work. What’s the best site with navigation in English featuring Brazilian photography? Russian? How about the entire continent of Africa, much less particular to a country?

Now, we’re getting somewhere! I’ve had a post in mind that would outline what I look at online and where I find work. I’ll get cracking on that. I would absolute love to see more blogs and online magazines started that focus on work from different parts of the world. I would be all over that. Again, the real challenge here is that we’re talking about independent sites. This small community would exist if people didn’t spend time building it. We all did it on our own initiative and for most it’s a labor of love. Many of the fellow bloggers and editors that I’ve met have some of the most voracious appetites for looking at photography online that you’re going to find. You’re talking about a group of people that collectively consume an incredible amount of content on the web.

The last true barrier in photography is geography. I have a concrete suggestion as a first step to resolving the issue: an umbrella page or an International Photography Site Network whose project would consist of the interlinking of sites that focus on a particular country or region in order to facilitate sourcing photography from those arenas. They could also work on the identification of parts of the world not represented by a site with the goal of finding and providing support to editors that would be willing to start sites.

The interlinking could be simple - a separate freestanding directional page of links or a community links page on each site, mutual promotion, and a small badge or icon on the sites showing it’s connected to the network.

Great idea. Whose going to execute?

While recognition by the photography community in the US and Europe is important for international photographers and while international work is important for the audience in the US and Europe to see, the goal shouldn’t be to create an international feeder network for US and Western Europe-based photography sites and editors, but rather to pursue both showing work on those sites as well as developing stronger international sites.
This point was made well by Medellín-based photographer (and microgrant recipient) Margarita Valdivieso onla red fototazo:

I think the issue is to create our own channels of information with our own means; what if instead of dreaming of showing our work on a foreign blog, we collectively create our own and make it just as important and as valuable as those that we use as an example for the idea …. Maybe it would be away to enter in the online photography world, approach it and suggest another vision for it.*

Yes! We need to encourage people to build their own outlets. We need to make tools and education available. I think this is the hope of most independent publishers. We believe in creating alternative outlets. It’d be great to see this happen and I’d certainly do what I can to help promote the work or help out new publishers.

Pantall and Colberg’s initiative was in a light-hearted spirit, but Mason’s tweets provide a chance to reflect on serious issues. Mason is right to assert editors should be doing more homework on what’s out there, not necessarily with the goal of becoming authoritative experts in international work nor to change one’s sensibilities or site mission, but to put in the effort to consider more global work that fits those sensibilities and mission, even if – or perhaps especially because – it’s currently difficult to access. If most blogs and independent magazines were started to provide a wider perspective than mainstream photography sites and to show work that the mainstream won’t, then surely part of that self-applied mandate should be to include a wide geographic perspective. Furthermore, we can take advantage of freedom from advertising, market pressures, and editorial decisions made by committee to show what we think is important – and hopefully I’ve argued through these two posts that showing global work is important for us as editors as well as for the photographers and our audiences.

At the end of the day I’m going to follow my editorial instincts. If what I publish resonates with an audience, great. I have no grand mission and certainly don’t consider myself to be an authority on contemporary photography. There’s simply too much out there to discover and my days are too short. LPV is a journey for me, one where I hope to encounter a wide range of work from around the world. It’d be great to see others embark on a similar journey.

©Esther Kroom

Links of Note

Joerg Colberg:

Before seeing the book Esther Kroon I had not heard of the photographer. Twenty years ago, at the age of 25, Kroon was shot and killed in Guatemala, leaving behind an archive of photographs of children she had taken in Barcelona and Amsterdam (for more details and images see this page). Her work has now been published by Van Zoetendal Publishers, and it deserves to be seen widely.

Thomas Haley in Le Journal de photographie: 

A few months ago, during a memorial ceremony dedicated to our fallen colleagues, the photographer Remi Ochlik and the journalist, Marie Colvin, both killed in Syria, the so-called new generation of photograpers was abundantly present. It was the first time I saw this younger generation in such large number. The following week in Paris Match’s on-line edition, esteemed photographer, Eric Bouvet, wrote a eulogy, full of passion and anger, dedicated to Remi and Marie but also this whole new generation of photographers, where he spoke of the poor and disrespectful conditions underwhich freelance photographers work today to cover the news. He was right, except, I asked myself, where is this « new generation » of photographers when it comes to defending our profession ? Why is it that we don’t see them in our professional organizations or journalist unions ? We kow that the professional situation is rotten, we hear the endless laments, but where is the committment? What are they doing to ensure that the social security system, which is beneficial to us in France, or authors’ rights as we know them in France, are not dilapidated ? What are they doing to confront the new forms of distribution and sale of images on-line, (ie. Fotolia), that are up-ending photographers’ incomes ?

Quinton Gordon on The Leica Blog: 

When I teach workshops, including those for Leica Akademie, I encourage my students to find their own language with in the common elements of photography. This is about finding authorship, and it requires that a photographer makes the effort to look into themselves first, before they can point their lens out at the world. I’m not talking about self-portraits in the literal sense, but rather about discovering that we are the only unique part of our images, especially in a world where the technology is striving to homogenize the image making process by putting the same cameras and software in everyone’s hands. Knowing who we are and working closer to our hearts allows us to inform our work with something original and authentic.

With a title like ‘Do Not Trust This Joel Sternfeld Photograph’ I’m sure you can guess what the article is about.

A century ago, anything a camera captured was widely accepted as fact. Today every image is presumed to be contrived. We’re wary of underhanded propaganda and attuned to journalistic perspective. Yet as concerned as we’ve become about pictures, we remain all too confident about our unmediated vision, which is also inherently selective, limited by when and where we’re looking. Sternfeld’s pictures remind us that, like a camera, our eyes are essentially passive. Like photography, observation is an act of authorship.

©Jake Chessum

In the beginning I would look at a book of photographs I liked the night before a shoot, going, what am I going to do, what am I going to do? But that didn’t really work on the day, as all my preconceived ideas went out the window. So I just think, not consciously, that I would go in and suss out the location, then meet and chat to who I was shooting and see where it went. But I talk too much and I’d start talking and kind of see what happens; try and get into a situation where something might happen.

‘How to tell a story with pictures (part 2) by Joerg Colberg:

Storytelling involves taking the reader or viewer by the hand and to lead her or him through the story. It’s important to realize that when somebody decides to become a reader or viewer, they are giving you something: They are willing to have you tell them where to go, what to do, at least to some extent. This is why the beginning is so important. A viewer1 brings the willingness to enter a world, but whatever that world might be its rules have to be consistent. The rules might not make perfect sense compared with the viewer’s normal world, but if they are consistent (and if the viewer is willing to follow you down the road) the story can unfold.

This is a very important aspect of storytelling, the fact that a viewer will accept things that might not make sense in ordinary life, but that are consistent. If there is this consistency, then as a viewer you will be able to navigate yourself through the story (even if your power to do so is limited by the storyteller). Of course, we all know this basic fact of storytelling from any good science-fiction movie, say: Of course, none of the stuff is real, but it’s consistent, so you only have to suspend your disbelief at the beginning2.

LightBox published a piece on Google Street View. Not much new but a good overview of some of the work out there.

While critics bemoan the trend of artists using Google imagery in their works, the artistic appropriation of photos is as old as photography itself, employed by everyone from the Surrealists to the post-modern Pictures Generation of the late 1970s.  Google’s Street View images aren’t a commentary on the world, but are surveillance photos taken for the practical purposes of just showing us places we may not be able to visit. The machines and cameras used to collect them have no discretion, much less artistic influence. Through meticulous research, framing, grabbing and reformatting, photographers themselves are assigning photos artistic value, in much the same way they do when  shooting, toning or retouching a raw file or an analogue negative. “In its raw form, satellite imagery can be quite dull,” says Mishka Henner, an artist who often works with Google’s images. “Cropping, adjusting, and forming a body of work out of them completely transforms these images into something that can be beautiful, terrifying and also insightful. If the internet remains free and open, I’m confident that in ten years photographic work like this will be as prevalent as imagery produced by hand-held cameras.”


Lucas Blalock’s 99¢ Store Still Lifes | “New York Close Up” | Art21

  • Jin Zhu

    The whole diversity debate sounds a bit like a debate about affirmative action and the world at large rather than any photo specific thing.