The Digest – September 30th, 2012

©Justin James ReedLooking at the Land From the Comfort of Home [LightBox]

I’m on vacation for a week and a half which either means I’ll get around to writing a few of these articles I have in mind, or more likely I’ll spend my time away from the internet. It could go either way! I’m hopeful we’ll have Issue #5 out within two weeks. I might be getting ahead of myself but I’m already looking forward to Issue 6 because I’ve convinced a few trusted collaborators to contribute.

Unfortunately after browsing the links from this week it seems you’re going to have to read about photography and the internet. It might not be so bad though. At least I didn’t spot any Instagram articles this week which means Instagram must be over, or it finally destroyed photography and we’re just fine with it.

Tumblr and Viewing Photography Online

Joerg Colberg asks “Can the web deal with complex photography?”

A simple solution might turn out to be that photography will develop a split-personality disorder of sorts: Online, it might look as if photography were this incredibly simplistic thing, obsessed with single images (even something like Robert Frank’s The Americans would be lost online). Offline, there would be all these additional ways photographers work with images, making often very complex books (or even installations in galleries), that simply can’t be represented online.

I think this dichotomy will likely exist for awhile. There will probably more photographers building customized apps for their work but they’ll be the minority and I don’t know how successful they’ll be until there wider adoption of tablets. It might also be that there’s really no good way to translate the experience of a photobook to the web, in which case the web will become mostly for promotion and discussion like it kind of is today.

Blake Andrews shared a few thoughts about Tumblr which is the platform of the moment for photographers.

The other aspect which interests me about Tumblr is its effect on editing and sequencing. Third party Tumblrs act a bit like radio DJs. Some shows have a theme. Some sequence songs one by one. Some play the hits. Some have no pattern at all. Whatever the case Tumblrs tend to pick and choose individual photos without much regard for original context. Whatever fits the show.

Every Tumblr has this initial layer of editing but that’s hardly the end. Once photos enter into a specific Tumblr’s stream, that stream is shuffled and restreamed by other Tumblrs. By the time it gets to the second or third level there is no longer a DJ. It’s just one big shuffle. At the end of the chain is the Tumblr user encountering the photos through his or her Tumblr dashboard, where all of these photo streams feed into one sequential river. I think a dashboard acts a bit like automated style control. The photos coming through a certain person’s dashboard might take on a signature flavor depending on what Tumblrs they follow.

I think this mixing and shuffling adds a layer complexity to how we view photography, although that’s probably not good for photographers whose work depends on context, sequencing and the type of complexity Colberg discusses in his article. But wait! Joerg has more for us in a follow up to Blake’s post.

The challenge is to use the medium to translate the collection of photographs plus whatever physical restrictions it has into that experience. In all likelihood there are many things you can do in a book that you can’t do on a computer (and vice versa), which means you should really be using those. This means that you would have to think about your computer photography app or website as being very different from a photobook of the very same photographs or an exhibition of prints. Not just conceptually, but also in terms of the experience there is a big difference.

Yes, different mediums require different approaches. How many photographs should be in a series on your portfolio website? I’m guessing the experts are going to tell you to make a very tight selection of maybe 15-20. That might be fine for some people but it’s a bit dogmatic in my mind. Look at Jason Nocito. I think he basically puts everything on his website.

©Gordon Parks – via [LENS Blog]

Are we done yet? Nope. Blake interviewed Mark Peter Drolet about how Tumblr.

Tumblr has become as I believe you put it a while back “eyeball currency”. People are still trying to figure out how to milk its possibilities and photographers, much like news agencies and others have been employing its pedestrian/democratic nature to their advantage. As for my blog, other than it being an ongoing stream of consciousness, I hope it can be an archival resource for others (and I get messages weekly that indeed it is for many out there). If that has historical significance in some small capacity than great, but to your question I guess that if I do not elevate it to another platform or have it take shape in some other form, it just might indeed have serious limitations. Some weeks my goal is simply to turn folks on to images they haven’t been bombarded with on Tumblr or elsewhere and if their interest lies where mine often does, then those images become batons that lead them to discover new artists, new work, etc.

For it to have true impact, for there to be a historical hook, I think my blog or others out there need to have a more specific and opinionated voice attached to it. They need to be truly didactic rather than mere visual associations.

I’m starting to get exhausted. What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, how we present photographs on the web. The last piece I’ll share is Joerg’s article ‘Art and Online Content Management.’

There are at least two problems here that artists have to solve: First, how do I present my work online in the way the work demands, the way that will bring to the internet the kind of interaction I want viewers to have with it? In particular, if the popular tools available online do not seem to offer what I need how do I deal with that? And second, while artists might be well advised to use “social media,” having the content seen is actually only secondary to being able to present the content in the desired form.

We have no idea how the web will evolve in the future. I can imagine a time when we watch photography on large screens. Maybe they’ll be hybrid, multimedia pieces, or maybe we’ll browse through the images with a remote control, who knows. We could also get to a point soon where we put on a pair of goggles and enter a virtual reality where we’ll walk up to bookshelves and page through photobooks.

©Jim Golberg – via [LightBox]

Links of Note

Jim Golberg offers some insights about his work on LightBox. I enjoyed this excerpt about teaching as well.

Watching students grow is interesting—and them observing my process helps them see that it’s not that mysterious of a thing to do. In order to figure this artmaking stuff out, it’s trial and error and experimentation, and takes some time and hard thinking. Putting work out in many forms and stages is an extension of how I see things. I feel the art process is best served when it invites comments and constructive criticism from people. It’s a strategic gesture, too, because the feedback I receive helps me move forward with my ideas, which is what process is about—to craft and evolve something.

Magnum is embracing the web. Their new site is actually somewhat of a pleasure to browse and it’s great to finally be able to share their work without those dreadful watermarks. BJP talked to Magnum CEO, Giorgio Psacharopulo about their web initiatives.

It’s like the debate about illegal filesharing. There’s not point in trying to protect ourselves from the sea with sand castles. It’s not by trying to prevent people from downloading images that they will stop. They will find a way to download them and print them. Instead, what we can tell them is this: ‘If you want these images, come and get them, but from our own website. Then, have a look around and maybe you’ll find something else that’s interesting.’ In the past, the only way you could gain access to an image was by buying a book or visiting an exhibition or gallery. The problem is that not everyone is wealthy enough to buy a work of art. Instead, we can offer something else for them – a way to share our images, for example. And that will not necessarily affect our print sales.

John Edwin Mason wrote a two part article on the Aperture book “Photography Changes Everything” which is also on my nightstand. I’ll report back later!

Photography’s second wave of democratization extends and deepens the advances of the first wave.  Photography, thanks to the camera phone and social media, is now accessible to people who couldn’t afford even the most inexpensive film and digital cameras and and who, in any case, would have had no means of getting their photos seen outside of their communities.  The impact is greatest in the developing world.

As Hoffenberg points out, “mobile phones leapfrogged over wired telephone infrastructure in emerging market countries, and embedded camera technology piggybacked onto the greater mobile phone phenomenon worldwide.”  To put it another way, many people in the developing world can now make photographs, but the vast majority don’t own, and never will own, a device that’s only a camera.

©Hiroh Kukai – 10×10: Japanese Photo Books [New Yorker]

Sean O’Hagan reviewed Maciej Dakowicz ‘Cardiff After Dark.”

One thing I admire about Dakowicz is his obsessive dedication. For this book, he photographed the same few streets in Cardiff on a Saturday night for five years. On a good night, Dakowicz shot up to 500 pictures; on a bad one, only 50. Cardiff After Dark condenses those many long nights of wandering the streets and shooting into one. It is, in many ways, a hymn to the city’s ever-shifting after-hours momentum, a narrative that tracks the moods and rhythms of a night on the town.

Jonathan Blaustein interviewed Alejandro Cartagena.

I finished shooting in late 2009, early 2010. I would take my car and park outside of wherever I was shooting. I would carry my 4×5 and my tripod, and just walk. I felt that made people a little bit less scared of me, and made me not so vulnerable, even though I was vulnerable.

They wouldn’t be scared of me. I wasn’t in a car, and I had a huge camera. It’s not like I was going to run away or be trying to gather data on them. So people were very accepting of me an my presence. I don’t know. At this moment, I would not even think of doing something like that. I was lucky nothing happened. It’s getting scarier and scarier and scarier.

Teju Cole wrote about Pinkhassov on Instagram.

All bad photos are alike, but each good photograph is good in its own way. The bad photos have found their apotheosis on social media, where everybody is a photographer and where we have to suffer through each other’s “photography” the way our forebears endured terrible recitations of poetry after dinner. Behind this dispiriting stream of empty images is what Russians call poshlost: fake emotion, unearned nostalgia. According to Nabokov, poshlost “is not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive.” He knows us too well.




  • Jason Kim

    Love it. What humor.

  • Luke Levinson

    dude, love these digests! always makes me think