The Digest – Sunday, February 19, 2012

©Rineke Dijkstra – via Time LightBox

I’ve been using the iPad for a couple of days now. It’s great. Browsing and consuming content is much more enjoyable. I can definitely see tablets having a big impact on the way we interact with photography in the future. It’ll take some more time before I can properly formulate my thoughts, so for now I’ll just dive into this weeks digest.

Debating the World Press Photo

There’s been a debate about the winning photograph which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I haven’t been able to muster up much to say about it because I don’t really care about awards, but the debate has been mildly interesting. dvaphoto’s roundup is a good place to start. Colberg’s article made some excellent points, and that’s where I sort tuned out until Jeremy Nicholl made a rather strange argument about how the critics are wrong because they’re not press photographers or experts on the middle east. Naturally Colberg responded with a reasoned retort.

You cannot focus just on one aspect of a press photograph. It’s just not that simple. You have to weigh all the different aspects and find out what your reading says: What does the image depict? What does it say about our own cultural and political background? To what extent do we see something because we want to see it that way? In other words, to what extent are we using a photograph to illustrate your own belief system?

We have to ask these questions because they are becoming ever more important. The internet (where a lot of the news reporting is happening these days) is filled with images, and for us to be able to gain a good understanding what is going on in the world we have to have visual literacy to question images and to look beyond their emotional content.

So, how does one gain more visual literacy, and will becoming more visually literate really help us understand complex political conflicts across the globe? I don’t have an answer at this point, but I do know Ivor Prickett’s photographs from Libya resonated with me more than the photograph that’s being so heavily debated.

©Ivor Prickett – From ‘Free Libya’

Broken Manual by Alec Soth

I’ve had some interesting conversations about this project over the last two weeks. Basically, after I saw the show at Sean Kelly, I decided that I didn’t really like the project. I made a pithy comment about it on Facebook which provoked an interesting conversation. I also talked about it with various friends in person who’d seen the show, the book and the documentary and they all disagreed with me. I’ve been planning on writing a longer article but the problem is that I haven’t seen the book or the documentary so I absurd to make a final judgement at this point, especially given that Soth repeatedly has said that he considers himself a book photographer.

What I find most curious is that by merely mentioning I didn’t like the show, I’ve ended up in some interesting debates about photography. I’m probably wrong. It’s probably a masterpiece. I haven’t heard a convincing argument yet, although this conversation on DLK Collection comes very close.

One of the many things I like about Broken Manual is that Soth has recognized this problem of the portrayer and the portrayed, and his photographs reflect that. There is a blurry portrait that suggests it was taken with a long lens, as though these are men of whom we are slightly afraid and who are slightly afraid of us. There’s a surveillance quality to the picture. Or it could indicate an early phase of his getting to know these guys: he could only see them from afar, stalking them in the woods as though they were Bigfoot. Other pictures, including the one you cite, and another of a bearded man sleeping, show a much greater degree of trust.

He has approached these men as if he were an anthropologist. He reveals not only their portraits but their abodes, reading matter, tools (including a sex toy) and their attempt to dress up or glamorize their surroundings. The saddest picture in the show to me was the mirrored globe hanging off a branch in the middle of nowhere. Soth has photographed it in the grayest, flattest light so that it barely reflects anything. Not many disco parties in that neck of the woods, I’m guessing.

Ok, so why don’t I like it? Well, basically it comes down to this: I don’t care about white men in America who want to disappear from society and Soth’s photographs didn’t convince me that I should. Is this because I’m a white man in America who has also harbored thoughts of disappearing (who hasn’t?) Maybe I’ve exhausted the concept (fantasy) in my own mind already which makes any form of art about it seem dull. That sounds  a bit like bullshit, which along with not viewing the book, is the primary reason I haven’t written an article. Also, I heard if you criticize Soth you end up with seven years bad luck.

©Stephen Shore

Links of Note

‘Stephen Shore’

An interesting interview in Vice. I think this particular excerpt will resonate with most photographers.

There’s a recurring theme in The Nature of Photographs. You advocate developing a closer relationship with all of our senses—paying more attention to how they work and training ourselves to better monitor what they’re trying to tell us. Your best pictures are examples of just that.

A photograph can do many things at once. I can be exploring culture or I can be making decisions about what street to photograph to give a taste of this town or this age. At the same time, I can explore the medium formally, explore how the structure of a picture may give a taste of an age, how perception works, and how a photograph plays with it. I can also explore what you were saying, that sometimes the most mundane subject matter is the most telling because what gives the picture charge isn’t the cultural charge of the content as much as the awareness of the senses and the awareness of perception giving it a kind of visual resonance. It’s like those days or moments when maybe your mind gets a little quieter and space becomes more tangible, textures and colors become more vivid.


Aaron Huey writes about his project and collaboration with Shepard Fairey on The Photo Society.

Since defining my vision two years ago, I have been working on behalf of that family to tell the world a story that does not fit into the pages of most magazines.  One of the greatest outlets for this has been my collaboration with Shepard Fairey, the most prolific street artist in America (famous for his Obama “HOPE” campaign and his ongoing OBEY propaganda).  Together we have taken my photographs of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the message of the Oglala Lakota to the streets of America.

‘It’ Girls Work Both Sides of the Camera’

An article in the NYTimes about former models who have become street fashion photographers. I only link to it so I can pitch my idea for the movie!

Script for the movie: Aspiring model has big dreams but doesn’t become the star she’s dreamed of becoming. She grows frustrated with the industry. Once day while browsing the internet she comes across The Sartorialist and finds inspiration. She borrows a friends digital camera and nervously roams the streets looking for people to photographs. After a few initial missteps she gains her confidence. She starts her own blog, and quickly becomes famous, finally receiving the attention she always wanted. She rides the wave for awhile but soon realizes that fame and attention isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, but she loves making photographs. She decides to leave it all behind so she can focus on important documentary work in Africa. Fin.

‘Why We Made a Newspaper Instead of a Traditional Exhibition Catalogue’

Pete Brook writing about the choice they made for their exhibition Cruel and Unusual.

…the message behind the exhibition is one that calls for political thought and hopefully political change. Shifts in attitudes come about through public education; it made sense to distribute information as far and wide as was possible. Not everyone can afford a photobook/catalogue, but 4,000 free copies of a newspaper nullifies the issue. Some might call the newspaper medium democratic, but I just call the solution common sense.

Grant Cornett

‘Christopher Schreck on the contemporary still-life wave and its emerging talents’

An excellent essay from Christopher on Glossom with links to some work worth checking out.

Rather than chalk things up to photographers’ laziness, I tend to align my view with those of people like Matthew Thompson and Anne Ellegood, who have argued elsewhere that this recent rediscovery of still-lifes has everything to with the predominance of digital technology. Put simply, our transition to digital means of shooting and disseminating images has transformed photography’s (and thus the photographer’s) relation to materiality. The breakdown: the arrival of digital photography signals a clear step towards the immaterial; for most people, the days of tangibility – film, physical prints, and photo albums – are long gone. This makes taking/storing photos an easier and cheaper proposition than it’s ever been. The ease and accessibility of digital photography means there are more images being created than ever before. Meanwhile, the internet, which has become our primary means of viewing and sharing photographs, ensures that we’re exposed to more images than ever before. Furthermore, the experience of viewing images online – an experience which, more than anything, is defined by the possibility of decontextualization, recontextualization, and purposeful juxtaposition – has fundamentally changed our expectations of those images, eradicating the notion that they might be imbued with any sort of set meaning or degree of “truth.” Such is this generation’s version of the ever-present but ever-changing “crisis of photography.”

‘Copyright: Gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay

An excellent essay in The Economist about copyright and creativity.

We’re living in a social moment where, more than usually, money has come unglued from value. We’re having to remake the relationship, and for some creative people, the remaking seems to involve a decision to drop out.

‘Interview: Martin Hyers and William Mebane’

An interesting interview and feature in fototazo.

All of the photographs were made during a relatively brief and discrete time period. We were very interested in showing the range of objects from old to new that people have in their homes and businesses and that are found out in public space. Many people’s homes and businesses are not filled with new objects, and most people don’t drive new cars. At the time that we were making these photographs (during the housing boom), there was a real sense that everything was o.k. I think that it is pretty apparent to us all now, that many, if not most Americans, do their best just to get by.

©Sharon Boothroyd

‘Sharon Boothroyd – Disrupted Vision’

From oitzarisme:

Sharon Boothroyd approached strangers on the streets of Paris, London, Oxford and on the beach in Wales and asked them if she could take their picture with her Polaroid camera. After the image appeared she asked the person what they would have done differently if they were the photographer.

‘Pierre Rougier

In this great post, Robert Wright walks through a recent shoot, examining the creative challenges and how he solved the photographic problems that were presented.

‘How To See a Tree’

Great article and slideshow in the NYTimes about Mitch Epstein’s photographs of New York City trees.

‘A photographic portfolio, taken at the shows in Paris, Milan, and New York’

I enjoyed this slideshow from Pari Dukovic in NYMag.

‘Lost in Publications’

A new Tumblr that is “Trying to bring structure to the immense amount of photo publications. Each page presents another photographer and his work.”

Making a tintype