The Digest – Sunday, January 15th, 2012

©Tommy Forbes – From Issue #3

Thanks for the feedback on The Digest from last week. I think it worked out well and fits nicely into my current online photography consumption habits. This won’t come as a surprise but after producing the digest the last few weeks, I’ve realized the incredible amount of content that’s created each week. There’s really no way to keep up with it all so just relax and take in what you can. I figure if there’s something out there that I absolutely have to see or read, it’ll get to me some way….eventually.

On Making a Living as a Photographer

It’s the beginning of the year, so people are doing some reflecting, and probably wondering how they can end this year with a few more dollars in their pocket than they did last year.

Via A Photo Editor comes a blog post by photographer Luke Copping about his “lessons for 2012.” I particularly like the excerpt below because I think too many people blame, blame, blame, especially the internet and amateur photographers.

Stop hanging around people who have given up

I see it all the time on blogs, on forums, at industry events, and any other place that photographers and creatives might gather en masse – an overwhelming sense of negativity that pervades this industry like a virus. What the finger of accusation is pointing at seems to change weekly, and complaints about clients, rates, technology, MWACs, pro-sumers, students, the internet, micro-stock, and the economy all start to sound the same after a while – a jumble of depressing but comforting noise that can suck you in and have you spouting the same rhetoric back at others. But, if you listen to that noise long enough, one crystal clear idea starts to creep through – that this is ultimately about blame. The underlying mantra behind so many of these complaints can often be reduced and simplified to one statement; “This is not my fault, this is caused by something beyond my control, so I do not have to act to fix it.” This kind of thinking may bring some small amount of cathartic relief, especially when joining in with the masses collectively laying blame on something else, but it will do absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

I am so over it, and I don’t want to be part of that culture of excuses.

After a global creative agency asked my friend Ben Roberts if they could use one of his photographs in exchange for a credit & exposure, he took to his blog and issued a plea to young photographers.

Students and young aspiring photographers; Whatever you do with your work, do not give it away for free to goddam leeches like these people. Don’t be seduced by false promises and the tantalising, mystical allure of your name in lights – ‘Jonny Knobhead, superstar photographer‘ – this will not fucking happen unless you are Ryan Effing McGinley. And you’re (probably) not.

Clients who truly value what you do and the content that you create will PAY YOU in ACTUAL MONEY for the work that you do for them, or the work that you have already done that they want to use.

A credit won’t buy you a new skateboard. A credit won’t help you get your film developed. A credit won’t buy you shit.

You can create your own buzz and exposure by collaborating with designers, illustrators and stylists in your peer groups; be your own publicity machine.

I don’t think the debate about working for credit or exposure is going to end with a few calls to action on blogs but it’s good to see photographers voicing their opinions publicly and being transparent.

Some of this chatter reminded me about an article in the latest issue of Dear Dave by Anthony Espino which talks about how online photography communities and photo sharing sites foster competition amongst young photographers, which often leads to ‘visual homogeny.’ You can read the full essay here.

Communities such as Flickr, ModelMayhem, iStockPhoto, Tumblr, Getty Images, and ViewBook are joined by a constantly growing list of showcase blogs devoted to specific and often limited interests in photographic trends. These communities, which originally served as a sort of ad hoc promotional device, have become more self- conscious spaces for display and distribution similar to a gallery or local café. Depth is unfortunately limited due to the nature of the context and it is inevitable that these images are subject to rearrangement and potentially under-mined.

The social allure of gaining fame or international renown based on this free, open community has become irresistible for many younger artists. Also within these communities there has grown specific, shared desire for various forms of perfection, some of which lie outside traditional aesthetic categories. The competition for the Perfect Photograph but also for the ‘Weirdest Photograph,’ the ‘Most Upsetting Photograph,’ or ‘Most Unbelievable Photograph,’ has become fiercer with each freshly created portfolio site. A competitive attitude has established itself, with the possible payoff of notoriety or monetary gain. Open to all, these competitions for ‘Perfect Photographs’ nevertheless promote conservative, even retrograde formal standards long established and subverted by all of the existent photographic genres.

How we present photography online is a challenge. I’m not sure anyone has it figured out. I’ve touched upon this in the past, but I’m not sure I have any new ideas on the matter. James Dodd confronts some of these issues and challenges in a ‘parting post’ as he abandons Flickr.

I no longer understand why I put work online beyond it being through habbit. This is especially true in the context of singular images in the way flickr represents them when I consider that my work largely relates around a series structure at the moment.

In addition to this, collectively we as photographers frequently moan about how people want to use our work for free, and yet each and every day we are happy to give our work away to our very consumers through our social networks, our websites and our blogs.

I feel this model isn’t the right model for everyone, even though it’s the model most of us follow. We seem to follow it because it’s something, which successful photographers do, and these are people we admire and want to imitate. And it is fine for some photographers, such as those photographers who earn their living through print sales and use the internet as advertisements for their work, or maybe those who command great fees for commissions and use their personal work is a way to attract new business, but this just isn’t how I operate at the moment.

So, what exactly are we trying to achieve when we post photographs online? Is it for marketing purposes? To connect with others? To build a community? To gain fame? I don’t know really, maybe a mix of all? This post about photography and desire from Joerg Colberg, seems like a nice segue.

At the core of all photography lies desire, our longing to connect, not to forget, to express love, to reach out to someone else (even if it is just our future selves) and say “Here, look at this! I want you to see this!” (more)

When we take a photograph we stop the flow of time to produce a record, however much we then tinker with it later, to make it look a certain way. Here lies, of course, our desire for this moment to last forever.

Here also lies the desire to share this special moment. Photography is made to be shared. A solipsistic kind of photography is not photography, it is something else, something entirely pointless (sorry, R.B.!). These shared moments can become our memories, to the point where the memories become as fake as many of the photographs around us (then again, aren’t memories always as fake as photographs?).

Not to be outdone Jonathan Blaustein gets to the nature of artistic creation itself in his review of Leonie Hampton’s “In the Shadow of Things.”

The secret is that making Art, creating things, is a transformative process. The act of creation takes certain elements of our psyche, energy, if you will, and morphs it out of our heads and into the real world. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be alchemized. The reason why Art works so well in therapy is that it allows for negative energy and/or trauma to be cleared out of our heads, and turned into something productive, without having to speak about things literally. Pictures can communicate energy without words, and in so doing, can tell stories that would be otherwise stuck in the murky world of the subconscious. The act of creation is akin to shining light on our shadows, (Jung again) and it enables the creator the opportunity to move on. Catharsis.

©Luceo Images – Greater Than the Sum via PDN

A Few Thoughts On Photobooks from Marc, Colin & Joerg

The volume of best of lists provoked Colin Pantall into writing about the photobook market and tastemakers. The following quote isn’t exactly the meat of the argument but it rings true for me about photography culture as a whole.

Stick a bunch of photographers together and half the time they will start arguing about what is real, what is true, what is art, what is documentary, what is ethical, what is allowed (not much), what isn’t allowed (almost everything), what is elitist, what isn’t. These are all vitally important issues, but there is only so much time of the day that one should spend on them. The rest of the time one should spend on more interesting and worldly things. So when some photographers get into this mode of being, the what’s ethical and what’s not finger pointing kind of deal, that is the half of the time that they are introspective, navel gazing nitpickers.

After reading Colin’s post, Marc Feustal chimed in with a few thoughts of his own and really nails the core issue for me which is the size of the photobook market and its potential for growth.

As an artist it must be incredibly frustrating to spend years making a book only for it to be bought by a maximum of 1,000 people and seen only by a few hundred. The issues with the fragmentation of the photobooks market, the problematic distribution model, the proliferation of tiny independent publishers and self-published books, all made me think of some of the issues that there are with the music industry (although the almost-total digitisation of music has yet to happen to photobooks and is unlikely to). Big record labels are struggling, and people are distributing their music themselves or via small labels through the internet. Like with the photobook, I think this is a time where there is a huge amount of musical experimentation, of trying everything and anything.


While I would love to see the photobook market expand, I can’t help but wonder exactly how big its potential is? The “population at large” never really bought photobooks before all these pictures were available online for free, so I’m just not sure why and how that would happen now.

Joerg Colberg picked up on the conversation, adding some cold hard numbers which illuminates the difficult challenge photobook publishers have these days. He sums up the post by saying:

So I think what this all really comes down to is how we can make photobooks more widely available. After all, if they are more widely available we will have a chance to see more. Also, if they are more widely available people who are not interested in them right now might get hooked – making our community of photobook fans grow. If more photobooks are sold, edition sizes can grow because there’s more demand.

I agree, so when are we going to see The Netflix of Photobooks!?!?

©Zoe Strauss

10 Years of Zoe Strauss

Is there anyone more deserving of this type of acclaim? Zoe is a perfect example of where passion, determination and vision can take you as an artist. I doubt she ever wasted much time wondering about posting her work on Flickr, Tumblr a blog, Facebook or whatever. She just made her work, put it out there, and connected with people. Naturally it doesn’t hurt that her photographs are brilliant!

In this blog post she writes about her ten year journey. It’s insightful, moving, educational and something every young photographer should read.

The concept for 95 came to me pretty much fully formed and I spent a little more than a year making sure the concept was strong and the execution was going to be rock solid. With money I got from my wife and immediate family for my 30th birthday, I bought a camera within the month and began to make photos for the installation.

I had, and still have, very little interest in exploring how this idea came to me. I don’t care about why. But I did care a great deal about bringing it to fruition and completely committed to doing so. In nailing I-95 down, I endlessly mulled over the format and laid out a blueprint for the installation.

For example, I knew from the start it had to be a 10 year long project.

Did it need to be 10 years?
A decade would allow me enough time to make a strong body of work. I needed to learn to make photographs and couldn’t gage my capability until I actually started working. Setting a time constraint assured that the installation wouldn’t be overworked. Plus, I could go at it as hard as possible without fear of burning out.

This article in Philadelphia Weekly tells the story of one of Zoe’s most famous photographs, “Mattress Flip.”

The name of the boy in Strauss’ photo, the one watching the action, is Lawrence Edward Rose Jr., but everyone called him Boo. On June 17, 2007, six years after Strauss transformed his smiling face into a work of art, Boo was shot on Seventh and Mifflin streets, three blocks away from where he and his cousin, Botty (pronounced “Boo-dee”), flipped on mattresses that summer afternoon. The first bullet entered Boo’s stomach; the second, his knee. Boo died on July 12, the 214th homicide out of that year’s 392. He was 19 years old.

The article ‘Why Zoe Strauss Matters,’ in Next American City provides an excellent overview of her career.

Strauss is Philadelphia’s foremost, best-known, most-loved and most-imitated photographer whose past decade of work is the subject of a retrospective called Ten Yearsat the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That our city has just one such artist whereas cities like New York or London have dozens competing for those titles says something about Philadelphia and the potency of Strauss’s work. Strauss is largely unknown outside Philadelphia, which is also strange and yet somehow comforting. Strauss is ours, and only ours — a feeling that mimics the protectiveness and provincialism of Philadelphians, anachronistic as our SEPTA tokens, as peculiar as our beloved word “jawn.”

©Joseph Szabo – Coming of Age in America: The Photography of Joseph Szabo via Time LightBox

Links of Note

Reality As Usual Beats Fiction

Rodney Smith writing about photography, truth and manipulation. – [via The End Starts Here]

You see photography as I know it is not illustration, painting, printing, compositing, collage, or anything else, although it has rapidly become this. Photography is a joyful affirmation of the world as it is given to us at the given moment.

Alex Webb — “The Suffering of Light”

A lengthy, but interesting and insightful essay by Tim Connor.

We might call it the hunter’s moment. It is that instant when eye, brain and body align, adrenaline surges and the trigger finger begins to tighten. For Webb and other street photographers, by the time the shutter closes, reality has already become something else.

French bowling instructors, Donkey Kong,and the Clayden Effect

Blake Andrews gave his kids a Fuji Instax and then played with it himself.- [via B]

Most of their shots were of plain household objects. For a kid there’s a simple pleasure in walking around with a camera and pushing the button just to see how a thing looks captured that’s just fucking awesome. I love to see that spark. I wish everyone had it.

A Moment With Larry Fink

Interview in LENS with the legend.- [via LENS]

I don’t like to hurt people. I go after something and I start pointing the camera at somebody, looking for those hard, edgy things I know I am going to find. My pictures will be out of bounds in terms of the convention of how this person wants to be represented. It gives me pause. I don’t feel I have the right to do that. But I do it nevertheless. After all, a picture is not a murder. It is simply a moment which suggests so many things.

Redheaded Peckerwood: a visual crime dossier by America artist Christian Patterson

Wayne Ford provides a nice overview of the book. - [Wayne Ford]

The photographs at the very heart of this work, incorporate and reference the techniques of photojournalism, forensic photography, image appropriation, reenactment and documentary landscape photography; which are complemented and informed by documents and objects that belonged to the killers and their victims — such as a map, poem, confession letter, stuffed animal, hood ornament and various other items, ‘in several cases, these materials are discoveries first made by the artists and presented here for the first time.

Civil Collective

A new collective comprising of some talented photographers: Christopher Schreck, Jennilee Marigomen, Sasha Kurmaz, and Francesco Nazardo. Here’s an interview with organizer Charles Guthrie. – [via Wandering Bears]

The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League

Nice article on the “pioneering group of young, idealistic documentary photographers” who photographed New York City in the ’30s. – [Time LightBox]

Searching for the Light: Richard Mosse, Infra @ Jack Shainman Gallery

A short review of the show by Carl Gunhouse. If you’re looking for some sharp tongued criticism, take a look at some of his other reviews. – [Searching for the Light]

It is hard not to like the rolling bright pink hills or appreciate that Mosse is off in the jungles of the Congo making art with rebels, but the constant pink cast is just so repetitive. I understand the pink cast is from the wacky film that is used to detect camouflage by turning green things pink and he is making art in a place where turmoil has become so expected that few outside of the continent notice it, but it is just so repetitive.

This Hennesy Youngman lecture (stand up routine) at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago might make you uncomfortable if you spend too much time on the internet thinking about art and photography. Also, watch all the other videos.

  • Blake

    I’d add a positive comment here but I think it might hurt my career as a cynic :-)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. There’s much to be discussed around these issues. What I find interesting is the level of transparency. Photographers should voice their opinions without fear of negative career consequences.

  • ben roberts

    thanks for doing this bryan, its a good idea. now that i have had some breathing space from my rant, i hope that people don’t take it as wholly negative; i wouldn’t want to be branded as one of those depressing people that Luke Copping discusses! I did try to offer positive encouragement in the post (‘be your own publicity machine’) and hope that came across… staying positive is of course very important!