Thursday, October 11, 2018

Well, well, well.

One publishes a some negative remarks on The Phoblographer's "Emulsion" shit-show, and one finds oneself shortly after subscribed to some magazines that one is not interested in.

It does not take a rocket scientist to guess the process here. Chris cannot even be bothered to email me back denying it, and while I cannot be bothered to do the work necessary to construct a hard link (or the absence of such a link) I am morally certain Mr. Gampat decided to sign me up for a few rags in a fit of pique, because he is an immature little prat.

Happily, I can cancel subscriptions rather more quickly than he can sign me up for them, so it's asymmetrical the wrong way around. Not surprising, really. Our boy ain't particularly sharp.

Naturally, this will not deter me. If Chris is so foolish as to attempt further print efforts, I will be reviewing them as well. He should probably attempt to make sure they're not garbage, if he wants a good review.

Something to keep in mind if you're considering some business adventure with this particular young grifter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Crit: Metropole by Lewis Bush

This is a book you have to begin with a google search. What the hell, you ask yourself, does "Metropole" mean? You probably know that it refers to London if you've gone to the trouble of obtaining this book, but what does it mean? It means, it turns out, the "mother city", but actually the central country of an Empire. It refers in this case to England in general, and London in particular, but the word has also been applied to Portugal and probably other Imperial countries.

I should mention in passing that you can buy your own copy here: Metropole.

Lewis lives in London, and always has. He is unhappy with his country, as so many of his generation are, and not without reason. This book is (a part of) his response to that.

It's not a complicated book.

The first section, entitled "Metropole", is a series of black and white photographs of tall buildings, many under construction, taken at night. Well, let me back up. There is an opening photograph, before the section's title page, of a skyscraper at night shot through a window. One imagines a bedroom window. It's a strong open. One imagines the sleepless author, gazing sleepdumb at his home town, at what his home town has become. And then we proceed to learn what that is.

This section is quite long given its content, on purpose. It is supposed to feel overlong, stretched out. Full bleed two page-spreads of illuminated construction of large buildings. The pace picks up visually. Not all photos are of construction any more, some appear to be completed, occupied, but it becomes more difficult to discern. At first a few subtle "double exposures" appear, two variant photos layering atop one another. Motion blur is introduced, then mirroring, and more layering. There is at least one lull, but the general trend is more, faster, denser, wilder. By the end, the density of repetition is largely abstract. You recognize it, generally, as architecture, but in many ways it resembles some 1960s movie notion of a Computer Processing Core, you can practically imagine the voiceover about the Megaframe Computer.

Every sixth page the orange thread of the binding's sewing kind of pops out at you. More on this in the sequel.

The mad frenzy of buildings ends, and the second section, entitled "Developments" begins.

A single page of text appears, which expresses the author's position clearly, with perhaps a hint of poetry, just before the title page of "Developments", a kind of recapitulation of the opening window picture. The author is no longer dumb with sleep, but passionate, perhaps eloquent. The frenzied over-development, he says, is bad, driven by speculators and offshore money, and is going to lead to an economic crash. The frenzied present has been, as the upcoming crash will be, disastrous for the people who actually live in London.

This section is also bound in 6es, with the same orange thread. The paper changes to a cheaper, lighter feeling paper. The structure here is 4 full bleed two page photo spreads, followed by a another two page spread of text. Repeat the pattern 7 times. The 4 photo spreads are pixelated, one recognizes them quickly as photographs of a computer screen. A little less quickly, one recognizes them as adverts for buildings or developments. The anonymity and distribution of human figures in each picture displays that characteristic and yet completely artificial nonchalance of the architectural mockup. A quick check online finds any of the pictures almost immediately, as expected on some web site promoting the development in question. The text spread following each group of four provides a basic description of each of the advertised development projects. Development company, financing, a CEO, number and kind of units, whether and how much affordable housing has been mandated, and so on. Attached to each is a hundred words or so detailing the inevitable shenanigans behind each development's approval.

The story is always the same. Lies, chicanery, promises broken, regulations flouted, waivers granted by weak-willed politicians too in love with money to turn down the polite request of a man in a very expensive suit. Vast sums of money, and enormous profits, natch.

The buildings are uniformly staggeringly ugly.

If I have counted correctly, 28 separate development projects are covered, every one as nearly as I can tell started some time between 2001 and the present day. London's a big place but good lord that still seems like a lot, which is rather the point. One gets the idea that there are rather more, as well.

So there it is.

Does it work? Well, I think it does.

What I find most interesting here is that the whole thing relies of masses of material rather than individual... anything. There is nothing here that really invites deep inspection. The photos in the "Metropole" section do not reward inspection, they are to be flipped through fairly quickly, to create a sense of frenetic pace, and of the wheels falling off. The "Developments" section is more like an encyclopedia than a novel, it is fun to dip in and read this and that. It might be fun to look up a development you're familiar with. But it would be frankly a chore to read it start to finish. Again, it functions by sheer mass. You rapidly come to understand that London is simply a mass of development after development with the same terrible designs, the same failure to respect, well, anything, the same greed, the same disinterest in regulations, in people, in anything but building something and reaping the awards and the cash.

Whether you read 3 or 4 taken at random, whether you skim them all, or whether you take the plunge and closely read Every Single One, the impression you get will be the same.

I assume that this is by design, and that works very well indeed.

The orange thread. This book is "swiss bound" which is a phrase I cannot manage to recall when I see these things, and which means roughly "we forgot to glue the front cover" which seems terribly un-swiss to me, but I didn't name the thing. It makes the case of the book into something that is more obviously a container, a sort of box that wraps around the book, and there are no doubt cases where this works well. Here, I am unsure.

The book itself is very well made, it feels weighty, serious. It is, in its own somber way, a rather beautiful object. The raw, rear, edge of the text block is rather unbeautiful. It's not wilfully ugly, it's just the product of a binding machine, a product intended to be covered up.

This is probably intended as one or both of: a) revealing the seedy back side of things, which is sort of the book's point b) recapitulating the notion of construction. The orange thread is in fact safety orange, or a very close hue to same, and recalls safety tape, the vests, the helmets and the other highly visible notes of the construction site.

I get it, and it is semiotically functional here. But, it feels slight, it feels a bit silly. The book is fucking serious. This guy is pissed off, he's spent a lot of time digging around and writing and taking pictures and banging on them in photoshop. He's done some work here to make a point and I feel as if the orange thread and the exposed binding cheapen that effort to an extent.

Beyond that my criticisms are all of the form "I wish this book was something other than what it is"

Metropole is a cri de cœur, an impassioned complaint. Lewis has a point of view (thank God) and has expressed it. What I wish the book was, was a call to action. It is obvious, I suppose, that the natural corollaries to the book begin with relieving a large number of neoliberal and conservative elected officials of their governmental duties. Still, it would be nice to see that stated.

This book is, nearly, an effective piece of propaganda, it is, almost, a call to arms. It is arguably a demand for change, but it is not a template for change.

The problems of London are global problems. Land prices are spiraling upwards, and the regular working people are finding it incrementally more difficult year on year to find somewhere reasonable to live. Speculation and rampant development both obey and define a market that seems to be out of control. The sleepy college town of Bellingham, pop. 80,000 or so, is infested with neoliberal shitheads who are pretty sure that the route to affordable housing is to deregulate and hand tax breaks around. But you know, only to Green Developers. Or whatever.

"They'll stick a solar panel on the roof, so those snappy little condos starting at $800K or so are OK, right? And they contributed... hmm, hmm, calculate, calculate, hmm, um... some money to our affordable housing slush fund, so that's almost like solving the affordable housing problem, right? Right? Right?"

The trouble, really, is not that housing is too expensive. Nor is it that wages are too low. The trouble, really, is that the gap between these two is too large. The reason that it is too large is that this gap is, precisely, what the 1% of the most wealthy think of as their "rightful profits." The solution to the problem of housing affordability is to persuade these people to take a moderately smaller pound of flesh for their hard labor of, um, whatever it is that they do with their days.

Traditionally, this persuasion is accomplished by shooting a couple large batches of them, until either none of them are left or the remainder begin asking for suggestions as to how they can help.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Would-Be Publisher

As everyone knows we are inundated in photographs. Everyone takes too many pictures, there are too many pictures, we're being deadened to the Photographic Image, nobody has any taste any more and obviously the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Well, I don't really believe much of that, except the bits about sheer numbers of pictures. But there is an interesting knock-on effect that I have just put together.

There are a gajillion photographers out there. Perhaps a million of them are doing quite good work, in one sense or another. Let me include under that umbrella the sort of twee self-referential bullshit that sells so well to professors in MFA programs and the artier of the photobook publishers, insofar as those two categories differ. And probably a bunch of other categories of work I might or might not like but either way have not thought of. What I mean is work that some actual audience of non-trivial size approves of that's not just your mom.

With a million (or whatever, I made that number up, but the point is it's a lot) people out there churning out work that is good enough to appeal to someone or other, this has led to a whole range of would-be publishers, serving the frantic desires of many of that army of a million.

I've talked in some depth about the predatory photobook publishers. I've talked about, well, about one zine.

It turns out that there are plenty of zines out there. It turns out that the fantasy of being some sort of hip zine editor is pretty appealing, so an incredible number of people try to grind these things out.

Publishing, however, is harder than it looks.

On the face of it, you just get some content from someplace, and in the world of photography content more or less throws itself at you the moment you say "Let's Put On A Zine!", and you need something or other than can output a PDF, and there you are. You can do an eZine by getting a domain and sticking your PDF on it, and then plastering your domain name all over social media. You can do a print zine by uploading your PDF to one of any number of on-demand presses.

Simple, right?

Not really.

The production of the item is more complicated and boring than you think. There's a virtually unlimited amount of design and editing skill that can be shoved into the thing usefully. This is where zines fall short. A young exuberant fellow just has too much raw talent to spend much time on fiddly bits like that, he'll make up for the lousy production values with the sheer raw talent, right? (no) On the back end, there's the problem of selling the goddamned thing. This is where the predatory book publishers fall flat. They have no idea what will sell, and furthermore don't care. They get paid on the front end, not the back, so if it sells, well that's nice but so what?

The predatory book publishers do at least have the relevant design tools and skills in-house, or at least on speed-dial, so there's a possibility that you'll get a decently made book out of it instead of a ridiculous looking mess.

This is not to suggest that all publishing is terrible. Brook Jensen's LENSWORK is a well made magazine, with good photographs in it (of a certain type that are not quite my cup of tea, but you can't have everything). There are good publishers of photobooks out there. Steidl may be a bit of a put on, but the guy seems to do good work without bilking all the artists, and I am reliably informed that there are other publishers that manage to do much the same.

Some publishers may indeed do both, bilking this artist, while producing an excellent and well-received book on honorable terms the very next month. I dare some some of the amateur zine publishers get it together and produce quite decent work after a false start or two.

But the point is that the vast numbers of photographers have engendered a shady knock-on market for would-be publishers. It's not healthy, and it muddles up the market not only for photographs but for publications built around photographs.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Books, Functional Parts

One of my minor perceptions in digging in to The Phoblographer's "Emulsion" zine, which I tried to pass along to all of you, was how text comes in functional pieces.

We think of text as body text, and then a handful of other stuff, to be dealt with catch and catch can. That's not true. There are titles, heads, page numbers, various kinds of asides, and so on. They should work together to lead the reader through the book easily, simply, clearly. Done well, all you notice is the body text, the actual content. Everything else is a guidepost, gently and invisibly assisting you. You don't even notice the (See plate 29) and the corresponding caption on the corresponding plate. It just works.

I attended a webinar put on by Blurb's Dan Milnor some time ago, and in it he emphasized that pictures work the same way, at least in narrative style photobooks. He identifies a bunch of roles for pictures: "Scene Setter", "Portrait", "Portfolio Image", "Transitional Image", "Detail", "Landscape" and talked through how to assemble these into story-like things.

He also talked about captions, and how they work with -- or against -- pictures.

Every mark on the page needs to be set down with purpose. You should be able to speak to why you put that ink there. Maybe it's just "it felt right" or "the page needed balance" which is fine, but this begs the question of what the page is doing.

This is one of the failings of social media and photography. flickr, 500px, instagram, facebook, and so on. Almost all of the marks on the screen are controlled by someone else. You have almost no control over anything. The only thing you can do, and even this not always, is control the order your pictures are looked at. That's it. That's remarkably limiting.

But back to books, magazines, any multi-picture print publication.

Every element, text, picture, decoration, has a job, it plays a role or perhaps several. If it's not working, what the hell is it doing in there?

Some jobs are simply to tie things together.

Consistency from page to page matters, and is in almost any care a requirement. Normally, my attitude to these things is "well, whatever, just be aware of the effects of your choices" but in this case I land firmly on the side of consistency. The reason here is that you need to hold change back as a device. Consistency page to page, spread to spread, allows you to introduce change as an attention getter. It becomes a tool you can use to wake your reader up, to point out things of interest.

This in turn is necessary because of the structure of these things. They are inherently long form, your reader's interest will wax and wane, and you need to attend to that.

Some jobs are to mix things up, to re-ignite flagging interest. A change of pattern can do that, or a particularly arresting picture. Or both.

Most of the jobs are about carrying content, though, within that ebb and flow of interest and attention. You are, ideally, weaving a pattern, telling a story, building up some kind of edifice. From the top-level view on down through the details, you are managing attention, managing the path through the work, leading the reader.

Pictures and various pieces of text all exist together, interacting. You can prioritize them with sizing and styling. You can point out the next step with anything from a drop capital to a big red arrow. Usually the next step is to turn the page, but where then should the reader pick on the next spread? What is the important bit? Are we transitioning from one theme to another here, is there something special about this spread, or are we taking a breather, filling in some background?

It feels almost but not quite as if one could write down a system for doing this. But I don't think you can, quite.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

WTFacebook

What the hell are people saying about me on facebook? There's some crazy spike in traffic, apparently.

Nobody reads this blog, go away, or I will start wanting to monetize it.

Also, while you're here, Buy My Shit, you fucking peasants.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Or, hmmm

Is Hasselblad simply folding their tent at this point? Oosting tried to find a pony in there, and came up ponyless. They've been dead silent since appointing Ming, nobody ever confirmed the DJI deal (that I know of) and if true we can guess that the owners (Vorndran Mannheims) took a hell of a haircut.

Has DJI also thrown in the towel? The timeline is about right. Maybe that spiffy new camera wasn't selling quite as much as we thought.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Rumor: Ming Thein's role with Hasselblad has ended.

UPDATE: Ming has confirmed in the same comments thread that he is no longer with Hasselblad.

Note the comments thread on his recent review on the Nikon Z7.

Notably, he is asked multiple times if he still works for Hasselblad, which questions he ignores. In a more recent comment, he overtly hints that he is no longer with Hasselblad.

I believe this company has to this very day not commented in the rumor that DJI had substantially increased its stake, and the parent Vorndran Mannheims has been if anything more silent. It is not at all clear who even is on the management team at this time, I think the last two announcements were "Thein joins as Chief of Strategy" and "Oosting steps down as CEO, replaced by interim CEO"

Based on some other extremely vague and slender information, I consider it faintly possible although not likely, that Hasselblad is performing, or has performed, some background checking that has not worked out quite as expected.