Thursday, February 11, 2016

Here's a Right Bloody Mess

Lewis Bush over at disphotic cites this piece of shit, unfortunately as "interesting" when in fact it is anything but. This sort of thoughtless dreck is precisely why Art with a capital A leaves a bad taste in so many mouths. First, allow me a summary for you.

We launch right in with a 10 dollar word, "conjuncture" which means "the current situation" but even I had to look it up and I jolly well know a lot of words. Caroline rambles on with absurdities like "pioneers who shaped the field" who died unknown. Actually, if they shaped the field, we more or less by definition know who they are, idiot. There's a little Gender Issues! and Class Issues! tossed around for effect, but to no particular conclusion. Then we get this gem:

We cannot, therefore, understand artworks independent of the context in which they are made.

because this dope doesn't know what "therefore" means. It absolutely does not follow from vague bitching about gender and class that we cannot understand Art independent of the context in which it is made. While it is perfectly true that we cannot, this author has presented no argument to that effect.

Then we proceed to some name dropping and "Thatcherism sucks", with, astoundingly, an actual connection to the next bit which is that Artists are apparently being More Individualistic and feel that Art is a bit of a competition now. To assert that this is Thatcher's fault is absurd, though. Art has always been highly competitive. Are the Medici somehow Thatcher's fault? Was the Renaissance church somehow Thatcher's fault? I think I speak for all of us when I say "what the fuck, lady?" Her grasp of history cannot be this weak, surely?

The implication, unstated presumably because Caroline is an unthinking idiot. is that pre-Thatcher, Art was made in some sort of socialist paradise.

From here we learn that self-promotion is a big deal (apparently this is Thatcher's fault) and that we either should, or should not, delete our instagram accounts. Namedrop a little more (Walker Evans!) and so on.

Then we go on to a lot of rot about crappy jobs and how Artists have them.

And then we wrap up with a violent left turn into a discussion of her own work which consists of re-photographing the castoffs of her students.

Wait, this twit is a teacher? Ugh.

None of this shit makes much sense, and frankly it's not supposed to. This author is engaged in social signalling. She's letting her peers know that she is Down With Gender Issues and is Sensitive To Class Issues, and she Blames Thatcher For Everything. These are all very cool things to do and be. There's no thesis, there's no argument, there's no conclusion, there's just a bunch of dog-whistle phrases thrown out there in a more or less senseless jumble.

If she has an agenda at all, it seems likely that what she probably wants is for a great deal of money to be made available to fund comfortable academic posts for idiots like her where, with no oversight, they can sit around smoking French cigarettes and talking about bullshit. In fact, if push came to shove, she's probably accept a single comfortable berth just for herself, despite her hand-wringing about how artists compete too much.

The cited piece apparently first appeared in some publication, and clicking through to that hot mess we are presented with a pile of photographic tripe made by "lens-based artists" in defiance of the laws of grammar. I suspect that it is the art that is lens based rather than the artist, but the results are childish bullshit either way. You know the sort of thing, out of focus pictures of bricks which Interrogate the Dialectics of Something Weighty. Get it? Bricks are heavy? Weighty?

I have never seen any of this sort of crap hung anywhere, except perhaps in the worst sort of coffee shops. This leads me to suspect that there is in fact an insular community of people, publishing one another's nonsense, getting little grants to show one another's work, and in general patting one another on the back while talking about the Dialectic of Gender and smoking French cigarettes. I assume further that these people are, basically, academics.

I wish they would knock it off, but I dare say they won't.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


There once was a pundit named Michael
Of habit decidedly venal
Who gave workshops quite dear
But they came with free beer
To render his victims quite genial!

There's nothing to be done about attacks of the limericks, you know, except to apologize.

Notes on The Web

If I just wanted to whale on wrong-headed idiots all day, I'd pretty much go on and on about dumb web sites like Improve Photography and its legions of click-bait brothers and sisters infesting the internet. Instead, I tend to talk about more influential people and places like LuLa and Ming Thein and, now and then, PetaPixel. There's two reasons. One is that they're more influential and therefore more damaging, but the other more benign reason is that sometimes they get it right.

Case in point, Ming's latest. It's not perfect, but it strikes me as being genuine, as if the photographer is actually feeling something and expressing it. There's a little flow to the set, there's some genuinely good pictures in there. The photos of and including the audience are individually pretty weak, bur add greatly to the overall effect. Without them, this would be far too close to a bunch of the same of concert photos we see everywhere. I feel like he's sacrificing his love for his handful of visual tropes in order to actually show us something real, which is something I absolutely advocate. Repeatedly.

Well done!

(I am cattily amused that his commenters are so very very attentive to the work that they've failed to notice the dupe)

(and if the dupe is on purpose, I confess that I don't "get it")

(A peculiar update, apropos of nothing: I am 75% sure Ming's added a second duplicate since I made this post, and he's denying seeing any dupes in the comments, blaming it, absurdly, on flickr. I don't pretend to know what's up.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Capitalist Inversion

There's been some recent buzz around the Beckham kid getting a gig to shoot a Burberry campaign or something. Lots of dumbshits who would never ever in a million years have ever been considered for such a job are bitching about how the kid basically stole work from Real Photographers, and all because he has a million instagram followers. This is actually kind of a thing. Photojournalism gigs are being awarded based on followings as well.

This sounds sucky, and in a way it is, but we'll flip it around in a minute and from that point of view it's still awful but in a completely different way. First let's look at a few other things.

I can think of two bestselling books recently have been turned in to Major Motion Pictures which started out as self-published books that went viral, essentially. The authors went and wrote books, edited them with the help of their friends, published, marketed, and only after all the hard work had been done and all the risk removed did the majors move in to claim a (presumably very large) slice of each of the pies.

Remember when photography was photography, and there was a separate discipline of re-touching?

The digital revolution has enabled in the first place each of us to do more, in certain dimensions. We can now, in practical terns, write and publish books, we can shoot photos, we can re-touch photos. We can do things that used to require a largish staff, and we can can do it more easily than we used to be able to do the single job. I can write, edit, publish, and market a book with less effort than it used to take simply to write it. I can shoot, re-touch, design, and publish, a book with less effort than it used to take simply to do the shooting.

It's also enabled us to reach out and touch people, to build and to reach markets, in totally new ways through social media. Even through blogs!

The upshot of this is a sort of inversion. The capitalist system, always looking to maximize revenue and minimize expenses, naturally leans on creatives to do more with less. Now that we can re-touch in photoshop, easily, the clients demand that we do. It's simply baked in to the gig now. The client increasingly shoves things that used to be their problems outwards into the hands of the creative. Great web design! Can you deploy that out, now?

Endgame for the capitalist is that the creative should do everything except the part where the money is collected. Design the campaign, shoot the campaign, write the copy, lay out the ads, deliver the ads onto the creative's own social media streams, and then the client collects the money.

Arguably the Beckham kid isn't a privileged idiot who's being given a leg up because he's famous, arguably he's a sap who's being ruthlessly played for peanuts by a huge and powerful corporation.

So you could go out there and work your butt off on instagram and social media your way to a gig.

A better bet is to grab not just the work, but also the part where you collect the money. Self publish, and keep it that way. If some major player comes along with a sweet contract, and some glib promises, tell that major player to go fuck themselves. Sure, you might make a modest stack of cash in the short term, but you know they're gonna drop you the second some new guy shows up, and you know as well as I do that that last check might take a while to show up.

I mean, if it's a choice between buying a can of soup and not eating, take the gig.

But otherwise, think it over.

Collaboration Update

I've heard from all of you, now! Thanks to all.

Content can be pretty much anything, although leaning toward photos makes sense. Higher resolution pictures are probably better, but we can work with anything, really. Captions and accompanying text, as you like (or don't like). If you gave in mind specfic pairings or groupings, pass them along. Essentially, if you have ideas of any sort, communicate them. If I disgree, we'll have a conversation and try to come to some mutually pleasing arrangement.

I aim to be experimental! One photo centered on each page, for page after page, ain't quite what I had in mind, although I'm not opposed to some of that, so if you have some whacky idea, by all means. We like whacky ideas.

This is intended to be collaborative, to whatever degree you like. You may send me pictures and then lapse into silence, or you can send me a dense file of ideas and we'll collaborate. The only restrictions are, really: I do not have infinite time, and I get the final say. And that's just to keep it from getting out of hand.

Also, contact information. I'll devote some space to credits, associating content with the artists. You can be "anonymous" if you like, you can give an email address and first name, or your full name and home address. You can give a web site. A handful of words for a bio? However you would like to be known (but please keep it pretty short!), share that with me as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why Look?

This is the essential question for most people who take pictures. Why would anyone else look at my pictures? Turn that around. Why would I look at your pictures?

Is the subject matter alone compelling? Pretty girl? A one-time event? A unique object? You can pretty much just record that, and the subject alone will carry it, to a degree.

Do I know you? I'll probably look at your pictures because of that personal connection. I will genuinely find more to like about your pictures of the same old shit, specifically because I know and like you.

What about, say, Antarctica? It's a pretty compelling place, sure, but there are a lot of photographs of it, and I have no built-in interest as I do for, say, pictures of people. Why would I look at your pictures, rather than some other bloke's pictures? Yes, yes, I know, you brought your unique vision, blah blah blah. No, in general, you didn't. You rode in the same Zodiacs past the same interchangeable hunks of ice to visit the same interchangeable penguin herds on the same interchangeable ice shelves and you made the same pictures everyone else did. Oh, put you punched up the red tones in post? Good for you.

This, essentially, is why I keep ranting on and on about having to form an opinion. What you think is your unique vision, in general, isn't. Bringing a distinctive hand to the pictures doesn't consist of using a longer lens, or a wider aperture, or getting closer, or farther away. That's a finite space of possibility, it's completely mined out, and consists largely of tiny fiddles that nobody except you notices.

When grownups are talking about bringing their unique vision, they're not talking about getting low to the ground, they're talking about having an idea, a concept, of what they're shooting. It is that mental construct that colors and shapes the work, not the selection of tools and angles. If you have the mental construct, the rest follows.

I can visualize how this happens. Someone who's actually pretty good starts in talking about their concept for a body of work, how they formed ideas and opinions, and what they wanted to express, and then towards the end some phrase like "and so I selected a wide angle lens for.." sneaks in. The camera enthusiast hears a sort of Charlie Brown Adult speech:

Wah wahhh wah I selected a wide angle lens wah wAHH

and learns that a distinctive point of view has to do with lens selection.

But what about those unique events? Certainly you can just shoot them, and get some traction. It's unique, and if I'm interested in the event or whatever it is, I'll probably look. Still, a point of view will certainly help. Consider W. Eugene Smith's pictures from Minamata. On the one hand, the subject matter is compelling as hell. On the other hand I feel pretty safe asserting that Mr. Smith had some opinions to express, and the work is all the stronger for that.

Minamata wasn't a run-and-gun deal, he spent a couple of years at it. He wasn't zooming past anyone on a Zodiac. He wasn't hiking up the creek to where he heard there was a great waterfall, timing it to arrive at The Golden Hour, and then leaving. He was living and breathing the situation on the ground and, as near as I can tell, getting seriously pissed off about it.

I'm pretty sure an opinion is always going to help, unless you're making some sort of record photographs for scientific or engineering purposes?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Shot on iPhone 6

I happened to be in San Francisco a few days ago, working on a bit of a career change. Leaving, I found myself in the Montgomery BART station headed to the airport, with 15 minutes to wait.

Apple's bought all the ad display space on the train-level, and put up about 15-20 pictures, all (more or less) informal portraits, two copies of most of them. Hung in pairs.

The message is both clear and convincing: iPhone 6 is all the camera you need.

You can bleat away about low light performance, and Image Quality, and small sensor depth of field and so on. Nobody much cares, though, this camera is fine. It will more than adequately serve the needs of virtually everyone who wants pictures.

This is a really solid campaign. Online, it's simply endless reams of excellent pictures of a certain type, a vaguely artsy snapshot aesthetic.

Nobody here cares about making a statement or expressing an idea. They're recording life, they're making pretty pictures. Sometimes they do a little shadow play, a little juxtaposition of this with that, a little "look at this cool visual thing I saw, look at me being artistic", sometimes they just take a picture of their pretty girlfriend, their cute kid, the dog catching a frisbee. Sometimes the go to Asia and take some of those pictures. The pagodas, the bike filled street, the guy on the scooter with all the baskets, the guy standing out on the end of his skinny little boat silhouetted against the sky.

Practically nobody wants to do any more than that. Practically nobody needs anything more than an iPhone 6 camera.

The message is clear and convincing.