Thursday, March 25, 2021

(Pinned Post, See Below for New Content)
  A Policy Note:

I have made a decision to keep this blog virus free from this point forward, at least until the smokes clears. This is not a judgement about other writers, other sources, there's good information that ought to be shared, there are personal stories that are interesting and compelling.

There's also room for other work, and I intend to pursue that here.

If it looks like I'm going to die, I will try to put a note here so you know to delete your bookmarks.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Innovation!

I happened across a pair of articles, almost adjacent, on one of the ubiquitous photography news-review-thing-blogs. The first bemoaned the slow pace of innovation, blaming Sony, somehow. I did not follow the argument, mainly because I don't care. The second piece, two articles below the first. breathlessly urged readers to keep up with the fast pace of technological change in cameras. I did not read past the lede on this one, ibid.

While contradictory, the two pieces both hew to the idea of innovation in camera technology as an essentially good thing. Indeed, as a thing at all.

Let us review: a camera is a box, with a hole on one side that lets pictures in. That's it.

Yes, to be sure there are a few corner cases where technology is either necessary or a very great help. Now with really good autofocus, anyone at all can manage decent pictures of Birds In Flight with a little effort. With Amazing New Sensors people can take pictures of unspecified vigorous activities in almost total darkness. If you want to print Really Big you actually need more megapixels than my 10 year old bottom-of-the-line camera has. And so on.

Nevertheless, there are limited directions that innovation can actually go when you're dealing with a box with a hole. They're tried filling the box with sand, or maple syrup, instead of darkness but those experiments were by and large a bust.

And, further, if you actually look at the pictures people actually take, a different story reveals itself. Virtually any picture you actually see if you just go randomly looking for pictures, could absolutely have been taken with my 10 year old camera and the motley array of second-rate lenses I have lying around. While randomly trolling about, I happened across some aircraft photos and thought "ok, well, you'd need some gear for those" until I realized that they were heavily photoshopped pictures of models. We were back to "Yep, my D3100 and the old Micro NIKKOR 60 could totally do that."

Nope, barring a handful of exceptional cases, all technology really does it make it incrementally easier to do this thing or that thing, and all those things are quite niche, quite rare.

It might make you feel better about taking pictures to have the buttons just so rather than thus, and to have the control wheel there instead of there and a touch screen to move the focus point around might be good for some use cases, and so on. These things are all camera-forward, not picture-forward.

In almost all cases "I need a better/different camera" means "I want a different camera" which means "I am bored with my current camera or my pictures or both."

It is OK to be bored with your camera, or your pictures, or both. No, really. I have been bored my all my cameras for years and years. Unlike some people, I do not rely on my cameras for entertainment, but that too is OK.

What camera companies need to do is stop pretending that the new features have anything to do with pictures. Just add flashing lights, games, buzzers, and lots and lots of knobs, dials, and buttons. One touch screen? Screw that! We're putting three in there, and a shitload of options to configure what they all do! I'm putting ISO on this dial! But only in one direction, the other way adjusts the shutter speed!

Sure, they should continue to take pictures and all. There's got to be an excuse. But the main point is to dink around trying to get the perfect set of controls and menu items to truly optimize your shooting for various workflows, right? And then you can test all the workflows! And adjust the controls some more! And when, finally, you've wrung that rag dry, they'll have the new model out with four touch screens and two more configurable dials than the previous one!

I'm not saying that some technology isn't a bad idea. I love the autofocus with the lenses where it works, it's awesome. Metering is great. I'm sure ever more sensitive sensors with greater dynamic range is also wonderful. But it's all kind of minor stuff. You can make pretty good pictures of a lot of stuff with practically anything, and that's mostly what more people want to do, picture-wise.

You probably don't need a new camera, is what I'm saying.

Friday, October 23, 2020

FUN!

So as you know I have the filthy habit of poking in to photography forums from time to time. Honestly, the whole genre is kind of dying off, so there are far fewer things to make fun of here, but this morning I struck gold!

Here's a thread you can enjoy, if you like. On, let us review, a publically accessible forum which anyone can look at and read without an account.

Someone went out and took a bunch of portraits of someone in a place. The photographer used a variety of lenses and apertures, and moved to achieve similar framing in all the exposures. The point is to illustrate the different ways the face is rendered, and the different effects of depth of field and so on.

So up rolls Mr. 480Sparky, who is one of the dumb bastards who will go on about how long they've been shooting, but who doesn't actually know anything. He says, "you've got it wrong, because the depth of field blah blah blah" which, while certainly true, misses the fact that the depth of field doesn't actually tell you directly how far out of focus stuff is. The pictures are perfectly correct, and Sparky is both stupid and ignorant.

If he'd bothered to look at the Hyperfocal Distance helpfully calculated by the same DoF tools he's using to throw shade and sneer, he might have gotten a brisk hint. But, he didn't. Alack, and alas.

To be fair, these things are legitimately complicated and the answers are not obvious. I had to draw a couple pictures to work out what's going on, although I have enough of a feel for these things that the pictures looked ok to me. 

That said, it's obvious if you actually go look at the tool the hapless victim laboriously created, you can tell immediately that they were done correctly. You can tell that if you cannot work out why a thing is a thing, then it's probably because you don't understand it and maybe you should go have a think before you go spouting off in public. But old fuckers who won't shut about about slide film never do, they're pretty sure they've got all the answers.

Also, Sparky appears to have absolutely no feel for how actual pictures look at various focal lengths and apertures.

Cheap Edumactaion

So, as regular readers of this blog will well know, I see eye-to-eye with Jörg Colberg on essentially nothing.

That said: you are, as a reader here, are in no way obligated to agree with me on this point (obv.) and I assume that some readers rather agree with him on a point here and there.

He is offering a little menu of educational opportunities here, it happens. The prices are, to my eye, insanely low. $95 for a one hour consult (not including prep time) and a little suite of 12 week long "mentorships" that include 6 one hour meetings, for $300.

Given that a normal human would rightly demand a million dollars or more to talk to someone about their photography for a solid hour, I think these rates are very very good.

I am half considering trying to sign up myself, on the grounds that no matter how sharply one diverges, there's bound to be something of value in six freakin' hours of talking. What's holding me back is that I don't think I can really honestly sign up to work steadily on a single project for 12 weeks. I do have a thing in mind, though, so maybe. I am debating it.

Anyways, anyone who sees more eye-to-eye with Jörg than I do, and that ought to include virtually everyone in the world, should give this some serious consideration. It's not that he's an oracle, it's that he's willing to talk to you about your pictures, at length, for a very good price. It might well be worth it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

"Deaccession"

Christopher Knight, the LA Times Art Critic who is, when you look closely, actually an Art Industry Commentator, wrote a piece on a couple of Museum Deaccessions. This is getting a certain amount of social media traction as "pfft, white guy complains about dead white guy art being sold off" which is to completely miss the point of Knight's article.

First of all, "deaccession" refers to a museum selling off bits of their collection.

Second of all, let's take a look at universities.

Something like 50 years ago the professional bureaucrat really started getting a foothold in the University system. Modern bureaucrats, invariably, see their job as enlarging the institution for which they labor, which mainly means enlarging the revenues, reducing expenses, and hiring more bureaucrats with the liberated funds. This is universal, there have been books written on the subject.

It manifests in Universities as an endless pressure to perform the education portion of the show as inexpensively as possible consistent with the goals of maximizing revenue. In this case, revenue comes mainly from: student tuition, research grants (universities clip around 50% of grant money to pay bureaucrats with), and alumni donations. These, of course, require some students and a degree of education to be performed. Experiments with student-less universities were performed (at least once) but did not work out in the long run.

This does not mean the bureaucrats oppose good education. They merely oppose spending much money on it. So now we have a situation where increasingly the education — once the core mission — is carried out as much as possible by temps. The mission is now to enhance the University Brand, to attract: paying students (or students who can borrow, it doesn't matter which), professors who get large grants, and alumni donations. Secondarily, to maintain the supply of alumni.

Museums, it turns out, have long had a deliberately constructed firewall between "selling shit in the collection" and "spending money" and Knight's point is precisely that this firewall is being removed. Museum bureaucrats have suddenly noticed that the collection constitutes, effectively, an enormous piggy bank which can be used to pay for more bureaucrats.

There will be some hand-wringing, some assurances, and so on. There will be deaccessions in order to fund the acquisition of works from marginalized artists (yay!) and probably north of 10% of the money will actually go to do that! The rest will go to bureaucrats, new wings, walnut panelling, and really nice desks. Maybe some Technology Initiatives.

The thing is, once a bureaucracy gets hold of a source of money, they'll never let it go. They're going to sell as much of the collection as frequently as possible as is consistent with maintaining the museum's brand. They will have an endless, literally, litany of excuses and covers, but this is the new model. They're going to sell things from the collection to fund what they see as the mission: enlarging the institution in every way except the one that matters.

I predict that Museums are about to move down market and earlier in the art cycle.

Formerly the private market mostly set the price for things and decided who and what was "good," followed by museums acquiring those works as an archive of culture.

Over the next few years we're going to see museums selling off the Monets in order to acquire emerging artists. They will begin to take a larger role in the price-setting business. The MOMA will compete directly with Zwirner and Gagosian. Collectively, they will acquire emerging artists cheaply, and produce value by blessing these artists with the respective imprimaturs, and then sell the works off at much higher prices into the private market. The work will pass through the museum, rather than being archived in it.

The wealthy will cease to donate their Picassos, because it will become clear that donating your Picasso now merely means it gets sold in 20 years and vanishes back into private hands.

The effect of this is that Museums will have smaller collections of Past Culture on display, but larger (albeit somewhat ephemeral) collections of contemporary work.

In 10 or 50 years the desire to buy work from "marginalized artists" may fade, who knows? But the Monets and the Picassos will be gone, as will the money. Even the BMWs the bureaucrats bought with the money will be junked. But museums will still be buying cheaper, emerging, artists; creating value; and turning the work over for a profit.

It's not even clear that this is a bad thing? I don't know. I like Monet just fine, but it's a big world. Maybe the rich will still loan their Monets back to museums. Or maybe they'll loan them to Gagosian instead.

I do think that Museums are about to begin a transition to being little more than art dealers with a non-profit license and a spiffy brand.

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Matter of Taste

I happened to make a comment over on ToP about what an objectionable prick Edward Weston was, and it got me to thinking.

It turns out that I don't much like Weston's photos any more. I used to!

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're objectively bad photos. I don't think they should not exist. I like photos, I still like photos. But Weston's aren't my favorites.

The thing is, they're all so damned chilly. I get what he's after; he claims to have been after the essence of the thing, and sure, there it is. The formal essence of the form of the thing. Not really the thing itself, but its form, sure. The nudes are all bodyscapes, the landscapes and vegetables are all nude bodyscapes too when you get down to it.

The portraits all seem utterly disengaged, and they all kind of look the same. They all look like they're self-consciously, pointedly, ignoring the man with the camera. Like he's yelled at them to stop smiling at him, like he's leaned pretty hard on them to make no connection to the camera and thence the viewer at all.

I mean, this is what he was trying to do after all. He wanted to make these explorations of form and essence, not to be hanging about with people in all their complexity and squishy yuckiness. He was after a real austerity.

To be blunt, this isn't anything I am much interested in any more. I'm increasingly drawn toward humanist photography, and away from, well, everything else. Certainly away from formal exercises in light or whatever.

This isn't to say that you can't like Weston. Of course you can! It's just a matter of taste.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

I Like Photos

I like photographs. I like looking at them. I like thinking about them. I like understanding them.

Having doggedly blogged away for about 8 years now on nothing much but photographs, I seem to have assembled a little community of people who also like photos. Hi! Thanks for being here. I appreciate you all.

What's interesting is how few people seem to actually like photos. No, I'm not whining that nobody likes my blog, because in the first place plenty of people like my blog and in the second place I get that there's plenty to dislike here. Still, every now and then something happens that gets me a great whack of engagement and it's exciting and alarming for a few days, and then it settles back down to, pretty much, the same people.

People don't stick when they swing by here.

As everyone knows most of the "photography community" is made up of people who like cameras. This is not a sin, I have myself liked cameras in the past. Also, liking cameras does not preclude liking photos, although it does take up some mental space. There are certainly people who like photos and also cameras, though.

I have come to the conclusion that virtually the entirety of the rest of the photography community is made up of people who are fond of roles rather than photos.

Quite a lot of people visualize themselves as photographers. They are attracted to that role, and they want to inhabit that role, to play it, to be it. Many of them become very good photographers, after all, making good pictures (in some sense) is what a good photographer does, right?

But most of them don't really like pictures.

You can tell, because all they every have to say about photos is "wow, so great" if it's a photo by someone they aspire to be like and "utter shite" if it's someone they don't like. They don't look beyond the photographer's name. Not really. They've looked enough to master some technique, but beyond that they simply don't have much interest.

Again, this is not a sin. Really liking photos is a bit of an idiosyncratic hobby. Someone's got to be the photographers, and I guess it might as well be those people. Indeed, not being excessively interested in photos as such probably frees up a lot of mental space to fill up with shit about lights and aperture thingies.

Now we get to the bottom of the barrel, people who aspire to the role of someone who writes about photography. They all want to be Susan Sontag, or Roland Barthes. They want to be effete public intellectuals.

Mostly these people are spectacularly uninterested in photos. They see every photo in political terms and almost ignore the contents of the frame. Their blather is invariably recycled, incoherent, warmed-over ramblings based on misunderstood sources. They have nothing to say, except a tedious repetition of their own uninteresting political positions.

Whatever else you might say about Sontag or Barthes, they seem to have actually been interested in photographs.

And then there's me! And you guys! And a small handful of other people. AD Coleman seems to like photos pretty well.

Photos, it seems to me, are very, very easy to consume, but extremely difficult to actually like. I think it's like being interested in jellybeans. Everyone likes jellybeans, in the sense of enjoying cramming them into their moist food holes. Actually being interested in jellybeans, liking them in the sense of wanting to know more, to think about them, to investigate them, to write seriously about them, is frankly bizarre. It's very niche.

Welcome to my weird little niche! And thank you all for being here!