Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Some of this is probably be specific to a "group" portfolio, but some of it is probably more broadly applicable. I'm just going to write about this singular experience I had, how it seemed to work to me, and let you take from it what you want. It certainly overlaps a great deal with this previous post on the same subject, but I think I'm coming at it from a different angle. After reflection, I have come to understand that there are deeply destructive parts to this process.

I was given sets of photographs from 9 different people. Some collections were quite small, others quite large. Some collections where very tight, coherent, others rambled. Some contained extremely individual pictures which could well stand each alone, others gained strength from the collection they were in. Some collections were more diffuse, with no obvious "holy cow, that's incredible!". I don't mean to say that this last sort of thing was bad, it quite definitely isn't, and I learned a great deal about just how powerful and useful a relatively diffuse set of photos can be.

Looking through what began, really, as a big frightening heap of pictures, I found almost immediately possibilities for themes. Largely graphical themes. With a disparate group of contributors, it would be really too much to hope that some Big Idea emerges, but more on that later. No, mainly I noticed common subjects (dogs, bikes) and common graphical elements, similar structures or tonalities shared across two or more pictures.

Some individual pictures set a theme, merely by being strong. The theme might be a subject (bikes), a graphical idea (big square thing in the middle), or a look (high contrast, saturated), or I suppose almost anything. But in any case it was often a single picture that stuck with me, and then a second one that picked up the same idea which crystallized it. Once completed, I dare say it would be hard to tell which ones "set" themes, and which ones "echo" it, and perhaps it truly is arbitrary and random.

This is where those diffuse collections showed their strength. It was in these diffuse collections that I found those echoes, those repetitions of an idea. If you have two tight portfolios, and you are struck by a particular picture in one, you now have a problem, and it's a serious one. Without some diffuse collections to look through, I see no way the problem isn't fatal, in fact.

How am I to make this portfolio, and in particular, this particular picture which I love, flow into the work as a whole? This portfolio is too tightly structured to permit the flow. The other portfolio into which the flow must eventually pass, is likewise walled-up. How shall I breach these walls, and interconnect these two?

This is where the diffuse collections shine, they give up, more often than seems reasonable, a perfect echo to reinforce an idea and to bridge it out to the bigger sequence, to open the walls of the individual collection. The pictures I shot to connect things form the most diffuse collection of all, they're simply all over the place on most axes.

In terms of general portfolio strength, there is no collection that I did not damage in the service of the whole. The strongest individual portfolios were essentially destroyed. They functioned on many axes, and in the service of the book I discarded almost all of them. On the one hand, I feel bad about it, but on the other hand, in hindsight, it's inevitable. The necessary common ground is never going to include everything that is good, so some good things are simply going to be lost.

Portfolios in which tonality and graphic character figure loudest fared the best, of course.

I found pictures that set themes. I found pictures to echo those themes. But also, I found ways for pictures to support one another. Since much of the book is two-up pages, I found myself making little diptychs. In filling out "dogs", say, I might find a natural picture (with dogs in it) for the next page from A, and then a pretty graphical echo (with no dogs) from B. That picture in turn sets a tonality for the pleasing coda on the last page of a section.

The analogies with music are inevitable.

The big themes, set by one picture or a pair, and then repeated throughout. These feel "important", and it's tempting to dismiss everything else as filler.

Smaller themes, repeated for a couple of pages, or just within a diptych. It might be just noodling around to fill up an extra minute or two before we can recapitulate the major theme and finally get on with the second movement, but it needn't be. These can be pretty little bits as well. They can harmonize with the whole, and help us get to that second movement by setting up a tonality for us, while at the same wrapping up with dogs.

As for Big Ideas, I put none into the book. Indeed, I removed some by shattering portfolios. Portfolios that spoke of Life, or Humanity, or Desolation, all blown to pieces in the service of the bigger collection.

I feel, though, as if the whole is sufficiently rich to allow the reader to find something in it. As I have said (it turns out) before, I think you might find something in there on your own. It's certainly a rich, dense, mass of symbols, and I certainly won't stop you.


In future people who wish to comment with nothing more to say than "I hate something or other about your blog" can a) Fuck off and b) Will no longer be permitted to comment. It's my fucking blog. You don't like it, move along, but don't harass me about it. Go bitch about what a dumbshit I am on your own blog.

That's retroactive to you two idiots who most recently commented in that vein.

ETA: Here is the thing. These people are here, they're reading my blog. Obviously they get some satisfaction out of reading it. But they choose to weigh in when a post fails to meet their expectations. This is, whether they realize it or not, an effort to control how I do this thing. They want, like the worst girlfriend, to purse their lips disapprovingly when the boyfriend wants to have a beer with friends, until the boyfriend gradually, imperceptibly, knuckles under and ditches his own friends in favor of hers, permanently. Then we can get started on whatever the next flaw on the list is.

Not acceptable. If my blog is terrible, then stop reading it. Or read it. Feel free to go tell the world how awful I am, but don't make me moderate your stupid comments about how horrible I am, when you and I both know perfectly well that you're here and you're reading my blog because you get something out of it. Purse your lips disapprovingly at me, and I will eventually dump your ass. Been there, done that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Seeing as a Business

Thinking more about this "seeing" versus "recording" thing, I'm puzzling out what it might mean for a working photographer, someone working to put bread on the table.

As social media becomes (perceived as) more important, and as this notion of ephemeral, single-use, photos rises with it we see a curious thing. While the actual news media is firing photojournalists, we see corporate clients and individual clients increasingly wanting contemporary photos, in the sense of "relevant right now" photos, which look a bit like news. The senior wants pictures that show how cool and hot she is now. The semiconductor manufacturer wants pictures of the latest thing, and the cool new phones it's powering.

Let's imagine, oh let me just pull some crazy product out of the air, say, Crane Trucks. Let's say you had a client who built crane trucks and had you help them with their annual report. Not that they necessarily do facebook and twitter now, but if they did decide to, what would they want? They might want immediate, relevant in-this-moment photos of their crane trucks. They want their crane trucks fixing power lines after the storm, and they want them right now.

This feels like a retainer opportunity to me. For so and so dollars a month, I'm on call. You hear of your products being used in my area in a immediate, relevant-now kind of way (i.e. in a newsworthy way) call me, and I will roll out to wherever it is and shoot some professional looking stuff for you to use. You can post it to your twitter or whatever the hell, and heck, even license it to the news media. Because, it's news. Branded news. Of course, it also costs you when I get in the car. The retainer just gives you the right to call and ask me to go, and a reasonably certainty that I'll go, at my agreed-to-day rate.

Ditto the seniors. For a small monthly fee, you can stop by whenever you're having a great hair day, or whenever you've got some great new shoes. We'll do thirty minutes (at the usual session rate) and off you do to tumblr, right now.

It's about helping people see or, perhaps, be seen. It's not about recording, preserving, saving.

Also, Retainers are awesome. Monthly guaranteed cash flow, paid in advance? Sweet like honey.

Creation vs. Consumption

Sad-face Emoji, I guess?

Seriously, Lula?

As part of the Getting Back To The Print series, LuLa has published a Lightroom tutorial on Soft Proofing in Lightroom. In the form of a video.


Getting back to the Print, talking about color management, in a video that I will probably watch on my phone.

In what crazy universe does that make sense? True to form it's two portly aged white dudes essentially gossiping about random crap inside Lightroom.

I no longer think Phase One is trying to make anything of these guys. LuLa has given up, they didn't get the subscriber base they wanted, Michael's moved on, and now Kevin is using it as a platform to promote Kevin and Kevin's workshops. It's about 30 percent ads, 30 percent videos of Kevin gossiping about random BS with people, and the rest is written by other people on random topics, occasionally interesting. If you get one piece a month that you like, you're doing well.

As dozens of Michael's personal friends will angrily point out, for $1 a month even one article is worth it. ISN'T IT? ISN'T IT?

Creators vs. Consumers, Ming Thein Style

Ming's got another think piece up, which is so utterly wrong headed as to inspire to me rebut it.

He starts off by talking about "total impact" which is, essentially, how much of your work is "consumed" by others, although he doesn't quite realize that's what he's saying. And then, incredibly, he measures the degree to which someone is a "creator" by this metric, essentially, how much of your work is consumed by others. While that's certainly measuring something, it's not measuring anything about creativity or any of the other things we associate with the word "creator."

By this measure, the Ford Motor Company is a mighty photographer, and Sally Mann is a nobody. Johannes Vermeer, having only 34 paintings only one of which anyone recognizes, is a nobody, while Ming Thein with his millions of shitty pictures and 100s of thousands of sock puppets is a mighty creator.

Ming's "total impact" is about marketing, not about creativity. It's not about being a creator at all, although occasionally the two exist in the same person. Often not, being really creative takes up a lot of time, and so does marketing. To really excel at both is extremely hard.

He implies broadly that a true creator generates far more work, in some sense, than he consumes. The "creator" is defined by consuming less and creating more, which is utterly wrong-headed. Creatives consume far more than the average consumer. Writers generally read voraciously. Photographers collect monographs, and actually look at them regularly.

Creatives consume, as a general rule, far more in absolute quantity, and in much greater depth. It is, arguably, their job.

Ming is not describing creators, he's describing himself: an arrogant little snot who doesn't bother to look at anything, read anything, think about anything, because he's got all the answers.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Seeing, Recording

Here's an interesting distinction. Interesting, that is, to me.

A recent commenter on this blog noted that some people with cameras use them as a way to see more intensely, the actual recorded photograph (implicitly) being to some degree or another superfluous. This ties in neatly with something I've been saying for ages, and which the mainstream pundit-class are barely starting to notice, to wit: the usage of photography on social media isn't really about recording the moment, at least not a long-term recording. It is about a kind of remote seeing. It is "look at this, which I saw" and it's not intended to be interesting in a week, or even in an hour. It's sharing in the immediate moment.

It's about seeing and then sharing what is seen. Curating, if you will, my current "now", and sharing that out to my friends so they too can "see". If they "see" it now, or in a few days, that's OK, but the intent is that they should "see" it once, in the same way that I am seeing it now. I see my latte, the guy with the funny hat, the cute dog. Then the world whirls onward, and that's that. In a moment, in an hour, in a week, my friend checks on my Instagram, and they get to see the latte, the hat guy, the dog, in the same way.

I think it is fair to say that these people are often not curating their photographs but rather their environment.

This is wildly in contrast to traditional photography. So much so that this new thing is incomprehensible to the old guard. I, as a member of the old guard, have to kind of struggle to get it, and if I'm not paying attention, I miss it all over again.

Ansel Adams and the boring old dudes before him droned on about archival processing, prints that would last 500 years, and so on. The whole deal is about making a Really Great Picture and then preserving it forever. This whole business is in a deeply essential way about recording.

The traditional snapshot is also about recording. "Here we are at Disneyland, in 1978, there's Susie with Cinderella, see how little she was? Ha ha!" and so on.

These things were intended to be looked at more than once, and in the future.

Somehow, imperceptibly, the snapshot has changed from being a record to a much more immediate extension of sight. We're still at Disneyland, but we're at Disneyland right now, see? It's not really clear what's happening to the recording aspect of this. Are the trips to Disneyland just lost in time, like tears in rain? Or do they live on in the bowels of the phone, until the phone dies? It's clear that people mostly don't care, certainly.

These pictures are intended, largely, to be looked at exactly one (1) time.

In parallel, we have (if my commenter is to be believed?!) quite serious photographers who are doing roughly the same thing, photography as seeing. There have been street photographers (Winogrand) who seem to have been doing this quite a while ago. Something about the act of committing photons to film was important to the way Winogrand got through his day, but actually developing the films and looking at them was not. See also Vivian Maier, and, I suppose, loads of other similar whackos out there. In those cases, the record exists, but apparently as an afterthought. These people weren't even extending their seeing to others, they were literally looking at their world through a viewfinder, and found some sort of solace of comfort therein.

These people may have been making pictures intended to be looked at not at all. And God alone knows how many of them there are that have never been privileged to be dug up, the corpses of their work propped up in overblown monographs.

I still make pictures, or more exactly, collections of pictures that are intended to be looked at many times. But I'm old.