Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Updated 5/20/16!!! New Project II

Update on the New Project. I'll keep this post at the top, and update appropriately.

I now have seven (7) in the USA/Canada, including myself, five (5) in Europe, and one (1) in Australia. I have mailing addresses for everyone now, thank you! I will be assembling the proposed chains, um, soon! I want to spend some time with maps to try to arrange people who are relatively close geographically. It might not help with postage, but then again it might, and it's as good an organizational principal as any.

Then I will start sharing addresses, carefully, out between the participants. Next week some time. And I'll put together a package to seed it with in a little bit, and then send that to my downstream. Maybe in the first week of June, realistically.

Obviously more Australian participation would be great! Willie is an awesome photographer, you should sign up if you're in Oz, if for no other reason than to see his stuff. And, of course, more participants are welcome on any continent, at any time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Prints Have No Value!

Catchy title, huh?

I was poking around recently trying to find out if there was any kind of secondary market for some chappie's prints, and wound up searching more widely, chasing down a new train of thought. Here's something interesting.

There basically is no secondary market for photographic prints.

What this means is that when you purchase a print from, let's pick some neutral party, say Ctein, the value of that print drops instantly to zero dollars. In the rather strict sense that you cannot sell the thing for money. Perhaps $0 is a bit much, but you're very very unlikely to be able to sell it for anything like what you paid for it.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy them. There's lots of reasons to buy Art, and investing is surely the least of them. Buying Art with an expectation or even a hope of selling it for more is a fool's game at the best of times.

There are a couple of takeaways here. When some joker goes on about how his photographs are "held in the collections of blah blah blah" what he means is that he sold some prints to some guys. He's trying to give the impression that he's basically Vermeer, but for photos. He's not.

The reasons to buy photographic prints are many. Probably you like the picture, that's great! Probably you like the photographer as well, and want to give him some money, that's also great! Incidentally that's part of why there's no secondary market -- why would I buy your Ctein print for $200? I would actually rather spend $400 and give that money to the artist, because I think Ctein's pretty OK, and also there's that thrill of direct connection. (insert appropriate numbers to suit, of course) This is perfectly reasonable and a fine idea.

Finally, don't expect to become an Important Artist as a photographer. You may well sell a few prints, or even a whole bunch of prints. Those prints will go up on people's walls, and some time in the future, into the trash. Your prints will, almost certainly, not be passed down generation to generation, and they almost certainly will not be re-sold to other collectors.

Books, interestingly, do much better in the secondary market.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What We Bring

Take a look at this picture here, to start with:

I'll give the context after the jump.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Emotional Honesty

I don't want this to become the Death and Dying blog, but there is a connection here to Art and photography.

To clear the air, or something, let me make clear that I didn't know Michael Reichmann, he impacted my life and photography in literally no way. I have no horse in this race. While I have commented unfavorably about the business he started, please note that the business remains. I will, likely, comment on it again. I have personal opinions based on personal experiences, which I decline to share, because I have no horse here. My remarks flow from the outpouring of sentimentality that appeared yesterday in virtually every media source on photography I follow. I read quite a bit of this content as this is, you may have noticed, an interest of mine.

My parents have both died. Here are some observations.

When my mother died, 30 years ago or so, there was an astonishing outpouring. She had been a very popular professor. Many people said many things, many beautiful wonderful things. Her children stood there and listened, thinking, "Wow, how nice that they loved her so, she sounds so nice. Who the fuck are they talking about?" Later, in small family gatherings, we acknowledged her flaws, her difficult relationships with her children, and so on.

When my father died it was, thank God, a much smaller affair. Still, we said nice things. I said nice things. My dad had a pretty good relationship with his kids, in contrast to mom. I wrote down a lot of things I'd learned from dad, selected ten, shot a bunch of pictures, and made a book. Sentimentality, fairly pure. Later, my maternal aunt said "I am grateful that the man who loved words and could not communicate is at peace" and that was a tremendous relief to me.

The point here is that when someone is being memorialized in the traditional fashion, with a glurge of Best Memories and whatnot, many of the listeners will be biting their tongues and thinking, "That is very nice, I am so happy that they feel that way, but .." and they will find themselves constrained, social convention demanding that they keep the negative inside. When everyone else is spouting these beautiful stories, those of us with the right to speak find ourselves nevertheless constrained, muzzled by social convention, to say nothing and keep smiling.

How, exactly, does it honor the dead, or serve the living, when those who knew the deceased best are biting their tongues and thinking "this is a bunch of beautiful, touching, bullshit" at the memorial?

And just in case you think this is unique to Molitor, because he's a sociopath, let me note that guys like Faulkner wrote about this sort of thing, so it's not just me. Maybe Faulkner was a sociopath too, I dunno. But us sociopaths are people too.

In the same way, Art that refuses to acknowledge the negative, Art that elides all but one dimension of the emotional gamut, is thin, incomplete. This is, in rough terms, why modern art has rejected so much of what came before. Traditionally, Art exalted beauty, dealt only with the sublime. The purpose of Art, it was held, was to Uplift. In the last 100 years, we've come to think that perhaps Art should instead speak Truth.

Go read this piece from Maciej Cegłowski. He recently went on a trip to Antarctica, and owes us several more pieces, so, stay tuned. Compare with any number of photographs of ice and penguins from any number of workshop attendees.

Neither viewpoint is complete, and of course it's a pretty big continent that can contain much. Still, there's no denying that Maciej's commentary reveals to us a side of the place that was surely visible to the workshoppers, but is usually left out of the picture. We're left biting our tongues and thinking "this is a bunch of beautiful bullshit" aren't we?

Another example, that paragon of uplifting painting, Bierstadt, could make a beautiful and uplifting painting of war. How effed up is that?

Photography suffers even more than painting from this sort of sentimentality, being as I repeat endlessly, essentially rooted in some kind of truth. We expect a certain kind of honestly from our photographs. The most sentimental and emotionally thin of the Pictorialists are justly reviled. It is no accident that Moonrise over Hernandez is a strong contender for Adams' "best picture", as it shows us a much more complete vision of the American West than do his perfect odes to the sublime. Truth, completeness, emotional integrity, these things matter.

Sentimental glurge is, inevitably, infused with falseness, and serves nobody well.

ETA If you feel the need to berate me for befouling the memory of a great man, or whatever, on this post as well, please don't bother. Go write something nasty about me on your own blog. I'll be moderating such comments pretty aggressively. This also means that you may assume that a cast of thousands is shrieking their fury at me, and that I am cruelly censoring them. Take THAT, 1st Amendment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Say whaaaaat?

I can't tell if Tavis Leaf Glover is insane or hilarious.

Read this blog post of his and tremble in awe. Or something. It is an object lesson, ultimately, in why all the rules and ideas of composition in the world will not make your pictures good.

Say whaaaaat?

UPDATE: There's more! The video Travis cites is a PragerU production. PragerU is an organization of right-wing nutjobs run by a right-wing nutjob. Are you a whacko with some sort of axe to grind against some perceived leftist/commie/faggot conspiracy to ruin everything that old white dudes built? PragerU will help you with your video!

The dude in the video, Robert Florczak, seems to be a commercial artist with (obviously) a sycophantic love of Old Masters and a hatred of all that is new. Yes, yes, he taught. At the Art Institute of Philadelphia. The Art Institute is a degree mill, basically, one of many for-profit schools that, essentially, exists to offer the absolute minimum level of education (and often not even that) necessary to allow students to get government backed financial aid to pay the tuition.

These class of schools is, in essence, taking government financial aid money, pocketing it, and sticking the students with the debt, all in return for more or less worthless degrees.

So, it's kind of sleaze and BS all the way down, innit? I have to shower now.

When I Die..

In the unlikely event that you hear of my demise, you can best honor my memory by raising a glass and saying,

I never liked that guy.

Say it with irony, say it with deadly seriousness, but do it. This outpouring of love shit makes my skin crawl. We are all of us flawed, we have all done bad things, stupid things, venal things, mean things. That too is part of us. To sweep all that away seems to me offensive, a lie.

Orson Scott Card, who is a horrible human being who generally writes pretty bad books, came up with one Really Good Idea. His concept is of the Speaker for the Dead, a person who comes when you die, and finds out the truth of your life through research, not unlike a detective. And then at the memorial, this person speaks the truth. The good, the bad, the secrets, the lies, the beauty, the kindness. All of it.

This strikes me as far more decent a way to honor the dead than some sugary blathered half-truths.

"This was Andrew, this is his story. Remember him."

Today, though, I will hew to social convention and hold my tongue.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


I had a thought today. Mike, over on ToP, has been going on a bit about digital editing, how much is too much, and so on, spurred by the McCurry scandal. In a forum, I saw a fellow dismiss the McCurry thing with, roughly, "what message, exactly, is being distorted by McCurry's edits?"

Here's the message that's distorted. It's the same message ever photograph carries. Ready for it?

This is what it looked like

Fundamentally, that's all a photograph ever really says.

One has to take this sort of allegorically, of course. As noted by many others it wasn't that small, nor was it flat, and there was more of it outside the rectangle, and the color was different etc etc. For each viewer specifically, any given picture either will or will not pass a basic "that's pretty much what it looked like" test. Generally, most people will agree, roughly. There are going to be some pictures that we disagree on, but most things most people will line up on the same side.

Removing a dude from a motor scooter definitely will make most people line up on the "didn't look like that"

McCurry is, of course, presenting a bullshit notion of certain areas of the world. They're austere, beautiful, somewhat gloomy, and have more contrast than we experience in the USA, possibly because the Sun is much much closer to India than it is to Chicago. He deletes smiling people, he deletes extra people, and so on.

It didn't look like, it doesn't look like that. Not in an individual picture, and not as a body of work.

Ok, whatever, so what. It's Art! Furthermore, everyone assumes that everything in Photoshopped these days, don't they?

Here's the really important observation I made.

People view paintings in a certain way. The understand that paintings are not literal, that it is normal for a painting to fail the "did it look like that" test. A painting is, in it very essence, not literally true to the scene. It's built in.

People, today, view photographs similarly, they assume that photographs are not in general literally true. The distinction is this: this default assumption is that most photographs are false, that they are lies. This is partly, I think, due to the fact that historically photographs have been edited heavily to reinforce larger political lies. It is also partly because photographs, as I say over and over, are essentially rooted in a kind of literal truth to the scene.

So, people see paintings and accept without rancor that they're probably not true to the scene. They see photographs and arrive at the same conclusion, but they describe it as a lie, a fake, a falsehood.

Universal acceptance of the basic un-literalness of photographs does not place photography into the same mental box we place painting. It almost does, but not quite. It places photography as a whole into a mental box labelled "probably fake, not literal" whereas paintings just get filed under "probably not literal."

It's a subtle distinction, I guess. But I think it matters.