Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Design Study, Font Follies

Carrying on with our investigation of Chris Gampat's "Emulsion" magazine, let's look at textual issues. Typography, styling, and a little bit of layout stuff.

More or less by accident this product seems to have at least 6 different font families. There are several obvious flubs, where Chris simply botched the font choice on a paragraph or a page. I think this accounts for at least 2 of the font families. There are a few places where the deviation from the surrounding font family might be intended to look like a pull quote or something.

The main font family in use is Economica, which is a spectacularly ugly font.

I dislike sans serif fonts in general, especially for running text, but that is maybe a personal problem. Economica is not merely sans serif, it is ugly and has low legibility even for a sans font. Most notably, it has several ligatures including this oddity:

When used in running text, the connecting bar from o to t creates the illusion of an r crammed in there, "ort." This reads slightly heavy so that every time the ligature appears there is a kind of illusion of a dark spot, a blotch. When your content includes the words photo, photography, shot, shoot, and shooting as much as this material does, that's a lot of blotches. In some sizes, especially italics, the type also comes out rather cramped. This is not a font for reading, this is a font for looking cool. There are probably good uses for it, but running text is not one of them.

Note also the weirdly lowered dollar sign, and imagine it, if you will, placed next to one of the quite tall and upwardly-weighted digits (as dollar signs occasionally are). The effect is gruesome.

On one front the choice was good, however. The descenders on the lowercase f, the weird but almost two-story g, as well as the heavy use of ligatures, does produce a touch of a classical feel. The lack of serifs and the overall modern look speak to a contemporary world, while the classical elements bridge the gap to the older world. This is a genuinely excellent note to hit for a magazine like this, where the topic is contemporary use of classical materials.

You need to select your fonts carefully, and appropriately for their uses. When in doubt, stick to mainstream fonts, don't run around buying weirdo fonts from all over. Start with Times and Helvetica, and edge slowly outwards from there.

Moving onwards, Chris consistently uses font sizes that are much too big, and he cannot stick to a single size. One 2-page spread, which contains a single flow of text, has three different font sizes. His smallest size is about 14pt, which is only slightly too big, and he goes up to at least 20 points fairly often, using a couple of different intermediate sizes along the way.

This is Chris's smallest font, as compared with the Wall Street Journal magazine (WSJ on top), which is set in about 10 point font. The WSJ font reads as quite small in real life, but only because the magazine itself is tabloid sized. It is perfectly legible, and not at all an unusual size:

And here is his hilariously enormous largest (I think) font:

Computer people, including me, tend to use fonts that are much too big when we go to print. My most recent blurb books use 14 point fonts, and I started out quite a bit larger. I have made a mental note to drop down to 12 point font in future. 14 is simply too chubby. We also tend to overlead, placing too much space between the lines. With decent printing (which mostly everything is these days), you can really cram the material in there as long as you're attentive to the overall balance of the page from micro to macro scales, and use good legible fonts.

There is no way to know you've got it right without pulling a physical proof, as far as I can tell. What looks ridiculously cramped and tiny on screen is loose and clumsy on the page. I, at any rate, have not mastered the trick of visualizing what it will really look like from the screen. It is worth noting that Chris did pull a proof and did not make his text flows even reasonably functional.

I half believe that Chris sometimes simply enbiggened a chunk of text until it filled up the space on the page he'd allocated for it, in preference to the rather more laborious task of re-doing the layout.

The fluctuating font sizes are but one of several problems.

Chris uses centered text, ragged right text, and fully justified text seemingly at random. The number of columns ranges from 4 (with a large font, natch, for lines that contain anywhere between 1 and 2 words each) to a single column (at least once with his smallest font size). The result is a chaos of varying line lengths, mostly wrong.

4 columns of 20pt font looks idiotic and is hard to read:

2 columns of centered 20pt doesn't look any better:

Things read best when you have something like 8 to 12 words per line, 50 to 75 characters. This means that you need to attend to the relationship between font size, page width, margins, and number of columns in your running text. Longer lines will feel more serious and scholarly, shorter lines will feel peppier and populist. Roughly speaking. As an added benefit, somewhere around 40 or 50 characters is the minimum length at which justified English text will look good, without   weirdly         spaced   words. Justified text looks much better on the page than anything else. It looks "finished", "well-made."

Much of the material is written out as a Q&A, and Chris cannot decide what combination of bold and italics to use. Sometimes the questions are bold, the answers italics. Sometimes the answers are plain, sometimes the questions are bold italics. Often, but not always, he manages to maintain the same style within a single artist's portfolio.

He could have stuck with one arrangement. He could have switched back and forth between two arrangements to give a little more separation from one artist/portfolio to the next. There are probably other things he could have done, but did not.

More chaos, more incoherence.

I think literally every control you can apply is adjusted more or less at random throughout the running text: alignment, line length, font size, font family, font weight, italics. What else can you do? I suppose he could have superscripted entire runs of text, and he did not.

I cannot really think of what to say here except to say "don't do this." You do need to be fairly maniacal to maintain consistency of all these things throughout, and usually you will make at least one substantial error which will require a thorough rework of the whole manuscript to correct.

Plan for this. The total rework will take less time than you think it will, and since it's inevitable, embrace it.

The alternative is to produce a careless piece of shit.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Design Study, Various Elements

Since Chris Gampat's "Emulsion" magazine is essentially a collection of small artist portfolios, together with some artist supplied text and bio information, let's look at another, similar collection. I happen to own an issue of LENSWORK which is structured exactly this way. LENSWORK is a bit stodgy, and while not over-designed to my eye, it is maybe on the design-heavy end of the spectrum. Here is the basic spread that introduces a portfolio in this issue:

It's basically a good looking spread, with a surprising number of moving parts. It's giving us the artist's statement, the name of the artist, the title of the portfolio, some side notes, and an opening picture. It's got a few design elements to tie together with the rest of the magazine, and a surprising number of elements to help us navigate these two pages in a useful way.

A minor nicety appears. One of the few bugs in the standard western codex is that when you turn the page, the first thing to heave into view is the recto page, the one on the right. But the text of a standard book does not flow from where you were to there, it goes to the upper left of the verso page. LENSWORK chooses to place the really important things recto. You can, in fact, completely ignore the verso page with all the text and go look at pictures. Brooks (the editor) is making a clear signal here about what's important. But this rabbit hole goes quite a long ways down.

This is the upper left corner of the verso page, the left page. Note the design element along the top of the page, the horizontal rule broken by the magazine title, LENSWORK. This appears on every page of the magazine, and helps to unify the whole.

Next, notice the capital W that begins the text, the so-called drop cap which serves as a visual cue to "Start Here." It is a bit of an affectation here, to be honest, but it almost universally respected tradition in periodical publishing. It makes more sense on a newspaper page which may have multiple articles starting at random locations on the page, in which case the strong visual cue increases readability.

Down at the bottom of the same page we have the bio:

Notice the font change to the sans serif font, the artist name in bold to both make the name clear as well as to give us that visual anchor. Note also the darker background for lower contrast, and the smaller text. This material is not as important as the artist's statement, which occupies the larger portion of the page. This is extra information. Skip it, if you want to get to the pictures. Come back later.

Looking now at the verso page, where your eyes first land as you turn the page:

The portfolio title, easily the largest text on the page, set against the paper white for maximum contrast. As if that was not enough, notice that it is styled in small caps, for greater emphasis. This is the only text that really matters here. Read This, if you read nothing else. Below it, the artist's name and signature, offset by a demure, almost invisible, "by."

Finally at the very bottom, in the smallest and lightest font, set against a dark background for lowered contrast, some side remarks about where you may find some more pictures. A technical note, intended to be ignored completely on the first, second, and perhaps third readings.

Brooks or his designer is using a total of only two fonts, one with serifs, one without, in a variety of sizes and styles, placement, and on two backgrounds, to create a fairly complex hierarchy of the text: Portfolio Title, Artist's Name, Artist's Statement, Artist's Bio, and Extra Information. This is a subtle and powerful piece of work here.

There are five different jobs that text does in this spread, and the designer has thought through how to make it do each job in a good way that is coherent with the rest, and functional for the reader.

Now let's look at "Emulsion":

In concept this is not terrible. There's the artist's name set out in a large font, in a contrasting color, nice. Underneath it is an understated block of text with a short bio (containing not one but two misspelled company names). There's a pull quote to get a little interest both graphically and to preview what is to come. There's an opening picture, and we launch into the text.

The pull quote is too dominant, what we really want is the artist's name, and then to launch into the text. Pull quotes are usually graphically big, but typographically quite light.

To accomplish this, Chris uses one font for the artist's name, a second one for the bio, and a third one for both the pull quote and the main text. A fourth font, sans serif this time, is used for the photo credit. I don't think we see any one of these fonts ever again in the magazine, nor do we see a photo credit again. There is a lorem ipsum style caption a bit later, but I'm not sure that counts. Even this group of fonts does not play well together, chunky, square, modern-looking serifs right next to traditional bracketed serifs, and so on. I mean, it's not awful, but it could have been nicer.

There's even a little graphical element, a dotted line on the bottom of the page.

Unfortunately, this is easily the best page in the entire thing.

Here is the very last portfolio intro page:

Again we have an opening picture (not bad) and the artist's name is at least present, slightly set off. It doesn't feel like an opening page, though, it looks just like any middle page, a mixture of text and photos. The only clue that this is the start of a new portfolio is that the picture doesn't look like it belongs with the earlier ones, and there is that artist name stuck there in the middle of the page.

There is only one font in use here, which is something of a blessing, and Chris is using size and bold to make it do different jobs. Good for you, Chris.

Here's another one:

The artist's name is set off by being italic bold, but then, Chris sometimes uses italic bold for the "Question" of the Q&A format that runs throughout, so at first it's not clear what's happening.

I could go on and on, there are 12 of these things, and they are literally every one different from the others.

LENSWORK clearly defines a series of roles that text is going to play on these pages. LENSWORK's design places those into a functional hierarchy, and leads you through them in a good way. The design uses graphical elements to tie together with the rest of the magazine, it uses a common format to tie them portfolios together and make the opening spreads useful. Understand one, the next unfolds trivially. Two font families are used creatively in this work, while tying things together more.

In contrast, "Emulsion" barely seems to recognize that the artist's name is important. There is no commonality, there is no useful hierarchy, there are little blocks of various fonts fighting pitched battles back and forth across the page. Far from guiding us through the text, the design (or rather, lack thereof) seems to willfully obscure any attempt to make sense of which text, if any, I can ignore. One has to struggle to work out who the artist is, as often as not.

Sadly, the correct answer is that you can ignore all of the text. It is 90% worthless and uninteresting. The only thing that is of any interest is the name of the artist, and trying to find that can be a bit of an adventure.

Chris has no concept of recto and verso, simply launching into the next portfolio whenever he runs out of material on the previous one. Honestly, I suppose we should consider ourselves blessed that he doesn't start them in the middle of the page.

I am about half sure that Chris had someone do that first page for him. The line on the bottom is a tell, that someone had a hand in this who had least had some rudiments of what design might look like. The rest of the thing looks like the work of a middle schooler who just opened InDesign for the first time.

I think this discussion will flow fairly neatly into a discussion of fonts.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Design Study, Concept/Editorial Voice

Consider the concept of Chris's "Emulsion". He's a film booster, and so wanted to do a premium zine of film photography. As usual, he trusted to his enthusiasm for the medium to carry him through. He kickstarted it, pre-selling something like 140 copies based on nothing but a couple of names he'd gotten some sort of commitment from, and his concept of "100 pages, film photography, several artists."

He then put out a call for submissions, which requested a bio, some pictures, and answers to a handful of questions. Conceptually, Chris structured this thing as a collection of small portfolios, with some supporting text about the artist, biographical info, stuff about process and whatnot. By structuring the submission guidelines he did, he set himself up for two major problems.

1. The textual material is all over the place. Some people chose to write out the questions, and then write answers underneath in an interview-style format. Others simply wrote an essay that touched on all or most of the questions. The length, quality, and voice of the textual material varies wildly. Chris elected to include the supplied text more or less as-is.

2. By simply asking for a small portfolio of pictures, with the only stricture being that they be shot on film, Chris made the graphical material a mess. Some artists sent in greatest hits, some artists probably sent in current favorites, and a couple seemed to try for a coherent portfolio of material. By design, there is no flow from one artist to the next, and often there's no structure within the individual portfolios.

In short, there are no real levers the editor can use to create some sort of structure to the whole thing, it is -- by design -- incoherent. There is no space in here for the work of an editor, except to check spelling and do some layout. This general incoherence will, unfortunately, form a theme that runs throughout, which I found interesting in its own way. Side note: Chris did not check spelling.

When I did a not-dissimilar collaborative project, I requested more material than I would need with the explicit statement that I would be picking and choosing. My design, my concept, allowed me to jumble the pictures up, to seek patterns and relationships across artists. Since I included myself as a contributor, I had permission to shoot connecting material. Mine is much better for it. Mine is also a radically different book.

A regularly issued magazine is another example to ponder. These are also collaborative efforts. The writers, though, work against a style guide and usually to-order. Lengths, topics, and overall style are set before pen touches paper. The editing staff then cut, paste, re-arrange and re-write to suit. Pictures and graphics are similarly controlled and managed. While the many collaborators do contribute, usually in something like their own voice, it is the editorial staff that dictates the final shape of any element that goes into the magazine.

There is a pre-existing design language, which will inform the content. Pictures to be printed small need to be made differently than pictures to be printed large. If you use ridiculously narrow column widths, you have to avoid long words. Etcetera.

Not uncommonly, an issue is built around a theme, which informs the authors and artists, as well as the editorial decisions, and which adds another thread tying the thing together into a coherent whole.

Working even by yourself, your artistic concept, your vision, needs to have enough flex to support the editorial voice. I love this picture will, if you are wearing your editor hat properly, sometimes run up against but it does not work.

Chris would have done well to re-write all of the text. As supplied it is frankly boring. One artist may have an interesting answer to "which photographers inspired you" but most will just name drop a few people they have heard of. One artist may have an interesting process, another may not. The text should have been read, digested by the editor, and re-written into a common format, giving each artist roughly the same word count and sticking to the interesting parts. This would have made the text much smaller, tighter, and all around better. It also would have left more space for the pictures.

In addition, Chris should have specified what he wanted to see in submissions, and given himself room to edit and to create coherence. Send in more pictures than I will be using or pick your strongest theme/style and send in only pictures from that or something else.

I will say that within the extremely small envelope he built for himself, Chris did some good things. The picture layouts are sometimes pretty good, and I think it is safe to say that he never creates a jarring or particularly foolish juxtaposition. His worst crimes in placing photos are that he sometimes makes them very small (about which more later), and occasionally he falls into a sort of Snapfish autolayout style with small photos diagonally wandering down the page like an overly chill mom placing pictures in an album. These are infrequent, and in the grand scheme of this mess, mere peccadillos.

Whether he abdicated his responsibility as an editor, or whether he designed the product to have no editorial input on purpose I cannot say, but the result is the same. Long dreary text, incoherent material simply smashed onto pages one after the other.

Your project needs an editor, even if it's just you again. Your editor needs elbow room.

Give your editor some elbow room.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Design Study, The Phoblographer's "Emulsion" Zine

I recently acquired a copy of Chris Gampat's (of The Phoblographer) zine of analog photography, which he kickstarted a year and a half ago.

This initially started out as a review. Since I personally dislike the man behind this project, I felt it behooved me to take some real time with the material, so I wouldn't just bleat out a biting essay on how much I hate it. So, I did take time. As I write this, I am still taking time.

I have found a few things to like, a few things that are OK, and an almost infinite well of terrible. Digging in to it, I began to look things up, to compare with other work, to study other publications in ways I had not, and what began to emerge were some real lessons in design. I am now, and am continuing to become, a better designer for spending time with this thing. As I worked on initial draft material I began to insert "takeaway" sidebars, and after a time these came to dominate the text.

There is no way that this magazine is anything but a catastrophic failure. From concept to copy-editing, the thing appears to be an almost unending wall of mistakes and lousy ideas. Some I knew, some I did not, which I found interesting. Failure analysis is one way we learn. It's why air travel is so safe. When we see what is wrong, we compare with what is right, and we glean thereby a lesson.

I'm going to write and publish a series of essays about various aspects of "Emulsion" and I will compare with other, well-made, publications, and try to extract therefrom something to take away.

The overall impression of "Emulsion" is instantly positive. It's a weighty well-built physical object, as we expect from the premium blurb products. The overall print and build quality is good. The cover is sound. The first few pages are OK, although we begin to feel a sense of shoddy slapdash design more or less the moment we open the thing. Paging through it, the shoddiness of layout and design gradually rises, reaching ludicrous levels after a few pages, and then leveling off at "ludicrous" for the duration.

As a nerd, I can go identify dozens and dozens of specific things that are wrong. As a non-nerd, I think even without specifically noticing much you will feel that this is poorly done, that it is sloppy and amateurish. Squinting at some of the tinier pictures you will surely feel that perhaps they could have been printed a bit larger. You might notice the font sizes jumping around. You might notice the nonsensical font changes. Likely that's about it, but there's more. Boy howdy, is there more.

In my judgement as a bit of a book nerd, this object would be terrible even as a first draft. I propose to dig in to a demonstration of that, together with some guesswork about how it could have happened. There will be discussions of fonts, of descenders, of word counts, of bleeds and probably margins.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Art considered as a Tweet

In the bad old says of, well, I think some intervals before the Renaissance, most of the art produced in europe was in support of the church. Sculpture and paintings mainly served to decorate religious buildings, and that was that. Art served primarily to support and amplify the dominant dogma. It was not supposed to challenge, to enrich, to enlarge the human mind, it was there to show you what you already believed, and urge you to believe it harder.

In the modern era, we see challenging Art which does enlarge, enrich us. And then, gradually, those ideas sometimes move slowly from radical avant-garde ideas to, as it were, settled dogma. At this point there is still a nice opportunity for artists to fall back into the church mode, and make more or less endless pieces which glorify and amplify that existing dogma. They may even pretend to be avant-garde.

Case in point. American Monument. This is an installation of 25 record players, each with a record of audio relevant to some police killing of an African American. This is packaged together with some large piles of documentation surrounding these cases, and I dare some some other things.

Now, I think cops shoot too many black people in the USA, let's stipulate that. Let us also stipulate that I could be mis-reading this installation, missing out on something.

That said, this does not strike me as a subtle work that enlarges our understanding of anything. While it is complicated, a lot of material had to be assembled, records had to be made, and so on, it is not particularly illuminating. This installation does not appear to offer any nuance, any alternative or more complex view of anything. The function appears to be, entirely, to validate the already held ideas of whoever might go see it.

This exhibit, in short, appears to be functionally equivalent to a tweet: WAKE UP PEOPLE #BlackLivesMatter

The tweet is about standing up and being counted, about taking part in what one hopes creates the appearance of a wave of nearly unanimous or at any rate large and dominant public opinion. This notional tweet ain't wrong. I support it. I probably have tweeted stuff like that myself. But the tweet, busting out my schoolboy arty bollocks, does not critically engage with anything.

Side note: the "with" part of "engage with" is redundant. I only ever say it ironically or by mistake.

American Monument, quite apart from the kerfuffle over the firing of the director who commissioned it, appears to be an incredibly complicated way of doing essentially the same thing. The artist is working that sort of comet's tail of the avant-garde, in which she can simply make elegant, complicated, work that validates the ideas the critics already hold, and can thus more or less rely on a positive reception. Nobody ever went broke telling The King that he's right.

Compare with Lewis Bush's work on the tax haven that is Jersey, which you can see a few sample bits from here. I've seen some other things, and the exhibited work is a bit more complicated, he's sticking diagrams on top of some of the photos and whatnot, so it's not just a bunch of rectangles on a wall.

Now, Lewis certainly could have thrown up a bunch of shit that boiled down to a tweet: CAPITALIST NEOLIBERALS SUCK #ElectCorbyn

He chose not to. He appears to be taking a more nuanced view. He's showing us things we did not know, he's digging into a narrow slice the neoliberal/capitalist clusterfuck and revealing it in ways we did not expect, did not know. We come away, perhaps, enlarged, smarter, changed.

Now, to be fair, I have seen neither American Monument nor Trading Zones, so I am guessing a lot here. But if my guesses miss the mark, they at any rate delineate the kinds of things that can go on, and my conclusions could as well be applied to other things.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is Photography Ready for Compulsory Licenses?

In the world of music in particular, there has long been in place a system of compulsory licensing. That is, anyone who wishes may create, record, and sell a recording of a song or other piece of music without the permission of the copyright holder provided that they pay a fee to the copyright holder. A whole system exists to move that money around. This has enabled broadcasting, as well as much of the modern music industry. It was designed, I gather, specifically to break up the possibility of a corporate monopoly on recorded material.

Also, I suspect, it was simply intended to regularize what was already happening. You cannot prevent people from learning and playing a song. The better ones might record their version. You can run around punishing them piecemeal, or you can (as Congress elected to do) simply grant everyone a compulsory license and require reasonable fees to get paid.

A knock-on effect of this has been bring the normal course of a musician's development in under a legal umbrella. Kids with guitars start out, inevitably, playing covers of their hero's songs. They play gigs. They learn and develop their craft, and eventually graduate (sometimes) to writing their own material. This is normal, and with the system of compulsory licensing, it is also legal, and fair.

These days we're seeing three trends that seem relevant.

First, since the advent if the <img> tag on the web, there has been a great deal of appropriation going on from the highest levels of fine art (Richard Prince, and many others) all the way down to instagrammers stealing one another's pictures. This is reality, there seems to be no putting that cat back into any kind of a bag of any sort. Sometimes, not always of course, but sometimes there appears to be some legitimacy here. Not legal as such but reasonable in some sense. Some kid is learning photoshop, a talented artist is making a serious statement. Neither of those are something we ought to be suppressing, but the original photographer has rights as well.

The second trend is the consolidation of stock agencies. We're not very far away from a world in which your choices for acquiring imagery are: the sole remaining microstock agency (whichever one that is), hiring a photographer to create original work, or stealing it. This is exactly the scenario compulsory licensing for audio recordings was intended to prevent.

The third trend is the ever-increasing "do it for exposure" business model, which is driven in part because photographers often lack a convenient way to bill, and have little to no experience pricing their work.

With a compulsory licensing scheme, the world shifts radically. Anything online can be downloaded, used, remixed, republished, as long as you pay the fee, and supply the credit.

The boring and stupid legal cases mostly go away (this puts Richard Prince out of business, because his art isn't remixed photos it's lawsuits). Getty Images collapses immediately.

Theft of imagery goes down, because the process of paying a fee is easy and inexpensive, and the penalties are more organized. Rather than trying to hide behind a half-baked fair use defense, commercial or other uses would simply pay the fee. Photographer earnings go up.

Are there technical details to be worked out? Yep. There are also legal ones, the Berne Convention seems to call out audio materials for this type of licensing, but not visual ones. How do people pay? How do people get paid? I don't know, but I am confident that solutions can be worked out.

The music industry provides, not all the answers, but anyways a handy template.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Identity and Photography

There is a whole class of people who argue that ones Identity must inevitably shape ones Photography. Women photograph one way, People of Color photograph in accordance with their ethnicity, and so on, White Men photograph their own way (which is generally Bad but let us set that aside), and so on.

As with most claims that come out of Identity Politics, it's not entirely clear what the claim is. On the one hand, obviously an artist can make their Identity as a woman, an LGBQT person, and so on, central to their work. Cindy Sherman has done a lot of overtly Feminist work, and it is perfectly reasonable to say that her Identity As A Woman strongly informs her body of work. Is the claim simply that some women might do this? If so, well, obvious, but not very interesting. Also, there is the problem that anyone -- even a man -- could lift Sherman's tropes and grind out more work in the same vein. You could pretend that, as a man, it wouldn't "read" but I think that is nonsense. If it has not already happened, someone will surely produce a body of work under an assumed Identity, as a piece of performance art.

No, the claim feels, albeit vaguely, as if the notion is that Women's Photography taken as a whole ought to "read" as somehow feminine. While some women might produce distinctly masculine work, taken as a whole the overall shape of the body of work made by women should have a detectable character. Ditto African American, Transgender, Gay, and so on.

This is a very attractive notion. It is one that I feel attracted to, it seems as it it ought to be true. And yet, it appears to be generally false. I should note that while I find the notion attractive, at the same time I find it offensive. Replace the phrase "Women's Photography" with "Negro Photography" and see how that works for you. Less well, I think, and not entirely because of the exact word choice.

I can see that ones Identity shapes much of what one does, what one thinks, what one feels. There is no question in my mind that "lived experience" colors a great deal. Women are socialized (at least) in certain ways that lead, I am reliably informed, to different approaches to teamwork, different approaches to problem solving. There is more basic stuff: I have heard tell of a health tracker app that had no way to track menstrual cycles. Too many bros, not enough, umm, women on that design team. And so on. I do not think there is any way to conveniently enumerate the ways in which ones Identity, and ones Lived Experience are likely to pop up and affect something about you, about what and how and why you do what you do.

When you're talking to people, interacting with people, I believe that your core, your experience, your (as it were) true self tends to come through. You can fake it, an introvert can playact the extrovert, the feminist could playact the misogynist, but it's acting. It requires constant labor to keep up the facade. In other walks of life, photography let us say, the default position is reversed -- the easy thing to do is to simply copy other people's stuff whereas what is hard is to produce something that reflects that true self.

Even if you, as a photographer, are not merely aping someone else's work, your work will be shaped by myriad influences. You will tend to borrow a visual trope from here, get a subject from there (maybe an editor, maybe a client, or maybe something you saw on instagram). Certainly also your true self in all its facets, including any Identities you have, will also color the work.

The question, though, is whether that true self, and in particular those Identities, will be consistently visible across the work of a bunch of people.

The answer appears to largely be in the negative, "no," and the question is "why?"

Imagine, if you will, that your team leader at work is gay. Some such leaders would be very up front about their sexual Identity, telling you on day one. Others might be deeply closeted, and you might never find out. In between, and this covers most of the gay people I have worked for, it's not important, but eventually you know. It comes out, organically, somehow. This reflects, I think, a normal range of attitudes. A Gay Artist might choose to center their work around that Identity. Many Gay Artists, on the other hand, might simply have other things they'd like to explore. Some will try very hard to hide that Identity.

I think in the end we all have a tendency to fake it in all our interactions. We try to come across as smarter, more pleasant, more fun to be with than we truly are. We try to make photographs that look like something else excellent. And so on.

The difference is that when you're leading a team at work, or having a long conversation, the act just doesn't work, it's simply too hard to keep up a facade in these situations where there are 1000 ways your true self can leak out. When you're taking pictures and printing them out, or putting them online, it's dead easy to fake it. You can hide behind your copies of Ansel Adams, or Garry Winogrand, or your pastiche of Arbus, Sherman, and Gurksy, or whatever. You can hide behind your use of the wet plate process. Rather than 10000 ways your Identity can leak out and be noticed, there are a 1000 ways to conceal it.

Even when we are ostensibly trying to reveal ourselves, we inevitably produce an edited version, the bits we secretly don't want to share are carefully elided, the bits we like best are exaggerated. We can see this in all the overwrought confessional work we're seeing these days. It reads patently, obviously, false in spite of its supposed openness.

Because of the great distance between Me and You when I am communicating with a photograph, or a photobook, whatever facade I want will serve perfectly well. Indeed, I am going to have a hard time selling even the facade. The true me is surely absolutely inaccessible.

Getting my Identity out there, visible in the final product, is going to be very very hard. And, generally, it's not likely to "read" that well.