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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

That Ole Authoritarian Tango

If you pay attention to mainstream photography media, social and otherwise, you will notice pretty often calls to remove the verb "to shoot" from the photographer's vocabulary. The association with firearms is harmful and unnecessary, and photographers are already just so exploitive, we should remove this and use "capture" or something.

This oft repeated platitude is often repeated by vaguely amiable fairly nice people who simply want the world to be a better place.

It originates, though, in a much less healthy impulse: the urge to force people to bend the knee and submit to demands. It doesn't matter what demands. As Orwell noted, the point of power is power, and this applies even to the most venal and trivial situations.

It is also, of course, deeply stupid. The verb "to shoot" is ubiquitous in sport, but somehow nobody seems willing to tell soccer (football, <cough>) players to stop "shooting" at the goal. Nobody tells someone facing a challenge to avoid terminology like "best shot" or "shoot the moon." Nobody suggests that fountains do not shoot water into the air ("consider less loaded options like 'ejaculate.'")

It turns out, once you start looking around, photography is absolutely wall-to-wall with these kinds of trivial demands that one kneel.

These days it's popular to dress it up in an ethical/social-justice framework. Informed consent is so necessary but at the same time, somehow, no degree of informing is ever quite enough. No practical, real, degree of consent is actually satisfactory. We see it also, though, in aesthetic demands. Your pictures should be in focus, or not, the colors should be accurate, nor not, or whatever. Sequence this way, not that way. How can you expect to be properly derivative of <name> unless you slavishly copy and submit to my program?

Everyone wants to tell you what you're doing wrong, everyone wants you to submit to their program.

The broadest form of this I have noted is people who are constantly angling for the role of curator and/or critic, based on little more than a kind of dopey personal taste. I can name any number of names of people who have been beavering away trying with more or less success to build a kind of authority, invariably without actually doing much work developing a basis for that desired authority. They skim Barthes and Benjamin, and then they spend years banging away conflating their personal taste with some objective notion of quality, marketing the shit out of themselves.

I dare say this impulse is universal, but from where I sit this morning, it strikes me that photography seems especially full of know-nothing idiots striving against all the other know-nothing idiots to be put "in charge" of some nebulous something or other, to become the boss, to be granted the authority to direct Photography writ large.

Honestly, ignore all these fucking people. Ignore me too.

Or rather, read or listen to what seems useful, and sort it carefully. Throw away anything that's just a demand that you kneel, whether first-hand or tenth, and take away the bits and pieces that you can actually use.

In the end, it's just rectangles full of blobs of tone and color. As long as you don't wind up outing some rat to a mob assassin, nothing you do is going to cause any actual harm, no matter how badly you do it.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Agency, Identity and our Response to a Photo

There has been a mild social media shitstorm generated by the usual tiny cadre, featuring among other pictures the one I talked about in these remarks earlier.

One of the oft-repeated claims in these things is "you'd never see white people photographed this way" which is sometimes true, but often not. Therein lies an interesting observation.

In this case, for instance, we're talking about rape survivors. We would, we are told, never see pictures of white rape survivors. The pictures of dark skinned rape survivors are, we are told, inherently exploitive. We are told that the subjects lack the necessary visual literacy and understanding of media to truly give informed consent. Not everyone says all these things, but these things have all been said.

Put all together, though, these remarks paint a remarkable picture of the attitudes of these warriors for justice, and their attitude toward the people in Africa.

Africa, I have been informed by trusted sources, is not just a gigantic jungle thinly populated by naked savages. It has cities, culture, civilization. It even has media, gasp. The idea that someone with brown skin lacks visual literacy and an understanding of media isn't just wildly racist, it's completely fucking insane.

In reality, we see tons of pictures of white rape survivors. We literally have books by rape survivors with jacket photos right on the book. This is totally a thing. The survivor bravely testifies to her struggles etc etc. This is also precisely the theme of the controversial photos, that these survivors are voluntarily and with courage testifying to their trauma, their struggle, etc, in order to serve a greater good.

I think that what is going on is a pretty nasty dive into our human psyches.

The truth is that I, and many others, are far more willing to accept a narrative of exploitation, of lack of agency, of ignorance, when we see a photo of a brown person than when we see a white person.

I don't know which of the Justice Warriors, if any, are consciously exploiting this, but it is certainly their method: present a photo of a person of color, essentially without context, and then simply state as a bald fact that the subject was exploited by the photographer, is ignorant of media, and lacks agency. Broadly, people will accept this as simply true.

Seeing functionally the same photo of a white person, we're much less willing to accept this story, and will tend to apply a story of agency, of knowledge, of informed consent.

We tend to see the photos of African woman literally as in a different category as functionally identical photos of white women. We believe the story that we would never see "these" photos of a white woman. In a sense it is true, because when we see the white woman, we do not experience it as one of "these" photos but rather as one of "those" photos, which photos we consider as completely different. The difference, though, lies within us not in the blobs of color and tone that we see on the page or screen.

This is a real effect, I think, but it's not clear what the photographer is supposed to do about it.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Award Winning!

I am an award-winning photographer now. I can no longer talk to you unless you have also won an award I'm afraid. It's a cruel but necessary rule.

Here's the proof: Jolt Awards

You may admire the Award Winning Photos here.

Snappy Kraken is a marketing company, and they really really like off-beat stuff. Which, it turns out, is kind of what I am good at. I've done an ongoing campaign in the form of a long series of photos for my wife's business blog, which Snappy Kraken noticed, and they gave me an award. So there. As part of this, I wrote up something of a discussion of "muh pro-cess" and here it is.

When my wife launched her financial planning practice in 2016, I offered to supply her with at least some of the photography. Since I am not a professional as such, she used (with great effect) an actual professional to create the pictures for her main web site. I ended up making pictures for the blog portion, which is to a degree a separate little world of its own. Being generally around, I am conveniently available to make these pictures!

We began with a LEGO minfig, a whimsical and charming miniature female character that seemed to suit the mood of the blog pretty well. Rapidly, though, we realized that this would lead to copyright problems. The LEGO Group is generous, but likely not that generous. I had read within the last few years a book by Molly Bang, Picture This: How Pictures Work, in which she uses a little red triangle to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and to illustrate how emotion and story can be carried with simple graphical shapes. I was pretty sure that a pink triangular block was unlikely to trigger anyone's copyright rights, and so I painted an appropriate scrap of wood, a scrap about 2 inches high.

I'd like to pretend that the concept fell into place fully formed at that point, but that wouldn't be true. What is today a pretty well fleshed out set of ideas has grown fairly organically, by fits and starts, over several years. Rather than try to reconstruct those half-remembered twists and turns, I will instead tell you where we are today, the complete concept. Not every photo succeeds, but I think that en masse and occasionally even one-by-one, the photos hit all or more of the marks.

Block woman, the little pink triangle, is deliberately intended as the avatar of the blog reader, in a sense the ideal customer of Flow Financial Planning, LLC. Pink, despite all efforts, remains resolutely feminine in the modern West. Block woman struggles with the kinds of decisions which that reader might also struggle with; she triumphs likewise in the same ways. The intent is that she should be relatable. She connects the reader to the problem in the blog post.

Using the ideas from Bang's book, I try to create simple scenes which capture some essential idea from the accompanying blog post, ideally some moment of confusion or difficulty or triumph. To be honest, often that's simply too hard to represent visually (how does one photograph a Donor Advised Fund?) and we end up with some silly visual pun, which may or may not even read. Nevertheless, ideally we see block woman palpably struggling with, or solving, exactly the problem the blog post is trying to shed some light on.

At the same time, the pictures try to connect with the Flow brand. Block woman herself is more or less the pink color from the corporate logo, and I will sometimes work in the green or the gold color as well. Every photo has a largely imperceptible vignette applied which is done with the Flow logo's blue. I honestly have no idea if the vignette "reads" but at the very least it helps bolster the common "look" that the blog photos have.

I remind myself regularly of the notion that 50% of marketing doesn't work, we just don't know which 50%, so we do all of it anyway.

Normally, but not always, I try to create an airy, open, warm sensation in the photo. Technically, I lighten up the middle tones a trifle, and render the color palette a little on the warm (yellow/red) side. This openness and warmth, combined with the slightly whacky vibe of an anthropomorphized little-pink-triangle, is aimed at creating an overall vibe of optimism and comfort. The goal is something like "she struggles just as you do, but it's going to be ok, it's a sunny day in block-land!"

To create the emotional content, such as it is, I spend a surprising amount of time getting block woman positioned and/or tilted just so. She leans in to listen, she jumps back in surprise, she hunkers down in worry. Props lean in to threaten, are distant and out of focus to be inaccessible, or loom over the little pink triangle who, we hope, tends to glare back with confidence.

In the ideal blog photo, we have an avatar that the reader can relate to, in an optimistic situation relative to some problem that the reader has or can imagine having, which is also subtly connected to the Flow brand through the use of color.

If the result is funny too, well, so much the better.

If you are one of the little group of shitweasels who are now thinking "I should send a vaguely threatening email about How Problematic Molitor Is to someone" know this: a) I will find out b) I will publish your email and c) I will relentlessly mock you for being so attentive to someone you loudly claim to pay no attention to, ya weird little stalker.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Something to Look At

Here's a photo:


This was shot by Magnum photographer Newsha Tavakolian, and was the center of an extremely small shitstorm on social media (certain people who spend a lot of time loudly shouting that you have to protect identities of marginalized people are now taking exception to the admittedly crude method used to protect the identity of a marginalized person. uh, I think. Honestly either it's not super clear what's so problematic, or maybe I'm not paying much attention on account of I don't care.)

Let's look at this thing. There is a black person, gender indeterminate I think, wearing a pink top, possibly a t-shirt. The background is dark, some sort of interior wall? There are two slender vertical columns that appear to be wooden or similar, apparently supporting a dark fabric. This could be a makeshift studio, or the inside of a tent, or some kind of more permanent structure.

Notably, and most importantly, the figure has a net draped over their head and face. A friend might recognize them, but to my eye they are rendered thoroughly anonymous, although some sensation of an expression comes through. While the hairstyle (if indeed this person has any hair on their head at all) is completely concealed, the net is draped in ways reminiscent of hair slightly past the shoulder. One might imagine, for instance, cornrowed hair draping in a similar way, although of course we have no way of knowing a priori if this person would or would not consider such a hairstyle remotely appropriate.

It's not clear whether or not the drape of the net is intended to suggest hair, but it's certainly possible. The suggestion of hair is so strong, to my eye, is that my initial impression is that the subject's back is turned, and we're looking at hair down their back. It almost feels like a Rick James quotation, if you squint, which is extremely weird and arguably very very inappropriate in-context. It cannot, not seriously, be taken as a conscious Rick James reference, but it's what comes to my mind.

The subject, insofar as we can make anything out, seems to have a neutral-to-subdued expression, the body language is consistent with a subdued manner as well. The subject's sightline is a bit to the side, away from the light. Possibly contemplative or bored, possibly looking at something to the photographer's left.

The surrounding information tells us that this person is a woman who lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is a rape victim.

Let us assume, without much reason, that the net covering her face was not simply the only acceptable expedient for disguising her identity. It is certainly possible that it was, and that could be explored, but it's not the possibility I am interested in here.

This photo belongs to a genre of "documentary" photography, which isn't very documentary. The idea is to present as documents things that are actually so larded up with art and artifice that they are in no useful way actually documents. They do not function as documentary photographs, but rather as often poorly conceived conceptual art projects. Indeed, you might as well consider them as second-rate conceptual art, larded up with "news-ish" intention and context, in order to lend some sort of gravitas to a second-rate project.

What, exactly, are we to make of this picture?

If a photograph is a portal to somewhere, where does this portal lead? To a darkened room with an anonymous figure draped, incongruously, in a net. To a darkened room where it is obvious to anyone that a conceptual art piece is being shot. Either that or it's some spy movie, Unlike most such obviously-studio setups, though, there isn't even any clear meta-story.

A model on an obvious set, wearing Gucci and wrangling a pair of borzois, is trying to tell a story. To be specific, a meta-story of sorts, in which Gucci is associated with wealth, power, and dogs. In Tavakolian's picture, and in myriad similar ones, there's no meta-story. It's just an anonymous figure with a net on her head. To be fair, sometimes photos in this genre do point to some meta-story, but all too often the gesture is weak, or absent.

There might be something interesting in here about "news." Perhaps it's that real life is nuanced and subtle, at least when compared with the blunt instrument of Gucci Branding, so no gesture in this sort of thing can have the muscle of the Gucci ad. If so, this suggests that the entire idea is bankrupt and should be junked. Just shoot straight documentary photos and leave the conceptual art to the artists.

This picture strikes me as much like Cristina de Middel's "The Afronauts" which has the same kind of surreal photos of Africans, but which, in a supreme instance of weirdness, might actually be pretty accurate representations of an actual "space program" that Zambia had running for a while. It's a legitimately wild set of photos built on a legitimately wild genuine occurrence, but it has the same vibe as this photo.

Magnum does seem to be scraping up a lot of these people. It seems almost like it might be their Thing now. Not sure it'a great way forward.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Something to Look At

Here's a photo:

Front and center we see a Cigar Store, UNITED CIGARS, with a busy shop window that looks like it sells a lot of stuff. Film, cigarettes, probably candy and pens and envelopes. To the right, a marquee for a theater of some sort, showing "My Friend Irma Goes West" whatever that is. Above that, a blade sign advertising something ending in "MOUNT."

There's some sort of strung-up fluttery crap that seems to come from the blade sign down to the theater marquee, but I cannot make any sense of it.

The sidewalk in front of the theater is crowded, people appear to be crossing the street on the extreme right of the frame, but nobody crosses the street in the foreground. A striped awning suggests another small storefront behind the cigar store, but before the theater entrance.

Above the sign for the cigar store, a sign for Marigold Cafe which evidently serves Chop Suey. To the left of the cigar store, a shop that buys diamonds and "old gold" whatever that might be.

Other details: the street in the foreground has rails, perhaps for streetcars in each direction. The clothing of the people is consistent with 1950s America. The shutter speed is slow, perhaps 1/8 of a second or so, sufficient to render people walking moderately toward the camera fairly sharply, but someone hurrying to cross the street is a blur. There is a man looking directly at the camera who may be hollering, talking, or perhaps his mouth is just hanging open.

There may be a cat in the doorway to the cigar store. There is some sort of newsstand or similar at the base of the street lamp at the right of the frame.

A little research along with the information which accompanied the photo (which gave the location) tells us this is a view from Los Angeles, looking across Hill St, and down 6th St, facing to the southeast. The theater is the Paramount, which did not require a lot of hard guessing, and it was showing a movie released in 1950 (July 4 according to one source), a Dean Martin/ Jerry Lewis vehicle, a sequel to "My Friend Irma."

This dates the photo to, probably, summer of 1950. The Paramount was shuttered in 1960, so this is certainly prior to that date. United Cigar was a going concern in this entire era, as were LA street cars.

This intersection was a major one in the LA streetcar system, with the Hill Street rails carrying cars for both the active systems. 6th Street also carried street car traffic. Close inspection of the upper part of the photo shows aerial wires, possibly for the streetcars (which were electric in the 1950s). This suggests, but does not prove, an early 1950s date as the streetcar lines began to convert to buses in 1955.

The frame dimensions suggest a 4x5 negative, although of course anything can be cropped. This might be some sort of Graphic Press Camera held with a steady hand, or something tripod mounted. It seems a peculiar size for this sort of photo on this date, but certainly people were running around with both Speed Graphics and View Cameras at the time.

The Marigold Cafe seems to have been a going concern pre-war, to the extent that one web page claims the US Military were banned from entering the establishment. One wonders why, but not very hard. It appears to have continued its operation into the 1950s. The attentive will note that the sign seems to suggest that it is either across 6th street or around the corner behind the cigar store. There is lettering that begins "Entrance ..." which presumably ends with either "across street" or "around corner" but I cannot tell which. The striped awning noted above might well be the Marigold. The prewar address of 329 West 6th seems to be consistent with that location.

The entire Paramount building with its associated small storefronts was evidently razed, and in its place now stands one of those weird "Jewelry Mart" complexes that one always suspects are in fact vast money laundries, somehow, that sell a bit of jewelry on the side for cover.

The fire hydrant seems to have been replaced, and moved a little to the right, although it's still that same weird style. The street lamps, regrettably, are now contemporary ugliness.

I am irrationally fascinated by the left-to-right pedestrians hurrying to cross 6th, in contrast with the pedestrians sauntering toward us to cross Hill. I half-imagine a street car just out of frame, moving right to left, about to mow down any foolish walker who tries to cross Hill. I can imagine our camera man, waiting patiently for the traffic to clear, and seizing this singular instant when no streetcar or automobile obstructs the view. I have shot across a few streets in my time.

The fellow looking at us might be wondering how it's going, or yelling at the cameraman "don't take my picture!" or who knows what?

In the end, it's not a particularly interesting photo, is it? It's just a sort of slice of life, the framing is wonky. Is it a picture of a cigar store (get closer, then!) or a picture of an intersection (turn to your right, then!) and once you see it, you cannot unsee the idea that it's actually one of those rare split seconds when the street is clear, and therefore falsely appears to be deserted.

Anyway, this was posted by the LA Public Library as "date unknown," retweeted by Dr. John Edwin Mason, and this whole mess started when I thought "I could probably date that" and so I did.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Let's Read This!

Here is an essay by Andrew Jackson, which essay is getting passed around by the usuals as a must-read, so important, and so on. This is normally compelling evidence that the piece is anything but, but I read it anyway, and it made me think! Which is great, right? I mean, I don't agree with a lot of it, but thinking is good! Here are my thinkings!

First and foremost, this piece is a restatement of Mr. Jackson's constant argument, which is that Black photographers take different pictures, presumably also photographers of any established Identity take different pictures, and that therefore White photographers ought to be excluded from taking certain kinds of photos where their Identity means they take Bad Photos. Where Mr. Jackson mentions his own "Double Consciousness" he is referring to his ingenious argument that, since he grew up in dominant-white culture, he can also see and photograph as a White person. This is a very clever argument, and in fact is quite sound given the philosophical basis he's starting from.

It is also, transparently, a rationalization of "you should give me all the Black assignments, but also let me compete at least on level ground for all the White assignments as well."

The fact that it is a rationalization doesn't make it wrong, though.

I find the fact that he chose to use his father's death as a jumping off point for another essay reiterating his constant theme to be slightly icky, but then, maybe it's also the perfect time, I dunno.

Set these things aside.

Mr. Jackson's position is that he, as a Black man, takes different pictures than would a White person, and he offers up his photo of tassels as somewhat unconvincing evidence of that.

It is on this point that we disagree. In virtually any genre, the photographs are simply a given. As I have remarked repeatedly (we all have our constant themes, don't we?) photojournalistic pictures are not made to show what is different and unique about an event, but rather to show what is the same. They reify the event by connecting it to all the other events of the same type. Your skin color doesn't matter, your gender, your sexual preference, none of it matters. You will, to first order, produce the same photos as anyone else.

This is fairly obvious for photojournalism, but I think much the same holds true across genres. Your identity, generally, does not shine through. Your photos, one-by-one, look pretty much like everyone else's, perhaps with a little personal flair, perhaps not.

The example of John Ford, which Mr. Jackson uses early on, is telling. On the one hand, maybe Ford didn't shoot the African American soldiers because of their skin color. On the other hand, in War Photography we almost literally never see any kind of logistics work. The closest we come is infantry guys sitting on boxes of stuff between battles.

D-Day was, I dunno, 99% logistics. A months-long logistics efforts that led up to a few days of intense combat. Yet, the photos of D-Day, that visual record, contains nothing of logistics. Did Ford lower his camera because the subjects had dark skin, or because they weren't doing anything "interesting?" Probably a bit of both, eh?

Nevertheless, I don't think Mr. Jackson is completely out in left field.

People with different identities, when assigned a story, will generally take the photos that go with the story, regardless of identity. But which stories do they choose to tell?

Gordon Parks gave us a Harlem Gang Leader. You can go on about how his being Black made his photos extra-Black if you want, but that is to miss the point. It's not the photos, it's the story itself that's relevant here.

Female photographers are giving us stories that simply wouldn't occur to male photojournalists. Even now we, at least I, cannot help thinking of these stories as "background." When I see something about, I dunno, Ethiopian Women Something Something Schools or whatever, I think of it as filling in the details around the Real Story. This is deeply stupid of me, but there you are.

Life is rich, broad, deep. It is certainly true that our cultural identity shapes which slices of life we see as important, as worthy. What is to me trivial is to a child the purest magic. What seems to me as just something the kids are doing is a new style of street dance that is going to dominate the world of dance for the next ten years, starting next year. I literally don't see it. But someone does.

I do not agree with Mr. Jackson that he should get special access to stories deemed Black. I do agree, though, that the stories he might choose to tell are not the ones I would tell. I'd be happy to read those stories, though. Further, it's not even merely that he and I are different people. The fact that I am White and he is Black probably is pretty clear in the stories we might choose to tell, even though our pictures one-by-one don't look much different (I will stipulate that his are likely better. I'm just a mook who struggles with his camera.)

It's not that your identity makes you take individual pictures in some special way, in some distinctive way, in some way that Reveals Extra Hard. Identity doesn't change the pictures much at all.

Identity changes the stories that we tell.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

"Light and Shadow"

It's been a while. Busy times. Nothing wrong, just busy. Also, this took a while to pull together, largely because of the names.

After the Second World War the sovereign but somewhat artificial state of Czechoslovakia was re-formed to more or less its inter-war state, and integrated into the Eastern Bloc. Not a proper soviet but not western either. Not, as we might have described it in less cynical times, "free" as such.

In 1953 Stalin died, for whatever that is worth. In 1962, the sculptor Niezvestny clashed over art with Kruschev and, this is what makes the episode notable, was not murdered for his temerity. In the 1950s, according to the thumbnail sketches I have gently skimmed, Czechoslovakia was doing pretty well, with minor kerfuffles over various things typical of socialist states. In 1968, Czechoslovakia experimented with more freedom and was slapped down quite hard, but this seems to be accepted as the beginning of the end for both the unified state and the socialist experiment in it.

In the West, the 1950s see something of a turn away from Modernist photography toward a social documentary mode. Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson both published their books in this interval; The Family of Man exhibition opens at the MOMA in 1955; more generally the MOMA exhibitions are leaning hard on humanist/social documentary photography. Of course, it's been around since at least the early twentieth, but what we're seeing is a shift toward it as the dominant format after WWII.

At this point I assume you are wondering why on earth I am telling you this.

The point is I bought a book. It's a survey of Czechoslovak photography, published in 1959. I bought it because I liked the pictures.

I still like the pictures. Indeed, I bought it because a quick flip through suggested that it was a nice catalog of modernist photographs by photographers I had never heard of, which suggested something about modernist photography (anyone can do it) that I wanted to think about more. Plus I kind of like modernist photos.

Further inspection revealed that it's a bit more than that. Also, further introspection reminded me that 1959 is awfully late for a book of modernist photos.

The book is very much a survey. Its sequencing is very much of its time: geometrical coincidences get you from one page to the next, while subject matter forms a kind of chapter-like structure in the large. There's a lot of recognizable modernism in here, but also some humor, a fair bit of kind of pastoral charm that segues seamlessly into Socialist Realism, a little social documentary, and a miscellany of things I don't care to much classify.

It's very much a whole thing, the book is well enough (bluntly enough) sequenced to flow pretty well.

The pictures are very nice, all of them, and succeed in creating a larger sense of "photography in Czechoslovakia" although, of course, this could be an illusion. It might be the cherry-picked 2% that the editor likes, and nothing at all like what was actually going on. Let us assume, though, that it's giving us the sense of something that was truly happening.

The pictures that initially got my attention, and caused me to buy this book, were this sort of thing:
František Ježerský - Embankment in Nauplie

Which appears verso opposite this one:
Miroslav Frančík - Misty Dawn

which should give you a sense of the sequencing here. But there's more modernism, like these:
Viktor Radnický - Daily

Fred Kramer - The Handbag

Miroslav Hák - Face in the Shadow

Jindřich Brok - Karlovy Vary Glass

But then we start to get into this sort of thing. This feels very Margaret Bourke-White, but without quite that hard-edged modernist flavor:

Petr Zora - Weekday

Josef Tichý - Exhibition

In context we begin to see the two above in more of a Socialist Realism light. This isn't just modernism, although it's borrowing from those visual ideas, it seems to be more in service of a romanticized version of Industrialism. The entire book is reproduced a bit soft, but I think the two industrial scenes are a bit softer, indicating that they're shot and printed a bit softer. Almost a Pictorialist vibe here.

Moving on to more overt Realism:

Dr. Jelena Látalová - Help-mates

This feels shot hard-edged and contrasty, but the subject matter could almost literally not be more overtly Socialist Realism. I kind of love it for the sheer kitschiness!

Delightfully, though, we have a bunch of other stuff mixed in which is on the hand kind of generic, but well made. We can, if we squint, see influences, although to be fair it may well be parallel development.

The book opens with this picture:

Jaroslav Tejnksý - Symphonic Poem

which on the one hand is a perfectly generic, if pleasing, pastoral scene; but on the other hand it's also a pretty good joke once you notice the title and the birds on the wire. This sort of whimsy seems to be in play throughout, although never again quite this overt. These are people having fun taking pictures.

There's a whole section of misty pastoral photos like this, which lead to a misty landscape with a shining train track which leads into a section of trains. (Just as there's a whole section of statuary ending with nude statues, which leads into a whole section of nudes, and so on, you get the idea.)

Magdalena Robinsonová - The Mountains Awake

Note that name. The -ová suffix follows the -son suffix which delights me in stupid ways.

Here's a picture that sure looks like a clear reference, but then, cobblestone from a balcony seems to be irresistible to anyone with a camera:
Dagmar Hochová - The Dancers

There is a bit of what probably counts as social documentary, although it all feels a little more Stieglitz than Evans, somehow. Like this one, for example:

Václav Jírů - At The Crossroad

In the end, I am very pleased to own this book. It's got some age on it, for character, but it's in excellent shape, and I like the pictures quite a lot.

I am pretty sure it reveals a Czechoslovakia that is well behind the times, but catching up and also enjoying its own set of quirky ideas. Photography from what was, at least in some sense, a rosier period.