Friday, July 31, 2015

Vernacular Photograhy

Vernacular Photography, to review, is the fancy way of saying "snapshots".

I've talked in the past about how it's changed, with the advent of digital and sharing. In the 1980s we got 1 roll per year with the kids posed stiffly in front of: The Christmas Tree, One Birthday Cake Each, The Eiffel Tower (because we went to Europe that summer) and then The Christmas Tree again. Now we have 1000s of digital shots of much more interesting, or at least entertaining, stuff. We get the weird faces, the messes, the funny dancing, the parties, and so on. Digital is free, so we shoot a lot more, and therefore get more of the trivial moments, which are to my eye the more interesting and in some sense important ones.

But here's a little thought for the day.

The function of the film snapshot, printed and put in a shoebox or an album, was to reach across time to our future selves. Remember the trip to Europe? Remember that christmas when you got your first bike? Remember?

The function of the digital snapshot is to reach across space and social connections to talk about now. It's horizontal, not vertical, or something like that.

It's still vernacular, because the picture doesn't matter, only what the picture is of. The photo need only be a fair representation of what the camera was pointing at, good enough to provide evidence or a spur to memory. People like me still take snapshots for our future selves, of course. It's virtually all of what I do, but I dare say lots of people do it to some degree or another.

That usage is dwarfed by the horizontal "look at this thing which just happened", "this is my present, my now, look!"

There's something here that's leaking out into the world of Fine Art photographers. Just as a for instance, these guys go on safari or otherwise make fabulously expensive trips out to the ends of the earth. Frequently they come back with pictures of lions or penguins or whatever which, while technically amazing (oooo, ahh, the resolution, the colors, you really nailed the focus!) could have been made at any good zoo.

When Adams went on epic trips, he sat there and thought to himself "What the fuck am I feeling about this mountain, and how can I shoot that?" and it's not his fault that he always felt the same way. Weston went to the desert and saw the sensual curves and thought "Man, I love women" and shot that.

Kevin Raber says "I'm in freakin' Antarctica! You gotta see this!" and shoots what are, ultimately, incredibly detailed facebook photos. So we see a bunch of penguins and some ice, but it doesn't feel cold. Michael Reichmann is going to give us a bunch of lizards and birds that say "I'm in the Galapagos!" but in the end they're just supporting evidence that he was. They will look like they could have been shot at a zoo. There will be some vistas and stuff too, of course.

But Kevin doesn't shoot how cold it is on the ice, of the way it feels to walk on the layer of ice atop the ocean, or what he felt about the mass of penguins. He shoots exercises in form, he shoots to show off his mastery of the gear, he shoots to provide supporting evidence that Right Now He Is Somewhere Cooooool.

Michael will not shoot his awe at the uniqueness of the ecosystem, he will not shoot how it feels to walk where Darwin walked, he will not shoot the sensation of luxury he gets in the chartered yacht. He's definitely not going to shoot how it feels to make $20,000 in a week for helping old white dudes with their cameras. It's gonna be "Here I, Michael-al-al Riechmann-an-an-an... IN THE GLALAPAGOS ISLANDS! Dun-dun-DUNNNNN" all day long. It's gonna be high end facebook.

And what's wrong with that, I suppose? I object, I suppose, to dressing up ephemeral "look at my present, look at my now" in the clothes of "hear me, future generations, look upon my works."

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