Saturday, August 29, 2015

In The Bubble

There's a ton of this stuff out there, but here's an example that just fell in front of my eyes today.

Here we have what photographers consider to be a really great place to shoot and they take workshops there and walk around. They hire models to stand around and be photographed here. You and I look at the pictures and, quite likely, we say "neat!" and maybe even "man, I want to shoot there!" Certainly the LuLa forum has a bunch of people saying "great work, Kevin! How would I go about going there and shooting too?"

So on the one hand, I get it. It's a photographically rich environment, and you can make a certain kind of picture there. Indeed, you can even (to a mild degree) put your own stamp on such pictures. If you lived there you could probably make some really good work. Photographers don't live there, they drop in for a day.

But what the hell are these damned pictures?

They're sure as hell not Art. There's no ideas at all in there, other than, "wow, what a cool place to shoot". Indeed it's clear that the photographer's emotions, his reaction to the place, is entirely about taking pictures there. The statement the photographer is making, if any, if entirely self-referential.

Is it decor? Not really. I wouldn't hang that stuff. It's just abandoned industrial shit, sometimes with a model wandering around in it for no goddamned reason at all. Kevin, bless his heart, can shoot the stuff that the stuff is, but he's got no special understanding of color, and that's what you need for decor.

Does it serve some documentary purpose? Not really, there's those models, and we don't really get a sense of what the hell is there, since Kevin is so focused on getting the "Great Shot".

Is it Vernacular Photography? Hell no. Well, maybe at some meta level. Kevin is signaling to his peers "I was at this cool place, taking photographs".

Which is really the nub of it, isn't it? You take these pictures so you can show your photographer friends that you were in this photographically rich location, taking photographs. The compositions are pleasing enough, I guess, but there's no ideas here beyond the ideas inherent in photographs.

These things are photographs for photographers. Ultimately, they're pictures that aren't about anything but themselves. They exist in a sort of pocket universe where they are interesting because they are of an interesting place. The place, in turn, is interesting because you can take interesting photographs there. This is a lot like how Kim Kardashian is interesting. Nobody outside that little photographer bubble would give a damn about these things, and I don't think they're even supposed to. I don't think Kevin gives a damn what non-photographers think, non-photographers notoriously have no idea what a good photo looks like. Also, he mainly wants to sell workshops teaching people how to make more pocket-universe content.

I can't make up my mind if it's good or bad. I suspect that it's neither. Inside the bubble, Kevin's work is probably good. I find he overuses perspective correction a little.

I'm coming to the conclusion that most "serious photography" exists entirely inside this bubble of photography. Cameras are sold and bought, workshops are sold and taken. Photos are shot and critiqued and admired (or panned). Non-photographers are more or less deliberately excluded, because they say annoying things like "this is just a bunch of abandoned industrial shit, it doesn't go with my couch, and what the hell are the models doing there?"

This isn't a bad thing or a good thing. It's just a bubble thing.

Outside the bubble, where people live, it's just irrelevant.


  1. Priceless!
    I'm going on holiday in two weeks' time, with some antique Agfa folders and an old Crown Graphic I acquired this Summer.
    Back to film because I want to change pace and live outside the bubble, with grain and moody black and white.
    The modern photographers just waste so much time with bubbles and bubble-gear and bubbleheads teaching bubble-workshops!
    How do they ever have fun?
    Yes, I have had mentors all through my working life, but they only encouraged and guided me to find the answers for myself; I'm self-taught in both photographing and darkroom and I'm happy with what I do.
    One day I may even share a print with someone other than my wife, but I'll never post it online.
    I like the word "curmudgeon"; has a nice ring to it!!

  2. Part of the enjoyment I get from photographing this sort of thing is finding the places myself. In the Czech Republic there are any number of abandoned facilities, quite accessible.

    Lucie is a singer and had fun experimenting with the accoustics while I shot.