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.

I hate this

Nevermind where I got this quote, it was a throwaway in a forum, so probably isn't quite as obnoxious as it sounds.

We need to drive a hard difference between "photography" and "Photography" in this world. And that's my intent.

This sort of crap gets my goat. In the first place it boils down to "I am the arbiter of good taste", and in the second place it's creating a totally artificial distinction. There is no difference between "photography" and "Photography", damn it.

Yes, there is a gamut of intent in taking pictures.

Yes, there is a gamut of intent in consuming pictures.

The pictures themselves don't know anything about this. Snapshots can be Fine Art, Fine Art can be pointless garbage. The same picture can be both at different times, or in different contexts. The intent of the picture taker is uncorrelated with the intent and desire of the picture-looker-at. Meaning can be found in the mundane and the banal as well as in the fraught.

People who wish to separate out Good Photography from Bad Photography have, in my experience, terrible taste, and tend to lean strongly toward pictures which have the trappings of Importance, but are in fact just poor copies of much better pictures. There I go doing it myself, damn it.

Photography does not need some self-appointed white knight to save it from instagram. Photography is doing just fine, thanks, and it's embraced instagram. Sure, I hate most of the pictures on instagram and 500px too. Sure, they're mostly just copies of one another, stretching back in a chain of influence to, sometimes, a picture with some weight. So what? Now go back under your rock.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cutting Pages (Collaboration Project)

Many of the pages in this book I sequenced for a group of collaborators are intended to be cut horizontally, to create, in effect, two pamphlet-styled books one above the other, that can be paged separately. It occurs to me that some of my collaborators might be reluctant to cut their expensive books, so I thought I would put together a technique that can be generally used, with a few pictures.

I have various Tools And Things that make this sort of thing easier, but not everyone does.

The method I am outlining here is, basically, as follows:
  • Identify a horizontal line along which the cut can safely occur.
  • Mark this line on the first page of a set of to-be-cut-simultaneously pages
  • Using binder clips, clip that set of pages together, aligned
  • Cut that line with scissors as close as possible to the spine
  • Gently tear the last little bit

On my trade books, I have identified the "safe" line as 5.125 inches UP from the bottom of the book. I make two pencil marks:

And draw a line connecting them, checking it as I draw for parallel-with-the-bottom:

Then I align the set of pages to be cut nicely with one another, and clip with binder clips, using a protective piece of paper under each clip to avoid marking the pages:

Check and double-check. Is the line in the proper place? Are my pages well-aligned? Is this really the right set of pages to cut? Then, carefully cut with a pair of scissors along the marked line. Scissors with a pointed tip will get you closer to the spine, longer scissors will of course make the cut easier to make straight. Take your time.

Some paper will likely remain un-cut near the spine, and the pages top and bottom will be loathe to turn nicely and independently. You'll tear out that last 1/8 inch or so. Flop the top set of pages, all together, one way and the bottom set the other. Pressing gently with fingertips, tear, extending the cut into the spine:

And now flop the top set the other way, and the bottom set the other way. Tear again, a little further, perhaps. Take your time, be gentle. It'll be OK! It looks a little ragged, but it's way in there by the spine. If you have some relatively fine grit sandpaper, you can use a bit of it to sand down and raggedness in there, and make pages turn more cleanly.

And that is how we do that with common household implements.

It would not hurt you to cut some blank paper clipped together with binder clips, to get a sense of how your scissors feel, how easy/hard it is to cut along a line, etc.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Woo hoo!

I got my trade copies of our Collaboration project today:

I immediately chopped one up. The book does not work as, mechanically, as well as it might. It's "floppy". But I am wildly in love with the way you can juxtapose different pictures. I find it fantastically more interesting and fun than I expected. But then, I would, wouldn't I?

NOTE: I am, in a way, reproducing some photos from my collaborators here. If you, as a collaborator, are not comfortable with the this, please let me know. I'll pull anything you like down.

Photography Publishing Now

As always, I have my teeth in to something and am trying to make sense or it, turn it in to something I can use.

Some history, as filtered through my rather distinctive and error-prone vision.

Prior to, say, 2000, we have essentially the Old Media. Books, magazines, print publications which, due to relatively high startup costs, are intended to reach as wide an audience as possible. There are rumblings between 1995 and 2000 that the old media is dead, that the web is the way forward, and so on, but the wide-audience print still rules the world.

Somewhere in the general area of 2000 we see the rise of what we now see are Transitional Media. LuLa and other web sites rise, essentially bringing the old print model to the new medium of the web and the internet. They are wildly successful, because they still have broad reach, they aim at that same wide audience, but the startup costs are tiny. The margins are incredible. Nobody knows what ads are worth, so there's tons of money to be made there, and you can now reach the world with your workshops, educational videos, books, and so on. This probably happens across all markets (fishermen, sailors, machinists, toy train enthusiasts, and so on), but certainly occurs in the world of photography.

But it cannot last. The old model is dead, even in new clothes. The extremely small (and dropping) startup costs means that new players arise constantly. Everyone wants to launch a web site, get 100,000 subscribers, and get rich quick.

A few people even manage it, we've seen a few newer sites hit the zeigeist. PetaPixel is, as far as I know, the most recent example of what is essentially an old school Photography Magazine re-tasked to the web. They launched in 2009, 6 or 7 years ago. Their model is to have people give them free content, which they turn in to advertising clicks. This is essentially what popular Photography Magazines did up until 1995 or so, except they paid a tiny pittance for content.

Online ads continue to astonish everyone with their ever increasing ineffectiveness, causing prices and therefore revenue to spiral ever downward.

The new model, the model we have now, is essentially social. You make some art, you get on social media, and you socialize the hell out of it. You follow people, you like their stuff, you make comments. You reach out to people in hopes that they'll reach out to you. A community organizes itself organically around your work as you find people, one by one, who like your art. They tell their friends and, if you're a little bit lucky and a lot hard working, you get a few thousand people following your social media. Then you print a book, or a 'zine, or something. Maybe you even make a little money.

Social networking is work. You find two new people to follow every day. Make a comment, Like something, +1 Something, do it a bunch of times a day. Don't waste your comments on corporate shit. The point of commenting is to get your name in front of people, the blogger, the tweeter, but more importantly their followers. Say something cogent, interesting. Make people want to click the icon and look at your twitter, your tumblr, your blog, your site. Do this a dozen times a day. It's your job. Do it enough, and a community coalesces naturally around your content, made up of people who think you are interesting. This isn't a popular blog, but there is a little community of people here. How you think that happened, eh? Magic?

This has nothing to do with the old media, in either the 1995 print form, or the 2005 web form. This is all about you, your art, and your niche. You're not trying to reach 100,000 people any more. You're trying to reach 1000. Or 50.

Chris Gampat tried to bridge that gap.

I don't know how he did it, but he got three plugs on three more or less "major" players in the transitional media. LuLa, Steve Huff Photo, and Imaging Resource. These are all Big Web Sites in some sense. Did he pay these guys? Did he just ask the top 100 "majors" for a plug and get 3 bites? Most likely, as a couple of the plugs suggest, he went out for beers at some get-together of these fat old dudes and bought a round or two. And then they lazily gave him a plug, without really looking over his work. "Sure, Chris, you're a good guy, whattya want me to say?"

It has fizzled. His Kickstarter isn't going to get funded, unless he finds a major pop from somewhere new, which means he gets $0. There are multiple problems with his attempt, here, and I don't know which ones are the important ones.

1. His content simply isn't that good. The prototype magazine looks lousy and is error-riddled and unprofessional looking. The pictures are uninteresting derivative work. I have seen several people state that "it looks great" which is bizarre, and I assume that they've simply glanced at a couple of pages and want to look supportive. He is neither curating well, nor presenting the work well.

2. He aimed too high, going for a big dollar amount. DIY is the order of the day, it's the brave new world. For $6000 you can pull together a bimonthly 'zine, print, for a year (6 issues) for 125-150 subscribers. Kickstarter levels of $10 for a PDF subscription, $50 for a year's print subscription, and on on up with prints, T-shirts, your name in lights. There are people doing this right now and succeeding. Picking a high-buck "platform" like Mag+ was just stupid, you're just pouring money down the drain. Mag+ is for corporate entities pushing high-cost high-value content into a large established subscriber base, although they're not averse to suckering a few dopes with a dream. $499/month is $499/month after all.

3. He didn't social network, like, at all. His "La Noir Image" tumblr has been up for 6 months and he's liked a total of 29 things on tumblr, mainly from major collective/corporate entities, adding his Likes to piles of thousands of Likes already there, on a tumblr the owner isn't even monitoring. His Likes were wasted. He has an instagram with 6 posts, and he's followed 45 people, some of which are Himself, and Tokina. He has a twitter feed, where he's followed a couple hundred entities, again leaning heavily on the corporate. Don't bother following National Geo, or Paul Buff, for chrissakes. This isn't doing you any good and it's cluttering up your twitter feed with junk you don't care about. And so it goes.

4. He has no plan. The "magazine" is going to be an all-singing all-dancing wonder. It will have photo essays, interviews, tips and tutorials, videos, hell it'll have singing cows if you want it. He doesn't even know what it is, let alone who might want to buy it for how much money. He just knows he'd like to be a publisher and he's hoping that the fat old men will get him there if he buys a few more rounds.

In short, he's trying to leverage the new digital world to produce yet another old media.. thing. A digital magazine, it'll be an app! Yay! But he wants to do it the old way. He wants to raise a bunch of money and then, somehow, turn that in to a major magazine with 10,000 or 50,000 or whatever subscribers, that advertisers will want to place ads in.

The old model is dead or dying. The fat old men are tapped out. Kevin Raber, Steve Huff, and Dave Etchells can't actually get dollars out of people's pockets. They're scrambling to keep their web sites on the air at this point, because the Transitional Media is dying. There will be survivors, of course. People like a single site they can go to for Major News Events and whatnot. The sites that survive will be the ones that figure out how to operate with a staff of one, that being the smallest possible staff size, and with minimized additional costs. If you can't run your site without two staff, you're dead, eventually, because someone's gonna figure out how to run with half that staff, and they'll eventually eat you up.

Trying to launch a Major New Magazine in this era, or even a Successful New Magazine, is a bit like launching a new enterprise to build buggy whips for the new millenium. I know, we'll put a chip in it, then people will flock to buy our buggy whips! Quick, is available?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

La Noir Image

This post will take a familiar format. I'm going to gripe about some things I disapprove of, and then try to segue into some sort of generalized commentary that might be more generally interesting.

This Chris Gampat character already has an online version of his "Magazine" which is just a tumblr, it turns out. You can submit to it, (using a Contact) link, but there's no discussion of copyrights or anything you'd expect from an actual publication. The prototype magazine available through his kickstarter indicates that photographers retain copyrights, images used with permission. No discussion of payment, although his kickstarter makes some sly remarks of the general form "don't you think it would be fair to pay so and so and such and such?" which, because it falls short of actually being a committment to pay anyone, I interpret as "me too, but obviously I am hoping to get away without paying them a penny" because I am a cynic.

ETA: Actually his kickstarter is completely silent on where the money might go. It's the announcement on his phoblographer site that makes the sly remarks. Inquiring directly via his kickstarter, I find that his $35,000 is divvied up: $5000 for video production, $450/month for Mag+, and $1550/month to pay some helpers, and the rest is misc fees and taxes. The whole operation appears to me to fall into a half-assed zone between Going Big and DIY.

Having now spent some time with his little (incredibly unpopular) tumblr, and his prototype magazine, I can tell you this much. He's not finding any fresh new voices, he's finding people copying tired old voices, incoherently. The only "voice" exhibited in the black and white work he's showing is "shall I print on grade 4 paper, or grade 5?" His prototype magazine is a mess, with stupid layout problems, and weird inserted hyphenations that indicate some problems formatting text. A totally unprofessional looking mess.

This only bits that don't look unprofessional and messy are the dummy ads. Hmmm.

In short, this is some kid on the make, who cannot be bothered to get anything right. He's just slapping up free pictures that people send him, and hoping to get a job running a magazine out of it by networking with Internet Photography Bigwigs. A bold dream, Chris, but not a very savory one.

Onwards to the more interesting general observations.

One could claim, and I have seen it claimed, that there's no harm in trying to get more work out in front of more people. Indeed, I see one or two people arguing, the more the merrier. I take specific exception to this idea. There is more excellent work out there than we can possibly look at. While some jamoke trying to shove more third-rate stuff down our throats is not a sharp stick in the eye, he's not helping. He's actively making things worse.

We need more curation, not less. We need expert curation, and a lot of it, not tasteless amateurs just hucking whatever shit they get sent to them up.

We need, in fact, smaller communities with higher signal to noise ratios. This, of course, is me rationalizing what I am doing while simultaneously cutting down people doing other things, but damn it, I think I'm right. There is more value in a small community of like-minded people sharing carefully considered bodies of work. Trying to reach the world with work is almost a dead concept. There are too many artists, too many superb artists, trying to reach the world. If a million artists try to reach everyone, the result is chaos, cacophony. If a million artists each try to reach 10 people nearby, the result is that everyone gets to experience some excellence.

We need small communities of artists targeting small communities of art consumers, creating small local ecosystems. But, you say, nobody can make a living that way?!! And I reply, "nobody can make a living the other way either, and mostly they never could." The internet and digital technology enable extremely small costs of production, if you want to make money you do it not by generating massive amounts of revenue but by minimizing your costs. There simply isn't much revenue to be had, and trying furiously to pry large chunks of it loose from one another is a game in which everyone loses.

A second, completely unrelated remark. Several of the artists Chris has featured on his tumblr are primarily color photographers, and some of them are excellent. The black and white work is phoned in. Boring, generic, "street" or "abstract" or whatever. Nothing we haven't seem 1000x before and much better. Often, though, I found really fresh and wonderful color work on the artist web site. Skateboarders in India? What the hell? How awesome is that!

I have to wonder if this is some general theme. Is it common for serious photographers to, for whatever reason, go off and check some boxes in the land of black and white? Is this to make themselves seem more credible, more serious? "Look, I am so a real boy. Look, here's a some bullshit pictures of guys leaning against a shadow-dappled wall, smoking. It's b&w! I am a Serious Artist!"

Anyways. Here is Chris's Kickstarter page. Don't take my word for it, go check it out. If the prototype magazine speaks to you, by golly, back that kid.

Friday, May 13, 2016

This is Weird

LuLa's featured article is a plug for some guy who runs a pretty generic photography-themed clickbait site called "" who appears to be running a kickstarter to create a knockoff of Lenswork magazine.

Is this guy for real? Is he anyone at all? Based on the number of comments left by readers at (i.e. none), my blog, is more popular and influential the, and let me tell you that's bloody well saying something.

What on earth is this doing on LuLa?

What am I missing, is Chris Gampat actually a mover and shaker, a relevant personality, a serious artist, critic, editor? Or is he just another dope like me with a dream to scam $35 grand off some kickstarter who has, somehow, gotten a plug placed on what is still a tolerably credible photography web site?

Did someone hack LuLa?

The piece starts out with this oddity, which is really what caught my eye:

Publisher’s Note: The community for providing photography based internet content is rather small. Several times a year most of the top sites owners or representatives are invited to manufactures press conferences.

Which strikes me as the exact opposite of reality.

Is it April again?

ETA: I guess I should say something along the lines of "Ok, well, more power to 'em" and stipulate that LuLa can publish whatever it likes. Maybe Chris is an incredible whatever-he-is, maybe he's a personal friend of Kevin's, and so on. Go for it, guys. And I do support anyone who's trying to get more great work out there, good for you, Chris.

It just seems inconsistent with LuLa's standards, and I am dubious about the kickstarter. Sure, it will legitimately cost $35,000, easily, to put together a high quality magazine, even an electronic one. Virtually all of which is spent keeping the editor fed. This is essentially cyber-begging and as such is disingenuous. Contrast with This Kickstarter which is up front about itself. "Send me to Antarctica, and I will write about it."

If you're doing a kickstarter to pay yourself a salary while you do something cool, just say that. Don't say, "Help me to fund a written-word based exploration of Antarctica" say "I want to go to Antarctica. Send me to Antarctica, and in return I will write about it."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Project

I had a revelation that. An epiphany, if you will.

I want to see people's work, but I don't really want to own it. It takes up space, I probably won't do it justice, as it'll mostly just lie there on a shelf. I want to look, touch, hold, ruthlessly steal ideas from, but I don't want to keep it forever. I also cannot stand looking at online galleries, sorry, it's personal quirk. I want to see what you do when you're forced to lay out real pictures onto a real object of some kind, and spend money, time, or both, creating that physical thing.

The solution is obvious! Some sort of circulating library. Send a book, get a book. An understanding that you will be gracious and send things on eventually. The cold reality that books (or whatever they are) will just vanish from time to time.

Here is my plan. If you want to participate, you will of course need to share some sort of physical mail address. Many of you may be OK with simply letting it be widely known, but not everyone. Therefore, if you are willing to share your address with me, I can offer three Levels Of Security, if you will.
  • None.
  • Your address and name are known only to 2 other people in the system, the one you receive from, and the one you send to. See below for more detail.
  • Only I know your address. I forward everything on your behalf. I am only willing to do a little of this.

Obviously I don't want to become a massive book-forwarding service, so option 3 I hope will be reserved for the truly paranoid, ideally people with tangible concerns. But if you do want to participate, and are that concerned, don't be shy. Let me know. If there turn out to be Too Many People who really want forwarding service, we shall cross that bridge when we get to it.

For option 2 what I will do is send you proposed Upstream and Downstream people, we we can devise a setup for mutual approval, as follows:

Suppose I am proposing that Alice and Bob should know each other's addresses, and both are cautious people. I assume that Alice and Bob both have exes or something. I would send both just the names and cities: Alice L in Tucson, Bob G in New York. If everyone is OK with that, no alarm bells, then perhaps full names, and then if everything is still looking good, both parties get addresses. This, presumably, lets people identify (silently) cousins of ex-wives before anything gets leaked.

A daisy chain of names and addresses, in any case, is constructed. One or more per country, I think, so avoid international mailing costs. I can provide a somewhat slow-speed USA to Canada interconnect as I travel across that border regularly. The chain goes around in a circle so, if everyone forwards appropriately, everything eventually comes back. Everyone has a single Upstream supplier, from whom they occasionally receive a package. Everyone has a Downstream recipient to whom they, from time to time, send a package. That's it.

I will commit to seeding the USA chain with something half decent, as well as with a known failure. I have a couple copies of a thing lying around that I consider failed. The bar shall thus be set Very Low! This will encourage you! Any idiot can do better than Molitor's thing, and I am that idiot! That sort of thing.

If you take part as a recipient, consider that there's an expectation that you will, eventually, contribute something. Anything. Staple some prints together. Buy a $1 spiral notebook at the drugstore and glue some cheap drugstore prints into it. Buy the most expensive blurb book there is and put 400 pictures into it. I don't care. You should be mentally prepared to construct, somehow, an object as follows, and send it whirling down stream, and maybe some day it will come back to you.

  • More than one piece of Art (photos? Drawings?)
  • ... selected with care
  • ... and placed into a considered sequence with the other pieces
  • ... generally flat and of a reasonable weight to pay postage on
  • ... that, ultimately, you don't mind never seeing again.

Do consider that people will be paying to mail your thing, so think smaller and lighter. If you receive an anvil with photos glued to it, you are allowed to sell it for scrap.

You should be mentally prepared to receive pretty much anything. Let us try to avoid purely provocative Art, I suppose? If you just want to piss people off with gruesome pictures or whatever, please don't sign up? You'll have more fun sticking them up around your town late at night, anyways.

I envision this as a "once every month or two you mail a little box of stuff on to your Downstream Address" deal. So, not a massive time or money commitment, but not trivial either.

I think a "no critique" rule is probably wise. If you really really want people's reactions, perhaps include an explicit request. But keep in mind that your book or whatever is may never make it home anyways. I really don't see this as a "help me improve my photography" thing, I see this as a series of lustful people fondling one another's Art privately, and then passing it on. Yes. I want to fondle your Art. Send it to me.

As for other countries/regions, I will cheerfully design the daisy chains and do any administration required.

Is "Europe" feasible as a single zone for mailing stuff in, or is it ridiculous mailing a small package from one country to another? Assume, correctly, that I am an ignorant American, and provide guidance for how large of a zone makes sense for you to be mailing to and fro within. I am pretty confident that nobody wants to be mailing even small packages between Los Angeles and Perth with any sort of regularity, for some sort of casual project like this. I am seeing rates like $25 minimum.

Daisy chain(s), where possible, will be designed to have people mail things to people closer rather than farther, to spread shipping costs around.

And I apologize in advance to people who live in faraway places where nobody else wants to participate.

TO SIGN UP just email me, amolitor at gmail dot com, with a note indicating interest, the country you reside in, and if it's not the USA or Canada, please spend a few lines on what kind of mail system you suffer under to guide me. If this crazy scheme gets any traction, I'll start asking people for their mailing addresses (that way you can go out and get a PO Box if, after due consideration and consultation with one's spouse, that seems wise), so you do not need to share your mailing address with me straight away.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Cropping

This is a thing that pops up from time to time. I'm pretty sure that if you search this blog you'll find me talking about it, possibly saying contradictory things. The argument, when it's stated coherently, goes something like this:

If you find yourself cropping after the shot is made, in the sense of trying to find a way to crop the picture so that it works properly, then you have failed. This is because you did not get a functioning picture to start with, when it was possible to change certain elements (your position, the timing) to make the picture as much as it could be. If you happen to find a crop, now, that functions, it is extremely unlikely that the picture is all that it could have been. Had you seen the best crop in the moment, you would likely also have seen that a slight movement to the left, and exposing a beat earlier, would also have improved the thing.

This is a fine argument. I have made it myself.

It contains a planted axiom, to wit: every picture you make should be as good as possible in and of itself. This is the "single iconic image" fallacy.

The single iconic image is dead, it's an irrelevancy. Almost no serious photography is presented in this way any more. Everything is a series, a porfolio, a book, a sequence, a collection of related pictures. There are exceptions, of course, but they're rare, and often as not they're simply a single picture removed from its context because 20 Important Pictures sells more easily and for a larger gross amount than an Important Collection of 20 pictures.

Given that, we now have a situation in which exploration after the fact is a vital part of the process.

On the one hand, you probably need to (eventually) have some sort of coherent idea when shooting, otherwise your pictures are just a jumbled mass of unrelated crap. Which you still might be able to dig something out of, to be fair, but it's probably harder, and it's not likely to be as good as if you'd shot with an idea in hand.

On the other hand, in the detail of work of building sequences and collections, you will almost certainly find that the original crops were frequently wrong. Frames which anchor the idea, or set a theme, might be perfect as-is. Frames that provide the harmony, that connect one motive to the next, frames that echo a theme, these will probably need to be reworked.

This same applies to all aspects of the picture that can be reworked in post. Indeed, it would often be advantageous to reshoot the thing entirely, but this may not be possible. When not possible, a re-crop, a rework of tonality, a different dodging scheme can come in to help a picture pull its weight in the context it finds itself.

In a way, these two statements are the same:

Re-cropping in post is bad, it indicates a failure to have a clear idea of the frame when you shot it. Dodging, burning, tonal adjustments and so on, however, are OK when used to clarify the original idea. The clear idea allowed you to properly place the elements in the frame as it shot, post processing should merely clarify, refine, expand upon, and emphasize the important aspects of the idea(s) you started with.

Trying to find an idea in a mass of pictures indicates a failure to have a clear idea of the work when you shot it. Cropping, tonal adjustments, and so on to individual pictures in post is OK when used to clarify the original idea. The clear idea allowed you to correctly shoot material to support it, post-processing of individual frames as well as arranging those frames should merely clarify, refine, expand upon, and emphasize the important aspects of the idea(s) you started with.

The first applies to what I maintain is a nearly dead form, and the second applies to what I claim is the universal form of modern serious photography.

However, let me remark that the single iconic image lives on, at least for me, in those anchor frames, the pictures that set the themes and ideas. It is the other pictures that must be bent to fit.

I think. Not sure. But it sounds good to me at the moment.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Starting off with today's think piece from Ming, go give it a glance. It's worth reading. There's nothing particularly new in there, I've said most of it myself which you may take as a solid guarantee that these ideas are well worn, which isn't the same thing as wrong.

Ming exhibits a common and somewhat touching faith in technique, stating that his favored methods work (minimalism, leading lines) and others don't (selective saturation etc), which let's just ignore for now. The point he's making is that "photographic technique" is largely unnoticed by the viewer, and yet affects how the final picture is read, is understood. This is a commonly held belief, photographers tend to believe that they can, merely by working hard enough, can control much of what people see in the frame. They obsess over details.

We see over on PetaPixel some sort of scandal with Steve McCurry's photos, where apparently someone's photoshopping out people, and moving crap around in the frame. Presumably this is because someone (let us be honest here, it is almost certainly Steve despite his protests) thinks that the picture will be better if you move the lamppost over a little, or delete the boy in the background. What's startling to me is how little this is actually true. It just doesn't matter. Yes, the new picture is a little cleaner, a little more "McCurry", but it isn't any better and it's not really even different.

As I age I am becoming increasingly convinced that fine-grained technique is mostly pointless. Not only does nobody notice, it also doesn't matter. Big-strokes stuff matters. Is it Dark, Medium, or Light? Is it High Contrast, Low Contrast, or Natural Looking Contrast? Bright Colors or Not?

By all means, suit yourself. Fiddle with those tiny details if you like. Just don't kid yourself that it's going to matter much.

But here's a counterpoint, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Ansel Adams was, as we all know, a fine detail kind of guy. He had these incredibly complex dodging/burning sequences, which he used to create and emphasize rhythms of light and dark across the frame. This is finicky BS that doesn't matter, according to what I have written above. Except that it's not true. Go find an Adams landscape and go flatten the contrast out, and the thing utterly disintegrates. It turns into a boring, incomprehensible, jumble. This is not true of most of the pictures I actually like, but it seems to be true of Adams.

I have no idea what this means.

Anyways, I am almost anti-technique these days. I stick to big controls like "level or tilted" and "how violently harsh should the contrast be" and "how dark can I make this without becoming a sort half-baked Rauschenberg?"

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Lewis Bush over on disphotic deconstructs an Official Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and her grandchildren. He's got a lot to say, some interesting, some less so. My response boils down to "sometimes, Lewis, a picture is just a picture. Or mostly, anyways."

What I noted specifically here, though, is something I never had before. That distinctive Annie Liebovitz look with the people popped off the background by lighting (and, probably, compositing) is incredibly painterly. The background isn't actually out of focus, or just sketched in as a few line, but it is wildly de-emphasized, and often kind of monochromatic.

I feel rather stupid, since in hindsight it's absurdly obvious.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Some of this is probably be specific to a "group" portfolio, but some of it is probably more broadly applicable. I'm just going to write about this singular experience I had, how it seemed to work to me, and let you take from it what you want. It certainly overlaps a great deal with this previous post on the same subject, but I think I'm coming at it from a different angle. After reflection, I have come to understand that there are deeply destructive parts to this process.

I was given sets of photographs from 9 different people. Some collections were quite small, others quite large. Some collections where very tight, coherent, others rambled. Some contained extremely individual pictures which could well stand each alone, others gained strength from the collection they were in. Some collections were more diffuse, with no obvious "holy cow, that's incredible!". I don't mean to say that this last sort of thing was bad, it quite definitely isn't, and I learned a great deal about just how powerful and useful a relatively diffuse set of photos can be.

Looking through what began, really, as a big frightening heap of pictures, I found almost immediately possibilities for themes. Largely graphical themes. With a disparate group of contributors, it would be really too much to hope that some Big Idea emerges, but more on that later. No, mainly I noticed common subjects (dogs, bikes) and common graphical elements, similar structures or tonalities shared across two or more pictures.

Some individual pictures set a theme, merely by being strong. The theme might be a subject (bikes), a graphical idea (big square thing in the middle), or a look (high contrast, saturated), or I suppose almost anything. But in any case it was often a single picture that stuck with me, and then a second one that picked up the same idea which crystallized it. Once completed, I dare say it would be hard to tell which ones "set" themes, and which ones "echo" it, and perhaps it truly is arbitrary and random.

This is where those diffuse collections showed their strength. It was in these diffuse collections that I found those echoes, those repetitions of an idea. If you have two tight portfolios, and you are struck by a particular picture in one, you now have a problem, and it's a serious one. Without some diffuse collections to look through, I see no way the problem isn't fatal, in fact.

How am I to make this portfolio, and in particular, this particular picture which I love, flow into the work as a whole? This portfolio is too tightly structured to permit the flow. The other portfolio into which the flow must eventually pass, is likewise walled-up. How shall I breach these walls, and interconnect these two?

This is where the diffuse collections shine, they give up, more often than seems reasonable, a perfect echo to reinforce an idea and to bridge it out to the bigger sequence, to open the walls of the individual collection. The pictures I shot to connect things form the most diffuse collection of all, they're simply all over the place on most axes.

In terms of general portfolio strength, there is no collection that I did not damage in the service of the whole. The strongest individual portfolios were essentially destroyed. They functioned on many axes, and in the service of the book I discarded almost all of them. On the one hand, I feel bad about it, but on the other hand, in hindsight, it's inevitable. The necessary common ground is never going to include everything that is good, so some good things are simply going to be lost.

Portfolios in which tonality and graphic character figure loudest fared the best, of course.

I found pictures that set themes. I found pictures to echo those themes. But also, I found ways for pictures to support one another. Since much of the book is two-up pages, I found myself making little diptychs. In filling out "dogs", say, I might find a natural picture (with dogs in it) for the next page from A, and then a pretty graphical echo (with no dogs) from B. That picture in turn sets a tonality for the pleasing coda on the last page of a section.

The analogies with music are inevitable.

The big themes, set by one picture or a pair, and then repeated throughout. These feel "important", and it's tempting to dismiss everything else as filler.

Smaller themes, repeated for a couple of pages, or just within a diptych. It might be just noodling around to fill up an extra minute or two before we can recapitulate the major theme and finally get on with the second movement, but it needn't be. These can be pretty little bits as well. They can harmonize with the whole, and help us get to that second movement by setting up a tonality for us, while at the same wrapping up with dogs.

As for Big Ideas, I put none into the book. Indeed, I removed some by shattering portfolios. Portfolios that spoke of Life, or Humanity, or Desolation, all blown to pieces in the service of the bigger collection.

I feel, though, as if the whole is sufficiently rich to allow the reader to find something in it. As I have said (it turns out) before, I think you might find something in there on your own. It's certainly a rich, dense, mass of symbols, and I certainly won't stop you.


In future people who wish to comment with nothing more to say than "I hate something or other about your blog" can a) Fuck off and b) Will no longer be permitted to comment. It's my fucking blog. You don't like it, move along, but don't harass me about it. Go bitch about what a dumbshit I am on your own blog.

That's retroactive to you two idiots who most recently commented in that vein.

ETA: Here is the thing. These people are here, they're reading my blog. Obviously they get some satisfaction out of reading it. But they choose to weigh in when a post fails to meet their expectations. This is, whether they realize it or not, an effort to control how I do this thing. They want, like the worst girlfriend, to purse their lips disapprovingly when the boyfriend wants to have a beer with friends, until the boyfriend gradually, imperceptibly, knuckles under and ditches his own friends in favor of hers, permanently. Then we can get started on whatever the next flaw on the list is.

Not acceptable. If my blog is terrible, then stop reading it. Or read it. Feel free to go tell the world how awful I am, but don't make me moderate your stupid comments about how horrible I am, when you and I both know perfectly well that you're here and you're reading my blog because you get something out of it. Purse your lips disapprovingly at me, and I will eventually dump your ass. Been there, done that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Seeing as a Business

Thinking more about this "seeing" versus "recording" thing, I'm puzzling out what it might mean for a working photographer, someone working to put bread on the table.

As social media becomes (perceived as) more important, and as this notion of ephemeral, single-use, photos rises with it we see a curious thing. While the actual news media is firing photojournalists, we see corporate clients and individual clients increasingly wanting contemporary photos, in the sense of "relevant right now" photos, which look a bit like news. The senior wants pictures that show how cool and hot she is now. The semiconductor manufacturer wants pictures of the latest thing, and the cool new phones it's powering.

Let's imagine, oh let me just pull some crazy product out of the air, say, Crane Trucks. Let's say you had a client who built crane trucks and had you help them with their annual report. Not that they necessarily do facebook and twitter now, but if they did decide to, what would they want? They might want immediate, relevant in-this-moment photos of their crane trucks. They want their crane trucks fixing power lines after the storm, and they want them right now.

This feels like a retainer opportunity to me. For so and so dollars a month, I'm on call. You hear of your products being used in my area in a immediate, relevant-now kind of way (i.e. in a newsworthy way) call me, and I will roll out to wherever it is and shoot some professional looking stuff for you to use. You can post it to your twitter or whatever the hell, and heck, even license it to the news media. Because, it's news. Branded news. Of course, it also costs you when I get in the car. The retainer just gives you the right to call and ask me to go, and a reasonably certainty that I'll go, at my agreed-to-day rate.

Ditto the seniors. For a small monthly fee, you can stop by whenever you're having a great hair day, or whenever you've got some great new shoes. We'll do thirty minutes (at the usual session rate) and off you do to tumblr, right now.

It's about helping people see or, perhaps, be seen. It's not about recording, preserving, saving.

Also, Retainers are awesome. Monthly guaranteed cash flow, paid in advance? Sweet like honey.

Creation vs. Consumption

Sad-face Emoji, I guess?

Seriously, Lula?

As part of the Getting Back To The Print series, LuLa has published a Lightroom tutorial on Soft Proofing in Lightroom. In the form of a video.


Getting back to the Print, talking about color management, in a video that I will probably watch on my phone.

In what crazy universe does that make sense? True to form it's two portly aged white dudes essentially gossiping about random crap inside Lightroom.

I no longer think Phase One is trying to make anything of these guys. LuLa has given up, they didn't get the subscriber base they wanted, Michael's moved on, and now Kevin is using it as a platform to promote Kevin and Kevin's workshops. It's about 30 percent ads, 30 percent videos of Kevin gossiping about random BS with people, and the rest is written by other people on random topics, occasionally interesting. If you get one piece a month that you like, you're doing well.

As dozens of Michael's personal friends will angrily point out, for $1 a month even one article is worth it. ISN'T IT? ISN'T IT?

Creators vs. Consumers, Ming Thein Style

Ming's got another think piece up, which is so utterly wrong headed as to inspire to me rebut it.

He starts off by talking about "total impact" which is, essentially, how much of your work is "consumed" by others, although he doesn't quite realize that's what he's saying. And then, incredibly, he measures the degree to which someone is a "creator" by this metric, essentially, how much of your work is consumed by others. While that's certainly measuring something, it's not measuring anything about creativity or any of the other things we associate with the word "creator."

By this measure, the Ford Motor Company is a mighty photographer, and Sally Mann is a nobody. Johannes Vermeer, having only 34 paintings only one of which anyone recognizes, is a nobody, while Ming Thein with his millions of shitty pictures and 100s of thousands of sock puppets is a mighty creator.

Ming's "total impact" is about marketing, not about creativity. It's not about being a creator at all, although occasionally the two exist in the same person. Often not, being really creative takes up a lot of time, and so does marketing. To really excel at both is extremely hard.

He implies broadly that a true creator generates far more work, in some sense, than he consumes. The "creator" is defined by consuming less and creating more, which is utterly wrong-headed. Creatives consume far more than the average consumer. Writers generally read voraciously. Photographers collect monographs, and actually look at them regularly.

Creatives consume, as a general rule, far more in absolute quantity, and in much greater depth. It is, arguably, their job.

Ming is not describing creators, he's describing himself: an arrogant little snot who doesn't bother to look at anything, read anything, think about anything, because he's got all the answers.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Seeing, Recording

Here's an interesting distinction. Interesting, that is, to me.

A recent commenter on this blog noted that some people with cameras use them as a way to see more intensely, the actual recorded photograph (implicitly) being to some degree or another superfluous. This ties in neatly with something I've been saying for ages, and which the mainstream pundit-class are barely starting to notice, to wit: the usage of photography on social media isn't really about recording the moment, at least not a long-term recording. It is about a kind of remote seeing. It is "look at this, which I saw" and it's not intended to be interesting in a week, or even in an hour. It's sharing in the immediate moment.

It's about seeing and then sharing what is seen. Curating, if you will, my current "now", and sharing that out to my friends so they too can "see". If they "see" it now, or in a few days, that's OK, but the intent is that they should "see" it once, in the same way that I am seeing it now. I see my latte, the guy with the funny hat, the cute dog. Then the world whirls onward, and that's that. In a moment, in an hour, in a week, my friend checks on my Instagram, and they get to see the latte, the hat guy, the dog, in the same way.

I think it is fair to say that these people are often not curating their photographs but rather their environment.

This is wildly in contrast to traditional photography. So much so that this new thing is incomprehensible to the old guard. I, as a member of the old guard, have to kind of struggle to get it, and if I'm not paying attention, I miss it all over again.

Ansel Adams and the boring old dudes before him droned on about archival processing, prints that would last 500 years, and so on. The whole deal is about making a Really Great Picture and then preserving it forever. This whole business is in a deeply essential way about recording.

The traditional snapshot is also about recording. "Here we are at Disneyland, in 1978, there's Susie with Cinderella, see how little she was? Ha ha!" and so on.

These things were intended to be looked at more than once, and in the future.

Somehow, imperceptibly, the snapshot has changed from being a record to a much more immediate extension of sight. We're still at Disneyland, but we're at Disneyland right now, see? It's not really clear what's happening to the recording aspect of this. Are the trips to Disneyland just lost in time, like tears in rain? Or do they live on in the bowels of the phone, until the phone dies? It's clear that people mostly don't care, certainly.

These pictures are intended, largely, to be looked at exactly one (1) time.

In parallel, we have (if my commenter is to be believed?!) quite serious photographers who are doing roughly the same thing, photography as seeing. There have been street photographers (Winogrand) who seem to have been doing this quite a while ago. Something about the act of committing photons to film was important to the way Winogrand got through his day, but actually developing the films and looking at them was not. See also Vivian Maier, and, I suppose, loads of other similar whackos out there. In those cases, the record exists, but apparently as an afterthought. These people weren't even extending their seeing to others, they were literally looking at their world through a viewfinder, and found some sort of solace of comfort therein.

These people may have been making pictures intended to be looked at not at all. And God alone knows how many of them there are that have never been privileged to be dug up, the corpses of their work propped up in overblown monographs.

I still make pictures, or more exactly, collections of pictures that are intended to be looked at many times. But I'm old.