Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Sale On ToP

Mike asked everyone to put the word out, so here ya go:

If you're in the USA, Click this link and buy some books.

I bought the set, and I would have a hard time imagining a more disparate set of books. There's some incredible stuff in here and, more to the point, if at least one of these doesn't have anything for you, well, you're rather odd. And, to be honest, you can probably flip these at your local used bookstore for a good fraction of what you're paying for them here.

Laughlin: surrealist/double-exposure freak show. So very very southern.

Van Vechten: Portraits of everyone including people I did not even know were real people. Many superb portraits.

Todd Webb: (Atget + Cartier-Bresson) / 2 (the average of the two, sort of) and really nice work as well.

George Barnard: fewer pictures, tons of text, historically very interesting. The pictures are, well, it's not so easy to document an army's movements with wet plate, is it? But for Civil War buffs, practically required reading.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's the story

This guy popped up on PetaPixel with his indiegogo campaign to process 1200 rolls of film he's got hold of. This is an interesting project, not because the pictures are any good, but because of the social milieu it illustrates.

For those of you who don't care to sort through some guy's terrible web site that appears to have fallen through a wormhole from 1995:

This guy has somehow laid hands on about 1200 rolls of undeveloped film from the 1950s, shot by some guy. He's developed one roll, showing some pretty uninteresting family snaps, and he's raising money on indiegogo (with fair success) to get the whole mess processed. Then he's going to scan it all. 9000 or so negatives. Hmm. Anyways, it smells like a scam but he's namedropped some other businesses who will presumably out him if he is a scammer, so I think he might actually just be a doofus with a dream.

Is he trying to pull a Vivian Maier? Probably. He's going to fail because, like an idiot, he shared a random sample of pictures right off the bat. To do a Maier, you have to develop the lot, and start showing us a very very carefully selected subset. There's probably 30 or 40 quite good pictures in there, maybe more, maybe less. Also, he probably needs to not scratch the crap out of the film when he processes it.

Anyways, whatever this guy's motivations are, it's worth noting that as of this writing, he's raised $6500 in a few days. Compare with the La Noir Image campaign, which raised $11,600 in its 30 day run. Now, he's doing a better job of marketing, getting on PetaPixel instead of LuLa, for example, but still.

The thing is that, apparently, people just love this narrative of the lonely photographer, obsessively shooting away and storing the film away for reasons unknown. Surely if you put all the exposed but undeveloped film in the world into a heap, it would be the size of Manhattan, and yet, people gobble this stuff up and throw money at the most absurd campaigns. Vivian Maier would still be a nobody if there wasn't a carefully curated myth to go with the pictures. Sure, Maloof et al managed to pull a few hundred pretty excellent photos out of her 150,000, but that means nothing. The world is crammed with pretty fair street photographs.

Indeed, every time I look at the wikipedia page, the legend grows. Now Maier is a feminist and a socialist and wonder woman besides.

It's the narrative that drives this sort of thing. In a world in which we are inundated with pictures, it appears that The Public (in some sense) still finds photographs fascinating as long as there is something to differentiate these pictures from those, from the mass. It cannot be the pictures themselves, because there are essentially no new photographs (again, in vague, broad strokes, grant me some leeway here please), and therefore the distinguishing features must be in the surround.

Give the public a compelling narrative, true or not, and some pictures that are not obviously horrible, and they'll line up around the block.

It's kind of a good thing. It tells me that the still photograph still has some life in it, people still love the thing and hold it special. They just need a little help to pick out the ones they want to look at.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

An Exercise/Project

This is a project. If you find yourself always on the cusp of starting but somehow never quite ready, this might push you over. This is partly based on Alain Briot's idea of small/short projects. It is an exercise which produces a final result of which, ideally, you can be proud.

No particular part of this is important. Change what you like. I provide precise details only so that if you are stumped, you've got a specific answer to fall back on. Make ten pictures if you like, but if you don't know how many, use six. If you'd prefer to use PVA glue, feel free. Don't know what to use? Use photo mounting spray adhesive. Etc.

You will need:

Card stock. About 150 pound paper (200gsm), or heavier. Seven rectangles 6x8 inches (15cm x 20cm). You can buy a single sheet of watercolor paper, for instance, and cut it up.

One small can of photo mount spray adhesive. 3m photo mount. Super 77. Whatever is available.

String. Just a couple inches.

A pencil.

A good eraser.

Optional: a black marker.

Now find an object that interests you, that you have some feeling toward. It need not be profound. You need to be able to access the object over a couple of days.

Day one: pick out your object, look at it, think about it. How do you feel about it? How might you depict that? Ponder these questions off and on during the day. Then sleep on it.

Day two: shoot. You can go back to your object as often as you like, but you must shoot today and only today. Take at least a couple dozen pictures.

Day three: sort through your pictures, put together 6 photos that tell the story, that express what you want to express. This isn't a greatest hits, this is a sequence. If the best three individual photos just don't work with other photos, dump 'em.

Send those six photos off to wherever the place is that will deliver 4x6 inch prints (10cm x 15cm) the most quickly. We don't care about quality, archival anything, just speed. Print them yourself if you want, but do not fuss endlessly over details if you do. Get the prints made quickly.

Pick up your prints.

Lightly mark in pencil on six pieces of card stock whatever marks will help you place the prints centered. Follow the instructions on the photo mount adhesive can. If you've never done it before you may want to print a couple extras to practice on. Move briskly but without haste, it's not as hard as it seems, and you have more time than you think.

Allow adhesive to cure, and then erase pencil marks.

Stack your finished mounted prints, in the correct order, with the seventh, unused, piece of card stock on top.

Punch a hole in the corner, through all seven pieces of card stock, about 1/2 an inch (1cm) in from each side. Push the string through and tie a knot to create a short loop on which the card stock pieces hang.

If you like, write a title, authorship, whatever, on that blank top page.

Take the finished book out and leave it somewhere public. A coffee shop, the gym, the grocery store. Abandon the book, don't look back. It belongs now to whomever picks it up. You are finished.

Congratulations, you have printed, published, and distributed a book.

How's it feel?

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Something I rant on about sometimes is the idea that the "single iconic image" is effectively, largely, mostly-but-not-entirely (my position varies a little), dead as a form. That is a discussion for a different post.

As a book guy, though, I'm going to take a few lines to rationalize books as the Proper Format for photos, to see how that flies.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, video isn't a good home for still photos. By controlling the pacing, video/movie takes away from the viewer the ability to contemplate, or skim, pictures as they come. You're stuck with whatever the director thinks is the right thing. If the director wants to give you any real time to look at a picture, he or she is sure to Kens Burns the thing to death because it's motion right? Gotta have stuff moving around, or the primates will wander off!

I've argued that still photographs work better in sequences and collections. Each photo is essentially an instant, pulled out of the time stream and presented to us. It's hard to make a complete statement with that, and even if you do the viewer cannot help but wonder if it's an accident. This is different from a painting, in which (usually) it's all deliberate, and furthermore it's possible to construct the thing with whatever elements are necessary to make a complete statement.

Photographs also do extraordinarily well with accompanying information, such as captions, supporting text, that sort of thing. There may be other artifacts.

Enter the book, loosely considered (include pamphlets, magazines, flyers, a handful of prints stapled or bolted together, and so on). It retains the viewer-controlled pacing, permitting the contemplation and skimming so integral to our understanding of photographs. It permits, indeed it encourages, sequences of pictures. It allows supporting text in whatever shape and quantity you like.

I am abruptly convinced that the "single iconic image" is a stale holdover from the days of painting. This was explicit in the early days with the Pictorialists consciously copying the tropes of Victorian painting (allegorical pictures with tons of composited elements literally telling a story, hand-working, impressionistic camera usage, etc and so on). It was carried onwards to the present day under the banner of the Fine Print. The Ultimate Goal is a single large image which you hang on the wall like a painting; the single image that is self-contained.

This is absurdly limiting, at best, and I think one can argue (and I intend to!) that it's a poor fit to the medium.

Books are, in fact, the right end result for photographs.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hasselblad Notes

First let's talk about a couple ideas that the Internet Illiterati are thinking.

This could be a great MF rig for pros

This has several variations, including people pretending to be professionals stating that they intend to buy it. This is stupid on the face of it, it's a wildly incomplete system. Yes, yes, you can adapt these specific lenses, and if you're very careful about which ones and you update the firmware you can get full capability, blah blah blah. No.

Pros will use this as a second camera

Uh huh. Because what pros need as a backup system is something that uses different lenses, different batteries, has a completely different UI, and handles differently. No.

It's so light and tiny!

Well, it's small. And it's light compared with medium format kit, but good lord it's not light. With lens it's over two pounds.

Something I have not seen mentioned is that the ineffable "look" of medium format, which if it's anything is the way focus drops off wide open, is largely or entirely negated by the relatively slow lenses. I'm not sure why I haven't seen any comparisons to the Nikon Df.

This thing is aimed at the moderately well-heeled enthusiast, not the professional. Some professionals will buy it, sure, but it's not a professional system. It's prosumer, just like they say, and that's the industry standard term for well-heeled enthusiast. But this is a great thing. The well-heeled enthusiast has, literally, always been the actual market for expensive cameras. They have funded the whole photography enterprise, start to present! Hooray for the well-heeled enthusiast! You and I are probably well-heeled enthusiasts! Although I admit to being a cheapskate.

H is getting back to its roots here. When I was young, the Hasselblad was the camera we aspired to. It was actually within the grasp, financially, of anyone with a good paying job. You just had to save up and make some sacrifices, or buy used, or both. It was a dream camera, but an achievable one. As Kirk Tuck pointed out, that all went away with digital medium format. You had to be actually quite wealthy to afford these things, and the benefits they offered were (and remain, let us be honest) extremely minimal increments over the best of the 35mm-sized cameras.

This X1D thing isn't the luxury product I was predicting, but it is very much in line with Hasselblad's history.

It also provides a useful benchmark for Hasselblad's design capacity. This thing is, by all accounts, pretty much just the 50mp back wrapped in a box. Now, the design of a box is not to be dismissed, boxes are surprisingly complicated. There's also a slick new UI. But this is not a whole new system, as far as we can tell.

But, if Hasselblad had the engineering capacity to stamp out new camera systems willy-nilly they're not showing us that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


We are, apparently, seeing more and more video "out there." This isn't something I have much of an opinion on, except as follows.

Allen Murabayashi, blogging over at photoshelter, has a couple of salient recent pieces, here and here. Allen is a sharp guy. I don't read his blog regularly because the content isn't consistently interesting to me, but he's always smart, and often writes insightfully about things I do care about.

I think he's missing it in these, though. At least partially.

There's this general idea that video is the new photography, as if it's kind of the natural evolutionary next step.

The essential difference between a video clip and a photograph is that the author controls the pacing, the rate at which you consume. The photograph, as I have noted endlessly, can be read in an instant, and contemplated at leisure. The video clip demands that you watch the whole thing, and once it's over, it's over. You can replay it, but you cannot contemplate it in the way you can a still photograph.

Moving on from video clips, those little singular elements of video, to a produced movie-like-object. These, as everyone knows, combine multiple elements. Clips of motion picture, text, audio, stills, etc. These are placed in a sequence. The effect is a little like a book, except that once again we find that the author controls the pacing rather than the "reader." Yes, yes, you can control things to one degree or another, but the default is simply to consume at the pace set by the creative who made the thing. The book, on the other hand, is paced by the consumer. There is a default ordering given, and some relative pacing set by the density of material on each page, but these only guide the reader's choices. You can read a book backwards if you like.

Video is, in essential ways, a more passive experience for the viewer than still photography. You can, if you choose, simply sit there slackjawed, consuming video after video. The smarter sites cue up new videos for you automatically. If you've made it all the way through one, you're properly stunned and should stay that was as long as the stimulation keeps coming.

Advertisers, of course, love video. Controlling the pacing is awesome when you want to control the message. Advertisers love online video regardless of source, because it's a natural home for video advertising to live in, and they love video advertising. Advertisers love the passive receptivity of the video viewer.

Video is simply different. It may become the dominant online medium, or not, or whatever. I neither know nor care. But it's not the evolution of still photography, it's something else entirely. It resembles still photography somewhat less than painting does. The fact that you make it with the same, or similar, equipment seems to be causing the collective consciousness to conflate video with still photography.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

So How'd I Do?

I made some specific predictions in April about a new product from Hasselblad. I will quote them here, and evaluate how I did:

General Notes

Must fully embody Hasselblad's brand and look the part. Strong branding, which implies 1) strong design notes from Hasselblad's history, 2) an imaging system with perceived very high quality.

Nailed it. This wasn't very hard, though. I didn't think it would look QUITE so much like a classic 'blad from the front, though. But the whole "they're just going to repeat the Stellar/Lunar debacle" people are dumbshits, and are proven to be so. Take that.

Object of desire/Status symbol. Therefore portable, sleek, beautiful. Broadly desired. Not a camera for camera nerds, but a mass-appealing (but not mass-available!) imaging system. Purse-sized, one hand-sized.

Nailed it. Nailed it HARD. This was not easy to see without thinking pretty hard about things. Nobody else, to my knowledge, was thinking "small" (but the damn thing isn't light).

Slick user experience, social media, cloud connected. Phone-like ease of use. Friction-less photo/video sharing.

Unknown. New UI, obviously, which looks quite phone-like.

A small camera, with excellent but not earth shattering technical specs. Definitely does video.

Nailed it.

Very Specific Predictions Design notes: leatherette+chrome/cube/space for a clearly visible logo/slanted-rear screen, non-removable lens that is nonetheless obvious, prominent.

Nailed the design notes, but a clean miss on the slanted screen and non-removable lens. Hasselblad went for photo forum credibility with interchangeable lenses rather than a non-removable zoom. Probably a smart choice?

Size: easily held by one hand, about 300 grams.

Physical size about right, but this damn thing's heavy. 725 grams, body only. One hand-able, but not for any length of time, and the delicate beautiful women won't like it.

System: Touchscreen, syncs with app on your phone (NFC/bluetooth?) for seamless "one-touch" (or nearly) connectivity.

Touchscreen (an easy guess) yes. A miss on the connectivity, although it does have WiFi.

Price: $5000 US.

In the ballpark, but barely. This might not be a clean miss, but it's a single at best. We're talking $12K for a system, ow. Mass-appealing, NOT mass-available.

Per wants to sell 100,000 of these things(?) in the next couple years. And you know, he might. Maybe. I think the gearheads at Hasselblad won this round, and that may prove to be a mistake. This camera is an enthusiast's camera, but there's very little to put it into the purse next to the dog. There doesn't seem to be anything to make professionals particularly want it, the video appears to be a joke (H.264, 24fps?!) and it's Yet Another Lens System, I think.

This is exactly what they say it is, a prosumer camera, aimed at the enthusiast with too much money. Which is a shrinking market.

Is this another halo product? Is there a baby brother coming along?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Whither Genius?

I recently read a remarkably dunderheaded blog post I will not share with you, in which some chap makes the perfectly correct statement that without a thorough grounding in music, Mozart would never have accomplished what he did, and then, incredibly, deduces from this that it's training alone that produces artistic genius. This is a fallacy my six year old would squint at. The guy wants to sell you photography education, natch.

It did cause me to wonder what a Mozart of the camera would look like, and I confess myself stumped.

So let's say you're making some work of Art or whatever, and that you're a genius. Where, exactly, does the genius show up?

First and foremost let's stipulate that in the really great stuff there's genius all over it. From the initial concept to the tiniest and most mundane details, there is, in the best work, a little flair of greatness.

That said, though, there's a lot of the work that's typically pretty close to paint by numbers, "Blah blah blah, fill in this bit with standard voice leading, you know how it goes", "this background is pretty much just green", and so on. A skilled technician could fill in various swathes of a symphony or painting or a sculpture with good quality boilerplate, imitating the style of the parts already provided, and complete the work perfectly well. It might not quite sparkly as if the master had finished it, but it's good.

The initial concept, at some point, isn't anything more complicated than "funeral mass, I need to write a funeral mass" which comes with a handy toolbox of tropes (minor key, lots of bass notes, march rhythms, and probably a 100 other things I don't know about) that you can get started with. There's no particular genius shining through here.

The bulk of the genius, it seems to me, actually goes in to what I am going to call "the riff", which isn't quite accurate, because it's more than just a musical motive. It's the part where you synthesize the idea, the tropes that go with the idea, together with some standard stuff and generate an innovative solution that fits, that explicates, the idea.

In music you might use, I don't know, maybe an unorthodox approach to resolving dissonance that makes the particular harmonic progression you're writing work especially well with your concept. You might choose to paint a night sky as a riot of swirling blues and yellows.

Once you've got "the riff" (or several of them) sorted out, a skilled technician can crank out derivative works pretty much ad nauseum. The results might lack a little sparkle, a little je ne sais quoi but history shows us that typically even the experts can't tell, when the technician is really competent. Indeed, the Great Masters themselves did this, they reached into their little box of "riffs" and recycled them, which is really why the forgers get away with it without necessarily having that spark of genius themselves.

How does this fit into a photograph?

The idea of a "riff" still fits in. For some reason Eggleston's tricycle comes to mind, the use of forced perspective makes this picture what it is. It's a "riff" in the sense I mean. It's more than a gimmick, because it's what makes the picture work. It's a visual trick that expresses the idea extraordinarily.

Still, it seems to be somehow basically small. There doesn't seem to be as much room in photography for genius to do its thing. It's not as if we can now use this idea and a couple more like it to really stamp this string quartet with the idea, develop it a couple of different ways, and really let that riff shine, maybe introduce a few more like it and develop them too. It's pretty much "there is it in the picture", done.

This doesn't mean it's not a pretty great idea, it's just that it has a lot less room.

You can get a little farther with a book or collection, but it's still not exactly a symphony, is it?

I think, in short, that a little flash of genius goes a lot farther in photography.

It is as if musical pieces were all about 4 bars long. How would we then tell the difference between Mozart and someone less gifted? I myself might have a momentary flash of genius and write a short jingle of real genius. Mozart, though, could produce these things apparently on demand and elaborate them into hours of music essentially as fast as he could write, and he could write very fast indeed. That is why I'm not Mozart.

So, my thinking, at this precise moment, is that while their [sic] might be a Mozart of the camera running around somewhere, it's going to be harder to recognize that work.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


It's not so much a thing you attach to an iPhone as a thing you plug an iPhone in to.


A Love Letter to Photography

(or something like that)

I spend too much time griping about photography as done by other people. What I really dislike, I think, is pretense, but altogether too often it comes across as "I hate this kind of picture, or that kind" and that's unfair, unkind, and not actually true.

We often speak of "more pictures taken in the last 17 nanoseconds than in the first so and so many decades of.. " and so on. What we perhaps should say is "more people can now take a photograph, at this exact instant, than actually did take photographs in the interval ending ten years ago" or something. Ultimately, photographs are taken by people, to record and (usually, but not always) share with others what was recorded. It doesn't matter if the people to be shared with are the curators at the MOMA, or just mom and all her friends, the mechanic of sharing, of showing others, is almost universal.

The details vary. Mostly, people want to share "now" with their friends. "Look, see what I see. See my coffee, my lunch, my car. Look, see where I am." "Look, see what I made" is a common theme, whether it be the photograph itself (Performance Photography), or the cupcakes newly frosted. Often there's a strong undercurrent of narcissism, of vanity ("look at me", "I have a hot model in my house", "look at how well I copied Ansel Adams") but in this moment of generosity let us ignore that, and focus on that desire to show people something.

Personally, I am interested in photographs with "weight", whatever that even means. I increasingly think it has more to do with context, presentation, than the actual content of the pictures. I am sure that you could make a powerful collection of photographs consisting of nothing but "selfies", or pictures of drunk happy girls at parties. It is well established that, conversely, you can make lightweight, meaningless pictures of human suffering and other weighty ideas.

Since, apparently, "weight", my personal interest in pictures, has little to do with what's actually in this picture or that, I can set this whole issue aside for a moment, and simply love the photographs for a bit.

That impulse to photograph, somewhere between creating an artwork, and pointing out something with a gesture, that is a beautiful thing. That desire to show people something, that's an act of generosity, of communication and connection.

That's pretty great, isn't it?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Performance Photography

There seems to be a substantial and perhaps growing brand of photography in which the photograph is entirely about the performance which (allegedly) produced it. While Performance and Process have a history in Art, there is always been at least a cursory nod toward some sort of bigger idea. The complicated removal of the whatever they ares mirrors the subtext of the masculine tyrant-state or whatever.

In this new (?) brand of photography, there is no pretense that it's about anything but the picture and the making of it.

There is gear being made and sold which seems to have no purpose except to allow this sort of thing. Light painting "brushes" (shaped flashlights), the pixel stick products, arguably drones, that sort of thing. Tools built specifically so that you can, with great effort, produce effects "in camera" which are trivial in photoshop, or effects which are simply outre. The results of these things are incredibly popular, as near as I can tell, with a pretty large population of enthusiasts. Each of these tools could, with a bit of effort, be used to do something or other with some weight, or meaning, or at least wit. Generally none of those options are in play, and they're clearly not the point, however.

I am having trouble inventing a scenario in which the complicated dance necessary to produce the starting frame "in camera" is important, though. In anything I can think up, one might was well photoshop it, or do a couple of frames and merge them, or whatever. This arbitrary "degree of difficulty" that is so often present strikes me as having no actual application beyond simply being difficult. There might be, as with say wet-plate, something in the way it makes you think, approach the work, that sort of thing? This seems to be, at the moment, hypothetical. Most people are using light painting and drones to make pictures and movies that say nothing more than "I HAVE LIGHT PAINTING THINGS AND A DRONE!"

It resembles modern Art in that there is always a story to go with it "umpty-billion frames, 12 pixel-sticks, and a team of ninja-assassin-pigs" which serves to, I dunno, legitimize the thing. The story is necessary to support the claim that the thing was done in-camera (whatever that even means, there's always cleanup and fixing details in photoshop anyways). The story is arguably the piece. The story serves as the template the next guy has to top.

I'm not sure what it means. The picture itself has to look "cool" in some way, the story has to be (marginally) credible, and the performance allegedly involved in making the picture has to be pretty complicated. It's some sort of "hold my beer and watch this" phenomenon, in which the purpose of the stunt is the stunt, any results are pretty much incidental. This phenomenon seems to be very popular.

It feels like the photo enthusiasts have come to realize that the digital camera is pretty much tapped out. It's a finished product, just buy anything, it's fine. Therefore the new gear to please the gearhead, the new item that will finally "unlock my artistic potential", the shiny gadget to impress my friends, the thing I have to have before the other guys get it, the system which (once I master it) is going to make my photographs stand out above the crowd, this cannot be a camera. It has to be some other gadget, and here we are.

It feels, to be precise, that this is the market that the camera market has evolved in to, in part. A sort of bizarro-land effects-gadget world.

Professionals probably don't care about all the stuff that simply makes it possibly to do Photoshop in-camera, but manifestly they care about drones. The general public that just wants pictures is already gone, they use phones. But that surprisingly large and incredibly vocal audience of gearheads, they eat this crap up.

I wonder if it's too late for Canon, Nikon, Sony, to pivot and start developing a suite a tools for this. Not copies of the stuff that exists, but "professional grade" tools that solve the same kinds of problems, better, and which have the all-important branding (and support). It smacks of the "effects filters" era, but the margins could be way way way higher. I can imagine a light-emitting device that has pixel-stick capabilities and light painting abilities, and which has integration with the camera's shutter.

It's not photography as we know it, but it could shift some product.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Punditry, Woo Hoo

This is an industry piece, fair warning.

Here we have Thom Hogan in full voice but as always it's a bunch of nonsensical words that say almost nothing.

He starts off reciting some things that are obviously true (shrinking market implies closed businesses and consolidation) and then, incredibly, says it's not true because of the differing goals of the camera companies. This is absurd on the face of it, we really needn't read further. If the market is shrinking, the listed consequences are inevitable. To argue that the consequences will not occur, you need to (successfully) argue that the industry isn't undergoing a radical shrinkage.

Then he goes on to detail the differing goals of the camera companies. Buried under the avalanche of words, peppered liberally with various derogatory and occasionally racist remarks, the differing goals of each company as stated by Thom can be summarized as:

Canon: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Fujifilm: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Leica: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Nikon: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Olympus: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Panasonic: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Pentax: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.
Sony: retain customers, gain market share within a shrinking market.

It's anybody's guess what P1, Hasselblad, and whoever the other players are have for their goals in Thom-land.

Then he goes on to connect back with his first statement and shows how the differing goals explain how there won't be any closures or consolidation. Err, no, wait, actually he doesn't. He just re-asserts it and hopes you won't notice that his argument is quite literally non-existent.

Man, that's some insightful analysis. I supposed I should be over my astonishment that logorrhoea is often mistaken for analysis and insight on the internet, but so far, I remain astounded.

A Short Note

If you have in mind that you ought to take a picture of someone, or give them a gift, or tell them that they matter to you, do it now. It won't hurt anything to do it now, and it might save some regrets later.

Do it now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Through the 4th Dimension

In the last few years we're starting to see, increasingly, new forms built (or, really, being popularized) around photography. The ones I'm seeing are largely about integrating time into the picture. We've got timelapse and hyperlapse going on all over the place. We've got various guys all shooting a bunch of frames from one vantage point and then splicing/blending them together to create a single image that goes from morning to dusk, or whatever.

Most of it is pretty uninterested crap that says nothing beyond "look, time passes. Crazy, huh?" and the artist gets a lot of credit for degree of difficulty. Degree of difficulty is uninteresting in general, and anyways there will be an app to make these things in about 15 minutes anyways, so pretty soon anyone will be able to make a movie or a still illustrating that, gosh, time passes.

From time to time we get a genius who uses these tools to make something excellent. See also Jeff Frost.

They're just tools. Like drones and every other whizzy new gadget or method they're widely admired because of their novelty, and the most astute observers occasionally note "new potentials for storytelling" or something, and almost nobody does anything interesting because you don't have to. Just make a 3 year timelapse of Singapore and set it to some trippy electronic music, and PetaPixel will rate it "MUST SEE". And next year, you can do a FOUR year timelapse of Singapore!

I think there's a more fundamental problem, philosophically, here. These things are getting lumped in with photography, because they're constructed out of still photos. The trouble is that the power of the still photo lies in part in its instantaneous nature. The point of a still photo is that it is what was there, at that moment. It is a little slice of reality, a moment. Perhaps a longish moment, 1/2 a second or something, perhaps a much smaller slice. Always, though, it's what we would perceive on a human time scale as a moment, an instant. In the days of very slow emulsions, great pains had to be taken to, in essence, hold that moment in place for a minute or two, and often this imparts a slightly weird impression, which we still find today in various long-exposure techniques.

This is not to say that the hyperlapse crowd, and the "blend umptillion photos" crowd should stop, heavens no. Go nuts, kids.

This is only to say that we need to keep those things separate, we should not treat them as a sort of next step of photography. They should not be judged or understood in the same way photographs are, because they are fundamentally different.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Offer

Something I talk about quite a bit is how Art operates, can operate, will operate in future, in this crazy connected world we're in. Social media, crowdfunding, and so on.

One of the themes I pound on gently is that if you want to "succeed" in this world, whatever that even means, you need to engage with your audience, and one specific way I think you need to engage is to help them with their own things. For example, if you want your army of followers from instagram to fund your kickstarter for your book, you'd do well do have helped a few folks out with their own projects. Sure, funding them is nice, but funding makes you one of many. To stand out, and you do want to stand out, you can get more tangible.

I don't have any projects in the pipeline that need an army of followers, or assistance, or funding.

But I'm still putting it out there. Do you need some help with something? Drop me an email.

I can do book things. I have tons of opinions I'd love to share. I can look at things and, well, it's not critique, but I can tell you what I would do. I can offer you an extremely tiny (but extraordinarily engaged) platform if you want to write something, plug something, whatever. This isn't a sales blog, but if you're doing something cool, you can tell my peeps about it. They're awesome. They dig cool projects.

If you read this dumb blog with any regularity, you probably have a pretty reasonable idea of what I can and cannot do. Just ask.

I might turn you down. Maybe you think I can do something that I actually suck at. I don't have a lot of free time and I have no idea if anyone is going to ask, or if 500 people are going to ask. But it's not going to hurt to ask.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Harald Mante: Serial Photography

There's this guy, Harald Mante, who's a pretty well respected academic in Europe, I think. He's done some books. A commenter recently remarked on him, so I pulled this book out of the library.

The guy definitely fits my style in a lot of ways (personal style, that is). Serial photography is, to Mante, first an exercise. The idea is that you find a theme. Blue. Pairs. Birds. Pots&Pans. People with red hair. Anything. Then you shoot pictures to fit the theme, any time, any where. Now, tomorrow, next year. You regularly rearrange and manage your set of pictures, throwing some out, adding new ones. Perhaps you divide a theme up as some new idea emerges from the pictures you've taken. Or not.

It's up to you!

The results, in Mante's little book, are really wonderful. Lovely sets of about a dozen or so pictures built around one visual idea or another. He hits the theme hard (or rather, has selected pictures which hit the theme hard) so it's pretty obvious what each one is about. Each picture is a little lightweight gem. Usually pretty, formally pleasing. Each by itself wouldn't amount to much. Massed, though, the theme pops out at you and you get the point. Or maybe you're getting the joke? The feeling is a bit like the punchline of a good story, it's just pleasing.

These are not essays on war, or our place in the universe. They're not documentary evidence of great doings. They're just a bunch of appealing pictures massed up and being appealing.

It probably would be a great exercise to maintain a couple of Series as you go through your life. A series is, to my way of thinking, the simplest form of connection between pictures. A good project, a book, portfolio, what have you, should not only carry one or more ideas of substance (whatever that means) but the pictures within should connect, should be graphically related. A series is a set of pictures all linked by the same visual/graphical idea.

A book might have a set of overlapping and interleaved series, and it's nice when at least some of those series are clear to the viewer. The viewer gets to make the little pleasing discovery that holds the interest and satisfies. If things are really going well, the connections that generate the series support the ideas. Perhaps several of the pictures in your book are clearly connected by emphasis on the color blue, and the whole book is in part about sadness and loss. The color blue is often assoociated, in the western world, with sadness and loss. A portfolio about prisons, crime, criminals, or incarceration, could contain series linked by prison-like visuals. Bars, enclosed spaces, darkness, but not necessarily literal prisons.

And so on.

The "series" in Mante's sense is, it seems to me, a basic building block, a basic method, for creating serious collections of pictures.

Plus, it's a nice book! I like the pictures.

And Mante agrees with me that the "single iconic image" is a huge pain in the ass and a ridiculously high target to aim for. The series provides a way, ultimately, to do work with substance without ever having to make a singular mighty work in a single frame.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Women in Photography

I suppose I've seen many of these pieces over the years, but a couple came across my personal radar screen in the last few months. Like all "women in whatever" pieces, they seem to come in two flavors:
  • Wow, look at the great progress the girls are making!
  • It is super-duper hard and women are under represented in the best parts and that sucks.

which is all very well. Mostly the two flavors are mostly true. The first is often unintentionally condescending, and the second is usually an excuse to rage quietly against unnamed forces, probably men. Be that as it may, there is truth here and it's worth not only trotting these pieces out from time to time, but, you know, actually doing things as individuals to make things better.

This isn't what I want to talk about.

Here's an interesting thing about photography, which gets left out every single time:

Throughout the history of photography, there has hardly ever been a time when one could not make a strong argument that the greatest working photographer is a woman. Cameron, Arbus, Cunningham, Lange, Bourke-White, Leibovitz, Mann, Sherman, and I am surely leaving dozens of top-end photographers out. I've got a gap in the 60s, I guess, roughly, but I am confident that there are plenty of candidates to fill it.

I'm certainly not saying that Arbus was the greatest photographer of her generation, I have no particular opinion on that. What I am saying is that you could, without looking like an idiot, say "Diane Arbus is the best working photographer right now" at various points of history.

It is interesting that, in the amateur end of things, it's pretty much all men. Always has been. (side note: the phone camera has arguably changed this balance radically). I don't know, but suspect, that in the population of working photographers, the portrait studio guys, the PJs, and so on, it's been largely men (again, with the rise of Lifestyle Photography, this balance seems also to have shifted). But at the very tippy top, the best of the best, it's always been more women than you'd expect. Get into the top 10, and you'll probably find one or two women. Try to pick the top three, and a lot of people are probably still including a woman.

This doesn't rebut anything, this doesn't mean that women are perfectly well represented, blah blah blah. It's just a remark that seems to get left out of the discussion. I like to think that perhaps it adds a dimension or something.

I do think there's something here about men loving gear and toys, but when you clear away the clutter of technical blather and get back to ideas, to art, to seeing strongly, women are more interested, participate more.

And from that perhaps it follows that the people working at the top echelons, those top ten influential photographers working Today (whenever Today is), are drawn from not from the gear-loving amateurs but perhaps from some other population. From that it follows, perhaps, that gear fetishists are more or less doomed to photographic irrelevance. But perhaps I am merely projecting my fondest hopes and dreams, here!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


It is interesting to find, especially in the light of my earlier remarks perhaps, that most self-styled photographers judge photographs very much by how close to one commodity or another they are. On forums people ask "am I ready to go professional" and all the twits who pretend to be working professionals judge the presented work, invariably by how closely it resembles everyone else's pictures.

You're ready to "go pro" apparently, when you can produce pictures that are indistinguishable from all the other cut-rate jamokes in whatever cost-cutting madness you've elected to target.

In "Fine Art Photography" we see the same thing. When you can screw on your Lee Big Stopper, and take that one picture of a pier extending out from the bottom center of the frame, like a great black (albeit curiously squared off) penis, into the misty mess you've made of some water's surface, you're ready to start selling giant Canvas Wraps to suckers.

Even the casual amateur seeking to "improve" whatever that means, is urged to strive for sameness with everyone else.

As noted, once you're in the commodity biz, it's a race to the bottom. How are you supposed to "stand out" if, well, you don't stand out? Lower prices is the only answer, and the only price lower than market rate is to pay people to carry your photographs away.

If you're in the coal business and someone invents a way to make coal by the trainload with two spoons and a glass of water, you don't stand around griping about how everyone with two spoons should stand shoulder to shoulder with Big Coal to keep prices up. You don't stand around bitching about fauxcoalproducers and how awful their coal is. You get the hell out of the coal business.

Don't be a commodity.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't take pictures. It doesn't even mean that your business should not involve taking pictures. You might even be able to take the same damn pictures. Your business can't be about taking those pictures, though.

You can't build this sort of business, practice, or artistic portfolio around gear or technique, since those are almost trivial for a competent practitioner to duplicate. I propose (repeatedly, ad infinitum) building it around ideas. If you're doing "stock" photos for some corporate web site, your business in that moment is your ideas about how to photograph Collaboration or Innovation or whatever the hell they want. If you're doing corporate portraits.. I dunno, ask Kirk Tuck. If you're making a photoessay about Mumbai, find your own idea of Mumbai and go from there. They can duplicate the way you handle color, but nobody sees Mumbai quite the way you do.

Ironically, whenever some poor bastard finally gets beaten in to producing the same damn photos as everyone else does, the next question is "how can I find my unique voice, my vision? How can I rise above the masses and get noticed?" and then all those fake professionals kind of start mumbling and remembering appointments in other places. They are, after all, in the peculiar business of pretending to be in the commodity business.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Richard Sexton on Photography Now

Richard Sexton's long promised second segment to his big think piece (which I first took issue with here) on photography: then, now, and the future. He's doing the Now segment.

He starts off with a spirited defense of some of the things he said in the previous parts, almost as if someone took him to task on some points. His defense, alas, consists of repeating the same remarks with the same total lack of support. The 1970s were special, etc, photography was being just then accepted as Art, the usual parade of stuff one writes when one wants to hand-wring about the history of photography.

He then repeats a bunch of things people already know, the internet, digital cameras, the pairing of the two changed everything, etcetera and so on. He equates the internet with the web, a mistake that drives me crazy but which is ultimately unimportant.

He gets the summary basically right, though. If you're in need of a refresher for many of the major forces that crushed the old order, he's got the high points written down in one place for you. If you want a description of the new order which is replacing it, he's missing the mark in some important ways. See below.

Then he goes on to denigrate blurb and, in general, self-publishing, referring to them as mere "self-printing". Interestingly, he recites the various tasks that a publisher does beyond the mere printing, and repeats one (1) anecdote from a friend to the effect that publishing on blurb sucks. He fails to make the obvious leap that "self-publishing" actually means something, it means that ones "self" must do all the tasks that a publisher does. You print, you market, you sell. His friend found that if all you do is print, the book does not magically sell itself, amazing.

The other thing he's missing is that the major publishers he cites (Steidl, Phaidon, etc) are being crazily conservative. They're just not giving book deals to brilliant young unknowns any more. Wanna get a book deal with Phaidon? You better already be famous. You have to bring a fully tested market with you, you have to be a "name" already. You can be a "name" chef, interestingly, and get a photography monograph deal. You cannot be a new, unknown, talent. In fact, if you haven't already done a monograph with one of the majors, you probably aren't going to get one (unless you're a celebrity chef).

By all means, fact-check me on this, I just checked the New and Upcoming Photo Books on a couple of majors, and it was 100% instantly recognizable, known quantities. Maybe someone I didn't check is still breaking new artists.

Blurb in particular, and self-publishing in general, isn't a replacement for Phaidon. It shouldn't be. Self-pub is a platform for reaching your own small audiences, but as Sexton implies but seems never to state, you have to do the spade work yourself.

He then blames amazon for a lot of woes, because they sell used books. Gasp, used book sales don't pay the author! Yep, the author got paid the first time around. I'm not sure what on earth he's on about on this point.

The fact that amazon eliminates the impulse buy is an excellent point, however. Amazon also makes the happy accident, and browsing in general, problematic, which is the biggest single reason amazon sucks for books. Mike, over at ToP, seems to be doing an awesome job of reviving the impulse buy, however, on this crazy new medium of the world wide web.

A little later, Sexton grumbles about certain unspecified choices made by creatives which have resulted in a public that thinks content ought to be free. I don't know whether he's just carelessly repeating a truism here, or if he's revealing something important about himself.

Yes, "the hordes" as he so decorously puts it, demand a lot of free content. The content they insist be free is the fungible content. One cat picture is much like another. One video of a dog falling off a skateboard is interchangeable with another. It is basic economics that when the cost of producing a commodity (that is, a fungible product) drops to zero, so does the price. The change wrought by the internet and digital cameras was to drop the production cost close to zero, and to open the market to a large swathe of producers who are willing to price at $0. This, I suppose, is the poor choice creatives have been making. While it's standard grumbling to state it that way, when you're dealing with a million suppliers and a billion consumers, it's really better thought of as just market forces.

But in that statement the seeds of a solution lie. Don't make fungible products. If your pictures are pretty much the same as everyone else's, the price is set by the cheapest supplier, who is always operating at $0 these days. Is Sexton explicitly saying that he wants to return to the glory days when people could and did produce absolutely fungible photographic products, and could and did get paid a lot for them? Or is he just mouthing an oft repeated truism without looking at the underlying causes? I dunno.

But the point is, don't be in the commodity business. More on that anon.

He seems to believe that the one inviolable market is Selling Fine Art Prints. He explicitly tells us to not research this, but to trust him that more prints are being sold for more money than ever. I cannot imagine what he is hoping to accomplish by telling us to trust him. Anyways, sure, I'll take him at face value. The market is not inviolable, though. It will rise and fall, and the fact that Fine Art Prints are doing well at the moment seems to have nothing to do with any sort of current zeitgeist around the current state of photography. At least not that I can see. It might simply be that they're cheaper than ever? Certainly Fine Art Prints are, mostly, a commodity for which the cost of production is not $0. It still costs real money to deliver a big canvas wrap, and when there's real money in play, the artist can still clip a percentage for themselves. But remember, commodities are still a fool's game, here.

Sexton wraps up with a few paragraphs that, to be honest, I can't make much sense of. He seems to be trying to sort out the various career paths that come under the broad head of "photographer" but no particular points managed to gel in my mind. He seems unsure of the viability of various career paths. Welcome to the fabulous modern era, where venture capitalists are furiously trying to disrupt out of existence every job except their own.

He describes Janson as an "epidemic of artworks" which I have to admit is a phrase I adore. Makes the whole piece worth it.

In general Sexton's piece is mostly a sort of boring reiteration of basic stuff everyone knows, salted liberally with exactly the sort of total failure to understand the current state of things you'd expect from an old dude who's been pretty successful for a few decades. As the kids might say, he just doesn't get it. He treats the problem of "success" as one of "how can I reach a global audience, and rise above the rest to be one of the few, the exalted top 50 players" which is an approach to success that is completely, utterly, dead. The globe is simply too big. When our world consisted of a couple hundred million people and a media controlled entirely by 100 men, that made sense. Sort of. The globe is 7 billion strong, now, and the media is shattered into a million brilliant little deadly shards, mostly covered with ads.

Photography Now has a lot more do-it-yourself small run publishing going on than these old guys know. They don't see the interlocking system of social media, crowd-funding, and self-publishing. They don't see the methods you can use to refine your work, find your audience, pre-sell your books, and fulfill the orders, all out of your bedroom. He's stuck in some fantasy land of the 1970s when you could get a book deal from Steidl or Aperture and make a mint selling books through their superior, global, reach. Except I'm pretty sure you couldn't. You might sell 1000 books, but you wouldn't actually make any money, or very little.

Frankly, I would not be surprised to learn that self-published photographic artists routinely make more money on a book than anyone but, say, the top 5 traditionally published artists ever did. Turns out that global fulfillment and marketing network was very expensive, and also the publishers held all the cards. If there is money to be made, and one party has all the marbles while the other one has none, guess who makes all the money? Not the author!

Anyways, the point here is that correctly using social media makes your product no longer a commodity. You've reached out to people, one by one. They like you, the like your work. Your photographs, your drawings, whatever Art you're making, is personal to these people, these potential customers. The product is not fungible. This could be because your work is truly unique, it could be because you're a great guy and you helped them out with their book. It's probably some blend. It doesn't matter. When you go to kickstarter to crowdfund your blurb book, your social media followers will fund your book because, to them, it's special. It's unique. They want to help you, because you're you, and they want to buy that specific book, because it's your book.

At a completely different point in the spectrum, we find Kirk Tuck, who writes essays regularly which can (I feel) be interpreted as "I remain successful, because I am at great pains to not be seen as a commodity", for example, this one. But there are many.

Whether your ambition is to take photographs or drive trucks, in this modern era you have to stay on top of the global situation, to a degree. You have to control your destiny as best you can. You have to, whenever possible, take charge. There are no "safe" career paths any more, where you can simply learn the skills and then coast along doing the job, with occasional skills updates, until it's time to retire.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Here's a Weird Thing

I'm sort of fascinated with at the moment, Chris Gampat's PetaPixel-ish blog. One of his features is that he finds "Deals" for photographers, and one of those "deals" was "75 email templates, normally $129.99, today, $19.99".

Evidently they cover everything a professional photographer might need. How to tell the client that the shoot didn't work out, and you need to schedule a re-shoot. I suppose there are templates for "I lost your files" and "my dog ate my camera" and so on as well?

This, I suppose, has nothing to do with the photography business, but I cannot see how this can possibly work out. Using these things, the scenarios in which the wheels fall off your charade seem so numerous as to be inevitable.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Moss Landing II

There seem to actually be four pictures, if I put my mind to it. There were a bunch more, but they were either things I am in love with which are not Moss Landing particularly, or they were redundant.

No idea if it reads, but I was definitely thinking Gursky and Emerson while I was shooting.

Maybe the vignettes are too heavy handed. Vignettes always look awful in the thumbnails, though, if they're even visible in the full size. Click 'em.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Note

On my occasional "credit where credit is due" theme, I want to remark that Alain Briot, about whom I have said many unkind things none of which I take back, is writing a very nice series on projects over on LuLa. I like them so much that I'm working on turning his "mini-project" concept into an exercise which I will execute, report on, and describe in detail soonish. There's nothing earth shaking, yet, in Alain's pieces but it's good material reasonably well laid out.

In the mean time, while you wait for my golden words of wisdom, go look yourself if you have a subscription. It's one of those bits that's easily worth the monthly dollar, and might even be worth the $12 for a year! All by itself!

Look at me, plugging LuLa. The world may end shortly.

Shootin' Stock

My wife, after many years of doing financial planning under the aegis of other firms, has gotten around to starting her own practice (* see below for details) and I am assisting in small ways with a little marketing support, occasional errands, and shooting "stock" photos for her weekly blog posts. She writes about things like how best to save for college, what to do with a not-very-good 401(k) plan, stuff like that. Things her target market might find interesting.

So I've been shooting pictures to illustrate each blog post's idea. The pictures function, perhaps, like a subtitle, a repetition of the theme in other words. It's a lot like Art with a capital A, interestingly. There's a very clear concept, and you get one picture to illustrate it. There's also branding/corporate identity to consider, so I try to make the pictures a little "fun", and to hit the corporate colors.

My wife's financial planning practice is targeted at Moms in High Tech (in the USA), a specific niche with a pretty specific set of needs. If you're a Mom in High Tech, or a Parent with job that has weird compensation models, or a Woman in High Tech, you might find my wife's services and service model useful. Drop me a note at if so, I'll introduce you. She is way nicer than I am.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

So What Shall I Do?

Some smartasses have proposed that perhaps I could quit being unkind to other bloggers and commentators. Consider this remark from Mr. Thein's blog:

I was having a discussion about the presentation of landscape and color use the other day with one of my students – which in turn got me thinking about why we see so few modern landscapes that work in monochrome, typically unless the shooter is trying to imitate Ansel.

which is, well, it's just a wrong statement. There's plenty of monochrome landscape being shot today that looks nothing like Ansel Adams.

I can comment on Mr. Thein's blog to offer some correction, you suggest? No, actually I cannot. Mr. Thein does not accept correction from me, as far as I can make out regardless of how polite I am. I suppose I could try swearing at him, but I am dubious. ETA: Apparently I made it past a round of moderation after all. Perhaps I shall commence remarking on his blog again, in lieu of remarking here. Wait and see, I guess!

I could let it slide, I suppose. Is that the right answer? Should influential bloggers simply be allowed to say whatever they like without challenge? Or do I need to be a more influential writer before I am permitted to correct The Mighty? What?

I suppose I could just kindly and generously correct the misconception, without suggesting that Mr. Thein is either ignorant or wilfully ignoring reality in order to promote his preferred world view in which he is a lone visionary beset on all sides by cruel commenters, fools, and fauxtographers. Is there a point at which I might offer such an observation, and if so can you give me a rough estimate of how many thousands of "tells" must appear before I might offer such a cruel suggestion?

Let me just say, then: Sally Mann, Sebastio Salgado, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and leave it at that.


Mike over at ToP has the definitive commentary. As usual. He'll never waste your time, and frequently he's the only voice that matters. You've already read it, because you read ToP before you come here, don't you? Don't you? If not, why not?!!

Moss Landing

I've spent, in the last decade, a total of at least several weeks in Moss Landing, CA. My wife has an aunt there. It occupies a quite clear visual space in my mind. It's misty, rolling, farmland. Now, that's my concept of Moss Landing and, obviously, there is much more there. There's a fishing fleet, beaches, and so on.

But to me, it's mostly just one picture. There are a handful of (to me) iconic objects that definitely say "Moss Landing", a power plant and the general idea of a derelict boat.

Hawaii is too wide, contains too many distinctly Hawaiian facets, for me to express a coherent view of with photographs. Moss Landing is too narrow. One picture isn't going to work for communicating my idea, to you, to anyone, it's a single fairly boring picture. I could make 5 or 20 or 100 of these things, and you'd probably grasp the idea that Molitor sees Moss Landing as this specific thing, but I don't think you'd be able to feel anything of what I feel. It would just be a boring picture of light gray above, a curved horizon line, and a dark grey below. Ho hum. This could be anywhere.

I could throw in a bunch of breadth and show you boats and migrant workers and windswept beaches. You'd get a strong sense of California from the migrant workers in the fields, most likely. You'd see the beach, the fishing boats, the sailboats, you'd get Coastal. I could probably communicate Central California Coast pretty clearly by chucking in a few wind-gnarled trees clinging to rocks high above the surf. But that's not my vision of Moss Landing, particularly. That would be, perhaps, an interesting set of documentary pictures, but it would not be My Moss Landing. I took a bunch of frames and you'll probably see a few of them shortly.

Anyways, let's think about this a bit.

I can go someplace and duplicate iconic imagery from that place, the more or less universal pictures that most of the western world, or whatever our world is, treat as definitive. I can return with a photo essay that is instantly recognizable Paris or Antarctica and Iceland, and loads of people do exactly that. It seems to be a fun thing to do.

These are not personal, and without that personal input, they say nothing, they mean nothing, they are weightless. They say only that you have mastered some equipment, some tropes, and were perhaps shepherded about by someone who knows what the iconic shots are.

When you copy work in this fashion, you might be saying great and important things, but you're merely mouthing the words. Reciting Shakespeare does not make you a poet, although it's a bunch of fun. Reciting William McGonagall is probably even more fun, and moves you slightly further away from being a poet.

Once you step away from the icons, then you can start to shoot what you see. Weston and his strongest way of seeing and so on. All the important photographers who deigned to write anything down say pretty much the same thing. Once you start to see, you can branch out, if you like, in to imagining what might have been, or what ought to be, rather than what is. You needn't be literal, or even truthful.

But you've got to stop reciting poetry. You've got to clear your head and bide a while in the silence.