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.


  1. I think it's more than the story...

    Just to say though, I've heard of this guy several times before. He does this in his spare time, for free, for the world in a way.

    Why would he do that? Why are we interested?

    I think it's the mystery; the fact is, nobody knows if this set is 100% crap, 99% crap, or only 90% crap. If the last, it might mean 10% really interesting stuff. The photographic world might be a better place. There might be some real social/historical value in this set of images taken by one embedded, obsessive photographer (who also carefully labelled and protected his rolls). But if he just chucked the rolls in a dumpster because the job was too big, we'd never know.

    I think the element of mystery makes (some) people care.

  2. Several thoughts:

    For me it would be about the curiosity -- what the heck is on the film and, possibly more interesting, what's the story on why someone did this and so carefully wrapped it away.

    I'm not sure I'd be interested in a curated set so much as being able the browse around in the whole take -- as you suggest in your recent posts,the collection might be more interesting than the parts.

    Finally, what if the intent/art is in the wrapping and labeling. What if this is like destroying a beautifully wrapped mummy to see what is inside.