Friday, July 29, 2016


It is incredible to me the laziness embodies our public discourse. It's not that hard to be non-lazy, all you have to do is do a bit of work, after all. But, nope.

Consider the majors. PetaPixel is just a press-release transcribing organization, and is one of the more popular "news" sites for photography (which tells you everything, really. Why work when not working produces just as many clicks?). Recently they published a review of a cookbook with recipes collected from famous photographers. A couple of lines noting that the book existed and where it could be purchased, I count 127 words of original content, and ten pages of content copied from the book, as well as ten iconic photographs which PP now gets to publish under the protective cover of "reviewing" a book that actually obtained the rights to the photos. Of course, everyone is happy, because even this shitty non-review is going to generate a bunch of book sales.

It'd sure be great to see, I dunno, an actual review. Are the reproductions any good? Did you try out any of the recipes? Is it witty? Dumb? Do you have any ideas at all Michael Zhang?

There are some copycats out there, less successful. There are tons of blogs that mostly republish other people's redundant "street photography" with occasional top-ten lists. And so on.

Nobody pays for content, although some places have staff that work hard to grind out actual content.

Most of that is still supremely lazy, rehashed blather about why you should, or should not, shoot film or one of about 20 other standard topics. Reviews of the latest drone thing that are in no useful way a review "It flies, and has controls that let you tell it to go up and down, and take a picture, it costs this much, here is my affiliate link to amazon."

Of course, there is ToP, and there is VSL, where the lone authors work quite hard to write about things that interest them. Both do what they do very well indeed, but neither one proposes to be turning a critical eye on photography as a thing, really. Which is a shame, because there ought to be more of it.

And then we have guys like the hapless Lewis Bush, who seems to have run out of things to say. He's still more of a thinker than most of these bozos, but mostly he stops when he gets finished mouthing the standard leftie/artist political positions.

Let us take a moment to correct his latest post. He pretends to be commenting on visual culture, but it's a very very thin nod. He notes some superficial resemblances of the RNC stage to some of the well-known stills from Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will". I will note in passing that in the first place there's a great deal more to the film than the still we all associate with it:

And also that when you actually do the side by side comparison:

well it's a bit embarrassing, isn't it? Yes, the one evokes the other in a small way, but it's got nothing to do with Hitler or Trump specifically, this is just standard Big Politics Theater, they all kind of look like that with, in this case some little differences that Lewis misses completely. What distinguishes Hitler is that he did it on a monumental scale that we seem to be actually incapable of remembering. Every time I see that still from the film I have the same "Holy Shit!" reaction.

No, what Lewis (and his citations) are all doing is simply, lazily, regurgitating the "Trump is awful, why, he's basically Hitler" line without bothering to perform any of the relevant analysis. Neither political, nor visual.

Let me dispose of the Trump/Hitler comparison. Hitler was a lot worse than this, and every, stage of his career. Trump is in comparison a completely benign presence. Go look it up. Hitler's awfulness is another thing we seem to have trouble remembering except as a sort of abstract notion of more awful than anything. While Hitler is a pretty good standard for Worst Case Awful, we tend to lump everything more awful than free ice cream as Worst Case Awful, and we forget the gradations.

And now, let me proceed to do Lewis' job for him. He purports to be interested in visual culture, so let us actually look at the iconography of the Trump acceptance speech, and think about it a bit.

First of all, most of what we're looking at is political-staging boilerplate: the flags, the seething mass of political operatives on the floor, the tiny podium on a big stage. In different angles we would no doubt see tons of Make America Great Again signs and so on. What jumps out to me is the large word TRUMP over the stage, and the weirdly Academy Awards styling of the stage. This thing doesn't look like "Triumph of the Will", it looks like an awards show, and in a way it is.

Poking around the interwebs, I find many pictures of political speeches none of which feature these styling notes. While it's possible there was a giant BUSH logo or CLINTON logo suspended over the candidate, it didn't get photographed, which is the salient point here. The vaguely art deco sculptural gold paneling is completely absent from the political stage until now, as near as I can see. But it is absolutely SOP for an awards show, innit?

The parallel that does exist between Trump and Hitler is this: They both rose to power pandering to the disenfranchised, those people who correctly see that the structures of power are exploiting them. Trump is to Bernie Sanders what Hitler was to the Communist party in the Weimar Republic.

It turns out that when you have two bodies pandering to the weak and disenfranchised, the latter tend to align with the one that looks strongest, almost regardless of what it actually said.

The iconography of Trump's acceptance speech becomes clear, then.

It's styled like an awards show, a populist invention if ever there was one. It has very strong branding, TRUMP, in huge letters across the top. Trump has crushed the Republican Party and bent it to his indomitable Will, hasn't he? And he's made the RNC into a Awards Show! It's pretty much the same as the Grammys! Just for you! Two big thumbs up! How great is that!

Hey Donald, imma let you finish, but first I wanna say that Hillary Clinton had one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time!

His role as a panderer, and as the strongest one, is well established.

That is what the iconography surrounding of his acceptance speech says. That is what the photos and the video communicate to We The People.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why am I so mad?

So why am I so mad at Zvereff and his Rajput Ride photos?

Essentially, it is because of the amazinging falseness of them. This is partly my fault. I looked at the pictures alone, without any context, and came to some conclusions. Those conclusions were wildly wrong, and part of that is surely my fault. That doesn't change the fact that I'm mad.

Further, I think I am justified in much of my assumption.

While a more astute eye than mine might well have identified the skaters as foreign. I don't think anyone could identify the photos as "a behind the scenes, and a rather slanted one at that, of a Red Bull sponsored event." The video, interestingly, is much more balanced. You see that India is not a bunch of narrow alleys populated entirely by elephants, scooters, and picturesque old men. You see that, despite Zvereff's remarks to the contrary, there's plenty of beautifully maintained and nearly new concrete to be "shredded" by the skaters.

No, what Zvereff gives us is the same fake McCurry fake India, only this time with skateboarders. What are we to make of this? The tropes are all there indicating True Culture Documentary (in the National Geo style). While one might not necessarily read this as "Indians are skating in Jodhpur" but one can surely be forgiven that assumption. It is, I think, completely impossible to realize that these photos are actually a Red Bull ad.

Did they get all the required permits? Irrelevant. Persuading bureaucrats that the fee you pay makes up for your obnoxious behavior is not at all the same thing as not being obnoxious. As a former resident of San Francisco where you can get a permit for anything, I can attest that paying the relevant fees does not make you beloved by the residents, and it doesn't make you not an asshole.

Did the locals actually love them? Well, that's surely the narrative they would promote, and it's largely un-checkable. And again, it's largely irrelevant. The Indians thought the British were pretty funny with their silly hats and the standing around outside all afternoon "guarding" things, too. In any case, the standards of the locals are not the only standards in play here. By the standards of the west, this sort of thing is pretty shitty and, as westerners, they should answer to those standards as well.

Of course, let's be honest. It's Red Bull and skateboarders, statistically, we're most likely talking about awful, self-absorbed, egoists. Do you really think they made sure to get all the permits that might apply?

There's just no way this wasn't a bunch of foreigners, permitted or no, loved or no, charging around in a foreign country grinding the edges off of various people's concrete objects, getting in the way, and generally being pushy and obnoxious, all in the service of selling an unpleasant beverage to frat boys.

And that is not even close to what the photos said to me when I first saw them.

And that is why I'm so irritated.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rajput Ride

Daniel Zvereff, whose work you can see over at his web site has a photoessay up called Rajput Ride, which caught my eye.

Most of what Zvereff does is pretty pedestrian. He's got an appealingly gritty aesthetic (push a big toe into the tone curve to give a lot of rich dark tones, lots of midtone contrast, maybe push the saturation up a fair bit, and whale on the clarity slider) that he uses to show us appealingly gritty subjects. Ho hum, we've seen a lot of this stuff.

Rajput Ride jumps off the page. Zvereff is clearly in India for Holi. The signs are there, although he does dodge the nearly-inevitable standard Holi photos. And there are these skateboarders running around! It's crazy! If you're inattentive, as I was the first few times through, one can take this as an essay on a recently arisen skate culture in India, how great is that! Except, sadly, it's not. It looks like that, but it's not. More about that anon.

The pictures look like pictures of India, a slightly crowded, cramped, version of McCurry's India. Decrepit, ancient, colorful. Both the people and the buildings. Having seen other pictures of India, I can deduce that much of India does not in fact look like this, but evidently it's not very hard to find this material since everyone does. Without the skateboards this is just yet another cheap McCurry knockoff, but with the skateboards it's pretty awesome looking.

One imagines Zvereff discovering these rogue skateboarders bringing this thing to India. Appropriating the American sport, and making it, one supposes, their own. One imagines Zvereff following these guys around, the lone wolf, photographing this phenomenon. The skateboarders don't look particularly Indian, but the subcontinent is wide and contains many peoples.

It turns out not so much.

Red Bull imported some guys to skate around India, with a fucking crew of video assholes to film the whole thing while these guys charge around during Holi doing the usual "grinding the shit out of everything and wrecking it". We don't actually see them wrecking stuff, but anyone who's not lived under a rock knows that skateboarding tears shit up. Now, if they were actually Indians, that would be one thing. Still asshole kids, but I can kind of get behind it, at least they live there. But no, Red Bull actually flew in assholes from other continents to go smash up the Indians shit with their boards. And Zvereff came along for the ride to shoot this thing.

Holy crap.

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Skateboarding is not a crime" but you know what is? Wrecking other people's shit is a crime. Yep, it actually is a crime to break, damage, or mar things that don't belong to you. As a former teenager I feel your amazement at this revelation, but I swear it's true. Going to foreign countries to wreck people's shit on film to promote a god damned sports drink should be a capital offense. I'm not the most politically correct dude, but I'm not an animal.

Honestly, I love the pictures. The pictures are uniformly pretty good, and there are a few with real poetry to them. But the context is too savagely horrible to contemplate. I hate these people, and I wish them the very worst possible outcomes for this shit.

Dan Zvereff, fuck you, fuck Red Bull, and fuck the whole shitty enterprise.

You suck.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Monument and the Thing Itself

Guy Tal is a fellow who angers me every single time I read his blog. I think you should probably take that as an endorsement, though. He's tackling the Big Issues all the time, and I am pretty sure that I find him irritating because he's not me.

Anyways, he's got a piece up recently (which, incredibly, turned up on PetaPixel, a place not exactly famed for publishing think pieces). He's trying to apply Russell to an idea of photography. Now, as I noted in a comment over there, you gotta be careful with Russell. His philosophy was kind of self serving.

I could (and in earlier drafts of this remark, did) have some fun disintegrating Guy's arguments, but really, it's just a guy noodling out loud so doing that is wildly unfair.

However, there's one thing worth calling out specifically.

Guy notes that as time unfolds all is washed away. Nothing is permanent, nothing will remain eternally. Like many people, he feels that this creates a problem with doing things of value, and falls in to a version of the nihilism/hedonism trap. He thereby betrays that he is confusing the thing itself with the monument.

If someone performs an act of great heroism, and a statue commemorating that event is duly erected, where does the value lie? Is it in the monument, or in the act itself? If the monument is washed away, does the value of that act of heroism dimimish?

It does not, and only a fool would imagine it. It follows, inexorably, that the ultimate dissolution of the universe cannot have any effect on the value of what we do, or do not, do. If we make Art, if we make a child laugh, if we scratch a dog's ear, these acts will have value per the socially constructed value system (and there is nothing else, unless you defer all to God or similar, and you will tend to find that God's Objective Will often bears a startling resemblance to the constructed social system).

That value occurred, and it was real. When the dog dies, when the child forgets, when the Art vanishes in the heat death of the universe, the original value will still have been. Despite Guy's efforts, the fact that all things will pass is irrelevant to whether you take pictures strictly for yourself, or for others.

The argument I have made, and which I stand behind still, for making pictures for yourself is that nothing else works.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Words Matter

As most of my readers ought to know by now, Ctein and Mike Johnston have had a falling out over, proximately, whether or not we should have a different word for photographs which have been, to some unspecified degree, modified from the original scene. This dirty laundry isn't my concern, although I found the episode to be mildly tragic and I wish it hadn't happened.

I want to think about whether Mike's right, and why we might need such vocabulary now. It seems, on the face of it, that perhaps we've been getting along just fine for 160 years or so, so why now?

Here's a thumbnail of the relevant history, told through the lens of my ignorance and opinion. Don't quote me on any of this, although of course I will try to be as accurate as possible.

For roughly the first 40 or 50 years or so of photography, people are largely thinking of this new thing as a kind of painting. It's a way of making a really accurate (in some senses) painting without having to learn all that business about brushes and mixing colors and whatnot, although there is a whole host of other things you might learn. While there is a certain amount of railing against people who are "merely lousy painters" and so on, this is pretty much what people think. You might even mention the zeitgeist here.

Somewhere in there we have Emerson (and probably others who have not benefited from Newhall's PR campaign) trying, kind of, to invent straight photography. He's against manipulation, but he still thinks he's making paintings of a sort. He's making Art, Impressionistic Art at that.

So throughout that time, manipulation is more or less baked in. With orthochromatic emulsions you have to paste in the sky anyways, always. One of the mainstream approaches is to composite multiple negatives together for everything (pace Emerson) and we're about to roll forward into the "Camera Work" era of hand work in a big way. It's "painting for dummies" and the idea of the photograph as indexical has not really been born yet, although there are glimmers in Emerson's thundering rebuttals of Robinson.

Then we have "Camera Work", gum bichromate, hand work. Art Photography is if anything more wildly manipulated, and it's still simply baked in as part of the normal process. Also, in 1888, we have Kodak introducing their camera for the people. 100 exposures, send the film away to be developed and printed. The snapshot is born.

We start, I think, to see a split in the zeitgeist at this point. On the Art side manipulation is part of the process. These people are still "painters" and nobody expects their photos to be indexical. In fact, it's somewhere about this time that the idea of "indexical" is invented but it naturally remains the province of eggheads and wonks for some time before leaking out, in some form or another, to meet a similar idea held by the masses.

The Kodak camera, I feel, cannot help but have launched this idea in the minds of the public. They begin to take snapshots, and surely the idea that a photograph is a record of what truly was begins to rise to consciousness, more or less broadly.

We're somewhere around 1900 when I think these ideas really begin to take root, the idea that a photograph can be something with an inherent truthiness built in to it; the photo is a new thing, an objective visual record which has its own distinct and unique value.

Next up, a few decades later, we see Straight Photography rise up and dominate, the idea of indexicality is quickly central. It is, allegedly, absolutely vital to a photograph. While Straight Photography was more of an idea than an actual practice, it was the important idea of the era. Photography in America converges largely around this business, and manipulation is shunned. I think that in Europe we still see a lot of manipulation, but it tends to be quite obvious. Multiple exposures and so on. Man Ray is running around at this point, and so on. Adams famously thunders extensively at Mortensen.

For most of the 20th century, it seems to me, one could make Obvious Art photographs with heavy manipulation, compositing, multiple exposures and so on, and not be too deeply sneered at. At least in the USA the high ground was, and would remain for some time, straight photography. No removing telephone wires, and so on. In between, one could make photo-realistic manipulations, but one was a dirty animal and when caught you'd be roundly abused.

Furthermore, while one certainly could make photo-realistic manipulations, most practitioners lacked the skills and anyways it was a huge pain in the ass even if you knew how. While people could and did do all sorts of things in the wet photography era, it was rare, and it simply wasn't the sort of thing decent people did. Stalin did it, for god's sake, we don't.

Enter digital.

Abruptly the entire spectrum of manipulation possibility fills in and becomes equally easy, almost trivial. Anyone can remove the telephone wires, move the lamppost, delete three men in a rickshaw. Anyone. Whatever you fancy might "improve the composition" is trivial. Ideas shift, with dizzying rapidity, to "and if you think it will make it better, you should go ahead and do it." Photojournalists are supposedly the last bastion of straight photography, but everyone knows that even that is a farce.

No longer do we have a clear visual and social distinction between "manipulated, probably Art" and "straight photography".

I think this argues strongly for a need -- a new need, here and now -- for artists and viewers to have vocabulary to talk about these things. While none of these things are new, as such, the social context in which they occur and the frequency with which they occur, mean that, arguably, we can no longer get along with a few assumptions and, as necessary, talking around the issues.

Are "photoart" and "photograph" the right words? I dunno. I don't care, and most importantly, I don't get to decide. Terms will arise if they are truly needed. We could simply use "photograph" and "straight photograph", borrowing some more or less appropriate terms from the past. This has the advantage that "straight" naturally permits a usage implying a degree of straightness.

This photo is straight
This photo is mostly straight, it's pretty much straight. I just erased a wire in the corner.
This photo isn't really straight, I moved a bunch of stuff.

I dunno. Like I say, I don't get to decide. We're probably all going to walk off cliffs and die trying to catch imaginary monsters in our phones anyways.

That said, Ctein is also right. Once you create these categories, people will line up in one camp or another and start hating on the other guys. However, note that we already have that, we just don't have the words for the categories, and also, so what? Welcome to humanity. Trying to force everyone to get along by controlling language is just silly. The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis isn't completely wrong, but that doesn't mean that you can actually force people to get along by forcing them to use the same words for everything.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


My earlier post about copying deserves a little clarification. I wrapped up with a "be judicious" throwaway remark. Not that what follows is necessarily clarifying, but it unpacks things a bit, I hope, and perhaps provides some food for thought.

I think that what this really means is that you should automate and hide whatever makes sense for your work. That means that you need to know what your work is about, in this moment, and really think about what you should and should not tuck in to an action, a macro, a preset. Since your concepts can change, you probably need to try to retain some notion of what you're automating. Perhaps review your actions, presets, macros, at the beginning of every new project just to refresh your mind about what your fingers have learned to do automatically.

An example.

I could, without much effort, develop a collection of methods for producing a convincing Wet Plate look to a digital photograph. I could crank out beautiful fake ambrotypes all day long with it.

But there's absolutely no way I could reproduce the glorious disasters that fill the pages of Sally Mann's What Remains. This book delights me despite being remarkably hard material to look at because of these disasters, and also the little note on the back talking about "technical brilliance." On the one hand, sure, Mann is excellent at a lot of stuff and it a fully competent technician etc and so on; but on the other hand this book is entirely made of up beautiful examples of the infinitude of horrible ways wet plate can go wrong. In the movie of the same name, she mentions (probably somewhat tongue in cheek, to be sure) that she lives in fear of mastering the wet plate process, because so much would be lost.

Make no mistake, I love the book (duh, insert girlish squeal).

Of course there's a reductio argument here if you're not careful, and you wind up having to manually adjust every pixel by hand, and that's just silly.

But somewhere in there, there's a degree of automation that makes sense.

Over at LuLa there's a tempest in a teapot. Apparently Adobe managed to break hyper-accurate printing in the most recent editions of their software on Macs. Mostly, the differences manifest when you print out a test chart, and then measure it, because the differences are, in most cases, quite near the edge of visibility. Obviously this is a problem for a few people, but for most of us, eh, whatever.

But it illustrates clearly what a certain class of people doing color printing are up to. They've got a bunch of technology in play to make the printing process automatically hyper accurate. Most of the people who are calling for Adobe to abase themselves and Fix This Instantly are not, I will warrant, people with any particular external need for hyper-accurate color, they're just convinced that their boring landscapes will be ruined if the blues are a trifle off.

An aside. Mark Segal wrote a piece up on this TECHNOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE in which he provides test swatches illustrating correct color and wrong color. I read the piece first on my phone and there was literally no difference between correct/wrong visible. Now on a different screen, there's a difference visible in the blues, but not in the greens. Not sure what the hell Mark was thinking attempting to illustrate these differences with a JPEG on the web.

Those of us with wet darkroom experience surely all recall that time when we botched up the timer, dropped something, mishandled something, and got a print that was not at all what we had in mind but which pointed the way. Oh my god, we'd say, that's why it was looking insipid. I need to print the whole damn thing way darker. How could I have not see it?

With properly functioning color management that will literally never happen. It can't. The purpose of color management is, literally, to prevent that from happening. Digital technology enables, encourages, methods of ensuring repeatability. It encourages us to convert the entire process of Art Making into a sort of assembly line. It, essentially, leaves you all alone in the process of Art Making. You have to make all the choices yourself, you have to know a priori what you're trying to do. A proper muse knows when to knock over a paint pot. A proper artist should know this, and not nail the paint pots to the bench. Too many paint pots too firmly fixed and, I claim, the muse simply leaves in a huff. Figure it out yourself, asshat, she says, and like mist she is gone.

Automate what seems right to you, but from time to time, throw it all out and start anew. Give your muse a little room to work.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Copying in the Digital Age

Copying other people's work has long been an accepted pedagogical technique. Painting students spend days in the museum, sketching away. Mathematicians in training work through the (difficult) classical proofs of important or interesting theorems. Writers write "in the style of" pieces.

The digital era, by making copying so easy, would seem at first glance to be a wonderous new era. Except that it's not.

The point of copying is to, by laboriously duplicating the steps used by the master, to train oneself in the same methods. It works well for painting, by repeating the brushwork of the masters, we learn something of brushwork. It works well for analog photography, by repeating the motions of burning and dodging, we learn something of burning and dodging. It works for mathematicians, by recapitulating the thought processes of the genius, we learn something of genius.

All of these things boil down to building a foundation of specifics from which we may and do generalize. We practice writing Dickensian description, and learn something more general about descriptive writing, something we can apply without being overtly Dickensian. We generalize to a collection of ways one might insert an adjectival phrase. We tweak and twist Dickens. We do the opposite.

In the darkroom, we experience serendipity. Practicing Adams' methods, we forget to set the timer, and in the ensuing disaster, we might learn something interesting. Indeed, my experience is that we're practically certain to.

Human laziness conspires against us. We would like to skip to the good part, to encapsulate the copying process neatly away, get through it in a few minutes, and somehow still gain the knowledge, which is impossible. It is only through the struggle, the boring tedium of copying, that we actually learn. Digital technologies are wonderful at eliminating this part!

Fast forward to now, get specific about photography.

Photography writing is 99% copied. People writing how-to guides simply crib the content from elsewhere, and often don't even understand the technique they're talking about. Missy Mwac and her ilk simply copy gripes from internet forums and expand them with boilerplate "humor". Even what passes for "serious" writing is, mostly, just lifted from elsewhere and slightly tweaked. The present blog, of course, is nothing but brilliance and original thought, though. Cut&Paste, Google, the haste to write something, and the desire for clicks have pretty much sucked the thought out of writing.

The pictures are also 99% copied. One of the most common themes in internet forums is "how does so and so get this look" (hint, it's always raising the black point until the picture looks all misty, or at any rate that's the answer you're going to get even if it's wrong). This is not in and of itself a bad thing, this is, sort of, how we learn. The trouble is that as soon as you see how to do the thing with the tone curve, then you save it as a preset, or make an action, and the knowledge vanishes.

The allegedly experienced photographers (Joined in March 1887, 120812981983 posts) all too often make it clear that they cannot look at a picture and simply see, in general terms, what's been done to saturation, hue, and the tone curve. Often, they can't see where the lights were placed with any reliability. They can't really guess very well at focal lengths, and most of them still get pretty muddled when you start talking about focal lengths relative to format. This should be basic stuff. I can do it, and I'm just some jerk on the internet. These guys may have been shooting forever, but they don't know anything about photography. A lot of that, I believe, has to do with the fact that they've mostly been copying ideas and methods in this modern digital era.

And that is the basic problem with copying in the digital world. It's so easy to make that tedious drudgery vanish, so people do. But the tedious drudgery is the point. Without the tedious drudgery, you're not learning anything.

It is as if a violinist who wanted to learn a technique of Itzhak Perlman were to simply buy a CD of the man's music and simply listen to it over and over. You're never going to learn anything unless you pick up your own violin and start sawing away on it.

So the takeaway. If you want to produce a specific effect by performing a specific well-understood manipulation in a Curves Tool, go do that manipulation by hand, every time. Don't convert it to an action. Don't use a preset. Go do it, by hand, every time. That way you'll never forget what it's actually doing, and you open the door to serendipity.

Generalize and apply, judiciously, the previous paragraph as necessary.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Intellectual Property Rights

Here's an amusing thing.

Missy Mwac, who is a boring idiot who fancies herself terribly funny, got another snotty piece placed on PetaPixel, this one about stealing photos. The money quote, for our purposes, is:

Take a look at the image.
Ask yourself, “Did I take this?”
If the answer is yes, do whatever you’d like with it.
If the answer is no, walk away…
It doesn’t freakin’ belong to you.

Because I am an unpleasant person, and because I know hipster shitheads like this all too well, I peeked directly at her blog. Lookee here, posted on June 8, we find this post. Which includes this picture:

Wow. Missy Mwac, snotty hipster, shoots The Walking Dead? Or, maybe, she actually neither took that picture nor walked away. Indeed, her web site is littered with stolen pictures, but since they're all used ironically, I guess it's OK. Or maybe it's OK because someone else stole the pictures first?


I've talked at some length about how screwed up the intellectual property rights around photography are. Here, for instance, and here.

Be that as it may, photographers seem to be almost universally in favor of strong intellectual property rights for photographs, rights which favor the photographer very very strongly, and that is indeed the current state of the law. These same photographers, often, will happily steal photos for meme purposes, or other "ironic" uses. Many of them probably download movies or music to which they actually have very little right under the law. Some of them probably use cracked copies of Photoshop. But steal someone's boring sunset photo, and feel my wrath! I saw this in the software industry as well, people who literally create intellectual property for a living would routinely steal other kinds of intellectual property.

People are hypocrites. Surprise!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Plastic Zeitgeist

I mean here, "plastic" in the sense of easily shaped or molded, malleable.

Zeitgeist is, of course, plastic. It's baked right in to what it is. The point is that it changes, really. Still, the internet has granted us some new avenues, some new, speedier, ways that it can be changed. XKCD had a comic that's related. Anyways.

Whatever the actual position of Marc Riboud's picture in the zeitgeist of the western world was prior to about July 10th of this year, it now occupies a different one, as does Bernie Boston's picture. At least one commentator has definitely mistaken one for the other, I suspect others of the same mistake, and I certainly don't monitor the entire internet. Statistically, this is an error that is happening a substantial number of times. Boston's picture, despite its substantially greater historical impact (I've spent some time poking in to this), is being replaced in the zeitgeist by Riboud's.

Let me spin out an imaginary scenario. Some 20-something wannabee critic needs to cite "that one picture of the Japanese girl in her bath after some industrial accident" and does a google search. Due to some accident of his search some hypothetical minor picture by Eisie turns up. Perhaps our wannabee happens to be physically located close to the location Eisie shot his photo. Google moves in mysterious ways. The photographer is, in the wannabee's mind, close enough to Smith to fit, the picture is perhaps of some little boy injured in some accident with industrial machinery. It too is a bit dark. Wannabee has his citation, cites it, and maybe even appends a "heh heh, I originally misremembered this as a Japanese girl!"

Now the circle is complete. Subsequent vaguely phrased searches for Tomoko will turn up this other picture. Gradually, or perhaps quickly, Smith's photo will be eclipsed in the zeitgeist, a new zeitgeist emerges in which a formerly minor photo of Eisie's replaces the significant photo by Smith.

Since this isn't History with a capital aitch, there's nothing really concrete here to be fact-checked, it's not correctable. All these guys citing Riboud don't actually care which photo they cite, they just want something, anything, kind of appropriate in order to give a gloss of scholarship to their piece. Riboud's picture serves as well as any. It may or may not be the one they meant.

So what? What's lost? Well, in my imaginary scenario the photograph that actually was the tip of the spear, the photograph that did indeed change the world and save lives, gets pushed into the history books and out of the zeitgeist. The common perception is, perhaps, the vague notion that the minor picture was the one that changed the world. A little bit of truth is lost from the common knowledge. Not that the common knowledge is exactly rife with strictly accurate facts now, of course.

Add a lot of these things together, and perhaps we replace truth with error at a faster pace. Perhaps the zeitgeist becomes more and more a pastiche of made up facts, mis-remembered facts, and simple nonsense. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn't matter either way.

Mostly it just irritates me to see people botching stuff like this up, being sloppy and then enthusiastically copying one another's sloppy work.

zeitgeist, zeitgeist, zeitgeist. I love this word.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Another amusing item coming out of this recent picture is that people are apparently misremembering their icons. I am nearly certain that these young media guys flogging the THIS IS THE ICONIC PICTURE OF #BLM!!!11!!1!! narrative are vaguely remembering this picture by Bernie Boston:

And lazily googling around a bit until they come up with this picture from Marc Riboud:

And now that enough of them have done this, the circle is complete. The latter picture, which I have I am pretty sure never seen or heard of, and which these people most likely also never have, is supposedly the "iconic" one, rather than the first one, which is probably the one they actually sort of half recall, and which is (or at any rate was) most definitely iconic.

Lewis Bush over at Disphotic most definitely makes this error, pointing us to a youtube video of some sequence from a contemporary movie which is clearly a quote not of the Riboud picture but of the Boston picture (but he identifies it as a quote of Riboud). Even better, if you poke around you come across at least one still from the movie offered up as comparisons with the new photo from Baton Rouge. Again, I think people are half-recalling Bernie Boston's picture, lazily googling around, and coming up with another wrong picture.

Of course, now that the careless twenty-somethings running the asylum have declared the Riboud picture the "iconic" one, it actually is.

Not sure what to make of this, but this kind of sloppy visual memory coupled with modern web search seems to be doing something to our visual culture. It's making it, I suppose, somehow more plastic, more changeable. We are actually watching one photograph's position in the zeitgeist get replaced by another one, or by several. That's interesting. I may have more to say about this, anon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

That One Picture

Updated. See the ETA below, inserted in the topically proper location.

There's a photo making the rounds, you've probably seen it (hi Sis!):

It's a hell of a picture, no way around it.

But it's not Tank Man, it's not any of the various pictures from the civil rights movement. Although, I admire everyone in the picture, in a way, except for one. The photographer should be smacked. Still, Tank Man was taking a real risk (and for all we know, died as a result of his actions). Civil rights activists were actually mauled by actual dogs, and so on. This was, like Tank Man, a scene deliberately constructed by the protester, which places it in a category. It was constructed, unlike Tank Man, at very little risk to the protester, which places it in a smaller and less interesting sub-category.

Let's clear away some underbrush. As far as I have learned, the woman was engaged in a basic act of civil disobedience. Good for her. As far as I can tell, the cops did their jobs professionally and calmly, without drama or rancor. Everyone moved through their appointed roles in the approved fashion. Do those cops know they looked like assholes? Of course they did. It's part of the job. The point of civil disobedience is to force the authorities into situations in which they or their appointed servants look like assholes, until they get sick of looking like assholes all the time and enact some changes. Props all around, more or less.

Is the picture a good piece of social commentary? Yes, in a way. It juxtaposes certain things and displays a sort of allegory of the current narrative pretty well. It speaks to excessive militarization of the police, which is a pretty legit political position to be taking these days. It's not like only crazy communists are saying maybe the cops are little too SWAT and not enough Friendly Officer Bill these days, lots of sensible people are saying that. You may or may not agree, but it's not some weird fringe position.

The trouble with the picture is that the immediate narrative it suggests most strongly is outright false. The police were caught mid-motion, in perhaps some kind of weird stutter-step. Those unreadable postures (possibly perfectly natural, like Muybridge's galloping horse, a moment we normally do not perceive has been frozen for our delectation) together with the riot gear are highly suggestive of imminent violence, of an explosive situation. The photographer, we may justifiably assume, shot a bunch of frames before and after the one he chose to show us. Those frames, we might reasonably guess, depict bored cops calmly moving up on a civil disobedient and arresting her, without a drop of drama. This, however, is the frame we are shown.

ETA: There is indeed a sequence of frames which has indeed been published. They show, clearly, some cops hustling up to a woman who does not resist, and hustling her off. They are not obviously bored, the vibe is to my eye much more "gotta get this woman outta the street gotta get this woman outta the street gotta gotta get" and off they hustle, no fuss, no muss, no bother. The weird posture is "hustling cops" frozen in time. Interestingly, once you've seen the sequence, the weird posture is a lot less weird looking and the original picture seems a lot less charged. I remember distinctly the sensation of violence on the verge of explosion, but I no longer see it in the picture. The veil has been removed and the picture is much weaker, but much more true, to my eye. Neat, huh?

This frame, presumably, meets the laughable standards of The Press. No Photoshop! And yet it is a lie, it strongly suggests something that never happened. That suggestion of violence, of something unreadable but probably bad, is a real part of the picture's power. But that suggestion is, by the photographer's own account, completely false. There was never a sniff of such a thing. This was a peaceful protest, the police presence was professional, calm, and reasonable, the selected civil disobedients were scooped up in the approved fashion, and everyone was released the next day.

This immediate falseness damages the picture as a piece of larger social commentary. While it does indeed depict a relevant political idea, it is damaged by the facts of the case. That the woman in the picture chose, at low risk, to be arrested damages that sense of danger. The fact that there in fact was no danger certainly damages that sense of danger. Without the sense of danger, it tends to fall apart into a line of bored dudes sweating in heavy costumes, and a pretty woman in a really great dress. Pictures of this sort only really work when they both support one side's position, and stun the other side into silence, or at best incoherent blather. Sontag was right, the story that is ultimately wrapped around the picture is the important part, the picture is just the tip of the spear.

This is exactly equivalent to Diane Arbus' roll of boring pictures of some kid playing with a toy hand grenade, with one frame where he happens to be making a weird face. That's the frame she prints, because it's awesome. But it too is false.

Compare also with Gene Smith's "Tomoko in her Bath" which is "photoshopped" all to hell. Today's NYT would probably refuse to publish it. But it is far more true than the picture we're looking at here. Everything important in the frame is true. The mother's love, the child's deformity, the tragedy. The narratives that picture suggests most strongly are all precisely true, even if the rendering of the shadows is not.

That the press is, apparently, propagating this thing all over and promoting it as "iconic" and so on speaks, loudly, to the bankruptcy of that enterprise.

But you know, it's still a hell of a picture.

Marketing Photos

My wife's colleagues in the financial planning biz have generously expressed positive things about the pictures I am taking for her blog, and wondered how it might be done. So, I proposed a few ideas and here are a few more. 100% of the photography, editing, etc, was done with my phone. This is a tutorial, my regular readers may elect to skip this.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Poh-lice Video

This is a highly charged issue. I will do my very best to be neutral. Comments which are not, in my opinion, neutral will be ruthlessly moderated away.

Allen Murabayashi over at the photoshelter blog has a piece up, and there's a previous piece of some worth as well. While Allen himself seems to be trying to maintain distance, he's quoting a lot of people who are trotting out the same tired business about how "this is all new, and so much worse, and it's numbing us all" which has been something of a drumbeat, well, forever.

Images of extreme violence have been with us forever. I don't think there's any actual evidence that they numb us particularly, we're already numb. Things that happen to us are simply of a wildly different order than things that we see in pictures and videos. Also, the degree of sheer nastiness that was committed to the photograph in days of yore was vastly higher than now. Seriously. People were gleefully shooting shit that is now the material of nightmares, because in 1890 or whatever, it was pretty ordinary stuff. Susan Sontag went on at some length on these topics in Regarding the Pain of Others and it's a little surprising that Allen doesn't cite her.

Anyways, Sontag is definitely present, notably in the way that the various chunks of video, the various stills, are interpreted, presented, and discussed. Probably the only really new thing that's appeared recently is the cell phone video, which is different from what came before largely in that it leaves essentially everything open to interpretation. It's a moving set of indistinct blobs, and an inscrutable soundtrack. This leaves the field more open than ever for applying whatever narrative you like to it, and people do. They always did, but they spent a lot more time imagining what was outside the frame. With a cell phone video, you can imagine what's in the frame as well.

As always, though, the "photograph" (or video) lends a beautiful sense of certainty to it all. You can see it all so clearly, it's obvious. The people who disagree with you either have not seen the video or are insane partisans.

Police-worn body cameras are not going to change this. The may provide a better quality of video (it is inconceivable that it be worse), but I predict that we'll see the same incomprehensible videos. A mass of bodies, a frequently obstructed view, shouting, an occasional instant of clarity. A sound that is either a gunshot, a car door slamming, a someone tapping the camera, or any number of other things. Onto this mess will be projected whatever narrative the viewer favors, and the video will, again, constitute "proof."

Pictures of cops going about their business are, I believe, tremendously worthwhile, nonetheless. They have real evidentiary value, in reconstructing timelines and corroborating or refuting testimony. They do not, by themselves, provide any sort of useful narrative, but that's quite a different thing. Secondarily, but perhaps of greater long term importance, they present the police with the useful sensation of being observed.

Policing is the sort of job where, to be blunt, it's simply done better when it's being observed. Observation of the worker stifles creativity and damages morale, but for some jobs, it makes the quality of the work go up. And I want my policing to be done at the highest possible quality. Frankly, if it damages the morale of the police force, so be it. Media backlash and getting shot also damage morale, I expect, so maybe it'll be a wash in the long run.

So, while I approve of videoing the police at their business, I do not think, and neither should you, that we can expect to "learn what went down" from any such videos. The court system works vastly harder at this problem than the layperson, has far more machinery to apply to that problem, and does a fairly rotten job of it themselves. It is ludicrous to suppose that we can look at a video on youtube and "know" in any meaningful sense what happened. But gosh, it sure feels like we do!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Masses of Dynamic Range

So one of the virtues of "medium format" sensors is huge amounts of dynamic range. 15 stops! Holy crap.

Here's an serious question. What on earth do you do with that?

I know what I would do, which is to be even more slapdash with exposure than I am now, which is rather slaspdash. I'm pretty sure that's not what the people who buy digital MF systems are looking for, though. The point here is sort of the opposite of slapdash.

Output media are 10 stops, more or less at most. So you've got to map those 15 stops around a bunch, somehow. I guess you could do anything you like, but what do people actually do? Do you just fine-tune exposure in post, and then crush the extra stuff into the toe and shoulder rolloff, like film does for you automatically? Does it get rid of the "digital-looking highlights" thing for you for free?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Philippe Halsman,
  halsman on the
  creation of photographic Ideas

Hat tip to Ming Thein for pointing me to this excellent, taut, little book. Creativity being an interest of mine I immediately went out and read it. Halsman is, among other things, quite funny. He also understands quite a lot about creativity and how to manage it. We now have Brain Science about all this stuff and can use our Nuclear Powered Brain Scanners, but apparently Halsman had a lot of it sorted out too, somewhat earlier.

Getting your hands on a physical copy of the book may be a bit of a challenge, if you choose to acquire one.

Anyways, he starts by stating the problem which is, essentially, how on earth am I to make a picture that stands out? To my amusement, he speaks of "a billion snapshots a year" and how one might emerge from this "ocean of dullness" which are familiar sentiments to us today, albeit a few orders of magnitude different. He's coming at this largely from the point of view of an ad man, trying to think up ways to express a product's concept clearly and powerfully in a single frame. This is perhaps the clearest and most obvious use case, so I applaud that, and note that Halsman did much more than that.

But to be clear, the problem that Halsman is trying to solve here is identical to Adams' "pre-visualization" problem, about which I have written at some length. The problem is how to get from a not-particularly-visual concept to an actual in-the-minds-eye picture.

While Halsman was most assuredly a major player in his day, he seems to have been to a degree consigned to history's dustbin. It's peculiar because his oeuvre contains iconic photo after iconic photo, but I think perhaps he was a little too much a cut-rate Man Ray to really be remembered as top-tier. Or perhaps he simply didn't have a very good PR man.

Then he has two sections, which boil down to "things to think about" and "things to do" by way of cajoling ones imagination into producing a good idea. He rightly treats the problem of converting an idea in to an actual picture as a separate and not very interesting problem, not worth that much (indeed, he explicitly goes through a story illustrating a case in which the idea was worth 90% and the execution worth 10%, and makes it clear he thinks this is about right).

Things to think about he terms "rules" for reasons which are unclear. They represent a sequence of things to test, mentally, against the specific photographic problem. Will a very direct approach work? What if I bring in some unusual technique? If that doesn't produce a solution, consider adding something unusual to the picture? Or removing something expected? No? Well, what if I were to do several things at once? If that still does not work, perhaps some sort of direct translation of an idea into a symbolic representation will work.

If you read Halsman too literally, in these Photoshop-infested times, you're likely to wind up with gimmicky looking "trick photography" pictures, unfortunately. What is perhaps more generally valuable is to explicitly write down a list of your "standard ideas" and keep that list handy when you're struggling with a problem. What tropes have you used successfully in the past? What approach is exemplified by some picture that you love? Write them all down, and go through the list as necessary. Yours might be:

  • Bare flash
  • Ansel Adams black skies
  • Macro
  • Low camera angles
  • Desaturated colors

It strikes me as perhaps wisest to especially note any techniques and tropes you have a hard time remembering. You probably have a few of those which slip out of your grasp just when you need them, "there was that one photo, what was it.. It did.. a thing.. damn it." Write that stuff down, and go through your list from time to time, especially when you're trying to visualize some picture. The end result, probably, is not that you get the perfect solution right off the list, but that the list stimulates the mind to produce a new and different answer.

The second half of the book is, roughly, things to do. These are specific actions you can take to stimulate the imagination. These boil down to much the same steps I've outlined many times before, plus one I have not.

The one I leave out is "talk to people about your problem" (brainstorming, in some sense). The ones left in are "think about the problem hard, look at things, look at photographs" and then finally try to recall your problem at moments of inattention, at moments when your mind is on other things. In the shower, as you fall asleep, immediately after waking. I've talked about this at length, this process of examining raw material in the form of photographs and other objects, of thinking very hard about your problem, and then of letting go so as to allow the subconscious mind to work quietly in the dark.

The new one, of talking to people, is quite wonderful and new to me. In hindsight of course it is blindingly obvious, but it had not occurred to me,

All up, I found it an interesting, and very amusing, read, and I learned a thing, so that's cool.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mike Chisholm: Boundary Elements, revisited

This is a review of a book by occasional commenter Mike Chisholm. His wonderful blog, Idiotic Hat, is found here, and is worth reading.


Walker Evans pictures have this quality to them which I think of as "foursquare". They are frequently dead-on to the subject, and there are exactly no cute mannerisms. The camera is not positioned carefully to align this thing with that thing, there is no cutesy shadow play to add interest, there is no clever emphasis of foreground/background distinctions. The impression one gets is of a camera simply dropped into place to record something.

In fact, Evans was as fussy as anyone else about his camera position, and experimented widely. The results are excellent, but slightly puzzling because they are so foursquare, so artless. (see comment below re: "artless" for further clarification.) There is no gimmick visible, no cleverness, no flash of genius. And yet, they work. The pictures are pretty great.

Mike's pictures in general, and certainly in this book, have something of that flavor. Occasionally one feels a little cleverness (especially when two pictures appear of what is, upon inspection, the same wall with different framing), but generally the pictures have that same foursquare artless quality, and (this is important, obviously) they work. The subject matter is completely different, a sort of semi-abstract collection of scenes with certain graphical motifs repeated. It is, perhaps, a little like Evans doing his peeling paint/peeling posters thing, but with a quite different feel.

These pictures document certain semi-rural and, to my eye, quite British, rambles. At any rate, not particularly American, but perhaps by a process of elimination. It's too "small scale" to be west of the Mississipi, it doesn't feel like New England, and it's too cold to be The American South, so it's pretty much got to be either Pennsylvania or England. There's a real charm to the smallness of scale, in those pictures where scale is visible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not bought the book. I kind of want to, but my budget is infinitesimal, and the pressure to not fill my house with yet more objects is high. I probably won't buy a copy, but I'm kind of on the fence.

Also, these are a kind of picture that I absolutely dislike.

Altogether too often we see these semi-abstract things as pointless exercises in form. In this case, though, Mike has convincingly persuaded me that this is a document of a path rambled, these are the things a roving eye might pick out. Very few vistas, a lot of little details. Each detail alone is a well-executed exercise in form, and by itself might be not much of anything. Taken together, they're a convincing document.

It's not a sprawling essay on Man's Place In The Universe, but it might be a diary entry on one man's place, in this season, this year.

So, while I dislike the genre, I quite like this book. You might as well.

Here's the link: Boundary Elements, revisited

Note that if you live outside the UK, blurb will (evidently?) print and fulfill as close to you as possible, so you're not paying to ship the thing from the UK, despite Mike's Imperial Residence.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hasselblad Bag

So Ming Thein's mentioned in passing that Hasselblad's new X1D (XD1? DX1? Whatever) has a "system bag" by Billingham. It holds, I guess, the camera, and the two lenses.

I think I speak for all of us when I say,


Is Oosting looking to take Hasselblad into the purse space? The man-bag space? B&H lists the bag, no picture, for $350.

A dedicated bag designed to hold the system and (one imagines) not much else, speaks to the complete unseriousness of this thing. It tells us that this thing is a status symbol, not a tool. While it is, obviously, a capable instrument, it's not intended to be purchased by people who will use it as such. Just as the Ferrari is a capable track car, and the Bottega Veneta purse can indeed hold your lipstick, this is a capable camera.

In my former industry, we distinguished between the "thing" and the "complete product", and in this case the thing is a superb camera, within certain parameters. The complete product is a bag, a camera, some lenses, and a ton of status. Mainly, it's status. At least, that is how it is positioned.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Critic

Nah, not Weegee's picture. Actual critics.

Ran across a comment on a thing elsewhere on the internet that suggested that a critic's job is to help the artist to improve. Now, I'm not going to judge a fellow on the basis of a single comment on the internet, so nevermind who or where, we can safely assume it was a slip of the brain. Still, it's an interesting notion.

Obviously no rational thinking human thinks this has anything to do with the job of a critic. Still, it's an idea that has its roots in the culture of camera clubs, where everyone sort of had the idea that they were educators. Now, a teacher does offer a thing called "criticism" which is related to the larger thing we think of as "criticism", but which isn't quite the same thing. And that thing is certainly intended to help the student improve. Some jerkoff in a camera club, or in these modern and degenerate times, a photography forum, is not a teacher. Anything they offer to "help the student" is unlikely to do that.

Modern forum/flickr/etc "critique" is about enforcing local customs. Pictures which fail to comply with local standards are shit, and the photographer must be gently, and then savagely, urged to comply.

This doesn't have anything to do with "criticism" as it is practiced by an actual critic.

Regardless of what philosophy of criticism you hew to, the job of the critic seems universally to be to react to the art, authentically, to record that reaction, and to also write down an understanding both of the art and the critic's reaction as informed by some reasonably wide basis for understanding that the critic has, with some labor, accumulated.

React. Authentically, and in an informed way.

The object here is to provide better understanding of the Art, and its place in both history and society, to whomever chooses to read the criticism. Possibly nobody.

This might provide a buyer with a rationale for buying, or not buying. It might provide a museum or gallery-goer reason to attend or skip a show. It might simply entertain or enrich the reader. It might do nothing whatever, and go unread.

If the artist is a fool, he or she might read that criticism, and thereby learn something, I suppose. All they are likely to learn is that what they put in is not always what comes out, and if they don't know that they are doubly a fool. Regardless, educating the artist is most certainly not the point of the criticism.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Vernacular Enigma

I present here some pictures all posted by the same person on a fairly popular internet forum. You're likely to react negatively to them, sorry about that. I'm going to ask you to slog through them before you read what I have to say after the jump. Titles and accompanying text as given originally by the poster. All copyrights yadda yadda, I am copying them here explicitly to discuss the work, which should cover it.

Alternate Universe

This Sepia was actually converted from the original using a mirror process to simply reverse the image vertically. He came up on me from my left to quite my surprise, and he actually did fit the profile for the shop and neighborhood to some degree, yet still he looks a bit out of place here. He had no clue I was photographing him. I like people shots, they're my favorites when it comes to photography; when I take them that is. Take and look and thanks for viewing.

Easy Street

'Hi Mom, this is me...' at work, outside, it's cold here. Did you notice Spuds Mackenzie in the background? I had a good time taking this picture. By the way, I just took it an hour ago.

The Tell Tale Heart

Oh, this really tickled me. This guy is getting sideways.

Near Phase

I got this and it looked the time around dark.

Critics Agree

Only in america

Parts and Labor

I think of this one like a postcard. I cropped the bottom off so as to not detect any sense of well being coming from a full sized photo. In fact, it might be missing more after all to the left, top and right, including the bottom. Who knows.

First Hand

Think about what it might be like to be another person. From a certain point of view, I take I have the situation under control.

The Third Reich

These guys got into it. A big fight. It amused me some so I took another picture. Not only had it been going on for awhile they were threatening one another. My ambition is for this little picture to make it all the way to the top so we can remember who they were.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Internal Logic

I've had a thought, as I occasionally do.

Composition is an interest of mine, and while I'd like as much as anyone to discover a neat system of rules, or a way to draw and follow lines on the frame, or whatever, I have long since decided that this is not the True Path. All the lines and rations stuff is in fact nonsense. Kirk Tuck recently posted a portrait in which is becomes painfully clear that separating the subject of a portrait from the background with careful lighting is also something you might skip from time to time. It's familiar to all of us that any "rule" be it a stridently screeched rule from a forum hero, or a vague rule of thumb, is frequently honored more in the breaking than the following once you start looking at pictures that are actually pretty good.

If you get a little more serious, you can poke around at the ideas of graphic design, which appears to be a real thing, and there are rules of thumb, guidelines, principles, that can and are applied there. This is great if you want to make graphic designs, and render information accessible in an intuitive and useful format. What that has to do with Art, I cannot imagine.

And so it goes, any system seems to simply not apply a lot of the time, if you look around.

What, it seems to me, separates the good pictures from the bad ones is that the good ones have and obey an internal logic. The picture, or the group of pictures, sets its own rules, and then follows them. The logic might be inverted, it might be a logic of illogic, but it is nevertheless both present and obeyed. Which is maybe just a complicated way of saying "well, it works, doesn't it?"

One can imagine a sort of underlying concept for any picture. Whether there was one in the photographer's mind is irrelevant, the point is that we can try to imagine one. Pictures that work tend to have a clear underlying concept, and that concept seems to set rules, and a picture that works tends to follow them. Perhaps I have it backwards, that a picture that works follows the rules of its own internal logic, which in turn delineates a clear visual concept?

Anyways. Maybe there's a framework for thinking about these things, somewhere in there. Gonna noodle on it.