Friday, December 30, 2016

Rachmael Pendragon/On Compositon

As noted earlier, I found myself interested in why I so disliked this guy's photos. After a lot of noodling, I am prepared to offer an explanation and maybe a little insight into composition's role in photography.

First, let's throw one of the photos up for another look:

There's a standard trick one can do with a picture, which is to squint at it until the whole thing is blurry in your vision. Then look for the most visually dominant part, the brightest patch or the point of highest contrast. This probably simulates the first few milliseconds of looking at a picture, before your visual system resolves any details.

Conventional wisdom says to place that point of most arresting visual business on the subject. See pretty much any Rembrandt painting for a blunt-force example.

Pendragon's pictures almost without exception have that point of visual interest somewhere in the out-of-focus background.

Is Rembrandt's trick just a trope we expect, or something basic to the operation of the visual cortext? Don't know, don't care. The point is that, used in the traditional way, it telegraphs the artist's intention. Pendragon is defying that, and telegraphing conflicting information. The subject(s), in focus, front and center are the obvious point of interest, but the most visually arresting point is not there, it's somewhere behind them.

Further, as previously noted, Pendragon resolutely insists on tonally blending his subjects into the background, while simultaneously separating them from the background with his focus/depth-of-field. Another conflict in his telegraphed intentions. Returning again to Rembrandt we can see that the dutchman often failed to separate his subjects from the backgrounds -- it's not a requirement that one do so. What Rembrandt did do, though, was make clear that he did not give one single shit about that separation. He telegraphed his intentions with crystal clarity.

In short, Pendragon's visual intentions are conflicting, confusing. We are justified in assuming that a photographer is making these choices deliberately, I think. While a photographer may not control all the details of the frame, she certainly can control what pictures we see. So, let us assume that Pendragon is making these choices on purpose and proceed.

What we have is ambiguous, chaotic, visual intention. How, then, shall we move up the ladder to the artistic intent? Is Pendragon making a statement about something chaotic, or ambiguous, or conflicting? Is there something about the wild visual panoply that is New York City in here? This might be a great way to start. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing it. There's nothing in the subject matter to support that idea. The subject matter appears to be very ordinary "street portraits" of the interesting characters you'll find a-plenty in any moderately sized urban environment.

I am forced to conclude that either Pendragon is almost certainly just incompetent. Perhaps he's adopted this weird mess of conflicting visuals in a vague attempt at a "signature style" but it's just a mess. I suspect that he has no artistic intent at all, beyond "film is cool".

Either way, I don't this his pictures work very well.

So what does all this say about composition as an activity, as something one ought to do in a picture?

Well, let us once again dismiss all that "eye leading" crap. Composition is not for helping the viewer figure out what's in the picture.

What it does do is telegraph the artist's intentions. The visual ideas, ideally, pull together to let us know what the artist thought was important and what was not, what the artist saw. The visual ideas support the artist's intentions. If the picture is about conflict, the visual ideas should emphasize the conflict. If the picture is about peace, the visual ideas might be peaceful, balanced. And so on.

The purpose of composition is, perhaps, not to help us to read the picture but the artist.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Criticism: Elizabeth Hosking

As if to prove me wrong, Chris Gampat and his ever-changing cast of helpers have dug up someone I actually like. Elizabeth Hosking, web site here. Looking through her online portfolio will only take a few minutes.

The first thing that struck me about this body of work is the coherent visual aesthetic applied across a wide variety of subjects. She loves the high contrast, and many pictures are a wash of black, or a wash of white, usually with "the important bit" in a relatively small region of the opposing tone. I admire the ability to successfully deploy the same set of visual ideas in many ways, and she manages it. I think.

It's possible I like her work largely because she buries masses of the frame in black or in white, leaving only small areas with much actual content. My own visual aesthetic, to the trivial extent that I possess one, is to bury as much as possible in a sort of gruesome mud. So, prejudices no doubt apply.

In general, her work seems to strive for, and produce, a sensation of what it is like to be there. I don't feel any deep philosophical message, or any particular narrative. She seems to me to be purely interested in helping us to feel as if we are there. This aligns with her self-description as "documentary" but I appreciate that she takes an allegorical approach rather than a literal one. She shows us slices, bits and pieces, that stand in for the larger thing rather than shooting a naive head-on document.

I find her projects and collections slightly repetitious, a little too long.

"The Actor's Center" uses perhaps too many frames of people rehearsing than is necessary, but the marked up scholarly script she includes is wonderful. This theme of the "odd man out" frame appears in a couple of other places. "These Hands of Mine" includes what I think is a photograph in a little folio, re-photographed by Hosking. Then, in a minor stroke of genius, another little photograph re-photographed on one of the subject's hands. Well done to connect the object to the theme and to the subjects.

In "The Actor's Center", in contrast to her street photographs, Hosking focuses often on the faces of the subjects, showing us the intensity of what's going on. The marked script strikes me really as the foundation of the work, though. It's scholarly, with a ton of footnotes and some serious notes hand-written, suggesting a degree of seriousness and intensity which is well-supported by the pictures of the people. There are also doodles, speaking to a certain whimsy and sense of fun, which also reads in the other pictures.

If it were my work, I'd have tried to get a little more visual variety in the series, possibly photographing the empty space, props, that sort of thing. It's not my work, though. It is, I think, successful as is.

"These Hands of Mine" seems to me to be well balanced and satisfying, as well as containing the aforementioned bit of genius. It might be the strongest work here. Still, it's hard to judge, since it's also got the most emotionally intense subject matter.

"Daily Rider" also includes an odd-man-out picture, an empty train seat. Traces of a person, without the actual person, just their marks. This series also stands out as a good use of the trope of shooting people from behind. While Hosking may be, like so many "street photographers" too shy to photograph strangers from the front, she does it better than most here. She embraces the anonymization her angle of view creates, and gives us fragments of people. Whatever her motivation for shooting from behind, she uses other visual ideas to support the idea of making the subjects anonymous, generic, everyman figures, and so is able to sell the idea better. I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but it's well done.

The empty train seat functions in much the same was as the marked up script. It's a little slice, an allegorical bit standing in for a larger thing. I read this as the anonymity of the commute, the human mass and the trains that move it, all like a colony of ants in motion. Again, I think this is quite successful.

"Street Singles" is maybe the weakest of the lot, it reads like spot news photography done by someone without the courage to shoot people except from behind. It's workmanlike, but not terrific. I like the pictures, but mainly because I love photos of LGBT folks flying their flags, being happy, and getting their voices heard.

Finally, her "Land" series. These resemble in many ways a series of photographs my father shot and printed and gave me a framed set of, many years ago. So, again, prejudices surely apply. I find them quite lovely and arresting. This is where we see the artist applying her visual aesthetic to radically different subject matter, and where she inverts the dark-with-spots-of-light to give us white-with-spots-of-dark, which is a strong move on her part. Still distinctly Hosking, but definitely a different thing.

This series lacks an "odd man out" frame, but still has that allegorical feel. That flavor of what it is like to be standing here on this land, cold, austere, remote, but revealed in a handful of nearly abstract frames which surely look, literally, almost nothing like what they are pictures of. This feels like a work in progress to me, rather than a completed thing.

I like this photographer. She's not my favorite, but I think she does solid work.

Monday, December 26, 2016


As always, here I am waffling. Just when I decide that composition simply doesn't matter a whit, content is the only thing that does, Chris Gampat and his crew of merry incompetents digs up Rachmael Pendragon, a NYC photographer who runs around with a large format camera taking pictures of attention seekers. Here are a couple of samples, notable for reasons I will get into in a moment:

There's more. Punk rockers and the like. Rachmael seems to want to be a sort of low-rent Arbus. More work here: Rachmael Pendragon.

Here's the thing that really bugs me about Rachmael's pictures: He has no concept of tonally separating his subjects from the backgrounds. In one of the pictures above he even places the black guy against a black background and simultaneously finds a light background for the white guy and, incredibly, a dark background for the white guy's dark hat. The only "proper" tonal separation here is the black guy's hair against a light background. This failure to separate is so frequent that he might be doing it on purpose. It's haphazard enough to make me wonder, though.

I used to say things that "composition helps to clarify the picture for the viewer" without explaining why or how, because that's what everyone does. There's some sort of vague BS about leading the eye around the frame and whatnot. That's rubbish. In Rachmael's pictures, in particular, we find the human faces instantly (duh) and look at them. Not only are the faces, the people, front and center, but our optical system is literally a face-finding machine. We don't actually need the tonal separation to know what's important. Rachmael's mis-composition is not leaving us unable to figure out his pictures. I don't even think it's making it more difficult.

And yet, and yet.

Obviously I have prejudices. If Chris Gampat's crew have picked out someone for mention, my assumption is that they're pretty bad. Anyone who affects a large format camera and a made-up-name (actually several made-up-names, "Sironar de Bergerac" haw haw haw among them) and takes pictures of attention whores can't be any good, right?

I am trying to dig through these prejudices and see if the pictures still bug me. If they do, I would very much like to know why they bug me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


It's my birthday. It's the end of the year. It's the holiday season, and it is, apparently, a brave new world. I feel some reflections coming on.

When I started writing this blog thing, oh so many years ago, I firmly believed in a specific path one took to create a great photograph, a worthy picture, something people would want to look at and perhaps possess. That path was to manage the objects and forms within the frame, in some sort of elusive way, and then to place tones and colors, in a similarly elusive way, until you somehow had put the right things into the rectangle. Then you were done.

This is the classic Iconic Photograph theory of picture making. It's a natural followon from painting, I think? Painters certainly do all those things. There are regular readers of this blog, people I like and respect, who hew more or less to this idea of picture making.

Over the years I've read a lot, I've thought a lot. I've made some interesting projects. I've argued with people about this and that. I've come to the conclusion that, at least for me, this approach to picture making is wrong. This is something of a self-serving conclusion, since it turns out I'm not much good at the elusive placement of things, colors, tones. I can manage a perfectly pleasing picture, but ultimately they all look a lot like someone else's picture.

That right there is one of the major problems with the Iconic Photograph theory. There are, it turns out, only a finite number of ways to do the thing. A painter can fall back on distinctive brushwork, use of color, and myriad little bits of technique to create something new out of the same old arrangement of forms. A painter can layer on degrees of abstraction (cubism leaps to mind), which a photographer really cannot. No, the photographer is more or less stuck with real objects in front of a real lens, and the possibilities are limited. Everything starts to look the same. Occasionally some brilliant talent leaps out in front and makes something different, perhaps? Generally, though, I think that the visible, distinctive, differences lie elsewhere. They're not merely a new and creative approach to lighting, or posing, or arranging lines and forms. There's something bigger going on.

In my reading, I found out many interesting things! Much of what is sold to photographers as expert advice on these elusive processes of composition is utter nonsense, invented rubbish from the 20th century passed around, copied, mis-quoted and mangled. Horrible nonsense. Rules and systems which are, as often as not, not merely arbitrary but actually wrong. I learned that the world of photography is filled with well-heeled amateurs (for a wide range of definitions for "well-heeled") and almost as many rapacious capitalists hawking variations on the above bunk, packaged with or without exotic vacations, for the purpose of making the amateurs less well-heeled, and the capitalist moreso. This made me somewhat suspicious of the whole enterprise. I even wrote a little book of my own about composition, a book which, several years later, I find is still pretty much on-point, although my interest in formal composition has waned.

I've also come to realize that I actively dislike the physical act of photography. I've been at it a while so it's pretty automatic, but still the process of fiddling with dials and settings to produce the closest approximation to the result I want is tedious and uninteresting. The best thing about digital photography is that I can wing it on exposure a lot more.

So what the heck is there, for me? I don't like messing with cameras, and I don't care much about composition. Why on earth am I still obsessed with this photography thing? I seem to be peculiarly ill-suited to it.

The trouble is that there's tremendous amounts of work out there that I love. I go on and on about Sally Mann, but the truth is that I can go around to the shelves of monographs in the library or bookstore, pull down any book at all, and find something I love. What is it that I find appealing? And, as an aside, what is it that makes a monograph or other photo book good enough to get a publishing gig?

As a minor note, why is it that the books I like least are the "greatest hits" books?

I hesitate to say that I have come around to the idea that "storytelling" is the key, I don't even agree with that statement. We're not all shooting spot news. We're not making photo essays about homelessness or some crisis, or about our family, or your family. It's not "story", it is (of course) trame.

It's a common criticism, to say that a picture relies on context. Without the title, the picture would be nothing. Without the other pictures, without the essay, the picture would be nothing. OK, so be it. So what? Why need it be something when placed in another context?

I made a book after my father died. Photographs of things that he's made or owned, paired with a short text of something my father taught me, vaguely related to the object. The photographs are nothing. They're simple record shots of objects. Pleasing, I like to think. The focus is where I want it, the lighting is amiable, but ultimately it's just an artless picture of a camera or a bowl. In context, in the book, these pictures have real power, at least within my family. It's one of the best bits of work I've ever done. I like to think that a stranger might find some strength in it, but perhaps not. It doesn't matter, because the book is for me. You can look at it if you stop by, I'm not hiding it, but it was made for an audience of one, me.

So that's what the photograph is about, in my little world. It's about showing a real thing, perhaps a collection of real things, and revealing something about them and their connections to the world. Painting can't do it, poetry can't do it, an essay can't do it. Not the same way. The photograph is rooted in a potent way to the real world. It can connect text or other work to that real world. That is the essential strength of the photograph, that is what makes photography Not Painting, and Not Music, and Not Anything Else.

The consequences of this philosophy are many.

The most obvious one is that you cannot know, a priori, which pictures are the "good ones". You have to know the context into which the pictures will be placed in order to be able to judge them -- to even begin to judge them. This renders the whole idea of "critique" in the sense of examining a picture and telling the poor bastard how to improve it, literally pointless.

It means that I never just "go out and shoot" because there is no point to just taking pictures (well, except to record some event or person or object that I happen to want a record of, of course) without having some intended context to put them in to. The greatest Iconic Photograph Ever of that building, that tree, that mountain, is worthless to me without some sort of context into which I mean to embed the picture. I could, in theory, just go out and shoot and then try to build stuff out of that. It could work, but it's inefficient. If I'm going to do that, to be honest, I'd rather use other people's pictures. It's much more fun to see new pictures, and try to build something out of them.

I do shoot projects, most of which fizzle out anyways. So I still have an enormous slush pile, if I did ever decide to go try to create something from photographs on-hand.

It means I am accepting of the idea that a photograph's meaning is malleable, and often nil. But in the right context, almost any photograph can live and breathe.

The process, for me, is now much larger. It is about creating context, trame, a total project. These things grow organically. Sometimes very fast, sometimes very very slowly. Start from the concept, imagine context and structure, shoot. Everything changes and reshapes itself to fit everything else and, sometimes, only sometimes, something complete emerges.

For me, it's vastly more satisfying than trying to shovel forms and light around inside a little rectangle, and have it both look pleasing, and also look not like some mashup of whichever two photographers I saw work from most recently.

To my readers in the tech industry

If you work in or around the technology industry, specifically the software industry, more specifically the US tech industry (although the entire Western World is heading the same way, as far as I can tell) you should look at this web site, and seriously consider signing the pledge. It's short and you should of course read and understand it yourself, but in summary it says "I will quit before I will help build a Muslim registry database or anything similar." I honestly cannot see any reason not to at least agree with the idea.

You may reasonably elect to not sign on other grounds, of course, but to be blunt, if you disagree with the general thrust of the pledge, you are wrong.

The link is here: Never Again.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Industry Update!

Someone's finally paying attention to me! Well, no, but they're reading the tea leaves. There's a place offering a camera-as-a-service, Relonch. Essentially, you pay $99 a month to borrow a stylish (?) looking camera with a viewfinder and a shutter botton, nothing else. Pictures you take get automatically uploaded to some cloud thing, and Relonch's magic elves, or AI, or something, pick out and edit the "best ones" and send them to your phone.

The name suggests to me that it might be a prank, to be honest. But the fact that it's getting some traction (not among photographers, who profess themselves BAFFLED, YES BAFFLED, LEARNING TO USE A DSLR AND PHOTOSHOP IS... etcetera) suggests that this is an idea whose time is at least nearby.

The point here, which many photography enthusiasts seem blind to, is that a lot of people simply want pictures. They find cameras and the associated rubbish tedious in the extreme. This doesn't mean that they would not like nice pictures, of course. The phone has been a boon to this audience, and this sort of thing is the sort of thing that can certainly find a market among the well-heeled subset of those people.

Hasselblad continues to fascinate. In the last little while they've introduced a next-gen of their flagship thing with, I think, a 100MP 6x4.5 sensor. Then they rolled out this strange X1D mirrorless camera. Well, the camera's not strange, but as Kirk Tuck points out there's nothing in the lens lineup that's actually useful. A Rather Wide, a Kinda Wide, and a Slightly Long Normal, I think? Finally, they rolled out this Motorola add-on camera that actually looks pretty decent.

I think the first one is carrying-on carrying-on. Support the existing tiny base of studio guys with large budgets, retain position as a Serious Player. The X1D is a halo product intended to cement that, and carry the Hasselblad Is Back message out more widely. The Motorola widget is the first of the real products that Hasselblad intends to turn in to realistic amounts of money.

How do I know this?

Hasselblad finds itself astonished to have actually sold a meaningful number of X1Ds. On LuLa we find a review of the device, stating that Hasselblad has "thousands of orders to fulfill" and "Hasselblad had to make major changes to their manufacturing and production lines" in order to ship hundreds of units a week (and rising).

They announced this X1D product, apparently, expecting to ship something like 5000 units in the first year. Maybe. That works out to 100 units a week, and is as good a guess as any at what they expected sales to look like. That's something like $75 million in retail revenue, which translates in to, well, a lot less than that back at Hasselblad HQ. Perry Oosting was not hired to lead development of a couple products that add a couple million bucks a year to the bottom line.

If the Motorola snap-on accessory thing takes off in Asia, they could have a winner on their hands. Perry's not a moron, and he's been in the phone market, he knows that Motorola is, at best, a maybe. He's got more irons in the fire.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Food for Thought

I will tell you two short stories, now.

A man rides the train to the city every day for work. Each day his walk from the station to his office takes him past the same diner. He's never been inside. One day he glances in, as he does from time to time, and notices they've hired an extremely pretty young woman. A few days later he takes the early train, as he sometimes does, and has an extra twenty minutes to spare. He enters the diner and orders coffee, intending to make small talk with the young woman and see if he can charm her. The woman's manner while she serves him is, however, unmistakably closed and unwelcoming of conversation, albeit polite. Angry, he drinks half of the coffee, leaves a ten cent tip, and departs.

A man rides the train to the city every day for work. Each day his walk from the station to his office takes him past the same diner. He's never been inside, and has never really registered the diner's existence. One day he takes the early train, as he sometimes does, and has an extra twenty minutes to spare, and happens to notice the diner as more than background on this particular morning. He enters the diner and orders coffee. Taking a sip, he finds the coffee unpleasantly bitter, it's been sitting too hot for too long. He finds a dollar and enough change to pay for the coffee, plus a dime. His only other cash is twenties, and he's unwilling to ask the woman behind the counter to break a $20 so he can tip her more for a terrible cup of coffee. He leaves the dime for a tip, and departs.

Two quite different stories, with precisely the same observable facts. There are two unrelated remarks I'd like to make here. The first is that our governments are learning to lie to us in this way. They're not capable of reliably concealing the facts of the case, so they're substituting this kind of thing, and it works beautifully. Consider being alarmed. The second remark is that this also describes something about trame, that is is inherently malleable and variable. Trame can be taken as the story we make up to fit the facts of a picture, and there are at any rate cases where people might make up wildly different stories.

Throw in a hint, another tiny detail, and one or the other of the two stories we started with collapses. Thus also a title, a word, a caption, can collapse or open a whole world of interpretation of a photograph or photo essay.

I don't know what that means.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

And a little more -

With regard to this picture:

some dunderhead "asked" me the following:

The story and questions that you pose in relation to the street photo in the article. Did you consider all of those in the nanosecond you had when the composition presented itself before you clicked the shutter? No. You created the image first in a snap, then gave it it's meaning after.

I am pleased to report that in fact yes I did think of a great deal of the meaning and subtext of the photo before I shot it. This, because this is a repeated scene. It happens every few minutes in an busy coffee shop. Every time, in fact, a slender woman walks in. Literally every single time. So, yeah, I had thought a lot about it, over days, perhaps weeks, I forget.

Even for "real street" photography, there's a process of feeling the scene, grasping what is essential in it while shooting, groping for that frame that exemplifies that essential quality. I am confident here: street photography is all about trame, and it is largely conscious although sometimes fairly brisk. So, up yours, dbltax, whoever you are.

Without trame there's almost nothing to street photography. In relation to the previous post, there is generally no particular beauty to fall back on to, nothing much within the frame itself that can support the picture. It's a street, with people milling about on it. Occasionally there may be some thin games of geometry or form in play, but these are unlikely to be particularly satisfying by themselves.

Frankly, this is why most so-called street photography sucks. The practitioners rely on following the forms (black and white, street scenes, some sort of Interesting Interaction) without really getting at anything, and they wind up with endless pictures of nothing.

Trame and Not-Trame

I have been accused, justly, of setting aside all consideration of aesthetics in my poking around with the word trame. I think I could have got off if I'd stuck to just using it as a word, "whatever it is that a photo evokes" but I didn't, I charged ahead and rendered judgement based on it.

So, apparently, in my mind trame is the basis of some sort of framework for judging pictures, or at least for scoring them. And, indeed, it is so. That is exactly the score that I think matters, and it is indeed the basis of my judgement of pictures. All I've really done, though, is define a word. I've left the framework out, and failed to show my work. Sorry about that. Let me dig around a little...

So what does it mean to have left out aesthetics? Looking the word up and doing some reading, we find that our memories are more or less right, it's a bewilderingly broad term, with a meaning that has evolved horribly over the centuries. My memory was "it's really about beauty, right?" but I had a nagging feeling that this was an incomplete notion, and by golly, it sure is. Wittgenstein, apparently, felt that it was a description of the entire culture.

Indulge me, and let me try to refine the accusation leveled at me, then.

Trame explicitly refers only to things outside the frame, to the meaning inferred from the picture, and explicitly ignores the actual picture itself as a first-order thing, as the object of our attention. To say that I have ignored aesthetics, I think, is to say that inside the frame there can be value. The picture itself can be beautiful, or interesting. The picture, the artwork of whatever sort, can arrest our attention, can enlarge or ennoble us, or whatever it is that Art is supposed to do.

This is, I think, something I can and do agree with albeit in general terms. The trouble is, and I speculate without actually knowing that this is what Wittgenstein was on about, that it's Really Hard to disentangle the trame from the frame when you really start looking at it. So, it's beautiful. What makes it beautiful? What's so great about it being beautiful?

I remain convinced that we suffer from too much pointless beauty. Long ago, beautiful pictures, beautiful Art, was rare and difficult to make, to obtain. Beauty, pure beauty, was seen by some as an uplifting, enlarging, ennobling thing all by itself. Perhaps it was, I did not live then. I live in an era where pure beauty, abstracted away from meaning, is common as sand. Any doofus can churn out endless pleasing seascapes, endless beautiful sunsets, endless balanced still lifes. Where once, perhaps, it uplifted the miserable, it is now part of the background.

Is it reasonable, though, to suppose that beauty within in the frame -- supported by meaning, or by emotional content, or at least by the possibility of such, the open door, as it were, for meaning, for trame -- is a good thing in and of itself. While we cannot divorce it fully from the support it enjoys, we can say "stipulating that the support is there, this beautiful thing is wonderful and valuable, and I love it."

There, that ought to muddy the waters up good and proper.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The End is Nigh!

I'm just going to revisit some themes I've talked about in the past, and most likely I'll express opinions that contradict previous remarks. That'll happen from time to time.

A common essay to write, if you're some irrelevant artist or thinker, is the one about how many trillions of photographs are being made every nanosecond, and how this spells The End for photography, or whatever. Then you hand-wring about Quality and Skill and how nobody cares about them. The implication is, of course, that the writer is making Wonderfully Skilled Photographs and is only being held back from great success by the lousy taste of the unwashed masses. Tragedy!

I no longer think that the trillions of photos being made is having any impact whatsoever on Photography as these writers think of it.

The argument is that, since everyone is exposed to so very many lousy pictures a day, since everyone can and does take their own lousy pictures, that this causes a devaluation of photographs across the board. I can practically guarantee you I've made that exact argument. And it's wrong. Even the fattest head can tell the difference between a bunch of photos of their friends on facebook, and a print hanging on the wall in a gallery. These two objects are no more related than a brick and a Michelangelo's David, and everyone knows it.

The vast majority of photos are ephemeral objects. While they might persist on some disks in some cloud somewhere, they are in effect gone. There's no serious intention by anyone that they should exist for more than a few hours. Facebook and so on only retain them at all because the lifespan is open-ended, and it's cheaper to hold them than to work out when and how to discard them. So, the stock discussions of "a stack of prints to the moon" are meaningless, nobody is printing these things. The idea of printing them is absurd.

The ones that are left over do cover a wide gamut. You can't identify the "permanent" photos by type. A vernacular photo might be immortal, if someone loves the way it depicts something deeply personal. A Fine Art photo might well be ephemeral. We'd be well served if more of them were more ephemeral.

If you, as a Fine Art Landscape photographer, are having a hard time selling prints, look to yourself. Your problem is not the selfies on facebook, your problem is that your business model sucks. It was never very hard to churn out your kind of stuff, and technological changes have indeed made it incrementally easier. If you are a wedding photographer, having a hard time selling your services, ditto. There is a population of these folks who were (or would have been), just barely, good enough to make a living in the film era. They were already pretty close to the line, mainly because they had no vision only a desire to churn out the same old stuff, and now they're on the wrong side of the line.

Photography is still everything it ever was. It hasn't changed into something new. What has happened is that photography is more, now. It's ephemeral "look at this" imagery, as well as the permanent artifacts of Sontag, of the pre-digital/pre-Internet age. These changes have been happening since the beginning. At first, photographs were unique objects, obtained with great difficulty. Then they were objects that permitted replication. Then they were objects obtained easily, as well as being endlessly reproducible.

The "OH MY GOD HUGE CHANGE" we've all commented on is in fact not, it's merely a new facet, no more interesting and game-changing than roll film, or dry plates. We're been fooled by the enormous size of the facet, by the sheer numbers of pictures, into thinking that it's a huge change.

We're at the beginning of realizing this, I think.

More and more we see articles and notes and essays about how people are printing more, and doing this or that more, and so on. These pieces are positioned as a recovery from the Vast Sea Change, but in fact I think the Vast Sea Change never was.

This whole thing finds a nearly precise allegory that is barely an allegory in the lives and methods of the working photographers. Serious photographers who bridge that era from 1990 to 2016, let us say, hardly noticed what was up. They may, or may not, have purchased new cameras. They may, or may not, have begun to approach their work a little differently now and then. In the main, though, they simply chugged along doing what they had been doing all along. Their photography changed organically, as their vision, as their ideas, changed. The Vast Sea Change wrought by instagram et al? It never even happened.