Monday, March 30, 2020

Another Video from Jörg!

To be honest, he keeps making them, and I keep watching them. Kinda. Anyways. This one had a fascinating little moment in it early on which I thought I would share, because it says something interesting.

Here is the video: Michael Schmelling: Your Blues which you can watch or not as you choose, I'm only really interested in a few seconds of it.

At the 2:37 mark there's a picture of a piece of paper taped to a wall. Jörg proposes that it is good picture, and that any photographer that would take the picture is a "really good photographer." This is, well, it's a position, isn't it? It strikes me as the sort of thing a follower of Miksang might take, or a fellow testing his camera, or an art student who's trying too hard.

There are several possible interprestations of Jörg's remark, here.

The first one is that this is a desperate cry for help. What have I done with my life? cries the regret-filled Art Professor, please send strong liquor. This is my preferred reading, of course, because it's the funniest one.

The most likely reading, I think, is simply the face value. Jörg genuinely thinks this is an amazing picture, all by itself, and that the taking of it is a sign of a remarkable artist.

Well, ok. It still looks like Miksang to me, and googling that term will show you endless photos that feel about the same, and probably a few pictures of blank paper taped to colorful walls. It's certainly pleasing, an exercise in color and framing. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not exactly rife with meaning.

The point of the picture becomes clear on the next page of the book, at about time mark 3:01. The same wall, the same rectangular shape taped to the wall, but the rectangle is a picture of a man instead of a blank white page. This is not an accident. If instead we back up a page we see another rectangular shape, an abstract thing of some sort. If you flicked rapidly from the blank page to the picture of a man, it would appear that the man spontaneously appeared on the blank page.

So we have abstract rectangle thing, blank rectangle thing, a man appears in the blank rectangle, followed by a series of pictures of people.

I know just enough theory of musical harmony to make an ass of myself, let's see how big a mess I can make. There is concept in the theory of harmony of a preparing and then resolving a dissonance. You have some chord that basically sounds bad. It "honks" when you play it. So you set up for it, by playing a series of pleasing chords that aurally approach the dissonant one (prepare for it), and then you play the honker. Then in the next chord you fix it by, say, moving one note of the chord so that it is no longer dissonant (resolution) and now, harmonically, you're in a new place.

This book just did exactly the same thing. The blank page on the wall may not be actually dissonant, but it does raise a question. What is this picture doing here? or maybe I wonder what was on that paper? or Is there writing on that page? and so on. The dissonance is resolved in the next page, and brings us to a world not of things but of people.

Indeed, there is a subtle extra step here, because they first person we see is, as Jörg notes, a picture of a picture. The picture of the man is transitional, it is a picture of a print (a thing) as well as a picture of a person (the man in the photo).

It's a very neatly managed transition, and I do not think any of it is accidental.

You could probably make an analogy here with that film transition where the camera appears to enter a picture.

What is striking to me is that Jörg just sort of skips over that resolving page with some vague "picture of a picture" remark, which makes the third and final reading of his remarks a bit dubious:

It is possible that what Jörg means by "really good photographer" is a reference to the whole sequence. You have to be a really good musician to be able to successfully deploy a dissonance like that. Any fool can mash a random collection of keys on the piano to produce a ghastly honk. Successfully preparing and resolving that same ghastly honk demands skill, producing the honk in the first place requires none.

I continue to struggle with how little Jörg talks about structure, about picture-to-picture relationships. Is he not seeing it? Is he reserving this Special Knowledge for paying students? Or is it simply so obvious that it's not worth mentioning?

If you do happen to watch the whole video, it's worth noting that the 8 picture grids that dominate the middle of the book all use very strict color discipline, but Jörg does not appear to notice. In fact, be doesn't seem to notice any structure in the book at all, other than the overall pacing (which, to be fair, he talks about quite a bit and seems to get perfectly right).


  1. It does seem odd that he 1) avoids articulating the kinds of things you mention, seemingly leaving them for us, the students to discover for ourselves; and yet 2) gushes so. I can understand the former, as a deliberate approach after many years of writing about photo books. But then why the gushing?

    And it bothers me that he handles the glare so poorly. I understand there's a challenge with making the overhead shot clear and also being able to see the pages yourself. This video seems a little better than the prior one, but cripes, he's a photographer.

    1. It does strike me as remarkable how completely unable Jörg is to articulate why anything is good or bad.

  2. I think I gave JC most of a year, before finally deciding he he is a purveyor of mostly idiosyncratic nonsense.

    He has his better days, but I can't be bothered sifting through it anymore.

    I'll grant he tries hard. Probably.

  3. Jörg became such a hack. I suppose that once, long ago, he had valid opinions that gave him some clout in the photobook world. Now he's just trying to keep that momentum by promoting some nonsensical critical analysis that really don't hold water.