Monday, June 15, 2020


Some students from the Hartford Photograph MFA are doing a print sale to raise money for good causes, so clicked on it and said Arrrrrrrg.

These are MFA students, from the institution where Colberg has been teaching so, really, I ought to have known what to expect. At $100 for an 8x10 print these are, generally speaking, about $110 overpriced. In the sense that if you got pushy I might be persuaded to give you $10 to not send me your print.

Ok, so some are vaguely pleasing pictures, there's a lot of snapshots of nothing, and there's a handful of sweet jesus tear out my eyes in there. Of course there are. It is exactly what it says on the tin.

Any of these could, obviously, make sense and be meaningful in the right setting, and it's possible albeit unlikely that any of these people have accomplished such a setting. Regardless, a bare 8x10 print is definitely not it. I guess it might make sense as an add-on to the book the artist gave you?

On the one hand this is certainly a bunch of basically nice people seeking to help out a cause, and for that they ought to be commended.

On the other hand at least some of these artists are also seeing this as a chance to shift some work. No, they won't make any money, but let's be honest money isn't the point. They hope to gain some little ego boost by selling a few prints. They may even hope that someone Notable will buy a print for a good cause and, somehow realize how Important and Necessary the work is, and something good will result. Heck, it could even happen.

Every arts collective thingy on earth is running one of these, for more or less the same complex of reasons.

I don't mean this as a condemnation particularly. People are complex things, and we do things for many reasons. It is rare that there is not some self-serving facet of a thing.

It's just that in this case is was specifically brought home to me. These are unlovable objects, these are not objects that these artists have really sold many of, if any. I recognize some of them as authors of thoroughly unlovable books that almost certainly sold in very small numbers. The venality of trying to piggy-back on a cause du jour pretty much leaps off the page.

I'd suggest that if you really approve of the cause that you buy a print anyways, except that I have a better idea which is: just donate $100 directly.

The kids are deducting the cost of printing and postage from your $100, so unless you really want one of these pieces of shit, just send money.


  1. To be fair, at least half of them are markedly superior to Colberg at his best...

  2. Ima go out on a limb here and say I hope the ordering of the pictures is random, because I liked the ones near the bottom better.

  3. When you've pointed us to MFA collections such as these, one thought has occurred to me about some of the photos, the ones showing barren urban locations, closed stores, eyesores in short. Could be that the reason these show up so much is that these places are having a larger effect on kids growing up than they do on older types. Maybe kids don't go outside to play on their own as much, maybe they don't go camping, etc., so these urban views may form a larger part of their visual experience growing up. Maybe it's affecting them, I know it affects me. If we're surrounded by more and more ugliness, at some point we start to feel like we're living in places we don't care about. (I borrow that idea from a TED talk by J.H. Kunstler about suburbia, which is still available and still relevant although he's turning into a crank.)
    Robert Roaldi (still can only get Anonymous comments to work)

    1. I'd say that's what they're trying for, anyways? Ever since New Topographics, and maybe before, there's been a strong thread of complaining about the built environment (err, I mean, "criticism" of course) in photography. It does correspond, maybe, to a rise in actual ugliness? I mean, there was nasty shit before, but it wasn't this BIG, this universal, maybe?

      I've been kind of wrestling with something related to this, and even tried to write something about it.

      It seems like somewhere in the... 1960s maybe? there was a change from a kind of humanist approach to a more querulous negativity in photography. Humanist photography wasn't all wine and roses but it wasn't this relentless negative, repetitive, grind.

    2. I kind of like trashed urban landscapes moreso than sterile chain stores and glass condo towers that blight the downtown, and I've photographed more than my fair share. What concerns me about the Hartford MFA photos is the dead hand of JC on these young eyes.

      This sort of artwork used to be disparaged, and rightly so, as 'academic machines,' though to be done properly, you need the scale of a Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson.

    3. I'm not sure all of New Topographics was "complaining" about the built environment. Some of the movement's most celebrated photographers, Stephen Shore for instance, seemed to be marveling at the unlikely beauty of it. Even Robert Adams, who's more immediately associated with that complainy tone, did joyful work like Summer Nights.

  4. Could it be that they just suffer from a desolate imagination? They walk out, they must point the camera at something, pretty picture is ruled out, and they have some idea planted in their head from some deadpan book?

  5. I work with college students and life really is very difficult for many of them so maybe some of those shots that show flat, dull, eviscerated urban filth are a reflection of their outlook, or experience, or expectations of the world.
    After Andrew set my expectations so excellently low, I ended up enjoyed more of the pictures than I expected to. The ones that I really disliked were mostly copies of other bad pictures that I've seen a million times. Empty road at night, boring tree in bad light, girl with greasy hair, and girl in tight pants staring off into the vastness, for example.
    But, guy flashing gang signs at turtles lit with harsh flash is sort of funny. And leaf falling past a window sill has so much contrast and color! Surely that one got an F.

  6. The zine (which is only $20) is giving a better presentation than the web site. The web site kind of sucks. Too bad.