Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Recap: Prime Photoblogs

I'm a photoblog hound. I check in regularly on a lot of them. I tend to like ones that comment on the photographic process, that give me a personal perspective on that process, and that aren't afraid to be opinionated. Some blogs are so personal that they function as public diaries, while others confuse personal with self-promotional. Generally I find both of these extremes less interesting. I think some commentary on the broader photography world is needed in addition to personal revelation. My favorites are the ones which strike a balance--personally revealing yet able to point me toward interesting discoveries at large.

As in the real photo world presentation counts. Poor writing is a downer, and a cleanly branded style is more inviting than a visual scrap heap. A fundamental aspect of blogs is that they mark time (you could say currency is their currency), and for this reason I tend to favor ones which are regularly updated. Every post has its date, and all the thoughts, photos, and links contained therein can be tied to a specific moment. In this way photoblogs are a bit like photographs. Here are eleven that I enjoyed in 2009:

In some ways PhotoEphemera is comparable to AmericanSuburbX. Both blogs are aimed squarely in the rear view mirror, resuscitating and broadcasting various chunks of photo history. But while Rickard is focused on content Don considers history as memorabilia, posting reproductions of material as it was originally published. The difference is --as photographers know better than anyone-- an image of something is not to be confused with the thing itself. PhotoEphemera capitalizes on this fact to offer an invaluable glance backward at his growing online archive.

I could describe Conscientious but I'm sure you're all familiar with it. Colberg has established himself as the most authoritative voice in the photoblogosphere. Whether or not you agree with him the fact is he can't be ignored. He's the giant elephant in the room. Somewhere, in some alternate universe far far away, is a photographer leading the peer review critique of the latest astrophysics research.

If you accept the premise (debatable but not totally absurd) that photobooks remain the primary vehicle for photographers to lay down their mark, 5b4 is history in the making. What I find most enjoyable about 5b4 is that it's written in such a personal voice. This is a topic that could easily be given the high-brow academic treatment, but not when put in Ladd's hands. His reviews are deliberately first person and down to earth. Ladd is an outstanding photographer in his own right but that's another topic.

Ofer Wolberger writes with the passion of a wide-eyed kid, like someone who is honestly catalyzed and excited by photography. Horses Think is a bit of a variety show, delving into film, music, art and related topics, yet always returning to the central subject of photography. I never know quite what to expect and that's a good thing. I'm still waiting for the post about horse thoughts.

Like many other blogs, Marc Feustel's Eye Curious is mainly organized around links to other work. Feustal tends to focus on Japanese photography though not exclusively. The thing that sets Eye Curious apart is 1) Feustal has a good eye for quality work, 2) he writes about it articulately, and 3) Iki-based visual design of the blog is among the best.

Everything from the layout to the writing style of A Photography Blog is slightly frantic. When I read this blog I feel like I'm entering Hulin's world. However many cups of caffeine that world may be based on, it is wholly original. Good posts surface regularly, buffered by the ever evolving list of quick tips along bottom left.

Third Nature is probably the most personally journalistic blog I enjoy. Rather than write reviews or other referrals, many of Rooney's posts revolve around what he's been shooting lately and his reactions to it. As in Weston's Daybooks, the images are the foundation upon which the rest of the writing is built. This seems the correct order.

With a glut of authors and comment fields which routinely run into the hundreds, The Online Photographer is a de facto crowd-source blog, perhaps more similar to a Flickr discussion board than a personal account. The thing holding it all together is Mike Johnston's voice. The guy can flat out write. He has a natural cadence with just the right amount of folksy charm which makes reading a pleasure. The other thing I like about TOP is that comes from a very different perspective than the slightly incestuous world of "emerging" photographers dominating the blog-o-sphere. He's been there and done that, and now he can write about fringe topics without self promoting.

It's no secret that the internet is the ultimate curatorial platform. In 5 minutes you can whip together images from around the globe, put them on a screen and an hour later they're seen by a thousand people. While everyone knows this, Bryan Formhals has put it to the most creative use. If Lenscratch is de Tocqueville, La Pura Vida is Lewis and Clark, pioneering into the Flickr jungle to dig up stuff that I'd never find on my own, curating and organizing it into various thematic shows, and editing the choices of guest curators. Once in a while he'll add nice writing. This is the photoblog equivalent of your local underground college radio station. They may not always play your favorites but they're guaranteed to stretch your taste.

I think every photographer has a little student in them, or if not they should. Ideally everyone should be lifelong learners way past the point of a PhD. But let's face it. Going back to school is a giant hassle. That's where James Pomerantz comes in. Looking over the shoulder of A Photo Student we get the vicarious experience of MFA land but without having to go through the motions. It's the ultimate virtual reality. Reading along I feel alternatively polarized between feelings of "I wish I had been taught that!" and "I'm glad I don't have to read that!" Either way my understanding how folks prepare for the strange world of high art has been enhanced. I wish I knew more about it! I'm sure glad I'm not mired in it!

A fine writer who likes tugging at photography's central questions, Stanford art student Jin Zhu is so prolific she's hard to keep up with. Shooting Wide Open makes an interesting counter-blog when paired with A Photo Student. Whereas Pomerantz covers the nuts and bolts logistics of grad school, Zhu is much more reflective, discussing her personal reaction to various material. Not saying which approach is better but I know which one seems more fulfilling.

I read a lot of blogs besides these eleven, too many to list. For the curious, here are some that I like and my lame excuses for not including them above:

A Photo Editor? Too commercially oriented | 2point8? In semi-retirement | Too sporadic | Lenscratch? Not judgmental enough | Amy Stein? Stranded | Will Steacy? Dude, chill |Kip Praslowicz? Jury still out | Little Brown Mushroom? Just sprouted with autumn rains | Mrs. Deane? Too Euro | HCSP? Not technically a blog | American Suburb X? Nothing personal | Mark Tucker? | Coming on strong of late | 40 Watt? On dimmer switch | Kevin Miyazaki? Bite sized posts | DLK? How the other half lives | My Four Eyed Fantasy? I'm not Shur | Muse-ings? Dead or just comatose? | Not If But When? Doing fine without my help | Heading East? Busy with the kids | Richard Renaldi? No excuse really | Reciprocity Failure? Too prolific | Quintessence? Didn't draw post position Seven Seven Nine? Victim of a numbers game | Liz Kuball? Self absorbed | The Year In Pictures? Tired of New York | What's the Jackanory? Wild tone | Iconic Photos? Just discovered it | Flak Photo? Reminds me why I wasn't popular in high school

I probably made myself some enemies there. Oh well, I promised to be opinionated. Moving on, here are a few photoblogs that ended their run in 2009. They will be missed, or else hit (Cue sad music as blogs slowly fade...).

The Ingoing | Peter Kearns | Magnum blog |
1point4 | Auspicious Dragon | That's A Negative (unofficially dead but appears inactive)


Chris said...

Some new ones here (for me) that I hadn't seen yet. I just adore Horses Think, and was lucky enough to win one of the print giveaways there a few months ago.

SR said...

don't forget the mainstream media, struggling maybe to survive, but where commitment to imagery survives........

Stan B. said...

Too prolific!? It's congenital!!!

Francesco Gallarotti said...

Blake, you are at the top of my list of favorite reads pretty much for the same reasons you like your top 11.
I like your choices, they resemble mine. But I do have a couple of comments / questions. Why does Flak photo remind you of why you weren't popular in high school? And, regarding the fact that you said that "poor writing is a downer" I think you should make an exception for blogs written by non-native English speakers - like me :)
Keep up the good work and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

J. Karanka said...

Too Euro? Are all the choices in pounds and dollars? ;-)

I like the non choice of hcsp. Sometimes interesting but more of a sprawling chaos.

Marc said...

Thanks for including eyecurious in your list. If I were to compile a list of "top unexpected moments of hilarity experienced in the photoblogosphere in 2009", your post Mixed Review would win hands down. Keep the kitchen appliance reviews rolling in!

Blake Andrews said...

Speaking of that mixed review, I will send a free print to the first person who can name that post's original source material.

I didn't include NYT because it's not a very personal site. They have the best news writers on the planet but the photographers don't often go beyond great photojournalism.

I will make an exception for poor writing if it's in an adoptive language. For example, I really like Shen Wei's blog even if the writing is choppy. But poor writing in one's native tongue is a bummer. 

The Euro comment wasn't really monetary but more of a snide aside because I enjoy that blog and couldn't think of any other critique.

More kitchen appliance reviews are in the pipeline...

Aline said...

I still love you. Happy Holidays, by the way!

Rumelo Amor said...

Great stuff.
Thanks very much for this.

matt~ said...

1pt4 not quite dead yet, nearly, but not quite

fased said...

excellent collection and amazing