Saturday, February 2, 2013

The polls, a year later

As long time readers know I used to run polls here in the right sidebar, way back when this blog had a right sidebar. I'd run one every week, save the result in a folder on my desktop, then every few months when I had enough I'd pour them all into big post with some analysis. 

Around this time in 2012 I was preparing to run one of those posts. But before that could happen I burnt out. I gave up blogging for a few months, and when I returned B had a different format. No sidebars, no polls. If I could figure out how to inject a poll into this new format I would. But it doesn't seem feasible. If I could go back to the old blog format I'd do that, just for the ability to poll. But alas, Blogger has rendered that template obsolete. I can't return. How's that for progress? 

But I still have last year's folder of weekly poll results, covering a period from mid-November 2011 to mid-March 2012. Some of the questions are a bit dated, but most of them are timeless. Timeless, I tell you! Or at least worth a second look.

The dates listed are when the poll closed, usually after 7 days of voting.


My vote: Saul Leiter
Predicted winner: Robert Adams
Actual winner: Sally Mann

It's a tough call for me between Leiter and Atget. Looking at the photos of both men (and the whole list), their presence dominates. I guess I went with Leiter because he seems like such a classic soulful stereotype, the lonely flaneur with a billion ideas in his head shooting the dew on cafe windows. And because his name sounds like soul. I live in Eugene. I spend enough time with that name name. Hey, I never said this was scientific.


My vote: Excite You and Critics
Predicted winner: Excite You and Critics
Actual winner: Excite You and Critics

Sort of an easy call. I mean, you're supposed to claim that you don't care about selling stuff, at least in public. Artists can't worry about the petty real world with its silly foods and shelters and currencies. Truth is, it actually feels good to sell a photo. It may be an artificial barometer but in some ways it's the ultimate judgement. If someone is willing to invest in you, that's an affirmation more meaningful than any critical mumbo-jumbo. But the critics might be watching these results, so I'm going by the book here. Forget I said anything. Hmm. International exposure plus a living income from my photos? That first one looks tempting too. 


My vote: This is Not a Photograph
Predicted winner: Kodachrome
Actual winner: Kodachrome

There sure are a lot of crappy songs about photography!  Just as there are a lot of crappy photos about music. And of course some good ones on both counts. As I write this I'm in the midst of putting a 2 hour radio set together focusing on photography-related songs. And it's hard! It's one of those dilemmas. Do I play X song just because it's about photography, even though it sort of sucks? And how far can I stretch it the other way? This is Not a Photograph is just barely about photography. It's mostly just a word in the title. Should I include that?

Yes. Because it's a great song on Mission of Burma's best album. So it gets the nod from me for best photo song. Kodachrome isn't half bad I guess, at least the first 20 times you hear it. But it's not the sort of tune that grows on one over time. I'd be just as happy never to hear it again.

If you don't see you favorite photo song here, don't blow a fuse. There are many more songs about photography I could've listed but I wanted to keep the poll managable. 


My vote: Ambivalent
Predicted winner: The Familiar
Actual winner: The Unfamiliar

I know many photographers who shoot scads of photos while traveling. But when they come home they can't find one good photo nearby. And there are some, though probably less, for whom it's the opposite. They can only shoot close family and friends. 

I'm torn between both poles. I definitely feel the pull of the unknown. When I'm walking in an area or down a street for the very first time, it seems my senses are tuned in a way that isn't possible when I know what's coming. So I see things differently, or at least from a fresh perspective which is very energizing.

But is that exoticism enough by itself to create photos? There's something to be said for the opposite approach, a sort of Siskind/Gossage philosophy. If you spend 3 hours in a city block looking carefully at everything, your response will almost certainly be deeper than if quickly passing through. And perhaps the corresponding photos will be too. And if you go back again and again and really get to know a place or a person, well the sky's the limit. 

Unless you grow bored in the process. 

I can't decide.


My vote: Move against parade
Predicted winner: Generally stay in one spot
Actual winner: Join parade

I thought of this poll a few days after shooting the annual Christmas Parade in nearby Springfield. I walked against the parade for an hour. Then stood at one corner for a while where the parade turned a ninety. Then I milled around the grandstand. Then I walked along the sidewalk in the direction of the parade back to my car. The only thing I didn't actually do is join the parade, though I have done that with certain past parades. But usually after more beer.

Shooting pictures I realized that I didn't really have any strategy at all, and the experience made me curious how others approached it, and if there was one method or other that seemed to work best. Not for the pros but for street shooters looking for odd stuff. Walking with parade traffic you definitely see more faces. But they see you coming too, so it's harder to get pure candids. Walking against traffic it's the opposite. I think this is what I like best, because attention is directed elsewhere. But it takes effort not to just shoot a bunch of backs. And standing in one spot is ok but it makes me nervous. I always feel like I'm missing something. The Rolling Stones. Hunter-gatherers. Randy Moss. Etc.


My vote: 35 mm
Predicted winner: 35 mm
Actual winner: 35 mm

A pretty easy call for me. His 35 mm stuff rocks. The medium format photos are also good but...I dunno. I mean, Tattoo You is a solid album but is it fair to compare it to Exile? Feel bad for the guy. Tough spot. 

So that's how I feel. But I was curious if that sentiment was widespread. So I threw it out there and I guess others agree.


My vote: Watkins
Predicted winner: Watkins
Actual winner: Adams

I spent time in Yosemite as a small child but my first clear memory of it was during a high school trip when I was 15. Almost thirty years later it still stands in my mind as the most amazing natural scenery I've ever witnessed. 

Maybe I let my Northwest bias creep in here. And possibly some anti-Adams snobbery too. I know California was home to both of these guys but Watkins' Columbia photos are pretty mind blowing. And of course his Yosemite stuff was also dynamite. I've always been a sucker for those old pale ortho skies.

I think what I like best about Watkins is he was basically working without a template. At the time there was no postcard vision of how Yosemite should look. His vision seems scientific and exploratory at its root. Sheer documentary, without a lot of glory or fuss. But of course it winds up being glorious anyway. Adams came at it from the other end, trying to transform the park into a metaphor for heavenly vision. It wasn't science so much as it was religion. And spawned a million acolytes in the process. I guess what this question is really asking is do you believe in God or science? Or both? Or neither? It's really asking about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I guess I should've just come out and asked that directly, but for whatever reason I didn't. Instead I asked who shot Yosemite better.

My vote: 15 - 50K
Predicted winner: 5-15K
Actual winner: 5-15K

Just taking a temperature check. With the rise of digital I thought people might be shooting more, but I wasn't sure exactly how much. Still not sure but we've narrowed the range a little. Who are the voters shooting 50,000+ per year? Please raise your hand because that's a shitload. 


My vote: Rogovin
Predicted winner: Rogovin
Actual winner: Meatyard

And what could be a more suitable gig than eye doctor? I'm always fascinated by photographers who pursue a serious profession for income but become better known as amateur photographers. And sometimes that profession isn't even photography. 

In some ways this poll compares apples and oranges, because these two shooters had very different styles. So asking which is better is mostly asking how much manipulation you're comfortable with in your portraits. I'm partial to Rogovin, who I think is one of the great portraitists, and yet still somehow underrated. 


My vote: Rinse
Predicted winner: Rinse
Actual winner: Develop

Of course it's the rinse, silly. I mean, there's a reason they don't baptize people in D-76.  This was another one of those darkroom brainstorms. Standing there waiting for the chemicals to work you have a lot of time to think. You come up with ideas like, "On second thought, maybe they should use fixer for baptisms," which pass quickly. 

The ironic twist is that for most of my darkroom work I use a processor so I don't see any of these in action. I feed an RC print into one end, the machine develops, stops, fixes, rinses, and dries in two minutes. Not as romantic but when you get a good photo it can still be cathartic.


My vote: Bill Jay
Predicted winner: Susan Sontag
Actual winner: Geoff Dyer

I thought for sure Sontag would take this since her On Photography book is always being trotted around into this argument or that one. And doesn't that Peter Hujar portrait of her make her look dreamy? What would she order for an appetizer? But give me Bill Jay in a heartbeat. Not only was he incredibly knowledgable and erudite, his writing is almost gleeful. He seems happy and upbeat, which is rare for a critic. The winner Dyer is still alive and available if anyone wants to invite him over.


My vote: n/a
Predicted votes: All correct
Actual votes: Strand and Edgerton wrong

This quiz is meant to give a sense of how a picture works in the brain. Does the mental image compose itself literally in the mind's eye? Or is it more of a feeling? There have probably been some neurological studies on this but I have no idea what they found. And besides they weren't done by a photographer so they don't count. I like quizzes like this where the answer seems as if it should be immediately obvious, but then you have to really think about it. It's not meant as a gotcha, but as pure fun. Quizzes are fun. Polls are fun. Think about that the next time a demographics researcher interrupts your dinner with a phone call. Gotcha.


My vote: The scene
Predicted winner: The scene
Actual winner: The scene

I suppose it depends on the definition of perfect. A remembered scene will always be more idealized than a photo. All the elements will be in their proper place and relationship. That ball in midair will be captured "perfectly". But is that really what perfect is? Maybe a big pile of laundry sprawled in the hall is perfect in some ways. Maybe a Jackson Pollack painting is perfect. But you could would never visualize one of those scenes in your mind. You wouldn't imagine that sock. 

My vote: Date
Predicted winner: Identity
Actual winner: Date

I could write a lot on this but I will save it for a longer post. Stay tuned in the next week or so as B covers photography's dating scene.


My vote: Aquaman
Predicted winner: Superman
Actual winner: Batman

All I'm saying is Aquaman has access to a universe of stuff down there that we can't even imagine. I mean it's like outer space under the ocean. And you know he'd have the best waterproof camera any superhero could afford.

I thought Superman might get some votes for having X-ray vision. But then I realized that maybe those powers doesn't apply to his cameras. Not sure how that works exactly. I can't explain the surprisingly high Robin vote, except as a vote of convenience. Perhaps people couldn't decide on any and so just checked the first box on the list (Batman) or the next one down. But the biggest question was left unanswered: What are the exact dynamics of Wonder Woman's invisible airplane? Because if she can fly it into outer space and under the ocean, it's game set match Wonder Woman. Many mysteries here.


My vote: Romney
Predicted winner: Romney
Actual winner: Romney

The voters were amazingly prescient. Remember, this poll was conducted last March before Romney had sealed the nomination. He was probably going to win it, but even then there were serious doubts about him. To me he's never appeared totally comfortable in front of a camera or in the spotlight, I think because he's not entirely comfortable with himself. Too many internal compromises and hypocritical actions. Which is a facet of any political life. But I get the sense they weigh on him more than most. I mean, Santorum is a prick but it's fine because he's mostly unconscious of how he comes across. But Romney is smart enough to know people can see right through him. I think this is how he feels when he's on camera, and it shows. That's my dimestore analysis anyway.

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