Monday, October 8, 2018

An Open Letter To Nick Turpin

Hi Nick,

Perhaps it would've been better to write you this letter in private. But your recent public statements regarding iN-PUBLiC and myself —in particular your interview with Blackkamera— have brought this dispute into the open, into the public streets, as it were. So I thought it would be best to respond in an open letter.  

Your statements have helped me understand some the motivations behind your actions, but I believe they misrepresent several key facts. What follows is a chronology from my perspective. I hope will it set the record straight for you and for all interested parties. The events below can be corroborated by any other member of iN-PUBLiC, who've all witnessed it first-hand from within the group.

The photograph which kicked off this whole thing was my candid of a busy corner in Manhattan, shot with an iPhone in Pano mode. I posted this on my Instagram page in early August, shortly after taking it. Some viewers were curious about the process and I was open about my methods. I explained that I was experimenting with Pano in fluid situations. I was intrigued by the way the camera stitched together scenes, with glitches and normality mixed in happenstance. The possibilities excited me, and that entire week I posted similar iPhone Pano photos to Instagram. 

I don't expect you to show interest in my Instagram account or my photos generally. I'm merely providing context, to point out that the troublesome photo lived freely online for three weeks without causing much of a fuss. 

At month's end I submitted the photo for iN-PUBLiC's August Photo-Of-The-Month (POM) consideration. A majority of members voted. You were not one of them. In the Blackkamera interview you explained that "I was away for my son’s birthday during the vote and didn’t take part." Within the group your excuse was "I was too busy with teaching." Whatever the reason, there was ample time for everyone to contribute. The vote began in late August and lasted until September 3rd.

Your decision not to vote was typical, as you have not voted in any POM selection in recent memory. I believe this was because you considered yourself above the fray. In your mind iN-PUBLiC was essentially a crew of underlings for you to manage, through which you could boost yourself by association. iN-PUBLiC founder: a notch in the belt. I am indebted to you for creating such a wonderful group, but its daily operations had long ago fallen below your pay grade. No need to dirty your hands in the messy mechanics, unless of course something went awry.

Which in August it did. My photo received one vote more than the runner up, enough to win POM. I'm sure the irony of your decision not to vote was not lost on you. No need to rehash that. But questions did arise within the group about the photograph. After I more fully explained how it was made, you and Nils protested the photo's qualifications, calling it "computational" photography. In various threads then and since, you and Nils have maligned the photo with other labels: "composited", "computational", "digitally manipulated", "invented reality", "CGI", "compromised", and "computer generated". 

I was initially taken aback to hear my photo described this way. As I wrote to the group at the time, I considered the photo a valid expression of the moment, and its methodology quite benign. It was made on a public sidewalk, an unplanned glimpse of a fleeting scene, and it depicted exactly what the camera recorded. I did nothing post-exposure beyond cropping and slight color correction. Yes, the iPhone had stitched its own mistakes into the scene, but for me that was something to be treasured, not banished. Every camera sees the world in its own way, and that way is often different from what the eye sees. I believed at the time and continue to believe that dissonance to be very exciting. It is, on some level, the root of why I photograph.

Of course people too see things each in their own way. For you the photo was computer generated, a close cousin to Peter Funch, and a threat to everything iN-PUBLiC had stood for over 18 years. You threatened to resign if it became POM: "If you post this POM the doors are open to any kind of photography from now on." What followed was a computer generated discussion within the group about the photo, iN-PUBLiC's history and philosophy, and the way forward. For the next several days we were essentially at an impasse. Some of us wanted to respect the democratic process. You requested a revote. At one point I offered to withdraw the image for consideration for the sake of group unity. But no firm decision was reached for the next week. We were stymied, and I believe your ultimatum had a chilling effect on any course of action.  

Something had to give, and finally it did. On September 10th (the normal posting date is around the 1st or 2nd) the photo was finally published as POM by David Gibson. In your Blackamera interview you misrepresented this event as a premature curtailment of the discussion, as if undertaken furtively in the dead of night. In fact our deliberations had dragged into a stalemate by this point, and they had reached a critical juncture. 

Looking back on it now, David's action was probably the most reasonable way forward. But for you it was a tipping point, and your behavior became increasingly unhinged. After following through on your threat to resign, you floated the idea of a general vote among  iN-PUBLiC members about "digitally manipulated" photography. If this vote did not turn out how you wanted, you threatened to "permanently archive" the site. Since you'd gone silent within the group, we had to learn about these developments second-hand via The Phoblographer. We were surprised to read there that you were "now deciding whether or now to take down the whole site," and that "the iN-PUBLiC project may have run its course." Translation: the iN-PUBLiC project may have defied your wishes.

This was a scary moment for the group. But in the end nothing came of it because you never proceeded with that vote. I think you realized it was futile. The group's majority did not share your views, and we were in fact eager to put this entire episode behind us. 

Unfortunately that task soon became difficult, because your next step was to shut down our access to the iN-PUBLiC admin page and make yourself the sole gatekeeper. You made this decision unilaterally, without input from any other member. We found ourselves cut off from the site one morning with no communication or warning. In the Blackkamera interview you explained, "I suspended the site so we could have time to try and find a resolution and agree on some guidelines for the future".  A less charitable interpretation is that you were desperate to exercise power over a group which had slipped from your grasp, from which you had in fact resigned. 

Fortunately we were able to salvage the Instagram account before you could seize that too. But on the primary site our work was preserved like bugs in amber. They were trapped like the colorful denizens of a night bus, your helpless plaything. Rumors flew on the discussion board. We wondered if this might be the permanent archiving we'd heard about. Would we ever regain access to our photos? Perhaps you were just flexing your muscle to remind us who was in charge? None of us knew for sure. We only knew we'd put a lot of work into a site whose future was in limbo. For me there was one more certainty. I resolved at that point never again to be in a collective with you.

I believe you felt you'd drawn some line in the sand, and that others might take a principled stand with you. "If iN-PUBLiC doesn't stand for something, it stands for nothing!" The battle cry of an ancient horse-drawn army. The enemy you faced would be the dregs of iN-PUBLiC, hurtling toward an unmoored future of computer glitches and other blasphemy. On your side would stand proudly team canpubphoto. But as it turned out only you and Nils fell on your swords by resigning. To prove what point? It's still unclear to me.   

Friends who wouldn't resign were gladly thrown under the bus. "I am surprised and disappointed that photographers like Matt Stuart, Richard Bram, David Gibson and Jesse Marlow no longer valued the ethos with which iN-PUBLiC was first established," you told Blackkamera. On FB: "...a lot of the In-Public guys valued their membership of in-public over and above their personal integrity as photographers." In the same Blackkamera interview you falsely claimed that you and Nils were the only iN-PUBLiC members with professional journalism backgrounds, as if that were some measure of general integrity. This week you've launched yet another smear against one of Matt's photos, in a private FB group.

Have you no shame, sir? I understand you don't like my photo. But must you attack the group's integrity? I can vouch for every member of iN-PUBLiC. We're ethical, talented, good hearted. If you cast aspersions on our photographic honesty, that's your choice. But anyone who knows us and our photos will realize the absurdity of such a claim. 

Here we are a few weeks later. In your mind iN-PUBLiC's good name is permanently corrupted, its members doomed to the hellfires of CGI heresy. If photos like mine show up iN-PUBLiC in the future, "we as viewers will not know if they are straight photographs or not." Seriously? Is it that hard to tell? My photo has now been on the iN-PUBLiC site for a few weeks. Trust me, it has deceived no one. The world goes on, at least on one side of the battle line.

IN-PUBLiC's turmoil is a tragedy, on that we can agree. But you've reserved special disdain for me. I've "caused all this trouble." I've deprived you of a source of revenue. I've muddied the canpubphoto waters. "It is the photographer's intention that matters," you write, with me firmly in the crosshairs, "Intention to document or intention to deceive." Nick, do you honestly believe I intend to deceive anyone with the POM photo? Do you think someone will look at my photo and mistake a seven-armed woman for reality? Might that same person also confuse an Ansel Adams monochrome photo for a world oddly bleached of color? 

To avoid confusion, let me clarify my intentions. I have been making photographs for roughly a quarter century, generally in candid unplanned situations. My methods are simple and I'm open about all of them. I generally prefer to hunt pictures in the wild, unposed. But if I preconceive an image I won't hide it. I may be curious how things look photographed, but I have no expectation of fidelity. And if my photos contain any intentional deception, it is through visual ambiguity, hard-earned by careful observation, not Photoshop trickery. 

"I am only against practices in street photography that shift the photographers intent away from creating a faithful record," you write. But what exactly is a faithful record? You've claimed at various times that flash photography is not faithful. That a photo with someone looking into the camera is not faithful. That hip shots are not faithful. That any interaction with the scene is not faithful. That the only true religion is to act as a fly on the wall, with no impact on anything. I consider this outlook ridiculous. 



In the Blackkamera interview you cited Robert Capa's Falling Soldier photo as an example of a troublesome photo. Perhaps a better example for our situation would be Capa's D-Day photographs. They're distorted with motion blur, grain, and development stains. Does that invalidate the photos? Of course not. I believe the flaws —their unfaithfulness, if you will— make them stronger. But what do I know? I don't have a background in professional journalism.

Here's a photo by Christophe Agou from iN-PUBLiC. Is this a faithful depiction of reality?



What about this one by Trent Parke?



Or this one by Saul Leiter?



What about my POM photo from March 2017, showing sprocket holes from misdevelopment?




Or my portfolio of Instax photos, now retired from the iN-PUBLiC site, but which once showed several examples of Clayden effect reticulation? 


I don't recall any protest about these photographs appearing on the iN-PUBLiC site. But somehow my Pano shot crossed the line in the sand? Why? 

News flash: All photographs are translations of reality! All photographs mediate content. Faithful recording is a false standard. Instead of clinging to that one, I recommend a higher standard: Curiosity. 

I believe the central job of a photographer is to be curious. To wonder what's around the next corner, then wander into the next moment. What will this person do now? What will the photo be? What will happen if I shoot from here, or there? Or misexposed? Or lightleaked? Or flawed? What about that weird iPhone Pano mode? What if it shows me a new way? 

Curiosity is the gold standard of photography. It is nearly impossible for a non-curious person to make good photographs. I hope that you are curious, Nick, but I'm not entirely convinced. I wonder how much you really enjoy walking and looking and being surprised. I can sense it in some of your photos, sometimes. But for many of them, no. They're the faint scratchings of someone trapped by rules, stuck in a small box of their own creation, cramming for a purity test. Pedestrians isolated on a bridge. Red doubledeckers. City walls lined up just so. Captions describing the artist at work, struggling to fit static scenes into this or that grand project: "You have to try things like this sometimes if we are going to expand our idea of street photography." True enough. But a fly on the wall is more expansive than this. A fly on the wall has more impact. 

I don't say all of this to be cruel or judgmental, but to point out to you that your rules have you in a straightjacket. 

I sincerely want you to experience the joy of escaping them. I encourage you to open up. Open yourself to other approaches. Let the rules go. Embrace mistakes. Wander. Wonder. Put curiosity above purity. Enjoy the simple act of observation on your own, no clients, no assignment, no project, no preconceptions, no payment plan. Skip and shout as you hit the shutter. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. If you see the line in the sand, erase it.

The good news is you are now free. No more iN-PUBLiC to anchor you. Don't worry about us, we're good. You're on your own. Fly. Possibilities beckon. The future's looking up!..

Yours,

-B

44 comments:

Don Hudson said...

Well said Blake

mikebeecham said...

Very well written Blake. Genuine, clear...and kind! I wish more people wrote their responses in this fashion.

justindisgustin@gmail.com said...

Lol

Gabriel Cabral said...

Blake

I dont know or have personal contact with you. But personally share how you see photography, and feel sorry for what happened to the collective.

Having passed by a similar situation, and now I felt a lot for the whole street photo comunity too. Like it or not, the value and history of a 18 years old group should never be thrown away or made private. It also belonged to e everyone who was ever inspired by it.

Institutions, I believe, must be taken cared of, because they can do and achive things that single pele cant. But they must be just, ethical, and bigger than one ot anothet member.

I've been in a considerable number of collectives now, and had lost with others fellow members around 5K photos from a deleted facebook fanpage, all because someone wasnt happy about a post. It hurted, and i suppose you are hurted as well by the whole thing.

If you guys are still up to it, as it seems, dont't let time pass! Grabe the next opportunity and keep it runnig, or it will be forever lost... and it would be a shame that the majority let it happen because of an individual egotrip.

Hope you all the best, Nick is not the only one who is free now ;)

Ed Sloth said...

There are probably very few people that prescribe to nicks notion of street photography. I think whilst the need to preserve photo journalism is high, exploring art should always preceded rules. I mean if the surrealists didn’t break free from the dada movement they wouldn’t have created some of the most beloved art know today. I never understood the concept of giving someone a paint brush then cutting of the brush hairs

Didi S. said...

Illuminating (in nearly every sense of the word). As always, thanks for putting so much time and thought into sharing... to keep enriching our dialogue of the big picture (and small).

The Broken Heart Project said...

Three Cheers Blake! Curiosity should always lead the way. Well said.

Richard Man said...

Wow, sad to see how this goes down. I never followed In-Public before although I have been following you and their stuff on and off. I wish everyone the best of luck, and continue to make great photos.

Dani said...

Dear Blake. I don’t believe we know eachother, but I have been interviewing street photographers for over a year now. Had I been working on my thesis now I would have reached out and done a profile on you and this incident so that it’s never forgotten. In many ways I feel that I understand both your points and Nick’s; although I shoot very much like him, I feel like I am more open to experiencing new styles of shooting like you... I just wanted to say that I’m happy you’re speaking- well, technically writing but not the point- about this. I hope the rest of the members and yourself are able to continue to work together and get past this drama unfazed. Perhaps this will inspire future projects or collaborations for a digital street collective (since apparently this isn’t very “popular”)...

Hernan Zenteno said...

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this kind of photos was the experiments that George Silk made for Life Magazine in 1960. About the photo in question honestly I thought meh. I prefer the other with the face of a girl floating. Now I read your letter and I thought it was a kind of joke. Really all that mess for that photo in the practice of Street photography? I visited the website and found that it wasn't a joke, your photos were erased. Uh? I'm a seasoned photojournalist but I really don't understand why the mention about professionalism in this discussion, It has nothing related to a business, or yes? I'm pretty conservative about photojournalism because other reasons related to the business. But about street photography? As my friend Barry said is simple: take a camera, go out and take pictures. I share what you said about curiosity specially. Jorge Luis Borges said that time is the only anthologist. Why force a selection of photos? What is need to be protected, the good taste? of who? by who? common.

Stan B. said...

It's no small surprise that the very nature of most creative enterprises either pervert or transcend their original mission statement over time- the only guarantee of a static state is... obsolescence. A little controversy here and then helps clear the ennui and keep the juices flowing. And uhhh... "that's a good thing."

"Street photography" has carried the "classic rock" burden well since the late seventies- how long must its revival continue to revel in that self imposed, self limiting ghetto before it wallows in it (again)? The only way to replenish it, is to challenge and reenvision it- not stifle those who dare try. One can always return to the original grand formula well down the line for The Spectacular Grand Return (ad infinitum)!

You can't leave your ball on the front yard unattended indefinitely, and not expect someone to try their luck and see where they can go with it!

anindam said...

Its quite amusing that you call this photograph a valid expression of the moment and then compare your accidental digital manipulation where you have no role to play with grainy and blurred images of Robert Capa or artistic images of other photographers who took a photograph by choice (& possibly some chance) and not by a freak accident.
While I cannot comment on the judge's action, the photograph is not worth self-glorifying besides earning your few seconds of fame.

Alvin said...

Bullshit. All of your statement is bullshit.

"compare your accidental digital manipulation where you have no role to play with grainy and blurred images of Robert Capa"

And yet, in this article (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-photographer-robert-capa-risked-capture-d-day-images-lost) we have this particular segment:

"leading a technician to make a panicked mistake. The door to the film-drying closet was left closed, cutting off ventilation and causing the film’s emulsion to melt and obscure nearly all of Capa’s photographs."

So by your logic, Capa had no role to play with getting the effect/grain of those D-Day images... You could say it was... Manipulated by accident?

The image Blake got (or any image for that matter) was a result of what his camera saw. He just pressed the button, moved the camera according to what you're supposed to do in iPhone panoramic mode and like every photographer, by your own words, "took a photograph by choice (& possibly some chance) and not by a freak accident."

The real problem lies in what you said here:

"artistic images"

He probably isn't concerned whether the image being artistic, but whether it's INTERESTING (good or ugly).

Ricardo García Mainou said...

Bravo, Blake!

anindam said...

@Alvin, you are comparing the Capa images which are taken on the warfront and its blurrines owing to 'botched drying process, Capa’s shaking hands while shooting, and the reality of photographing in the fog of war' with an iphone pano image mode? And you mention the image in question is what the camera saw and not a software rendition? Interesting view.


Unknown said...

A shame, to be so immersed in an ideal that one can't see the forest for the trees.

Well written!

Md. Enamul Kabir said...

Well said Mate

Alvin said...

You're confusing the experiences with the photograph itself. As far as photographs go, through either process, I'll let you decide what's 'valid'.

ichsan sudarmanto said...

Keep it up, Blake 💪💪

mrphilip said...

Somebody is on their high horse, a typical trait of those throwing their toys out of the pram *yawn*

Unknown said...

News flash: All photographs are translations of reality! All photographs mediate content. Faithful recording is a false standard. Instead of clinging to that one, I recommend a higher standard: Curiosity.

spot-on

Blake Andrews said...

Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments. -B

Unknown said...

[THUMBSUP EMOJI] - MDM

Joseph Keys said...

^Best response here^

Paul Treacy said...

Well that was a fantastic read. Beautifully articulated. You have shifted my thinking some. Thank you.
- Paul Treacy.

Ian Hananto said...

Agree with you, blake

Yanidel said...

Let's be sincere, this is not a good picture in the first place. Had anybody else submitted it to a street photography group on Instagram, it would not have stood a chance to be featured. But so is street photography in 2018, it matters more who takes the picture and the worship of the photographer than creating meaningful pictures that document our times.

Joseph Keys said...

HALF true. The very fact this debate came out of in-public is its own testimony but I've seen nobodies catapult to street community fame from a single image while others (me) post mediocre shit for years just wondering why people aren't paying attention. The notice in this community is truly sincere. Bad shit don't fly.

Yanidel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Getty said...

Lotta dips hit comments in here. Nice write-up, Blake.

Cameron Getty said...

dipshit*

Vlad the Impaler! said...

“They were trapped like the colorful denizens of a night bus, your helpless plaything.”

Burn it down, quiet but deadly ...

Peter Sullivan said...

Phones should be used for making telephone calls, not taking pictures, we have cameras for that.

Avocado said...

It appears that everyone in the collective is male? Every commenter on this site is male? Find a more diverse collective and spend more time appreciatively making art and less with everyone pissing on everyone else’s leg. Just a thought, bro.

Didi S. said...

Your assumption that everyone commenting on this is male happens to be incorrect - but that doesn't invalidate the rest of your commentary.

Avocado said...

Happy to be wrong about that. Thanks.

Blake Andrews said...

Thanks for the note, Avocado. It's true that most (not all) of In-Public is male, as are most of the commenters here. I have no control over who reads or comments, but I do have some voice in the membership of IP. We're aware of the gender imbalance, and considering ways to address it.

As for the rest of the comment, I'm pretty happy with my current art-making:pissing-on-leg ratio.

eric said...

Ive never been a fan of iN PUBLIC or it’s founders’ style of photography so reading this controversy brings a certain amount of schadenfreude. The post WW2 photographers who broke ranks with the pictorial standards of the time and began making raw images of people and settings not as photojournalists but as radical experimenters with the camera tools of the time. When John Szarkowski, the director of photography at MOMA in NYC put together The Photographer’s Eye he was interested in the work of photographers who were pushing the boundaries of image making at that time and elevated their work to the field of art worthy of being shown in a respected art museum. In the introduction to the eponymous book from the show Szarkowski gives several photographic examples by “men (!!!) who could abandon their allegiance to traditional standards”. This is in 1964. The term street photography came later and as Winogrand is known to have expressed, the term tells you nothing about the photographer or his (!!!) work. Like most general terms Street Photography is a loose term incapable of being tightly defined because it arose from a wide body of existing work, not preceding it

I’ve enjoyed the occasional Beatles tribute band, a few years ago at Canary Wharf in London I watched some guys dressed in Sgt. Pepper clothing singing that album and it was enjoyable enough as historical entertainment but it hardly had the impact that the original album had on me breaking with all traditions of what I thought of previously as Rock n Roll.

Nick Turpin and most of the work I’ve seen at iN PUBLIC strikes me as tribute band photography. Of course it’s Nick’s ball and if he’s unhappy with the reffing he’s entitled to walk away from the game but my beef is that while the original so called street photographers were breaking the rules of the day and setting a new course for the medium, iN PUBLIC is a force working against the original energy of those post WW2 experimental photographers. It’s a shame that iN PUBLIC became as influential as it did as it was never a force for pushing limits but mostly (as photographer Joel Meyerowitz once told me in private conversation) the photographic equivalent of the one liner punch line, obvious and maybe humorous but lacking in the depth, radicality and complexity we expect from interesting art. One liners are fine if that’s what you’re into but I’m saddened by all those people who are excited about learning photography and see iN PUBLIC tribute style image making work and think that’s the photographic bar they should be aiming for. There are so many exciting photographers on the art scene working in the tradition of those rule breaking earlier photographers pushing boundaries beyond Nick’s flaccid definition of Street Photography. And Nick is worried about an iPhone photograph because the image isn’t true to the moment due to a computational glitch? Daido Moriyama must be having nightmares in Tokyo as I write. I’ll personally be happy to see this Titanic sink beneath the waves.

Stan B. said...

@Eric. In short, In-Public is not unlike the Nat Geo of Street Photography, today's online epitome of a certain genre- it's success is formulaic. "Street photography" is such an all encompassing generality, and yet, In-Public not only tends to discourage certain experimentation (as the photo in question)- it also only caters to certain styles within that grand whole. It's a museum, not a laboratory...

Blake Andrews said...

Eric and Stan, points taken. I believe there's a kernel of truth in your comments. Hopefully you'll see the group expand its vision in future months.

Fabrício Santos said...

Lets first get the hostilities out of the way:

"A less charitable interpretation is that you were desperate to exercise power over a group which had slipped from your grasp, from which you had in fact resigned." - Ouch!!!

@Alvin, do you really still believe this: "leading a technician to make a panicked mistake. The door to the film-drying closet was left closed, cutting off ventilation and causing the film’s emulsion to melt and obscure nearly all of Capa’s photographs."? If so then you should read through this piece of investigative work on the subject and educate your knowledge about it.

Blake, as for the rest of the post, I had heard of it before it came out from someone who had read its draft... It was a tall British bloke if you must know... :-) and knowing the wordsmith you are I was eagerly waiting for it to come out: disappointment wasn't among my gut feelings when I finally got to it. :-) The high points were indeed the emphasis on curiosity over purity. Fundamentalism has been for way too long the mother of all sorrow and, as I believe we all know, only idiots never change their minds.

I liked the stream of images you used to illustrate your point that the image in questions was just one in a stream of others in the history of photography and that iN-Public had seen itself pass through it's website and POM. As for the Capa image, opening the sequence, maybe you could have gone much earlier and picked this one.

As for my past experience with experimentation of new techniques I am not that daring but in 2014, when I bought my first proper digital camera and was trying setting I found out an effect that made me curious - that operational word yet again. :-) If I would shoot with the electronic shutter and move the camera at the same time the image would be skewed like the one from Lartigue. At the time it didn't fit my purpose and I didn't explore it any further. But back in August, when I saw your stitched panoramas, those results from 2014 immediately popped to mind. And after this debacle I'm actually feeling like trying something with it. :-)

Muñoz said...

It's embarrasing to read all your inner group politics cat fight.

I do suscribe to the idea that steet photography is a genre that owes it's legitimacy to capturing moments as they were. Digital distortions caused by automatic stitching is not capturing things as they were, period. It's of course a valid exploration of photography (not successful in this case), but not street.

Call it whatever you like it, pursue it with all your enthusiasm and curiosity, just be aware what it is and it is not.

Alvin said...

Interesting, thanks for linking me that page, Fabricio.

I still stand by my point in regards to the parent comment, particularly against "photograph by choice (& possibly some chance) and not by a freak accident." - I'm not really sure how that argument makes sense. I believe that the result of any photograph is already manipulated as soon as the button is pressed, whether it be computational or through some sort of emulsion.

anindam said...

If only the image in question was worth all this lengthy discussion. A photograph that is unlikely to see daylight without the gimmicky manipulation.