Sunday, July 29, 2012

Constellation & Broadside

Two beautiful illustrations found recently in photo books:

Untitled (Woody Guthrie constellation mural), Zoe Strauss, 1998
from Zoe Strauss: 10 Years

A broadside of names collected through the years,
calligraphed by Kerstin Adams and illustrated by Robert Adams, 1995
from The Place We Lived, Volume III

Friday, July 27, 2012

Q & A with Nick Haymes

Nick Haymes is the publisher of Little Big Man Books and the owner of Little Big Man Gallery, which opened its inaugural show last night featuring Nobuyoshi Araki's Past Tense - Future, 1979-2040

Blake Andrews: Can you tell me a little about Little Big Man Books. I saw your earlier book about the Gus Van Sant character (Gabe) but didn't realize until you sent me the Araki that you have several titles. How did it start? When? Where? Why? Etc.

Nick Haymes: Ah yeah, I'm the same person, but I try to keep my books separate from Little Big Man.
But some of the same publishing skills probably came into play in both.
Well my wife did the design on the Gabe book. Little Big Man started with my wife and a friend but I became involved later. I kinda took over Little Big Man books as they were kinda too busy. I had also just come out of curating a group photo show in NYC that was very well received, so it made sense for me to continue with the books. I also think coming in and speaking to other photographers as a photographer can make things a little easier when trying to persuade them to work with you. They both came out of some sort of feeling that something was dramatically lacking in both fields.
And what was lacking?
I think with the gallery boom a whole genre of photography is missing plus there is a generation of photographers whose main goal is the gallery wall. I also think the gallery misrepresents photos for the worst.

So your ideal venue for viewing photos is in a book?
‬Yeah, I suppose but that's pretty cliche thing to say. Books are funny. The more they came into the spotlight in recent years the worse they became. Something became really dry about them.
What do you mean dry? I've seen a wide range in quality. Many bad titles but also a lot of good stuff in recent years. I think we are living in a photobook renaissance.
‬It is if the artist has a clear narrative and/or intelligent dialog and understanding of books. But there are many books that lack some sort of vigor.

Vigor. A good word for Araki. Do you think Araki sees the book as his main avenue for getting work out? He's published 350. Can that possibly by right? That's like 10 per year.

More like 400+. You really have to captivate your viewer and also celebrate the printed form. I'm not saying all bells and whistles here. But man, there have been so many cloth bound books it makes me wanna puke.

The Araki book is cloth bound. Just saying.

Ha ha I know, you beat me to it. But there are reasons for all of the binding concepts on that book. It's funny, when we worked on the book designing thing I said I would quit doing books if I ever did cloth bound. But after all the busyness with opening the book it needed to become a little more sedate. Cloth binding made sense. It was such a complex packaging and so many elements in the earlier stages, with the Obi foil outside. It did have to become a little more understated at some point so as not to overshadow the work.

The tearing of the Obi band too was a bit of an in joke to the collector. Actually having to tear the book to get in, having to destroy something that you covet. I also like the idea that it's like opening something you shouldn't, as it's Araki's diary of life. So I wanted it to remind me of a diary in some way too in its appearance.

It's funny you mention tearing into the book because I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to open it without damaging the band. It's an irreversible step. You should take a poll of the books sold so far. Ask how many owners have opened their book and how many keep it intact. The answers might reveal something about the nature of book collecting.
Yeah we glued it on the back so you have to rip into it. It's a funny thing. I hope that everyone opens it. It would be such a waste if the book is not looked at and enjoyed.

Were you the principle designer? How much say did Araki have?

It's very collaborative. For someone who has done so many books he really works full force on the printed matter. He was not lazy at all when working on the book. Constantly re-editing and reworking the form. It was a tricky one. Let's face it. You get to work with Mr Araki who has done more books than you have. You also want him to enjoy and be surprised too with the results. He was very responsive and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

You enjoy books, right? Myles at Ampersand said you are very critical towards the justification of a book too.

Hmm. I guess that's a good thing. I always try to act judiciously in his shop. I don't openly criticize what he sells. Is he stocking your books? I haven't seen them there.
Yeah he does. Maybe he sold them : ) He is a decent chap. There are not many bookstores left.
Myles is great. I actually think Ampersand is a manifestation of what I mentioned earlier, the photobook renaissance. And Carte Blanche in SF too. These are brave shops and I think they're a manifestation of a movement.

Sorry I don't agree with Carte Blanche. They're like Ikea for photo.

How so? I haven't actually been in there. Just word of mouth.
Do they carry your books?
Ha ha, nope, but that's not the reason. They are aiming at some bad demographic. Without rhyme or reason. You will see when you come to SF.

How else do you handle distribution? Do you sell mostly online or through stores?

I do online sales. And directly with bookstores. I tend not to do consignment. I recently got burned on a book doing that. Everyone is really good and supportive towards the indie seller. Dashwood in NYC has been really helpful and pushed in the beginning, even going so far as giving a mailing list. Which is really cool. I like Ampersand too a lot. He's a great breath of fresh air on the West Coast. I like Family Books in LA too as they are so different in approach.
I'm keying in on several things you've said above. Books are "dry". They lack "vigor". Carte Blanche is "bland". I think your motivation with Little Big Man might be to stir the pot a little? And with Araki specifically.
There is one really amazing bookstore in SF though, 871 Fine Arts Bookstore, mostly used books. It's on Hawthorne Street downstairs in a basement. You would never know it's there except for the glowing neon red sign that says "books". Sounds odd but true. She's a gem in there. It's the only place for photo books. I will take you when you are here next. I couldn't believe it when I moved here that I had to go to LA or Portland for a book shop. Pretty sad as it's such a photo centric city.

A shame but with the web no book is completely inaccessible. About the Araki book, what is the connection between the book and the show? The book goes to the present but the show goes to 2040. Why does the book stop at 2011?
That's as much as he gave me, LOL. But it left the viewer with an uncertain ending towards what the future may be. He knew what he was doing. It also seems a more honest book, as he is really known for cheating the dates, but viewing the book there is certainly an older man's nostalgia for living but yet it's so full of life too.

By cheating do you mean the dates were superimposed later?

No, he has compact cameras where you can put the date into the back and it burns it onto the neg with each exposure. He did this when his cat Chiro died too. He photographed the cat under multiple dates, so only he knows the truth. It's funny, he will give you everything but still leave you guessing. It also works really when when comprising a narrative dialog, especially in books.

And presumably some of the photos in the book are of his late wife too? Do you know which photos show her?
Hang on, let me get the book and I will tell you which plates exactly. That whole scenario starts from when you see the cut out of the girl with the cat, the cardboard cut out. 90 1 26. She is featured earlier too.
Don't worry about looking them all up. I can find others from recognizing that photo. Is that the day she died?
Yes I presume so. We also did a special edition where we did a traditional copper plate gravure. He totally flipped over this as he had never done gravure.
He'd never done it but he pulled it off himself?

No. I met this amazing Gravure etcher and printer in SF in San Rafael.

The design feels a bit 1980sish with the shiny cover, colored triangles, even the asymmetrical embossed cover reminds me a bit of my high school yearbook from 1987. To The Past…to the 80s.

Yeah it's kinda like like that. It's good to be a bit wrong with the design, otherwise I may as well do the books that ---- do.
I'm not following you.
I like the design of the book. But it's nice to take a little chance with it. Like throw a few things in like the asymmetrical idea. I still think all our books look like Little Big Man books. I just think -----'s books are very dry and formulaic. I don't think they are a celebration of the book.

I suppose that gets back to your idea of photos. That their best expression is in a book and not prints. So the book needs to live up to something beyond just a collection of photos.

When I was younger I loved Taschen for giving me the opportunity to buy art books for pretty much nothing.

But Taschen is hardly a bookmaking pioneer.

Yes and no. They did Wolgang Tillmans before anyone.

So maybe a pioneer with discovering talent but not in book design.

But when you are in college to buy an art book for $20 is great. It also moves you on from comics to books.

Yes. I have the U of O library nearby so that's pretty much my bookbin.

I met many publishers at the NY Book Fair. It was funny, being the new kids you get sized up a little. They like to sniff around like dogs, you know, see what you are up to, who you are publishing. But I liked very much the experience of the book fair. We are very small fish but I think people are supportive.

As everyone is all in it together all breaking their necks not earning any money trying their best to do good books and distribute by themselves for the most of it. You really have to fight against the Amazon book system. You talk to the big guns and it kills them too. Mack books does all their distribution themselves. It's an amazing feat to pull off.

I think distribution is a major bottleneck. I'm not saying it's easy to print a book but it's even harder to market it.

Yeah, it's true. In theory we should be printing more, as you know there are 1000 maybe even 10,000 folks that would buy the book. It's just reaching them. I know I can sell out of 350 to 400 books. And we live book to book. I also have a great printer that doesn't hassle me for the $$ straight away. He understands the small publisher.

I notice most of your books have sold out. Congrats on that. Possibly helped by small print runs. Would that situation be preferable to printing more and having them more accessible but not sell out? Like if you printed 5000 copies everyone who wanted one could have it but it might be less "special".

Yes for both. If I don't sell out I'm making a lot of furniture out of books. It's a number that I know I can sell. It does also make it pretty collectible. Any more books makes it a hell of a lot of work to get rid of. With only a handful of book shops who only take 5 books at a time that's 70 book shops you need to be in. I do feel like I am doing a disservice to the artist as I would love their work to be seen by more people.

Maybe it's a matter of time, gradually growing the print runs.
I would like to grow print runs and compete with the big guns for sure. But honestly I don't think that will ever happen. But I always like the idea of the collaborative thinking with photographers. It's such a solo process from the picture taking to the printing. I like the idea of photographers all working together.

We have only produced a few books but we have had nominations for 3 of the 4. Surf Riot and Eden is a Magic World were nominated at the festival for art and film 2012. Eden is a Magic World made 2 Best-of lists in 2011. One by Soth and the other by Horacio Fern├índez. That totally put us on the map. The amount of traffic that came through Alec's website to us was astounding. I know this thanks to Google tracking. The Motoyuki Daifu LOVESODY was nominated for best book at this years Le Bal Photo Book Awards, by Laurence Vectin from OneYear of Books blog. The online world is in fact better for books than ever, I'm learning.

You said something earlier about preferring books to galleries to view photos. And now you're opening a gallery. Tell me about that.
The gallery is in our apartment. The gallery grew out of the books. I wanted to show works that could be exciting on the wall. I was in 49 Geary the other day and I wanted to vomit.
How big is your apartment?
Downstairs we built moveable walls to cover the kitchen. It's an open plan space. I have around 1000 sq ft to make the galley space work.
So it's a gallery at times and a home at others?

Nick Haymes' gallery/apartment

We sleep upstairs so it doesn't disrupt too much. I'm going to open 3 days a week and then by private appointment. It opens on the 26th of July with the Araki exhibit. Quite a feat to have Araki show in my house.
Yes, great going. What sort of prints/display? I imagine a wall of snapshots.

Well I have 60 black and white prints, and then I have built a massive light box table to house 1886 transparencies. Black and whites are from the book, 17x14 inches.

Transparencies, Past Tense - Future, Nobuyoshi Araki

Is he coming to the opening?

No, he never travels outside of Japan since he was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. He's not one for traveling.

You should dress up like him with the haircut and mustache and circle glasses.
Ha ha maybe.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Self Portrait, 2040

What else do you have planned? Monthly shows?
About every two months, so about 6 a year. Obviously we will host openings and book launches.
And tying in most shows with LBM books?
Yeah, but the idea of the gallery space will be less traditional. In November I will show Keizo Kitajima as we are doing a book on his Soviet series. In October I am showing a friend who self published his book.

What about the book/gallery dichotomy. If most of the projects you show are initially conceived as books where does that leave the prints?

The gallery will show both as an extension of each other. A lot of the books have a narrative so one lends to the other. We are pretty raw. The works are all unframed, just less pretentious I hope.

Where were you before San Francisco?

New York. I lived there for 11 years and before that London 5 years. But I was just very curious about photo on the West side of the US. I think potentially it could save American photography. I moved to San Francisco this past January.
Does it need saved? Is the West Coast style so different?
Yeah, it's crap at the moment but the UK is worse. Redheaded Peckerwood, LOL.
I haven't seen that book yet. You don't like it?
Nope. Too considered and very dry.
Everyone says it's hot shit so I guess it must be. Or not.

You can have my first edition copy. Haha. Yeah I know. That was the only reason I bought it. Just to see what the fuss was.

Patterson was very crafty in marketing that. Before the book was published there were items online about the process, with tastes of the project. So that by the time it was published there was an eager audience waiting for it.
Yeah you are very right about that. Excellent marketing. They even brought the prototype to the book fairs.

All part of the game, which I can't really criticize. Any method you can use to get your work out is valid. Except payola. So which books do you like?
Well I buy mine in Japan. I really like AKAAKA out there as a publisher of modern photo books. That didn't mean to sound how it came out.

I know there are many good Japanese books but I'm not very tuned to them. They are quite conscious of design. More than Americans I think.
I do like the Japanese photo book just because they use the book for all its worth, really cutting edge stuff. But then they totally break it too. They don't seem stuffy or tired in design. I want that sort of life in the Little Big Man books. Lina and James who work on the design of Little Big Man both come from editorial background, so I think they add some energy to the book. That's why the Avedon books were good. Lina was Russian Art school trained from the age of 5 (never say you like art as a child in Russia) and then went through the rigorous schooling of Conde Nast, Vogue, etc. So in a sense still will use the old principals of the greats like Brodovich and Lieberman.
OK, but wait. American Photography is crap? What's on the West Coast that's so different?
I'm not much of a Yale school fan, and that dictated a certain type of "Art Photographer". I like the sense of community that Photo seems to have on the West Coast. An amazing history of Photo here. I just worry that it drops into Retro a little out here. Y'know tintypes, found photos, etc. Photo is still such a contemporary thing, it's very young and very complex. I'm very pro FILM photo but it does have to be used in a modern way.
Many people associate the West Coast with f/64 which I'm not a huge fan of. But I think there's more to it. The West Coast in general invites a sense of re-identification or rebranding. People move here from someplace else. They want to recreate themselves. On the East Coast you tell someone you went to a certain school and it defines you in their eyes. Tell someone on the West Coast and who gives a shit. Sort of a stereotype but still sort of true.
Yes, you are right. I like the West Coast for all of that. It's not Europe anymore, and then it rapidly becomes close to Asia. There are some amazing influences happening here. There is also an incredibly articulate and responsive type of person here that I could never find in NYC. NY is very solo and competitive. Its also very commercially driven. But now I really like it out here.

Eugene has a thin photo community which I'm sort of engaged with but honestly I feel more connection to Portland's photo scene which is where I lived 1992 - 2006. The two are quite different. Portland's photo culture is very strong. I'd put it comfortably against any other scene in the country except maybe NY. Eugene's is less vital. It's about what you might find in most medium cities.
Anyway we've been at this a while and I need to wrap up. I had some other questions but I like what we've got without them.
Yeah me too. Kids are hungry and I spent the college fund on making books.

I pissed away mine on film.

Ha ha me too. Poor kids. I like to think it might make them smart.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Fingered Jack

I had a fun adventure with Pete Brook last weekend. The Prison Photography guru and I met up Friday evening and camped at Big Lake near Santiam Pass, about halfway between Eugene and Portland. We ate a big dinner, drank some brews, and lit a huge bonfire in the woods.

Pete's good company. You can take the blogger out of the internet but you can't take the internet out of the blogger. We compared notes on blogging, photography, and various nonpressing issues. I should've taken notes. We solved some shit but I forget what exactly.

The next morning we were up around 5 am and ready to tackle Three Fingered Jack, a crumbling volcanic remnant not far away. We hit the trailhead by 6:45. Not a cloud in the sky.

The trail started around 4900 feet and climbed steadily. About 4 miles in we began to hit snow.

The snow started as patches here and there. But after a half hour it had overpowered the path and we were just following prints, no trail. We were on the lookout for a cairn which marked the climber's turnoff to Three Fingered Jack. But with all the snow it was impossible to locate any landmarks. So we kept hiking, mostly traversing along the mountainside in thin forest. Here's a shot of Pete with our destination in the background.

The footprints ended at a Hungarian named Bob. He was huddled under a tree and looked ill prepared for the environment. He was on his way to Cascade Locks about 100 miles North but at this point wasn't sure which way that was, or if he was headed North or South, or if he should just forget about hiking and camp where he was. He said he'd camped last night on a sloping bank and it had been miserable. His boots were soaked. His butt was soaked. He looked bewildered.

Pete offered him some water. We chatted for a bit. Then we left him and headed up through the snow to the ridge somewhere above us. About a half hour later we topped out on the ridge. We found a shady flat spot where I tied up Annie.

The photo above by Pete shows Black Butte in the background, an old volcanic cindercone which will be recognizable to fans of Deschutes Brewing. Their porter is my staple beer.

Shortly after leaving Annie the climbing got more interesting. We passed a series of gendarmes leading to a slightly overhanging ledge which forces the climber to bend over, followed by a very exposed steep section. This section is called "The Crawl" and is relatively easy, maybe 5.1 or 5.2. But the consequence of a fall would be serious injury or death. Fortunately it gets climbed enough that the rotten holds have long ago been broken off by other climbers. The rock was solid with many holds. This photo shows the Crawl (circled) being climbed by the party before us, with the red line depicting the rest of the summit route.

Pete hadn't done any serious climbing before and he wound up doing The Crawl sight unseen, unroped. At the level section immediately above I asked Pete how it had gone for him. He said that at one point he'd asked himself "What the heck am I doing here on this bare cliff?" a question I've often asked myself. It's a question that always presents itself forcefully as the most central issue, always at interesting times and never with a clear answer. I love that question. I think I should marry that question.

A few hundred feet above The Crawl came the crux, a 40 foot knob wall to just below the summit which was relatively easy but unprotectable. Here's the party above ascending it. There isn't much room at the top, so we waited until this party and another group had come back down before proceeding.

At the top of the knob wall a strange colony of ladybugs had nestled into a crack. There were hundreds of them. I have no idea what they were doing there above any other flora or fauna. They were excellent climbers. Do they ever wonder "What the heck am I doing on this bare cliff?" Probably not.

Here's Pete ascending the last bulge below the summit, just past the ladybug crack...

And on the final summit block, a slightly unstable conglomerate of volcanic tuff. Classic Oregon scrapheap.

Pete and I sitting on the summit, 7844 feet. Mt. Jefferson is the big pyramid in the background:

The way down was a bit easier. We rappelled off the summit down the knob wall and a short hike brought us back to The Crawl. Since The Crawl is a traversing ledge the rap proved a little tricky. Pete had never rappelled before that day, and I wanted him to go first so I could ensure he was fastened in correctly. He attempted to take an angle descent.

But he couldn't quite hold the cliff and wound up swinging wildly back below the anchor, right to the spot he needed to be. He ribbed me later about missing The Decisive Moment and I have to say he was right. Would've made a great photo. Oh well. From there it was a short scramble over rotten scree to the bottom of The Crawl.

I followed with a rap, met him on the ridge and we descended to Annie who'd lost her shade by now and was rather thirsty. This was the first flat spot we'd seen in a while so we decided it would be the lunch area. Pete broke out the monster sub he'd made that morning, avacado, cheese, lettuce, mustard, tomato, on a huge roll. There was even enough left over for Annie. Sandwich at Annie. After lunch Pete made a goofy pose leaning on the distant summit.

We scrambled down scree and snow to footprints leading South. The PCT again. It wasn't long before we ran once more into Hungarian Bob who'd moved about a mile along the trail but was still unsure which way he should go or how to proceed or if he should just camp right there. This time we didn't chat as long. The prints made a clear path. The weather was clear. One way or another he was almost guaranteed to survive.

The 5 miles back to the trailhead went fairly quickly. We solved more shit. We even planned a bloggers backpacking conference. That morning I'd been anxious to leave the parking lot and sound of nearby Highway 20 but now it was the opposite. After a long hike there is no finer sight possible than the reflective gleam of a windshield.

We reached the cars, pulled off our boots, and cracked open the last three remaining beers. Then Pete had the brilliant idea of using the melted cooler water as a foot soak. So we removed the food and had at it. I could only keep my feet in for about 10 seconds. I'm an ice cold wimp.

Pete lasted longer. I captured him with my last Instax photo.

But alas we couldn't soak all day in a filthy cooler. Pete had a punk show in Portland to attend that night. I hadn't been home in three days so I had to deal with domestic duties. We dumped the cooler water, packed up the gear, and piled into our respective cars. Pete was borrowing a late model BMW with touch sensitive trunk. One of those cars you hold your hands near the button and it senses you and opens. After a day of exertion it was good to have something like that, something that was automatic and easy.

Leaving the parking lot I realized it was 4:55 PM, 24 hours to the minute after I'd met Pete the day before. I think we solved some shit. Wish I'd taken notes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Finger

When Alec Soth's state fair rejection letter hit the blog-o-sphere Monday, I started a small pool trying to guess how many times it would be reblogged. My guess -—410 by midweek— proved high. As of now (Thursday morning) it has 201 notes and counting. That's not 410 but still quite a lot.

A small selection of notes following Soth's post

Perhaps reblogged is no longer an accurate term. Retumblred would probably be more descriptive. But since Tumblr uses reblog I'll go with that word anyway. The post first appeared on Tumblr, and from there it proceeded to gather likes and reblogs like a hull collecting barnacles, thanks in part to the structure of Tumblr.

Tumblr's interface embodies the very essence of what the internet is now: the one-click response and, more importantly, the exponential leveraging of such responses into meaningful judgements. Every Tumblr note is a personal reaction, yet when taken as a whole they can reveal the wisdom of crowds or at least a sense of what's popular. They become a giant finger pointing at things. Tumblr is probably the best giant finger tool yet invented. When something comes across your desktop with 201 notes it's often worth a look. But you'd better do so quickly because that finger has a very short attention span.

But what happens when the Tumblr mindset migrates to other platforms? Giant fingers have their place but I don't think they're as important as creating original content. But we may be entering a situation where it's just fingers pointing at other fingers. The vast majority of Tumblr links I encounter are not written by the original content generator. They're links, often relinking to other links, so on. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have built their empires on this model, and of course Tumblr, all quite successfully. It's a wonderful method for taking the pulse of what's hot but I think it diminishes the role of original content.

Raw File, 7/9/12

The ease of reblogging over creating has been eroding the blog-o-sphere for a while. Now I think the trend is extending to broader media channels. Look for example at the spate of Gordon Stettinius posts which hit the internet last week. Pete Brook was first to the punch. His Raw File post July 9th nicely profiled Gordon's Mangini Studio Series. It showed a few images. It pulled some quotes. It was a nicely written finger pointing at a fun project.

PetaPixel, 7/10/12

Then other fingers started pointing. Brook's article was followed the next day by a PetaPixel post which offered a condensed yet virtually identical profile on Stettinius. The timing was no coincidence. This post was basically a Tumblred version of the Raw File original, the written equivalent of clicking Reblog.

Bag News, 7/10/12

That same day Stettinius' photos cropped up in a Bag News essay about bad photography. Michael Shaw's piece was far more than a simple reblog. Stettinius' photos were only one element in a well-written and quite original post. Still, the timing lent credence to the notion that something was in the air. Another finger.

Daily Mail, 7/14/12

The shit really hit the fan a few days later when The Daily Mail jumped into the act. Their July 14th article on Stettinius, written under the psuedonymous byline of "Daily Mail Reporter", copied liberally from the original Raw File article.

Raw File:
Described by Stettinius as “a prank run amok,” the Mangini Studio Series grew out of Brown and Stettinius’ shared nostalgia for the studio session.

“We are content for the image quality to be more like that of a promotional glossy from a generic portrait studio than as a fine art print,” says Stettinius, “The cheesiness quotient is pretty high.”

Daily Mail:
'We are content for the image quality to be more like that of a promotional glossy from a generic portrait studio than as a fine art print,' Mr Stettinius said, describing the series as 'a prank run amok'.

'The cheesiness quotient is pretty high.'

Raw File:
“I can only grow my hair so fast, so patience is a requisite,” says Stettinius, “Terry and I can only get together every couple of months.”

On occasion, his unorthodox promotion backfires. “My looks change somewhat and thank-yous have sometimes been met with confusion,” says Stettinius. “One L.A. gallery asked me to never send anything to them again. Ever. I might send a follow-up.”

Daily Mail:
'My looks change somewhat and thank-yous have sometimes been met with confusion,' Mr Stettinius said. 'One Los Angeles gallery asked me to never send anything to them again. Ever. I might send a follow-up.'
The two men meet in Mr Brown's studio every couple of month to try out a new persona.

I could give more examples but I think the point is clear. The Daily Mail did no original reporting of its own. Instead their plagiaristic article was the written equivalent of a Reblog.

The Huffington Post, 7/17/12

Perhaps it was the widespread visibility of The Daily Mail article which pricked the attention of The Huffington Post. The giant media aggregator ran a Stettinius post a few days later on July 17th. Although the essay carried no byline it did appear to have an actual person behind it. Even if it didn't offer much new information it was in part an original creation. The Huffington Post article has 775 Likes (to date). It's the biggest finger yet pointing at Stettinius.

The timing of all this seems peculiar and rather lemminglike. I love Stettinius's portrait series, but like many photo projects I don't think it's particularly time-sensitive. He's been working on it for a while and the end is still a few years off. Every few months he posts a new image on Facebook, and these have been fun to follow. It's a series in progress. The Raw File profile could've come now or a year from now, or last year (when in fact Pete Brook first pitched the idea unsuccessfully to Wired).

In the traditional blog-o-sphere the exact timing wouldn't matter much. But in the age of reblogging, timing matters a great deal. The giant finger has a short attention span. So we have the Raw File article quickly followed by a succession of follow up articles, each written in the breathless tone of a timely news feature. Like, this is happening now. Even if it's been happening for a few years.

Near the beginning of his Mangini Studio series in 2010 Gordon sent me an early photo, a mock-political portrait signed by the candidate Godfrey Damon Wright, and accompanied by a hilarious mea culpa-filled letter. You can read the actual text here and I highly recommend it. I think the letter is even funnier than the picture. I'd vote for him in a heartbeat, but alas he's no longer running.

Gordon Stettinius as Godfrey Damon Wright

Unfortunately none of the recent articles on Stettinius showed the letters. Some of them mistook Terry Brown (a woman) for a man. And according to Gordon the implication in some of the articles that he sends these pictures to clients as PR is a misconstrual. These are simple facts that might've been easily discovered had the articles been built on an original content model instead of the reblog model.

OK, so big deal. Articles are written. They gather notes and reblogs. Fingers can be helpful. What's the problem? For me the problem occurs when linking begins to crowd out content or, worse, is mistaken for content. And because the web is always hungry for the latest buzz, this "content" can convey a false sense of what is actually news and what isn't.

A few weeks ago This American Life ran a story on ghost writers in the Philippines (Photographers may want to hear the opening feature on Cindy Sherman, but that's another story). American journalism conglomerates had outsourced local news articles to cheap labor overseas. For me this dovetails with the reblogging trend. To the conglomerates the original content of the articles wasn't viewed as important. It could be outsourced or reblogged or pulled off the web. Whatever. What mattered more was spinning that content. Leveraging it.

In this case journalists were actually outsourcing their local civic duty. The world of photo commentary isn't nearly as important, but I see it heading down the same path. So maybe I'm in the wrong business. Or at least the wrong platform. Blogspot is not as reblog friendly as Tumblr.

Reblogging and linking is fine, but once in a while someone has to get off their ass and write something new. And I'm not talking about some subcontractor in the Philippines. I'm talking about you. Now. Reading this. Sometimes you need to give the finger the finger.

NPR Tumblr, 7/18/12

Yesterday as I was writing this post the Stettinius series appeared on NPR's Tumblr. Same photo. Same dropquote. It's got 201 notes so far. I'm betting it gets 410 by next week.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Boys of Sommer

Photographer's Lineup Card:

2B —Secondo Pia
CF —Daniel "Flushing" Meadows
1B —Trent "Take me out to the ball" Parke
LF —Mark Power "Hitter"
DH —Homer Sykes
3B —Rob "around the" Hornstra
C —Hugh Welch Diamond
SS —Frederick "Boys of" Sommer
RF —F. Holland Day "Game"

P —David Octavious "On the" Hill

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hunting and Cooking

I go on binges occasionally in which I get obsessed with a certain camera, then shoot the hell out of it until I get bored or it breaks or some other camera comes along. Lately that camera has been the Fuji Instax 210. I wrote a bit about it back in January. After that post my interest flagged for several weeks, but in the past few months it's been rekindled in a big way. On many outings it's become my go-to camera. One thing I love about the camera is the immediate tangibility of the pictures. You click the shutter and it spits out this thing. It's not on a screen, nor is it locked in the dark like film awaiting development. It's a real object which you can put in a pocket or give away or fan your face with or whatever you want. It's a real thing you've got to deal with. But before that happens is the delicious period when you wait for development. The picture starts blank, then after about a minute the colors gradually come in. It takes about five minutes to fully saturate. I don't think I will ever get sick of watching the Instax photos form. It's like photo crack. There's an incredible sense of anticipation, then the rush slowly comes on, the photo fills in. After a few minutes it's done and you're ready for the next one. I think I could pass a whole day shooting a photo, watching it develop, shooting another, and so on...
Aim, 2012, Blake Andrews
Instax Gratification
I've heard many people discuss their first time in a darkroom, the magic of watching the image appear gradually in the developer tray. Some people say that's what hooked them on photography. Personally I've never really had that feeling in the darkroom, but I think waiting for Instax photos gives me a similar sense of magic. Unlike the darkroom it's always a surprise. Will it be blown out? In focus? Where will the edges be? In the darkroom I usually have a much better sense of these things. But with the Instax I'm never sure. The old saw applies. The only way to find out what something looks like photographed is to shoot it, then wait five minutes. Instax film is relatively expensive and sometimes I will cheat by taking a digital snapshot first, just to make sure my Instax photo will be in the ballpark of what I want. I see this as a nice ironic twist on history. In the film era Polaroids were traditionally used by photographers to check a scene before the "real" photo was made. I'm doing it backwards.
Untitled, 2012, J.M. Colberg
Instax Gratification
Joerg Colberg wrote about the photo as object briefly last week. He approached it from the perspective of the art market but I think the general question applies to simple Instax snapshots. What is the meaning of the photo as an object, and how does that compare to its meaning as a pure idea? With the Instax I think there is some ambiguity. I enjoy the photos as small shiny objects. But I also love how the camera interprets a scene. I love its palette and how it treats light, and the small white frame locking it all in. I make scans of my favorites, and even on a computer screen they hold my interest. A few days after Joerg's post, Andy Adams ran a poll on FPN: The tally (so far) is 51 votes for Image, 4 for Collectibles. A landslide. Perhaps this isn't surprising considering that the poll was conducted online. After all, on the web there's no such thing as a collectible object. Every image is an idea, a digital representation. Even if the original photo is a precious object, the corresponding jpg is not. So an online poll might be expected to reflect that. When it comes to my main photographic pastime, 35 mm film, I'd vote for Image over Collectible. Generally after I expose a photo and make a work print of it, I'm done with it. I've seen what the image looks like. I've either captured something or I haven't, and after that issue has been settled I don't much care if it's printed this way or that or toned or framed in mahogany or whatever. Hunters aren't cooks, said HCB, and I think there's some truth in that. But with the Instax you can hunt and cook at once.
Response to Print of Trees and Fog, California, 2011, Laura Plageman
A recent trend in photography is to experiment with the photo as an object. Stephen Gill and Gerhard Richter play around with paint and flowers laid on prints. Laura Plageman folds up her photos and then rephotographs them. Matthew Brandt soaks his prints in various bodies of water. The popular revival of archival processes such as wet collodion, tintypes, photogravure are part of this movement.
Horse Thief Lake, WA, 2008. Chromogenic print soaked in Horse Thief Lake water, Matthew Brandt
I think the fetishization of objects is a clear reaction to digital imaging. Until a digital image is printed (and most aren't) it has no substance. It's a computer file. These files are now the lifeblood of photography. To share work online you post files. To enter a call for submissions you send files. Many exhibitions are printed on site by a gallery or curator from files sent by the photographer. The print is secondary, a simple byproduct of the image. I was reminded of this reading about the fallout from Cruel and Unusual at Photoville. I'm not sure where the prints originated. They were shown for a week, wilted in the heat, then destroyed at the end. In this context the print was relatively unimportant. A new one could be generated from a file or negative. This seems the farthest extreme from the museum ideal of a precious object on the wall, and to be honest I am sort of in love with this idea. It's like the Tibetan monks who spend days making a sand mandala grain by grain, then sweep it away at the end. Yesterday while taking photos in Eugene's Whitaker neighborhood I brought along a stack of mis-exposed work prints and stapled them to telephone poles, tucked amid the concert posters and lost dog fliers. I like to think of someone approaching these photos and trying to understand the motivation behind them. No message, nothing to sell or say, just photos for the sake of photos. They might last a few months before fading or being torn down. Who knows. It's the thought that counts.