Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Shit My Photo Prop Says

(Inspired by Thomas Roma)

"You look nice today, Man. I should be shooting you."

"He is. John Mayer IS a great prop. Don’t make that smirky face about John Mayer, soul sister. And why is it that no one says soul sister anymore?"

"I miss Ed Weston. Somehow when he shot me he always let me know he appeciated my inner pepper."

"Take the goddamn picture already. I can't hold this pose forever. Well, yes, actually I can."

Prop — "What do you think your legacy will be?" 
Photographer — "Shooting you with this 8 x 10."
Prop — "Wait, that's my legacy. Not yours."

"What is the one thing that is holding us down? I can't speak for all props but for me it's this gaffer's tape attaching me to the table top."

"Where would we be without props? About 3 inches shorter. And backed by asbestos tile. That's where." 

"Don't you dare walk away. Where are you going? Outside? You stay in this studio. Shoot me! Shoot me, dammit!"

"It’s your job for this class to take photographs you’d run into a burning building to save. And I'm assuming you'd all save an armful of studio props while you're at it."

"Do you know what it's like to be a white sheet in the background? Never have I felt so invisible, so ignored. I feel like screaming! Shee-it!"

"I love it when you extend your bellows toward me."

"Do you know what happens when you give white kids a camera? They come back with photos of little black kids throwing up gang signs. True story. You call that a prop? I'm the fucking prop. I'm the prop! Not some silly gang sign."

"You realize props can't talk, right? I'm inanimate. In-An-I-Mate! What part of still life don't you get? You're hallucinating this whole conversation. Probably those pills you took. Asshole."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heir Apparent

My recent post on Vivian Maier's copyright sparked some interesting replies. By far the most surprising response I received was the news that Vivian Maier does in fact have an heir, and that all of the copyright issues regarding her work have been settled through that heir. This was reported by a knowledgeable source and confirmed by John Maloof. 

To the best of my knowledge, here's what happened. 

In order to make reproductions of Vivian Maier's work, and more importantly to sell that work through galleries, all outstanding copyright considerations needed to be settled. The problem for John Maloof, Jeff Goldstein, and anyone else wishing to market her work is that Maier had no known heirs, in which case copyright would've naturally reverted to the state of Illinois where she died. This copyright was probably worth very little when she died. But largely thanks to the efforts of Maloof, Maier's posthumous career has blossomed. The copyright is now worth a considerable sum.  

Maloof and Goldstein hired a genealogist —four of them actually— and visited a French village with connections to Maier. They were able to locate Maier's closest living relative, who was the heir and unwitting copyright owner. Maloof and Maier then made a legal arrangement which transferred copyright control to them, freeing the way for Maier's work to be sold. 

The heir wishes to remain anonymous. I don't know the identity, the relationship, or the legal arrangement. 

None of this is illegal or especially shocking. But I do think it transforms the general understanding of Vivian Maier's legacy (a good summary of the previous worldview is here). To my knowledge none of this information has not yet been reported in any media outlet.* In fact most stories about Maier continue to claim the opposite. The fact she died with no heirs feeds into the romantic fable. But as with all romance, the initial blush is beginning to wear off. What else might there be underneath?

*Update: Yesterday, this feature appeared in the Chicago Reader, also noting the copyright/heir connection.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Q & A with Eric Kim

Eric Kim is a photographer based in Berkeley.

BA: How was Instanbul?

EK: It was a ton of fun. I had a good time with Charlie and teaching the workshop. Doubt I got any good photos though! Maybe 1 or 2 decent shots. 

Do you find it's hard to get good photos on your own while supervising students?

Yeah, pretty much when I'm teaching the workshop, I rarely take photos myself. Mostly instructing and giving advice to the students. Sometimes I'll take the odd photo if I see something good.

I know you do a lot of workshops. If you have a hard time shooting when you're teaching them, that must be a bit frustrating? Because there isn't much time for your own photos.

I don't mind too much. I rarely see good photos anyways when I'm on the streets. I might only find 3 scenes a day which I am really captivated by, and then I'll bust out and take a bunch of shots. But during the workshop, the majority of the focus is on the students. One thing I'll also do is point out some scenes which might interest me, and suggest how I might photograph it. Or just borrow a student's camera and demonstrate how I would photograph a scene and frame it. And show them on their LCD screen how I might do it.

What do you mean you rarely see good photos? Is that how it's always been?

I used to be a lot more trigger happy when I started shooting street photography. With digital, I could easily take 500-1000 photos in a day. 
Did you get good photos that way, shooting 500 photos a day? Sometimes being trigger happy can lead to pictures you'd otherwise miss.

I definitely agree with you on that point, Blake. I think the more you shoot, the higher the chance of you getting a decent shot.

That's why most people don't appreciate street photography. They think it's just a matter of odds.

I think luck is certainly a huge part of street photography. But one quote I like from Seneca is, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." So a combination of always having your camera with you, taking a lot of photos and risks, while also considering composition, framing, and subject matter.
With digital, I like how it allows you to be more risky. But when shooting with film, I am a lot more selective with what I find interesting.  Now that I'm shooting mostly film for my personal street photography, I generally average half a roll a day. When I'm traveling, maybe 1-2 rolls a day? But when I do see a scene that might have potential-- I might bang off 20 photos of the same scene still.

What is a scene that has potential?

Nowadays I am actually drawn less to taking photographs of people and strangers and more to urban landscapes and commonly found objects. 

Why the change? What are you attracted to in found objects?

With common found objects, I feel people often look over them-- but if you really look at commonly found objects, they are quite fascinating. I like to photograph a lot of discarded objects, and I wonder to myself: Why did someone buy this? Why did they throw it away? What is the backstory?

Also now that I'm shooting color film, a huge consideration is how the colors look in the photo. I can create nice color combinations in the image that are aesthetically pleasing. Transitioning from black and white to shooting color film, I did a lot of research on color photographers such as Stephen Shore, Eggleston, Sternfeld. I was really inspired by their urban landscapes — how they were able to show social commentary through their photos.

I think I've taken so many photos of strangers (especially doing street portraits) that faces don't interest me too much anymore. Unless I find a really extraordinary looking face.

At a certain point those photos just become a generalized statement: "people are odd looking." OK, we know that. But what do you want to say about that?

I think when it comes to taking photos of people in the streets, part of it is instinctual. I love people, and always find myself drawn to them. I definitely started off photographing people who I just found as "odd looking" or interesting characters. But now when I take portraits of strangers in the stree- it is some sort of emotion or tension I am looking for. 
I am looking for hand gestures and body language which shows anger, anxiety, pain, angst, happiness, hope, or anything like that.

I think there's a tension in some of your close-up flash portraits. But it's mostly the tension of "Help! I'm being photographed!"

Haha, you bring up a good point! 
I want to bring up a photo I took recently in Tucson, Arizona. It is of a woman with red hair and a yellow shirt.

The colors work.

Thank you. It is probably one of my favorite portraits I've taken recently.

What's the story. Did you know her?

When I show people the photo, it does look like she has a "WTF?" look in her face. And that I just took a photo of her really quickly while she was eating.

The backstory is actually I was doing a road trip from Michigan to California, and our car broke down in Tucson, Arizona. 

With that sponsored Ford? Or whatever car that was? It broke down?

Well not broke down technically-- the Ford Fiesta's window broke. I think a rock hit it while we were driving on the freeway. 

We stopped inside a Gyros place to grab a bite to eat. And I saw this woman in the corner by the window, eating some food. I saw the red hair and yellow shirt and I thought to myself: OMG, I need to take her photo. And I thought to myself that the red/yellow combination might work. So I go up to her and I said to her something like...

"Hello there miss, I absolutely love your hair and outfit-- you look amazing. Do you mind if I took a few photos of you?"

She looked ecstatic and said: "Of course you can!" And then says something like: "A lot of Chinese people like you ask me that all the time!" (I'm actually Korean-American). 

So I end up shooting a few frames of her just smiling and stuff. Then in the middle she says something like: "Oh hold up one second, let me check my lipstick". And that is when I took the photograph and made this frame.

Probably not one she would like. Did you send her any photos?

I didn't ask for her email -- didn't have the chance to send her the images. When I'm shooting film, I generally don't offer to email them the photo (because I know I'll never send it).

It's funny you picked someone that gets asked for photos a lot. Maybe her hair?

She's certainly quite the character. And the closer I look at the image— her yellow accessories...

I guess that proves that photos can lie. You just don't know what's happening in an image much of the time. And that's definitely part of their charm. The less they tell the more interesting they might be.

Yeah, I agree with you on that point. I saw the interview you did with Richard Kalvar and I think he brought up a really good point about how having mystery in photos make them much more interesting. Not explaining the image in full and having the viewer make up his/her own story is where the charm lies.

But now you're explained this photo. Maybe it won't ever be the same.

Haha yes, but I don't mind too much spoiling the photo when people ask. As a photographer I always ask myself when looking at other peoples' shots: "I wonder how they took the photo?" When I discover how they did take the shots —via their contact sheets, a story, whatever— I appreciate it more sometimes. And also learning about their working style helps me learn how to take better photos myself. So personally I am not the type of person who always hides my working methods or anything like that. I want to be helpful and share what I can.

Well you've had experience with enough students by now you probably have a good sense of how people approach pictures. On the street at least.

Yeah, I would say that beginners in street photography generally approach photos more similarly than dissimilarly in the streets

What is similar?

Well the majority of the students who come to my workshops have a fear of shooting street photography and want to overcome it. So generally the problems I see with students is hesitation when taking photos. And when they take a photo, they only take 1 or maybe 2 shots. They don't stick around and work the scene enough. There is also the slightly deceiving notion of The Decisive Moment that is engrained in their head-- thinking that HCB only took 1 photo of the scene.

So that's something you focus on? Staying with the scene?

Yeah, definitely. I'll use the boxing analogy that Joel Meyerowitz uses. A boxer can't knock out his/her opponent with one punch. They need to move their feet, throw jabs, crosses, hooks. And generally need to throw a lot of punches before knocking out their opponent.

But based on studying Magnum Contact Sheets and many other photographers, I see no reason to only take one photo of a scene. Especially in street photography, where you might only see that scene once in your life.

Apparently Eggleston shoots only one photo of a scene — but he's working mostly with urban landscapes which aren't really moving.

I have mixed feelings about that. Sometimes it pays off to work a scene. But you also can't beat a dead horse. Either the photo is there or it isn't and no amount of waiting will change that. But you never know till later.

Yeah, I agree with you on that point — but I think especially that most photographers are shooting digitally, there is no downside to taking extra photos.

Even with film, I have seen so many great contact sheets where the photographer got the photo on the last shot. Like Kalvar's famous photo of the guy by the fountain with the thick glasses. He got it on his 37th (?) shot?

Richard Kalvar
I leave a lot open to chance. I figure if the photos Gods are gonna strike it's sort of beyond my control. So I generally keep moving and have faith that things will happen. Staying in one spot seems like trying to exert too much control. But that's me. Everyone has their own way.

You're right. I'm also generally a pretty impatient photographer too. But if I see a good scene, I'll aim to take at least 5-12 photos. Then I generally head out when people start looking annoyed. But at the end of the day, my strategy is to be the "houseguest who overstays his/her welcome". For me, I prefer to stick around the scene too long than too short. I mean an extra 30 seconds never hurts.
I used to look for interesting backgrounds, and wait an hour until the right person walked by, like HCB.

I think those photos generally look controlled. Most of HCB's photos are very controlled. Granted he was an amazing talent. But not everyone can do what he did in that style and have it look fresh.

I agree with you on that point. And for me, I love and really appreciate HCB's work, but I am more interested in looking at more contemporary and "fresh" street photography. I get quite bored of photos of people jumping over puddles or walking by interesting billboards. I'm not against 
cliché photos but they need to be 100% perfect to work well in my opinion.

Your workshop schedule is pretty intense. Not to mention the blog. Do you ever feel tired or burnt out?

Definitely, all the time.

All the time tired?

I was in Dubai a few weeks ago, and home for a week before heading off to Istanbul. The time zone difference between Dubai and Berkeley is 12 hours. I literally had the worst jet lag of my life. I had nausea, stomach pains, and headaches for a week straight. I could barely function. I often wish I could spend more time at home.

The only thing that keeps me going is the love of my girlfriend Cindy, tons of espresso, melatonin to sleep at night, the energy and enthusiasm of students, and a feeling of obligation I feel to the street photography community. 

Let's take those one at a time. Does Cindy travel with you?

Cindy is a full-time Ph.D. student at Berkeley right now, studying Vietnamese Colonial History. The wonderful thing is she gets quite long winter/summer breaks. So what we've been trying to do is have my workshop schedule fit her travel schedule. For example, she presented at a conference in Sweden -- so I ended up doing a workshop in Stockhom and London. This summer she's studying at the archives in Vietnam for around 2 months. And I planned some workshops around Asia, in Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Melbourne.

What does she think about your photography?

She's extremely supportive with my photography. And funny story— the reason she was first attracted to me in college was because I was passionate about photography! She is also a great editor of my work. She is quite brutal but very direct and honest. She also provides a valuable perspective, as an academic, and historian-- she sees it from a much more Holistic angle than I think just a traditional photographer. 

Is she understanding? I'm only asking because I think street photos seem sort of obscure and strange to most non-photographers. You're shooting strangers in public? Isn't that odd behavior?

Haha, you're right on that part. Of course I try not to shoot too much street photography when I'm out and about with her. It can be a bit awkward. 

What's awkward about it?

I don't think that Cindy minds me taking photos when I'm with her. But I feel a bit awkward and guilty for focusing on taking images when I'm with her rather than focusing my attention to her. But if I see a good scene, she tells me to go for it. 
Have you ever gone full bore street with Cindy nearby? Flashing a stranger in the face from two feet away? How did she react?
I have. If I see someone really interesting, I will go and take the photo with the flash from around 2-3 feet away. Generally I just look at the person I photographed, smile, and keep walking. Cindy then doesn’t really act like anything happened and we resume our conversation. Sometimes she will even critique how I took the photo by saying I should have taken it from a different angle, or crouched down more!
She was even with me waiting in line for food when I took the photo of the woman with red hair and a yellow shirt in Tucson. She told me to go take the photo, and she would order us a Gyro.

My wife doesn't really get what I do. But that's fine. It's my thing.

I really like your family photos though! They have the street photograph aesthetic — but are done of your family and kids, inside your home! What does your wife think about your family photos?

She likes them. I give her books each year with all the kid photos and she appreciates them. But there are certain ones, nudes mostly, which she doesn't want me to share publicly. So many of my best family photos are private. But as for family vs. street, I just shoot what's in front of me. It's all the same.

That is really inspiring. I hope when I have a family and kids I could follow in your footsteps for your family photos. I know a lot of street photographers who are frustrated because they have families and babies and can't go out to the streets much. But I think you show how you can really make some great photos regardless of your family situation.

Having kids definitely puts time demands on you. But it's a whole new world of activity too. I could never shoot playgrounds as easily before having kids. 

Do you photograph Cindy?

Yeah, I'm actually doing a long-term project. I just call it "The Cindy Project". We joke around about it a lot but I hope one day when we're 80 years old we can look back on our life together. Our struggles, hopes, aspirations, dreams, and tough times encapsulated in our images. I think it will be my most meaningful work.
If you think it will be your most meaningful work, why are you spending time on street photos? You should be shooting Cindy.
I feel that personally my most meaningful work will be photographing Cindy at the end of my life. And I photograph her a lot, nearly every day when I’m back home in Berkeley or traveling with her on the road.
However just because I think that might be one of the most meaningful projects doesn’t mean the other projects won’t be meaningful as well. 
Also I feel that the “Cindy Project” will be most personally meaningful to me—but I hope that my street photography will serve more in terms of a social purpose in terms of trying to make some sort of social commentary or critique.

Are they online?

Not online at the moment. Most of the photos of Cindy are snapshots.

And interestingly enough, they are almost all posed. I tell her to just look into the camera and smile. But I'm staring to realize the photos that aren't posed and that are candid are the most interesting.

But she's not doing that in the photo above.

So I think I need to stop telling her to pose and smile for the camera. Like the photo above is a photo I quite like— and it is of her passed out, being stressed and overworked as a graduate student.

I was looking through your site before this chat and another series that jumped out at me is your Grandfather series. They seem more personal than your more anonymous street work. And different. Maybe they are similar to the Cindy photos in a way.

Yeah, with my Grandfather series, it was my first stab at a real documentary project. And it was very personal too of course

I forgot where I was at the time but I got a call telling my grandfather just passed away. He lived to be 92 years old or so, a good and long life, so I wasn't too devastated that I heard the news. And I was really happy I gave him a call on New Year's, just a few months before he passed away.

What year was this? I'm just trying to put it in context of your other photos.

I believe this was early 2013. 

I would've guessed they were earlier photos.

How much earlier did you think?

I don't know. I just knew you shot B/W for a while before switching to color. So maybe it was a mental trick I was playing on myself.

I've been photographing since 2006, when I was 18 years old. The first 6 years were in black and white primarily and the last 2 years have been focused in color film. Yeah, so when this happened I was committed to shooting color film. But when I heard the news that he passed away, I booked my flight to Korea and thought I want to document my grandfather's funeral. And my relationship with my family.

I had 8 rolls of Neopan 400 which I got from my friend Hiroaki in Tokyo. And a Ricoh GR1v point-and-shoot. I thought because it was going to be an emotional series, it had to be done in black and white. So I brought my 8 rolls, pushed it to 1600, and knew that my project would be within those 8 rolls. I got to Korea, and pretty much tried to photograph anything that had personal or emotional significance for me.

Why does emotion need to be in B/W?

Emotion definitely doesn't need to be in black and white. But I think black and white generally tends to be a better medium for showing a more dramatic, somber, and dark tone than color. Also a sense of nostalgia. That is kind of the mood I wanted the project to be in. So before I left, I already made the decision it would all be done in black and white. I feel that a dreariness, sense of melancholy, is much more difficult and challenging to do in color, but certainly possible.

There is emotion in the series but they also seem rather distant. The pictures look to me like a photojournalist took them, not a close family relative. Do you agree?

I think I do agree with you to a large extent. 

Strangely enough I didn’t feel too sad or devastated when my grandfather passed away. I didn’t cry. But at the same time, I wanted to document his passing away, and document my family. So I think this is where the photojournalist aspect comes in.
I was never super close with my grandfather when he was alive. He had dozens of grandchildren, and lived in Korea most of his life. I grew up in the States, and visited him on average once a year during the summers.
I hoped that somehow photographing his funeral and my family members would bring me closer to him and the rest of my family. I think it ultimately did, and the process of photographing the funeral, developing the film, scanning them, editing them, and sequencing them helped me become metaphysically closer to him and my family. It made me reflect on life, the importance of family, and what kind of legacy I wanted to leave behind.

I want to go back a minute. You mention one of the things that keeps you going is a sense of obligation to the street community. Can you elaborate?

To give you a bit of personal background...I grew up on the lower socio-economic rung of the ladder.

My mom was more or less a single mom and worked around 3 part time jobs to keep the family afloat (waitressing, cleaning houses, other service jobs). We struggled a lot financially. We pretty much lived month-to-month. There were months when I thought we would be homeless

But growing up, I had so many amazing leaders and people I looked up to in my life. And also a ton of family, members of the community, and church helped my mother, family, myself, and sister get through hard times. My Boy Scoutmasters, my Korean-American community leaders, Sunday school teachers, tennis coach, family members were all people I admired

I was lucky enough not to go down the wrong path in my life. I had a lot of friends who fell victim to drugs, gangs, alcoholism, etc. But somehow I avoided most of that-- and did well in school, went to a good school (UCLA) and was quite successful in that regard. I never forget where I came from, and how much others have helped me get to where I am now.

So street photography is my passion-- and I feel some sort of ethical obligation to society and street photography community to give back. I try to fulfill this by interviewing other street photographers (who may or may not be as well known), writing articles, sharing tips, advice, my "secrets" , etc,  and building this sense of community. Others have given so much to me and I feel I need to dedicate my life to give back to the community and society. And I have found street photography to be the best platform to do that so far.

Street photography could also be seen as a very removed art form. It doesn't really address societal problems or give back. From a certain perspective.

You're definitely right— and it is one of my biggest critiques of street photography in general. It can be quite empty, shallow, and vacuous. I don't know what kind of societal purpose taking funny photos of random strangers serves. So I feel that the best street photographs are the ones that show some sort of deep emotion or insight on the human condition. And the ones that might have some sort of societal critique or commentary.

I've wondered a lot about that same issue. I think we are sort of like comedians or maybe political pundits. We aren't fully engaged, but we comment from the sidelines. We tell things about society, and (for me at least) help people see the absurdity of life. Did Sartre play a humanitarian role indirectly? Then maybe I can too. Maybe Sartre's a stretch but you get the idea.

Yeah you bring up a really good point. I read an article you did a while back In Defense of the One Liner. I think that if we dig deep enough, all street photos do serve some sort of social purpose. Even having photos that are humorous is important. Laugher is the best medicine.

Yeah, along with coffee.

And I also find that being very observant as a street photographer helps your viewers appreciate the mundane parts of our everyday life.

Your personal history is obviously very important to you. And very integral to your identity. Why doesn't it appear in any of your photographs?

Haha, obviously I’m not doing a good job then! What I’m ultimately trying to do with my photography is to create social commentary— to essentially be a sociologist with a camera. 

One of the long-term projects I’m currently working on is my Suits project. It basically is about my experiences working a corporate job, and how much sadness and misery it brought me. My corporate job made me much more materialistic, made me into a work-a-holic, and made me a lot less satisfied and happy in my life. I became much more jealous of others, and would always compare myself to others, how I wasn’t making as much money as them, how my position was lower than them, and how I had less influence.

About 3 years ago I lost my job in that corporate job, and now whenever I see other guys in suits I can feel their pain and misery. I see myself when I was working corporate and can empathize with the anxiety, frustration, and pain they feel. Even though I never wore a suit when going to work, I see the suit as a metaphor for being a corporate slave— a part of the rat-race.

Therefore the project is ultimately a self-portrait series, because it reflects the feelings I felt when I worked corporate. Of course that isn’t the experience everyone feels when working corporate, but it is how I felt. 

What would you be doing now if you weren't into street photography?

I think if it weren't for street photography, I would be a sociology professor. I studied sociology in college, and it has always been my #1 interest. In fact, street photography is simply an extension of sociology. I think that street photography is simply "applied sociology" — being in the streets and researching with a camera.

And if teaching street photography workshops in the future can no longer pay the bills, I will probably go back to school and try to pursue teaching sociology.

You generally organize articles on your blog in lists. 5 things so-and-so has taught me, etc. Why?

I like to write lists for several reasons. Let me list them as a list — ahaha.

1. I generally find it easier to read things in list form. When I am reading articles on the internet or even academic articles, having bullet points and numbers helps me stay focused, especially if the articles are long.

2. It helps me give structure to my writing. I'm not a very good writer— and I often have a hard time getting to the point. So I feel lists are a good way to distill knowledge and information.

3. People love lists, and they make for more interesting titles. I have personally found that writing lists perform better on Twitter and social media. People criticize me for creating lists for "link bait". But frankly speaking, if you don't have an interesting title nobody is going to bother reading your article. It is a lesson I learned from my journalism class.

So it is partly link bait. And partly organizational. But I also interpret it as a self-help manual. Like the cover of Cosmopolitan: 25 Ways to Ramp Up Your Sex Life. There's a strong strain of self-improvement theology running through your blog. Which is why I asked about your sense of obligation. It's almost like we're watching you on an examining table. How will he build himself this time?

Haha yes, it is partly a bit of both! And you touch an important thing-- I also am addicted to self-help books. I rarely read books on photographic theory. The majority of the books I read are self-help, psychology, sociology, cognitive science, philosophy. This is where I get all the ideas for my blog posts. I read around 100 books last year , on all these kind of topics.

What would a self-help manual prescribe for your photography? What do you want to change about it?

I feel one of the biggest flaws in my photography is that I often get too close to my subjects. Many of my photographs don’t have enough context in them, so I need to practice taking a step further back to show more of the scene.
Also when I am photographing in the streets, they are generally single-subject shots. While I prefer the simplicity of single-subject photographs, I want to start incorporating more subjects into my frame to create more drama, tension, and to show more emotions. 

I'm not the best photographer out there. I have a ton to learn myself. I would say I am hungry for knowledge. Hungry to consume more wisdom and information. I want to always improve myself and become the best I can out of my potential. I see a lot of holes in my photography and writing these articles are partly to help myself, and also other people.

That's the self-improvement urge again.

Haha yeah. But the problem is information/knowledge can't simply be prescription pills in little nuggets of list-forms. In-fact, what you decide NOT to do is more important than what you decide to do. Philosopher Nassim Taleb calls this "Via negative".

For example, deciding which photos not to show is more important than what photos to show. Or deciding what to keep out of the frame is more important than what to keep in the frame. So I am actually struggling with that. I want to be helpful and useful in the blog as much as possible. But I know I repeat myself a lot in these articles. So I've been trying to build upon them— not just tips, but my analyses of how a photographer might have thought when taking a certain photo. 
For example in a recent post on Vivian Maier, I examined her contact sheets. And provided some commentary on her working style. I also try to provide more history and context to a photographer. Ultimately I want the blog to focus more on the art history side of things. But I don't have an art-history background, which makes this very difficult.

I watched your recent interview with Justin Vogel. You asked him how he deals with all the haters and critics, and I think he has plenty. I know you have critics too. How do you respond to them? You have more than most people I think. 

I have a lot of thoughts on critics and getting negative feedback. Let's see where do I start. Recently I wrote on my blog about this concept of an "inner scorecard". The idea of an "inner scorecard" is that you follow your own set of principles, ethics, and morals and disregard what others think. So whenever I am about to write an article I think to myself: "Is this going to be helpful to other people? Is it going to add value to their lives? Do I feel ethically comfortable writing this, or doing this, or sharing this?"

If my internal checklist is okay with it I go for it. But at the same time, I always have a bit of fear before I publish an article. I always second-doubt myself. I ask myself: "What will other people think of it? Will they criticize me? How will they criticize me? What if they think I'm an idiot?"
You're consciously regarding what others think. That seems like the opposite of an "inner scorecard". 
I struggle a lot with this personally, and I contradict myself all the time. I am constantly fighting this battle: between pleasing myself and pleasing my audience.
But the way I ultimately see it— by creating something that I find intrinsically valuable and helpful (which I think will ultimately help others) I follow my “inner scorecard.” If even one person finds value in what I do, it is worth it to me.

Why does it always have to be helpful? If every post starts from that premise I think your blog becomes just another self-help manual. Which is fine. But maybe other stuff could be incorporated too.

I think this goes back to the sociologist in me and my set of living virtues. I don't live for myself. I ultimately live for other people. I think the reason I was put on this Earth was to serve other people. So if it isn't helpful or builds value to others I have a hard time justifying doing something.

I sense that in you but I think you should maybe worry less about that. It's fine to be selfish sometimes. Not all the time. But give yourself some space.

Yeah you're right. I'm kind of a work-a-holic, and I've forced myself to rest a bit at night. But the way I justify resting more is that it will help me be more productive in the long term -- haha.

Other sites like LPV Magazine and Burn Magazine are much better at featuring talented new work and that is their skill and focus.

I think LPV is dead actually.

Hmmm— I thought Bryan still updated the site though? Or at least I know he does LPV show with interviews. I know the print edition is dead.

Not for a while now.

I feel that if I try to do too many things with the blog, I will spread myself too thin. I think ultimately my passion and vision is in education and building this sense of community.  I want education to be the focus. My life is short, and there is only so much I can focus on.

Do you want to be liked? Or does it matter?

One of my problem is that I hate upsetting other people. I (unrealistically) want everybody to like me. 

The Clinton curse.

Haha yeah, and Clinton was one of my favorite presidents! When people don't like me I wonder what I did to upset or offend them. I feel really guilty about it actually. But I know that at the end of the day, I can't please everybody. "To please everybody is to please nobody" -- I think Publilius Syrus said that thousands of years ago. 

Sounds like something in a self-help manual. But haven't you ever really pissed someone off by shooting a photo of them?

Haha that is the ironic thing— I don't like upsetting people but I often upset people by taking photos of them.

A street photographer who wants to be liked won't get far.

I rarely upset people when taking their photo, maybe 1 person in 100. I think the way I justify myself in street photography is that I don't do it to piss off or annoy people. And if I do happen to upset someone, it is a regrettable side-effect but not something I intended to do. When I do upset people in the streets, I do feel bad about it though. But I generally apologize and quickly move on.

I get that feeling sometimes looking at contact sheets. I'll see a frame where someone is angry or frowning at me. And it makes me uncomfortable to look at, even months after the shot. The feeling of being there is still with the image. That's how you know you have a powerful photo.

That is so interesting. Because I really hate upsetting people in general, but when it comes to photography if I upset people, it doesn't bother me as much. 
Are you quite aggressive when you shoot? I know you get close and fill the frame, but you seem like a photographer who is more candid and unseen.

I am not usually aggressive. It depends on the mood and the scene but usually I'm discreet.

I think the problem is when I upset people in real life, I can see their face. I can see their emotion, and get a sense how they feel, whereas with the internet it is all anonymous. I never know if I'm being trolled, or if people are genuinely upset. People on the internet don't use their real identities. They use fake names so I have no idea how these people look, where they are from, or if they are joking or being serious. I think that is one of the huge injustices of criticism on the internet— when you have no idea who it is coming from.

I suspect this interview may drag some anonymous critics out of the woodwork.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chain Mail

The third person to request the photo above via email receives an 11 x 14 fiber print in the mail.  (4/26: Sorry, no longer available) 

This is sort of similar to past freebies with one small caveat. After you receive this photo, please give one of your own photographs away to someone else. It can be a friend or a stranger. It doesn't matter. If you're not a photographer, make something else and give it away. When you make your gift, pass on the same instructions to the receiver...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Not Impartial

Here are a few recent photos sent over by Richard Kalvar:

Aren't they nice? Doesn't Paris look positively dashing? By the way, he's teaching this workshop there. You might have heard about it. Yeah, I know, I know. You've heard about it. You're sick of hearing about it. And I'm sick of promoting it. But the truth is it's approaching crunch time and we need a few more students to make it happen. So this is another shameless plug, probably the last one in fact.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not just an impartial observer. I have a vested interest in actually going to Paris. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment and consider the possibilities. Possibility one is to stay in Eugene that weekend and do my normal routine. Watch my kids play soccer, clean up the basement, whatever. Possibility two is to fly to fucking Paris. Think about that for a minute. Think about you flying there too. When seen from that perspective, I think you'll excuse me for laying it on rather thick.

OK, that's enough promo for this year. I feel like I need to take a shower now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Another random photo pairing found recently. This one was strange because I came across these two within five minutes of one another on separate sites browsing haphazardly. I think it shows that...Actually I'm not sure what it shows. Just that there are a hell of a lot of photos floating around online. Odds are that some will cover similar territory. Yup.

Raymond Depardon, Italy, 1980

Christophe Agou, from Under A Cloud, 2001?