Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SEO Tips

As one of the premier bloggers in the central valley of lower western Oregon, I'm often asked about my success building audience and generating pageviews. In the past eight years I've gone from the early days of just one or two pageviews daily to becoming relatively popular. Often I need both hands now to count all the pageviews, assuming one of my hands isn't busy doing something else. And assuming my hands are clean. Sometimes I run out of fingers entirely.     

Naturally many people are curious about my empire."How do you do it?" they ask. I usually just shrug as if to say, Aw, shucks. It ain't nothing. 

But the thing about the internet is, people can't see you shrug. More importantly, it's not true that building audience ain't nothing. It's something! My success is no accident. It's come about gradually through diligence and long term strategic thinking. And I've been taking notes along the way. What follows are some tips for other bloggers looking to build audience share. Weight Loss.

Lesson number one is that most people will find you through search engines. These days that's usually Google, so you need to structure your blog to appear in Google's results. That's the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) game, and there are many different approaches. I use a few strategies. 

First, before analyzing search results, it helps to know what people are looking for. As of this writing the ten most common phrases entered into Google Search are (in descending order): Beer, Puppies, Oprah, Pizza Delivery, UFO, Justin Bieber, Maracanazo, Weight Loss, Malaysian Airlines, and Mail Order Brides. No matter what I write I make an effort to include at least one of those phrases in every post. Often I include several, if I feel I can safely do so without detracting from my message. I suggest you do the same. 

Note that this list will shift over time. You should check in every few weeks to see what's current, and adjust your keywords accordingly. Three weeks ago Mail Order Brides was down near 30 on the list. But that was before the recent turmoil in Yemen. I'm just saying, things can change quickly. That's lesson one. 

Lesson two, never insult your reader's intelligence. Don't write down to them. Don't write up to them. Presume their outlook and experience is similar to yours. You might think of them as a friend in the next room. And even though that room is separated by 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable, you're still BFF roomies, right? But this roomie comes with a bonus plan. Because unlike a person in the next room, this roomie can be a pageview too. That's two roomies with one stone. The takehome lesson is, Treasure your readers and they will love you back.

Another method of SEO is through creative misspellings. Damn, people are idiots sometimes. You wouldn't believe the shit they type. Words like Gougle, Facfbook, Tumbler, Flicker, Camra, and Photgraphy turn up all the time in Google Search. The untrained observer might dismiss these as harmless accidents. But for a blogger leveraging exposure these typos are solid gold. Not only are they commonly entered into search engines, there are very few other blogs likely to use these words. This means that if your posts contain them, searchers will be directed to you! They will often be new readers and potential acolytes. Unconverted browsers! It's like Manna from Google heaven. So I make an effort to include a few misspellings in evry pst. 

That's all fine, but SEO manipulation can only get you so far. I gotta be honest. When it comes to attracting viewers the alltime champion is still pussy. Nothing rakes in eyeballs like a naked vagina.

So I try to include at least one of those in every post. UFO. Every time I add a photo like this the pageviews jump 30%, no kidding. If you want to be artsy about it you can show a more sedate version. 

Lee Friedlander
Use whatever style you want. Go with your gut. The choice is yours. Just remember the bottom line: Sex = Readers.

But pussy isn't enough. I've been at this long enough to realize that about half my readership isn't attracted to that. They want cock instead. Give the people what they want!

In every post I try to show at least one cock. If I'm including a vagina also in the post I always put a few paragraphs between the two. Just so they're not right on top of each other. Just remember, the reader is king. You've got to listen to them, then respond to their needs. You're not the boss. They are. A lot of them have been stuck in a dark room with a computer for hours. If they are hungry for flesh, it's not your place to question that. Your place is to serve the best photoblog possible.

The artsy method mentioned above applies equally to cock. No need to go fullbore mushroom cloud. Use a restrained photograph if that's what you prefer. In fact I find that a well composed portrait of a stiff cock in black and white can give a post a real touch of class. 

Peter Hujar
I know what you're thinking. This is supposed to be a blog about photography, right? Not sex parts. Relax. Pizza Delivery. The genitalia is just a tool to bring in readers. They come for the pussy but they stay for the writing. That's the idea anyway. 

Hey, I'm down here now. You can stop scrolling up.

One way to gradually transition people from sex into the photo essay you really want them to read is to add a camera to the money shot. For my blog, I find that most readers respond well to old Leica cameras. So that's generally the juxtaposition I go for. I place the camera strategically in the photo. There's an art to the placement so play around and see what works. Ultimately your choice will depend on your specific needs and readership.

If you've been paying close attention, you might be inclined to take the next step and add a Leica to a cock photo. Please don't! I've tried it and I can tell you it doesn't work. It's way too phallic, at least for my readers.

This may be a good time to address the issue of Not Safe For Work (NSFW) images. After all, a blog post full of porn could get someone in trouble if read under the wrong circumstances. What if a big cock appears on your screen without warning, right in front of the boss? Unless you work in a condom factory that's a potential problem. Even a Lee Friedlander nude might not fly if your coworkers are total prudes. 

I have a simple answer to this: Fuck those readers. Why is someone reading your blog at work? Shouldn't they be working? If you are reading this you are not working. You are looking at a Leica straddled by a nude model. So close the page and read it later. Malaysian Airlines. I'm shrugging right now but you can't see it. 

I try to foster this behavior with the timing of my posts. Most of them are written in the early morning hours, just after I've gotten home from nightly rounds checking in with my dealers. That's when I can finally relax, pop some M, and blog. By the time the posts go live it's generally 3 or 4 am. Who is working then? That timing is no accident. It's by plan. It's all for the benefit of the reader (not) at work.

If a reader insists on browsing at work, there are suitable places. They can take a laptop into a bathroom stall or a closet, or view it on a small phone only visible to them. Oprah. They can take a few coworkers into that closet. Whatever. The point is, there are options. But don't let the onus to decipher them fall on you. Let it fall on the reader. 

All of which leads us to the primary reason to analyze readership: Target Audience Delineation. You've got all these people visiting your site. But most of them are innocent photo buffs, and most photo buffs are poor tightwads. There's no money. How are you going to separate them from the drugs and weapons dealers that you really want to reach? 

That's the central question, but it goes beyond that. Dealers might find your blog but how do they know you're a legit wholesaler? How do you they know you're for real and not just acting like a photoblogger who sells weapons on the side? Maracanazo. Blogger my ass! This is why I always establish a keyword ahead of time. Make sure everyone agrees on the word and there is no confusion. Maracanazo! Maracanazo! Then the order of events pretty well takes care of itself. The dealer enters your keyword into a search engine. Google returns your site in the results. The dealer goes to your page, then uses the pre-arranged decoder algorithm to verify your identity and locate the drop site. You arrange the timing and payment terms. The contraband is delivered. You pick it up, then spend the rest of the night blogging. Voila! That's Target Audience Delineation in a nutshell. Maracanazo.

What's your key word? What's the secret digital handshake? Do I need to do everything for you? You and I know it's just a front for discussing photos. Puppies. Why can't we leave it at that and move on? 

I know what you're thinking. With the use of weapons and porn, isn't there a risk of scaring some readers away? What if they don't care for those subjects? What if they just want to read about photography? Trust me, if you haven't scared them away by now they're in it for the long haul. Beer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mark Alor Powell: What Was He Thinking?

Mark Alor Powell is a photographer based in Mexico City. 

This was taken at the Jardín Ramon Lopez Velarde Park in Mexico City. There are a lot of civic projects from the past to promote exercise. A lot have fallen to the wayside but sometimes you see a determined person making the best of what is available. I saw this guy using a log to do some bench presses and simply waited for his down stroke to shoot (he was aware of my presence, but continued to focus on his exercise). I consciously did not want to see his face in the shot. I talked to him afterwards and he told me he was a male nurse and a physical therapist in a hospital nearby for people recovering from heart surgery. I noticed a few days afterwards passing through the park that this same log was left nearby leaning against a tree for the people to reuse.   

I approached and started to chat with some Norteño musicians in the part of Mexico City known as Iztapalapa. They had been drinking and told me they were waiting for the next round or for some new clients to pick them up for a party. It wasn't real clear, but it seems musicians have their spots, their territories to wait for potential customers —it is almost pimp-like. In any case, another musician walked over and exchanged a few words and there was a shove and I got my camera ready and then a punch which I blindly shot without looking through my viewfinder and shot from my chest. It wasn't until later after I left them that I looked into my camera and saw I got something interesting.  

I saw this guy at a pay phone and he had probably just got some dry cleaning done. I simply stooped down a little as he propped his shirt outside the phone box. I have noticed photographing people as they talk on phones is always a vulnerable (advantageous) time. People seem to let you photograph because they have no way to explain it to the person on the other side and prefer not to stop their own conversation. 

This is an outtake from a fashion shoot I was doing in Mexico City at the Casa Barragan. The model name is Sofia de Lara, famously known for her American Apparel work. I have had the opportunity to photograph her off and on over the years and it is interesting each time. My camera was pointing directly into the sun (underexposing).  It made a great lens flare. Interestingly my client passed this shot for more obvious shots, yet it was my easy favorite on that day of shooting. Often times it is hard to work in fashion because the expectations seem to work against the grain of what you see and want. Though I think it is best to not give in to these expectations and take risks because the photography will always be fresh and better. I have had to learn this lesson many times. 

I was hanging out in Iztapalapa, El Faro del Oriente art school and this dog (xoloitzcuintlewas sunning himself in the late morning winter Mexico City sun. There are quite a few sculptures from the previous year Day of the Dead celebration discarded throughout the campus and as I approached the dog to get a shot the dog got nervous and jumped off —I took a quick shot from my chest and turned it into something better than what I expected. 

I was in Monterrey, Mexico. This city seems to be on its nerves from the recent narco-drug violence and insecurities within the city limits. I was photographing a scene in front of a civic building and I could tell this security card was getting nervous with my presence. I often wear a camouflage hat (my lucky hat) while I photograph in the street. I thought maybe he thought I was from Los Zetas (a well armed narco faction in Mexico) or something.  He was covering his eyes to shade his eyes from the sun and I approached him to ease his mind and told him I was photographing the traffic signals because they were fascinating and old looking. Then I noticed he had two thumbs. I told him his thumbs were amazing and told him that in some cultures in the past he would be considered a god. Please please let me take a picture. As I told him to stand still and I lifted my camera and he naturally placed his hand on his chest. I took two shots and thanked him profusely and we gave each other a high five/six.   

For a long time I would see these twin sister ladies in my neighborhood and I was fascinated with them, but I was always a little hesitant about approaching them to photograph. I didn't want something Kubrick or Arbus like, but really just enjoyed seeing them every time. They always walked together, dressed the same and lived together in an apartment near my apartment in La Juarez. One day I was sitting in the La Glorieta de Insurgentes in La Zona Rosa (where they filmed a scene from Total Recall, the part where Arnold Schwarzenegger meets the robot taxi driver in a chase scene) with my wife and she says to me "Look at them!" I suddenly found myself jumping to my feet following them from behind taking a few shots. I jumped on a cement bench and lifted my camera to my face —at this same moment they paused, I don't know why, to look at the sculpture (it is the bust of the founder of the subway in Mexico City).  It was one of those moments when you feel that the world nerve point is neither here nor there, no cause or effect exists and everything fits together just because. At first I thought the shot was imperfect because I could not see clearly see both twins, but then it really grew on me. 

I was on a editorial assignment photographing the artist Francis Alys in Mexico City at his studio in the historic downtown (El Centro).  I am a big fan of his work, so I was excited to meet him and see where he actually works. The writer went to sit Francis down for an interview and I was left free to wander his studio. Before he left, he told me to not photograph any of his art pieces or work in his workshop, but I was free to wander. I actually was not at all interested what he was working on but wanted to see behind the scenes  I started noticed that even his personal and day to day objects were like displays in themselves, mini refections, stills and contemplative scenes —all seemed to have purpose, even the places where dust was not cleaned seemed to be left undusted for a reason.  I thought that there was really no division between what was work and not work in this space. All was in a process of exercise, expression or contemplation. It was like a purposeful creative OCD. I wandered in his bedroom and found his pants on the bed. I took a picture and it felt like I found a little performance.  

I was photographing in the park in Aragon, Mexico City and there was this area inside the park where an old railroad bridge stretches across a lake full of green algae. I started to hear these slapping sounds and noticed a man crossing the bridge from underneath. After I took a couple photographs, he quickly disappeared in the tree brush on the other side down a narrow path. I asked a hot dog vendor near the bridge if he saw it and he told me that this guy does this several times a week without fanfare, he lives in the neighborhood on the other side of the park and this is probably just a shortcut. The bridge is old and the tiles are broken on top, so this guy just practically crawls underneath. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carving the rubble

Garry Winogrand,
Showing at the Met,
June 27th - Sept. 21, 2014
There’s an old joke that sculpture is easy. To make a statue of something complicated —say a violin— just take a block of marble and remove everything that’s not a violin.* Simple, right?

I think the same premise could apply to Winogrand’s legacy. Finding his good photographs is easy. Just remove all the thousands of shots that fell short and Voila. A violin! 

Simple, right? No, not exactly. As with sculpture the crux is in the gleaning. That chore was tough enough in his lifetime, with his (sometimes grudging —culling was not his calling) input. Now that he’s dead it’s quite a challenge. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. His massive oeuvre has been carved up in all sorts of ways. Maybe the result can garry a tune. Maybe not. One thing you can count on: there will be strings attached. 

The most recent effort is Leo Rubinfein's Winogrand exhibition and book. Rubinfein knew a blank hunk of marble when he saw one. "There exists in photography no other body of work comparable in size or quality that is so editorially unresolved," he wrote before sifting through it carefully frame by frame. I blogged briefly about the results last year when they premiered premiered at SFMoMA, with links to some of the hoopla generated at the time. Now the show has moved on to the Met and generated a fresh round of reactions, with reviews in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, Design Arts Daily, Vice, Hyperallergic, The Daily Beast, Vanity Fair, Feature Shoot, and probably other places too. It's spurred concurrent shows. Even Winogrand's old nemesis A.D. Coleman has been inspired to join the fray, though not exactly inspired to rethink his 1980s review.

Why all the attention? Most of Winogrand's best photos would bore the crap out of people if they were shown as singles without his name attached. Yet the press fawns. What gives? Why does Vanity Fair alla sudden care? 

Beyond the obvious cause and effect —many media outlets received a press release from the Met in June and knee-jerk reacted soon after, and because the photos are finally in New York!— one reason Winogrand entices is that his photos don't explain themselves very well. "Nothing is as mysterious as a fact clearly described," he described them, somewhat mysteriously. The only certainty is that his images visually record the subjects captured within the frame. What are they about beyond that? Who knows? The answer probably varies depending on who's asking. 

One trend in recent reviews —and I think the wrong one— is to cast Winogrand as social pundit. "Garry Winogrand," writes Justin Jones, "... captur[ed] the monumental era of rapid social change and economic prosperity post-World War II climate while documenting the traumatic assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the violent reactions to an impending Vietnam War." Jonathan Jones writes, "Perhaps more than any other photographer he documented the hopes as well as the hysteria of 1960s America." For Holland Cotter, "the Met show is engrossing, especially, I would guess, for anyone who had an experience of the world that Winogrand moved in, cared about and recorded with a fanatical vigor. And that world, early, and really always, was middle-class life in New York City." In other words he was like Gene Smith. But artsier, with tilted horizons. 

I think this is Rubinfein's view, and he's organized the show accordingly. From Down From the Bronx to A Student of America to Boom and Bust, the curatorial emphasis is on post-war history. And from a certain angle even Winogrand seems to support this view. One of his quotes, cherry picked into the Met's press page: "You could say that I am a student of photography, and I am; but really I'm a student of America." One can hardly blame the press for adopting Rubinfein's perspective. Not only are they seeing the show through his point of view, they're press. Being socially concerned is their job.

Then again Winogrand said a lot of things. It doesn't take much digging before his quotes begin to contradict one another. He also said "Photography is not about the thing photographed. It's about how that thing looks photographed." and "Photographs have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface." So you could cherry-pick those quotes and come to conclusion he didn't care much about society. 

If it's confusing I think a lot of the obfuscation was deliberate. Winogrand enjoyed ambiguity. He cast off zen aphorisms like dead skin, geared more at the mountainside cave than critical analysis. "Every photograph is a battle of form versus content," sounds more like Ram Dass than Henry Horenstein. By plan. Winogrand put the photos out there, sprinkled some quotes near them, and then it was up to the viewer. 

In my opinion Winogrand was concerned mostly with photographs for the sake of photographs. New York and the post-war boom may have appeared in his images but only as an artifact of circumstance, because it's where and when he lived. If he'd lived in 1930s Japan or 1980s Argentina his photos would've shown those worlds instead, but they wouldn't necessarily comment on those societies. They'd be more about the never-ending puzzle of squeezing the world into a four-sided frame. "I really try to divorce myself from any thought of possible use of this stuff," he said. "That's part of the disclipline. My only purpose when I'm working is to try to make interesting photographs, and what to do with them is another act - a consideration. Certainly when I'm working I want them to be as useless as possible." In other words, shoot first ask questions later. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm trying to squeeze him into a box of my making. But that's how I see his photos. 

Carl Gunhouse sympathizes with this view: "Not like other art types of the early to mid 60's Wingorand was looking to find a place for himself artistically and first and foremost the work is about him and his general emotional state which tends to be bleak and nihilistic. Now for the run of his good work mid 60's-early 70's making bleak and nihilistic work in America featuring the strangers as your actors, you can make a case for a general commentary on the state of things. But I would argue his importance was pushing art photography more directly into the personal expression instead of being a formalist endeavor or about a greater social themes."

So some viewers cast Winogrand as socially concerned. Some don't. Fine. Perhaps the major factor in how you view his work is if you've tried to do that sort of thing yourself. If you've walked around with a camera looking for photos that stand on their own you realize it's damn hard. To come up with as many as he did might seem impossible actually. On the other hand, if your main experience of photography comes to you in digested visual chunks through media outlets or displayed on a wall, you might think of photographs in a different way. They might tell you the daily news. And if you're a photo critic sitting at a desk most of the day, who knows what you'll make of them.

That might describe the difference between Paul Graham's reaction and A.D. Coleman's. Graham has been shooting photographs for many years, and his late colleague's skill excites him: "It's awe-inspiring to me, that ability to marshal the world and the flow of life into those few little, extraordinarily powerful moments. We all recognize the Amazonian river of life flowing post us continually, and we usually find a quiet little corner to contemplate in. Winogrand was someone who said, 'Give me the rapids,' and he swam across them many times."

Meanwhile, far from the Amazonian river of life, A.D. Coleman has a different reaction. Um, scratch that. Actually he has no reaction at all because he stubbornly refuses to see the nearby show, but proudly clings to his 26-year old dismissal: "Winogrand’s main usefulness to the medium will be seen to have been his willingness to go down this dead-end path and explore it to the bitter end — so that no one needs to pass that way again." 

Sorry, Mr. Coleman. We're passing Winogrand's way again, and probably not for the last time. That block of marble is pretty sure to be carved up again by someone in the future. I'm not sure what they'll find. Probably a lot of photos that look pretty boring, and maybe a few new nuggets. People will argue about which is which. Maybe we'll see Winogrand's photos on soft drink containers or rephotographed in street view or in yet another book or collaged into a snapchat feed. I suspect he'd be happy to see them used in all sorts of ways. He's probably sitting up there right now enjoying the spectacle of people still trying to understand him. And wishing he had a camera.

"For me," wrote Winogrand, "the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film...if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better." Then again, he said a lot of shit.

*I'm remembering the example as a violin but it could have been some other object.  I can't find the joke online so for the sake of this post I'm sticking with my hazy memory and violin.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Do's

(Excerpted from Charles Traub's Maxims from the Chair)

-Do something old in a new way
-Do something new in an old way
-Do something new in a new way, Whatever works . . . works
-Do it sharp, if you can’t, call it art
-Do it in the computer—if it can be done there
-Do fifty of them—you will definitely get a show
-Do it big, if you can’t do it big, do it red
-If all else fails turn it upside down, if it looks good it might work
-Do Bend your knees
-If you don’t know what to do, look up or down —but continue looking
-Do celebrities—if you do a lot of them, you’ll get a book
-Connect with others—network
-Edit it yourself
-Design it yourself
-Publish it yourself
-Edit, When in doubt shoot more
-Edit again
-Read Darwin, Marx, Joyce, Freud, Einstein, Benjamin, McLuhan, and Barth
-See Citizen Kane ten times
-Look at everything—stare
-Construct your images from the edge inward
-If it’s the “real world,” do it in color
-If it can be done digitally—do it
-Be self-centered, self-involved, and generally entitled and always pushing—and damned to hell for doing it
-Break all rules, except the chairman’s

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ours In the Summer Sun

I was as stunned as anyone by Germany’s dismantling of Brazil yesterday. One lesson for photographers was the methodical calm of German attackers near the opponent's goal. When Miroslav Klose's first shot was rejected (23’) it was no problem. He coolly reloaded and stuffed the rebound in the corner. The Toni Kroos goal at 26’ was just as casual, a simple jab to the back of the net. When André Schürrle put in his first at 69’ he barely broke a sweat. Around the net the Germans acted as if they were at midfield. They passed impassively. No pressure. No worries. Goal... Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal.

A Brazilian fan contemplates future expectations (Photo: AFP/Patrik Stollarz)

Brazil’s behavior was just the opposite. Throughout the game they had several good scoring chances. In the end they actually wound up with more shots on goal than Germany. They also had more corner kicks and more time of possession. But near goal they played in panic mode. Every shot (except Oscar’s last) seemed rushed and poorly positioned. You could almost read their thoughts in the penalty area: “I’m near the goal now! Gotta shoot quick! Hope something good happens!” The results spoke for themselves.

Expectation infects experience. Every single time.

It's no great leap sideways to extend this situation to the photo world. Good photo ops are like free balls near the goal. They're relatively rare. You might go a whole day seeing just one or two. So naturally when they come along there’s a tendency to get excited and treat them as special. The adrenaline floods. Thoughts whir. You’re near the photo! Gotta strike hard! Burst mode! Spray and pray! 

Needless to say that's almost always the wrong approach. Better to relax and shoot methodically. You’re at midfield. Nothing is at stake. So just calm down and execute.

Easier said than done. Even though I've committed the above lessons to memory, sometimes in live action situations a good photo op will cause me to just fucking freak out. My brain says calm but my gut says flies-on-meat, and it often wins. I turn into a spazz like Brazil. The photos suffer.

I realize this tendency in myself, so on recent photo outings I've been balancing my freak flag with a handful of tiggercorns in my pants. I usually carry eight, four in each pocket, and I'm pleased to say they've worked better than I'd hoped. I've found that the red tipped ones work best but that's just personal preference. Yellow or orange might work just as well for others. Shop around until you find your tiggercorn.

One day's supply of tiggercorns

When a good photo opportunity presents itself, instead of rushing into the scene I stay back, calmly fingering a red-tipped tiggercorn. I stroke it for a few seconds. Patience. I watch. I feel. When the moment is ripe I pull the tiggercorn from my pocket and I chuck it into the woods, shouting "GOOOOOAAAAL!" 

I do this as many times as it takes until I'm at mental midfield. I'm soaring over the camera's rainforest. No worries. No pressure. Then and only then do I shoot the photo. 

Yeah, soccer is a strange game.