Why We Love Bad Photography

- - Working

Expanding on a story in Salon entitled “Why We Love Bad Writing,” by Laura Miller, the blog 1/125 applies the same logic to photography and asks why people prefer Chase Jarvis over Alec Soth. For literature it comes down to this nugget written by C.S. Lewis in “An Experiment in Criticism”:

a reader, who is interested solely in the consumption of plot, favors the hackneyed phrase over the original… because it is immediately recognizable. ‘My blood ran cold’ is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn’t want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.

If it requires more effort to consume, many will not bother with it. Think about a story crammed with words you don’t recognize. Taking the time to look those words up in a dictionary adds considerable effort. And, if you consider spending your free time developing your taste for finely crafted prose, you really need to be committed on another level to make that kind of investment. The same applies to photography. Developing your taste is no different than appreciating great literature, food or wine. You need to experience and study it to gain understanding.

What troubles Nick Shere of the 1/125 blog is that with “photography, the situation is somewhat more dire, because it is much, much harder for viewers to move freely between the “unliterary” photographic realm and the “literary” photographic realm. There is hardly any middle ground between them, the way there is with books. Instead of a middle ground, there is a chasm with hardly any bridges across it.”

It’s a great thought because there’s a lot that can be done to create bridges across the chasm and I wanted to point this out to photo editors, because I’ve been in those arguments about photography with editors where factual trumps sophisticated, but I’ve never thought to turn it on them with a literary example. The two articles I’ve linked provide plenty of ammo to do that. I’ve always believed the only way to engage readers is to challenge them. High dollar advertising will always prefer engaged readers over hits. Nick goes on to say:

To provide opportunities for everyday people to expand and improve their photographic tastes without making them feel like they are being sold something they have no use for at a price they do not wish to pay is one of the more important frontiers in photography at the moment, and one which few people are homesteading.

There’s plenty online dedicated to clichés, hopefully more people seize the opportunity to make more bridges.

Thx Santosh for the tip.

PS- My favorite sites for expanding my knowledge: Conscientious, BAG, B, AD Coleman, David Campbell, Notes on Politics, theory & Photography, DLK Collection, and the many photographers who occasionally write about their work.

Fashion photographs made by Philip-Lorca diCorcia over the past decade for W magazine

- - Blog News

I assumed they would be the normal kind of sell-out we often see, where commerce trumps art and the results are less than inspiring. In a photographic year that has so far been generally unremarkable, I am happy to report that these pictures entirely undermined my expectations. I think this is the first photography show of the year that is truly worth a special trip to see, if only because it so consistently defies the standard fashion photography framework.

via DLK COLLECTION

Photography Is Still In Its Infancy And Some Doors Still Need Kicking In

- - Art

Matt Henry, a UK based photographer wrote today’s post.

There’s an interesting précis here of photographer Paul Graham’s lecture at the first MoMA Photography Forum which took place this week. I’m gonna précis a précis here by saying that he was claiming that the art world doesn’t take photography that isn’t somehow representing art in the traditional sense at all seriously. So unless you make sets out of paper and photograph them, like Thomas Demand, dress yourself up in all sorts of elaborate costumes and take self-portraits, like Cindy Sherman, or recreate scenes that you’ve spotted out and about a la Jeff Wall, you ain’t getting written about in any high brow art journals, or splashed about the right gallery walls.

His argument was that the process of snapping ones surroundings in an instinctive fashion like William Eggleston, Gary Winogrand, Walker Evans, or Stephen Shore isn’t understood by an art world obsessed with due thought and process; unless you’ve been slumped in a chair thinking about it for at least five minutes, it somehow doesn’t count. But then he goes on to say that the ‘straight’ photography of these old guys is finally getting its recognition, and it’s more the modern straight photographers that aren’t getting their credit. Perhaps he has a few friends then frustrated that their own recognition doesn’t rival his.

But ‘straight’ photography gets more than its fair share of due; Alec Soth is the rising star of the moment after all, and there are countless others like him. Thanks to the brilliance of Eggleston and pals, most of the language of photography is couched largely in these ‘straight’ terms; if it’s not found, and it’s not real, it’s not worthy of gallery walls (unless of course it’s more recorded sculpture, in the Demand or the Sherman sense). And this is why every other photograph seems to be of an empty car park, a left-over meal in a diner, a suburban home, or an aerial shot of beach goers. Even Jeff Wall’s narratives are often recreations of real events, which is probably what made them palatable to the art world in the first instance.

Which makes me think photography as a medium is still in its infancy and some rotten doors need kicking in. Sure the documentary is a big part of cinema, but most people choose narrative fiction as means of communicating those same themes that artists touch upon; themes that we all need to explore as human beings: life, love, loss, purpose, faith, hope, friendship, ambition, desire, duty…. Yet few have used this medium in any meaningful sense in photography, mostly because those that do are allied to the commercial sector, which in many (though not all) cases is liable to dilute self-expression. Fashion photography is the one genre that openly embraces narrative, yet it’s reliance on great looking people in great looking clothes kind of guarantees a general vacuity. Aside from Crewdson, who doesn’t personally appeal, all my coffee table books are dedicated to ‘straight’ photography. I would very much like a few that explored the world through fiction.

Copywriters Have Never Heard Of Copyright… Ironically

- - copyright

Webcopyplus a Vancouver based website copywriting firm recently discovered that, yes, “works no longer need a copyright notice to have copyright protection.” The Canadian outfit specializes in writing website copy that will score high on organic search results. Apparently they also use the internet as a stock resource to drop generic images onto their customers sites, since you know, photographs are merely decoration to their faustian search term acrobatics.

Anyway, a vigilant photographer caught them using one of his images and had his lawyer send a Cease and desist to their client. The letter demanded that they:

1.    Immediately cease and desist all unlicensed uses of the image, and delete all copies from computers and digital storage devices.
2.    Remit almost $4,000 to his trust account.

I’ll let you read the entire story (here) but the kicker on the whole thing is that the photographer had registered the image with the U.S. Copyright Office and the copywriters were “able to confirm the image was copyright registered and the lawyer’s client was the rightful owner.” So they “opted to settle for $4,000.”

Smart.

The judges reflect on the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper Entries

- - Photojournalism

Amid all our positive observations, we became concerned about the state of photojournalism in the pages we saw. We missed emotional photographs. Glossy magazines and newsprint pages with vast, luxurious expanses of space were largely devoid of powerful photojournalism.

The lack of strong, documentary images puzzled us. We wondered if this has something to do with reduced investment. The industry has lost so many positions for picture editors and others, and yet great photographs can’t be made without time, care and commitment. Perhaps in places where the work is being done, print space to showcase it is no longer available.

Having had the luxury of seeing hundreds of papers in the last few days, we’d like to raise a red flag on this issue. It’s one of print’s great powers to enable users to savor moments captured in the best photos. How can we recapture and deliver this value to readers?

via The Society for News Design thx Ryan.

Photojournalists Push Boundaries With Apps And Computers

- - Contests, Photojournalism

Fantastic debate going on in the world of photojournalism right now as two of the top contests have awarded images that stretch the definition of photojournalism. Wait, there’s a definition of photojournalism!? No, and that’s the reason for the debate. If contest organizers, newspapers and magazines would simply define what’s acceptable and what’s not, there would be no debate. It’s pointless for an all encompassing definition to exist because purists want facsimile’s and populists want aesthetics. What’s important is that contests and publications communicate to their followers the rules they’ve laid out and the purpose for them. If factual information is imperative to your mission then you must fact-check your photography (magazines) or hire photographers who follow your carefully defined rules (newspapers) just like you do with your writing. Asking photographers to police themselves is silly and lame.

The first debate erupted when Damon Winter was awarded 3rd place at POYi for a series of images taken for the NY Times with his iphone and processed in the phone with the Hipstamatic app. The very vague rules for POYi and the NY Times are as follows:

Assistant Managing Editor for Photography Michele McNally (here):

We do allow basic contrast/tonal adjustments as well as some sharpening and noise reduction.

POYi Rules (here):

No masks, borders, backgrounds or other artistic effects are allowed.

WOW. You people are really laying it out for everyone. Good job. Now that cameras are basically mini computers you sound like you’re stuck in 1984.

The second debate bubbled up when Michael Wolf was awarded honorable mention in the Contemporary Issues category at the World Press Photo contest (here) for a series of images taken of his computer screen while looking at google street view. In this case there seems to be not much debate about rules but rather a collective huh from photographers wondering if this really qualifies as picture taking.

FYI these are the equally lame World Press Rules (here):

11. The content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards and may at its discretion request the original, unretouched file as recorded by the camera or an untoned scan of the negative or slide.

12. Only single-frame images will be accepted. Composite and multiple exposure images will not be accepted. Images with added borders, backgrounds or other effects will not be accepted. Images must not show the name of a photographer, agency, or publication.

So, while the debate about it is great for photography, personally I have no problem with the tools photojournalists choose to tell their story. I do have a problem with contests and publications that claim to uphold the ideals of photojournalism but leave photographers flapping in the wind when it comes to defining what that means.

I highly recommend reading though the different threads on the debate.

More on the Damon Winter controversy:

Chip Litherland – there’s an app for photojournalism

Birds To Find Fish – Drawing the Line

dvafoto – Some thoughts on iPhone pictures and POYi

Gizmodo – Hipstamatic and the Death of Photojournalism

NY Times Lens Blog – Damon Winter Discusses the Use of an App

More on the Michael Wolf controversy:

greg.org – Michael Wolf Wins World Press Photo Honorable Mention For Google Street View Photos

BJP- Is Google Street View photojournalism?

dvafoto – Some thoughts on Google Street View and World Press Photo

Overall Discussion:

Conscientious – It is that time of the year again

Self-Guided Tour – On Technology and Photography: Damon Winter in POY, Michael Wolf in World Press

Eight trends for journalism in 2011

- - Blog News

I feel better about the state of journalism now than I have in quite some time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that newspapers are suddenly going to begin hundreds of reporters back. That’s probably not going to happen. It doesn’t mean that the old system of scarcity is going to return, because it’s not. But you do have traditional news organizations placing bigger bets on online, trying to create revenue models that can work.

via  Nieman Journalism Lab

Recent Facebook Changes Are Bad For Professional Photographers

- - Social Media

Facebook announced and new photo viewer that they’re rolling out for all their users in the next couple weeks that allows you to upload 2048 pixel wide images to your page. That’s an 8 time increase over the old 720 pixel limit and seems like a boon to professional photographers who use FB to connect with their clients. The viewer also provides a nice way to page through an album of images.

facebookhigherres

Inexplicably they’ve decided to include a link on all the images that allows users to download the high res image. This seems like it would be something you could turn off as I could not imagine a professional photographer wanting to allow viewers the ability to download the images but there’s no setting in the privacy controls.

National Geographic

If that’s not bad enough one of my readers (Marco Aurelio) alerted me to a change to the business pages (here) that now prevents you from placing links, photos, albums and video albums on the front of any Facebook page. Additionally the header images, now front and center, are chosen at random.

Let’s hope there’s enough protest to these changes that Facebook remedies the situation. They’ve done that in the past so I hope everyone makes a big stink about it.

UPDATE: My readers have pointed out that you don’t actually have to upload high res images to Facebook so really it’s not a big deal if you know what you’re doing.

And the Winner Is

- - Blog News

I have always thought that photojournalism contests lead to bad photography. They encourage young photographers to make images like the ones that won in previous years instead of pursuing their personal vision. Shooting black and white with a 24-millimeter lens at f/1.4, and overprocessing the result, does not automatically make a great image. Following your own passions is more likely to lead to important photographs.

via NYTimes Lens Blog.

Is Editorial Photography Dead?

- - The Future

I’m participating in a 2 day phone seminar with photography consultant Selina Maitreya starting tomorrow (professionalphotographytelesummit.com). I think one of the questions she asked me is really interesting so I thought I’d write about it a bit here first. She wants to know if editorial photography is dead, alive or just on life-support?

Editorial photography is alive and kicking, growing even, what’s dead is the idea that editorial anything only lives under the aegis of benevolent newspaper and magazine owners. We’re all familiar with the idea that the cost of printing and distributing content is nearly zero and with the aid of email, facebook, twitter and blogging the reach far exceeds what can be done with delivery trucks and newsstands. When true editorial ceased to exist because the financial crisis gave advertisers the upper hand in making sure the content didn’t come at odds with the advertising message, desperate magazines decided the best way to to keep advertisers happy was to make their content more commercial. The readers current apathy with editorial offerings is evidence that this was counter productive.

So, what happened to editorial content then? Consumers took it upon themselves to produce it. Blogs, forums, product reviews and social networking is filled with editorial content. The rise of social media in general is simply editorial content making a comeback. With true editorial product reviews long gone from most magazines, because of pressure from advertisers the social content cloud is bursting with opinions about products and services.

So, what about professionally produced editorial content, the kind we care about, the kind that gives photographers jobs and livelihoods. Here’s where it gets interesting. A few visionaries have taken it upon themselves to create their own profitable editorial niches. People like Scott Schuman, AKA The Satorialist, who defied the glossy fashion industry by shooting simplistic street fashion pictures. And, The Selby, a blog founded by photographer Todd Selby where he documents the interiors of creative persons homes. Both have not only seen the traffic to their blogs soar but their careers have as well because of it. The photography on both is very editorial in voice.

Here’s what’s about to happen next. Savvy companies are realizing they can attract consumers solely with editorial content. As documented this week in an article by David Walker on PDNOnline, cycling clothing manufacturer Rapha “runs almost no print advertising, and has few retail dealers. Instead, it mostly sells direct through the Web, and has built its brand by sponsoring events and by producing documentary stories and other editorial-style content for its Web site to stir the longings of desk-bound he-man riders of means.” The story talks about hiring Oregon photographer Benji Wagner who spent the last year producing editorial content for them. And for larger companies it’s going to be about producing two streams of content, advertising and editorial. Those companies will be looking for savvy photographers who have the voice and the ethics to produce content that will attract consumers.

So, yes, editorial as defined as something that appears in Magazines and Newspapers is dead, but editorial as a style of photography is on the rise.

Then There’s A Race To The Top

- - The Future

What happened while we weren’t looking was the industrial age ended… 100 years of rising productivity based around bosses who owned factories telling employees to act like human cogs… that system made us all rich… all built around making average stuff for average people… there’s a new revolution here… if what you want to do for a living is do what you’re told, you must understand that the boss can find someone cheaper than you. So, now there’s a race to the bottom… compliant folks are going to get hurt because I can always find someone cheaper. Then there’s a race to the top…

Seth Godin

I end up with one of the worst photos I have ever taken

- - Blog News

Even though the layout was, IMHO, atrocious (unclear conceptually, boring design to the layout, unrealistic POV, etc.), I wasn’t busy that day, and so I said sure, I’d be happy to help. Just so you know, I’ve always thought that part of my job is to help my clients, in whatever way I can. I figured that, somehow, I could transform the idea into something interesting, better, perhaps even compelling, and make the ad work better. Hope springs eternal, right? However, every suggestion about props, wardrobe, location, and talent were turned down. The clients were all happy as clams with what was coming down the pike, and there seemed to be no way to stop this particular juggernaut.

via  John Early Blog.

Don’t Be A Wimp. Be Tough With Yourself – And Your Clients

- - Working

From the blog Personal Scope Creep and the post with the title I’m using above:

As creative professionals, it’s second nature for us to inject a significant level of sensitivity and emotional thought into our craft. After all, the ability to connect with deeper insights during the creation process is part of our expertise and provides us with a unique ability that clients value and (usually) pay for.

What most creative professionals don’t realize is that this sensitivity can cripple your business. Without being able to separate the emotional from the practical, you put yourself at risk of being pushed around by clients, pushed over by colleagues, or even pushed out by competitors – all cases resulting in stunted growth potential.

Before we go further, I want to make clear that I am not an advocate of throwing all emotion out the door or losing the personal connections that make your business yours. Instead, I propose increasing your ability to decouple the personal from the business – just enough to help maintain objectivity and clarity, especially during times of conflict.

The concept is simple and can be adopted by even the most sensitive of souls, and so I present:

THE PSC FRAMEWORK OF BEING TOUGH:
Read it here.

Thx, Jess.

Ask Questions With The Visual Material

- - Blog News

A lot of photographers are eager to share what they already know about a place — pints of Guinness in a pub! an antique bookstore! — but fewer photographers ask questions with the visual material that they’re given. It can be a subtle difference, but it’s what keeps us coming back to a certain photographer over time.

via Look Here Blog.