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Apr 8, 2013

Thomas Ruff, phg.06, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner Gallery, New York and London. Over the past few years, Thomas Ruff has exploring photography to an extent rarely matched by other artists. His latest area of exploration involves photograms. At the occasion of an exhibition of photograms and ma.r.s. at David Zwirner Gallery, NYC, I spoke with Ruff about his thinking behind these and other bodies of work.
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Apr 3, 2013

“[Garry] Winogrand was famous for never asking people permission before taking their photographs;” writes Caille Millner in a review of the photographer’s current retrospective at SFMoMA, “a whole generation of male photographers idolized him for shooting however he wanted, whenever he wanted.” It’s not hard to imagine what the legions of Winogrand fans will have made of Millner’s review, which continues “No one seems to recognize that Winogrand’s beliefs are shared most seriously by the kinds of men who haunt Reddit subforums like ‘Creepshots.’ On those forums, the chorus is ‘Rape her.’ Thanks to his superior sense of aesthetics, Winogrand’s moments of lechery show up at SFMOMA, where the chorus is that he’s a visionary.” Find the full piece here.
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Apr 2, 2013

Those interested in daguerreotypes might want to check out Daguerreobase, a “non-profit research project to collect and generate as much knowledge on daguerreotypes as possible, to the benefit of all those interested: institutions, researchers, conservators, traders and owners, both professional and non-professional.”
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Apr 1, 2013

About a year ago, I mentioned a lawsuit by a collector, filed after William Eggleston decided to re-print older photographs, using inkjet printing and a larger size. A judge now ruled that the photographer had the right to do that. On the surface, that’s great news for photographers. It also blows a huge hole into the whole editioning game that galleries have been relying on. (more)
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Mar 19, 2013

A couple of my pieces have been published elsewhere. Already a couple of weeks old but still very much relevant: The Problem with Tumblr and Photography, my contribution to Hyperallergic’s first Tumblr Art Symposium. Brand-new: a look at photography as a social gesture, People Take Pictures of Each Other, my first contribution for American Circus.
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Mar 13, 2013

This photographs looks like an image made using the wet-plate process, but it’s merely a simulation if you will. I took this picture with my minipad, using the Hipstamatic Tintype package. It’s fairly safe to assume that tor a sizable part of photoland, a digital image that looks like a wet-plate image cannot be judged the same way as a an actual wet-plate one. In the following, I will try to explain why that is a pretty severe mistake. Find the full piece here.
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Mar 4, 2013

Juror Michel Millard picked Karen Miranda Rivadeneira’s Other Stories/Historias Bravas as a winner of the Conscientious Portfolio Competition 2012, writing The images which have touched me and attracted me the most are Karen Miranda Rivadeneira’s. I found this series of images very interesting as they are a touching mix of reportage meets fiction meets mise en scene. They are very human as they deal with big general themes such as life, childhood, adolescence, motherhood, death, and at the same time with details and particularities. They are exotic and very personal. I like that the photographic approach is not overstated, it is precise but very simple. Every frame is filled with humanity. I’d like to see many more of them. In a conversation that can be found here I spoke with the photographer about her work.
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Feb 25, 2013

Not long ago, two writers on photography found themselves in broad agreement when each approached some pretty fundamental questions at the core of photography in curiously similar terms. One wrote (and posted a short video) on how it was worth trying to bear in mind that some things patently ‘matter’ in photography and others equally do not. The other wrote that identifying what was ‘at stake’ in a photographic project was a useful way of ascribing value to some things and withholding it from others. At that stage they acted separately. But since writing on subjects like these is all about engaging others in conversation, one invited the other to get in touch, and they have exchanged a number of e-mails batting ideas around. Find the full piece here.
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Feb 18, 2013

Photography has finally come full circle so that it can investigate itself and its uses, the latter of course being the aspect where things get interesting. Lisa Fairstein’s Ultra-Static throws the viewer right into a seemingly absurd world, which, however, feels oddly familiar (because it is). Pulling together references from different areas of photography the resulting images offer no relief in the form of advertizing or magazine copy, which would allow us to filter the imagery. Instead, we are left with photography’s artifice, with all that photography is so good at, and bad at. Find a conversation with the photographer here.
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Feb 11, 2013

Let’s face it, the tedium of seeing the sheer endless stream of photographs on Tumblr, images that might or might not be properly attributed, is just depressing. We might be all photographers now, but does that mean that we all have to be mindless consumers as well? Of course, our late-capitalist culture is based on just that, on people turning into consumers without questioning what is going on. But what do we actually gain from applying that model to photography? Find the full piece here.
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Jan 28, 2013

Hye-Ryoung Min’s Channel 247 was picked by Robert Lyons as one of the winners of the Conscientious Portfolio Competition 2012. He wrote “I first got it down to five different portfolios. But I kept coming back to Hye-Ryoung Min’s, whose work struck me the first time I looked at it, and it has only grown since. The images really suggest time beyond the moment of the picture. They are well composed, and each image suggests an interesting situation. The formal aspects seem to hold the group together. Although at first one feels as if these are ‘surveillance’ images - at least by the framing, and by things that obscure the images - one quickly is able to see how they are much more.” I spoke with Hye-Ryoung Min about the work. Find our conversation here.
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Jan 15, 2013

Olivia Locher, an extremely prolific photographer, is one of the winners of the 2012 Conscientious Portfolio Competition. Justifying my choice I wrote: “With so much talk about photography being over or dead, we might as well admit that it is, have a jazz funeral, and continue enjoying the medium, now more than ever. I think this is what Olivia Locher is doing with Another Day on Earth, fearlessly unafraid to produce pictures that either conform to or subvert standard conventions. Photography is dead - long live photography!” I spoke with the artist about her approach to photography in the conversation you can find here.
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Dec 24, 2012

If there’s one thing I learned it is that it’s impossible to predict which articles on this site will be widely read and which ones won’t. In particular, there is no correlation between the articles I like the most and the ones that end up being popular. At times, I find that slightly hard to deal with, even though I am usually very good at reminding myself that such is life. With that in mind I decided to look back and to highlight my own personal favourite articles this past year (regardless of how widely read they were).
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Dec 3, 2012

It is time to reveal the winners of the Conscientious Portfolio Competition 2012. This year, the jury consisted of Michel Mallard (creative director/founder, Michel Mallard Studio), Robert Lyons (photographer; director, Hartford Photography MFA Program), and myself. Without further ado, the winners are…
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Dec 1, 2012

There’s a type of puzzles called connect the dots: A sheet of paper contains a set of dots that have numbers next to them, and when you connect the dots in order you get a simple line drawing. You can tell stories with pictures that way, ideally in a book: One photograph brings you to the next, which then bring you to the next etc. etc., and there is your story! Phrased this way, the connect-the-dots type of photographic storytelling sounds incredibly simple, if not outright simplistic, but usually, it’s anything but. The reason is that unlike in that puzzle what you start out with are just dots or, to stay in the picture developed in previous articles, clouds. Which one is first? Which one will come second? And how do you know that a dot or cloud has to go, in other words how do you edit? Find the rest of the piece here.
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Nov 19, 2012

I’m tired of talking about Instagram, but it seems these days you can’t get away from it. John Edwin Mason just published a very good piece about the use of Instagram in the war between Israel and Hamas. With the US news media’s unquestioning embrace of Instagram, the photo app was bound to pop up as a tool for unmediated propaganda. What’s interesting here is that in the art world more and more people are now talking about how the flood of images requires smart curation or editing for things to make sense. In the world of the news, the current development points in the very opposite direction: Let the people see all that stuff and try to make sense of it themselves! (this is usually phrased as either “Give the people what the people want” or as “Democratize photography”) On his Tumblr, Darren Campion explains why this poses a huge problem: “we often find ourselves without the means to determine a (non-photographic) context in which to ‘anchor’ a given image.” Which allows us, to take this a bit further, to anchor an image any which way we want - you basically see what you want to believe. And with social media, you can make sure you really only see what you want to see: you follow the people who post the pictures that confirm your view and let all the other ones fall by the wayside.
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Oct 22, 2012

This is an interesting story about a collector who estimates he has amassed more than 35,000 vernacular photographs: “There are a huge number of collectors who just collect one or two themes—girls with dogs, boys with bikes, snapshots from a particular year. I buy a wide range of pictures because I like the images. If I look through 50 photographs, there will be 50 different reasons why I like them.” A small part of the collection has now been compiled into Dive Dark Dream Slow by Melissa Catanese.
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Oct 21, 2012

A simple way to summarize what I talked about in part one of How to tell a story with pictures would be to say: “To tell a story with pictures you first have to understand how photographs operate.” That sounds obvious and simple, yet is not a given. By its nature, photography lends itself to simple, often literal interpretations, and such an approach can only lead to simple, if not simplistic stories. Before proceeding, I need to talk about what I actually mean when I use the word “story.” Find the full piece here.
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Oct 15, 2012

If I wanted to tell a story with pictures, just with pictures, how would I go about that? I could probably give you one photograph (see above) and tell you that’s my story. Chances are you wouldn’t take that for much of a story. And you’d probably be right, even though some photographers manage to tell stories with single pictures. But for the most part, we think of photographs as something else, not as stories, but as facts or documents. Or maybe it would be better to state that we think of photographs more as facts than as stories. This was summed up by Aaron Schuman who stated: “A photograph is only a minute fragment of an experience, but quite a precise, detailed, and telling fragment. And although it might only provide little clues, the photographer is telling us that they are very important clues.” Find the full piece here.
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Oct 15, 2012

“The anxiety associated with viewing images of naked children within the context of an art museum seems to clash with the fact that photographs of children, clothed or not, are some of the most ubiquitous in our social and familial lives. Any brief perusal of Facebook, Flickr, or an old-fashioned photo album reveals the na├»ve nudity of children to be common in our quotidian visual environment.” - found in a LACMA blog post about one of their shows
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Oct 15, 2012

Between Angela Merkel’s suits, sorted by colour, the girls of Berlusconi, and men who made £1bn as banks were bailed out, The Spectacle of the Tragedy (Visual Database of the European Show and its Leading Actors) pretty much has all aspects of contemporary politics in Europe covered. When’s the US version coming? (found here)
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Oct 15, 2012

There’s a wonderful essay about portrait-studio photography over at The Awl that I can only recommend to anyone interested in portraiture.
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Oct 7, 2012

I finally found the time to watch the series of web documentaries about conceptual photography, produced by Source. To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive before watching it, because I have a love-hate relationship with this type of photography (assuming, of course, there is such a thing - at the beginning of the third installment, Oliver Chanarin dismisses the idea outright): I like (and occasionally love) conceptual photography, but I absolutely hate a lot of the talk generated around it (the kind of talk where you might as well call the thing “academic photography” - you’ll find some in the series). That aside, I find the idea of creating presentations around photography like these ones very interesting, and I hope there will be more.
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Oct 3, 2012

You might have noticed that certain topics serve as strange attractors of contemporary photography discussions. They just keep going (or coming back), again and again. There is nothing particularly wrong with this per se, because there are quite a few topics we still need to figure out. But those topics aren’t the one frequently discussed. Instead, it’s Instagram and whether or not that’s helping or hurting photography, or Google Street View and whether or not that’s even photography. You get the idea. To be honest, what frustrates me about those kinds of discussions is not that I don’t want to talk about Instagram or Google Street View. I do think there are quite a few aspects that deserve to be discussed. But there are only so many articles I can take about whether or not Google Street View is photography or not, or what “curation” might mean in the digital age. How about talking about the merit of that work? (more)
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Oct 2, 2012

Some helpful tips from James Luckett on how to write/edit a statement: “You have no duty to the facts. Your loyalty is to the honesty of your ideas, emotions, dreams, desires and needs; what Werner Herzog calls the ecstatic truth.” (c.f. my version, much longer, alas)
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Sep 30, 2012

In an earlier article, I argued that it’s essential for photographers to carefully take the presentation of their work online into consideration. Instead of keeping things mostly theoretical, I thought I’d follow up with an article discussing examples. There probably will be considerable disagreement about what is the best presentation of photography on the web, but the following list might serve as a starting point for more discussions. Of course, the list is not supposed to be representative or complete in any kind of sense. Find the full piece here.
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Sep 29, 2012

There’s the idea that the internet offers photographers a unique chance to reach new audiences, and that’s certainly true. Photographers are being told that they have to make use of the internet to spread their work in all kinds of way, using “social media,” for example. Again, this is not a bad idea per se. However, in most of these discussions the focus essentially is on the consumer, the person who will see the photography. And that’s where things actually get a bit more complex. I now think that the sole focus on the consumer is actually harmful for many photographers who work in the area of fine-art photography. (more)
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Sep 26, 2012

Carolina Miranda has written a very thoughtful response to my article about photos of dead people in the news, which you should read. This might surprise people, but I actually do think that Miranda and I agree about the principle. But we do seem to differ on our idea how to approach this. I am with Miranda in that seeing a more realistic picture of life in the news - instead of the sanitized version we get - might be a good idea. But I do think we also need to consider the news we have - and not the news we’d want. For the news we have, I stand by what I wrote: here, photographs of the dead really for the most part serve the purpose of titillation, of “getting eye balls.” In particular, as Miranda points out, the idea of “the other” has returned to our media in an interesting form: It’s OK to show dead foreigners and brutal dead soldiers, but none of our own (I’m planning to write about this in more detail in a future post). For the news we want, obviously including a much larger dose of reality would be ideal - but this does not stop at only photographs of the dead.
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Sep 23, 2012

I don’t know how often I’ve written a follow-up post to something I published earlier in the day. But after writing Can the web deal with complex photography?, reading Blake Andrews’ thoughts on Tumblr, and after stepping away from my computer to tend to my vegetable garden, I suppose it’s time to come back to something I said in the past in similar form. As Blake notes, Tumblr is great for all kinds of things, and people are using it very creatively. Tumblr is also a great example of how the medium has instantly created people who use it in a very specific way. Unless you follow a Tumblr via its rss feed (which is something I do for some, mostly for random reasons), for example, its content will be, well, tumbled up in all kinds of ways, by being interspersed with all the other Tumblrs you follow or by people reblogging content. This makes for an exciting format, but it also destroys pretty much most of its usefulness as a serial medium - serial in the sense of someone wanting to relate a previous post very specifically to the one that follows it. (more)
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Sep 23, 2012

There’s something interesting going on right now. Maybe it’s just me being too analytical with the world (always possible), but still: On the one hand, photography on the internet currently is being dominated by sites that either promote simple, single ideas (Twitter) or that showcase mostly single images (Tumblr). On the other hand, the photobook is not only more popular than ever, it is also becoming ever more complex, with some of the most widely acclaimed ones being those where a complex narrative is created out of dozens of photographs. How do you reconcile those two facts? Of course, you could just ignore them, knowing that in five years, say, the internet will yet again look very different (anyone remember Flickr?). But for some time, the development online seems to have focused more and more on isolated photographs, isolated photographs that increasingly are ill- or not attributed at all (a development that makes me shudder, both as a photographer and as an editor), isolated photographs that are being “liked” (I know, who cares, but let’s mention it for the sake of completeness) and reblogged. (more; updated below)
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Sep 22, 2012

“Young women everywhere - famous and non-famous - are increasingly becoming victims of voyeurism in our internet age” - Kira Cochrane
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Sep 22, 2012

This past week, bloggers have explored “photographers who have demonstrated an openness to use new ideas in photography, who have taken chances with their photography and have shown an unwillingness to play it safe.” As could be expected, the proposed artists were as diverse as the nominators themselves, essentially demonstrating that just into the 21st Century, photography is alive and very, very well. Find the list of nominators (in mostly alphabetical order) and artists below.
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Sep 21, 2012

Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson has rightly been hailed as advancing the way storytelling is dealt with in a fine-art photobook context. It might well have become the benchmark photobook for aspiring artists (in my various photobook classes, it is regularly mentioned by students). The concept of the book is very ambitious, advancing photography as a whole by mixing up different genres and making them relate to each other (instead of performing a baby step in one particular genre). For more details see my review of the book.
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Sep 20, 2012

Baghdad Calling by Geert van Kesteren showcases what a good photojournalistic photobook can achieve and how the medium “photobook” has moved way beyond the simple gallery-show-on-paper format that was so prevalent not that long ago. The book also shows how photojournalism can adjust to the conditions of the 21st Century, without either severely restricting its own power and credibility (for example by “embedding” with the same military it is supposed to report on) or chasing after popular photographic trends in a feeble attempt to remain relevant (using “Instagram,” for example). For details c.f. my review of the book.
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Sep 19, 2012

For me, Erik Kessels has most consistently investigated the power and potential of vernacular photography, probing beneath the surface, often finding surprising results - or even just demonstrating what we are actually dealing with.
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Sep 18, 2012

Katy Grannan’s portraiture is not only amongst the very best and challenging to be found today, it is also constantly evolving in surprising directions - always forward, always towards something that undermines expectations. Find a variety of images here.
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Sep 17, 2012

For me, the most obvious artist who has consistently demonstrated an openness to use new ideas in photography, who has taken chances with photography and has shown an unwillingness to play it safe is Thomas Ruff. Having worked with all kinds of photographs/images - his own, licensed one, appropriated ones, artificially created one - Ruff’s thinking is far ahead of that of most of contemporary photography. I might not always like each new series, but Ruff’s fearless exploration of the medium photography - of how images can be made - is very, very impressive. Find a selection of his work here.
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Sep 17, 2012

Earlier this year, Colin Pantall and I sent out the following email to a group of bloggers: “To celebrate new ideas in photography, we are asking people to nominate up to five photographers who have demonstrated an openness to use new ideas in photography, who have taken chances with their photography and have shown an unwillingness to play it safe. These three categories can be interpreted in any way. We ask that people put their nominations up on their photography blogs starting Monday, September 17th, with a short text and a key image (from 100 words up to however long you think ‘short’ can be) as a nice way to kickstart the Autumn: a collective effort of the photography blog community.” It is not unlikely that the list of people Colin and I invited is woefully incomplete. If you have a blog and want to chime in, please do so - the more people participate, the merrier! On this site, the contributions to the project are going to be listed under (the admittedly somewhat hyperbolic) “Towards the 21st Century” (but then again isn’t so much photography still solidly stuck in the 1970s?), and I will present three photographers and, to expand things a little bit, two photobooks, one each every day. At the end of this week, I’ll try to collect each of the responses and produce one big post with all the various contributions.
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Sep 16, 2012

I like photography so much that I’ve spent a considerable fraction of the past ten years looking at it, and thinking and writing about it. I can’t get enough of it. I could - and actually do on most days - look at photographs all day long. That said, there are some things that I’d like to see a bit less. Let me give you an example. These days, it is hard not to come across the idea that photography is ” the great democratic medium” (Susie Linfield), if not “the most democratic medium” (Google it, the terms pops up left and right). I object to this idea for a variety of reason. First of all, it’s a lazy cliché. There might be some truth in clichés, but nevertheless one is well-advised to stay away from them. The main problem with this cliché is that it is a dangerous one: If you were to argue that it’s not true doesn’t that make you anti-democratic? In other words, the idea that photography is “the most democratic medium” is a rhetorical cudgel as well: A good way to shut down a debate before it’s even happening. (more)
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Sep 12, 2012

On September 11, 2012, the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff were killed. There is a slideshow going along the report, the last photograph of which shows, to quote its caption, “a man, reportedly unconscious, identified as Mr. Stevens.” The US State Department asked the news organization to remove the photograph, which, perhaps as could have been expected, it denied, “citing the news value of the Agence France-Presse photograph.” (note the specificity of the source: it’s an “Agence France-Presse photograph”) (more)
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Sep 12, 2012

This is pretty great: “These are panoramic photographs of Kansas towns beginning with Ada and ending with Bunker Hill. The Kansas Film Commission created the photos to promote Kansas locations to film companies.”
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Sep 12, 2012

There’s an in-depth post at BagNews about how the photographs James Nachtwey shot on 9/11/2011 started looking quite different eleven years later. The cultural critic in me finds it very interesting how the 2011 versions actually resemble production stills from Hollywood movies. The photos are overly digitally processed. You’ll never see the world that sharp, with such contrast, and with such an overall blue tint - except when you go to the movies (or watch similar shows on TV). Maybe what we are seeing here is not just some digital post-processing completely out of control, but also the result of seeing almost each and every event on the big screen, re-imagined in some Hollywood form: Our thought of “It almost did not look real” is turned into a reality: It literally does not look real any longer.
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Sep 8, 2012

Great post by James Estrin about the changes in photography we’re witnessing right now: “The question is: How does the photographic community harness this explosion of visual energy to expand its audience? This is what needs to be focused on.” The answer must not be to whine about how you might have a camera, but that doesn’t make you a photographer - or whatever other comments I’ve seen way too often in the photographic community, belittling “amateurs” in ways that are often beyond condescending. This is the new golden age of photography: Billions of people take photographs and share them. Billions of people are interested in at least parts of what the photographic community is interested in. Let’s make good use of that!
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Sep 6, 2012

I had been aware of Donald Weber’s Interrogations for quite a while. But given what I had seen about it online I had developed absolutely no interest in looking at the book. The work - and the ensuing debates - just felt too obvious, too much along the lines of what one could expect. A few days ago, at a bookshop in Amsterdam a friend urged me to look at it anyway. Imagine the very pleasant surprise when the work turned out to have much more depth than I had expected - after having seen the mostly sensationalist brouhaha online. As a matter of fact, flipping through the book (before buying it) I thought that the images I had seen online were for the most part the weaker ones (of course, they were the more sensationalistic ones, too). Plus, I don’t think I had seen there actually is a prologue in the book (see the photographs of selected spreads).
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Aug 28, 2012

This is not a good time for writing, since it’s such a bad time for reading, especially on the web. I’ve been castigating photography for its increasing reliance on what I call one liners - quick photo projects that require at most five minutes of your time and that, of course, are ideal fodder for online consumption. But photography really is just part of a larger culture that does not value thoughts any longer that can’t be summed up in a single sentence or, god forbid, thoughts that can’t even be summed up at all. The horror, the horror! We want certainty, and we want it quickly and easily. So why then even spend more time thinking about photography and writing, when I’m already sounding old or old-fashioned or both? Find the full piece here.
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Aug 28, 2012

“Secretary of State promises subsidy […] we can now dare to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Noorderlicht.” - Noorderlicht
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Aug 21, 2012

I’ve written about the social-media arms race before, and I am under no illusion that producing another article will make much of a difference. But still… Part of me thinks that at some stage, more and more photographers will realize that spending all that time on/with social media to try to get some piece of the cake might not be the best thing to do. Here is another reason why the obsession with self-promotion that has large parts of photoland in its clutches eventually only leads into a dead end. (more)
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Aug 14, 2012

Ask any photographer what they’re working on, and they’re sure to tell you about their project. It’s almost as if these days photographers don’t take pictures any longer, they take projects. This being the internet, it would be tempting to simply find someone to blame. Pretend you’re raising a question, and you’d be ready to go: “Have art schools (alternatively: galleries, bloggers, photographers, photobooks, everybody’s grandmothers, whoever else you can think of) killed photography by insisting on projects?” But it’s easy to see how little would be gained from that approach. Instead, it might be worthwhile to try to probe a little deeper. Find the rest of the piece here (Photograph kindly provided by Lisa Gidley - thank you!).
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Aug 14, 2012

A must read for any photographer living in the US: Criminalizing Photography. Mickey Osterreicher: “If you’re out in public, you can take pictures. And you can report to your heart’s content. The problem is whether they know their rights or don’t know their rights and are willing to assert their rights. […] But even in certain cases when photographers have carried around the law and shown it to police officers and law enforcement, it hasn’t mattered. Unfortunately, a lot of officers will say ‘because I said so.’ It works for your mother, but it doesn’t really work for police. They have to be enforcing a certain law, and they can’t just make it up. If you’re stopped on the street, stay calm. Be reasonable, be cooperative — as cooperative as you can. By cooperative, I don’t mean you have to show them your pictures when they ask.”
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Aug 7, 2012

Blake Andrews just published an interesting interview with Mark Steinmetz, which is well worth the read.
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