I've spent a very enjoyable couple of days looking at two-and-a-quarter square pictures by searching for various TLRs in flickr's "Hive Mind" feature (which also, incidentally, finally gives me a way to use flickr that I can tolerate). I tried to contact some of the photographers, thinking that I might post a few of the pictures I particularly liked here on TOP, but it seems few people answer their flickr mail, or whatever it is that's taking my messages to them. Or maybe they just don't want to be bothered, I don't know. Too bad, anyway.
There's a certain junky quality to looking at semi-random collections of pictures by different photographers. It makes me realize that when I look at collections of pictures, I am typically seeking the personality or the sensibility behind the pictures. I'm looking for the photographer: trying to see what subject-matter passions he or she might have, trying to detect, over the course of many pictures as a body of work, what his or her taste and visual sensibility is.
Obviously, one must consciously not do that when looking at aggregations of work by many photographers. The upside is that such collections have a dynamism and a vitality that is often missing—or more subdued—in more self-conscious portfolios by single photographers. A Robert Adams book or a Daido Moriyama book is all Adams, all Moriyama; the sensibility is much stronger. But the variety is much less. A "hived" group has everything all together in a jumble: all sorts of styles, all sorts of subjects, all sorts of ways of seeing, black and white and color side-by-side. With TLR shots, even different time periods are represented as well, as people upload work they did ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years ago. Even some of the obvious failures as single images have something to contribute when they're looked at in the context of a much larger whole. It makes me think of what Dr. Johnson said of the Metaphysical Poets, that famous first phrase much loved by Eliot: "The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased."
It makes me want to edit a book of selects. The imposition of an overarching editorial sensibility, even in the absence of a guiding artistic one, along with (of necessity) a much tighter edit, could make for a dynamic and enriching aesthetic experience indeed, for the viewer of such a book. It would please. There's no market for that, I suppose.
Two thoughts occur. One, trivial, is that looking at work like this tends to emphasize the coherence provided by the use of the same camera throughout. The other, more profound, is something I think I see and might just be imagining: the work done with the cheaper cameras seems more interesting, less conventional. I fantasize that that's because the cheaper cameras are being used by younger people who are newer to photography. There's an exuberance there, a sense of real exploration. They're pictures made by people who haven't yet learned what you're not supposed to take pictures of. The pictures made with very expensive cameras show a more staid, conventional, less exploratory, more technically perfectionist mindset, like a sixty-year-old driving a Ferrari cautiously. There's a higher boredom quotient. It's a premise that would be hard to prove, but it's the sense I get, anyway.