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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

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Magazines had departments. Maybe an arrangement with a "street" curator with their own web site, linked in some collaborative way with yours might work. Maybe set up similar arrangement with other such "departments". Just thinking out loud here.

Setting those up is just another big project, though, isn't it?

Perhaps you could get someone you trust, a guest editor, to help just with the mini-porfolios, someone who could handle the image sorting, ranking, and maybe even the final picks. That way they get the blame.

I've been wrestling with the problem of simply HOW to pay attention to the work that's being produced these days. We're drowning in images.

I am convinced that pretty much no matter how you approach it there's got to be extremely talented workers creating terrific portfolios that are simply never going to be seen. Given the vast scale involved, it seems a statistical certainty, and that's a bummer.

This is precisely why I find Brooks Jensen's Lenswork so wonderful. I don't like all the portfolios shown in the magazine. But many of them are beautiful, or really make me look at something I've never seen before, and they're all presented with exquisite print quality.

Any time a body of work has to be edited down to a manageable number of the strongest images and sequenced for maximum impact, the quality takes a quantum leap. I say go for it, Mike. There are plenty of places on line to take a drink from the image fire-hose, but a lot fewer to see something boiled down to its real essence.

I guess the way I deal with this is to concentrate my attention on photobooks and exhibitions for my quota of work to explore. In both cases you usually get beyond the one-liner syndrome and some editing and selection needs to have been done

I'm not a great photographer. No matter how long I work at being a good photographer I will probably never be that good. What I do have is a need to express myself with a camera.

There are a pile of my loose images online that range from extremely poor to reasonably good for me. Been posting online for more than ten years. Now I'm trying to be more directed by combining images and text into extremely amateur photo essays.

Some people will look at my work. Probably more than I deserve. I just enjoy photography and committing creative acts in public.

Before the digital era there were lots of great photographers, and you could pretty much keep track of most of them, and their work. The digital era has provided great access to photographers' work, but there are now so many, and even so many good ones, it's hard to keep up with who's doing what...

The internet brings the work to us, but in a "second hand" manner (ie- low quality jpegs), that we often look at things without really knowing or appreciating what we're looking at- and when we do, we're flooded with so many images we don't give them (or the photographers) the time and consideration they truly deserve.

I'm afraid that online speed viewing has even contaminated the way I now view photos in a book, and I have to remind myself to slow down, savor, study... enjoy. In "The Golden Age Of Photography Books," so many are now being independently published, that one can't help but miss out on a lot of great work. Fortunately, there are some blogs that can draw our attention to them, but even then- we can't actually see the work.

Interesting times... and god help ya if you should want in on the mix!

50,000 channels of dreck is the problem. Lots of bad street photography, many technically perfect photos of brick walls. I hate to say it, but Very Serious Photography Enthusiasts are destroying photography as we knew it. Todays VSPE are mostly gear-heads and pixel-peepers. Meh.

I see more people on Instagram who have something to say, than I do on Flickr or 500px. Phoneographers are interested in photos, not gear, and because of this they seem to be having a lot fun. A happy photographer is a better photographer.

How about a site that features photos made with single-use-cameras only. Talented photographers should enjoy the challenge and people who like photos would enjoy the results. Imagine a photo gallery not polluted with inane photos from gear-heads 8-)

I think people see more pictures now than they did 20 years ago. Quite possibly the number of pictures has grown faster than the number of views, but I'm not really certain. Also this is based on pictures including snapshots, not just pictures with some pretensions.

Glad to hear the reader print sale is still on. It's a fascinating adventure and I've been looking forward for some time to seeing how it comes out; and was starting to fear that it would "come out" as "came to my senses decided it wasn't worth the trouble, didn't do it". That's less interesting to watch!

(Also, I've been afraid to not refresh TOP every five minutes for many months now, because I might miss the next submission window! No, I don't think you're actually Machiavellian enough to do that on purpose.)

[I'm not, I promise. --Mike]

Of course Brooks Jensen's LensWork publication is perhaps the most earnest model for publishing portfolios. Yes, I'm sure he's also established many enemies due to rejections. I recall reading that he had enough of a back-log of submissions to take the magazine through 2153. (OK, exaggerating on the date but capturing the essence of the circumstance.)

But that's quite a sophisticated commitment requiring far greater resources than one fellow and a cute dog.

Another idea, a bit less ambitious, would be to follow an interview-style model. Leica recently featured me in such a piece on their company blog and I think it's an effective model. It's an ongoing style they apply on their "blog". I think it could fit very well into your existing site, perhaps quarterly, without distractive disruption.

Hi Mike,

I'd like to give a general comment about your blog. More a thank you than a comment I guess.
I'm French-speaking and most of my reads in English are technical papers about industrial design and aviation (my job) or related to my hobbies like photography. I think your blog stand out not only because of your chosen subjects but also by the care you take to craft those daily columns.
It's a world apart from the usual teenage-like style most photography blogs use while the others are very lousy and don't seem to read at least once before they publish.
Someday I'll read a few good books in English but I have quite a number of very good ones in French waiting on my bedside table.
I hope this is readable and thank you for your very good work.

This post immediately brought back memories of your famous "Great Photographers on the Internet" post (http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2006/06/great-photographers-on-internet.html). What I personally took from that post back in 2006 was not that great photographers shouldn't be criticised (which many people thought was the point), but that many of those actively pursuing photography are astonishingly ignorant of the canons of the art; great artists and the iconic works they produced. People aren't only failing to give quality of attention to new photography, they're failing to give it to the history of photography. That's what's sad.

Way to scare the willies out of a guy who's launching a website in less than two weeks.

Yes, it's true, I do read Camille Paglia, who I think is a pretty smart chick. Her new book, "Glittering Images," starts with these two paragraphs:

"Modern life is a sea of images.* Our eyes are flooded by bright pictures and clusters of text flashing at us from every direction. The brain, overstimulated, must rapidly adapt to process this swirling barrage of disconnected data. Culture in the developed world is now largely defined by all-pervasive mass media and slavishly monitored personal electronic devices. The exhilarating expansion of instant global communication has liberated a host of individual voices but paradoxically threatened to overwhelm individuality itself.

"How to survive in this age of vertigo? We must relearn how to see. Amid so much jittery visual clutter, it is crucial to find focus, the basis of stability, identity and life direction. Children above all deserve rescue from the torrential stream of flickering images, which addict them to seductive distractions and make social reality, with its duties and ethical concerns, seem dull and futile. The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception -- best supplied by the contemplation of art. Looking at art requires stillness and receptivity, which realign our senses and produce a magical tranquility."

After the longish introductory essay, the rest of the book involves the contemplation of 29 images, most of which TOP readers will know. She's not right about everything, IMHO, but who is? And she really gives you a lesson about how to look.

One problem I see is: what if you prefer flickering images to steady contemplation? What if you think art flickers, rather than exists at a steady state? It's sort of like when the doctor tell you that you need to reduce stress -- what if you like stress, and seek it?

But "Glittering Images" is worth the read, and for people of a certain pragmatic turn of mind, I think it's a much more valuable book than "On Photography or "Camera Lucida." (And I think Paglia is a far better writer than Barthes or Sontag.)

*[I would have written 'a see of images,' thus avoiding the introductory cliche, but maybe that's why she's an intellectual and I'm not.]

JC

Sorry for the double post on this topic.

The sky is not falling. Photography as we know it is the photography we knew before this moment. The next moment hosts the photography we don't yet know.

Who should be excluded or diminished on the unregulated internet? Consider the source of criticism and the expertise of the critic before bowing your head.

The world will turn and some work that is poorly regarded today will be reevaluated. The turn of the last century should be a reminder of that.

I feel the idea of mini-portfolios here is great. And on the quality of Attention, well, I was fortunate that here in Toronto in the years when I was just beginning, I had to opportunity to participate in Outdoor and Indoor Art Shows in Ontario. The attention and feedback from Artists in other media, as well as the Public, taught me a lot in terms of my printing, presentation, and Composition.As they always said, "there is no substitute for Exposure". As my sales grew, I learned to appreciate the difference between "Prints that Sell", and my own "Personal Work". I faced criticism but also received many great suggestions from others, which I always passed on to others. So we have to show our work in public. I even had a little table in a marketplace on weekends back in the early '90's, learning from the response of passers-by...and earning $400 a day...memories! the Internet doesn't do it.You have to get out and show your work.

Years ago, the first thing I did come Sunday morning was to sit down in front of the PC, coffee mug in hand, and read that week's SMP column. While it is nice nowadays to know that you will have 2 or 3 articles everyday, somehow, the anticipation and "buildup" of the weekly column is lost (although I admit I had to buy you Lulu book for Monday to Saturday!)

As you said, it is not very likely that you will have the extra staff or office space, at least anytime soon. As with the overload of pictures on the net that you describe, perhaps it would be possible to be more selective with the topics you assign yourself, to those you can do uniquely. I have always valued your critiques of photo books and photographs. As you said, that is what is sorely lacking nowadays, and you have the unique ability to do this well. IMO, other things, like equipment reviews (while I do enjoy them) can be done by many, and encumber you from providing the quality of attention to things that only you can do well.

"Attention means attention"

Master Ichu

Mike,

MCJ-curated mini-portfolios at TOP! If Carl Weese's photo essay is the harbinger, this is going to be a blast. Can't wait!

I don't feel inundated by the zillions of photos uploaded to the web because I don't swim out there unless these are [highly] recommended: by you, your columnists, and your commentors. For which invaluable curation, I thank you all. Out of sight is out of mind.

One shouldn't begrudge uploaders for doing so if it doesn't impinge others' access or degrade the bandwidth commons. After all they're just doing what they can to make the information super-highway a two-way street. Beholders shouldn't be beholden to any 8-bit uploader. I'm mindful though, that for you, Ctein & company, and many of my favorite TOP commentors, looking at pictures is a job or avocation. A professional hazard, I guess.

Which brings me to a unique "property" of TOP which I'm able to articulate only now, although it had lain subliminal for sometime.

Why are there so few photos in TOP?

Is it because the blog owner is reticent about showing his own photos? Has such reticence trickled down to its commentors and readers? Is this property a reaction against the surfeit of pictures which apparently has benighted the digital photography interweb? Will more photos in TOP lead to a "diminution" of its "quality"?

The now hoary bon mot about subscribers claiming to read Playboy for its articles and not its pictures comes to mind.

And the answer that readily suggests itself to the above-mentioned bunch of not-so-rhetorical questions is this:

Folks read TOP because of its articles and comments.

Having said that and in the interest of "democratization" (heh), may I humbly make a suggestion? Here goes: Mike, please make your calls for readers' photos a bit less few and far between?

I enjoyed looking at the pictures from the last one submitted by your Texas readership and bookmarked quite a few nice sites from among the responders. Thanks, y'all.

I don't know how this will impact your editorial burden or TOP's bandwidth or detract from your writing, on top of the curation of the mini-portfolios. I can only surmise the current load imposed upon you by curating unsolicited submissions or editing links. Speaking only for myself, I find the links helpful and do enjoy the occasional photo upload which makes it to the comments (I've been guilty of unsolicited uploads myself). With a little help from your readership, I think more calls shouldn't lead to a desertification of the oasis that TOP is, has been, and may ever it be. Following our leader's example, we're pretty much a reticent bunch, I think.

The Goldilocks mean I think is "precious is few" (but a wee bit more than heretofore).

P.S. Just a suggestion to readers who want to hone their HTML skills in regards to embedding links or uploading images (not necessarily to TOP:), the free interactive tutorials of w3schools, in particular its HTML home page is a breeze even for newbies. Give it a try.


Sarge,
I actually post a lot of my own photos on TOP--hundreds, in fact. (A number just recently.) It's just that I don't do it frequently or call much attention to them. I never saw TOP as being to glorify myself or my work, or further my own reputation or standing as a photographer; that's not what it's about.

We do publish fewer pictures than we used to, but it's partly because the Web is tightening up as to "borrowed" usage. I now have to research the rights and permissions to many photos in order to use them. It's fairly time-consuming. I could probably get away claiming Fair Use in most cases, but it seems inappropriate to me to run a photography blog and not be reasonably respectful of photographers' wishes. In seven years I've only had two people ask me to remove a photo (in both cases I complied immediately), and there was one other case where I actually sought out the rights holder to a video (CBS) and they replied that I should take it down, so I did. Other than that I've never had a complaint, but I'm careful.

I could talk all day about the issues of running a website like this, but the last thing I'll say here is that pictures don't draw people. Equipment reviews and opinions and news are what draw people. I have a pretty good-sized audience for a small photography website (717,000 pageviews last month, plus 29,000 people getting the full feed; whatever the latter amounts to in readers I have no idea). That's suppressed a bit because of the involved discussions here ("TL;DR") and our slant towards a higher level of enthusiast (we lose a fair number of readers because the level goes over their heads). I'll bet I could get it to a million if I wanted to--with some changes that not all of you reading this would be happy with--but posting photographs wouldn't be the way to do it.

Mike

Mike,

I've been running www.photogether.de for two years now, and as a one-man-show I cannot put a lot of time into all the activities. Yet I have a clear need for "mini-portfolios", most often for photo tours which I am offering (a mini-portfolio of my images or the images of tour-participants from the previous tour). In the end I found that Facebook does a very good job of this and it is very quick to set up such a mini-portfolio, change the order of the images, etc. It also allows for comments for each image or for the portfolio as a whole. And you can collect all portfolios in one place in the form of a "facebook business page".

For an example take a look at http://www.facebook.com/photogetherde Since about two months facebook has an additional interface which allows viewing the images on a plain dark background without all the usual "facebook noise". Does not work in Safari yet, but I'm sure it's a matter of weeks.

"Todays VSPE are mostly gear-heads and pixel-peepers."

Interesting assertion, c.d. Can you prove that?

Mike, I agree about art photographers, this lecturers' comments were aimed at the press and media as media and communications was his field of expertise. I think the method of consuming images has a lot to with how we treat them, i'm somewhat loathe to use it but 'The medium is the message' seems apropos here.

We’re more accustomed to viewing art photography in an offline manner, such as galleries or leafing through a good monograph and that helps a great deal, it slows us down, puts us in the right frame of mind. That feeling can still last when we consume that subject matter online, but it’s harder to maintain (I find at least).

On this note, if you do publish mini portfolios, can I suggest that you publish them as PDFs? Something that can be viewed at leisure offline, on a tablet (android and iPad), a kindle, a smart phone, a laptop or PC. A slower more contemplative manner of viewing will help create a better level of attention.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Thank you for your candid reply, Mike.

I learned a lot from it. The economies of size and "agglomeration" for one. For another, the pursuit of integrity, which is beyond any metrics but always a good "business model".

I think what Bryan Formhals is doing with LPV magazine is a good match to a blog format. There is a lot of text supporting the mini portfolio, and a nice amount of pictures. It doesn't take forever, you might even look at something less immediately interesting, you learn something, and you're enticed to look a bit more later and in a different setting (go to a website, buy a book).

It's like what a popular talkshow here in the Netherlands (DWDD) is doing with music. They've learned that you can't feature a full 3 minute song. The timeslot that they're in and the pace of the other content just makes that a zap moment. So, they'll do snippets of stuff, short pieces of live performances, or they'll have a band in the studio do a 1-minute part of their current hit. Over the past 5 years or so they have managed to become for many a primary source of interesting Dutch music, by spending only a little time on it but being consistently good and interesting.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there and a way for TOP to present photographers to its audience. I would think it would be awesome if this place could show more work.

I just read an interesting story about a rapper that is only going to concentrate on singles. Apprarently album sales are flat and a single will sell millions of copies. Mostly it appears to be about MONEY. Perhaps the single in music is the equivilant of that one perfect photo, and your portfolio is like a music album. Perhaps a deeper culling of the photos you present to the world will be needed. Photographs are like Lays Potato Chips- betcha can't eat just one.

I'm not a popular photographer. I'm not even a photographer, if your definition of a photographer is someone who makes a living out of photography. Your third paragraph applies to me "ne varietur" - save for the Flickr comments and Facebook likes part, just because I don't even get that modicum of popularity. I'm still at a loss to figure out what people who see my photos really think of them, and I guess I'm not alone at that. I want recognition as much as any other amateur, but I'm aware I still need to find my own style and improve my skills before I deserve it. The question is - how does one achieve such recognition? I believe it was easier to stand out in the days of film than it is now.
It all comes down to saturation. If you go to Flickr or Facebook looking for good pictures, you'll find millions of superficially great pictures. You'll end up finding out life's too short to sort anything from that gigantic melée. The broad use of Photoshop, HDRI and other editing techniques makes it easy to make a banal subject look good, making choices even more difficult.
I'd liken photography to precious metals or jewels. Their value is in their rarity. If you flood the market with diamonds or gold, they will rapidly become worthless. That's what's happening to photography in this digital age. A photograph needs to be really good (and I mean really, really good) in order to stand out - and this requires creativity, imagination and uniqueness. It's not until one finds a unique vision and develop a style of his/her own that recognition will come. Finding new talents, however, is becoming increasingly difficult; and, even if you'll find them, it's hard to tell to what extent editing techniques contribute to the general appearance of the pictures.
Despite these difficulties, I believe good photographs will always stand out from the crowd and find their way into the connoisseurs' hearts.

The question is how does one go about capturing quality attention for one's own images ? given the fact there are millions upon millions of images floating around on the internet. Also many people have different views on what is a great photograph. I think there was a link to a post here a few years ago featuring one of Henri Cartier Bresson's images and basically people trashed it.

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