It occurred to me that the "The Frame TV" post on Tuesday (and my romantic musing about a virtual gallery) actually highlights a certain disruption problem in the culture of photography. We're all well aware of how digital disrupted photography when it comes to the manufacture of equipment and materials, and we're often alerted to specific changes and speculations about changes in habits, norms, and trends. But we haven't really sorted out yet the ways in which the culture of photography has changed—some aspects of it gone forever, other aspects new and as yet essentially unexplored...some of these merely predicted, not even existing yet.
Here is one (among many possible) comparisons between old and new paradigms of thinking:
The picture in the picture above (you're well aware you're looking at a record snap of it, not the real thing) is our most recent print-sale print. It is entirely a digital picture, but it was very carefully made by a very experienced artist, using the top-level camera and a carefully selected vintage lens. It was then printed with great care and deliberateness, with contemplation of a variety of subtleties. I then had it framed specifically for this spot in this house. It's meant as publicly-accessible art—it's already been seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of people (at least our print sale, times all the people who have seen each buyer's print) and will be seen by many more in the future (everyone who comes into my living room and cares to look around at the art on the walls, for example).
And unless you also bought this print, then you still haven't seen it. (If you ever swing by TOP Rural HQ in the Finger Lakes to shake my paw, you can see it then.)
This picture, on the other hand, was one quick snap taken with a smartphone, of something I happened to see when I parked at a restaurant last night. It was literally taken to share with only two people—two of my dog-loving friends. I sent it to them immediately, and both of them enjoyed it. End of story, if I hadn't used it as an illustration for this post. It never will be a print—that is, an object—and it was never intended to be. It's mere communication, like a text, and ephemeral from the get-go.
It seems to me that people have three baseline responses to changes in culture: a.) some tend to embrace the new on principle and might wish to sweep aside the out-of-date; b.) others try to hang on to what was best about the old ways and might scorn the coming thing; and c.) Eeyores who throw up their hands and say there's nothing they can do about it either way, so what's the use caring?
Without going into the larger questions here, I'll say I think a device like "The Frame TV" actually does highlight some of the questions we have. There's a certain demotic free-for-all that has evolved that we're aware of—millions of people take billions of digital photographs and throw them online, and you can theoretically go look at them there. But there's often very little editing by the maker, certainly very little winnowing or curating by any intelligent third party, and what you're seeing when you look at work that way is an uncontrolled approximation of what the maker intended, if in fact they even had intentions in the first place. It's like looking at postcards of Rembrandt paintings in the museum gift shop and then thinking you know what the paintings look like. And there's way too much work to look at anyway—no one can meaningfully "see" even a tiny fraction of it. Heck, I look at pictures for a living and I see just the merest wisp of wind-drift from the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Inherent in my idea of virtual photography galleries scattered throughout the land is the idea that the auteur photographer could have some control over the way his or her pictures look. All of the screens would be the same make and size and all calibrated, all of the viewing conditions similar, so that what a digital image looked like on one screen it would look like on all the rest. It would preserve, to a much greater degree than the Internet does, the photographer's intentions for the way the work is seen. Presumably the images shown wouldn't be a random motley, but could be intensively worked on, selected, edited and curated like museum shows are today. But they'd be digital images shown digitally—because, really, how much longer can we go on pretending that things haven't changed, and that silver gelatin prints made from large-format negatives (for example—that just happens to describe the most recent museum show I saw) is in any way representative of what contemporary photographers are doing now?
So I suppose some could see the idea of a high-quality digital picture frame as being sort of quaint and pitiable, a rearguard action by fuddy-duddies who pine for the old days of fine prints on the wall. But I don't really think it is. I see it more as a tentative baby step toward whatever new culture is going to arise for valuing and sharing deliberately-made artwork created by dedicated, thoughtful practitioners.
Because we still need that, too, along with the billions of phone snaps shared between one or two friends.
"Open Mike," meant to be the editorial page of TOP, is supposed to appear on Wednesdays. But darn it, I just ran out of steam yesterday.
P.S. I should also mention that I think a reader named Thomas has the best handle on how "The Frame TV" might best be used. His comment came in this morning. He wrote:
It's interesting to hear many people frame this product (eugh) as a replacement for a fine print collection, instead of in addition to a collection. I cannot stand big black television sets amongst my furnishings. They dominate a room. Thus I currently don't have one [I don't either —Ed.]. This would happily sit on a wall with other work and would blend in, so the appeal is enormous for me. I miss watching movies on a larger screen. It in no way would replace good prints but I like the offer to have my cake and eat it (no noticeable TV set and watch movies). It would be good above a low sideboard with a discrete set of speakers that would otherwise run from a hifi. A vertical print next to it on one side could look cool.
That's how it's probably most useful. One frame among many, but showing a slow rotation (I'd probably change daily) of suitably-formatted digital images.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
robert e: "What I still don't understand is the need to see 'Frame TV' as a dual-purpose screen—as both art display and TV. I submit that this is another form of clinging to familiar cultural norms. In fact, I can't think of a situation where I wouldn't be compromising either my preferences for placing art or preferences for placing a TV screen in order to have one device serve both purposes. So why compromise? If I were to really embrace this idea, I'd get screen/frames that were 1) suitably sized for art and 2) hang them in suitable places, rotated to suitable orientations. On the other hand, when I want to watch a movie, I'd go to the suitable place and seat, lower (or raise) the appropriately sized and placed projection screen, and turn on the projector—wouldn't matter what's hanging on the wall.
"Regarding the digital gallery idea: These frames are both baby steps and quaint throwbacks, and will be short-lived because pretty soon we won't need to hang anything because entire walls or wall sections will be able to display any number and size of images at these resolutions, virtually matted and framed (or hang a real frame around your virtual matted art). Heck, people would be able to display a section of a wall at the Louvre or the Hermitage and replace the masterpieces with their happy snaps."
Mike replies: I agree that the dual-purpose nature of this product touted by the marketing strategy is probably "another form of clinging to familiar cultural norms," it's probably dual-purpose mainly because most people wouldn't consider spending $2,000 on a digital frame. Don't you think?
It might also help with marketing, appealing both to people who don't like the look of a big ugly TV in their living rooms as well as for people who would like to get more value out of their TV when they're not watching TV.
JG: "The issue I have with displaying art this way—my art, specifically, but also other people's art—is that unlike with a print, which I will have made and signed-off on (literally!), there is no way that I can control what other people will ultimately see.
"I would cringe when I saw my very carefully crafted photos via the web on the cheap, non-calibrated, 8-bit monitors used in the office where I worked. (I actually went so far as to bring my own monitor and a graphics card from home, because my work-issued monitor looked so awful and could not be calibrated nor profiled!) Or when a coworker would print one of those web-only JPEGs on a color laser printer (instead of paying me the measly $5 I asked for a proper print, to cover my paper-and-ink costs)...yikes! ('My eyes, my eyes!')
"But as bad as it is to see my own photos displayed haphazardly, it would be even worse to see a photo that I had paid real money for displayed that way. Until technology advances to the point where the photographer is able to remotely control the final appearance of a displayed photo or prepare it in advance for display in a defined environment, then so far as I'm concerned, it is a hearty 'No, thanks!' from me when it comes to using televisions as frames!"
Darlene (partial comment): "I see this as a new take on the slide show. And how popular were they while visiting your friends and relatives? I am bored already."
John Brandrick: "Two thoughts came to mind while reading Thomas' post. Regarding his distaste for the black blob in the room; we mounted the TV on a wall painted with a very dark, rich plum colour called Plum Martini. Visitors have walked past it several times before asking if that TV was always there. As well when viewed with the lights down low the image pops off the wall. Secondly, I agree to his assertion that this is in addition to the gallery show; something to do with the impermanence of an image on a screen. I think there is something in us that has us look at prints differently than when we look at them on a screen. For instance it seems common to miss details until the image is in print form. I've had to go back to cleanup specs that weren't seen while pouring over the image at 1 to 1 on the monitor. Maybe the permanence of the print slows us down in our viewing."
Mike replies: Now you and Darlene have me remembering my encounters with movies and rotating selections of images on screens when they're part of museum shows—hyped with the words "interactive" or "multimedia" or other trendy labels. I've never cared for those bits or been comfortable with them. Somehow it's something that's being done to me rather than something I can approach and investigate freely on my own terms.
Thomas (partial comment): "There are several remarkable video-image artists whose work I have seen recently at the NGV (Melbourne, Australia), and the medium is inherently for display on screen. The works are no less authentic or real, and didn't leave a lessor impression on me for it. We also had David Hockney and Ai Wei Wei showing in the last 24 months, and both had significant proportion of digitally displayed work. Both video and stills. I certainly don't deny the significance of printed photographs in editions or books—I love them deeply—but I think there is a knee-jerk reaction to non-printed work that is frequently encountered among photographers particularly."
Jim: "My equivalent is the screen-saver on my 27" iMac. I have almost 500 digital pictures—mostly abstracts—that it cycles through on two screens. It amuses me enough that I often get distracted when on the phone, and visitors too!"
Brian Taylor: "There's a contemporary photography gallery in a city not far from here that, I'm sorry to say, I've mostly found underwhelming. I'm not the only one to have found its ambience aloof and unwelcoming. With a couple of exceptions the exhibitions I've seen there have been forgettable. They seem to favour work that is abstruse and bleak, accompanied by pretentious text inferring privileged insight on the part of the artist. Work that, to my mind, fails both as art and social or cultural critique. I don't suppose you were proposing that 'deliberately-made artwork created by dedicated, thoughtful practitioners' is intrinsically better than work produced by the hoi-polloi, but I just wanted to put any such assumption in question. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that family snaps, especially if taken long enough ago to be of interest to the social historian, or if memorialising moments of intimacy, can be 'better' and more valuable than much of the stuff that curators see fit to hang on gallery walls. Rant over. :-) "
Ed Buziak: "I heard about this a few months ago and know that Samsung approached MOMA, Tate Modern and Saatchi Art (possibly other galleries) for a selection of 'panoramic' 16:9 images for Samsung to license for this new TV idea. One of my abstract paintings was selected by Saatchi Art, and if Samsung choose it, and if purchasers of the TV select my image for their off-TV pleasure, I will receive royalties. So I'm hoping they sell a million+ of these!"
Mike replies: Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, brother Ed. (For those who don't know, Ed is the former publisher and founding editor of the UK's Darkroom User magazine. I used to write for him under a pseudonym.)