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Thursday, 03 April 2008


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"Here's a link to a July, 2007 article"

Er, no, there isn't. You have to be a subscriber, apparently.




And the latest, the one you pointed to, is from 2007. So it appears they have been in troubles for a while now.

Anyone else having any trouble getting to that first article link besides Erlik?

I'm not a subscriber to the Arizona Republic and I don't have any trouble getting the whole article to open at the link....

Mike J.

I did not have any trouble opening the article from the link.

The main reason is the Internet. Our neices, in their twenties, read everything online. They are really plugged in.

I live by my computer, and I am in my fifties, so I am guilty too.

Basically, if it's not on the web, it doesn't exist. That's the reality.


Link works for me, and I'm the one always complaining about crap links.


pax / Ctein

I didn't have any trouble getting to it. It looks like azcentral.com accounts are free, anyway.

Mike, both links work fine for me.

I think the having a city photographer is a great idea. It's something that many universities and private organizations have (or at least have something similar), it seems almost strange that such positions have not been offered.

Well, FSA and WPA produced some fine documentary photography, freely available now through the Library of Congress. Maybe this will be one of the benefits of our next economic crisis. Naaahhh...

Amen your idea for official city (and county, state) photographs. In the short 20 year time I've lived in this area there have been tremendous changes. Too late now to go back and photograph that old wooden hardware store or the old 4th avenue bridge, the old water tower off Harrison street. Etc etc. Of course I've got all these cameras and film laying about, why didn't I get off my lazy bum and do it myself? I guess working everyday to make ends meet just takes the energy out of me.

Funny. I just tried to open the link in Firefox and it works fine, while clicking on it in Opera brings me to "we can't find the page you want" page again. Ah, well.

I've been documenting London for the past 4+ years for free (ok, a cheap way for me to plug my web site... www.curiouslyincongruous.net). I don't think many people have the time it takes to put into this kind of project (though for older people like myself it makes a great retirement project.... you get exercise and you get to chat with people and you get to make piccies!) and I don't know that in a world where there are huge humanitarian needs that it would be wise to be spending money on scads of Walker Evans like projects. But that may not matter. The sheer mass of photographic interest these days may make up for this. Although its not a magazine, Flickr and sites like it must have a city group for far more towns and cities than would be practical or financially feasable to document in any magazine. Just search the keywords for the city or town of your choice and Bob's your uncle! I also remember that there's some web site which collects links to sites documenting cities. So in fact the so called democracy of the web is doing the job for free.

I've been a magazine junkie most of my life but the problem with magazines is that they tend to repeat the same themes over and over and to hit some mass market sweet spot they tend to choose only a certain style and exclude some important subject matter.

And the problem I see with "offical" documentaries of a city or of anything is that official "needs" fequently dictate the kinds of things which get recorded. Walker Evans work is, I would guess, more the exception than the rule. So, in this imperfect world, maybe we do have most of what you asked already online?

Well, I’m an old guy in my fifties like many of the other folks around here. I think my perspective on this topic is somewhat different because my photography interest didn’t start until the digital age. I should also mention that I’m a software developer who regularly works with people half my age.

The idea of someone wandering around some geographical area taking pictures to give us all a warm fuzzy feeling seems absurd to me. I would much rather live in the present time and use the resources available to produce a work that is relevant in the current moment. Regardless of how nostalgic we might be most of us are focused on the present time.

Try this idea as an alternative. Acquire the assistance of several hundred people with mobile phones and use this resource to make snapshots of some instant in time over a large geographical area such as a city. Have the images uploaded to some website where they can be assembled by individuals or software programs into a photo matrix. Then create software that allows people to assemble dynamic views of this photo matrix as they wish.

All the technology to accomplish the goal I’ve just described is already available. The idea is really a variation of a flash mob where people are aggregated in a larger geographical context. The downside for this audience is that no one individual with a big black camera can impose his or her vision and taste on the rest of us.

Gosh, the notion of an official documentary photo effort just makes too much sense to take root here. I have several books of FSA/WPA photography, and they're a priceless window onto the recent past. For the same reason I find David Plowden's work simply brilliant; sensitive documentation of the recent past you could hang on your wall as fine art.

And I ruefully agree with John Robinson; repeatedly in the last two years I've seen local landmark buildings (train station, 1930's gas station etc) torn down or torched before I could photograph them; I was gonna get to it "real soon now".

Somehow I don't think it'll ever be worth taking documentary photographs of the closest Wal-Mart or Starbucks.

Being close to 67, the computer is my window to the world.
Just stop getting Popular Science cost to much to renew and takes 10 mins to rip out all the post cards. I now down load what I can from Zinio Reader. Looks great on my 30" monitor and if there is a link to a product I want to look at, its a click away. No more piles of magazines to chuck out at the end of the month. I give it 5 more years--Hi rez eye glass monitors an I pod or I phone with 6 mp camera and you have music,books,magazines link to internet, what ever right in your pocket. Just like film, you can't keep the presses running if you're only selling a few magazines.

NPR did a story yesterday on a Boston sportscaster who's supposedly legendary for his Red Sox coverage who was just let go along with apparently many other staff members as part of a downsizing as people just aren't tuning into the tele ... oddly, stating that people are turning more to the internet or "newspapers" ! All of the traditional media is losing out to the internet. (They suggested that they're going to try to figure out what TV offers that the other media doesn't rather than paying 6-figure salaries to personalities that just aren't drawing the viewers).

On another note, the job (I think) I'd love to have is that of a photographer who works for the CT state department of environmental protection. His pictures appear in state publications, newspapers and publications from local Audubon organizations, etc. but he gets to combine wildlife photography with conservation and presumably make a decent living (if not "Outdoor Photographer" fame).

You've said "I've also always thought that major cities should have "official documentary photographers" whose job it is to get out and document the ever-changing face of our cities and neighborhoods."

I've created a project web site called Life In a City.
As I live in Seattle, WA, that's where I've started.
The site, www.LifeInSeattleWashington.com, mentioned above, centers on Seattle. Several other web sites I'm working on concern photography created along a 40-mile length of our waterfront, the Seattle Viaduct and a smaller section of the waterfront called the Duwamish Waterway. All exactly to do with what is here now, and what I can find of interest (to me) and document while I'm out and about my hometown(s). Three of which are Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC and Portland, ME. Stop by for a visit.

In the late '70s early '80 I had a friend who was a "city photographer". His job description included "catch the pulse of the city". What he mostly did was grip and grins for the mayor. He had to ge whereever the mayor went, Nice idea bad opportunities. When the next election came he and the mayor were out of a job.


"Somehow I don't think it'll ever be worth taking documentary photographs of the closest Wal-Mart or Starbucks."

I'm not necessarily disagreeing, but I think that commercial spaces are a bit of a blind spot for many documentary photographers. The corner diners, grocery stores, bus stations, and Woolworths of decades past were hardly exotic or photogenic locations in their day, either. But many people today are still curious about what they looked like, and how they served the community.

An official municipal photographer is a tempting idea but I suspect we'd end up with disappointing content. It'd tend to devolve into either dumbed down, generic publicity pap or preachy social-advocacy. Neither of which is proper from a documentary point-of-view. Even the lovely work done during the era of the FSA is hardly representative of daily life in America at the time.

Given how many people use cameras today I'm not sure that "official" support is needed. Browsing through photo sharing sites like flickr will show lots and lots of photos for both popular and unlikely places. I think future generations will have plenty of historical material to work from.

Portland, OR has The Portland Grid Project. Although this isn't taxpayer funded, it is probably the most comprehensive and thoughtful photographic portrait of any city in history. More info here: www.portlandgridproject.com

I wonder how much they could save by printing a lot of classy B&W instead of everything in "living color?"

Re: Bryan C.
It's not photography of 'commercial spaces' per se that I disparage. Again, much of David Plowden's work involves portraiture of small town storefronts. But those storefronts were individual, unique to their time and place. Wal-Mart? Eh, not so much. Every Wal-Mart from New England to California is an identical metal-frame box, with as much character as a paper plate.

The buildings themselves may be sterile but the people coming into and out of a Walmart or a Starbuck's can certainly be interesting and worth documenting. You're probably not going to be able to take pictures easily in many of them\, though, since they're usually on private property. On the other hand shooting outside an urban Starbuck's is no problem at all.

I have to confess, though, that I find these sorts of stores most interesting after they've closed, just before (or while) they're being torn down or repurposed.

It would be a shame if AH closed down. When I was MUCH younger we sailed from the UK to New Zealand. My parents became friends with a sheriff (Yes! a real live sheriff. I had only seen them in Westerns) from Arizona. When he returned home he gave us a subscription to AH. I still remember the wonderful scenery with awe. At the time I had never seen deserts only green lush country.


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