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Thursday, 17 September 2015


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Another useless "read" from high school begins...
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth...etc. etc. etc.
my two pesos (forsooth for Chaucer)

"In an ideal world there would be one—just one—venue for original photojournalism."

And its name would be Pravda, for it would contain only the truth.

"Wonderly wroth" I like - but the power of these greater cultural totems is sometimes too obvious to discern.

Because it's the sea we swim in: our own vague and vulnerable notions get to climb, like a hermit crab, into the sounder and more durable shell provided by whichever of those readymade insights is best suited.

And it is then very hard to say which one has been fitted to which (grin).

It often surprises me how much - what word shall I use? - hatred there is of the BBC among politicians of every stripe in Britain. I think most of our politicians would quite like to get rid of it, or at least privatise it.

from All Hat no Cattle

I don't know about that. Even with all the Instagram/Pinit/Godknowswhatelse fora for photos on the Web, a select few images still seem to rise to the top in terms of visibility - most recently, the pictures from the refugee crisis in Europe and the Med: the terrified kids in the middle of the riot police, the man crying as he brings his family ashore on a Greek island, the dead toddler on the beach in Turkey, and the one this morning of the kids getting tear-gassed by the Hungo riot police at the border. It was on the front page of three of the papers I read this morning, and on their respective Web sites (as well as the BBC Web site).

Weather is still shared, and so that's what we still talk about most easily. My shared experiences with my neighbors include drainage problems, yard work, the large bear that raids bird feeders, and weather events like this morning's deluge. Outside, physical things, not culture and politics so much, though I was delighted to find, when invited to another neighbor's house for dinner, that we read many of the same books despite a 20 year age difference.

I think one of the big losses with all the digital entertainment we have and use is that we have far less of a reason to go outside and meet people. It takes a certain amount of contact time to break down barriers and develop friendships with people you can really only comfortably talk about the weather with. But I still want my fast cable internet.

A very cogent observation, Mike—it's something I've often pondered with regard to my teenage daughter and the world she's growing up in. Thank you.

Nice column today, Mike. Thank you. It brought to mind the term "social media". Little of it seems very social. It mostly seems to be not of or about society, but mostly about "me".

I prefer _Paradise Regained_ to _Lost_, especially the part that (paraphrased) goes "Maybe we should try sex?", "Nah, that will never work."

Even if there were one agreed upon source of original photography, it would only be shared among those who are interested in photography of that kind.

1715 TV series? Really? Wow. I'm amazed at how far removed I am from TV these days.

I can't even share music with people 10 years younger than me.

The genie is not going back in the bottle. What you shared, you shared, people today won't share that.

There are probably 100 youtube videos that everyone in America between the ages of 15 to 25 has seen.

It may take more work to have a shared visual culture these days, but people are putting in the time and the work, especially to have a shared visual culture with their own age group.

I agree that centralization has major disadvantages. You don't have to go to Pravda for an example. While he owned Time and LIFE, Henry Luce was having lunch every day with the director of the CIA at their club in NYC.

Today's approach seems to parallel the developments products offered by businesses today, i.e., increased customization. Multitudes of toothpastes, allergy remedies and cold remedies, for instance. More choices mean more decisions (and uncertainty).But this last point is beside the point. The end results is more "customization" and "individualization" as the masses grow larger. It does mean a decrease in community and increases isolation of the individual, intentionally or not.

I've been thinking about this issue for a while now, the way the flattening/democratizing tendencies of the web (mostly a good thing, no doubt) exist in continual tension with our need and longing for the sorts of shared experiences you and I remember from our younger days. Shared experiences haven't disappeared entirely by any means, but I think you're right that our experience and memory of them is increasingly fragmented. My very tentative conclusion is that - as Chuck Albertson suggests above - over time mechanisms will emerge which allow the kinds of content most people find most worthwhile to "rise to the top" - maybe content aggregators and social media platforms with their "likes" and re-blogs are the early versions of this? And if such a structure ever comes to pass, then we'll most likely complain that the power to choose and promote "worthwhile" content is concentrated in too few hands.

And while I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for including difficult works from ages past - such as Milton, among many others - in current curricula. First, I think there's an important value in simply giving young people an opportunity to grapple (accompanied by knowledgeable and sympathetic guidance) with unfamiliar concepts and language, and to stretch their minds and expand their conceptual horizons beyond the here and now. The human past can seem like an inscrutably strange country when first encountered on its own terms, but generally becomes more and more recognizable and familiar as one learns to see the landscape through ancient eyes. It turns out people have always been really, really smart, and each generation has found a way to deal more or less successfully with formidable (and sometimes deadly) challenges we've now mostly forgotten - successfully enough, in any case, that we're still here!


You'll recall, of course, that Donald Sutherland was teaching Milton's "Paradise Lost" in the classroom scene in "Animal House" (none of the students had read the material then, either).

In regards to "Paradise Lost", I like best Samuel Johnson's (1709-1784) take on it: "Nobody ever wished it longer than it was."

With best regards,


"In an ideal world there would be one—just one—venue for original photojournalism" OMG Mike, you've been over the fixer too long - again! And just who would curate this one venue? By what rationale is one voice preferable to many? I'm so flabbergasted at your statement I can barely type. ONE VENUE...REALLY?!!!! C'mon.

One thing I enjoyed while traveling during my pre-digital days was finding a local lab or store with an E6 line. I'd stop by to drop off my exposed Fujichrome and Ektachrome rolls and have a nice chat with the employees and some other customers. No matter how brief those encounters, they made me feel at home, a part of the community, a place where I belonged. On my first trip with a digital camera, I was holed up in a crummy hotel room copying files from a CF card to a laptop. I enjoyed the lab and store visits more.

Dear Anthony,

Americans have a somewhat distorted idea of the BBC. First, because all they get to see of it, by and large, is stuff that's been carefully selected for showing here, so very little of the garbage makes it through (we were subject to Benny Hill, sad to say). Second, Americans are still totally in love with what they imagine to be a “British” accent (that is, BBC-standard accent). They go all round-heels at the sound of a “cultured” voice. So, yeah, we think unreasonably highly of the BBC.

On this side of the puddle, an inordinate number of Americans, especially politicians of all stripes, like to complain about our PBS and NPR networks. In part because they make nice visible targets for anyone with an ax to grind, regardless of whether those people should be allowed to play with axes without adult supervision. In part because, receiving public funding as those networks do, everyone figures that since they're paying for it they're entitled to complain about it. Human nature.

Mike's audience being considerably more intelligent and mature than most, this comment will probably just received nodding acceptance. I can assure you that were I to post it in a public, unmoderated forum, there would be a deluge of troll-ish posts decrying the unutterable evil of PBS/NPR seeing any of their tax dollars, because… Obama! Trump! Republicans! Democrats! Etc.!

So, maybe not so different here.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

"Cultural diffusion"

It's actually a positive trend from a democratic perspective. But it makes one wonder, for example, what music supermarkets will spray overhead as you shop for produce in decades to come.

Just before your article I read this, an interview with Joan Fontcuberta, a spanish photographer and critic, very famous among the latinamerica photography scene. It's not entirely related, but It touches your first point: https://anti-utopias.com/newswire/post-photographic-condition/

"There's little enough time in one life to learn about the real world and things that exist". So, that means you also dislike Dante's Commedia, or Shakespeare's The Tempest, or those two books by Homer?

Regarding Milton, I read that Czech increased its vocabulary by 30% when Paradise Lost was first translated into that language. (Read in The Coasts of Bohemia: a Czech History).

A provoking post. Excellent.

But a couple of points. First, you seem to be saying that the speech you quote from Milton is addressing God as leading the 'imbattled seraphim', but surely that speech is addressed to Lucifer, not God. Or that's the way it reads to me. Not that I'm about to go and look it up. Oh no.

And then you seem to be saying that Milton's is fabricated BS, whereas Uther Pendragon's story contrasts with it, leaving me with the possible interpretation that the contrast is that Uther Pendragon is, er, historical. But it is no less fabricated, as I'm sure you know. But I'm definitely with you about it being a rollicking tale, where Milton demands a lot of extra umph to read.

After floundering in liberal arts for 2 years, I switched to engineering (1971). My school required that engineering students learn how to write. One book we had to read was "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig. It changed my life. Tough read but it is one of very few books I have re-read.

It's not a single team, publication, or web site, but "going viral" is today's equivalent. It's things that nearly a third of the population have in common. And note that 1/3 is considerably less than 1/2. I certainly rarely watched Ed Sullivan, or Johny Carson, or David Letterman, or whoever. Some of those, *never*.

The big difference *I* see is that it's all short-form; none of it has time to build up any weight.

I notice above that people are commenting on the 'value' of the pictures and video from Hungary, Turkey and other places. These really are instances of fragments of material used to push a pre-determined editorial point of view. It is not journalism but marketing.

There were live-feeds being streamed on the Hungarian/Serbian border, for example, that showed the editing that went in to the production of the news reports - the things that were missed out, carefully. A kid running away from the fence, a naughty daredevil look on his face, some arms waving and pointing in front of him, a look at a tv camera, instant falling to his knees and desperate coughing. The bricks and rocks that were thrown at the police standing behind some strands of wire after the border-gate had been forced open - this was edited out of many reports and one was left with police squirting pepper-spray at people for no apparent reason.

The famous beach shot of the small child, who was taken in a boat, driven by his father, from a safe land having a border with the European Union - if he wasn't a people-smuggler why didn't they simply sneak over the land border like thousands of others? The images are being heavily manipulated, because(?) this puts more eyes on the advertising that must be sold to keep the information businesses running.

I am not the only person over here (EU) who finds it disgusting that cynical businesses are affecting the policy of governments so severely. In July, 42% of the 'refugees' processed by the German government were found to be from the Balkans, safe countries but poorer than Germany. The various groups adding themselves to the genuine asylum-seekers are doing so largely because of the effects of the 'journalism' and this, in turn, is worsening the position of those who really do need help.

Is it a stretch to say that today we share the experience of not sharing experiences? Just thought I'd share that with you. ;)

Humanity has long demonstrated an ability to create (tools, art, weapons, etc.) that far exceeds our collective wisdom. Future shock, amplified by media proliferation (social and otherwise) has only widened this divide.

I am just old enough to remember the last days of that "shared" culture (born in 1973.) It wasn't so much shared as forced upon us. I recall limited TV and radio choices meaning everyone was catered to, poorly. My experience was wading through acres of terrible content that didn't interest my young self, hoping for a glimmer of something that did interest.

The other side effect, as a creative person, was disenfranchisement. Having only a handful of powerful outlets made it seem impossible to imagine getting my own voice on TV, radio, in Time magazine, or somewhere "legit."

Thankfully I lived to see all of that come apart. First with DIY culture ('zines, indie music, etc) and finally the multiplication of that effect by the internet. Long live fragmentation! Lots to view/read/watch AND participate in!


The move seems to have done you a world of good, at least as measured in TOP posting productivity. You are turning out one great piece after another. Keep it up and Murdoch will soon be offering to buy you out for billions.

We do all share the experience of sharing. At least, we have that in common

Mike wrote "I'm naturally a rationalist materialist by cast of mind, and get exasperated with invented cosmogenies". Me too. What would intrigue me, if I could spare the time to think about it, is why people feel the need to invent them when there is an unimaginably awe-inspiring real one there for us to explore.

I'm not sure things are as bad as you suggest - yes, at a national level you're correct, but at the community level?

If you were brought up in a small town (as I was), then your community was accidental, arbitrary and enforced - you either had to get along or were outcast (pretty much the theme for every coming of age film) - yes you shared experience, but by and large at a very superficial level with most members of that community.

My kids (19 - 25) live with a virtual community - at least as large, probably larger than my real community. But they also share "in depth" across time and distance. If we then consider that each of these virtual communities has some overlap with other virtual communities ...

I'm too old, self-conscious etc. etc. to enjoy this sort of virtual life. But I see it working, and working well ...

A very serious subject indeed. What is the cultural heritage left from this era? Is it passing or just getting worse? Really enjoy reading TOP - all this stuff makes me think. Always in different directions though.

It seems to me that this is really as much a commentary on generational differences as it is about shared experiences. The way that I grew up “experiencing” the world via the evening news and newspapers in the 70s and 80s was different than how my parents “experienced” their world when they were growing up in the 50s. It is also very different than how my grandparents “experienced” the world when they were young at the early portion of the 20th Century. Similarly, how my son is “seeing” the wider world right now is quite different than how I did when I was his age. I can help him bridge the to the past as I saw it, just as he will soon help bridge me to the future as he sees it in another few years when he’s out on his own. My parents helped to make me aware of how they experienced life to both me and my son. However, that bridging of experience will never really help me and my son have the same “shared experience” as my parents had, or that my grandparents had.

Next week I travel to celebrate and photographically document my grandmother’s 100th birthday. We have some photographs of her from her younger days, but not as many as we’d like since even back in the 1920s she was her family’s “photographer”. We all should understand that we “photographers” have far fewer photographs of ourselves than we do of the world around us. She was the oldest child of Mid-western farmers. She helped raise her siblings. She played piano for her church. As an adult she worked as a cook for a nursing home. She grew vegetables in the garden so she could can and preserve them through long North Dakota winters when that really was necessary for survival there. She lived through the Great Depression, two world wars (although she only remembers WWII, which all of her brothers fought in), the Cold War (a Minuteman missile complex was constructed around her hometown), the Space Race, the TV age, and our current “Information Age”. What do I “share” with her? Well, everything since 1967 when I was born really. The best memories of mine are the small ones like fishing with her and grandpa at Devil’s Lake, her wonderful sugar cookies, her homemade dill pickles, listening to her practicing on her piano for the Sunday church service, and many, many others.

When we had her 95th birthday party, I showed her photographs on my laptop of her old family homestead which I’d taken with a digital camera the day before. This time, I’ll be using a small 8” tablet. Subtle change perhaps? Yes. To me it is. To her though? Just what would her younger self have thought about that in the 1920s during the Depression?

As generations change, their shared experiences change. That has always been the way of things. So long as we grow old and die, the younger generations will always have different shared experiences … in total. However, there are also shared experiences there as well. Which is a good thing overall as it means that society continues to grow. Once a society locks its knowledge and experiences into a set institution, it stagnates. As we age, we like change less and less, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. It just means that we are handing the reins over to the next generation that can see the road ahead better than our aging eyes can perceive. The way we humans experience our world changes because we change the world around us. If we didn’t, well we wouldn’t be able to enjoy things such as the spectacular photographs from Mars and the recent Pluto fly-by.

I somehow tested out of English 5 so took my Freshman Seminar in the fall, with Nancy Vickers (who went on to be President of Bryn Mawr college). We read Renaissance works, including Rabelais, Machiavelli, St. Thomas More, Descartes, and Castiglione. It was the first college course I took and the best college course I took. I was grateful for missing Milton, though as the years went be I would read both novels and histories that assumed familiarity with Paradise Lost, and so I felt I had missed something. I've been tempted to go out, pick up a copy and read it. But... nah. I have so much left to read.

Ah yes, good old Milton in freshmen English at Dartmouth. I don't remember any of it.

If you come to NYC before the end of the year don't miss Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography at NYPL on 42nd and 5th.

I'm a first timer here. My husband, the regular reader forwarded this post, in part because of the Milton reading experience. I did endure the agony of having to read it (when I was 16, mind you).

On a different note, however, I am not entirely sold on the irony of more sharing actually translates to less shared experience. I suppose it boils down to what you consider a shared experience.

If someone sends me (or shows me on their screen) a picture of something that I have experienced also, even though we didn't experience it at the same time, I am able to relate to that person or talk to them or smile at them because of that bit of sharing which equates to a shared experience. A picture that gives you a certain view say, of the Tetons.

Having grown up watching a show or belonging to a generation that recognizes an iconic cover of a magazine seems to provide a certain comfort among/between some individuals, I suppose, but I am convinced that a shared experience is more than nostalgia or shared recognition of a certain past.

Just have to pick up Ctein on Benny Hill - although he started on BBC, the majority of his shows were produced on our commercial ITV (Thames Television) who were responsible for inflicting him on US audiences.

Yes the BBC produces its share of dross, but to my mind the real gem of the BBC is its radio programming - radio designed to be listened to rather than aural wall paper

Dear Ctein - Benny Hill wasn't BBC but ITV; not to say that the BBC doesn't produce some awful tosh, but they aren't responsible for that.

Bit late for another contribution, but just occurred to me that one of the downsides of a limited, widely shared national culture is that it makes it much easier for a government (or other interest groups) to control that experience.

All else being equal, I wonder how the Vietnam war (or on a smaller scale, the Falklands conflict) have played out if our current communication channels had been in place?

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