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Tuesday, 02 August 2016


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Good for Mr. Ortiz!

"Personally, I've long believed that every State and every decent-sized city should have an Official Photographer, whose job would be nothing more than documenting and archiving what things look like. Given that things change all the time."

I believe that the late great photographer Art Sinsabaugh had just such a job in the 1950's and perhaps into the early 1960's roaming the city of Chicago just documenting the way stuff looked. A little of this work is published in Keith Davis's wonderful* retrospective American Horizons: The Photographs of Art Sinsabaugh I had the great fortune of looking through a great deal more of this Sinsabaugh work a few years ago. I wouldn't call it art but it was absolutely fascinating to see my city as it was when I was too young to notice.

"Heck, the whole program would cost less than one fighter jet, much less one aircraft carrier."

Much less. Our (U.S.) newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, cost $13 billion. Our new fighter jet, the F-35, is costing $400 billion for just under 2,500 planes.

Estimating the number of professional (i.e. vocational) photographers in the U.S. at 150,000 we could cut each one a check for about $2.7 million for this combined cost.

* Many photographers have a particular photo book and/or a photographer that just grabbed them by the collar early-on. Keith Davis's retrospective show and book on Sinsabaugh was the work that accosted me very aggressively in the early days of my return to still photography.

Much less than just one of the laser guided bombs on one of those jets on one of those aircraft carriers.

I applied for this twice when I lived in DC, 25 years with a large format view camera under my belt, but "pre" the era where people really had extensive web-sites, so no way to "pre-judge" for them. Never even got a peep out of them, as was the same for everyone else I knew who applied, and there was some pretty heavy talent I knew applying.

If I'm not mistaken, this job was for a two year interval. I tried a few places around the Washington hierarchy for work, got in for a few informational interviews, but never connected. At the time, I think the average pay-scale for a government photographer topped out at about $105,000. One of my staff in the mid-west ended up working as a full time shooter for some government agency in Washington, and he went from poverty row (and just about to head back to the mid-west, camera-less), to owning a house in about two years!

Ahhh, that golden lightening bolt! More power to him.

I was going to perform some back-of-the-envelope math to justify your fighter jet claim, but Ken Tanaka beat me to it.

Indeed, we could do away with a few units of the latest fighter jet and fund scores of city and state photographers. However, photographers do nothing to defend our Freedom as a Nation, so let's spend on fighter jets instead. We must ensure that future generations have the freedom to not know how beautiful their country once was.

Maybe historians want to archive how things look, but do politicians?

My dream photographic job is the one Pete Souza has ... Official White House Photographer.

The job does sound pretty dreamy for anyone who likes to shoot a lot.

Anyone who likes to shoot a lot of black and white sheet film using a view camera! I think that's the most important aspect of this story.

Comparing Federal programs to Naval ships and fighter planes makes some sense, since the feds actually buy such things. For states and especially individual cities, though, it makes less sense since they don't buy much in those price ranges.

[Cities have very substantial budgets, though. The 2016 city budget of Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in America with a population of just about exactly 600,000, was $615,568,884. Most cities could find the budget for an Official Photographer or two if they were motivated to do so, I would think. --Mike]

I congratulate Mr. Ortiz. He landed a plum job indeed. I wonder what the selection criteria was as I am sure many skilled photographers applied. I am thinking it might have been more than just photographic ability based on Mr. Ortiz's website. I am not voicing sour grapes as I couldn't have applied for the job if I wanted to. I should see if our Canadian National Park Service has a similar post. It would be a plum job for sure.

Chicago essentially had an unpaid documenter in Vivian Maier for awhile, at least in a few neighborhoods. And look how exciting those results were. I wonder how many "little" things about a community or city end up never being well documented visually except perhaps in someone's "photographic" mind.

"Large Format B&W", do you mean film or digital?

The HABS/HAER program has existed for some time. I knew someone who worked for it when I lived in Montana. The program goals are noble.

I think that most photographers in the program aren't given enough work to make a living from it. Jarob Ortiz is lucky, but the guidelines are extremely restrictive. It's likely that many architectural photographers would feel confined by the photographic documentation requirements of the work. That said, at the time I wished that I was doing it! For anyone working in large format black and white, a job like that is as rare as a unicorn.

Hooray for Ortiz, for all of us!

Robert Roaldi, believe it or not, but there was a time when posterity was as important to politicians as the pocketbook. And I don't mean posterity in the personal sense. Some of our elected officials had a sense of history. Very few today do.

Apropos of Official Photographers, the city of Helsinki Board of Antiquities recognized the need you described in the early years of the 20th century, change not being as recent a phenomenon as we often think, and hired a certain Signe Brander to photograph designated landmarks, but also to wander around the streets with a camera. The resulting negatives are in the Helsinki City Museum, who kindly provide open access to the digitized versions here:


Isn't Google Streetview doing this for us now?

Funny how a person hired to work as a "photographer" would allow the distorted wide angle iPhone "selfie" at the top of the article to represent him. He is in a position now that everything he photographs should look professional, including a portrait of himself. He must have missed the hour they covered portraiture at MATC. Otherwise, lucky him!

This might be a good time to point out that the NPS had a magazine called Common Ground, which featured a lot of large format photography from their files, and I'm sure on-going stories currently being photographed:


It used to be free, and I used to get it free, but all of a sudden it stopped, looks like in 2011. I never got a notice or heard why? It was a nice magazine, tho, featuring mostly stories about things the NPS owned, like old houses and the like. I remember thinking there was some great large format architectural photography in there, and also some that wasn't so hot.

Ah well, if anyone knows if it's still around...

Re: Official Photographers, Peter de Lory has been a Photographer-in-Residence for various projects with the city of Seattle and is also the Photographer-in-Residence for Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority. He's been making images since the 60s and has worn many hats.

Peter's website - http://www.peterdelory.com/about-face/

As mentioned in a comment above--the HABS/HAER program has been around for a long time. The two main staffers, were Jack Boucher (HABS) and Jet Lowe (HAER). The program is the gold standard of architectural survey preservation--pretty much the last one that is still film based (b/w polyester based sheet film & fiber based prints). The National Historic Register is another long running program though-- that was film based until about 10 years ago, when they finally began accepting digital-born files, but with some pretty stringent guidelines. The NHR is run by the NPS, but the photographers are usually either staffers on the state gov't level, or hired by the architectural firms that do the survey work. The agency I work for as a museum photographer, has a Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) that has a staff photographer. For many years this position shot 4x5 b/w in a program similar to HABS, but over time they transitioned to b/w rollfilm, fiber base moved to RC prints and so on--until digital. The staff photographers in this agency also did HABS/HAER surveys for the State to submit to NPS. I know several freelancers who have done this work as well.The requirements are pretty strict for the photography, and they accompany measured architectural surveys as well as historical research. There's a posting with NARA right now that's a similar preservation position--a b/w lab tech job that requires knowledge of running a Versamat and long roll contact printers for negative duplication. These are specialized photography jobs--they're not unheard of & they do still exist. there are 6 staff photographs and about a dozen lab techs in the agency I work for. I wouldn't call any of our work "art"--but it is technically challenging and rewarding.

What a great story and congratulations to Mr. Ortiz. It's wonderful that there are still funds dedicated to these causes.

Reminds me of the one attempt I made at getting a grant. In the early '70s, I applied to the Natl Endowment of Arts to spend a year chronicling the life of Russian immigrant fishermen on the remote island of Seldovia, Alaska. I had a wonderful recommendation by Imogen Cunningham. Although I got a nice letter from the NEA, I didn't get the grant.

My father, who couldn't understand my desire to be a photojournalist versus joining him on Wall Street, simply said it was a good thing as I'd probably die from hypothermia or drowning.

Mr Otiz is a lucky dog. The wide angle shot is rather good I think. Artistic rather than realistic, which seems appropriate. The point about black and white is interesting. If he is shooting digital then surely he is actually shooting in color; if he is shooting in film then I can see why he would be shooting in black and white, but I have to wonder: why film? Is it a conscious decision to emulate A Adams etc or is it something to do with the archival quality of black and white emulsions? Presumably whatever committee picked him liked his work the best, so perhaps the methodology was irrelevant.

Re: Graham Byrnes & Kent Thompson...

Kent Thompson of course is correct, and even more so...when I lived in DC and was hanging with a broad base of people, including curators for prestigious museums and libraries; there was a lot of talk about the 'non-archive' qualities of digital everything. The thing is, it wasn't about the stability of the recording media, it was about the ability to access the information when Armageddon happens!

If the EMF bomb hits, or the "big one" blows, have you even though about how you're going to read that DVD Blue-Ray? You'd be a monkey looking at a monolith...

There were people at pretty well know institutions that were talking about getting audio discs in some sort of metal, cut of famous speeches. You could always find a needle off of a bush, and fashion a cone and some sort of revolving platter and listen to it; and they were dead serious!

There used to be a lab in San Francisco, gone now, that offered films on Ektachrome, of your digital files, output from a film recorder. I have to track that service down. So far I haven't shot anything I care about (or society should care about) on digital, but if I do, I'm getting films of the picks.

Things of real value to out culture, should be "analogly-recoverable".

Film is hardly archival (I didn't read all the comments, but..)

Prints will outlast film. they are much easier to store without damage.

And microfilm? Please, newspapers outlast the microfilm that was supposed to "archive" them.

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