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Monday, 15 April 2019


Reminds me of that Raymond Carver short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Photography." Or was that one of your essays? In any case, whatever it is, we do it here.

By the way, I wouldn’t mind some gear posts sometimes.

The work of the photographers who have inspired and occasionally thrilled me over the years seems to fall into one of two categories.
One being a carefully planned, self aware, deliberately artistic body of work.
The other feels more like the enchanted litter scattered along the trail of a well lived life.
I am not ready to sort photographers beyond this oversimplified division. Too much work and I'm pushing 70 and one is not better than the other, just different.

The idea that an editor's job is to flog gear for the advertiser is no doubt more the norm than the exception. One look at mass magazines will tell you that. I can see how, in a twisted way, this could be thought of as a kind of editorial integrity -- after all, it's the advertiser who pays the bills -- but it is cynical, you're right, and this cynicism is a slippery slope.

I always thought Bob Shell was a laughably poor photographer, and an even worse writer. The lack of actual integrity shone through in his work, both the photos and the writing, and in his case the slippery slope led ultimately to tragic consequences, for his model, certainly, but also for him. The death of another person, albeit unintended, and life in prison, are a high price to pay for weak character.

It's hard, though, not to feel a bit of sympathy for Bob Shell. Had he been convicted similarly in, say, NYC or San Francisco, instead of the midwest, he'd probably have gotten a much lighter sentence. In any case, I agree that photography is what photographers do. Bob Shell is living proof that what photographers do is sometimes ill-advised.

[The death occurred in Shell's studio in Radford, Virginia, and I believe he was tried, and is imprisoned, in Virginia. --Mike]

”Photography is photographers.”

Therein we have a perfect example of how differently the majority of the population probably views this subject versus enthusiasts. I’m willing to bet largely that most people would say “Photography is pictures.”

And those folks would be more correct. Who, as a very recent example, was the photographer associated with arguably one of the most famous and important photographs in mankind’s history, the first genuine image of a black hole? It’s inarguably a genuine photograph (i.e. made with photons).

I could go on with any of an increasing proportion of photography that’s performed sans photographers but I’m sure you get my drift. “Photography” is a technical process that requires neither cameras nor photographers.

But I also get what I believe is your drift; that photographers establish core cultures in which photography is performed and appreciated. I would hasten to add, however, that those cultures are gradually shrinking and dispersing as photography itself becomes more diversified and diffuse in our overwhelmingly communications-centric culture.

I am on the side of photographers too, but photography is mainly about the photograph itself.

Love that word, so well describes the space between my ears, as far as my practice of photography as a hobby. Regarding lenses my motto is; 'If I can mount it, I'll shoot it.'

I love photography because it's such a wild and varied field. I do miss having a local camera store, in part because of the intersections of photogs that had such widely different approaches and interests. The party pic guys coming in with their battered Polaroids and getting big boxes of folding holders, the retired art professor coming in with her still spotless R4 and slide film to process from her latest trip, and all the rest of the gear heads and brand partisans who all stopped and gaped at the shots from another of the locals that was printing out on the Fuji lab behind the counter. "That's gotta be Zeiss glass""That's why I still shoot Velvia, not digital""Nah - he's just good, y'all"

We contain multitudes, even if online discourse tends to group everyone into buckets.

Yes, from the museum pieces by Jeff Wall to the passport photo booth failures at the railway station by grandad. But I had to take sides it would be the latter.

Mike wrote several things today. ...the mechanics of what is sometimes called "advertorial." ... one of his points was that our first and main duty as photo writers was to help advertisers sell their products.

A good description of all the Fony Tony photo-bloggers that pollute the ether.

...sort of automatic writing, if you will, ...

In the US of A, full automatic writers are banned. Now-a-days ranting must be done with a semi-automatic writer.

...photography is essentially subversive ...

I think all authentic photography is subversive. Everything else is mindless dreck (worthless or nonsensical) or photojournalism .

In my Jaundiced view a 13-year-old snap-chatting or sexting with friends isn't a photographer. Prattling or flirting may be an art—but it isn't art.

I'm a retiree who hates both gear and photography, but loves light 8-)

As I've done both, "Photography" is very much like "Computer Science". Both are pretty useless as a career; they are only a starting set of tools.
Both are hard to define, but essential to so much else. Both are only tools to do something else which is useful. Your best camera or computer system will both make technically-perfect garbage. Your "product" will be affected by your tools, but the tools cannot produce Art.
Camera or software design is only relevant in how it limits you. This is why it is so important to complain clearly and effectively.
Should we just talk about Art instead? Tech stuff is also fun... One can be an Artist and also a Nerd. Stop the angst, people.

Well, take out "photo-writer" and that pretty well describes me too ... except at a much less intense level than you.

I wonder if there's such a thing as "photo play" or "photo player?"

The meaning of photography is not unlike the meaning of life. Impossible to define a with a singular meaning. So just get on with it.

Now, I must return to the mountain.

Bravo! One of your best essays.

OT, but that seems a harsh sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Cold, calculating murder has been punished with less.

Almost everyone is a photographer these days and because the vast majority of photography is produced by someone like us for someone like us, I guess you can say that photography is of the people, by the people, for the people, and shall not perish from this earth. :-)

We do need to be mindful of those who would diminish photography for their own gain though, and how they do it. I’ve always had an aversion to advertising. I’m the guy who mutes the ads during the Super Bowl and then initiates a conversation hoping no one will notice. Advertising uses psychology to prey on our emotions and it’s inevitable that advertising would use photography to elicit emotion. This use of emotional leverage in such a pervasive way can diminish photography in ways we may not perceive.

It’s really nice to be able to use the Internet to step outside the corporate world to interact with people like us from across the globe and to visit places like TOP World Headquarters in bustling Penn Yan. I think this freedom probably helps us to maintain an awareness of the hidden influences in the corporate world so that photography (among other things) is not defined by it.

It is reassuring to have someone literate and literate about photography be on my side, even as an amateur color nature/landscape photographer, which is clearly not art™.

"There is no such thing as Art - only artists" - E H Gombrich

Here's an interesting take on a professional photographer's struggle to define exactly what photography can often become, and what it can be- depending on the photographer's approach, sensitivity and outlook. The last paragraph is particularly telling...


Your last two posts have had me dizzy trying to get a grip on what you are trying to convey. Regarding this one, all I can get is we are what we are are far as photography is concerned. Is there more punch line than this?

"This is one infinite charm of the photographic delineation. Theoretically, a perfect photograph is absolutely inexhaustible. In a picture you can find nothing the artist has not seen before you; but in a perfect photograph there will be as many beauties lurking, unobserved, as 'there are flowers that blush unseen in forests and meadows'."
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1859)

“Critics, theorists, and pundits have as much to do with photography and photographers as ornithologists have to do with birds.” — Roger Vail

Roger was my grad school advisor at California State University, Sacramento. This is, of course, a paraphrased remembrance of a verbal quote, but it captures the essence of his comment to me. He also advise me that I would have to “unlearn” other professors of what they think they know about photography.

Another quote, from Reagan Louie, professor at San Francisco Art Institute: “Photography is the foreign language everyone thinks they can speak.”

These, and others, help me keep a proper perspective on photography.

Just an interesting current event note. As I watched live news coverage of today’s horrific Notre Dame fire I counted only three dslr-like cameras in the crowd shots. The raised phone cameras were far too numerous to count. And many of the early images and clips that were being broadcast were clearly from amateur phone photography and videography. And here’s the kicker: those images, whether broadcast or posted, were likely seen by more people by day’s end than, say, Margaret Bourke-White’s first Life Magazine cover image of the Fort Peck Dam.

Photography may be photographers ... but everyone is now a photographer?

Just to clarify a reader’s earlier comment, the first ever “photograph” released last week of the black hole was made using radio telescopes and not optical telescopes. The colors were chosen and assigned by the scientists and reflect the pattern and intensity of the electromagnetic waves received by the telescopes. No photons were involved so it technically is not a photograph, but a human interpretation of the data so we mortals can better understand what they found.

Thank you for being on the side of photographers.
I notice it in your writing and appreciate it very much.

I'm not sure I quite get your drift in all of this, Mike - your raft appears to me to be caught in a set of conflicting currents not headed anywhere in particular.

Photography and photographers are vastly different nouns and I don't think you can just conflate them as you have and strike anything but a very superficial argument. The various types of photographs, darkroom or digitally produced, obsolete techniques, of themselves create differences in look, feel and even as symbols of effort and skill expended in creation. Questions such as print surface make a massive difference in both perception and suitablity to purpose. A photograph can be a governmental record, an engineer's proof, a piece of pornography and/or just the manifestation of somebody's frustrated sex drive. It can be an idealized picture of a holiday resort; it can be an image of anything it's possible to turn into an image. An entire school of photography - street - works well on a screen but will never find home on my walls.

Photographers can be employed hacks (increasingly rare!), as they can be the stars upon which a magazine's fortunes depend. Photographers can be solitary workers who function best - or at all - only when there are no human distractions around them; others can only find their jollies in crowds of like-minded camera enthusiasts whose buzz is gear and even, dare I say it, one-upmanship. For some, photography is just something they do because they think everybody else does it: they snap their cats, dogs and babies and post them everywhere they can, expecting everyone else to be interested. Is that conceit a totally skewered take on their own signficance in this world, or is it just a lack of visual, communicative imagination on their part? In that respect, it could be argued that social media has been both the inseminator of a new photographer species as well as the depository of all the horrors to which its mindless efforts has given birth.

One can be terribly simplistic and just define photography as drawimg with light, a definition that then immediately shelters and embraces everything that's made that way or, perhaps, one can aim more highly and bring into the conversation little matters such as technical ability, creative input, eye and success or otherwise in the effort to get that image just right, which often means ignoring or even countering much of the technical perfection that is possible. Is that photography, or is it exercising the artist within one? I concede both are inextricable intertwined, but I believe they yet remain as distinct as the hydrogen and oxygen in the water we drink.

I believe there is photography, both good and bad, useful as useless; that some photographs have the power to excite emotional responses and others not. I believe that in just the same way there exist photographers with something to express and others just making pointless exposures.

In the end, it seems to me to underline the politically indigestible truth that not all photographers are created equal, and that what they do with their medium is what defines the art or otherwise of it. Yes, to an extent they are directly connected to what they do, but that does not make them what they do; what they do is merely a visible representation of what lies within them.

Well, the whole point of Shutterbug WAS to sell gear, so I can see why they were surprised if they really thought you were one of them.

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