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Wednesday, 03 November 2021


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I wonder if "redact" might be something you do before you press the shutter release? You see something that makes you stop and want to capture it in a photograph. Now with movement and/or lens choice, you eliminate everything that isn't the thing that made you think that there is a photo to be had.

Just one thought, could be totally off base, not knowing the person that came up with this theory.

My only photo book-

"Churches ad hoc: a divine comedy"

I get what you mean about redact, but that's not how I understand the word. I've only ever seen it used in the dictionary form, which means "to censor or obscure (part of a text) for legal or security purposes".

Persnicketiness aside, yes, "redacting" your work is so important, and much rarer these days because most photographs are only ever going to be published online, where they are endlessly malleable.

I like to think that when I "publish" something to my web site, it's done and can't be changed. But of course it can be changed because I publish to my web site from inside Lightroom. That makes it trivial to "tweak" and republish, with nobody the wiser. I'm mostly successful at not doing that...

This is why I like photo books. Yes, the appearance of someone's work can change across editions and publishers. Nonetheless, unless I drop it in the tub or leave it open in the sun, the appearance of someone's work in my copy of a book is going to be stable.

I just received Net Pratt's book, One Wave. I like knowing that I can go back to his pictures and they will be the same because they are "redacted" on the pages. Side note: if you don't know Ned Pratt's work already, you should.

[That definition is only one way of redacting. Redacting means to ready something for publication. The word as applied to photographic work is mainly associated with the American critic A.D. Coleman, who has written extensively about his ideas about it. --Mike]

The word redact has two divergent meanings.

In contexts other than publishing, to redact something means to remove or obscure information for security or privacy, etc reasons. Excluding/removing information is the usage that I normally see, at least in the practice of law and governmental document releases.

In publishing, the formal definition of redact involves combining a variety of different elements into a single, final form, suggesting the combination of multiple imagery, something that's not the norm for most photography.

It's not entirely clear from the context which meaning Mr. Coleman had in mind when he wrote the quoted passage. One can make a case that either is a logically valid fit.

I lean, however, toward the interpretation that Coleman was using contrasting language, hence "reify" and make real, contrasted with "redact" in the sense of removing some of a photo's broader context and confining the subject, scope and context of a photo, rather than combining different elements into a single final publication.

The Merriam-Webster definition, which is consistent with both of those divergent meanings.

"Redact and Reify" has long been my favorite TOP post. It is THE post that hits home to me. It speaks to what I know to be my greatest challenge. It inspires me to prioritize this back end of the process much more - again!

New since my last reading of this is that my most regular redaction is probably instagram now. It is the place described in the essay - a place I could send a viewer with no excuses. It is a good representation of my work. It has also given me a new reason to redact and reify. Instagram has been beneficial in that regard.

Strange, to me "redact" has a much more specific term: to edit a text by obscuring part of it, usually to hide sensitive information and allow the rest to be published. So maybe I might redact the registration number from a vehicle in my photograph... or perhaps redact the personal, family photos from a collection I'm using as a screen saver. I've not heard it use befored in the sense you use it.

[It is a specific sense. Allen Coleman has written about it extensively, and it was at least pretty current in the sense I mention in the field of photography twenty and thirty years ago. But in any case, the real meaning is to "make ready for publication," which might INCLUDE obscuring words and phrases because they're profanity, or classified secrets, or whatever. But it never meant just that. --Mike]

Thanks Mike,
A question from the peanut gallery. Given how many times Ansel re-printed his Moonrise photo, and others, does that mean he redacted it multiple times?
I’m not trying to be contrarian, just trying to understand how fixed or final something is when redacted. Is it the difference between a given print (which presumably can’t change once printed) versus someone taking a negative or file and re-interpreting it to make a new print?
Hope all is well.

[I'm not sure I want to pronounce on the matter, you know? I'm not the arbiter. But basically redaction is just putting the work into final form. There are various natural endpoints--publication, a show, the artist's death--but an artist can also revise it through time--cf. Whitman, who basically revised one book of poetry (Leaves of Grass) throughout his lifetime, adding to it as he went. Regarding Moonrise, I suppose the operative concept is the quote from Cicero--"change of mind is not inconsistency." Make any sense? --Mike]

I do not want to present a portfolio that is representative of my work as a photographer; I want a portfolio showing my good work!

Spot-on essay well worth reposting annually, Mike. Towards the ends of redaction, I have been producing 1 or 2 books each year for a few years. While they are all Blurbs the process produces the same distillation of concepts and intentions as a Steidl would. Just not the print quality.

Regarding Ross Cameron’s comment on Ansel Adams, I don’t think redaction was his goal for the reprints. More like reinterpretation to his aging tastes. Some years ago the Art Institute of Chicago showed 3 versions of Moonrise printed at very different stages of his life. (It was part of a show of many photographers re-works over decades.). In my opinion, Adams’s vision may have been failing. The first print made shortly after the he made the image was the best, with more subtlety. The final print was quite graphic and reductive with high contrast and crushed darks. It may have seemed punchier and more impactful to aging eyes. And that was true of nearly every photographer in that fascinating show. They rarely got more refined visions in prints or captures in their twilight years.

(Sorry for the lateness of my comment. I am traveling many time zones away from home. Collecting material to redact in my cold, old age!)

My thanks to Mike & Kenneth for the illumination.
I can understand redaction in terms of say a painting or a sculpture, once you finished it, I guess that’s it. Although I must acknowledge that line comes from someone with zero experience in painting and sculpting, indeed most of the arts, so I could be completely wrong.

The reinterpretation via subsequent prints makes sense to me. Especially in light of Ansel’s analogy to music, where the performance is an interpretation of the score. The concepts may not a perfect fit in today’s world of digital, where a re-print can be just a click away, and I guess a re-interpretation can be as minimal as tweaking a slider.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed being introduced to the concepts, and the discussion, so thank you very much.

[Think of it in its most basic photography-related sense as: how do you start with a large mass of shooting and end up with a small, focused project in meaningful final, fully realized form? That's the problem of redaction.

Of course you can also be working on it AS you shoot. Like Mark L. Power used to say, "Shoot, think, shoot." That is, you re-evaluate and shape your shooting according to your thinking as you go along. Still, the basic idea still holds. --Mike]

The number and length of your responses to posts suggests to me that the use of redact that you are promoting is simply a non-starter outside of dictionaries and specialist parts of publishing.

Reference to some supposed expert who writes, not makes, photographs does nothing to make a word he is touting one that the rest of us will use.

". . . how do you start with a large mass of shooting and end up with a small, focused project in meaningful final, fully realized form? "

Now that process is something I understand, and practice. It's separate from the ability to make good photographs. Perhaps it does indeed need a word, other than edit or curate. But I can't ever imagine myself using redaction for that process when I do it.

The two definitions are, to me, so wildly different that I'm not comfortable with the second. Perhaps the endless video images of pages with blacked out words in congressional hearings, movies and TV shows have destroyed the viability of that usage?

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