When it comes to going out into the world and photographing, some will tell you to photograph what you know, that that’s the only way (or maybe the best way) to make sure your photos have veracity.
Me? I don’t subscribe to that. Of course I’m not suggesting you parachute into a foreign culture (whether it be near or far) and apply some colonial mindset to what you see. We’ve had enough of that, thank you very much.
But I do think it’s possible, if you go slowly enough and are open enough, to get to know something other that that you are familiar with. Or at least to be able to render your perspective on, and your relationship to, that (other) aspect of the world. Your photos will (should) show your biases and your ethics, morals and intelligence. If, that is, the viewer cares to look at and think about them from a critical standpoint.
Sad to say, though, critical thinking is something that is sorely missing in the way many view and consume photographs. All too often reactions to images are of the knee-jerk variety. And those knee-jerks are usually informed by current modes of thinking combined with some fundamental stance that was adopted long ago and has never been revisited or revised.
But without consideration of the histories of the world, the medium and, mostly, consideration of ourselves, that only leads to an orthodoxy that often (usually) excludes nuance, alternate perspectives, the long view. It only engenders the entrenchment of what we think we know.
Thanks to the brave souls who made it to the launch of After the Fact. They braved torrential downpours and two tornados to get there. And when they arrived they were met with a completely dark gallery because of the power outages that were happening all over the city.
Weirdly prophetic, seeing as weather, climate change, is partly what After the Fact is about.
Eventually the lights did come back on, snacks were consumed, beverages were taken to the face, photos were looked at and conversations took place.
Amongst the folks that came was Ava. Here we are, Ava and I, standing by the photo of her legs that appears in the book. (Yes, she is alive, the book is a work of fiction.)
Colin Pantall wrote a very interesting blog post about how photographers having (spare) money (or not) affects the photoworld.
Here’s an excerpt . . .
I was talking to somebody (who appears extremely successful and makes genuinely great work. But is actually broke) a couple of months ago and she wondered if there shouldn’t be a consideration of the wealth of the photographer in evaluating work. If you are stinking rich and can afford that army of assistants and those high production values, should there be a little cross against you was what she was saying. Should there be a red mark of wealth against you.
It’s a valid question and one lots of people ask – but not too loudly.
A few years ago I posed this question on Facebook:
Should photographers who have a good disposable income apply for grants?
Well, a shitstorm ensued in the comment section.
First of all, many folks misinterpreted the question, they wondered how granting agencies might apply a means test to applicants.
But my question had nothing to do with granting agencies applying a means test. I was suggesting (in a passive/aggressive way, truth be told) that those who practice art and who have a trust fund, money socked away, a swell pension, a rich partner, etc., might consider stepping away from the grant money table, that they leave money there for those who actually need it.
It also was brought up that receiving a grant, being accepted by a jury of your peers, was always good for your career, good for your resumé and good for the good-old ego. And, sure, it’s difficult to argue with that.
I suppose, too, that that’s why so many photographers enter those pay-to-play contests . . . career advancement, acceptance, a line in your CV and having your photograph appear in some online gallery or (if you’re doubly lucky) as part of a group show somewhere.
Aside from a few that actually have some industry weight and a modicum of morals, most of those contests are just money grabs that prey on the hopes and dreams of photographers. You “win” but the only real outcome is an ego boost and another line on your resumé, another bit of news for your social media feed.
But, as Colin points out, having money is pretty much a prerequisite for moving your career along, and many (most) of the systems in place to “help” photographers do nothing to address that issue.
It’s good to see that, more and more, people in the photoworld are beginning to question certain foundations that world is built upon.
In Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Bob Dylan (No Direction Home), one of the folk singers he interviews says that in the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene the question one musician would ask another, when talking about some other musician, was, “Did he (sic) have anything to say?”. That struck a chord with me because when I look (and feel) at art that’s what I’m looking for: Do you have anything to say?
Another question I ask myself is: Why are you speaking to me? And that question, why?, is a minefield when it comes to the arts.
Do you do it for status? For money? Is it a career choice, one where you’ll subvert what’s really on your mind in order to hit the trendy sweet spot? Maybe (and here we come full circle) you have nothing much to say but have developed a platform to say it.
I hear the word “art” bandied about with almost total abandon, people often call the most banal, crafty busy-work “my art”.
We all know that these days reality seems to be what you want it to be or what you say it is. We decry the fact that for some (invariably the “others”) truth is not truth and “their” perspective and beliefs seem to be based on some totally foreign (to us) foundation. And once (if) we get past our emotional, knee-jerk reactions we wonder why.
I say it’s time to apply that same scrutiny to ourselves, to our motives and to why we say what we say.
Got the proof of After the Fact this week. Looks bang-on to me.
It’s now on the press and I expect to take delivery by the end of this week.
Here’s some pix of the cover and the inside cover with the dust jacket removed . . .
It’s an edition of 200 and already more than 2/3 sold. (Thanks to all the folks who have supported this project.) Get your copy here.
When I look at my Instagram feed I’m struck by the weird (at least to me) discrepancy that is shown there. On the one hand there are photos of my garden and of me communing with the backyard chipmunks.
There are also photos from After the Fact, the book I’m in the final stages of producing. A book about, maybe, the rise of fascism, and the changing political and physical climates. Large events that we are living through and, if you are conscious, trying to make sense of.
But I think many of us are stuck on the horns of that dilemma. We wonder how to live our lives in an era of lowered expectations and rising outrage, how to reconcile beauty with cruelty and greed. And I think a lot of us deal with it by becoming obsessed with both ends of that spectrum. We are obsessed with living perfect, photogenic lives and we are obsessed with the fucked up state of our world. That is the continuum we are stuck on, the continuum we bumble through. Our lives.
Of course, if you take the long view, what’s happening these days is actually the norm. The years between, say, 1950 and 2000 were actually an anomaly. In that era we had a rising middle class and politicians and captains of industry who at least gave lip service to serving their constituents and workers.
But that was just a bubble, a weird confluence of events that gave First World citizens hope and rising expectations. Before and after that bubble, though, our civilization was a lot tougher, a lot rougher. That was the norm.
Problem is, we (most of you reading this) came up in that bubble of more or less peace and prosperity. We think that that’s the way things are and should be.
My Kickstarter ends at midnight tonight. Whew! And if you are bored with all the Kickstarter hype here, just scroll down for a bit on transparency . . .
So, yes, a day left to get yer sorry ass over to my Kickstarter and kick in. You’ll get a book out of the deal, mailed to your door. Not to mention that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you support independent voices and alternate takes on what’s what.
A huge thank you to everyone who chipped in to make this possible. Yes!
I’ve been using trailers, sample page spreads, and Mark the chipmunk to hype this thing. So here’s a final trailer (sound on please), one more page spread, and Mark.
Go here for support the Kickstarter. If you are reading this after July 1st head on over here to get your copy.
Next week drool. will resume regular programming (whatever that is).
I think we all can agree that transparency is important. In a lot of ways.
For instance, if you are a photographer who’s work touches on social and/or political aspects of the world, your approach to that should somehow be explained. And I’m not talking here about telling your viewers exactly what your work “says”, or what you are getting at. It must be left to those who consume your work to wonder.
What I’m talking about is building clues into the work, markers, and so on, that point to your politics and predilections. Of course, you may also write about where the work is coming from, and the process you used to make it.
Of course, no matter how succinct your writing, how obvious the political stance of your work, you will almost always be misinterpreted and reinterpreted, recontextualized and decontextualized. That’s the nature of communication. Our brains are really quite limited.
But that’s a huge subject and not really what I set out to talk about here. What I want to talk about is much simpler . . .
I wrote this on Facebook a couple of days ago:
Photographers (etc.) who apply to contests (etc.) and win (etc.) always mention their success on social media. Would like to see those photographers (etc.) also mention when they didn’t win (etc.). #transparency
What ensued was a comment chain that mostly disagreed with that sentiment. Lots of interesting opinion and some funny stuff, too. (And, I might add as a tip of the hat to the quality of my Facebook family, all the comments were respectful and thought out. Thank you very much.)
Someone in the comment chain wondered what the value would be in declaring, right out loud, something like, “Rejected by (insert name of contest, granting agency, gallery, etc.). Damn!”
I suggest the value would simply be in keeping it real and owning some of the disappointments and rejections we all endure.
I’m not suggesting anyone harp on rejection, or display bitterness. A mere mention once in a while, though, would supply some of the perspective we desperately need and so seldom find these days on social media. By admitting failure, once in a while, we help each other.
And, bonus, I have found that, framed correctly, with the right tone and a certain aw-shucks-ain’t-life-like-that attitude, admitting your mistakes, shortcomings and failures usually doesn’t make people think less of you. In fact, it often makes people hold you in higher regard, makes you seem like a full-fledged human.