Let’s begin with a thing about signs in photographs vs photographs of signs. If that’s not your cup of tea scroll down to the second bit where you will see a bunch of 4×5 portraits I’ve posted to illustrate some hype . . .


Signs. They advertise, direct, inform and clutter. They are used in official ways  by businesses and governments, and in unofficial ways by ordinary citizens. There’s no escaping them, they’re everywhere. Even, and sometimes especially, in photographs.

A sign in a photograph occupies some bit of the frame but is subservient to a larger complexity the photograph is pointing to. In other words, the sign informs the image but is not its point.

On the other hand, a photograph of a sign is, well, a photograph of a sign. We see the photo, read or look at the sign and maybe we grin or shake our head at the cleverness or the stupidity of the person who made the sign. But that’s it, it’s over.

Now, there are a lot of smart photographs with signs in them. After all there’s no escaping signs, they’re everywhere. Sometimes, too, a photographer will include a photo or two of a sign in a body of work. They have a place, if used judiciously, in any record of a person’s impression of the world they live in. Sure.

But heavily relying on photos of signs as a way to get your point across seems to me to be a shorthand way of making a one-dimensional point.

Of course, the surface meaning of the sign can be neatly recontextualized if they are smartly included in a sequence of photographs. Placing an image of a sign in a larger, complex string of images/ideas can subvert the initial meaning of the sign and move the thesis of the sequence forward.

I bring this up because of the time I spent on the edit/sequence of my new project. While I was shooting that project I didn’t really know what might be useful so it was important to have enough diverse, raw data to allow for options in the edit/sequence. To this end I shot some signs . . .

These all got edited out. In the end the final edit of my project contains two photos that feature signs . . . one of a sign, the other with one.


There are only 2 places left in the Portraiture as Experience Master Class I’m teaching this summer. Four Saturday afternoon’s in June that will change the way you approach creating portraits.

Besides that, this course will give you something to talk about at the dinner table. You’ll be recounting the stories that happen when you take one small step forward towards more intimate encounters. Nothing scary, just a swell, slow approach to closing the space between you and the person you are photographing.

Go here for details and to sign up.

And . . . some portraits I’ve shot over the past few years with my 4×5.



Cities sometimes spawn, support and become known for a specific approach to, and aesthetic of, photography. Something about that city (an influential teacher, a certain demographic makeup, right time/right place, etc.) causes photographers there to produce work that has a certain recognizable look, feel and politics. That approach goes on to influence other photographers, in other places, and, thus, affects the history of photography. Think of Dusseldorf, think of Vancouver, think of Tokyo.

In  Kapital City a certain look, feel and (lack of) politics seems to have emerged. It’s not significant (or modern) enough, in terms of the ongoing history of photography, to become internationally influential, but nonetheless . . .

In a nutshell, and speaking generally, narrative (of almost any kind) is eschewed in Kapital City, the photographers here preferring instead to aim for beautiful aesthetics and a swell surface . . . a slick one dimensionality seems to be enough. And not that many photographers here go out into the world. Instead some aspect of the world is dragged into a studio and shoehorned, risk-free, “into an inert mannered emptiness, where objects and portrait sitters are painstakingly selected and framed, but still fail to elicit any meaningful reaction”, as Loring Knoblauch writes about a certain strain of contemporary photography. Along with (or because of) that, there seems to be a general lack of interest in current affairs and the histories, big and small, that are made day to day. That is: politics in almost all its forms is pretty much ignored (barring the highfalutin politics some attach, through specious reasoning in their artist statements, to their anodyne images).

I can sometimes be sort of seduced by the surface of some of these photographs but beyond that . . . well, there’s not much beyond that. (And, yes, of course there are photographers here who are doing complex, smart, nervy work; work where something seems to actually be at stake.)

So what do you do if you live in a city where the prevailing taste in photography makes you want to clear your throat?

First of all, I recognize that there are many grey areas within anything one would like to categorize. And it must be said that work I find facile, cliché, sentimental, simplistic, fetishized, might move someone else to tears (and win awards). So be it. I’ll give you that. I also admit that I have limited insights (some would argue: very limited) and I have bias (some would argue: a lot of bias). But I’m just not into blind acceptance.

Anyway, if you’re like me, the stupid me, you’ll try to change things. You’ll tell people that if they don’t just settle for what comes easily and for the obvious, photography can be about more than what’s readily available on the surface. You’ll tell them that if they embrace challenge and discomfort their work will have more complexity and nuance. But it’s a hard-sell because most people are very comfortable with their comfort.

(It must be noted that just about any discomfort experienced by photographers is usually quite temporary; they can almost always drive their car back to their house, have dinner, watch television and climb into their own bed.)

If you’re like the less stupid me you’ll try to find fellow travellers in your town, get together with them and compare notes. But mostly you’ll  find photographers around the world who are doing work you respect, you’ll reach out (most, if properly approached, are quite sympathetic) and compare notes, ask for (and maybe even take) advice. You’ll embrace the power of your convictions, and let the chips fall where they may. Thus you find community, thus you advance.

I’m not promoting the idea of living in an echo chamber. I think you’ll find that the photographers who are interested in the challenge of creating complex work through a process that embraces failure, discovery, politics and confusion, photographers who want something to be at stake in the creation, meaning and distribution of their work . . . those photographers, when you get together to discuss, will not pat you on the back and say, good work, let’s order another drink. They’ll challenge you because they challenge themselves. It’s in their makeup.

If that’s not your cup of tea, by all means go along with the status quo. People will love your pictures.


It feels like I’m getting close to a final, or, realistically, a quarter-final dummy. Five thousand images have been whittled down to forty-six in a specific order. And, after a surprising amount of finagling, the text has been sorted, too.

I’m happy with the general look and feel, the flow of images and, for lack of a better word, the content. Now it seems that what’s left is a whole bunch of detail work (final design, fonts, format, image size, etc.).

The first dummy was made of 3×4 inch work prints slotted into the sleeves of a 5×7 album.

That served its purpose for about a week, a week of moving images from here to there in the sequence and some preliminary fine-tuning.  The images were too small, though, to show to anyone else, so I did it all again, this time using a standard print size of 5×7 inches in an 8.5×11 album. I also took this opportunity to fine-tune the prints a bit. Still not the final versions, but closer.

This is the dummy I showed to all sorts of people. Their feedback, and further thinking on my part, resulted in moving some images around, removing some  entirely and adding others. A general tightening up.

Then . . .

I had initially thought that each image should carry an equal weight, so all the prints in the dummy were the same size. But what would happen, I wondered, if I varied the size of the prints . . . what would that look like, how would it work?  And, what sizes should I use?

So I had another look at the dummy and figured out a strategy. I’d use the same sequence, but 3 different print sizes. Once that was decided it was sort of obvious which prints should be standard size, which should be bigger and which should be biggest.

So, as of today, this is where it stands. There will be more changes, but it’s beginning to feel quite tight, real right.

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