COPIED AND CO-OPTED

The current evolution (and devolution) of our culture and thus, politics, as it relates to photography is a (figurative) wormhole down which any thinking person might disappear and lose their mind. I’m going to leave it to smarter, more rounded people than me to bring you well thought out treatises on various aspects of that.

All’s I really want to do here is, I want to bring up, and leave dangling, just one thing . . . How quickly new, innovative photography is copied and co-opted.

Used to be finding new photography that informed and inspired was a long slow process. And for me “long” and “slow” and “process” are things that give worth. I’ve never been a fan of easy. It’s too easy.

But now the knockoff artists are running rampant. Within weeks of some new vision creating a sensation, being noticed, adding something to the canon, it is being copied.

A couple of cases in point . . .

Take the work of Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang. He shook things up a few years ago with the new, weird way he was working with youth and the body. Think Ryan McGinley with a (formal) edge.

© Ren Hang

And Zanele Muholi, from South Africa, who’s way of rendering black skin and showing costume was a revelation.

Skim through the mainstream photo/fashion publications and lots of “fine art” photographers’ websites, and so on, and you’ll see many pale imitations of these (above) approaches. And it seemed to happen overnight.

Spending real time searching for inspiration, for process, for personal meaning seems, in many cases to have gone the way of the dodo bird, i.e. extinct.

Too often in PhotoWorld™ the job gets done by biting someone else’s style.

Of course, nothing is really new. The real innovation (and truth and discovery) comes with (and by) the combining of many and various elements into a whole. When you take (yes, take) bits and pieces of what already exists, tumble them around in your brain, and spend the time and emotional capital to develop tactics and strategies to render that mashup you will (if you care and have talent) end up with something authentic.

OTTAWA NOTES

First of all . . . drool. will not be appearing next Sunday. I’ll be at the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival, The Netherlands.

Not taking my laptop, just a phone. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna write, and format a blog on that thing.

I will, though, be posting copious images and bits of writing on Twitter, Insta, and the Facebook. Follow me there if you need to see that stuff.

DO IT FOR THE GRAIN

There’s a new(ish), free photo zine available in Kapital City. DO IT FOR THE GRAIN, brought to you by Kenneth Yams, is billed as “a semi-regular publication of analog black and white photography by local artists”.

(As an aside, I’m not sure about separating and fetishizing film photography. In should be about the image, right? Why should anyone care what camera was used to create it? But, hey, you start a publication, blog, whatever, you get to do what you want.)

Anyway, in the issue I managed to find (vol 1/ issue 4. 16 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches) you will see a mix of, well, analog B&W photography.

Some of the page spreads are quite poetic, others too obvious, but you can tell attention has been paid to sequence, pairings and flow.

Of course, with the ease and relative low cost of printing stuff like this there is always the danger that one will just throw up, onto the printed page, the low-end vacuity often seen on social media. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised by DO IT FOR THE GRAIN. It will be interesting to see how this project evolves.

DO IT FOR THE GRAIN has a kind of bare-bones social media presence, but you can find further info, and where to pick up a copy, on their Facebook and Insta feeds.

I DON’T KNOW

Do you have moods? You do, don’t you? I have them too. Happy, sad; sure, unsure; elated, depressed; strong, weak . . . who knows?

Today I just don’t know.

I could pretend I know, that I’m sure. Or I could wait to write this until I do feel sure (because I’ll feel sure later). I could curate the face I show here, package it up into some as-close-to-perfect me as possible. I could live the lie.

Fuck that shit . . .

Photos tumble out of my X100F. The result of confusion and some kind of concerted effort. But nothing seems to be making much sense.

Don’t get me wrong, though. After all, this is what I set out to do . . . to be confused, to look for some new kind of sense. And now here I am . . .

At least I feel alive.

OTTAWA NOTES

As far as I can tell there’s pretty much nothing I want to note, photo-wise, in Kapital City this week. And when I say “to note” what I mean is there’s nothing happening that, in my opinion, moves photography in Kapital City forward. I don’t need to agree with whatever is being presented, but I’d like it to be smart, modern (or historically pertinent) and well conceived.

The important bit from the above being “in my opinion”. After all, I’m just a guy with a blog, doing the best I can. (And some weeks I do better than others.)

Sometimes I wonder if I might (should) write something critical here when I see photographs presented for consideration that fall short of the (my) mark.

After all, as I’ve said before, there’s too much “noticing” and boosterism in this scene, and not enough actual criticism. And it seems to me that if you present work for consideration perhaps you should want, and expect, people to consider (rather that just notice) it.

Or maybe some photographers don’t want or expect their work to be considered. Perhaps, for some, just being noticed is enough.

NOT A RANDOM KIND OF GUY

Let’s start with the continuing saga of me and my camera. If that bores you, well, there’s also a thing about the Dave Heath show at the Nat’l Gallery of Canada and an excerpt from the Jonathan Blaustein review of After the Fact.

So . . .

PRELIMINARY CONCLUSION

The X100F is a perfect tool for snap-shooting, carrying everywhere, making random notes. And that’s how I thought I might use it.

But after a few weeks of doing that I’ve come to a preliminary conclusion. And that’s that I’m not a random kind of guy.

Hold on, maybe I am a random kind of guy, but only in life. When it comes to photo projects I need some kind of hook to hang on.

Of course we all need some kind of hook, even if it’s just I’m-going-to-photograph-random-street-scenes. Or I-shoot-birds. Or yes-portraits-that’s-what-I’m-interested-in.

At the outset of this new project I set out just to see and react, and to bring the results of that seeing and reacting home so I could look at it, think about what I’d done. Then, as often happens, I saw one image and something in my brain went ping! An association was made, some synaptic path opened up and I saw a way forward. Focus was found, or at least intimated.

This is the photo that set it off. I don’t really like this image, will probably never use it.

It did, however, serve a purpose . . . it fixed a word in my brain, one word. And that word, which I am not yet ready to say out loud, has given me direction. Like a sign.

When all this was going through my head I bumped into this description of the process behind Brian David Stevens book: Doggerland. It was timely for me and seems to hit the nail on the head, about how I will pursue this thing I’m doing now . . .

“. . . found images, but images all looked-for : sought, perceived even a little in advance . . .”

The beauty of the camera I’m using is that it facilitates that mode of working. I’ve been enjoying carrying the thing around, and now I have a better idea of what I’m looking for.

OTTAWA NOTES

The Dave Heath exhibition, Multitude, Solitude, at the National Gallery of Canada is a must-see. A slightly overlarge view of much of the work he did in Korea and, famously, New York City in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Plus recent colour work, book maquettes and a bit of miscellanea.

Perhaps a little too sentimental in places for my tastes, but there is no denying the power and (specific) universality of these renderings. And, having known the man, it must be said . . . the work is true to his sensibilities, vision and outlook. These photographs are impossible not to look at closely, and that looking will affect you. What more can you ask for?

The NGC link here will take you to a place where you can read all about it.

Anyone who wants to take a deep dive into Dave Heath should check out this video made by Michael Schreier: Dave Heath, In Concert With The Silent Witness.

A REVIEW OF AFTER THE FACT

A while ago Jonathan Blaustein, over at aPhotoEditor, reviewed my book: After the Fact.

I have to say, he really got it, not only what it was about, but also the cyclical form of the sequence. Here’s the main bit of his review.

And, by the way, there are still 20 copies left. Go here to see the sequence, and here to buy a copy. Support independent publishing.

The cover is a dream-scape in silhouette of black on blue, with ravens and a tree and the sky.

This will be a repeating motif within, birds, and while I was OK with it, maybe it did seem a bit obvious.

Open it up, and there’s a globe. The North Atlantic Sea is prominent, and I think it’s a pretty damn smart way to ground the story.

Then, a disaffected portrait of a tall guy crammed under a short ceiling.

Then bleak, cold, yet undeniably beautiful landscapes of what I take to be Canada in Winter.

We start with a smart quote by Bertolt Brecht about singing in the face of darkness, which I took to mean that we need to make our art, to speak our peace, to sing our songs, in particular when we think things are going to shit.

(And of course many people regard our current situation as a particularly dangerous one, relative to the Post World War II era.)

Then, some redacted text, and then a slew of excellent images.

Like I said, the bird theme is a bit on-the-nose for me, and I normally don’t use that expression. But I’d also like to ask that people stop including pictures of trash on the street or sidewalk. (We had them in last week’s book too.)

What do you say, folks?
A moratorium on garbage in the street pictures?

But other than that, the photography is spot on.

The portrait of the dog in the muzzle?
Amazing.

The yellow brick road, the policeman’s gun, the bloody bed, the sad portraits, the public places, it all adds up to a feeling of dread and impending doom.

Impending doom is the same as maybe-not-yet arrived doom. You can feel it coming, but is there still time to affect the outcome? To hope? 

There’s a guy in camouflage unfurling a wire of some sort. Mennonite women, a power-company worker at night, more sad portraits, dead-people feet, power washing a building, and then that little girl looking right at you, from the side, like a young-21st-century-Mona-Lisa.

Towards the end, the book’s title page, “After the Fact.”

Then, another quote, this time from Martin Heidegger, “The possible ranks higher than the actual.”

Idealism before realism, I suppose?

Next, another portrait of a guy looking away, (behind the hoodie,) the birds, and a cold Canadian landscape.

A last credits page, which quotes Joe Strummer, “The future is unwritten,” and states, unequivocally, “This book is a work of fiction. The real people, places and incidents portrayed are used fictitiously.”

The end.

Is it, though?

If you open it in the back, and start here, doesn’t the book make just as much sense?

You get opening quotes for context, and you’re explicitly told to see this as a work of visual fiction.

It opens similarly, motif wise, (birds/landscape/dude portrait,) and this way, it includes the title page in the beginning, where it would normally be.

Plus, it’s just so easy to flip-it back to front, given its design.

There are narrative waves and repeating motifs that work just as well this way, and even better, you can reverse direction whenever you want.

It’s a good reminder, perhaps, that we not get too rigid in our thinking. That books should be made this way. Or that.