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.
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.
PORTRAITURE AS EXPERIENCE
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.