If All Social Reality Is Staged…

If “all social reality is staged,” according to T.R. Young, then what is the relation of that point of view to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s that photography captures a decisive moment? It’s as if a street photographer is just an audience member of Hamlet snapping photos. She knows what will already happen.

Yerevan, 2023 by author

Before we meet our “betters,” we carry out the hundreds of little activities that make up getting ready for the world: shower, shave, caffeine to stay alert and chipper. We are constructing our “best foot forward,” although I’m not sure why one would be better than another. Perhaps, you linguists out there reading this, would inform me, if you please?

But then, doesn’t the street photographer do the same thing? Play a role in a play that’s already been written? If so, then a street photograph is just a still from a movie, and not something revelatory as it was before the ubiquity of photos.

Bukowski lamented this in the publishing industry in a poem where he wrote, “Who is to survive out of all this mulch? We will all be catalogued and filed.” And thus be lost somewhere in that index of authors.

“A picture held us captive,” wrote Wittgenstein. Actually, it was billions of photos on social media. 2012 was the year teenage suicides started to sky rocket along with social media growth. The social media companies, of course, deny their complicity in all this. The Gaze demanded a certain look from everyone, and that pressure, for some, on top of all the trouble in the world proved too much.

Social Media is Dead

Just echoing what Om Malik wrote a few weeks ago. Social Media is dead.

This is actually a great thing. Not that I was ever in danger of this, but I won’t have to worry about Instant or Viral Fame compromising my art. When I go outside, I won’t have anybody say, “You’re that guy on that social!”

No, my dear follow artists, we can go back to the work without worrying about the algorithm or downloading the latest and greatest app, which honestly would just get weaponized against us anyways.

This means going back to IRL networking. Don’t worry people totally forgot how to fake smiles these days, and you can catch one a mile away. It also means exploring dark forests: discord chats, or members only websites.

“We are drowning in the obscurity and the water’s lovely. Won’t you join us?”

My Photo Work Flow After my Digital Detox

In my last post I wrote about my digital detox – tl;dr: no trolls or algorithms manipulating you. “Free your mind,” Morpheus says in The Matrix. A digital detox does exactly that.

What then does my post detox photo work flow look like. Let’s talk about an old way first: grow an audience on socials to market to by making digital photos. Make a physical zine. Sell it on socials. Rinse and repeat.

During my detox, I saw this work flow as problematic. Photography became reduced to marketing and the world reduced to a photographic resource. I’m not saying this is evil but the world is more than just a resource and great photos are more than just marketing. A photographic work flow like this could and often does produce interesting work, but the artistic integrity of it from a Gadamerian sense is compromised. “Seeking to be liked or admired—this is the surest way to fail as an artist.”

What is my new work flow? The physical image is the basic unit of my work. This means that any social media is an after thought or a hint of the actual work, and not the work itself. This means a photo I make doesn’t even touch social media. The new work flow is photograph, develop, print contact sheets and/or prints, and then edit photos into a collection. I won’t be bothered with scanning, unless there is already a print. My social media use is merely meta commentary on work & life, but not the commentary itself.

This new work flow could also be fitted with digital tools as long as it’s all about the print.

There are some disadvantages. I’m basically saying no to growing my audience on social media. But this is ok, because as Gary Vee says, “You don’t determine the quality of your creative; your audience does.” Whenever Garyvee sees an influencer close to missing a deadline because of perfectionism, he’ll tell them something like, “You don’t decide if it’s perfect; your socials do. It’s definitely & objectively on you, if it’s late.” I would rather set my own standards rather than be distracted by an audience. If I need to get the message out, I can always work with an influencer.

Some might say, “You’re leaving money on the table.” Honestly, only new apps like TikTok are leaving money on the table since it’s where exponential growth is without an algorithm gimping you.

Others might say, “You seriously do not get that people want it now.” This is perhaps the most valid concern. We live in a 24/7 news cycle and the value of an image drops precipitously the further in time it is to the newsworthy event. Sure there are still long form, photo essays, but the money is either in breaking the news or a book. I would say that having habitually been “late to the party,” there is still room for stories that cover in a deep and thoughtful way, the aftermath.

What’s your photographic process? Is print first like I’m doing the way to go? Let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Digital Detox for a Week

I did a digital detox for one week from 8/24/2019 to 8/31/2019. My plan was towards the end of the detox I would head out to the Wilderness in Joshua Tree but I sprained my knee half-way through so just spent all my time in San Francisco.

My version of the digital detox meant no cell phone and no Internet for a week. I basically could not do any work, so took the week off, but unlike a vacation, I kept myself busy with reading, photography, Arabic language study, darkroom photo printing, and writing.

Here is what I read:

History of My Times, Xenophon (up to the part where Athens loses the Battle of Aegospotami and its aftermath),
Anabasis, Xenophon (a few passages in ancient Greek),
The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (up to the 2nd Lacadaimonian Conference),
Lean Out, Marissa Orr,
Intermediate Perl, and
lots of photography books.

My days were spent going to the library, having lunch by the bay, photographing and then going to the darkroom to develop film or work on prints. If the darkroom was closed, I’d go to the library again for awhile and then head home.

Here are the benefits I noticed in me:

  • vivid dreams each night,
  • the urge to buy anything on-line was totally gone,
  • no Internet induced anger by trolls or just the news headlines,
  • more focus, and
  • better moods.

Here is what sucked about the detox:

  • more prone to afternoon naps, and
  • periodic fits of boredom.

A digital detox makes real clear those areas of your life that you need to take back from the Internet. In my case, browsing online shopping sites and social media apps were the main areas to work on. It’s forced me to focus on shopping IRL as I did before Amazon, and doing photography the way I did before Instagram or Flickr. For anybody wanting to produce a significant body of work, this is an advantage.

My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.

“My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.” — Paul Darling

My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.

The earliest origin for a variation on this quote can be found in Cazuza’s 1988 song of the name, “Ideologia,” where the quote in Portuguese is:

Meus heróis morreram de overdose

Meus inimigos estão no poder

I think of this quote every time I deal with Internet drama. Right now, I’m dealing with Ted Chin, the photo stealer. Under the guise of IgersSF he has finally found my film instagram accounts and has blocked all of them from his account and the IgersSF account. Nevermind, like the president of the US, he is using that account for nefarious purposes. That doesn’t change the fact that he is still a photo stealer and a douchebag. I thought I could start using Instagram under the radar again, and just focus on film photography – a niche that he neither respects, nor cares about. He’s one of those douchebags that espouses the idea that it’s a waste of money and outdated.

On top of blocking Ted also does another super douchey thing with the IgersSF account where he follows my friends anytime they tag me. IT’S THE BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG SOCIAL MEDIA MOVE EVER. GO AHEAD, BUT I AM GOING DARK SOON AND YOU WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH ME IRL WHERE I CAN NEVER BE BLOCKED.

Anyway, if you’re reading this Ted, or one of your douchebag minions is reading this, you haven’t heard the last of me yet. You think blocking me is gonna do you good like Trump, but both of you are sorely wrong. I join an honored list of people silenced by both you and the Trump.

Sergio Larrai­n and the Photoagraphic Experience

Who is Sergio Larrai­n? He is considered Chile’s greatest photographer (1931 – 2012) who made street photography “using shadow and angles in a way few had tried before.” The great French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, after seeing his London photographs, gave him an invitation to join and work for Magnum. He accepted this invitation. After a brief & meteoric rise as a photographer in the public eye for a few years in the 1960s, he became a meditation hermit in the mountains of Chile.

Many photographers believe that his photos hinted at what could’ve become an even greater career, and that his true contribution to photography is his exploration of the photographic experience. By photographic experience, I mean that sort of experience that is a pre-requisite for a great photo. The way Larraín describes it is as follows: “Freed of conventions… the images arrive like ghosts.” (Sergio Larrai­n by Gonzalo Levia Quijada, Agnes Sire et al., henceforth SL.)

...the images arrive like ghosts.

…the images arrive like ghosts…

How does one arrive at this preternatural state for doing photography, i.e. the photographic experience? In a letter written in 1982 to his nephew (from SL), he gives photographic advice akin to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

  1. Find the right camera: fits you, comfortable in hand, has only the features you need – no extras.
  2. “Act like you’re going on an adventure.” He suggests a city that is not a home town and doing what the Germans call a spazierengehen, a wandering about without a destination.
  3. Develop your photos. Throw all the prints away except for the best one. Put that one on a wall.
  4. Take a break. Study the works of others. Expose yourself to only good art. At this point, “the secret will slowly reveal itself.”
  5. Let nothing conventional distract you.
  6. “The conventional world puts a veil over your eyes. It’s a matter of taking it off during your time as a photographer.”

Then “the images arrive like ghosts.” The attainment of the photographic experience will lead to your good photos.

In my next blog post, I will being looking at Sergio Larrai­n’s book, Valparaiso.

Minutes to Midnight Trent Parke Review

For this review of Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke (2013), I’ll be using the index created here. In a previous blog post I talked about the stylistic and technical aspects of the work, where the filmic qualities and the chance a film process introduces are paramount. This review is just my interpretation of the book, and no doubt won’t be the last, but just one voice in a really, really long conversation.

The work starts off with a description of a UFO sighting. I quote it here at length.

—- start of excerpt —-
Witnesses reported watching a ball of light move across the sky
For up to five minutes at about 5.50 am Saturday.
“It was a perfect spiral of light,” one Redcliffe witness told The Sunday Mail
“I realized soon it was not the moon but that it was shooting like a comet from the southern sky and off into the northwest.”
Another Brisbane resident said: “There was absolutely no sound in a perfectly clear, darkened sky before dawn.”

The weather bureau said there were no weather conditions which would explain the light.
A defense spokeswoman also said she had no explanation.

The sunday Mail. June 5th 2010. Queensland, Australia
—- end of excerpt —-

As I ponder this and turn to the first picture (1) which is of moths to light, I stare it at for a bit. The photo now seems to resemble an alien planet. Photos 2 & 3 just seem like a capture of amusements, but then in photo 4 we get a bit of long exposure. I feel like the aliens have arrived.

Photos 5 through 14 are scenes of life in the Outback, or the rougher parts of Australia. Photos 15 through 21 seem to be taken in Sydney and its environs.

Photo 22 is an homage to Robert Frank’s photo of the same: a car covered in a white tarp, except the atmosphere feels very Ridley Scott Prometheus.

Photos 23 and 24 are night scenes that seem to harbinger more alien action in later photos.

Photo 25 seems is a car turning up dust. Is it an escape from the aliens?

Photos 26 to 29 all seem to suggest some sort of alien visitation.

Photo 30 is the child hurt was very visceral.

Photos 31-43 seem to have life under the aliens tropes.

Photo 44 is of the author’s pregnant wife.

Photo 45 is of the author’s new born son.

Photo 46 seems to suggest a future family life with the aliens.

Photo 47 seems to suggest that the aliens have left.

I can’t help but conclude that Trent Parke told a tale of fiction using completely straight photos, but like any art, this work has its own kind of truth.

When I saw the squalor that the aborigines were living in in the beginning I couldn’t help but feel a retched sort of optimism. Human beings have survived all sorts of invasions of each other. Shouldn’t they be able to survive an alien one?

2019 Trends in Film Photography

I’m taking a bit of a break from my review of the book I mentioned in my last post. It is the weekend after all.

Last night I went to the “cage match” at the Harvey Milk Photocenter. Basically, a photographer sends a photo to the @streetfotosf account and then a bunch of prestigious judges brutally and honestly judge the photos on a scale of 1 to 5.

The main lament of the judges was that they weren’t being shown something new, except for one judge who was okay with a “seen-before” photo with emotion or a mood.

We are awash in images seen before, but in film this trend takes a different twist. Americana, or anything basic but nostalgic seems to be the trend. The images all seem to say, “Behold, I can time travel, and look, it’s not digital: it’s film.”

This does not a photograph make, if we define it the way the “cage match” judges define it: Something I haven’t seen before.

Laundromat by u/Blueberry-STi via r/analog

But what do we mean by “something I haven’t seen before?”

Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel that presents a tension between every moment being unique and never happening again (and thus unbearably light), and every moment as something that’s happened before (Nietzschean eternal return).

Our judges notion of “something I haven’t seen before” is somewhere in between. What is this in between?

If we define a photograph as an image that we have not seen before, we’re hard pressed to recall any film photographs that fit this except for say experimental art in the vein of Irina Chernikova’s abstract experimentations.

Another trend is the use of Portra 400. By far and away it is the most hashtagged film on Instagram just recently breaking a million hashtagged photos this year. A distant second is Ilford HP5+ which as of this blog post is at around 459,000 hashtagged photos. This isn’t really scientific because I’m not taking into account hash crashing, but Portra’s dominance seems to be confirmed by YouTubers like Willem Verbeeck who feels it’s the standard.

There are 3 trends in film photography:

  • More film is being bought at a rate of 5% year over year
  • Very basic shots highlighting filmic qualities, or nostalgic Americana that might be expected of Stephen Shore shooting large format are awash online
  • Portra 400 is by far the most hashtagged film, and perhaps most used or sold?

We still haven’t answered the question of what is something we haven’t seen before.

Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke, Giving Valence to Film Flaws, An On-Going Review

How does one find a start for a photographic review? The first and only major blocks of text in Minutes to Midnight describe a UFO encounter by a set of witnesses. Will the photos be a fiction or a factual set. Will the photos be like the UFO, somewhere in between requiring interpretation?

In Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful he starts off with an analysis of Hegel’s turn of phrase for art: “a thing of the past.” How could Hegel say such a thing? Gadamer grapples with this and parsed Hegel as saying that art, gods and cultural significance used to be one. Christian, medieval art has this unity, although the god of Christ requires no architecture. (Matthew 18:20) Of our time (nihilism & many cultures in one state at each other’s throats – in a word, Balkanism), Gadamer must ask, “But what is all this compared to the alienation and shock with which the more recent forms of artistic expression in our century (20th) tax our self-understanding public?” (p. 7) Gadamer is asking this in 1977, a time of stagnation and malaise for the Western powers with conceptual art ascendent and eclipsing the “revolutionary” art of the 1960s. We still live in a time of “the conflict between art as the ‘religion of culture’ on the one hand, and art as a provocation by the modern artist on the other.” (Ibid.) (Perhaps a 21st century Gadamer might have written of our fractious time “religions of cultures.”)

In Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight we see the tension between this “religion of culture” as he is steeped in the tradition of street photography, and the provocations. Of the former he creates an homage to Robert Frank in Photo 22 of a car that is covered by a white tarp.

Trent Parke also provokes us by using film and focusing what in the 20th century were considered flaws: grain (most of the photos esp. photo 33) & motion blur (about 14 photos has this). The 21st century with its focus on hyper sharp images, megapixels and clean high ISO shots is anathema to what Parke has accomplished: giving film photography’s flaws a valence.

Grain occurs when a film is pushed or under exposed.

I focused on the aesthetics and style of Minutes to Midnight. In my next post, I’ll focus more on individual photos and how they relate to the UFO encounter.

A Highly Subjective Index of “Minutes to Midnight” by Trent Parke

This index of Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight is in preparation for a review of this great work published in 2013. Trent Parke saved up for 5 years to go on a road trip of Australia. During that time his partner got pregnant and birthed their son – both moments viscerally captured. Trent Parke used a high contrast black and white film with very rich, dark tones. Here is the index.

  1. Moths to light
  2. Children all with balloons except for one
  3. Beauty pageant contestants on cars
  4. Motion blur of pedestrians et alia on George St.
  5. A crowd
  6. Club Hotel Wiluna
  7. Aboriginal community? Some people lying on the pavement like dogs / with dogs.
  8. Diving into a reservoir
  9. A dragon fly caught on a spider web
  10. Guys driving in a car with an open beer container
  11. Kid’s wrestling
  12. Festival at night: XXXX Land
  13. Crowd under tree roots, motion blurred… has a Prometheus aesthetic
  14. Woman with infant; motor bike
  15. People at a beach; some reconnoitering from afar
  16. Dead cockatiel on road
  17. Child in a field
  18. Sydney Harbor with a blistering, lithium-like light reflected
  19. Soap bubbles in plaza
  20. White silhouette (famous photo)
  21. Street on a rail line
  22. Car covered in a white tarp (Robert Frank homage)
  23. White linens on a clothesline at night
  24. Child watching TV at night
  25. Overview / Aerial of a car kicking up dust through a curve in the road
  26. A marsupial jumping through the trees at night
  27. Man in the garden with leaves floating about (prelude to alien abduction)
  28. Spider webs, brush, twigs, barbed wire
  29. Horses at Twilight (ocf)
  30. Child with bloody elbow, screaming
  31. Dog with dead furry creature in mouth
  32. Bats with wings in flight back lit
  33. Two page spread: grainy silhouettes in park
  34. Burning kangaroo corpses
  35. Tree stumps
  36. Couple sleeping in the back of a pick up truck
  37. Dead, marsupial fetus
  38. Two page spread – black
  39. Night: bright white silhouette amongst leafless trees
  40. Raining on farm hands
  41. Kissing in a mosh pit
  42. Jellyfish
  43. Swimming / underwater
  44. Pregnant woman underwater
  45. New born in water
  46. Swing set with children at night
  47. Bats flying at night (long exposure with light trails and motion blur)