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.

How to Make Memorable Photos

Lately, I’ve been walking around looking for moments of emotion in my street photography. One time on Montgomery Street while shooting with Matt Sanchez a couple listening to someone with a sagacious, feminine tone of voice. I turned and could see them smiling and lunged like a fencer so that I was in front of them no more than a yard. I snapped a photo.

This photo was shot with a 28mm & Ilford HP5+ and you can see my shadow. With a bit of cropping you got a couple happy at getting some good news. Most critique groups automatically discount smiley faces but I love them. Why?

It’s more important to shoot what you feel than what you see, because ultimately what people remember about your photo is how you made them feel. Emotional memory is the secret to making memorable photo.

Sunbathing Bliss, San Francisco, 2019, Leica M3, 50mm Summicron, f/11, 1/1000

How to Analogue: How to Buy a Film Camera

There are many ways to buy a film camera. One could buy one new from either the Lomography store or Leica store. However, in terms of image quality and value, it is hard to beat buying a used film camera.

In this blog post I will show you:

1) How to inspect a used film camera
2) How to negotiate a fair price
3) Where to look for a used camera

I will also list my favorite used cameras.


1) How do you inspect a used film camera? This is really tough to do without a decent return policy. First make sure that whoever you bought it from allows returns. Before you buy off eBay, make sure that the seller allows returns. On Amazon, returns are easy to do. On Craig’s List you are on your own.

a. Inspect the body for fungus. I bought a camera with fungus once, and lost $200. What was worse is that the fungus in this camera infected my other lens, so I was out another $100. Fungus on a body will look like white dots like powdered sugar.

b. Inspect the lens for haze or scratches or fungus.

c. Does the aperture ring on the lens move smoothly with uniform clicks?

d. Does the shutter change firmly but easily?

e. Does the light meter (if it has one) work accurately? You will have to compare this with your own digital camera, or the “Manual” camera app.

f. Test focus. When you focus the lens to 1 meter, is it focused on 1 meter? When you focus on infinity is it focused on infinity, e.g. not blurry, or the rangefinder patches line up?

g. Shoot a test roll of film. If you have a 50mm lens and up do the yard stick test. On this roll of film photograph a yard stick. Focus on a number using the widest aperture. When you develop the roll, you will test and make sure that the number you focused on is in focus and nothing else. If it is not in focus then there is either a back focusing issue or rangefinder calibration error. On the test roll of film, whatever you think should be in focus should be in focus. There should be no weird spots (dirty lens) or strange haze. Photos should neither look too light nor too dark if exposed correctly. This may point to an issue with the shutter, the aperture blades or the meter.

h. Film should advance easily. When the film is rewound, rewinding should come easily, too.

If your film camera passes all these 8 tests, then it is a keeper. If not, return it and try again.

My favorite used film cameras are these:

Kirby Cove Trail, Olympus XA

Kirby Cove Trail, 2018, Olympus X-A, Tri-X 400, f/5.6, 1/60

The Olympus X-A – Scott Behr is a master with this camera and his work can be seen on Instagram. I own two of these, and you can get them for around $100.

The Canon AE-1 – With a decent 50mm, this is all the camera you’ll ever need. This is an SLR camera with a very bright focusing circle. Way easier to focus than my Pentax K1000. If I were to get another film camera it would be this one. It sells for about $150.

The Pentax K1000 – Another decent SLR, but not as easy to focus as the Canon AE-1. The main advantage is that it doesn’t need batteries to shoot. The battery is only there for the light meter. The shot at the very top is from this camera.

Lubitel 166, Ektar 100

San Francisco Bay, 2014, Lubitel 166, Ektar 100, f/8, 1/500

The Lubitel 166 – You can get this medium format camera which makes beautiful portraits for around 60 to 90 USD. It’s great for street or portraits or group shots, but boy does it suck for landscapes. The lens simply isn’t sharp enough, or maybe I have a miscalibrated version.

So now that you’ve got a film camera, it’s time to shoot some film. In my next blog post, I’ll go over what films I use and why.

31 Day project: Wake up Before Sunrise, Photograph until Dark

UPDATE on 3 April 2019: I’ve created a page for the photos that’s easy to view.
UPDATE on 6 January 2019: I’ve put the photos for this project on my blog web site here. https://bracketthis.com/images/31goldenhours/

UPDATE on 5 January 2019: I’ve torched my Instagram account. I’ll go into the reasons why in my next post, so the links to the project won’t be there. However, I’ll upload the project to my flickr account.

I spent December of 2018 doing my #31sunrises31sunsets project on Instagram and on film. I only mention film not for pretentious reasons, but because it was so time consuming. In this blog post, I want to tell you how I made my process more efficient, and the trials and tribulations I faced.

The task sounds simple: photograph something during golden hour for both dawn and dusk for 31 days straight on film. That’s at least two photos a day.

Most folks make their resolutions for January 1st, and most people fail with their resolutions by February. I thought to myself, how much easier would it be to do a December resolution, and have nothing to worry about during the new year.

But lots of things went wrong.

  • My Leica M-A could no longer focus at infinity leading to blurry landscape photos. This happened 5 days in. I sent it to Leica for repairs.
  • I ran out of budget for color chemicals and did days 16 to 31 on black and white film. Black and white is pennies on the dollar cheaper than color.
  • I ran out of budget for gas. This really sucked since I wanted to get out of the bay area.

However, through sheer will power, luck, and planning I made it through. For any future project that will take this long here are a few tips.

  • Always have a back up of everything you need. I had multiple film camera bodies to full back on.
  • Always shoot a scene with more than 1 camera and more than 1 roll of film.
  • Budget for twice as many chemicals as you think you’ll need. You never know if your developer or fixer will mysteriously get exhausted. I’m still trying to track down the cause of this.
  • Try and really expand your notions of what is photogenic. Traditional landscape shots no longer seemed appealing but cliché so I worked on finding new comps and more spontaneous ways of photographing. Street photography is your friend.
  • If your project allows for it, shoot what you feel and not what you see. This lends more personal impact to your project.

To make the project efficient I did the following:

  • Warm up chemicals first and then load film into dev canisters.
  • Just scan what you need. If it’s a roll of 36 and you just need 2 shots, then scan those 2 shots.
  • Be aware of how the sun moves, so you can shoot two locations for just one golden hour. I would shoot at the Embarcadero and then work my way to California Street as the sun rose. This allowed me to have shots in multiple locations. An app like photo pills is good for this.

I can’t say I would do this project ever again. Something in my photographs became very toxic when I photographed like this. It was as if the world was telling me Instagram is a dying platform, and that photography is more than just golden hour and landscapes.

A List of Thoughts and Feelings that Cannot Be Expressed on Twitter

What are the limits of expressing thoughts in Twitter?

Here’s a powerful but inefficient (when run) thought that can be expressed on Twitter, a quick sort in Erlang in 126 characters.

qsort([]) -> [];
qsort([Pivot|T]) ->
   qsort([X || X <- T, X < Pivot])
   ++ [Pivot] ++
   qsort([X || X <- T, X >= Pivot]).

Also strcmp implemented in C can be tweeted:

int bstrcmp(char *s1,char *s2) { while(*s1 == *s2++) {if(*s1++ == 0){return 0;} } 
return (*(unsigned char *)s1 - *(unsigned char*)--s2);}

A lot of Perl one-liners can fit into a tweet – powerful and useful ones.

You can also propose the concept of a hash tag in a tweet:

hashtag proposal

However, there are many thoughts that seem to be difficult to fit into a tweet:

The Pythagorean Theorem and one of its many proofs
Anselm’s Ontological Proof for God’s Existence
Merge Sort in Ruby
Merge Sort in PHP
Why you should or shouldn’t outsource
What qualities make a great tech hire
The logical fallacy in another person’s tweet
How to subtly tell someone something in an indirect way with the only others knowing being those in the know

Twitter encourages the laconic expression of thought.

Automation and Gaming of Instagram

NOTE: If you are reading this in May 2017, this was written in January 2017. I now have a decent crew of folks to shoot with, and am not using any marketing on my account anymore.

Instagram punishes users for experimentation unless it’s through its stories. Basically when you create an account the more photos you add, the more locked into an audience and style you get. If you deviate from that style, like I did for two weeks in 2015, you can lose 25% of your followers. The right response to this is to-heck with those followers. A more thought out response is why doesn’t Instagram just send users that would like the change your way?

After experimenting with street photography for two weeks, I went back to the old style of landscapes that I used to post. It’s interesting to note that at this time, Instagram was really freaked out about Snapchat, who rebuffed a $3 billion dollar offer from Facebook. People were posting less and less on Instagram. “It became a place where people kept raising the bar on themselves in terms of the quality of what they had to achieve to post,” says Kevin Weil, Instagram’s head of product, “We didn’t want that.”

I changed my style because after a nasty fall doing photography in the rain, street photography reflected the broken-ness that I was feeling. I wasn’t only broken physically but broken in other realms of my life. I had and still have a long standing feud with a photo stealer currently running a huge community hub. This person abuses the position and the prestige as a community manager for personal gain – the Donald Trump of the photo world that threatens people that call out photo theft with police action.

Demoralized, I had nowhere to turn. Nobody wanted to shoot with me back in 2015, and it’s 2017 and I still have a ridiculously hard time finding people to shoot with. Maybe I should just isolate myself and focus on my art. Maybe life’s different at 20,000 followers I thought. Maybe it’s worth doing anything I could to get there, and my life would be different?

In August of 2016, I set about learning everything I could about marketing my Instagram account. I found an Instagram knowledge-base of sorts in Liz Dean’s InstaRevealed marketing Facebook group. Instarevealed is just one of many businesses promising account growth, and to be honest, she delivers. You basically are funneled into following their IG account, and join a Facebook group where folks share their success stories on reaching 1k, 5k, 10k followers and up. You can join a “comment pod” which has a bunch of guidelines. Comment pods are for folks like me that got betrayed by their crew, got dropped by other IGers, or never had anybody to shoot with in the first place. They grow your likes by making sure 14 people comment on your post within 15 minutes so that it grows. They are also for the shadiest people I’ve ever met on a social networking app.

Here are the motley types you will find:

1) The diva of awful photographs, who so believes they’re entitled or owed 100,000 followers, and all they shoot are pixelated, blurry photographs of the worst sort. This person will bitch in the group about not getting enough likes or that the algorithm is somehow biased against them. I’ve cursed this person out with, “Why don’t you level up your photography?”

2) The person that you thought grew their following authentically but never did. After reading this article you’ll be able to tell which of your Instagram heroes aren’t heroes at all. You’ll see them saying shots are killer for the 14 or so folks per pod that they are in that have the crappiest photos, or the photos might be decent but their comments’ enthusiasm in no way matches the photo. A photo of Grandma’s Grave will get “Killer shot dude! Lit!”

3) The photo stealer is someone in your pod who just posts photos by other people. The way they explain it is that by using purely viral photos from other people they can grow their account the quickest. This is absolutely true, and it seems Instagram HQ doesn’t care about fixing this except for a broken DMCA process.

4) Real friends. Yeah, this sort of surprised me but I met a bunch of folks that I’d actually want to hang out with.

5) Oh, and there’s me. A person who used to run a San Francisco community account, gave it to a bunch of folks to run, and got back-stabbed by them. This person was bent on some sort of way for getting justice from this but realized their ruined and sad lives were justice enough. Occasionally reporting stolen photos to Instagram and having Instagram take them down is enough.

So comment pods will get you likes, but to grow followers at a rate of 5000 or so a month, you need to do something different. I signed an NDA and so can’t go into what this is. Let’s just say I did this for 6 months, and at 20,000 followers still find myself shooting alone. There’s an automated way of doing this where you can just set it and forget it. There’s the manual way of doing this, where folks will spend 8 or more hours a day blowing up their accounts. It was truly sad seeing people game Instagram for 8 hours a day or more when they could actually just learn a bit of photography, photo editing and web development.

I decided to stop growing my account because I felt, “Hey, this is where I’d probably end up if I did become a suggested user.” I also stopped because lots of folks started spreading the false rumor that I was buying followers. Marketing for follows, and buying them aren’t the same in my book.

What I want to do now has nothing to do with marketing. Instead, I’d rather just go back to using my account the way I used to – posting whatever I want and connecting with whomever I want. Also, I want to focus on creating a photography book. After that, I eventually want to create an app, because owning your own social networking / photography app:
“It’s like a final club. Except we’re president.”

How To Do A Free For All

I’m two years too late on doing a free for all on Instagram.

A free for all is when you give out for free a set of photos. By free, I mean without copyright using perhaps at most an attribution license.

Here are the steps:

1) Create an image announcing the Free For All. Make sure the age has the hashtag of your event on it.

2) Recruit Ambassadors to promote your free for all using the image you created in step 1. Be sure to give them copy that states where they can find the free images, and that they need to use the hashtag to participate.

3) Be sure the ambassadors have a clear post date, start date & end date for the free for all.

4) Put your free images publicly linked and accessible on Dropbox or a similar service.

5) Announce the free for all along with your ambassadors.

6) During the free for try to give a shout out each day to edits you liked from your collection of free photos.

7) At the end choose a winner and runners up if you want.

I really messed up on recruiting ambassadors for my free for all. If I had gotten 20 ambassadors I would’ve gotten more followers. I had only a handful and so ended up with 134 new followers in a week when I usually only get 10.