Stereo image of Hikono Park by T. Enami. Via Mrs. Deane.
As I and some of my peers have mentioned, there was a European photoblogger meeting on the sidelines of Paris Photo, organized by Laurence Vecten of LOZ. You can find a full list of participants on Hippolyte Bayard’s Paris Photo roundup.
As you might expect, it was a bit odd to meet a series of people that you know only through their blog voices – the first few minutes were taken up by introducing ourselves until we realized that our real names meant nothing to anyone else and that we should be introducing ourselves by our blog names.
Once that was aside, though, we actually launched into a pretty vibrant discussion of the state of the photoblogosphere – What we do right, what we do wrong, where we fit in in the wider photo ecosystem. I’ll relate a few of the main points from the discussion and from other conversations I had during the past few days as I feel it’s actually pretty instructive. I do feel, despite my clear conflict of interest, that blogs have come to occupy an important spot in how we approach and speak about photography.
That, I suppose, is the first point: As the initial blogging fervor that caused so many of us to start our own blogs has died down (now you’re more likely to see a new web magazine than a linear, largely text based blog), the blogging form has matured and the blogs that remain active and popular have diversified to fill a few roles.
There are feeders, which provide us all with a steady dose of new work; news-y sites, which function to highlight and note important issues and events; review sites, somewhat scientifically going over books and shows to note what’s good and what’s not; essay sites (like, for the most part, I hope this site is), casting a longer and more critical eye at contemporary photography), and sites which are pure artistic flights of imagination, featuring text and quotes and photos with no obvious link to one another save the topic of photography. Most sites are not any one of these things, of course, but rather a mix of some or all of them – But, for better or worse, that’s what we do.
What we could do better is another issue altogether. Diederick Meijer of the Black Snapper made the point that blogs, in general, are maddeningly free of facts – I’m not sure that we can really be held accountable to the standards of journalism given that we aren’t paid or trained for that, but blogs do function as the closest things to newspapers the photo world has. Should we function more as hard news sources, or at least have some solid grounding in facts when we state our opinions? I’m sure we all agree to the latter point, but I’m not sure it’s really fair to expect me to call up a source to get the full story on an article I’m writing – I have, simply put, a limited amount of time.
But, as several people pointed out, blogging should be a value added activity, not simply ‘so-and-so saw this, go check it out.’ We aren’t required to be servicey, of course, but none of us got into photography to be selfish bastards who couldn’t care less about the wider community – digging up new work that hasn’t been widely seen is an essential function of what we do – I believe that we should be really making an effort to make accessible to others photography that would not normally be seen. Just to take one example: It’s pretty much a given that 90% of work you come across on blogs is work made in North America and Western Europe, for a variety of reasons, not least because we have websites that you can link to. But take this for example. That is awesome. I approve. We should dig up more things like that.
But as long as we’re on the topic of my personal approval we come to my main gripe: There simply isn’t enough (constructive) negative criticism on the blogs. There are reasons for this: Why would I waste time writing about something I don’t like? Old media critics, on the other hand, have a beat – they go to a certain number of shows and they review the shows, both the exceptional and unexceptional ones. We, for the most part, don’t have an impetus to write even when it’s not a resounding endorsement of something we’ve found, but I do think we’d benefit if we did – negative criticism is clearly a healthy part of discourse: I think we’re missing out on it.
A final note: Alot of the problems I highlighted above have to do with time and money, a subject touched on but not deeply discussed at the meeting. Would it be possible for photobloggers to come up with some kind of funding mechanism, or are we fated to always remain a group of amateurs (in the non-professional sense of the word), albeit deeply committed and knowledgeable amateurs? And, I wonder, how many of us would want to pick up the extra time commitment and responsibility that would come with any serious monetization of a blog?
P.S. If you were there and I forgot about anything important we spoke about at the meeting, let me know in the comments.