Follow Up

Saturday, November 28th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Nicholas Calcott
Nicholas Calcott

A quick follow up on this, my working Saturday.

Mrs. Deane celebrates their(? her? its?) 1000th post with more follow up from Paris photo and a reflection on what we do, and whether we can get paid for it.  Hippolyte Bayard, in turn, posted his own reflections on the blogging medium

The trouble with posts on this subject is that they are essentially one sided: From blogger to reader and not vice versa.  I know this may seem like one of my innumerable calls for comments, but it’s not:  The fact of the matter remains that the vast majority of people who pass by this page and this site do so silently, and I understand that to be the case for most blogs.  I may occasionally get a comment or feedback from another blogger or hyperactive internet user, but blogging (at least in the photo context) has become a rather one sided affair – a heated conversation is one with 5 or more comments, and even that is rare.

The long and short of it being that, in no small part, the importance of this blog to me (and, I suspect, the importance of most blogs to whomever writes each) lies more in the suspicion of its impact on readers than any concrete evidence of that impact.  Of course, there are the statistics, but how reliable those are is anyone’s guess. I noticed at some point that most of the search terms that were bringing visitors to this site were largely unrelated to most of the photography featured and skewed towards posts with naked girls (Olga and Bettina, Richard Kern, and Helmut Newton are all popular [and I probably just increased the skew]).  I wonder how many of these visitors are interested in a serious conversation about photography and the nature of the medium (which is really what I hope this blog is about)?

So this self-reflection on blogging and our own place in the minds of others, and how to put a hard quantitative number on that (i.e. monetizing the content) strikes me as a little bit forlorn.  You readers may be out there, and this blog may matter to you in a small way, but I’ll never know.  For me, blogging is, and will probably remain to be, a solipsistic affair with the expectation of an audience.

State of the Photoblogosphere

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

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.

Paris Photo

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Timofey Parchikov
Timofey Parchikov
, from ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow’

Paris photo ended yesterday, as I’m sure you’ve probably realized if you read photo blogs.  I’ll be splitting observations and related matters over 3 posts as a few very distinct issues came up.  This first one will be on the topic of the fair itself, whilst the next one will be on the state of the photoblog world (a topic of a type of satellite blogger meeting organized by Laurence Vecten of LOZ), whilst I’ll address ‘The New Weird’ stuff that I’ve been mumbling about in the one after.

So, the fair.  First off, I’ll say that, of the 3 Paris Photos that I’ve been to, this one was the best.  That being said, the previous two didn’t set much of a high bar.  Which is not to say that the organizers habitually do a terrible job, but rather the very structure of the fair is really really hard to take.  For one, you have so many people there that you almost have to elbow spectators aside in order to see a piece.  Second, fairs are commercial affairs, so the only organizing principal is that the work displayed be sellable.  And finally, there’s just so much of it that the work blurs together:  In one of the booths there was a sculpture, which, by sheer fact that it wasn’t a photograph, made it instantly memorable.  Someone made the comment that some kind of ingenious gallerist would rent a Paris Photo booth and show nothing but sculpture and installations and sell out simply by sticking out.

But, with all of those caveats, I still found the fair pretty decent this year.  There was, of course, the greatest-hits-effect where most of the best work I saw I had seen a million times before, but a good portion was unknown to me, helped along by my relative ignorance on the subject of this year’s theme, Iranian and Arabic photography.

I made a concious decision this year not to dart around the fair and instantly note down the names of artists to blog about, but instead to let the work settle in before making a choice of my favorites. In retrospect, that was a stupid decision: On the last day I showed up to do one final look around before writing anything – I lasted about 15 minutes before deciding that after almost 5 consecutive days of drinking and socializing and, above all, looking and thinking about photography, I was done.

That was yesterday – so, today, you can check out the few highlights I have information for or just look around at other people’s round-ups, a list I’m collecting at the bottom of the post.

Bookshop M: Just inside the door of the fair was the relatively uncrowded booth of Bookshop M, a Japanese publishing venture with jaw-droppingly beautifully constructed books. 5b4 reviewed one of their Takashi Homma books (Trails) a little while ago if you want more info.

Olivier Cablat’s Etudes typologiques des effets de causalité observés
sur des individus exposés à des épreuves physiques à caractère podologique
: A hilarious but serious book – There’s a full preview available here.  Note that the English translations are on the left hand side, but only faintly.

Pobeda gallery: My favorite gallery find of the fair – a Russian space with really nice work, including that of…

Timofey Parchikov: Okay, yes, he has a way Flash site, which would normally disqualify him, but the two prints I saw at Paris photo were two moments of “Oh, wait, stop,  yeah, this is why I’m here…”  They were both, incidentally, from the series ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow,’ available on his site.

Arab Image Foundation: Their members seemed like they were everywhere and they presented the centerpiece show of the fair, which seemed somewhat thrown together, but it was enough to remind me what great work they do.

Anders Petersen’s Du Mich Auch:

Be wary of:
Nicely formulated principles and truths.
Useless feelings of guilt and sins
of the past or while we’re at it, a
photography resembling pretty adjectives.
On the other hand, I like private
diaries and family albums.

-Anders Petersen

Hans Peter Feldman’s Voyeur: They published a fourth edition of it and I got my hands on it.  Worth a look if you haven’t seen it before.

Round ups:
Hippolyte Bayard
Horses Think 1
Horses Think 2
The Year in Pictures
Lens Culture’s Preview
Eye Curious
More as I come across them or you leave them in the comments.


Friday, November 13th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

from The Past Tense of Pictures
Two memento mori from The Past Tense of Pictures

So, clearly I’ve been busy or otherwise I’d have been on here writing more. More soon, but to hold your attention a brief post pointing you towards The Past Tense of Pictures, a site by Jack and Beverly Wilgus (maybe the most adorable photo couple I’ve come across) that somehow found it’s way to my folder of links long enough ago that I forgot where I first saw it. It appears to be a private collection of daguerreotypes and other old photographs that functions as a low-tech stock photo site, and there are some real gems in there. Also, I really love the weird site design and unattractive brown borders – it seems to oddly fit the subject matter…

Check out also Bright Bytes, the mother site of past tense of pictures, that also has links to other strange photo related sites, like Not to Scale and A Collection of Collections.

New Book

Monday, November 2nd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

We’re very pleased to announce the release of our newest book, Maps.

Maps consists entirely of images taken by the Luftwaffe over the skies of Poland and Eastern Germany during and immediately preceding World War II and now found in the German Federal Archives. Taken together the images could be seen as nothing more than an historical curiosity, but individually each image reveals itself as a stunning abstract photograph – the lines coming together to resemble such things as sutures, gashes, microcosms and 3D line displays.

Maps is comprised of 10 photographs, custom inkjet printed and screwpost bound, and is issued in an edition of 100.