The sea of images

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Feb 26, 2013.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I'm trying to rationalise what many photographers see as a 'threat' - to their trade or the worthiness of their art. How the influx of images (or, I think more to the point, influx of photographers) challenges those at the top of the heap. It seems to scare most people into reevaluating their ideas about quality. As if an increase of banal photographs and, an increase in banality with it, has re-situated thoughtful work. Is it that, now more people are 'entering the arena', so to speak, 'quality' simply has to be pushed further out of their reach? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (note his final comments on elitism).

    I'm not convinced that 'those seen as a threat' are reaching for much in the first place or ever will. It takes a very specific type of individual to explore photography deeply and an even more specific person to say something with photography. Accessibility doesn't change the individual. Although there are more images, I truly believe the same fraction - as all photographs produced historically - are of a quality we recognise. The fraction of 'images of interest' we recognise depends on our sensitivities as human beings and our cultural perception.* Since Francis Hodgson is clearly in the Barthes sphere of thinking - the studium has expanded, but the punctum will stay the same, so long as the individual human being does.*

    *I think what is perceived as a 'threat' might be a lack of trust in our own judgement of quality, or the judgment of the elite - our framework for understanding 'quality' in photography is precarious, so a sudden rush of images presents a great challenge in cataloguing and classification, when there's no concrete system in place. But it's an irrational fear, driven by the anxiety to need to comprehend, quicker than the information reaches us. I feel as though there is a desperation amongst historians and critics - evident in the linked Francis Hodgson video - to share this burden with photographers, to force us to step up our game, so they don't have to. In essence, they are saying; "make your work better, quickly, so we can more readily discard the constant and ambiguous stream of phone pictures that we can't make sense of." In short, it's their problem. I'm not saying it should be ignored by photographers, but that it shouldn't be a motivator.

    *Since our understanding of 'what matters' and quality is defined - in large part - historically and subjectively.

    Help me make sense of this?
     
  2. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

    Messages:
    494
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    You do realize that this "too many photographers, too many pictures" stuff has been going on since dry plates were introduced, right? Seriously, I've found photographers writing about it with dry plates, the Brownie, roll films, 35mm, 35mm with auto exposure and motor drive, point & shoots, digital cameras, cell phones, and on down the line. So over 100 years of crying and moaning about the same thing. Big deal. There are always clients on the margin who say, "Oh, my brother has a camera, I'll have him do the photographs." OK, fine. Next customer, please.

    This stuff always comes up because the photographer hasn't realized he's supposed to be running a business. This means defining your target market, your product, and your message to that market. You want fame, fortune, and glory? Do some research, make a plan, and execute that plan. There are many things that are commodities, and photography is one of them. This doesn't mean that the market is closed, it just means that you have differentiate yourself to your customers. Your customer isn't someone who's sibling or friend owns a camera. Your customer is someone whose sibling or friend owns a camera, and that customer comes to you for what you do so well.

    Ever look at some pro's photographs and think, "I can do that. Seriously, I can." The difference is that the other person made a plan and stuck with it. Whether it has been in art or business, you need to map out what you want to do.
     
  3. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think batwister has a huge and very important point here. We are at a very critical point in our 'culture' in which nearly EVERYONE is choosing convenience over quality (look at our mode of communication - 'texting' etc), cell phones, instagram, etc etc. We value our superficial semantic environment and presumed 'status' over true experience. But really it's 'quality' (an interesting discussion of the term in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' that I urge others to read!) that matters. Quality of experience. Why look at something nonplussing instead of something mindblowing - something that changes your life??

    I also think that we have become somehow blind to finesse - by taking everything in - in the form of small jpeg files, we somehow destroy our ability to see anything NOT in this format. I have a friend who does some particularly FINE oil painting in the hyperrealist tradition and overheard a woman, while looking at one of her paintings, ask her friend 'which photoshop filter she used to create it'. So - it seems to me there's an entirely new vocabulary and semantic economy that has been created as a result of individual experiences on the internet being the sole court held for purposes of evaluation. And I don't like it. The problem that it creates in our own medium is EXACTLY parallel with the problems it's creating in our own society (being that it's creating a society of idiots). The degree to which this happens to our medium is a matter of how passive we are about it.

    Go to the galleries. Or especially the 'art fairs'. You can really start to see the results of this erosion. I've been meaning to write something 'proper' on the problem for some time. I'll try to share if I do. thanks for the original post and for the link to the discussion. I think this really matters. And I don't agree that it's the same problem we've had since the birth of photography. At all.
     
  4. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think there's an exactly PARALLEL discussion here - although it's a discussion about 'high end' audio - which i have ALWAYS equated with photography, personally. Part of the argument made is that the nature of the listening devices based on mp3s is destroying our very CAPACITY to listen. Likewise in photography.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY5hI98HEi0
     
  5. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

    Messages:
    1,629
    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2010
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    When ever I'm out in public taking photos and I see hoards of people taking pictures with iPhones and digicams it makes me try even harder when shooting on film.

    I know that there are a thousand "idiots" out there, shooting willy-nilly with their digicams, making millions of ho-hum picutres, 90% of which will be deleted before the day is done. I want my pictures to be better than that.

    I have told the story before about the day when I shot the picture of the tall ship, Niagara, while standing next to a guy who was "machine gunning" with an expensive digital setup when all I had was my little, old Yashicamat loaded with Tri-X. I have sold that picture three times and won first prize with that photo. ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/randystankey/5877475532 ) I wonder if that guy even still has the pictures he shot that day. He probably deleted 90% of them.

    I don't think my picture of that boat is the Great American Photograph, nor do I claim to be the next Ansel Adams. Maybe you think my pictures are junk. That's not my point.

    I know that I have to swim a little faster to stay ahead of all the other fish in the sea and when I see more people snapping digitals I know I have to swim even faster.
     
  6. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    19,991
    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2003
    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    i used to have discussions with friends in college about this sort of thing.
    but it wasn't with photography, it was about food. you see, they had a colony of
    sea monkeys. they had the little magnifying tank and lots of these little scepter and orb holding
    throwned and robed critters. they were swimming and swimming and loving life in their
    tiny kingdom. there was a lot of floom as well ( .. you know the fancy name for fish poop on the tank floor ) ...
    SO what happened was you fed the royal fish and they had to eat the floom to get to the food ...

    we live in a world of processed food, that is sprayed with nutrients on a conveyor belt.
    there IS good photography out there, but its the miniscule piece of fish food in a bed of floom.
    how do you make photographs, not floom? i don't think the fellow you linked to is far off
    the trick is to make things that do not need to be sprayed with nutrients.
     
  7. zsas

    zsas Member

    Messages:
    1,961
    Joined:
    May 12, 2011
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Bat, the link was probing, and bottom line, make something that matters...
     
  8. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,423
    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
    Location:
    Switzerland
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Which photographs matter? And does everyone have an equal vote?

    There are no easy answers to these questions. At one level, the photographs that matter are those that a lot of people think matter. In other words, if a million people think that a particular photograph matters, then it's probably a more important photograph than one that only a dozen people think matters. But this over-simplifies because it assumes that everyone has an equal vote and that there is an unambiguous and quantifiable hierarchy of 'what matters'.

    The problem is that 'what matters' is subjective. A community of peers may well have a clear consensus about 'what matters' but they can't expect other communities to agree with them. For example one community of photographers may believe that "Pepper #30" (Edward Weston) is an example what really matters, but a different photographic community may well say that "The Falling Man" (Richard Drew) matters more and that Weston's work is just a historical footnote.

    I think that this is where the difficulties lie for people worried by the "sea of images" you refer to. When what matters to you is being swamped by stuff that doesn't matter to you, then you can't help but feel threatened. And it gets even more threatening when your livelihood depends upon other people agreeing with you about 'what matters'. People react in all sorts of ways when they feel threatened.
     
  9. stradibarrius

    stradibarrius Member

    Messages:
    1,382
    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Monroe, GA
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Since there is nothing that can be done there is no point in spending in gray matter on what to do. Another way of looking at it is all these folks rush out and buy expensive new gear and realize it is "too complicated" so they out it up for sale and sometimes we can find "steals" on a piece of gear...
     
  10. MartinCrabtree

    MartinCrabtree Member

    Messages:
    1,319
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2010
    Location:
    .
    Shooter:
    35mm
    In all aspects of life we are being force fed junk along with the "good stuff." The ability to discern the wheat from the chaff lives between your ears. Everyone's opinion does matter contrary to what the video espouses. The sheer number of people and the easy exposure to them is diluting "quality." Do you really want the great unwashed deciding your worth?
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    19,991
    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2003
    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    hi martin,

    the great unwashed already decide our worth ...
    but i'm trying not to buy into the system
    and try to bake my own bread.
     
  12. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Quality can't be 'diluted' - it can't itself be weakened, which was my point. It can only be ignored for a while. Quality is constant, so long as we still have a set of values in place to judge historical work - which we never forsake, because it holds 'information' about our humanity and a gateway to the past - you measure the virtue (or what matters) of contemporary work to this. Lineage. It's the only way historians can determine quality - looking for references and measuring up. Most photographers are historians to some extent; if they have a certain type of photography they know intimately, they don't, for instance, buy a terrible book of work by a 'pretender' in that genre/style, because it doesn't stand up. It only stands up if there's a connection with the other work you know.

    I think the biggest threat to our sense of quality is simply bad archiving.
     
  13. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

    Messages:
    2,004
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2004
    Location:
    Enroute
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I find the Internet as a whole to be one of the worst "windbags" of doom and gloom I have ever seen. When I significantly limit my time on it, get and shoot and talk to people in person, there is a much more balanced and nuanced perception going on in terms of nearly every topic, including photography and the art world.

    I just don't even care anymore what the buzz is, I do things my way, keep showing clients images they have never seen before and it just plain works. This is especially true of my fine art work that never sees the use of a computer. I am seeing uncharted territory in my future and as long as that is what is on the horizon, I know what my market is and how to keep it fresh...

    Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.....the Internet is most certainly one of those distractions...
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. MartinCrabtree

    MartinCrabtree Member

    Messages:
    1,319
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2010
    Location:
    .
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I prefer to be harshly judged by my peers than rewarded by the naive.
     
  16. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,473
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    +1
     
  17. StoneNYC

    StoneNYC Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,201
    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2012
    Location:
    Connecticut,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Beautiful shot :smile:
     
  18. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    well said John and Ian...!
     
  19. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think the bigger problem - which I did try to address (and is falling on deaf ears) is that - AS the digital medium and the ubiquity of cheap equipment informs the pool of photographic imagery inhabiting the galleries - our set of requirements for 'quality' will slowly shift to accomodate this new work and new kinds of quality that we cannot yet imagine perhaps. What WE consider high quality will become nearly invisible to others (and even to ourselves) as this happens. It's happening now in fact. For example - people seem totally nonplussed by an excellent execution of a large color print coming from 8x10 film - to most people it's indistinguishable from an 8 megapixel print - perhaps due to the fact that most people are spending all their time evaluating images on computer screens. I know that may seem absurd to most - but if you actually investigate this phenomenon I think you will find it to be true and real.
     
  20. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    This is an irrational fear too I think; of inferior presentation becoming acceptable at such a post-apocalyptic, zombie land extreme. Yes, we have mp3s, but live performance is still as popular as ever - which is the equivalent to seeing original prints... oh no! I've unintentionally used the Ansel analogy. :pouty:

    But, increasingly with art photography, the book is becoming almost more important than seeing original prints. It helps that people are fetishising them - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt7HhRMUUxY - I've actually played with the idea of selling a few books to buy this. There isn't really an equivalent to the book presentation in music (vinyl is an underground on/off trend and the CD is almost obsolete). I'd say photography is becoming more diverse in presentation, while the images flood in. If there's one thing you can say about modern culture, it's that we want EVERYTHING. I think eventually, all the 'media' used will find its rightful place in presentation.

    I'm not sure that anyone, even vaguely interested in photography, would fail to be bowled over by a great image, that happens to be made on 8x10. And that's the point.
    The viewer has needs above and beyond your need for validation in your media choice. Most people don't care that Burtynsky's images are made on 8x10 either - because it's not the point of his work.

    I absolutely understand this reactionary need to impose our use of film on 'the ignorant' - to 'wake them up' to quality - but it's ALWAYS at the cost of real concerns in photography, and isn't worth it. It becomes the drive to photograph in itself and I'm not wasting my time being a crusader. My movement would begin and end with making straight photographs on film with visual immediacy - shock and awe. Naturally, an interesting image eventually leads to questions about how, why and what - this includes format and process.

    Your bemusement about people not being interested in the format choice leads me to think that you expect the viewer to see it and comment on it? Why? Validation. Why do you want validation about your materials? Because they cost. Are you uncomfortable with the cost? Yes. Is that the viewer's problem? No. What is the viewer's problem? Lack of visual stimulation and enlightenment about the world, which you're not interested in showing them in front of the lens.
     
  21. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format

    not at all. it was actually a burtynsky that elicited the non reaction! anything beyond the resolution of an ipad gets automatically downsampled in peoples' brains it seems.
     
  22. Sparky

    Sparky Member

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    presumably because things like 'detail' are easily replaced by 'jpeg aliasing' - the photograph has become largely uninteresting to the gentry except for the values/fashions it connotes... well I hope it's not THAT bad... but I wouldn't be so surprised if it does soon...
     
  23. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I have to say I agree.
     
  24. MartinCrabtree

    MartinCrabtree Member

    Messages:
    1,319
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2010
    Location:
    .
    Shooter:
    35mm
    The number of images only bothers me because people have no manners whatsoever anymore. I shoot for me (even electronic stuff) so what you think is considered however it is secondary.

    Then again my paycheck currently comes from something else entirely. I will soon find out how well that philosophy serves me when it puts food on the table. Wish me luck. :D
     
  25. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,540
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    What an interesting thought Martin and very true, to win against third rate opposition isn't any great achievement.
     
  26. rbultman

    rbultman Subscriber

    Messages:
    330
    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2012
    Location:
    Louisville,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Most people happily snapping away are not really taking pictures. They are taking reminders that help them retrieve a memory. The art market, and the schlock market, is likely unchanged per capita. Some people want to buy the art that is the original Ansel Adams print. Others are happy with the paper calendar version. You were never going to sell to the second group anyway, not now, not 50 years ago.
    Sent from my PI86100 using Board Express