Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Most serious photographers enjoy using Twitter to network and keep abreast of current events. But let's face it, reading 140 characters can be a chore. Worse, it's a drag on the bottom line. Time is money. In today's fast-paced world, the extra seconds spent reading a lengthy Twitter feed is time not spent networking, creating photos, or sending out new tweets. A problem, until now.

Introducing Twi..., the world's first micro-tweeting platform for busy professionals.

Twi... is similar to Twitter but without the excess. Instead of 140 characters, text is concisely edited down to 14. Your time available just increased tenfold!

But it gets better. Twi... allows easy transfer of graphics along with messages. Send photos with ease! Any image up to 64 pixels is fully supported. Don't just talk about that great new pic. Show it!

With Twi... a prolific tweet like this
@breadwinner Shot a great pic this morning of flowers in yard, MoMA interested but have to clear w/ Steidl. Loving the new 60 megapixel back

becomes simplified to its essentials:

Just imagine the cool breeze in your hair as you fly through Twi... feeds! Your colleagues will drool with envy while they slog through their old fashioned tweets 140 tiresome characters at a time. Meanwhile, you're lapping up info. You're getting ahead!

Even luscious black and white images hold their tones throughout every precious pixel.

What are you waiting for? Join the Twi... revolution today. Or risk being left behind.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There are some things money can buy

Scanning, printing, and producing a cutout mugshot for public display: $2

A blank notebook with an anonymous mugshot on the cover: $10

Removing your mugshot from this site: $39

A nice book analyzing old mugshots, list price: $50

A vintage mugshot of a famous gangster: Over $199

Pete Brook's Prison Photography on the Road Kickstarter Project: Priceless

Monday, August 29, 2011

If Roland Barthes was Jack Handey

"For a superpower I think most street photographers would choose invisibility over flying. Candids would be like shooting fish in a barrel, right? But what most street photographers don't realize is they're already invisible. To manifest it you just have to behave as if you're invisible. People may yell at you more if they can see you but whatever. Your photographs will turn out the same regardless. It's how you act, not how much light you reflect. But flying is a completely different animal. Possessing the actual superpower matters. Because if a nonflyer jumps from a tall building they'll crack their head open. Duh. So I'd choose flying. Or maybe time travel. Then I'd go back and not shoot the people who were about to yell at me."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fruit bowl aftermath

Congratulations to Christian Davis, winner of last week's Worst Photo Contest. His blurry fruit bowl still life, which many including me found just bad enough to be pretty darned good, narrowly beat David Diaz Vallejo's runner-up, 79-75.

As the winner, I invited Christian to show whatever photo he wanted in a future post. He sent a few. This one is my favorite.

Taking Flight, June 12, 2010, 795 Colorado Street, Austin, TX

Christian writes: I have always lived in Austin and grew up in the central part of town. Many of the older buildings there are familiar and comfortable for me, having been part of my landscape for my entire life. My interest in art tends to gravitate towards the picturesque, and specifically focuses on nature. I have recently been looking for scenes and moments which depict beauty in the intersection of nature and my city landscape.

To get the shot with the single bird, I stood leaning against a granite building craning my neck to look directly up for over 30 minutes. Every time I lowered my head to rest my neck a bird would finally fly and the shot I wanted would disappear. Eventually a bird took flight while I was ready and not resting. It’s “art” if you suffer for it, right?

Nice work, Christian. Keep suffering for it...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weather good or bad happy or sad

Even living on the West Coast I can't escape the coverage of Hurricane Irene. It's dominated the news lately. This morning the New York Times ran what I thought was an interesting storm picture.

Wrightsville Beach, NC, August 27, 2011, Randall Hill, Reuters

At first glance the photo doesn't show much, just a person running for cover. But it actually shows an awful lot. It shows that the weather where this photographer is standing is so bad he can't keep his lens dry. The streets are deserted. As his camera is battered about, Randall Hill squeezes off a blurry frame or two. Or at least that's what I imagine.

Most photos are made in good weather, for the simple reason that shooting in a storm is a hassle. Wet cameras, wind, cold, etc. For example I live in one of the wettest parts of the country but looking at my photos you'd think it never rained in Oregon. Bad weather faces photographic discrimination not just by me but generally. Even a camera as supposedly objective as Google Street View times its shooting for dry days, which is a bit like timing portraits for smiles. A convenient lie.

Martin Parr's Bad Weather is the classic counter example. Unfortunately this is one of those books which is hopelessly out of print and rare. I've never seen an actual copy (maybe a job for Eratta?), but images can be found here and there on the web.

from Bad Weather, Martin Parr

Parr used an underwater camera with flash, and judging by the photos he needed it. Many of the photos are shot in winter, in dim light, during downpours. It must've been difficult for him to stake out scenes, much less analyze them with a photographic eye. Nevertheless he came up with some doozies.

Manchester, England, 1981, Martin Parr

I'm not sure how he saw this one. Maybe the photo gods were with him. Who knows, but it works.

I think part of Parr's lesson is that photography isn't a straight mirror of reality. We always apply a filter. We aim the camera in certain directions and not others, and we shoot at certain times and not others. Which is fine. A filter is a form of vision. But it helps to be aware of that filter, to realize that the choice not to shoot during hurricanes is a conscious one, and maybe wonder what else is being filtered.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Banner in the mouth

I'm sure some will claim the fix is in. But trust me, I had nothing to do with the graphic shown here. It's the banner ad for the Best of Eugene 2011 poll at our local alt weekly's website. I'm not sure why it says JUST VOTE B! I fly pretty well under the radar in Eugene and I doubt anyone at the paper has heard of me. But I'm not complaining. I'm not going to look a gift banner in the mouth.

Instead, I'm running with it and running for it, running like the wind. I'm asking for your vote as Best Eugene Blog. Go to Eugene Weekly, click through the JUST VOTE B! orange banner ad, and follow instructions. In order for your vote to count you'll need to vote in at least 10 (of 70) categories before September 25. If you're not knowledgeable about certain categories just make something up.

If elected I promise $2/gallon gasoline, world peace, taxes slashed, generous entitlements for everyone, and all your daily worries solved. And that's just year one. You won't believe what I have planned for year fourteen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


U.S. 10, Post Falls, ID, August 25, 1974, Stephen Shore

The Falls Club, 611 E Seltice Way (formerly U.S. 10), Post Falls, ID
August 25, 2011, Google Street View

Monday, August 22, 2011


After my grandmother passed away recently, the family gathered to divide some of her old photo albums. Granny was a great collector —an aggregator, to use an internet term— and these albums proved to be a treasure trove. Among the countless photos of relatives and friends I found several wonderfully bizarre snapshots. Perhaps for Granny they had sentimental value. For me they worked as pure stand alone photographs. Here's an example.

This is the TV in my grandparents' home where I used to watch cartoons during childhood visits. I'm not sure why someone photographed that piano or how it wound up later being saved in an album. I just know it's a beautiful and somewhat creepy image.

Here's another photo of the same room with a slightly newer TV.

Talk about timing. Some street photographers would give their left nut to capture that type of chance juxtaposition. But whoever took this photo, I doubt they paid much attention to the arrangement. It was just a snapshot of 2-year old Sarah buried in an old album.

This one looks like something out of Eggleston's Guide. It's wonderfully descriptive yet seems to describe nothing.

My grandmother's albums aren't unique. I think anyone wading through their own albums could find similar gems. These photos are out there. The twist is in the reinterpretation.

The digital equivalent to searching Granny's old albums (from a slightly more gotcha angle) might be Awkward Family Photos.

AFP, July 5, 2011

AFP is entertaining but that site is just the tip of the iceberg. The internet has turned archive mining into a cottage industry. One can find science fair projects, unhappy hipsters, stock photos, unusable stock photos, Mars images, dads on vacation, brokers with their hands on their faces, sad businessmen at bars, contract killers, disguises of the Soviet Bloc, or just awesome people hanging out together. Any type of photo you can think of has probably been collected and sorted by someone online. The common denominator is that they're being gathered and shown in a new or unintended context.

This Week in Stock Photography, 4/20/11

Of course this is nothing new. Reinterpretation in the art world has been going on since before my grandmother's childhood. Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Warhol, etc, all the way through postmodernism to the present, each new round greeted with fresh skepticism.

Photographers were somewhat late to the party. They have always tinkered around with collage and montage but it wasn't until the 70s that the mouth really began to eat the tail. Shore's All the Meat You Can Eat, Szarkowski's From the Picture Press, and Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip got the ball rolling but it wasn't until Evidence exploded on the scene that full-on reassessment became widely accepted as a creative act (followed shortly by Champion Pig).

from Evidence by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel

That was 34 years ago. The pace seems to have lagged since. We've had Prince, Baldessari, a minor burst of found photo compilations, and a few outliers like Boring Postcards and the KesselsKramer books. But the majority of photo projects in recent decades have been created the old fashioned way, with a camera.

from Boring Postcards, by Martin Parr

With rise of the internet the balance may be shifting. If ever a tool was made to assist reinterpretation it's the web. Suddenly Granny's album has become modeling clay. Images are thrown online, copied, reshuffled, Tumblred, Twittered, sliced and diced. Such reinterpretations have become a cottage industry.

In fact I'd argue that reinterpretation threatens to overtake generation as the dominant creative act in photography. "In the digital age, anyone can make a picture," says Alec Soth, "but it does take some knowledge to edit a project." When we look back at our era in 50 years, we may not remember particular images at all. Instead we'll note how they were cleverly sorted and recontextualized.

image grab from a rough draft, reinterpreted

If the obstacle of copyright hasn't yet been solved, it's at least been comfortably subverted for now. Maybe steamrolled is a better word. Back in the 1970s Sultan and Mandel got around rights issues by using images from the public domain. For better or for worse, most online images are now treated as de facto public domain. The case of this image is typical.

I think there is still a difference between reproduction rights in the printed world —the traditional ticket to archived collections— and the internet. Some of the Tumblrs listed above would never survive copyright scrutiny if printed. Yet online they seem to get a hallpass. Look at the images in this post. I'm showing them with a photo credit but I have no copyright. Could I do this in a book? Probably not, although I might get away with publishing an old family photo.

from Granny's album

The elephant in the room is Google Street View. Five years ago it didn't exist. Now we're approaching the moment when every public passage on the planet will have been photographed. The natural question is what's left to shoot?

One way forward is to examine the path that got us here. In the last few years several Street View reinterpretations have been spawned, some of which have been analyzed here, here, and many times right here among other places. One can argue back and forth about the merits of such work but it seems clearly contemporary. Next month Street View screenshots will be exhibited at MOMA. I think the trend is set, and I expect to see a surge in reinterpretive projects in the next few years from all corners of the web.

Some might ask, isn't reinterpretation the same as curating? And if so, hasn't that been around forever? But I think reinterpreting is a different animal than straight curation. The Family of Man or Toward a Social Landscape or New Topographics were curations. They were organized around a theme, but they left the original meaning and authorship of the photos largely intact. In contrast, a Street View candid in ANAP is completely stripped of its original context. It no longer has value as a mapping aid. It's a pure stand alone photograph plucked from Google's family album. That's where we're headed.

from A New American Picture by Doug Rickard

What about photo blogs? I think there has always been a tension in the blog world between aggregator and generator, between offering new content vs. linking to it elsewhere. My favorite blogs do both, but most fall into one camp or the other. Maybe it's my imagination but the trend seems to be heading toward reinterpretation. The increased use of Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter —platforms mostly comprised of links and relinks— are the most obvious examples but the tendency seems widespread.

Ward Sutton, from The New Yorker, 8/8/11

Admittedly I have a strong personal bias toward generators. I find it hard to take seriously anyone who writes about photography without making images themselves. It's a prejudice I know, but one I find hard to overcome. My secret fantasy is for every photoblogger out there to stop analyzing for one day and show ten recent photos of their own. Seeing ten photos would give me more insight into someone than reading ten years of their writing.

Unless of course they've been showing photos all along. In that case an alternative would be to choose ten snapshots from an old family album.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The good the bad and the ugly

Submissions to last month's Worst Photo Contest were pretty varied. Some were pleasantly awful. Others were disturbingly good. All were interesting for me to see. Given the right context I could imagine any of them in a well respected book, or perhaps in some avant-garde museum show.

Which one was the worst? I'm leaving that to readers. I've listed the entrants below in the order they were submitted. Please take a minute to look through them. In the right sidebar is a poll with numbers corresponding to the photos. Cast your vote for The Worst according to whatever logic seems fitting. You can vote for the best of the worst. Or the worst of the worst. Or just vote for your personal favorite photo.

Votes will be tallied next Wednesday, 8/24. The winner will receive a bunch of goodies, er, I mean baddies. Thanks to everyone who submitted photos.

1. John Moore

2. Robert Leonardo

3. Stephanie Mueller

4. Lesley Parker

5. Edwin Firmage

6. Phill Hunt

7. Christian Davis

8. George LeChat

9. Jay

10. Jacques-Olivier Philippe

11. Ales Farcnik

12. John Voves

13. Evan Scott

14. Jon Savage

15. David Diaz Vallejo

16. Chandler Tyrell

17. Ahmer Inam

18. Laura Brent

19. Blake Andrews

(late addition write in candidate) 20. Joe Reifer

(late addition write in candidate) 21. Vladimir Radivojevic