Thursday, October 31, 2013

Corrida de Memoria

I've been home for a few days now and memories of Belgrade are beginning to dim slightly. I need to wrestle them back into lucid form and write them, but the task is daunting. It was an intense experience not so easily described so I've been putting it off.

Perhaps it's simpler instead to trace just one small slice of the trip. In an outdoor flea market near the Danube I found a booth selling strange packs of old photos like this:

Each pack was 6 x 9 centimeters and held about 25 photos. They reminded me of baseball cards. But they were real photos on fiber paper!

Some had captions on the back. I guessed they were from the 40s or 50s. I'd never seen anything quite like them. They must've taken an intense amount of labor to produce. I was smitten. I spoke no Serbian and the seller spoke no English, but through hand signals and periods of waiting and pacing we managed to settle on a price of 1000 Dinars for the whole lot. About $12. I think he was happy to unload them, and I was very happy to take them home. I got about 30 packs. They fit easily into my luggage.

The top photo above shows a pack of bullfight photos but that's the exception. Most of the rest feature a French city. There is one for Nice, and Marseilles, and Paris, and so on. The Chamonix pack is spectacular, with views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding glaciers, and elevated gondolas going to the sky. There's one for every major French city, and each one is like a little museum of history, showing various streets and sights. Maybe they were produced as tourist mementos? I'm not sure. 

The photos are small but somehow they have enormous depth. I can look into them from very close and the scenes recede effortlessly with no loss of resolution. It's the 40s equivalent of a Retina screen. Who says art must be wall-sized?

The French cities are beautiful but my favorite is the bullfighting pack. Corrida de Toros. I've never seen a bullfight, and I think these photos are about as close as I'd like to come. The whole scene is horrific but --how can I say this?-- sort of glorious too. And the photos are right on top of the action. 

How did these photos wind up among a pile of French cities in a Belgrade flea market? I have no friggin clue. But anyway I have been taking my time to slowly savor them all. Not just the Corrida de Torros but the cities. I know which ones I want to keep, and I think the others will make nice gifts.

More on Belgrade soon. I know I need to round up my memories, drive some stakes in and put markers down. It seems too big to tackle now, but I think some amount of forgetting will make it easier.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vienna Layover

I took my camera on a walk last week and a great photo almost fell into my lap. The Bijou Theatre downtown had posted some reviews in the window, and one showed a drawing of a pair of hands holding an object. I tend to notice hands so it caught my eye, and just as I was standing there pondering this picture of hands, a worker inside began retaping some of review pages to the window. I could only see her hands around the edges of the movie bills. Boom, there was the photo: real hands reaching around to touch illustrated hands in a Sistine Chapel pose. OK, I admit it was sort of cheesy but it had potential. The problem was the real hands were moving quickly. I had to wait for them to get in proper position.

So there I was, camera at the eye, waiting for what seemed like several minutes, when behind me I heard a voice say, "Patience." I turned around to see who was talking to me. A camera buff? A friend? No, it was a couple who hadn't even noticed me. The man was pointing to one of the reviews for a film called The Patience Stone. Maybe he said "Stone" too. In any case I'd only keyed on the first word. It caused me to look up just long enough for the worker to disappear. I'd missed the shot but I had something to think about.

Patience. A good lesson in photography and life. Maybe a better way to express it is Timing. Not necessarily Decisive Moment timing, although that is sometimes useful. But timing in the sense that everything has its place in the order of things. The seasons, the lunar cycle, life's stages. Sorry to get all New-Agey here but it's true. Timing matters.

In the Northern hemisphere this is harvest season. We spent a few hours last weekend at a local farm, taking a rickety hayride under the freeway and plucking big orange pumpkins from the ground in the far field. The week before that it was pinot grapes, helping the vintner next door haul in the summer's harvest. Mid-October we were in the foothills near Oakridge digging up chanterelles from the forest duff. In early October it was pears from the sideyard tree.

All these things are out there just waiting to be plucked, but you can't rush any of them. They'll come when they will and not a moment sooner. Patience.

In the midst of all this activity this I bought new shoes. I'd been wearing the old ones for 2 years and they were shot. The cashier's name tag caught me by surprise. "Your name's Harvest?" I asked. "That's a cool name." I'd never met anyone named Harvest. He glance at me with a sort of sheepish eye contact like he'd been through this routine before and maybe it hadn't always ended happily, then explained his birthday was around this time of year. Makes sense, I said. My old shoes looked incredibly old and dirty held near the new ones.

As far as I can tell, most of the photo world operates outside of any season. Sure, there are the annual reviews and conferences which happen at roughly the same time each year, and the Fall arts season, and maybe slightly more books are published in autumn in hopes of making the year-end lists. But the making, printing, selling, and general business of photographs has no specific connection to time. It's always harvest season, just as it's always planting season. Any time at all is a good time to fertilize, edit, gripe, and position. Any day online is the same at the last one. It's a world that doesn't require much patience.

I guess I know this equation but it still leaves me anxious. I generally have a feeling hanging over my head that I should be submitting somewhere or making a book or revamping the site or posting to this blog or just doing something or other to keep my photo life moving forward. And it's a feeling that's there every day year round. It's not like picking pinot grapes. It doesn't go away the next day when all the grapes are picked or the cashier is born. Patience only causes it to fester.

When that feeling seems overwhelming, I take my camera on a walk.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Здраво Јуџин, здраво Београд

Остављам Јуџин среде ујутру за Београд. Узбуђена сам за пут. Немам појма шта да очекујем. Не могу замислити како ће град изгледати, а ја не знам ништа о језику и обичајима, или храну или било шта. Људи у Србији читају ову су вероватно смеју мог јадног граматике. Гоогле транслате никад није савршена. Након двадесет сати летења ћу доћи у четвртак са педесет ролне филма.Отварање изложбе је у петак увече. Ако вам се деси да се у југоисточној Европи, који вечери молим те поздравим. Неки текстови о емисији су се појавили на интернету овде и овде. Ја не могу да их читам, али надам се да кажем добре ствари. Осећам се као да сам о томе да гурну са мог познатог света. Ако имам добар приступ интернету тамо ћу пост неке мисли током мојих путовања. Желим да се захвалим људима из Београда за њихов интерес у свом раду, а посебно Лука Кнежевић-Стрика, који је имао кључну улогу у доношењу ова изложба догодити.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I enjoyed the recent Going Viral posts on Lenscratch. I'm guessing most people have read them by now, but if you haven't you can find them here and here. The phrase going viral is not that old, dating only from the internet era. Since its creation the phrase has gone, well, viral, and been applied to many photographers and images. It can strike any place any time. For example, I'm guessing you've seen a lot of links in the past few days to this story, which is currently in the process of going viral. Never mind that the photos have been floating around online for more than 5 years. When the moment hits, it hits hard.

The Lenscratch posts are the most comprehensive report I've seen yet on the first-hand experience. For those curious to explore this idea further, this Ben Roberts essay is also worth reading.

Ben Roberts goes viral in April 2013

I've never had a photo go viral (although I've written about the phenomenon here and here), and reading these accounts is probably as close as I will ever come. It sounds like a whirlwind and somewhat of a mixed blessing. One of those "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" scenarios. That said, most of photographers profiled, apart from Julia Kozerski, were generally positive in their appraisal. After all most photographers want their photos to be seen, and going viral is the cheapest, most efficient mechanism to achieve this. More importantly, it may be one of the clearest paths to that elusive holy grail: monetizing creative effort.

The Lenscratch articles make an interesting comparison with Sara Lewkowicz's recent experience. When Lewkowicz's photos went viral she viewed it as copyright infringement, and by the way, where was her piece of the pie? Maybe she has a legal case. I'm not sure. Let's just say she didn't enjoy the viral ride. In fact let's go one step further and say that going viral and copyright protection often operate in complete opposition. You probably can't have both because the basic mechanism of virality is copying.

All of these accounts are interesting, but they don't touch on the central player here, the reporter. As far as I can tell most written profiles are similar. They're typically puff pieces introducing a photographer to a general audience. Talk about the artist, show a few images, etc. Whether it's Lens Blog, Picture Show, Slate, Photobooth, Lightbox, Huffington Post, or Feature Shoot, the reporting seems interchangeable. So why go to the trouble when a simple reblog, tweet, or like accomplishes the same task in about ten seconds?

The media landscape according to Fair Observer via

I think there are a few reasons. First, major news outlets are sometimes trapped in a pre-internet mindset. Before information became truly global, a regional newspaper was an exclusive outlet. Maybe a newspaper would cover a photographer, then some other newspaper 500 miles away would write a similar piece. Each one was written from scratch and served a different audience with little overlap. String a few of these together and you had a mini-viral story, old school style. Maybe with enough attention the AP wire service would pick it up. Then virality truly kicked in.

Today the internet has rendered both syndication and regionalism largely obsolete, yet reporters still cover the same viral stories from scratch as if they were writing for a regional paper. They're trapped in an old model, at least as most profiles are currently structured. An original interview or perspective is one thing, but if it's a straight puff piece, there's really no need.

That brings me to the second cause of virality. Major media tend to be lazy sheep. Sorry to be blunt but it's true. Back in the print era, Time and Newsweek often ran the same cover stories, and it's still common today to see the same news events covered in the same order on each TV channel. That's not coincidence. It's because reporters are like gas stations. Where one sets up, you'll likely find others nearby.

Multiple Erwitt posts within a 3 day period in late September 2013

Let's face it. It's hard to do original research. It's difficult to interview people or dig up facts. And when that's been done, the hardest task of all is figuring out what you really think about those facts. Forming judgments about photographs is even scarier. For most people, the photo world is an inscrutable blank mass. There are so many photos out there, and of such varying quality and styles, and so many ways to consider them, that it's overwhelming. Which ones should you profile? Which ones will readers care about? Which ones are "important." Who knows? 

The viral media knows, that's who. Writing about an unknown photographer is a risk, but if that photographer has already been profiled in Magazine X and Magazine Y, they're a safer bet. Someone else likes them, or at least someone else wrote about them, so they've been informally screened for approval. Once a photographer has appeared in one of these outlets, there's a good chance they will be written about in another one. And when a photographer has been profiled in 6 or 7 different places, the momentum carries itself. That's the basic equation behind a viral story.

Now consider a hypothetical. What if the same unknown photographer had sent Magazine X those photographs unsolicited before anyone else had written about them? Most likely they'd be ignored.

Think about that for a moment. It's the exact same photographer, the same photographs, the same potential story. Why should they be treated differently? The only variable is the viral quality. But for many arts stories, that determines what gets reported and what doesn't. The particular merits of the photographs are relatively unimportant in comparison.

Banksy attempts to go viral in Central Park

Banksy put this idea to the test recently when he tried to sell his art anonymously in Central Park. In a gallery his work would sell for six figures and up, but on the street at $60 very few people bought one. Granted, Banksy isn't a photographer, but he's working with the same fundamental situation. No pedigree + no virality = no interest. Joshua Bell playing violin in the subway? Same thing.

To most people, including me, the creations of Banksy or Bell are an inscrutable blank mass. Who knows what's world class and what's merely good? Like photographs, an introduction or explanation can aid one's appreciation. And that's a role the media can serve. But one or two stories in major media will cover it, thanks.

By now you can probably connect the dots. Going viral is not merely a media phenomenon. It's at the heart of the art world. Call it buzz or fashion or another name. Curators, collectors, and editors often operate in a very similar way to reporters or gas stations. Certain artists become collectible at very specific times. Everyone wants them because, well, everyone wants them. 100 years from now, the art that lis still remembered and recirculating is likely to be good. But there's possibility it's just something that happened to hit a random viral nerve. Everyone wrote about it, wanted it, and bought it. Then something else came along.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Erwitt Reduced and Illustrated

I've been enjoying the new spate of Elliott Erwitt color shots making the rounds lately (here, here, and here). Haven't seen the Kolor book yet but it looks promising. 

"Black and white is a reduction of things. Color is an illustration of things," says Erwitt. I suppose that's one way to look at it, but his photos are evidence there's more to it. It's not so much about reducing or illustration. It's about nailing the shot. For some reason Erwitt seemed better able to do this in black and white. Take this Siberian wedding scene for example.

It's a nice enough image, but it doesn't compare to this.

There's a reason the second photo is famous and the first one isn't, and it doesn't have much to do with color versus monochrome. It's because the second photo tells a story. The first one doesn't. 

The same thing is true about Erwitt's famous confessional photo. Here it is in color.

And in black and white.

Again, the power of this image doesn't rely so much on color or lack of it, but on how he's framed the situation. By eliminating the character on the left, he's cleaned up the scene and put an ironic twist in the narrative. That's the sort of subtle shift that separates merely good photos from transcendent ones. 

What I can't figure out is why? He's carrying a few cameras, one with b/w and one with color film. The film type shouldn't have any effect on how he frames the scene. It shouldn't effect the moment. But somehow it does. Is it because he subconsciously cares more about the b/w camera, that he knows it will allow him to tap into magic? Maybe.

I think there's an aspect of looking for photographs, a sense of optimism, that can be very powerful. If you know there's an image in a scene, often that knowledge will release the photo. And I'm guessing that sense of optimism, fundamental to good street photography, was more powerful for Erwitt when he shot b/w. I know that's the case for myself. When I have color film in my camera, the world presents itself differently through the viewfinder. It's illogical but true. 

But I'm just speculating. Who knows. Maybe the book will help me sort it out, or at least provide some more examples. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gooey Fingers

My digital bubble has been intruded on lately by a few photos from the real world. First of all, this nice photo arrived out of the blue last week from Jennifer Shaw.

It's an actual darkroom print. Who the f- makes those anymore? Wait, don't answer that. Not to mention, who shoots naked kids? Somehow Jennifer had me pegged.  

The photo came with a note, Thanks for viewing my work at Photolucida, etc etc. Ah, so that's it. I'm not sure if she sent one to everyone she met there. If so, wow. Because silver gelatin prints take time to make. Five months, judging by the time since that conference. But it's probably worth the investment on her part, because that's the type of memento that makes an imprint. I know I'll remember this shot, and the feel of it in my fingers. Too bad I don't run a gallery or magazine or something, but at least the blog is no longer defunct. A jpg here will have to suffice as partial thanks.

The second intrusion came courtesy of Chris Ward, a local Polaroid savant working out of his apartment in Eugene. There aren't many people left who will work on old Land cameras, but Chris is one of them. People send him old cameras from all over the world. He fixes the ones which can be salvaged, sometimes in surprising ways, and always with care. Here's one with mock alligator skin cover and hardwood (walnut?) chassis. 

So you probably can guess what happened. I met Chris at Dot Dotson's a few months ago, one thing led to another, and now I own yet another camera. Not one of the fancy alligator skin jobs. Just a simple Polaroid 230 in good working order. Of course Polaroid isn't around any longer to make film, but Fuji's FP-100c works just as well.  

There's a bit of a learning curve with this camera, and I quickly wasted my first pack blustering forward, then reversing course to read the instruction manual, pulling the wrong tab, misfocusing, pulling the backing off too early, then too late, cursing, and getting gooey developing gunk on my fingers in the process. Hey, this ain't a point and shoot. It's more of a point and shoot and pull and wait and wait and peel. And if the process isn't instantly obvious, maybe it's a sign I need to point and shoot and pull my head out from behind a screen. 

So I have no photos to show for now but more film ordered. The plan is to get hands-on instruction from Chris before wasting more film. I even went all out with the next shipment and got the dragon skin film backing. Probably overkill, but I figure if shit's getting real let's go all the way and slay the main fantasies. I'll deal with the goo later.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Brett meets Mikhailov

Selected rules governing Major League Baseball and photography in the old Soviet Union, listed interchangeably:
  1. It is forbidden to take photographs from higher than the second floor, the areas of railways, stations, military objects, at enterprises, near enterprises, at any organization, without special permission.
  2. When there are fewer than two outs, and there is a force play at third base (i.e., when there are runners at first and second base, or the bases are loaded),  if a fair fly ball is in play, and in the umpire's judgment it is catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort, the umpire shall call "infield fly"; the batter will be out regardless of whether the ball is actually caught in flight.
  3. It is forbidden to take photos that bring into disrepute Soviet power and the Soviet way of life.
  4. If the catcher drops or otherwise does not catch the pitched third strike, the batter can still be awarded first base if he can reach it before the catcher is able to either tag him or throw the ball to first base before he reaches it. While this is still a strikeout, it does not count as one of the three outs for that half inning. Thus a pitcher may record four or more strikeouts in one inning.
  5. It is forbidden to depict any naked body. Only museums can display such pictures in (non-photographic) Old Master paintings.
  6. Batters may apply pine tar only from the handle of the bat extending up for 18 inches. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Skimming the Fraction

Skimming the new Fraction yesterday, this photo by Paul Gaffney caught my eye:

Two years ago I wrote about three photos very similar to Gaffney's, including one of my own.

I don't think anyone consciously sets out looking for scenes like this. Well, I know I don't. But there is something primal in them. When you stumble across two roads diverging, it just looks like a possible photo. Life offers certain forks. They lead in very different directions. It's a metaphor bla bla bla. It's irresistible. That's why if you get enough photographers out there looking at stuff, you're going to wind up with some forking road shots. 

But probably not as many as single roads disappearing into the distance.

This one is by Dorothea Lange, but this example only skims a fraction of what's out there. I suspect the single road shots have diverging ones outnumbered, and that we can all recall ten similar photos. Can I call the path-to-vanishing-point a typology? 

It's a fun game to weave together similar works from photographic history. Photography isn't very old, less than 200 years, yet within that short span some ideas keep recirculating over and over. Maybe they are a form of photographic archetype? David Simonton has curated some great examples recently on his Tumblr

Can I call Figures-in-faux-vomit-gesture a typology? When you see someone about to faux-vomit, it just looks like a photo. And if that collection doesn't float your boat, David has others. It's well worth browsing his Tumblr to find them. Just go in with both eyes open.

The increasing ease of online image search has opened up huge possibilities here which did not exist 10 years ago. And copyright issues too, but we'll leave those aside for, ahem, later. I briefly played around with this back in 2008, pulling together photos of gas stations and Mona Lisa smiles. Pedro Arroyo has a nice collection of examples here. But as he and Simonton know, it's a lot of work to find and edit these. Sure, the images are out there, but who's got the time? 

Sometimes a little extra research can pay off. Phillip Toledano found this out the hard way recently. Turns out the photos in his new project are quite similar to another project from ten years ago. 

Hey, maybe EJ Bellocq could get in on this? 

Whatever you choose to photograph, odds are someone's been there and done that. Even blacking out a part of the photo won't help. Sometimes it's entire projects. Ty Morin set out this year to meet and photograph all 788 Facebook friends. Turns out Tanja Hollander had beaten him to the punch. When Dillon Marsh got the idea to photograph cell phone towers disguised as trees, it seemed like a great concept. Who would shoot something as novel and oddball as that? Two people before him, as it turned out (Emily Shur and Robert Voit). Been there, done that. 

George Rousse went to a lot of trouble painting industrial interiors to create optical illusions

They're quite entertaining. Must've taken him hours. But when all is said and done, do they really say more than John Pfahl's Altered Landscapes from the 1970s?

Don't get me wrong. I think these photos are great. But to me they're mostly about the nature of photography. Stand in one spot and the three dimensional world flattens one way. Stand a few feet over and it compresses differently. OK, we get it. We got it 30 years ago. Still fun to play with though, as Zander Wilson's Tree Lines project shows.

Benedict Morgan's Painted Stripes takes the concept indoors to monochrome domestic scenes. 

I guess you had to be there. Literally. But that photo just skims a fraction of the scene. Here's how it looks from 5 feet back.

Dude! Freaky. But couldn't the artist have saved a lot of time just Photoshopping shades of gray? Not really, because part of the twist is creating these. As with all the examples above, it must've taken hours. Art requires commitment, man. It doesn't grow on trees.

Then again, sometimes it does. Palíndromo Mészáros found his Pfahl-scapes ready and waiting after a big flood. All he had to do was position the camera. Slacker. But you've gotta admit a scene like this is irresistible. It just looks like a possible photo.

I know this scene came readymade but still, Photoshop might get us there quicker. What if we just take a random forest scene and paint the bottom red? 

On second thought, screw that. Why not just take the whole blog post and paint a fraction red? 

Damn I am saving time now! I'm cutting out all the middle steps. And it doesn't even matter where the camera is positioned. It looks the same. But I lost my train of thought. What was my point again? Something about bedrooms? Parking garages? No, diverging roads, silly. Archetypes and shit that's been done, that there. 

Sigh, I guess that's why most people only skim a fraction of these posts. 

Only a few make it to the brown gooey stuff on the bottom.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How not to sell photo books

It pains me to say this but Powell's Books is no longer the best place in Portland for photo books. It has been dethroned by Ampersand. This trend has been gradually developing for the past few years, ever since Ampersand was founded in 2008. But until recently the contest was less settled. A case could be made for either store, depending on what type of book one was looking for or what price range. Certainly Powell's held the edge when it came to sheer volume, and for used books, while Ampersand had the trendy new titles.

But several visits to both stores over the past few months have convinced me that Ampersand is now the clear victor, and the gap seems to widen with each passing month. More and more the stacks at Powell's take on the sheen of an old antique shop. The shelves are lined mostly with undesirable detritus which sits idly month after month. Maybe someone comes along with a duster occasionally. New books still filter in on a regular basis, but they are generally limited. There are no books, for example, by Mack, Morel, Little Big Man, TBW, Radius, A Jump, Little Brown Mushroom, Dashwood, Gottlund, or Loosestrife. No books from this list. Twin Palms, Steidl and Nazraeli make occasional appearances at Powell's, but often as used books, sold by chance rather than by plan. 


In other words, a trip to Powell's is a time warp back to the early 90s before the current photo book renaissance ever happened. I should know, because the early 90s is when I first began going there. Back when I got into photography the Powell's photo section was my de facto learning library. It was crammed into a windowless downstairs hall, near where the book statue is now on the corner of 11th and Couch. Around 1995 I began a habit of scouring the stacks every few weeks, and that's where I built most of my photo book collection, at least in the early years.

But even when I didn't buy books there I used Powell's to teach myself. I could see who had made what. Which titles were important. Which books stayed in print and which were remaindered. Which books were worth what. I could see what was new, what was old, and basically what was what. I'm eternally grateful for that resource, because for photographers more than for any other art form, books are the way we communicate. When a photographers wants to send a statement into the world, he or she does it between two covers. And for a while Powell's was the best at collecting these communiqués in one spot. Certainly it was the best in Oregon, and maybe on the West Coast. 

I kept visiting the photo section over the years, regularly looking and buying, through the remodel, to its current location on the third floor. The catbird seat! With windows overlooking the city below. Clearly someone in Powell's management valued photo books. There was a filter, and once a book had made it through to the floor, it was treated with respect. It was part of a special group, the photo section.

Powell's (Photo section highlighted)

That's why the condition today is disappointing. The photo book landscape has changed radically since the 90s but Powell's hasn't. Sure, their stacks are still a great resource for learning the canon, with standard works on Frank, Parr, Atget, Arbus, and the other usual suspects. But when it comes to current photography, Powell's seems uninterested. Their main publisher of recent books is friggin' Aperture. Need I say more?

Enter Ampersand. When Myles first opened his shop, he borrowed a page from Powell's philosophy, selling a combination of new and used titles. I think it was roughly an even split in the early days. In 2011 the space doubled, and gradually the mix shifted, or perhaps Myles just sold off his used inventory. For whatever reason the store now stocks mostly new books. But not just any. Every book in the store seems carefully considered. No titles wind up there by accident. Often I will hear about new books online which sound promising, but they are expensive and I don't want to fork out money sight unseen. If the book is worthwhile, there's a good chance I can see it at Ampersand. 

OK, so the grand old bookstore fades while the small boutique shop gains a footing. It's a familiar story, the tale of American bookstores everywhere. Over the past decade thousands of independent bookstores have closed. Because the basic equation is tough. If a customer has a sense of what they want, why visit a store? Why not buy online for less money and have it show up in the mailbox? Better yet, why not buy the e-Book and have it delivered digitally? I don't envy the business climate. Even though I buy a lot of books, I wouldn't want to sell them.

So what's a bookstore to do? The divergent strategies of Powell's and Ampersand may point the way forward. What Ampersand realizes is that a bookstore isn't just a merchant. It's a special collection on display. And the way a collection works is similar to a museum. A collection reflects a conscious mind, one which has carefully curated work, organized it, and decided what to show and what not to. When a person enters that collection, especially after several visits, they learn to trust the curator. They know that if something shows up in the store, chances are it will be worth looking at. This is why people museums charge admission while antique shops are free.

I don't patronize fashion boutiques but I imagine they operate by the same principle. A shopper learns to trust the taste of the owner. Whatever they find in the store will have the imprimatur of pre-selected cool. This is how a customer can discover new projects, stuff they didn't even know they liked. And after a customer has spent some time browsing the collection, there's a bonus. They can go home with something! Amazon can't compete with that. Barnes and Noble can't compete, nor can E-Books. That experience is best fostered by a well managed physical store, one with a clear curatorial vision.  

I'm not sure why Powell's isn't like that. Maybe it's too difficult to translate strong curating into a large volume setting? For whatever reason, the Powell's shelves feel less like a collection than the random assortment typical of a municipal library. Who knows what's in there? Maybe some of it's good, maybe it isn't. But there doesn't seem anyone in charge. That's not entirely a bad thing. Assorted used books sometimes offer treasures. But I think the situation would be more bearable if those musty stacks were balanced with contemporary energy. These are the glory days of photo books! Why are those books not found at Powell's? 

This doesn't mean I can't still find stuff there. I can, and sometimes by surprise. But I think it's very tough to run a successful photo section by that strategy. Why would someone shop there? Why not browse Amazon in your pajamas? Or better yet, why not visit Ampersand?