Friday, May 8, 2015

Why I added nothing to this blog for two and a half years

Until a few days ago, I hadn't posted on this blog since October 5, 2012.

Since October 5, 2012 ...

  • I let the domain names on my websites expire.
  • I stopped submitting to photographic contests.
  • I stopped promoting myself as a photographer.
  • I dropped out of the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers).

I realized I needed to work on myself and to stop working for an audience, whether real or imagined.  I wasn't selling many pictures, anyway.  I think I had sold less than a dozen images over the internet in the past decade, and perhaps six through the New Hampshire Art Association of which I am a member.  I stopped trying to sell, trying to guess what people wanted to buy, chasing the adrenaline rush from another sale.

I was also chasing the hits on my website, gallery and blog.  I never did Facebook, but that hit count on this blog was just as important to me as the Likes people track with so much attention.

All that stopped.  I started taking pictures for myself again.  I became my only audience.

I added multiple tens of thousands more images to my archive over the ensuing two and a half years. It was liberating.

Was it just a coincidence that one of the blogs I regularly follow posted an article on this very topic only a couple of days after I began to reflect on these things earlier this month?

Darwin Wiggett, in a post titled Self Awareness as a Barrier to Seeing, wrote
I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. 
Even when I shot alone, I was still thinking things like, ‘If I do this funky thing with the flash then people will think I am amazing” Or, “This is awesome! I can’t wait to show people this image; they’ll love it”. In short, I was still worried about my audience. I was shooting for other people and not shooting for myself! And of course I never grew as artist. 
[I]n forgetting about how my photos would appear to others, I started to see. 
Now I just shoot for me and worry little what others will think of my photos. As long as the photos are true to my vision and represent who I am and what I saw, then the photos are a success for me. Letting go of self, competition, and concern for audience is really about letting go of insecurities. Finally, I can fully pursue my creative vision. And in doing so the joy of creation has come back full force. 
[Reprinted with permission of the author.]
Wiggett was speaking for me. That was my prod to write this blog entry.

The annihilation of the ego, the "letting go of the self" as Wiggett calls it, lifts a curtain drawn between the eye and the subject. To use a photographic metaphor, it removes the fuzzy filter from the lens. That's the fuzzy filter that comes from fuzzy thinking. Surrendering to feelings alone, one gives up conceptualizing, naming, judging, and second guessing.  With relaxed attentiveness, and using the camera as a tool, the artist whose medium is photography expresses a life lived in a world experienced.

So I practiced at this.  And I stopped making pictures for an audience. And I took a vacation from writing for this blog.

Las Vegas 2013

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why would I self publish a photo book?

I am an artist whose medium is photography.  I print my own pictures, and I mat and frame them myself.  I compulsively exercise full control over the final product that hangs on the wall.  I try to carefully craft my work.  I am my own primary audience and critic.  I don't seek widespread dissemination or acceptance by appealing to popular tastes, fads, interests or market trends.  I don't rely on the sale of my work for my income.

Why would I surrender a collection of my images to an anonymous publisher for reproduction?

I recently self published a couple of books using Blurb.  These were my first serious attempts to create a book.  I didn't do it to for customer sales.  The cost for these books is too high to appeal to a general audience.  Approaching $1.00 per printed page, only the author and perhaps a few close friends and family members would seriously consider such a purchase.  I published these books through Blurb because this was a viable alternative to printing each image and mounting them into a quality album.  I consider these books presentation pieces.

I was seeking the most convenient way to display a coherent collection of images in a compact and tasteful package.  Blurb offers a way to do that in the format of a book.

Here are the advantages I discovered when I used an online publisher:

  • Ease and convenience ... In my version of Lightroom there is a mode for creation and layout of a book.  I simply selected the images, moved them around into the order I wanted them printed, decided how they would lay on the pages, and made a variety of design decisions including how I wanted the binding to look.
  • Decent paper with high resolution reproduction ... Blurb offers a choice of several paper weights and finishes.  They are as good as most of the commercially published books of photographs I own.
  • Text and captioning ... Page layout options allow for numerous choices about placement of text and importing of captions from metadata.  One is only limited by the ability to write coherent sentences.
  • Hardbound covers ... These are as solid as any book I own.  The only disappointment I have about the binding is that the pages are glued in, not sewn in.
  • Available for preview via internet ... I'm in love with this feature.  One simply has to open the Blurb website and search my name to be directed to my books.  From there, one can preview all the pages on a full-screen display.  I don't have to create a website or gallery for people to view my images with text.

The only disadvantage I see using Blurb to create these books is the price.  Paying $80 or more, plus shipping, for a hundred page hard bound book of photographs with text is a disincentive.  This is something I will only do for special projects that beg to be published in a book format, or for a special gift.

Galapagos 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Welcome back!

My last post was in October, 2012.  Within a year I discontinued my on-line galleries, dropped my domain names, and checked out of cyberspace.

Why did I take leave from public view?

I'll write about that in a future post.

For now, I plan to resume occasional updates and postings, following no predetermined calendar or schedule.

In this post, I humbly announce the publication of a collection of my photographs I have titled Close to Home: Project 150.  Having accumulated enough images within 150 feet of my front door, since December, 2010, I figured it was time to organize them into a published album or portfolio.

You may review the collection here.

Displaying 136 images, the book is a distillation from more than 3,000 pictures.  To identify personal favorites from the finalists that made it into the collection is a challenge.  But here's one that I framed and my wife has hanging in her office ...

Friday, October 5, 2012

It isn't art

Problematic questions raised by A New American Picture, by Doug Rickard

In a previous posting I objected to a claim of authorship of a book of photographs when the person making the claim was not responsible for the placement or ownership of the camera, selection of the subject, decisions about exposure and framing, time of day of capture, or location. In other words, the claim of ownership was based upon appropriation of someone else's work compiled into a single printed volume.

I'm referring to the redaction of stills from Google Street View, screen shots, by Doug Rickard. I brought my concerns to Anthony Lieb, professor of communications at Georgian College in Ontario, Canada.  This is what he said:
In general, I have to agree with you. Is it art? To me, nope. Is it plagiarism? Nope, again, though. He's at best a curator (or editor, as you call him). The charge of plagiarism, while understandable, is a bit severe (for he does document his sources). I think he may have material for a magazine/journal article (at most)--but certainly not a book. The boundaries--even the definition--of art have never been satisfactorily explicated. To me, using others' images is fine (ie: a collage) long as credit is given where due. But to create a collage of one image, as it were, and to take credit is plain unethical.
I'm confident that Rickard and his publisher obtained legal opinion before proceeding with the publication of the book.  The Google images must be in the public domain, I guess, for Rickard to get away with this enterprise so blatantly.

But the ethics of the claim of authorship are troubling.  And any pretense to artistic creativity is laughable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

But is it art?

There's a book of images that recently came to my attention.  It's A New American Picture, by Doug Rickard. It looks like street photography, but is it?  Rickard has his name listed as author, but is he? The book is full of images, but are they photographs made purposively by an intentional act of creative framing and capturing?

This book really stretches the limits of what should be called photographic art.

I learned about this book from The Online Photographer blog, and borrowed the above image that came from Rickard's book. As a photographic image, it's fairly strong street photography, with movement from the bottom left toward the right, directing our eye to the stationary figure in the center who is partially framed by the boarded store window behind him.  The contrast in dress and socio-economic status between the pedestrian entering from the bottom left and the man on a cell phone in a business suit in the middle is striking.  There is a story asking to be told here. It begs the viewer's imagination to get involved.

But .... Is this the creative act of an artist?  This is not Rickard's image by any reasonable definition of origin or ownership. 

Here's some of the description of the book from
Rickard's methodology is anything but conventional. All of the images are appropriated from Google Street View; over a period of two years, Rickard took advantage of the technology platform's comprehensive image archive to virtually drive the unseen and overlooked roads of America--bleak places that are forgotten, economically devastated and abandoned. With an informed and careful eye, Rickard finds and decodes these previously photographed scenes of urban and rural decay. He rephotographs the machine-made images as they appear on his computer screen, framing and freeing them from their technological origins.
Anything but conventional? These are screen captures of images he didn't take!  At best, Rickard could be called an editor or a curator.  At worst, a plagiarist. What he can't be called is a photographer, a creator, or an artist.  It's not his work. It's no more than a still from a mobile surveilance camera that the "author" didn't own or set up.  This is an accidental composition discovered among the moving frames he didn't photograph, direct, plan or preconceive.

Michael Johnston, publisher of The Online Photographer blog, anticipating my objection, has a different opinion.
A number of people seem to have had their ideas of proper authorship (or credit) challenged or offended by Doug Rickard's method. To me, the method is what makes the project interesting. It's enough merely to describe what was done. Anyone can then see plainly, for themselves, what Doug's own input was, and was not. It doesn't have to be argued any further than that.
If he were pretending that he'd made the pictures in some other way than they actually were made, then I'd have a problem with it. But if the method is transparent, then it just adds to the interest. Google Street View is a common contemporary visual experience. I sometimes "go somewhere" and poke around just for the plain old pleasure of looking and seeing—same reason I go to flickr or pick up a photo book or do a random Google image search. (I like looking at pictures; so I look at pictures a lot.)
See, to me, it isn't so necessary to hash out the distinctions of authorship or ownership or credit, as long as the method, whatever it is, is clearly and honestly described. The point is looking at the pictures and whether they're good to look at; the visual results are the thing.
I disagree.  This is about integrity and creative honesty. If it is just about visual results, then a lot of fraud and deceit should be rewarded in the art world.

I have an idea.  Why don't I go for a walk and photograph some really interesting graffiti, do a little cropping, and publish the images in a book of my "authorship".  Few would permit me to profit from a Michelango masterpiece if I claim it as my own.  Many, however, have done this with graffiti by anonymous artists.  But who IS the artist? Who SHOULD be credited?  Who should legitimately profit?

Do I make my point clear by analogy?  I don't believe I can take some else's work, do some cropping or sharpening or tonal enhancements, and then publish it under my own name as an author.  Maybe as the redactor.  But not as the creator.  To do so would be audacious and fraudulent, in my opinion.

Kenneth Tanaka responded to Mike Johnston's permissive opinion with this remark:
I have to dissent about Doug Rickard. I've browsed the book and seen the prints. Interesting, but the authorship claim feels like a sticky doorknob. Personally I'll not be buying into it.

 I don't buy into it, either.  Nor am I buying the book.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New book on Vivian Maier now shiipping

Amazon just notified me that the book I preordered, Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, has shipped with an expected delivery date of October 3.

I plan to write a review of the book as soon as possible.

This 288  page book features 275 pictures.  I can't wait for it to get into my hands.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Concentration of content

Content trumps technique in photography.  Content is what makes extraordinary street photography, for example, stand out from a snapshot of the same scene.  But it certainly helps the viewer to understand what the photograph is about if the photographer can skillfully concentrate the essential elements into a clear articulation of intent and statement.

Brooks Jensen, in his Lenswork Blog, posted on 09/27/2012, briefly reminds me of the elements that successful photographs, or, more correctly, the people who make them, accomplish.  In mindful application of these elements we accomplish our intent.  It's all about "concentration of content" in a purposeful manner.

Normally speaking, the two primary characteristics of photography that we all worked so diligently to control are cropping and the rendition of detail. That is to say, our first and most fundamental act in making photograph is choosing what to include and what to exclude by careful camera placement and lens selection. We then take measures to render the detail with sufficient clarity by focusing critically and selecting a shutter speed appropriate for the necessary camera stabilization. Said more succinctly, we point, we shoot.
Whether it's through cropping, through exposure, through depth of field, or any other technique, the key is to concentrate the content of the photograph through one of these distillation techniques.
It is mastery of the "techniques of distillation" that, for some of us, is the life-long pursuit we seem to get better at with practice but are never quite able to arrive at to declare our journey concluded.