"No one moment is most important.... Any moment can be something." - Garry Winogrand
"The principal object in the picture must be fairly sharp, just as sharp as the eye sees it and no sharper, but everything else, and all other planes of the picture, must be subdued... slightly out of focus." - Peter Henry Emerson, 1886
"Whatever the noise and violence around them, photographs return objects to a state of stillness and silence. In the midst of urban hustle and bustle, they recreate the equivalent of the desert, a phenomenal isolation. They are the only ways of passing through cities in silence, of moving through the world in silence." - Jean Baudrillard
"I don’t believe in the psychologizing portrait photography that my colleagues do, trying to capture the character with a lot of light and shade. That’s absolutely suspect to me. I can only show the surface. Whatever goes beyond that is more or less chance." - Thomas Ruff
"In photography, you always have both the medium and the depicted subject at the same time." -- Thomas Ruff
In Ruff's work, the image is a very particular thing. I especially like his over-enlarged internet Jpegs. His more recent work has wandered into CG and crypto-photograms, a process that creates an image of imagery, where the "true" object, placed on photo paper, is itself replaced by an ephemeral concept, a mental image of an optical image. So meta.
The crisis of "thingness" in photography is at once at the root of many of its greatest strengths and weaknesses, as pointed out by painter Gerhard Richter:
Photography has almost no reality; it is almost a hundred percent picture. And painting always has reality...
...by which he appears to mean that a painting is an object to itself while a photo is an image separate from any specific object -- a mechanical recording of the real image, the collections of things and light that passed for some time in front of the lens. A painting is not like that. It is what it is.
Now, you can argue about representation. Stephen Pinker has opined that even the most abstract painting (say, applied in alternating squeegee strokes) is still a representation: of the artist's process, their thought process, or the artist themselves.
Which makes for a long page of quotes and speculations but very little specific opinion. I'm in a period of great activity right now -- both with the camera and without it. Maybe one requires the other. And a lot of thought about what it means, without a clear verbal answer but with enough internalized understanding to keep working obsessively every day.
Someone else can decide if it's any good but no one else is going to do it, so I set my alarm every morning and just get on.
The 50mm perspective always both troubles and seduces me. It has a distortion-ree feel -- neither too flat nor stretched out at the corners. And yet so constrained, as if the eye is snugly wedged into a box.
"Look, if you want to learn how to write, you study the alphabet and exercise every day. And in the end you have a very beautiful alphabet. But what are you expressing with the alphabet? Perfect technique but expressing nothing. This is what I call 'calligraphic photographs á l’americaine.'" -- André Kertész
"Representation of the world like the world itself is the work of men, they describe it from their point of view which they confuse with absolute truth." - Simone de Beauvoir
I'm sure all the proper people have been scandalized.
"I do not mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing, but I am suspicious regarding the image of reality which our senses convey to us, and which is incomplete and limited. Our eyes have developed such as to survive. It is merely coincidence that we can see stars with them, as well." - Gerhard Richter
This post started as three different posts, each of which got bogged down in its own overwrought explication. I realized they all shared concerns about essentialism, of what makes a photo... a photo. I’ve decided to just stack them and cut straight down in straight lines across all three. Kick ‘em all.
Enjoy your Sunday.
Dogs and Lunches, etc
If It Has a Ringtone, It's Not a Camera. Panasonic Lumix's advertising slogan didn't last long -- not, I think, because there would soon enough be a Lumix-branded mobile phone, but because it's a slogan that can easily be interpreted either way: that a celphone is less than a camera, or (oops) that a camera is potentially rather less than a cameraphone.
It's also less than a "camera-puter," which is an aspect that is neither camera nor phone.
In the simplest sense, the camputer is a portal for images direct from your hand to the internet. But what about pictures before they ever leave the phone? If they ever leave the phone?
The utilitarian camera-as-scratchpad notion that's been spreading since the advent of home video (even, for a few, on Super 8) is now something that almost everyone takes for granted. End a meeting with a whiteboard full of scribbles that might be useful later? No time to copy them in a notepad? Use the camera phone. Want to keep a snap of the good-for-once haircut? Want to remember that the car is parked on Level 4 Blue zone? Easy and the photos just as easily cast off when they're done.
Camphone as agent of political change? The jury's out on its genuine effectiveness, but certainly it's had a huge and unpredictable effect on the relations of people, governments, politicians, and the media between them.
Beyond these "useful" applications, though, and beyond the camphone's replacement of point and shoots for a quick facebook-upload fix -- are there new ideas that might be useful creatively? The rapid spread of programs like Hipstamatic and Vignette (or even CamScanner) provide a hint to one other direction, closer to usual photographic practice -- the collapse/reversal of the traditional photo workflow. Sure, you could already take a digital photo and then push it through Photoshop to alter the character of the color and contrast, emulating the look of a particular film stock. The patterns were still the same: capture, process, and (potentially) presentation.
The advent of processing tricks in the camera application collapse the first two steps into one. Just set the camera on "Velvia" and go find some fall foliage. Heck, put the processing and border-generating on "shuffle."
Or even shoot with a different camera and import the images into your phone, rather than spend $500 on Photoshop: which is just what is happening here -- cited by Leica, no less. Established commercial photographer Laura Rossignol shooting on a D-Lux 5 (aka Lumix LX5), and then (after doing selects in Lightroom) "I like to take the post processing one step further and I will email a finished version to myself so I can open it in the Picture Show iPhone app. It allows you to add interesting effects and frames."
(Addendum: Adobe's John Nack made a similar post to this one, wondering: why would you edit on a mobile device?, just a few days ago....)
I used to think that the transparency or negative was the canonical object. As Ansel Adams wrote about it, the negative was like a musical score, to be interpreted by a darkroom performance for each new print. Throw that idea away. Immediate darkroom-ish styling on the fly: whether you think they're insanely great or sentimentally godawful, they're as fundamental a part of the New Beast's nature as is the thickness of oil paint or a trumpet's high notes. Get used to it, this is still just an early wave.
I'll be the first to say that I find most Holga/Diana-wana-be photgraphy cloying and twee and it's pretty rare that even the most earnest results feel like anything more than just a rehash of Nancy Rexroth's "IOWA." So you can imagine my reflex reaction to programs that deliberately "crappify" otherwise-clear, direct images, burying them under just so much mannered noise. And you'd be right, at least about my initial reaction. Why my attitude has changed in the next photorant entry.
In the mean time, since I couldn't find one that entirely suited me, here are a couple of guides to the color modes (and below, frame styles) offered as presets by the Android camera-phone program Vignette. A similar chart can be found here, but it was missing skin tones).
What I Ate: 28 Jan 2011
The flash diet doesn't require using flash, and it isn't really a diet per se, but an alternative to keeping a food diary -- photograph everything you eat. A side benefit is that it gives you an excuse to make at least a few photographs every day.
For entertainment value I've given myself a little rubric:
• Celphone only: twee "FX" apps okay
• "One bullet": c'mon, it's time to eat
• Context: ingredients, locations, companions
Here is a great thing about celphone cameras: they're not Hasselblads. They're more like a real "pencil of nature," in that a pencil has incredible range -- you can use the same pencil to jot down the grocery list or to draw a masterwork. The Hasselblad is more like oil paints -- wonderful for what it does, but too grand and technically involved for casual muddling.