Saturday, September 23, 2017

PSA/Misogyny Followup

Michael Zhang of PetaPixel got back to me after I told him I was going to stop submitting content for consideration, and we had a nice conversation.

In short, PetaPixel is a tiny tiny operation and simply does not have the resources to moderate the comment threads (which is what I had assumed), but Michael and his tiny staff are interested in hearing about inappropriate comments. The correct action is to use the Report feature of the disqus comment system (which is what PP uses) and then the staff will see these comments and -- at their discretion -- do something about it.

They seem pretty ruthless about outright banning people. I assume their attitude is that they have a million readers (literally) and they can afford to pretty much execute readers without warning pretty much full time pretty much all day without making a dent.

So, Report Vile Comments.

I will be sending content PetaPixel's way on my usual very very occasional schedule. Also, I will be reporting inappropriate comments with some vigor. Off and on.

And that's enough about that. I am ruminating on the role of interpretation in Art-making, propaganda, photography, and will deliver some tedious overlong philosophical ramble in due course. Promise!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Design Notes II

In an earlier posting, I wrote out some stuff on my work in progress, working title Bellingham Summer showing some ideas for the introductory material. That has evolved, a little, and I think I have a handle on it.

Next up is the core of the book, 20 or so pictures that, I think, nail down something of the essence of what I see as Summer in Bellingham, up here on the 49th parallel, where the days are very long in summer, and very short in winter (the British, of course, are very familiar with this, as are the northern Europeans -- I understand that the approved coping mechanism in winter is to Drink and Complain, both of which I feel fairly adept with).

After due consideration and winnowing down, I found that I have no special needs in this central section. There was no particular reason for pacing, recapitulation, anything fancy. It's just a group of pictures. So, the goal of sequencing here became simply to make it look structured, organized. I spent some time categorizing things, and rediscovered the specific list of things that I had first identified as representing Summer in Bellingham:



I looked for geometrical coincidences, and without really looking for it, I found one pretty decent visual joke. Well. Let's be honest, visual jokes are, at best, about as good as a lousy pun, but this one's that good.

I also worked up a look, one that I have used in the past, roughly. Essentially, high contrast, firm blacks, and a heavy vignette. The intent here is a hallucinatory, dreamlike, flavor. Which is indeed what I am going for, I see summer here as a slightly crazed and altogether too brief experience. We're all sleep deprived from the light, and frantic to get in enough Summering to carry us through the chilly, wet, cloudy winter. Summer here is glorious, it's sunny, it's warm without being too hot. The area is beautiful, filled with natural wonder and rushing water. There's a lot to get done in the few months of summer. And the days are very very long indeed at the height of it.

The pictures look kind of like this:





I didn't kill myself over structure. The aim was purely to avoid jarring juxtapositions as far as possible (keep the Kids a few pages removed from the Topless March) and to exploit whatever relationships seemed obvious to impose a sort of order. Here are some spreads.

This is the joke, the second spread immediately follows the first:




The central content of the book opens with the Wisteria, as I suggested in the first post of this series, to connect with the foliage theme of the intro. The next spread, though, is this kid-themed spread. (note foliage recto to provide some loose link to that Wisteria):



We move on through another page or two of kid-related material, and after a while end up here. This is essentially a geometrical relationship, although there's also a "boys vs. girls" thing, and the people are all college aged, more or less:



The coda is still giving me a little trouble. I have boiled it down to two pictures of a lawnmower, but they frankly look stupid sitting there in a sea of white. I've toned them slightly, to separate them from the main content, and I have an idea for recapitulating the growth pattern behind the main content in a more organic way, to imply fall, to carry the main body of the book into the coda while still indicating a clear change of mood and idea, and then the close.

I have one last picture on the end, a flashback of sorts, printed very faint, which I visualize verso opposite the end paper.

Once I have the coda worked out, I will post a third and final set of remarks, and most likely a link to the finished book so you can buy it yourself! Assuming, of course, that the wheels do not fall off.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

PSA: Misogyny in Photography

In my general perambulations around the internets, I routinely run across little nests of misogynists. For example, recently one photographer posted an ocean sunset in a forum I peek in to from time to time, entitled "Main reason why I go to the beach". Predictably, some idiot posted a photo of a woman's butt two hours later, leading a lot of "hurr hurr right on man". I like women's butts just fine, but I recognize that context is relevant. This sort of behavior in a context in which women are intended to feel comfortable, welcome, and in which they ought to and can reasonably expect to is obviously unacceptable behavior.

Similarly, there's been some poisonous discussion across the internet about the Nikon ad which featured 32 male photographers and 0 female photographers.

I don't even want to get in to a discussion of the rights and wrong here, I don't want to get into a round of explaining the facts, or trying to channel the Woman's Experience, etc. It's not necessary to get in that deep.

I just want to point out that, for christ's sake, it's 2017. On what planet can your dumbshit "hurr hurr" make women feel welcome? And on and on with all the standard BS responses that troglodyte men drag out. Don't these guys hope some day to touch a woman? I mean, it could happen, if they changed... everything about themselves.

Anyways. I can't figure out how to pressure PetaPixel (which hosts some seriously virulent comment threads) because they use a 3rd party comment handling service, as well as using an ad network for supplying advertisements. Conveniently, everything is divorced from everything else. I can figure out how to stick it to The Photo Forum (which has irritated me in the past for other reasons) because they have specific sponsors. I present for your amusement two samples threads from that forum:

Nikon Picked 32 Men
and
Main reason why I go to the beach.

which are surely not anything like the nastiest things on the internet, but equally surely will make any female photographer seeking help on the internet feel at least a little uncomfortable.

Here is a list of the sponsors, as indicated on the front page. For all I know it's out of date, these guys are pretty disorganized:

Precision Camera and Video, Austin, TX.
Camera Land, Inc. Sports Optics. New York
Pixel HK (the web site seems dead, I have no idea if these guys even exist)
HouseLens
Signs.com
Lee Filters

Do with this information what you like. Personally, I have contacted each of these vendors to let them know that I won't be using their services. You might choose to cancel my vote, and promise to use their services! It's a big world, with room for many opinions. Mine is that misogyny in general audience photography circles needs to get stepped on, pretty hard.

It's one thing to bitch about women and post butt pictures on Pick Up Artist web sites, with all the other basement dwellers, I got no problem with that. It's quite another to go mucking about in public.

Back to regularly scheduled photography stuff in the next post, promise.

ETA: I have decided what to do for PetaPixel as well. Occasionally I supply them with an article, and I will be writing Michael Zhang a note today explaining that I cannot supply any more until I see a firmer hand moderating the more poisonous comment threads. They won't miss me, it won't really hurt them, but it's a stand I can take and it's possible that Michael will think it over a little. My boycott of an Austin camera shop isn't going to hurt them either, really. The point is to get people to think about it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Making Books has made me a Better Photographer

It occurred to me yesterday, as I was obsessively ruminating about books and photobooks and so on, that making books has made me a better photographer. Obviously not in any technical sense, I still struggle with the vagaries of AIS lenses on an ancient consumer body (you have to set it OFF manual mode to focus, and back ON manual mode to shoot, and I am constantly getting lost on the dial and can't find M without looking).

It probably hasn't made my better at composition, although perhaps a little. More focused, certainly.

What it has done, obviously, is that it has caused me to shoot far fewer pointless pictures.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, at least as expressed by Colberg (but he is not alone) I do not start with a finished photographic project, and then do a book. Instead, I have ideas for projects floating around my head: A typology of alleys, Found texts, Bellingham Summer, and so on. I also have vague notions of design and structure floating around: Big, Small, Dos-à-dos binding, french door binding, A stapled zine, A magazine, etc.

These things bounce around my head. Sometimes I shoot a few pictures, sometimes I experiment with some paper, thread, and glue. Every now and then a design/structure idea collides with a photo project idea, and I begin something in earnest. You've seen a little of the Bellingham Summer project, which was just a gibberish handful of pictures until the design ideas started to arrive. The medium is probably an 8x10 blurb trade paperback.

With a mental sketch of the completed book in mind, the pictures begin to almost shoot themselves. Everything from preferred framing to specific themes is clarified. Actual pictures, of course, influence the structure of the book, and the whole thing organically distills itself into the right thing. Ideally. Not always.

What this process seems to do is to eliminate the horrible "open brief" problem that we amateurs are cursed with. We can shoot literally anything, and the more constraints we can get hold of, the better we're going to be most likely. The book, having far more structure than a gallery show (real or virtual), grants me far more constraints. I can shoot with real purpose, I can look for specific shots, specific subjects treated in specific ways. I still throw a lot away, but my hit rate goes up like crazy toward the end of a project as I nail down the last couple of things I need or want.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

iPhone X and Digital Lighting

There's a feature tucked away in the new iPhones that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of traction, but it represents a massive sea change in photography. It's the "Portrait Lighting" mode, and it's the second shot across the bows of traditional photography, from the world of computational photography.

The first shot was "fake bokeh" in which the 3D map generated by a dual (or multiple) camera is used to generate background blur, to simulate the look of contemporary fast lens portraiture. This was widely derided for a few minutes, and then improved, and now it's pretty much accepted. A few holdouts still mock it, but normal people can't really tell the difference.

This next shot is a much much bigger one. With the 3D map the only thing preventing doing photographic lighting in post is available compute power. This is exactly what Portrait Lighting mode does. In effect, it digitally alters the lighting of a portrait to make it closer to a professional lighting style. It's not perfect, and I am sure the internet will mock it roundly when it gets around to it, "looks so fake", "lame", "a professional would totally do it better", all of which may be true. This is not a technology that is going to get worse over time, though. It's going to get better.

When I wrote about this two years ago, I imagined a virtual studio for the professional photographer, with virtual lights placed and moved as needed, after the shot was taken, and the final results rendered as a standard 2D image for retouching. Apple has done me one better and worked out how to consumer-ize it. Rather than moving virtual lights around Apple simply offers a handful of styles, treating it like an Instagram filter. Pick the lighting style that makes you look best! Click click, "that one, yeah."

There's room for both, though, it's just software.

It's not even hard! This isn't even an iPhone, this is me and my rough knowledge of how my own ugly mug is shaped. Original, drop catchlights, shade in shadow, shade in highlights, and finally drop in new catchlights.


What does this mean for photographers? For the amateur it means more power, more flexibility, and potentially more fun. It's simply easier to take ever nicer looking pictures.

For the professional it means that your skill at positioning lights is gradually going to vanish as a differentiator -- if you can't direct your models well, learn how, because that's about to become the only skill that isn't being replaced by a robot.

For the photojournalist, and more importantly for the news editor, it means one more layer of potential falsehood inserted between reality and the printed page, the digital news feed. Think about what features you're going to want o disallow in future.

I can't even imagine what it means for Fine Art photographers.

It seems like a stupid little "selfie-mode stupidity" feature, but it's not. It's our second hint of a radically different future.

A Note

This is a post of mine from slightly less than 2 years ago: A Device.

In it I remarked that synthetic lighting was going to be a new feature enabled by computational photography.

Please note that the iPhone X introduces synthetic lighting features as a consequence of its computational photography package.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Colberg on Art

Jörg has another thoughtful piece up, a welcome relief from his reviews in my opinion. It contains a review, but it's secondary, without being a New Yorker style artifice upon which to hang a bunch of self-aggrandization.

I'm going to provide a handful of definitions, basically because I had to look all these words up. I mean, I knew roughly kinda what they meant, but not, you know, the details.
  • agitprop - A portmanteau of "agitation" and "propaganda", essentially propagandist art nominally intended to stir people up.
  • didactic - Intended to teach, specifically a moral lesson.

Jörg starts out well, making the point that Art with a capital A communicates, but often somewhat vaguely, in ways that may be hard to put your finger on. He asserts, correctly I think, that good art and agitprop, if not actually opposites, at any rate tend to be in opposition. Agitprop is clear, it communicates but one message, without much ambiguity (or depth). I suspect Jörg's complaints about didactic/agitprop "art"are more or less squarely directed at Lewis Bush's "It's Gonna Be Great" show, which was just a bunch of "hurr hurr I photoshopped Donald Trump to look like an idiot" material. Boring, stupid, simple repetition of simplistic leftist narratives. You don't have to look very far to find tons of this sort of thing, though, so maybe Jörg had something else in mind.

Then we move onwards to the assertion that the Bechers work was didactic, which I find interesting but am not sure I agree with. What moral lesson are we to learn here? To my eye, the Bechers were simply insisting that certain objects were interesting, without any particular judgement about what's interesting, about what lessons we are to find in these objects. We could project our own ideas, certainly, and I assume they had their own ideas, but ultimately it's just a bunch of pictures of buildings.

But hold on to that. Whether or not the word "didactic" applies is largely irrelevant here. The point is that, at least in my opinion, the Bechers are expressing a simple idea, namely, "these are interesting", without insisting on a specific reading, a specific moral point of view, or really anything of that sort.

Finally we get to the review. The book he reviews, by the way, is $45, which seems truly incredible for a book with this amount of hand work. I almost want it for that alone, except the content is completely uninteresting to me.

This book is didactic. In fact, it is agitprop, despite Colberg's notion that it is not. He is here betraying himself, allowing his weakness for overproduced photobooks to overrule his obviously good sense. He claims that the book functions because of "the surprise" that the pictures in it are not microorganisms, but instead bits of plastic floating in the ocean, which might be OK except that the publisher lacks the strength of character to make it a surprise. The reveal is right there in the blurb.

While the book itself may not insist on a specific moral lesson here, the fact is that it's being published today, now, when the only reasonably interpretation is that it's yet another piece of self-conscious art about how terrible it is that there's a bunch of plastic in the ocean. We may take it as given that the artist thinks we should legislate the use of plastic bags and so on.

There is in fact almost no disagreement about what is surely the central thesis of the book: "plastic bits filling up the ocean is bad." The points of disagreement are entirely about what should be done about it, with one side claiming that the invisible hand of the market will cure this problem as soon as it's done curing every other ill, and the other side saying that we need to legislate and regulate heavily. I side with the latter, but that does not make me love this book.

While I have not seen the book myself, it is transparently a rather twee concept wrapped around a simple repeat of one of the standard pages of leftist political narrative. I don't like Donald Trump, and I disapprove of plastic bits in the ocean, but simply repeating the same stories is just propaganda, and not very effective propaganda at that. Neither "It's Gonna Be Great" nor "Beyond Drifting" are going to create change. Neither are going to connect with their readers in interesting ways. Both are pure preaching to the choir, one with, I admit, production values that appeal far more to me than the other.