Monday, November 23, 2015


There's a veritable cottage industry now in sending people to Antarctica. If you're got about $30 grand you can go tromp around on the edge of the continent. Some, possibly many, of these tourists are moderately wealthy pudgy white dudes with $50 grand worth of camera equipment.

I'm pretty sure these guys grew up with National Geographic. The magazine had these magical pictures of far of places, like, say, Antarctica. It was crazy hard to get there in the 60s and 70s, it was a major undertaking. Indeed, it still is, note the price tag. The Southern Ocean is not to be fucked with and, frankly, it's only a matter of time before a boat filled with well to do older white guys goes down with all hands. They've had some close calls already.

Anyways. National Geo. They had these photos, and they were really pretty great. What made them great, though, was that we'd never seen these things. These huge masses of eerily lit ice. A million penguins massed on a pure white landscape (except for the penguin shit all over, so, frame carefully!) It was amazing, it was other-worldly. So these guys, now they've made their pile and handed a great wad of it over to Phase One, are now ready to, essentially, make copies of the photos of their youth.

Sure, they've all got their own vision. This bloke likes to shoot into the sun. This chap likes starfields in the background. Whatever. It's all cheap knockoff National Geographic stuff. The novelty is now gone, and with it a tremendous amount of the magic. Plus, they never manage to make it look cold. But, whatever. They're having a blast, enjoying the adventure of a lifetime. Good on 'em.

Then there's the workshop situation. At least one outfit offers photographic workshop trips for astronomical prices and I assume that, like rats, if you see one there are more.

The outfit I have in mind generously gave away a Free Trip to a deserving photographer. I don't know what process the portly older white men used to select the deserving young talent, but this was the result:

Now here's the wonderful thing. She went. She took some pictures. And they're pretty great. They're leagues better than a fake National Geo. stuff. It's tremendous vistas with a pretty girl in a flowing gown, small in the frame. Ok, it's not exactly Steichen, it's kind of twee, but it's quite decent. She's got a visual idea and she's working it pretty hard. I'm not sure I "get it" as such, but I at least feel there's something there to not get.

Good for Michele! And good for LuLa after all, she was deserving.


  1. Good post. I had seen some of her photos but not made the connection to the LuLa contest.

    There are days I think I may throw up on my keyboard if I see one more bad imitation Nat Geo photo cross my screen. Who cares anymore if someone visits Antarctica or climbs Mount Everest? We have reached the point where pretty much anyone with enough money can do it. What is getting very hard is finding anything special to do once you get there.

    Like you, I'm not sure I get her photos, but at least she has formed an idea and has taken it and run with it.

    It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

  2. What?? Are you seriously suggesting that "Vogue" is an advance over "National Geographic"? Please...


    1. Well, for starters, yes. Vogue is excellent!

      Second, I don't really see it as all that Vogue.

  3. That White Sands NM picture I like.

    The rest are ok, she seems to be having a ton of fun, good for her!

    Heh, you can tell she doesn't have an art degree, never once used the word dialectic :) :). I was bracing myself for it.

    1. Yes, I was bracing myself for some sort of discussion of "a metaphor for the isolation of the lone woman in the patriarchy" or something.

      I'm not convinced that she's making particularly deep pictures, but I do think that they can be read with some depth. Also, sticking a pretty girl in a picture is pretty much always a solid choice if you haven't got anything else.

      See also Weston, although he generally skipped the gowns.

  4. Hmm. A touch of over-generalization, maybe? You know, not everybody who owns a Leica is a dentist, and not everybody who goes to Antarctica is a rich old white guy. Or even a "photographer". I actually went, with my other half, two years ago. It was her life’s ambition. I’d already been there professionally. We saved up for about a decade, and it cost us about $13k each for 12 days. You could do it cheaper. You could also blow $26k on a new SUV every year. And you could pay a LOT more to subsidize some egocentric, self-styled "educator" and 10 of his friends on a "workshop", where the only extra is you'll get to share a ship with said luminary, and his awesome talent will pollinate yours. Oh, and the ship will be photography-oriented, i.e it’s schedule will be set to suit Mr Great Photographer's agenda.
    On the trip I went on, there were plenty of younger people, sleeping four to a cabin, and there to experience something really special, not to show off their cameras.

    Michele’s "selfie" at Deception Island is pretty other-worldly. Not sure exactly what it is trying to communicate, but I am sure that intellectualizing this stuff isn’t always rewarding. Is it necessary to be able to provide a rational, verbal reaction to everything? What I do know is that shot took a lot of effort, and certainly wasn’t random.

    So, yeah, there are certainly ships full of rich older guys being fleeced by self-serving workshop organizers ( and I should add, there are also ethical, dedicated workshop organizers who genuinely care about giving their clients value for money). But I doubt that these account for more than 10% of tourist trafffic.

    Oh, and about looking cold? Honestly, in those parts, in summer, it isn’t, really.

    1. I am generalization guy!

      I did not know it was possible to get there so cheaply, though.

      And the remark about it not looking cold is really kind of a metaphor for 'I get no sense at all of what it's like for the photographer to be there. It's it cold? Hot? Does it smell bad? Is the photographer overwhelmed with emotion or blase?'

      What we get are empty knockoff national geographic shots. To my eye.

      But that said, I did imagine it was pretty cold even in summer.

  5. I wondered where I had seen a similar idea before, though in black and white.
    Then I found it: Jeanloup Sieff, who died in 2000.
    Just goes to show that there's nothing new under the sun.

    1. It's definitely related to some looks we've seen before. Weston did some things that look similar in some ways. There was that movie "The English Patient" which has (I think?) some iconic shots that are strongly reminiscent. Covers of "Wuthering Heights" often have a similar picture.

      I think it's as likely to strengthen the work as to weaken it. Having clear referents can be pretty valuable.

      My personal read is that it's some kind of mashup of various literary references and contemporary "adventure photography", whatever that might wind up meaning.