Archive for the ‘Snap Judgments’ Category

This is why people hate photographers

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

I stumbled across this on flickr today. It’s a pretty excellent example of the very worst possible way to approach street photography.



Homeless people do not exist for the amusement of people who (presumably) have homes, and photographing people who are asleep or unaware is not portraiture. I wouldn’t go so far as to say taking photographs of sleeping homeless people should be outlawed, but I think I could go my entire life without seeing another one and be no worse off.

It’s also a terrible photo, but that’s incidental…

I don’t like pictures with new cars in them

Monday, August 17th, 2009

“I don’t like pictures with new cars in them”

Or something similar was said by a student showing his work in a class critique in my first semester of photography at the University of Nebraska. This was back in 2002. I can’t recall his exact words but I remember that this was the spark of an interesting exchange between students in the room- we had predominantly been seeing slides of work by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Eggleston, Friedlander, Winogrand etc etc and none of the pictures by those photographers ever had a Toyoya Prius in them. The design of the late model vehicles on the streets of Lincoln was for that student an obstacle to work around. He didn’t want a current model vehicle in his pictures so if I remember correctly, he went out of his way to photograph older cars. (for you Lincolnites and Nebraskans: He headed out to West O street) This made his pictures look “better” in that they resembled more what he had been seeing in class. There’s a lot more which could be said about all this, but what I’m interested in is how visual triggers prompt one to photograph. What is it that when in the viewfinder one wants to release the shutter? For the student it was a 1964 Galaxie instead of a 2004 Camry. How does one’s photographic influences manifest themselves in the Real World? This isn’t (shouldn’t be) about copying a style. Even Olympus will help you be Moriyama now with the push of a button. That part is brainlessly easy.

I find this eerily familiar. I hate having modern cars in my photographs as well…I think perhaps because most modern cars seemed to be designed so much with inoffensive neutrality in mind; they don’t seem to mean anything.

Then again, what the hell do I know about cars? I’ve certainly never driven one…

via _valerian » Photographing the Past

Conscientious on Supanit Riansrivilai in Poland

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I’m aware of the Black Snapper site, but so far haven’t noticed too much there that’s really grabbed my attention — may be my fault for not looking closely enough.

However, Joerg Colberg points to a an interesting “kerfuffle” about one of the sequences published there. The kerfuffle is around the question of whether the photographer (who is from Thailand) was misled by preconceptions about the country (Poland) where the photographs were made, and how that relates to the validity of the photographs.

In reaction, Kolouker elaborates: “Dear Mr. Kloos,

I happen to disagree with your view above. I find Supanit’s experience biased by her assumptions about the country of Poland. In her introduction to the photo essay she says that ‘memories of the struggles suffered through are still visible in the faces of the country.’

She exploits the common misconception and stereotype of Poland as a depressed post communist country where war wounds are still present. I am happy she did not mention Auschwitz.

Being a person with a completely different cultural background (I did take that into account) and with little knowledge in the subject, she fell victim to the stereotype. She ’saw’ what she expected to see, and overlooked everything that did not fit in her assumed image of Poland.

This is of course a familiar type of debate, although typically it arises when first-world photographers visit third-world destinations and produce images of helpless poverty or exoticism. But the principle is not substantially different. (Although certainly the stakes are.)

Colberg’s take is this:

Instead, the main issue seems to be that there simply is no realistic versus an unrealistic or a true versus a false depiction of Central Europe or any other place. A photographer will see things based on his or her background, and while we can disagree with it and claim that “no, that’s not a good depiction of this place”, it still doesn’t automatically mean that that photographer’s view is less valid than ours (the lack of smiling children or whatever else notwithstanding).

Which is perfectly valid, of course. Certainly there is no objective standard by which we can measure authenticity. And truthfulness in photography is and always has been essentially mythical in nature.

However, I do think that there is a fundamental shallow-ness that comes from experiencing a place as a traveler or visitor, which I think often drastically limits how much the traveler can really tell us. Of course, this applies just as much to the photography of, say, Robert Frank as to that of Riansrivilai. (Other than, I suppose, that Frank’s attack on America’s myths of itself was somewhat unexpected, whereas Riansrivilai is accused of regurgitating familiar myths. I honestly don’t really know enough about Poland to have any idea whether this is true.)

(Also, I do think Frank’s American photography is weakened by the same token.)


Should I also add that I didn’t find the photography in question very interesting? I don’t this is a question of the sociological or historical implications of the photographs; I just don’t like them very much. I don’t think it is horribly relevant to the authenticity problem, although I wonder whether those who attack Riansrivilai’s perception of Poland might like it better if it was better articulated….

Also, should I add that I certainly don’t think I have ever succeeded in telling the truth about any place or people, whether it was one I have known all my life or one I have only just met? Then again, I’ve never presumed to do so, so perhaps it is not at issue.

Snap Judgment: The Photobook on Eugene Richards’s The Blue Room.

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The photographs included in this review remind me in principle on the old Buddhist practice of meditating on dead bodies…This passage describes the effect well:

Richard’s photographs contain empty structures, and these structures appear to be mere shells. What is left standing has the the paint peeling off and the doors remain open as there is no real reason to close them anymore. The wood floor boards have become so rotten that they are collapsing under their own weight. The wall paper is yellowing, if there at all. Sometimes even the wall boards are gone, revealing the stucture’s skeletal timbers, like flesh that has come off the bone. There are decaying carpets and stair cases leading to nowhere.

Eugene Richards – The Blue Room « The PhotoBook

Snap Judgment: Harvey Pekar’s version of Studs Terkel’s Working

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Note: This isn’t photographic, but I think it’s sufficiently relevant since some of the problems are problems familiar to photography.

I came across this today while browsing at Moe’s. I was immediately intrigued, because I love Terkel, and I’ve been reading more and more comics lately. I’m always in favor of combining things I like, even when it results in what can only be called questionable meal choices.

However, in this case, I think it’s a mistake. Images should never have been added to these words. Terkel’s peculiar magic is to present us with peoples’ stories in such a way that we feel part of this intimate discussion. When reading Terkel, it’s hard not to lean in closer to listen and not miss anything.

The artwork — while not necessarily objectionable in itself — breaks the spell. It prevents us from imaginatively reconstructing these slices of history, it intrudes, it breaks the dialogue by introducing a third party, a third wheel.

It rather reminds me of the reading The Maltese Falcon after first seeing the Bogart film. I love the movie, and the book, but the incredibly vivid black and white experience of the film totally prevented me from experiencing Hammett’s sometimes vivid color descriptions. And that was years later; I wasn’t contending with illustrations grafted onto the prose itself.

Snap Judgment: All White People look Alike

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Oh, snap. Read the damn thing.

But at the end of the day, after we've gone to bed and have nothing better to do than think about the pictures we have taken, we will realise that the significant glances aren't so significant after all, that there is less dynamism in our pictures than there is in the bag of old socks that we photographed for our typological metaphor of our feelings of inadequacy and loss.

It doesn't really matter who our group of people are. If they are portrayed with one common, overriding feature that defines them above all else (and especially if the photographer shares that common feature), whether that feature is class, age, gender or income level, then we end up with a series of images that are no better than waxworks of stereotypes trying to look good for the camera.

Colin Pantall’s blog: How not to Photograph: All White People look Alike.

Snap Judgment: Rediscovering Film: Get Over it

Friday, April 10th, 2009

I like film. In fact, I love film. And lately, I shoot more film than digital. But it seems like a lot of folks are investing film with an absurd mystical machismo, as though by shooting film you can reclaim your freaking manhood, or something.

It’s not a vision quest, it’s not a magic wand. It’s just a tool. Just use it.

Here’s an example — not even a prime offender, just something that popped up in my google reader:

THE ZEN OF FILM vs. DIGITAL GRATIFICATION « doug menuez 2.0: go fast, don’t crash

BTW: I’m not opposed to mysticism in photography; I’m a Minor White fan, after all. But the mysticism belongs to the relationship between the photographer and the subject and the viewer — not the damn gear.

Snap Judgment: Blake Fitch at Exposure Compensation

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


I have three quick responses to Miguel Garcia-Guzman’s post on Blake Fitch and a quick trip to her site:

1. Fitch’s site is one of the worst examples of bloated flash interface I’ve ever encountered.
2. Garcia-Guzman describes Fitch’s work as “Simple but interesting images full of life that look spontaneous and fresh. Images that convey the significance of casual moments.” I disagree. They look to me like images from a clothing catalog. As though Fitch’s first name were not “Blake” but “Abercrombie &”
3. Fitch says: “My focus has been on my youngest sister and cousin. I hope to have captured the simple moments in her search for her own identity as it becomes publicly displayed.” This gives me some of my internet acquaintances would refer to as douchechills. What a horrible thing to want to do to someone.

I’m sure I’m missing the point. I will try to return to this at a later date and attempt a deeper understanding.

Blake Fitch | [EV +/-] Exposure Compensation.


This is the start of a series of rapid-fire reflections on posts in the photo-blogo-sphere-o-thing. These are not necessarily reasoned responses, they certainly aren’t carefully edited, and they definitely aren’t based on full knowledge of the subject. Thus: “Snap Judgment.” I nonetheless want to do this as a way to force myself to read and think about posts that I’m otherwise all too likely to star in google reader and then forget all about.

Please feel free to correct erroneous assumptions on I may make. And know that I don’t intend to offend.