Category Archives: Uncategorized

What Exactly Does it Mean to Have “Good Taste”?

If You Don’t Like This Photo, You’re Not a Very Good Person.

As anyone who has perused a ‘photo critique’ website knows, there’s a fine line between respecting others’ right to their bad taste and opting to participate in it or encourage it. There’s a lot of truly awful photography peddled via the internet..or, at least, that’s my take on it. Most people would reject my judgment as snobbish. Taste is taste; who am I to pass judgment on the tastes of others, right?

The question is the degree to which peoples’ inability to agree about aesthetic matters is itself something we can agree on (i.e. it’s all simply a matter of ‘taste’), or is there something objective we can point to when arguing for an aesthetic standard? Is my claim to recognize ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ creative expression simply subjective or does it entail an objective standard that I’m in possession of?

The post-modernist belief is that the plurality of aesthetic points of view is the necessary result of the diversity between human beings. This is a good thing, and we should celebrate the fact that we are all free to judge for ourselves what appeals to us. We moderns think of aesthetic disputes as reflecting a person’s ‘taste’. There’s no arguing over taste, the assumption being that taste is subjective and therefore unimportant as a means to differentiate people. I don’t believe that, and one look at your average photo enthusiast website should be enough to convince you I’m right. I believe a proper understanding and recognition of superior aesthetics is something one develops. It’s a skill learned like any other. Some people possess a better understanding of it than do others who are too slow to understand what they don’t know – think of it as the Dunning-Kruger Effect applied to aesthetics.

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This is a Good Photo. Those 3 Birds Make It. Somehow I Forgot To Include it in Car Sick.

The Ancient Greeks agreed with me. They believed in an objective standard of the beautiful, a standard that was, in theory, available to any rational person. In the Euthyphro, Plato, via the voice of Socrates, claims that our disagreements always involve one of two subjects: ethics – how to act – and aesthetics – what is beautiful – in his words those that have as their subject matter “the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad.” In various Platonic dialogues, you’ll often read of some horny old philosopher praising some nubile young boy for his noble birth, his virtuous character, and his handsome body, all at the same time. That’s because in ancient Greek, the word “kalon” (‘noble’ ‘virtuous’, ‘handsome’) fused aesthetics and ethics into one thing. The beautiful was just, and the just was beautiful. Likewise, the trite or banal or vulgar was ugly and unjust, and those who mistook it as beautiful were compromised personally. They were, in a real sense, deformed.

For Plato, your ‘tastes’ irrevocably reflect your status of personhood. They indicate your progression in the state of being. They are a badge of your refinement, a refinement developed through your concerted effort. It takes a lot of intellectual and spiritual work to recognize the beautiful and embrace it when most others cannot or will not. It takes knowledge and courage to reject the facile sub-standard banalities that so often are publically celebrated as virtuous. Plato has no problem with you pointing and laughing at the guy sporting the Canonikon with 17-280 kit zoom who would look at Robert Frank’s The Americans and criticize it for not respecting the Rule of Thirds.

Your tastes in effect define you as an ethical person. In fact, your tastes constitute an ethics in themselves; if you have “bad” taste, you are, in some sense, a “bad” person i.e. deficient in some way. Likewise, having “good” taste makes you a “good” person, and this aesthetic divide between two human beings obstructs their ethical relations. I suppose it’s why I find the usual suspects – the guys flogging their association with Leica as a badge of their creativity, when in fact it’s just the opposite – so pathetic. Plato would find them pathetic too.

Analog Activity/Digital Passivity

Exposed film I’m developing 8 rolls at a time. Ah, the good old days, when photography meant working at it.

“Certainly it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub-natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love.”- Thomas Merton, 1948.

At about the same time as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was complaining about the “inert subjection to vulgar images” produced by the then-new technology of television, German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger was making a similar point about the typewriter. Heidegger did so by harkening back to another philosopher, Plato, and his critique of technology and its effect on how humans create their worlds. Plato claimed that the ‘technology’ of writing degraded the primacy of the spoken to the detriment of our sense of reality; 2400 years later, Merton and Heidegger would be doing the same for the typewriter and television. Each in some sense represents a degradation of the human ability to experience the real by abstracting it a degree from reality. By removing the speaker from the spoken, Plato saw writing as a first step to the dehumanization of communication; by veiling the essence of writing and script, Heidegger claimed that the typewriter “withdraws from man the essential rank of the hand, without man experiencing the withdrawal appropriately and recognizing that it has transformed the relation of Being to his essence.” In other words, the typewriter, like writing for Plato and television for Merton, removes us a certain degree from experiencing the thing itself by doing it and in so doing makes us passive observers in what were heretofore active experiences.

I couldn’t help but think of Plato (and Heidegger and Merton) while bulk developing a ridiculous amount of film that I’ve accumulated over the last few years. The COVID quarantine has given me the perfect opportunity to finally do what I’ve been putting off for years. I’ve been shooting film and then throwing the canister into a bag full of other exposed films with the understanding that I’d get around to developing it all someday. That day has finally come. I’m bulk developing and fully scanning 8 rolls a day until the backlog is resolved…after which I intend to be a dedicated film photographer again, keeping to my promise to immediately develop and scan what I shoot. It’s a great plan that makes me happy, because I really do love the hands-on experience of shooting film, the deliberateness and intentionality of the practice and the end result of a physical thing that I can file away. Granted it’s a PITA, but the doing of it brings me back to a place where photography is both a creative pursuit and a craft, and it has the added benefit of connecting you back to your photographic tools in a way that’s missing with the quick and easy experience of digital.

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I Found This Among What I’ve just Developed – Lexi, Who We Just Put Down After 14 Years, As a Younger Pup, Ever Hopeful of Snagging a Bit of Pizza. An Unexpected Gift From a Roll Exposed Long Ago. Makes Me Smile Even Today.

Aristotle spoke of entelecheia, where the end and actuality of a thing are internal to its own activity. He thought the most rewarding experiences are those things we do solely for the pleasure the doing itself generates and not those things that are done as means to an end, and he thought that entelecheia was most often a result of solitary pursuits. This has always been my experience of photography: I do it for the pleasure of doing it, nothing more. And I do it to be in my own head and no one else’s. The end results – boxes of prints and innumerable binders of sleeved negatives and hard drives filled with DNGs – are secondary results of the process itself and the rewards those processes afford us. I think that’s why the transition from analog to digital has been unsatisfying for many of us. It lessens the creative involvement inherent in physically instantiating activity and replaces it with the passivity of pressing buttons and being given a result with little physical or psychical work involved.

Doing film photography is to reorient yourself to our own embodiment. You are creating something instead of entrusting the decision to a computer and an algorithm mindlessly running in the background. It is also to be disengaged from the virtual environment, which is always fundamentally social in nature. Our use of technology militates against solitude if we define such as the absence of input from other minds. Doing photography digitally is always, at base, a collective creative pursuit even when no others are physically present. Whether via the use of apps that presuppose other’s connection to our pursuits, or simply the use of necessary technologies that are the results of input from other minds and their implicit creative biases, your creative digital decisions will always be, to some extent, circumscribed by the decisions of the people who’ve programmed the digital tools you employ or are on the receiving end of your digital solicitations.

Ok, So…..

This Made it In, But Barely

…I’m currently holding two printed proofs of Car Sick, one printed in B&W, the other printed in CYMK. They both look really good, although the CYMK prints out much better than B&W; not even close. The blacks are much deeper, and there’s no obvious color cast. Lesson learned: when done professionally, and not knocked out quick by a POD or some similar vanity press, you can get nice B&W from four-color printing. I’m pleased. The final version is 100 images on 140 pages, 100# weight gloss fine art paper printed at 436 PPI, cloth hardcover with a printed jacket. All the upscaling – four- color printing, heaviest gloss paper stock, dust jacket etc, -bumped up the production costs significantly, although you (and I) are worth it. By time I ship them out I’ll be losing $10 a copy, so I’m pleased I didn’t quit my day job. Full run of books should be in my possession June 1st.

Actually, I’m really pleased with the quality of the entire project, content included. In addition to the photography, I did all the design myself. Before submitting a final I sent drafts to someone I respect for some feedback. This is what I got back: “I was somewhere between delighted and gobsmacked at how good this thing is. I was expecting something good, but not *this* good. You have many excellent spreads in here, and all the photos are strong both by themselves and in sequence.” Even factoring in some inevitable inflation in positive response baked into any unsolicited request for feedback among friends, I took this to mean I was on the right track. Of course, I proceeded to substantially revise it further, taking out a few photos that worked on their own but ‘didn’t quite fit’ into the larger sequence, adding a few which hadn’t previously made the cut, and re-sequencing in light of the changes. I like the final copy better than what I sent out for comment. Readers will have their say, of course, but I like it, and that’s what matters.

It’s interesting how much weight sequencing plays in a successful visual presentation. Properly done, effective sequencing – i.e. placing photos in positions where they relate to one another and create a larger narrative via the relationships created by recto/verso page layouts and beginning-to-end sequencing – makes the difference between a good, coherent work and a not so good collection of vaguely related photographs. The trick is to 1) present a body of photographs that relate to each other and in-so-doing create something bigger than a mere collection of ‘good’ photos; and 2) sequence the work so that it has some narrative structure without forcing a structure on the viewer. Editing for sequence requires a light hand; you want the viewer to retain some imaginative input – nothing worse than force-feeding a point-of-view – while offering something with some fundamental coherence. It’s a variation on the post-modernist question of who determines the meaning of a piece, the author or the reader? I come down on the side of both. That’s why it’s possible that I’ll love the book and you’ll hate it. Who knows? Who cares? You’ve already paid for it, so you’re stuck with what I give you. After coming up against the hard reality of all the work it was to involve, I – just fleetingly, mind you – thought of cranking out some easy POD and then ghosting you all. Couldn’t do it, given how generous all of you who contributed were and are.

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This Was Taken Out of a Car Window…But this Didn’t Make it In (Not Shot in USA, Doesn’t ‘Fit’ Any Conceivable Narrative Sequence), Plus, Most People I Show It To Hate It. I love it…But It Doesnt Fit.

On a related note: Within a few days I’ll be posting a bunch of photo equipment for sale, in what has become my usual annual disgorgement of stuff I’ve bought on a whim and now need to unload to scare up some cash. The reason I’ll be doing so is that, as mentioned, I’m over budget on the book, and I need to raise some cash so I can finance sending 90 copies to readers around the world without my wife leaving me.

In spite of my protestations to the contrary, half the fun of a photography obsession is fetishizing equipment, and, true to form, I’ve accumulated a bunch of really nice cameras I thoroughly enjoyed using for the minimal time I owned them but have tired of them and now, in the interests of financial solvency, need to move them along to the next gearhead. Who among us doesn’t secretly covet new-fangled stuff that promises to finally satisfy whatever the underlying causes of our perpetual discontent? Plus, it’s fun to get new stuff, real fun if it’s actually something of quality that works well and not some ridiculous limited edition Lenny Kravitz thing Leica conned you into buying so you’d vicariously feel like a mix of Don McCullin and Jimi Hendrix while stalking your subjects at the corner cafe. Suffice it to say that I wouldn’t sell anything to my readers I wasn’t prepared to buy myself.

Yes: Car Sick is a Thing

For all of you who so graciously purchased a copy of Car Sick on my word that you’d someday see something, I’ve not been intending to fleece you, although, in light of my disappearance from the site for the last few months, I understand if that’s what you were thinking. An explanation is probably in order.

Chalk it up to ‘artistic temperament.’ A few months ago I ‘hit a wall’. It happens. I find when it does I just need to wait it out and eventually some sense of inspiration will come back. My procrastination was compounded by a number of personal matters, details of which I won’t bore you, except to say that a switch from open-source Scribus design software to Adobe’s InDesign has been helpful and I’ve got a final PDF printable draft ready to go.

Final copy will be clothbound 7×10, 120 pages with 80 B&W CMYK printed photos. All design and editing done “in house” i.e. by me. I like it and trust you will too.

I’ll keep you updated as production proceeds. Thanks for your generosity and your patience.

Covid-19 Ennui

My Kid and My Cat in Lockdown

Like most of you, I’ve been home during the Covid-19 thing. In addition to attempting to single-handedly run a professional office from home, I’m in the middle of a Harvard graduate seminar that is requiring insane amounts of work, and on top of that I’ve been consistently sick with some sort of viral thing (don’t even suggest Covid-19; my wife won’t hear of it, even though I started feeling bad after meeting family members in Florida for a family get together beginning of March, my brother coming from Albany, GA (subsequently known as Georgia’s Covid-19 hotspot), my mom coming from NYC. Coincidence?). Plus I’ve got to get a Car Sick book to at least 80 of you who have already paid for it. Throw in the fact that I’ve been suffering from a complete lack of inspiration, and it’s been, to put it mildly, an interesting last month or so.

I’m feeling much better, except for the cabin fever. Car Sick is now back on my radar. I’ve got a final draft and now am debating whether the photos should be printed greyscale or CMYK. If CYMK, then I’m going to have to redo all the photos to make sure they have the same tonal values. The publisher tells me CMYK is preferable; why I’m not sure, given printing greyscale would obviate the need to standardize tone between individual photos. Plus, as I’ve tried to explain to them, 1) I’m not Ansel Adams; and, 2) most of the photos were taken out of car windows.

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As for photography-related activities, good documentarian I am, I’m taking pictures of the goings-on inside my house. Lot’s of cat pictures, as befits a Leicaphile. I’ve been periodically fighting the urge to buy a Monochrom just for the hell of it, but, of course, that’s not going to do anything but reinforce what I already know, which is that it isn’t about gear….except that it is. After having pondered the question for years now, I’ve concluded that my love of film photography is closely related to the specific ‘look’ of 35mm B&W and, to duplicate that look digitally, you need a decent APC-S sensor from the 6-8mp era. It’s going to give you the approximate resolution of 35mm film and the same approximate ISO sensitivity. And you need Silver Efex.I’m especially happy with the B&W output from the Fuji S5 Pro. Coupled with Sigma’s 30mm f1.4 ART lens its output gives really nice files you can turn ‘film-like’ with minimal effort. What would possibly be the purpose of a Monochrom then?

For Want of ‘Dietrologia’

Italians have a word dietrologia — literally translated as “behindology.” It’s the art of looking behind the surface of things to find their meanings, the hidden meanings of things. The Italian dictionary defines dietrologia as the “critical analysis of events in an effort to detect, behind the apparent causes, true and hidden designs.”

I’m pretty sure it’s a necessary trait for creativity, the ability to see more than the surface of the thing. Creativity is the ability to generate novel insights, to see behind the surface banality of a thing and suggest a glimpse of what it might mean if looked at from a novel perspective. To do that, it helps to have a head full of other things – things you’ve seen, and experienced and read about or heard or thought through. All of these things you weave together with what you’re observing and the end result is seeing something new.

The trick, of course, is to possess the ability to show others what you’ve seen. Successful creatives communicate their visions. Think of someone like Martin Scorcese in film, Trent Parke in photography, John Coltrane in music. They each have a unique vision that ties together their work and makes it theirs, and they possess the skill to tell that vision to others. There’s two parts to the creative equation – 1) seeing, and 2) telling. In order to be successful creatively, you need to be good at both. Unfortunately, recently I’m having trouble with both. I used to be a fairly proficient dietrologist. Lately, not so much. I’m, as they say, stuck, seeing nothing new or interesting. I’m hoping that eventually changes. Who knows. If past experience is any indication, one day I’ll wake up and see compelling pictures everywhere.

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According to 19th-century art critic John Ruskin, the “greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I do agree to the extent that seeing and telling seems a uniquely human thing to do, and it’s something really important to us, both as individuals and as a species. And specifically, image-making – a type of seeing and telling – is a necessary part of our emotional, psychological and intellectual make-up.

Literally, the earliest evidence we have for human culture are images, paintings of animals deep within caves that date to times before we’re sure humans even possessed language. The cave paintings of Pech MerleFont-de-GaumeRouffignac, Chauvet and Lascaux are thought to be more than 30,000 years old. Bisons, lions and other extinct creatures cover the cave walls. What’s interesting about these pre-historic cave drawings is their undeniable aesthetic quality. Whatever their purpose, it was more than just transmission of knowledge, as some anthropologists claim (i.e. information about the location and movement of prey animals etc); there exists a vision behind these images, a felt need to communicate something aesthetically, the same thing that motivated Boticelli or Jasper Johns…or Walker Evans. Many animals are depicted in vivid color, with a sense of perspective and anatomical detail requiring significant artistic skill. Picasso was awed by their aesthetic power. “We have invented nothing,” he remarked after a visit to Lascaux in 1940.

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The question is why the ability or desire – or both – comes and goes as it does. Part of it, for me, has been the exponential inundation we’ve experienced via digital media. Technologically compelling images are everywhere, and, as such, they no longer have any value because they have nothing beyond their surface glossiness. They say nothing by representing everything superficially, everything glossed over with the hyperreality of marketing. They’re meaningless visual trinkets mindlessly created and consumed, all alike in their technologically mandated perfection. They represent the antithesis of a unique vision, all surface, saying nothing.

I started Leicaphilia years ago because I thought there needed to be someone advocating for film photography before it was totally swallowed up by digital. In the years writing it I’ve come to see the issue in more nuanced terms. What I’ve been really criticizing is the conflation of excellent images with images that rely on technology for their visual interest. Maybe shooting film is a self-imposed means to marginalize the ability of technology to hijack the creative process for its own ends. But, let’s face it – shooting film is a pain in the ass. Mind you, I ‘love’ the process, but I’ve come to realize that you don’t get points for difficulty. As to its success or lack thereof, a photograph stands on its own. It doesn’t matter how you produced it. Or does it?

Curbed Enthusiasms

Havana, 1998Recently I’ve Been Feeling A Lot Like This Guy

The source and nature of inspiration has always been an interest to me – where it comes from, how it manifests itself, where it goes and why. Photographic inspiration particularly. I’ve been fascinated by photography since I was a kid; it’s one of two long-standing interests in my life, the other being motorcycles. Yet even the strongest enthusiasms occasionally wane. Given some time, and a respite to clear my head, my interest returns, stronger than ever.

I’ve noticed that my photography and cycling interests are interrelated. When one waxes the other wanes. My photographic interests have been fairly constant – except for those times I’ve been accommodating my interest in motorcycles. I’m either obsessing about black and white film photography and photographers and photographic tech – or I’m dreaming about racing motorcycles – power to weight ratios, reciprocating mass, fuel injection mapping, favorite tracks etc. I’m rarely dong both at the same time. Apparently, both speak to the same need, a need that manifests itself in me in differing ways – aesthetics vs. speed. When the need is fulfilled in one manner the other becomes dormant.

Havana, 1998

I am currently experiencing a complete lack of interest in things photographic. Complete. I’ve not written for some time because I am totally devoid of things to say. This is highly unusual. I’m typically in a frame of mind where I can effortlessly crank out semi-intelligible thoughts marginally relevant to the subjects we discuss here. Often, when I’m a bit more inspired (my wife would say ‘manic’) I can write 3 or 4 posts in a day. Likewise with ‘seeing’ photographs. When it’s there it’s there; it’s a gift that comes unbidden on its own terms. I see what look like compelling photographs everywhere, seemingly the most mundane things transformed aesthetically via grey tone, film grain and 2×3 format. It’s an incredible blessing, making even the most banal aspects of daily existence pregnant with possibility.

The converse of this is that inspiration can leave as quickly as it comes. It’s why the Greeks talked of a ‘muse’, a spirit we all had access to that inspired us in a time and manner of the muse’s choosing. Apparently, my muse has decided I need a break from ‘thinking photographically.’ One thing I have learned – it’s best to respect the coming and going of one’s muse, and certainly not try to force her hand.

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My latest interest – a KTM RC390 (highly modified, more to follow)

Sometime around the new year I started getting an acquisitive itch. Had to buy something. I’m not too proud to admit that I often suffer from the vulgar desire to buy things, things that I know, deep down inside, will not make me happy. I had some money in my pocket, I’d been a good boy for some time, and now I wanted to indulge myself, damn it. My first inclination was to buy a camera ( as if I needed another camera). I thought of a Monochrom. Why not? I could write about it on Leicaphilia. When I tired of it, as invariably I would, I’d sell it to a reader. And then I fixated on an M262, the digital M without the screen. Very cool, very old-school but without the hassle of scanning film etc. I’m certain I could find some high-handed way of justifying the purchase in spite of my claimed aversion to digital capture – I’d think of something.

And then I ran across a local craigslist ad for a KTM RC390.

I’ve ridden motorcycles for as long as I’ve photographed. I bought my first bike, a 900cc Kawasaki Z1, in 1976 when I was 18, but my older brother had numerous motorcycles – a Benelli 50, Honda 160, Honda 450 – that I’d sneak out of the garage when he wasn’t looking, so I basically grew up riding bikes. Marriage and the inevitable compromises of life temporarily halted my riding, but after a divorce I rediscovered my love of bikes in the form of a fascination with Ducati racing motorcycles. The mid to late 90’s found me with 6 Ducati’s in the garage, a few I raced, others I brought to track-days and ran on the backroads, usually illegally. Like all my enthusiasms I went in all the way, starting a company that made titanium parts for Ducati’s, the profits of which funded my racing. I also ran with a bunch of hooligans half my age who lived for doing crazy shit. Running from hapless police was an especially fun affair. Wonderful times, lot’s of testosterone fueled foolishness, a bunch of broken bones and one airlift to a trauma unit. It was all incredibly crazy fun and daring…life lived at the limits.

Falling off a bike going 140 mph and getting up and walking away can make you think you’re immortal. Of course, eventually the bill comes due. In 2011, my riding buddy killed himself on a group ride, losing the front end on a sweeping backroads curve at about 120 mph – nothing that hadn’t happened before and that he had walked away from, except this time he didn’t. Totally his fault, a result of his own recklessness, but that didn’t make it any easier. Pulling off a man’s helmet to find him dead is a sobering experience, certainly when it’s a 34 year old ‘kid’ – a genuinely good guy with a full life ahead of him. Shortly thereafter, after coming within an inch or two of killing myself and someone else on another group ride, I sold all my bikes and promised the people who love me I wouldn’t ride again. Looking back on it now, I’m amazed I’m alive.

And then, a month ago I bought another bike, the one you see above. I’ve compromised – it’s 373cc, and won’t go faster than 110 mph. But damn, you can have a lot of fun getting it there. I’ve ordered a set of BST Carbon Fiber wheels – reducing reciprocating mass is critical for the performance of smaller bikes – and have signed up for some track time. Hopefully the wife has forgotten my last track day – a nasty ‘lowside’ and a broken wrist. Of course, I’ve also been shaking it down on North Carolina backroads, fake plate, riding like a maniac. What can possibly go wrong, right?

As for photography – I’ll keep you informed. I intend to start posting again on a regular basis, and the work proceeds with getting a final copy of Car Sick out to the printer and into your hands. In the meantime, you can find me running the backroads on a seriously tricked out RC390.

Happy New Year

Here’s hoping you got that Lenny Kravitz Drifter Leica for Xmas. I’m taking a short sabbatical, will probably be back in a week or so. Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with other commitments and, coupled with ongoing computer issues, I’ve not given Leicaphilia much thought. I can assure you that will change, although I’m not exactly sure when.

Thank you to everyone who advanced purchased a copy of Car Sick. If you’re on my gofundme page as a donor, no worries, you’re gonna get a book…or two. I’m thinking March or thereabouts. Frankly, I’m stunned at how many of you chipped in. I’m grateful to each and every one of you.

Robert Frank and I Agree: Photography Should Be Fun

I’ve not been posting much lately. I’ve been busy, the website crashed for a while, I’ve just finished writing a 25-page proposal for a photography exhibit entitled The One and Only New Truth, and I’m trying to finalize a maquette of Car Sick. Photography hasn’t been ‘fun.’ It feels more like an obligation.

I’ve just finished reading RJ Smith’s biography of Robert Frank, American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank. After publishing The Americans, Frank stopped photographing. He was sick of it. It wasn’t fun; it was now an obligation. At its best, it had functioned as a pre-verbal means of showing a truth, something he couldn’t articulate with words or logic. Frank was remarkably obtuse in explaining his photography. He hated it when people asked him about it. That wasn’t the point, his explanation. A flowery explanation might be facile and clever…but wrong. Just look at the pictures; you didn’t need his help.

He never really went back to still photography, having transitioned to film. Only in his later years, living in the Nova Scotia wilds, did he dabble again in photography. His choice of camera was a Polaroid, something quick and easy, without artifice, that gave him lucky accidents. Frank always claimed that his best photography was accidental, nothing much really, just random snaps that produced serendipitous results. Of course, it was more than that; it was an eye that had been rigorously trained to understand the exceptional in the serendipitous when it occasionally occurred.

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By chance, having finished Frank’s book, finished my proposal, put aside Car Sick for a few days, I opened a box and found a series of polaroids I’d taken on a trip to the west coast in 2005. I had just come back from Paris, where I had been involved in all sorts of photography related stuff. I was sick of it, much like Frank was sick of his photography, apparently sick enough of it that I decided to leave my cameras at home and take an old Polaroid and some outdated film. I’ve posted some of the photos. Nothing special, but fun. I’m sure more than a few of you will think they’re shit. Be that as it may, I like them. I was clearly having fun again.

What I Don’t Want for Christmas

I don’t want a Leica watch. For that matter, I don’t want a Leica camera. I don’t need another Leica. For that matter, I don’t want or need any other camera, whether it’s a Leica, a Fuji, a Nikon, a Sigma or any other shiny new thing that promises to ‘complete my photographic journey.’ I’m not on a ‘photographic journey’, which is stupid adspeak designed by some clever guy in a hi-rise on Madison Avenue to bypass my critical faculties in the interest of selling me his widget. Even if I was, a new camera wouldn’t get me anyplace my current crop of cameras – all bought back then with the understanding that they were going to somehow make my photography better, my journey complete – can’t get me.

I’m sick of technical squabbles and little minds arguing irrelevant issues as if they were a matter of great import. News flash: the camera you use doesn’t matter. Not one fucking bit. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you stop obsessing over whatever new technological gimmick Leica or Nikon or Fuji is selling you, the sooner you’ll open yourself up to what really matters, the things that will make ‘your journey’ better. One thing I have learned is this: equipment is irrelevant. Nobody’s photographs got any better, or any worse, because of the equipment used. It’s like thinking the brand of instruments played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited is the reason it’s a 20th-century American music masterpiece ( it is, BTW, and I will fight anyone who is ignorant enough to claim otherwise (although you can make an argument that Bringing It All Back Home, released just 5 months prior to Highway 61, is even better)).

I’ve been looking at a lot of superb photography recently, enrolled as I currently am in a graduate seminar that requires me to look at photography. I’ve learned an incredible amount about photography in general while studying the specific genre of photography called photojournalism, which is surprising since I thought I basically knew everything there is to know about photography, its history, its theory, its practice. In fact, while I know a lot, in the larger scheme of things I know very little. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of one’s ignorance; it can motivate you to put aside a lifetime of unconsidered opinion – the common sense ignorance one reflexively absorbs via one’s culture – and actually think about things minus the preconceived notions that inhibit what we think…and what we see.

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Jean Gaumy, La Dune de Pyla, France 1984

Above is a photo by Jean Gaumey. I’d never seen this photo until a few days ago, when I stumbled across it while on a non-photography related website. Gaumy, while a Magnum member, seemingly isn’t that well known here in the States (or at least, I’d never heard of him, which may be a different matter entirely). It’s just a picture of a guy and a woman and a dog. In this sense, it reminds me a lot of Gianni Gardin’s 1959 photo below:

Both are simple subjects, simply visualized, but both remarkably evocative and powerful. Their power isn’t derived from any technical sophistication – both are shot with film, Gaumy’s looking like he used a 28mm optic, Gardin maybe that or a 35mm – but from an eye sensitive to subtleties of spatial relations, body expression, light, and mood, Both suggest something more than the sum of what’s pictured, the photographer skilled enough to offer an image for the viewer’s imagination. None of this has anything to do with the camera used. All of it has to do with the unique idiosyncrasies of the photographer’s understanding of the world.++

++ And, IMHO, the incredibly evocative power of the traditional B&W film look.