593 - Controversy

With only three more days to go for SoFoBoMo and no book yet produced, God knows I should do anything but write about other people’s posts on other people’s blogs, but as things are, you have to either voice your opinion when the topic is hot, or nobody will listen.

Today, on Craig Tanner’s Light Diary, I ran into a reference to a post by Joe Reifer titled “Going deeper may require more abstract excursions”. Joe basically utters his frustration about the state of photography related blogs and the fact that most of them in his opinion produce junk.

He challenges us, to not ramble about questions in art theory that have long been decided, to not write endlessly about photography business as if photography taken online were a business, to not dwell on technical matters of how we shot a certain image, and to not write the seven thousandth tutorial about making sundowns more colorful in Photoshop. He challenges us to take our passion to extremes, to delve for the deep and the pure, and he supposes that

Your normal sources are not going to cut it. The internet is not going to cut it. This may take wandering around the middle of the desert for a few days to figure out. Maybe a few weeks. Probably longer.

There you have it. As someone guilty of most of that, am I offended? Not at all.

Do I feel the need to defend my position? Not really. I find the notion interesting. It resonates with my own doubts about what I do. Don’t get me wrong, I am not particularly prone to doubt, but from time to time …

Whenever I have written a really lousy post, whenever an Image of the Day is only some image of the day, whenever I have posted another Photoshop tutorial (did you know that about 95% of my visitors come for maybe 5% of my posts, and would you have expected, that all of them happen to be either Photoshop tutorials or posts about my Nikon D300?), always in these situations I ask myself, “Was this necessary? Did the world need that?”.

It didn’t, and yes, probably it was necessary. Jay Watson already pointed it out on his blog, that much of what we do in blogging is about exposure and fulfilling expectations. We post to get seen, and in a world of blind but literate search engines, we get found much easier when we write. That’s one of the reasons why I always select a Song of the Day and mostly title my image after it. It’s incredible how many people arrive from Google searches for song titles.

It’s similar with my images. I know that some of them are quite good, and I know equally well that many are not. Do I care? Yes, I do, but I post them anyway. This is a daily photoblog, and the expectation is, that there will be a new photo every day.

Most of my visitors don’t comment (which is a pity), but from the comments that I do get, I understand that nobody expects me to post earth-shattering images every day. I do what I can, and people seem to accept it.

And then: I can’t remember having seen much earth-shattering art in my life at all. Most art does not shatter. It comments.

It comments on concepts, sometimes in a very precise way (much of what Ted Byrne does is of that type), sometimes rather vaguely, like commenting on beauty. And if it does not comment on concepts, then it may comment on feelings, reflecting the outlook of its creator.

Joe Reifer pointed to Roger Ballen as an example of a photographer whose art “blew his mind”. I didn’t know Roger Ballen, but I absolutely understand the notion. This is high-class Art with a big capital A. No doubt about that, and I am thankful for the link. I find Ballen’s images disturbing, surreal, absolutely classic in their formal structure, even beautiful in their negation of traditional beauty … and I can’t imagine why he does so many of them and nothing else.

These images fascinate me, they hold me for quite some time, they are even one of the reasons why this whole topic drew me into writing another lengthy post, and producing them would be an interesting project, but producing nothing but them, would bore me to death.

I am not a big fan of big projects. I enjoy doing some of this, some of that, from time to time circling around one subject (bicycles are one of them), without forcing myself, always trying to keep this a passion, not a job.

My own Art is what happens in that process, what gets fueled by my joy. I produce it because I feel an urge. I offer it to everybody who will care to look, but if only a very few did, like it was for a long time in the beginning, I probably still would do it. I do not rely on my Art economically, and that frees me of having to make compromises, gives me the opportunity to explore dead ends, the opportunity to try and to fail. I wouldn’t want it otherwise, and that is a kind of purity that I miss with much of what many “names” in the Art scene produce, all those luminaries who have “found their style”, as the euphemism goes for “have found something that sells, and stick to it”.

Purity and depth cannot be forced. They must be found, and I fully agree with Joe that deserts may help in this regard πŸ™‚

I further agree that risks must be taken. I am not so sure about his examples though. Yes, Ballen is a photographer who wanders the disturbing realms of dreams, but this is not risk, this is mainstream since almost 90 years. He does so in a very convincing way, and had he one book in that style, I would be amazed. Seeing that all his work repeats that same recipe, I can’t see the depth any more. The repetition uses the effect up, the work freezes into an empty pose.

I firmly believe that passion is the key, and that in order to find the purity and the depth, we have to wade through shallow murk at times. There is no way around it, neither for the artist nor for the visitor. Nobody can produce a masterpiece every day, but if you don’t try, if you are not productive, it won’t ever happen.

This image is funny. Somebody had written “KILL”, and someone else had corrected it to “KISS” later. Doesn’t it bring in an interesting aspect if I tell you that the whole original text said “KILL ALL RACISTS”? Sure, killing is not my thing, but kissing?? Ambivalence is everywhere and art is always a comment.

The Song of the Day is “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from Leonard Cohen’s 2001 album “Ten New Songs”. Hear it on YouTube.

There are 4 comments

Tibor   (2008-05-29)

Hi Andreas,

Even though I am a photography blogger myself I tend to agree with Joe, though not in that harsh way.
I also question myself and others about real quality in photography and I admit that I learned way much more from my 80-year-old portrait photography instructor than from the Internet.
And my blog posts are shallow in many cases just like my small talk is with my friends. Do I want to go beyond that? Yes, I do, but even if I manage to do that, I'll keep my blog for entertaining myself and maybe others.
Taking the risk might mean slowing down, not posting for a while, only when real quality work is born.

Best regards,

πŸ’¬ Reply πŸ’¬

andreas   (2008-05-29)


Thanks for your comment. I think you pointed out something very important here.

Blogging is never only for the others, it is always primarily for yourself. I suppose there are bloggers outside, who make a living by blogging, but the vast majority does not. They do it for the fun of it, to voice their opinions, to show off what they do, to communicate, to find friends and get inspiring input. It's an offer to the public. If it is taken, well, nice, if not, well, there is always room for improvement and adaption, but this should not be one's primary concern.

And there is quite some risk in blogging as well. You expose yourself. Every time. You expose your work, open it to public critique, even ridicule. Say something silly in public and it will quickly be forgotten. Do the same on the Internet and you face the memory of Google. Even if you pull an article, you have to live with the fact that Google has it in its caches.

As far as learning goes, yes, a personal instructor is fine, no doubt. Personally I wouldn't say that I have learned much technically from reading blogs. Yes, David Ziser has lots of interesting things to tell about using flashes, about events and people photography in general, and I follow his blog loosely, hoping that I will remember his tips when I'll be in one of those rare occasions to need them next time.

I get more out of being confronted with opinions, styles, etc. Let's for instance take your blog entry about your recent studio shooting. It is not a wealth of information that I'm thankful to have got and that I wouldn't have known how to carry on without, but, although I know the images, I didn't connect them to the name Platon. Now I do. Thank you for that.

πŸ’¬ Reply πŸ’¬

My Camera World   (2008-05-29)


A very fine written post.

At first I thought he image was one you made yourself to describe maybe some frustrations with completing the SoFoBoMo Project. The urge to kill the project and yet if you could keep it simple it would be easy to complete.

On the SoFoBoMo part I do hope you are able to complete it. It is really fun at the end to have produced a book maybe only an ebook, but I will at least for one copy get it published.

There is a deadline but in my view it is not sacrosanct and if it took a little longer no big deal. Please do finish as I really would like to see it when it is completed.

Now if there were prizes awarded maybe then the deadline would be more important.

On the blogging side, I write articles to share some of the knowledge that I have gained over the years and in some way to payback or is payforward for the help from many people over the years.

I am not promoting a business by blogging, even though I enjoy selling the odd print, not for the money but for the fact that someone likes it enough to pay for it.

Like you, many bloggers have become my friends over the years and while we don’t really talk that often I believe that if we met face to face we would have a good time.

I like your pictures of the day. I haven’t visited the area where you live and your images are not the standard tourist type image which makes them enjoyable.

There is a lot of information out on the web and not all of it is doctorial in depth, so what.

When I talk to my friends and acquaintances we are no always so deep in discussion anyways. It is amazing that even from the seemingly fluff article I may sometimes learn something new.

Good Luck and do finish the book.

Niels Henriksen

πŸ’¬ Reply πŸ’¬

Watson   (2008-06-06)

Thanks for linking me in your recent post. Much appreciated. It is also nice to read that others are feeling challenged and are also ready to try to do something about it. Maybe we all need to go to the desert.

The internet and blogs have been around for a while, but some are really starting to question why we do it, how to do it better, and how can we make it valid for readers?

How long does it take a photographer to find their own voice? Maybe several years, and maybe it never ends. Blogs might be the same way, but they might also help us in finding that voice. At least that is what I hope.

Jay W

πŸ’¬ Reply πŸ’¬