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Authority Means Nothing

When it hasn’t been earned.

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Photography and Social Media – Summary

I’m giving a talk to some photography students today, about how to use social media in their practice and development. A key part of the talk will be about using social media to aid collaboration.

As part of the talk, I’m going to be updating ST84Photo with some relevant content for them, and hopefully also for all my readers.

It’s a work in progress. So, if anyone has recommendations for links to add to this, please post and I’ll update this list as we go.

First up, I’m compiling a list of some useful places on the web to get involved in:

Phonar is an online photography course run by this cool guy. Jonathan is a tutor at Coventry University, and has developed several free, online education programmes for photographers. I’m really excited by what he’s been doing with this, and was hoping to participate in this course before I realised just how little time I had for it. There are other courses planned throughout the year, so I’d recommend following him on Twitter (by clicking the “this cool guy” link) to keep updated on new programmes so you don’t miss out.

Flak Photo Network on Facebook – house rules state no self-promotion should happen here, but with a global membership of nearly 3000 photographers and photography industry people, this is a brilliant place to ask questions about photography practice, key works, and the business of photography today. The group feels a little skewed in demographics towards art and documentary photographers, rather than commercial photographers, but everyone is welcome and it’s a knowledgeable forum.

4am Project – this is a project developed by Karen Strunks which asks photographers to go out on specific dates at 4am and make photographs. The work is submitted to the 4am Project site, and people often organise offline events to meet up and do the project together. There is something great about being out photographing at an ungodly hour, and knowing there are a whole bunch of other people doing precisely the same thing.

Street Photography Now Project – this was a year-long online global participation project, run by The Photographers’ Gallery, Sophie Howarth, and Stephen McLaren. I was the Community Manager for this project. It ran via Flickr, and each week an Instruction was given by a photographer featured in the book, Street Photography Now. Members would then spend the week shooting their responses, and providing each other with peer review. Additionally, many of the photographers who issued Instructions provided feedback on a shortlisted set of submitted images at the end of the week.

SPN Community – the second year of the Street Photography Now Project. Year 2 is being run by community members who were active participants during the first year of the project.

Some Useful Tools:
Flickr – yes, everyone knows about it. I’m including it because it’s one of the better platforms for project collaboration for a few reasons…
(1) You can create private groups, so you can share work with a select group of other photographers without making it available to the whole world.
(2) Notes – you can add multiple notes on the photos, which is great for e.g. highlighting alternative crops, or notating specific details in the image that work well, or could be improved.
(3) Personal Sets, Group discussions and comments on individual photos – this feature could be improved on, but still, for a group project the ability to comment on individual shots, whole sets of images, and discussion forums as separate entities can be used effectively to manage discussion to make relevance easy to spot. For a group project culminating in e.g. an exhibition, the discussion area can be used for the logistics of planning the exhibition, general banter and so on, leaving the discussion of specific images to the comments sections on individual photos and sets.
(4) Galleries – as a flickr member, you can create galleries of images by others. Again, this could be improved by allowing larger galleries to be created, but it is still useful in editing a final sequence from a larger group of images submitted to a group.
(5) It’s free – while much of the functionality of Flickr can be replicated on a private website, Flickr is free and easy to begin working with. This makes it perfect for the early development of long-term collaborations, and for one-off projects where custom website development may have prohibitive costs.

Google Docs – allowing you to collaborate remotely on word documents, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations. This can be useful for tracking the logistics on projects, while keeping all records in a space that makes it open for viewing by all group members.

Photographers (using Google Street View and/or Google Maps in their work):
Mishka Henner
Michael Wolf’s Street View Mahattan
Michael Wolf’s Street View Portraits
Jon Rafman
Discussion by Joerg Colberg of GSV work
BJP discusses if GSV is photojournalism

Some blogs that are great for current debates:
Conscientious
Duckrabbit
David Campbell

And some galleries and magazines:
Foto8
F Stop Magazine
Source Photographic Review
Troika Editions
Hotshoe Gallery

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Photography – A Virgin? Or A Whore?

Joerg Colberg wrote recently on his Conscientious blog about parallels between photography and writing. We riffed a little about it via Twitter, but I want to add some thoughts that exceed that medium’s limits.

I meant to do this a few days ago, but Open Eye launch activities took priority.

Here’s a passage from W.H. Auden’s collections of essays on writing/literature, The Dyer’s Hand:

My language is the universal whore whom I have to make into a virgin (KARL KRAUS). It is both the glory and the shame of poetry that its medium is not its private property, that a poet cannot invent his words and that words are products, not of nature, but of a human society which uses them for a thousand different purposes. In modern societies where language is continually being debased and reduced to nonspeech, the poet is in constant danger of having his ear corrupted, a danger to which the painter and the composer, whose media are their private property, are not exposed. On the other hand, he is more protected than they from another modern peril, that of the solipsist subjectivity; however esoteric a poem may be, the fact that all its words have meanings which can be looked up in a dictionary makes it testify to the existence of other people. Even the language of Finnegans Wake was not created by Joyce ex nihilo; a purely private verbal world is not possible.”

There seems to me many parallels here with photography and, particularly, with photography as produced and shared in the digital age.

For a start, the photographer’s images aren’t invented. In order to photograph something, that something has to be out there in the world, in some sense. While the stylistic choices of the photographer can render objects in different ways, we can’t escape the fact that photography entails objects (in the loose sense). These objects are indeed the product of a human society and, by extension, infer the existence of other people; regardless of how much we try to avoid photographing people, they’re always implied.

Further, we use photographs for a thousand different purposes – from advertising images directed down the last pixel, to drunk photos shared by sophomores on Facebook, to news reportage, or fine art prints, we’re living with a surfeit of images, and a multiplicity of uses. The street photography of Matt Stuart becomes advertising for Nike*, and the news reportage of the Vietnam war hangs in galleries, while photographer-curators are pulling images from Facebook, Google Street View and other sources to create their own art. So, a multiplicity of purposes, coupled with a blurring of the distinctions.

And many platforms through which photographers share their work these days are also popular with a more casual, holiday snapshot crowd – Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, and so on. When everyone is saying “look at my photo!” it can be hard to judge before viewing whether they mean a record of last night’s hen party, or part of a long-term project on hen-farming in Devon. This is even more true when a news photographer tweets snapshots of their day off in New York.

In addition to this, the classic photographers are being quoted (sometimes perhaps out of context?) by reference to single images from a body of work, or reductionist descriptions of entire careers, by photographers and writers seeking to better illustrate their own work. In much the same way, the classics of literature are frequently quoted to bolster arguments and beliefs, by taking a sentence from an essay, with the attendant risk that the reader can be given a distorted reading of the original source. Or no way of accessing the specific source, due to lack of proper attribution.

Even the protection from solipsism that Auden speaks of can be applied to photography. Photographs are descriptive, and even the more creatively abstract photographs share in common the mechanics and constraints of the form, and of the frame, that we become accustomed to from making holiday snaps. The viewer isn’t given a new object in abstract photographs, but a new content held in a familiar construct. And it is a construct the viewer has used frequently in their daily lives.

There is much more I could write about this, but these are just a few sketches for now. I’m reading Papageorge’s Core Curriculum and want to return to this way of thinking photographs in some future writing. But for now, I just have a few links I wanted to share, between how words and photographs function in our society, and this piece by Auden is particularly apposite for that.

I’m interested in what you think. I have no answers here. I’m not saying any of this is good or bad – I’m trying to tease out the value judgements, if there are any to be made, and have been doing so for a while. I have none to offer right now. But maybe we can find something to draw out of all of this?

(With huge thanks to Joerg for his fantastic post, which inspired me to put something down on this after sitting on it all summer)

*Note: I have no idea if Matt has actually photographed for Nike specifically. I know he shoots commercial work, that’s it. I’m taking a liberty here, for the sake of better rhythm to the prose.

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Open Eye Gallery Launch Party (Images)

The last few days have been nicely busy. Open Eye Gallery opened their new building on Liverpool’s Waterfront to a press launch, a launch party, and a breakfast talk with Mitch Epstein that I recorded. Mitch’s work, American Power is being exhibited alongside The Pleasure Principle, by Chris Steele-Perkins.

I’ll be reviewing the launch on ST84Photo tomorrow. But, for now, I’m sharing a few images from the Launch Party night.

Sara T'Rula

Sara T'Rula

Sara T'Rula

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Shit I Saw Today

(1) The re-opening of Open Eye Gallery, with great work by Mitch Epstein, Chris Steele-Perkins, and S Mark Gubb.

It was ace. I have notes. I have audio.

(2) On bus home, saw two pretty massive and bulky looking men dragging a women by her hair and beating the crap out of her, in the middle of the road. Yes, middle of the road as in, cars braking harshly to avoid running them over. Bus was at lights then in motion. Couldn’t do anything except phone the cops. Who have a station about 30 yrds away.

I don’t know what happened. But this sums up my city. Great and totally fucking shite, all at the same time.

Suffice it to say, Open Eye review will have to wait until tomorrow. I’m in no mood to summon up the superlatives it deserves with that image overprinting the wonderful images I saw at the Gallery today.

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British Photography Is Still Revolting

ST84Photo Museum
ST84Photo Museum in Liverpool has had difficulty raising money for its new Location-Non-Dependent project.*

As I wrote in the ST84Photo on Sunday, Britain’s photography scene finally seems to be catching up with the US.

It is currently in the stage of “shouting as loudly as possible about minor advancements in London, while generally ignoring anything that happens outside of London or, just as importantly, anything that happens online”. It is a stage the US entered (re New York, mutatis mutandis**) roughly 30 years ago. What progress we’ve made.

That ST84Photo article was in response to one posted by Sean O’Hagan on the Observer/Guardian website. Today, he’s added a new post all about the immensely crucial topic of two London galleries (including the largest photo gallery in the UK) having to slightly scale back the size of their (expanded) galleries and exhibitions.

I don’t want to sound like I’ve been drinking some Observer/Guardian Haterade here, but isn’t this kind of photography discussion, well, excruciatingly dull? I mean, when there are projects like this, this, and this happening?

Or when there are other cool things to talk about, like Troika Editions opting to use their popular website to promote the work they find during portfolio reviews but don’t necessarily have resources to feature onsite?

Just as some examples. I’m sure there are more and better examples. I’m being lazy here. Because it’s so damn easy to be lazy and still come up with content more interesting than the couple of cubic inches the largest UK photo gallery has lost, and the horrific ramifications of precisely how fewer interns they’ll be able to fit into the new space as a result.

If the most interesting things happening in the UK photography scene at the moment consist of the Tate awarding photography the qualification of “art form” by hiring a photography curator (please note: this qualification has yet to be ratified formally by UCAS), and The Photographers’ Gallery losing a small amount of space, I think it’s high time that we just give up on the whole photographic enterprise altogether.

*Please note: This image is not of ST84Photo Museum.

**If you aren’t acquainted with the term, mutatis mutandis, please become so! It makes me think of the Lion King…

ST84Photo Disclaimer: Despite all this ranting, you can fully expect me to reporting both in depth and probably in celebration on the opening of Open Eye Gallery this week.

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Don’t Believe In Yourself!

ST84Photo Blog is taking a momentary step away from photo talk to bring you this…

The University applications organisation, UCAS, is urging that students should apply to university after they receive their grades.

One of the major reasons cited by advocates of this change in the televised/radio discussions of it is that students apply to the courses they think they might get into, instead of having the ambition to apply for the course they most want to do. In support of this, they also say that schools will discourage students from applying to courses they think they might not be successful in getting a place at.

Now, I have a problem with this line of logic. Partly, no doubt, because I was one of those students once. I’m from a “povvo” background and wanted to apply to Oxford University. My school didn’t think I’d get in, because of my background. I disagreed. I applied. I got my acceptance letter pretty swiftly.

While there are a range of issues with the current university applications system (not to mention with the current education system generally…), I’m concerned that we have advocates for UK youths who are essentially saying, rather than support young people to have sufficient self-esteem, ambition, and belief in their power to achieve their own goals and to change the society they live in by doing so, we need to change the current applications system, because without pieces of paper from us proving their worth they wont believe their own worth.

I have bits of paper from people like this. They have no real value to me when they’ve been awarded by individuals and organisations with such rank professional narcissism. The qualifications have nothing more than utility to me. I knew I was capable long before I ever received them. And it is that capability that has value, both to me and to society.

In a failing economy, and a world where technological advances mean that entrepreneurs will innovate to bring new products to market, and new jobs are being created requiring skills we don’t have qualifications for yet, surely fostering an attitude among the young that qualifications are the only arbiter for moving ahead with an idea is a dangerous path to take?

It is important to train, and it is important to listen to feedback. But it is also important to learn how to keep developing your own ideas and plans in the face of negative feedback, when you’re convinced that you have the capability to achieve something. That’s where progress and innovation comes from.

Or, as George Bernard Shaw once said, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” What piece of paper does UCAS have for grading that?

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