Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.
Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.
However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.
Or maybe I have changed.
Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.
It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.
Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the
in current photographic trends.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL.
I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.
Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.
Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,
and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.
I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it. And I loved the discussions.
Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.
Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.
It wasn’t for me.
In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.
Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.
Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.
However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.
This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-
After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project
Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-
“What is this, some kind of road trip?”
“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”
I think this
came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.
Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.
But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.
I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.
It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.
We will see the response.
Until then, I’m