Tuesday, November 27, 2012

... from Art to Experience? [part four]

The "meaning" and purpose of photography has changed.  Radically changed.  In just a few years.

Voyageur Chronomètre

As I've said in the first three installments on this topic, photography has moved from being important as an "object" (something to have and to hold, to display and to enjoy) to being an expression of experience.  Cell phone based cameras have flooded the internet with all manner of cruft and junk photography.  250 million images were uploaded to Facebook in 2011 alone.  Of this outpouring of images, few could be considered "objects", though some (perhaps very little?) fine work has been turned out.

Most (mobile phone based) photography is now 1) see something 2) snap a picture 3) upload it to the internet to share with the world.  All this in the span of just a few moments.

I have spent a fair amount of my free time over the past 40 years working on the craft and practice of photographic image making.  I come from a time of film, cameras (sometimes very very large cameras), lenses (sometimes very large and very old lenses), and chemical processes (sometimes nearly alchemically arcane).  I have studie William Mortensen where I have worked to understand lighting and composition.  I have worked to experience how it is to have one's work hung in nationally recognized galleries and published in international journals of photography.  Making images has never come easy to me, yet I enjoy making images immensely.

Voyageur Chronomètre

It boggles my mind to think of all the images being dumped into the world.  All for, seemingly, a passing glance.  How do you get "eyeballs" in this new crazy world of image image image image image image image..?

I can't help but think of painters at the advent of photography.  Paint artists must have felt their world had changed forever.  Yet painting remains in the world as a serious pursuit, a serious interest, where some people feel there is great value in certain artist's work.

So it may be with "traditional" photography as "object" as well. Early photographic techniques will still be deployed to make new photographic expressions by some artists.  Film and chemical processes have yet to disappear.  Digital image making... well... that's where I see an open field, even if that field will be empty of most of the human race... who might be looking for photography as an art "object"...

American Tintype from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

Realizing the scale of the changes that have taken place, I come to a place once again to where I need to realistically consider what the meaning and purpose of photography is in my life.

My pursuit of creativity seems to follow a stream of nearly endless ideas and pursuits.  It's like jumping into a sometimes raging river.  I go where inspiration and ideas take me.  With an, some might say overly, active mind, inspiration and ideas lead me all over the place.  My work unfolds as an expression of my creative experience.

I feel my work is unique.  I prefer it this way.  I can't stand making "straight" photographs for myself and my own images.  Though, I can and do appreciate excellent creative work that seems to come straight out of a camera.  No, where I go has to please me.  It has to fit whatever inner "vision" comes to me.  It has to "be" because it needs to "be".  It has to come from the inside (of me) out (to be seen).  For this reason, some of my work must seem a little odd to viewers.  I'm willing to take the risk of confusing or unsettling viewers.  A work emerges because, as I just said, it must emerge.

Voyageur Chronomètre

For me, the question of viewership is one that is quickly and easily answered.    On Flickr my work has already received approaching one and a half MILLION views.  Using software technologies and internet platforms, I will follow the "experience" path of rapid image creation and sharing.  Photographs as objects will certainly remain available, but the concentration will be on electronic distribution.  I will use places like Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, and many other such sites.  The promise of technology will be fulfilled if I can harness "eyeballs" in these ways and through those social sharing web-communities.

I want to see where all this can lead.

I enjoy the feeling of making order out of a chaotic universe.  In the deepest darkest night of the soul, all I'm left with is doing or choosing to not do.  Which reminds me.  A nice Belgium beer awaits on this cold winter eve...

Captain Brannert

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

... from Art to Experience? [part three]

Photography has become a means of experience sharing.  Photographs are no longer just objects that are viewed and sometimes hung on a wall for some small part of the world to admire.  How we approach photographic works has an opportunity to change.

Light ~ Florence

Image capture manufacturers seem to have taken notice.  I saw two items from the recent Photokina camera show in Germany that showed me this might be the case.  The first is a new camera offering from Sony.  The second is a new camera offering from Samsung.

For many years, images passed through a process (chemical or computer) before emerging as a final "work".  The final "work" was an "object" in the tradition of classic art "objects".

With the advent of mobile telephones, image making is suddenly connected directly to the vast network of information sharing.  The new image making process is one of 1) see scene 2) image scene 3) manipulate scene (using various creativity applications) 4) share scene across the internet.  No film.  No chemicals.  No computer.  No costly software applications.  No costly "professional" image making gadgets.

Mobile telephone cameras have not been of particularly high quality.  Yet some brilliant work has been done using these relatively simple low resolution image making devices.  I wonder what could happen if higher quality image could be produced using networked devices.  While I don't believe that higher quality images would have a significant impact on what we see on the web, good high resolution images might be made and shared between people who care about image qualities where large prints or publication is concerned. 

Light ~ Florence

Sony introduced two cameras this year that caught my attention.  They are part of their NEX camera series.  One is the NEX5r and the other is the NEX6.  What is significant about these 16.6mega-pixel cameras is that they can be connected directly to a LAN on the internet and Sony is promising software that allows for the creative manipulation of images before they leave the camera.

I love Sony's NEX cameras.  These cameras are small, light, and just as powerful in making quality images as many DSLRs.  Creativity and image manipulation can now take place right on the image making device.  I think this is a wonderful opportunity to ditch the computer for image processing. 

The second camera that caught my attention is Samsung's new 16mega-pixel Android-based point and shoot camera.  If I understand the capabilities correctly, we will now have a high quality image making device that is tied directly 3G and 4G telephone networks.  More importantly, if Samsung has built their new Galaxy camera correctly, image makers will have instant access to the thousands of already available mobile-phone-based image making creativity software applications.

Light ~ Florence

I like the idea of a camera company using Android as the base operating system.  It is based on Linux, the Open Source software that was started by Linus Torvalds many years ago.  The open standard means that the ability to create new software is nearly unlimited.

Up to this point in technology history, camera manufacturers have written closed system software that drives camera internals (menuing, metering, focusing, creativity selections, and the like) that is sometimes based on VxWorks (in high-end professional cameras), manytimes based on their own proprietary software solutions (for pocket cameras and low-end DSLRs with firmware that ingrates into company proprietary ASIC-based engines).  If you know anything about VxWorks, you will quickly realize just how limited it is in it's ability to connect seamlessly to quickly evolving network communications standards.  Proprietary software would be an even more challenging problem to try and network, particularly if the languages used to program these cameras is based on non-extensible standards where network communication software protocols are not readily available (as is widely the case).

Light ~ Florence

While the market may initially not know what to do with the Samsung Android camera/not-mobile-phone, I can see that on-camera image processing is currently at the front edge of a new and potentially exciting capability.  In fact, I just read a rumor that suggested that Samsung might move it's NX mirrorless cameras to the Android-based operating system.  I find this very exciting.

To my way of thinking, the new level of software integration on-camera can lead only to one thing: More creative images widely shared at the speed of experience.

Monday, November 19, 2012

... from Art to Experience? [part two]

Having grown up wishing I could attend an Ansel Adams seminar in Yosemite Valley taught by St Ansel himself, having made special trips to view Edward Weston original prints in Newport Beach, having worked as a black and white print technician in Hollyweird, having watched the death of the Great Yellow Father (Kodak), and having witnessed the transition from photography as something to hang on the wall and admire into photography as an immediate means of sharing experience, the scope of this short span of history is more than a little mind-boggling.

Sunset ~ Place Vendome

For years, the measures and gold standards of photography as "art" included being shown in a significant gallery and selling a great many images for as much as the market would bear.

Alas, very few photographers have ever really been able to achieve these goals.  Edward Weston died after some time suffering from Parkinson's disease.  Ansel Adams never really saw much money from his artistic endeavors.  Modern day photographers have made money by being commercial artists, where very few have made money from their art.  Annie Leibowitz, while claiming to make $1Million a year, is essentially broke and may have sold all rights to her prior work to cover her enormous debts.  Christopher Burkett, the incredible color print artist, while doing well financially, is largely unknown on the world stage.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ~ Milan Italy

The rise of the camera as a creative tool of artistic expression has morphed into something completely unexpected and is now very different from what many of us thought would be possible.

Think for a moment.  If what the Facebook CEO says is right and if 250MILLION photographs have been uploaded onto the social networking site in the year 2011, and if the majority of those images were made using mobile telephones,  the very nature of what photography "means" has changed.

Gone, likely forever, are the days where it mattered what you used as a camera and how your tended your technical, as well as creative, processes, including all the energy it took to nurture the relationships of who you knew in the publishing industry and gallery art worlds.

It's as if the mad painter Van Gogh were able to multiply his already prolific output by hundreds of millions of times.  If you'll  recall, Van Gogh's last three years of his life were filled with artistic creations of spectacular success and heart-wrenching hard to believe failures.

Sunset ~ Place Vendome

It's as if the potential for sculpting  incredibly good and incredibly bad marble had suddenly reached the planet Earth's 3 billion inhabitants, and every single one of these creatures could make something, according to their abilities, desires, and whims.

And so it is with photographic image making.  You get a few brilliant images and a lot of just plain rubbish.  Yet, all of it is meaningful to someone somewhere somehow.  All billions and billions of images of it.  All being cranked out at the speed of networked telecommunications.

The Peter Brook Wired Magazine article that I linked in part one of this series solidified, for me, where we are in the "state of things".  I agree for most of society that we have moved from a photograph being an object to photographs being experiences.  Re-read M. Brook's thoughts and see if you don't agree.

Bridges ~ Florence, Italy

Friday, November 16, 2012

... from Art to Experience?

I have been  wondering about the direction of image making for quite some time now.

Summoning the Beasts

Looking back over the 160 year history of photography, the transition from hand-made chemical processes (typically with egg whites and silver nitrate) to dry plate film (thank you Great Yellow Father Kodak) brought image making to a larger population of potential artists.  Dry plate film has only recently (in geologic time) been replaced by digital technologies.  Here too, the transition has brought image making to a larger population of potential artists.

In fact, as I have said many times, Brooks Jensen wrote a wonderful editorial in his LensWork Magazine some time back.  Therein he suggested that there may have been very few "artists" of the early egg-white/silver-nitrate age.  It took a lot of knowledge and practice to string together the long series of steps that it took from "seeing" something of interest to realizing a finished image.  Brooks, if memory serves, felt there were perhaps three or four outstanding "artists" from that age.

Holy Homunculus

In the transition from wet-plate to dry-plate, image making allowed, perhaps, ten to fifteen outstanding "artists" to emerge in any given generation of photographers.  The process of image making was somewhat shorter and more people could grasp all the steps and bend them to their creative purpose.

With the transition to digital image making, "artists" no longer have a need to understand optics, aperture settings, film sensitivities, chemical processors, shutter speeds, and the like.  So much of the "thinking" about the technology of image making has been well integrated into image making devices.  Again, if memory serves, Brooks posited that perhaps ten to fifteen thousand "aritsts" could emerge in this, the age of digital photography.

Awakening the Other Side

I enjoyed what he wrote and have used it as a guide for how to navigate the increasingly large sea of images that are being shared across the internet.  From Brook's thoughts, I have fashioned my own ideas of what it means to be a photographic "artist".

I have been fortunate to have worked in a field of technology that allowed me to make money during the week and to make images for pleasure over the weekend.  I have worked hard to make my images the best I can and to realize the things in image that I feel.  It has been an exciting exploration.

Yet, something was evolving in the field and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  I've watched as Flickr started as a wonderful image sharing site, only to see it languish under Yahoo's ownership and to feel that Flickr has yet to reach it's potential.  I've watched as Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and other social sites have taken up from where Flickr failed.  I've read that in 2011, ten percent of all images ever made were created in just that single year (according to Facebook's CEO).

Deep Sea Shape Shifter

The old ideas of what photography "meant" and what it could "do" might need to be replaced.

Just yesterday, I read an eye-opening article on Wired Magazine's site that pieced together various elements of the current state of image making in a coherent manner.

In short, we have moved from photography being a "thing", something to look at, to potentially treasure and hang a copy of on a wall.  We have moved into a new age where photography has become an experience.  The idea has certain merit, to my way of thinking.

The author cited the recent events surrounding the huge earthquake in Japan.  The internet and social sites were flooded with images and videos that people made from their cellphones.  The experience of the earthquake was well documented.  However, few of these images have survived "the test of time" to remain in front of internet viewers.  We experienced the event as it happened and that was pretty much that.

Iconic Muse

What has become of photographic "art"? I need to think about this and perhaps write a little at some point in the near future.  In short, I feel there will be an increasingly small pool of buyers of "art" to hang on their walls or to store in their vaults.  The value of "art", photography, and image making, has shifted.

Traditional ideas of what constitutes "art" may need to be reexamined.