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1RuddyRoye

© Ruddy Roye

PDX Design Week wrapped up last weekend. Before I moved out of the city, I was asked to do a guest post for the PDXDW blog. I don’t know much about design, so I wrote about photographers that are making good use of emerging technologies or commenting on our brave new world dominated by emerging and automated technologies.

Thanks to Taryn Cowart for her assistance getting it published.

With some line-editing, I crosspost the listicle below.

1

PHOTOGRAPHY’S BEST

Good photography is good vibes. Often, even bad photography is good vibes. The world needs Seflies, SnapChat cheekiness, cat GIFs, and Doge bombs. However, sometimes, we have to search out the good stuff. We need to look around and ask what’s at stake. Frankly, there’s not a lot resting on your cellphone pictures — they’re not changing the world. When the technologies and file formats with which they were made are obsolete, no-one will care if your phone snaps are lost forever. Least of all you?

When we talk about art, journalism and photography we should be able to single projects out and to define worth. Some creative endeavors are world-changing. I want to give a nod to photographers and artists working with images who inform us about the world and some of its urgent issues. As users and consumers, I want to believe we can leverage rapid publishing and sharing for political and social improvement.

BEST USE OF INSTAGRAM

Ruddy Roye was the first photographer to really stake his style on the meaningful caption. He ditched the hashtags and asked real people some real questions. Based in New York most of his portraits are of people in his neighborhood and jollies around the Big Apple. His feed drips with humanity and reveals stories you couldn’t imagine. This is the REAL Humans OF New York! Also, I like to credit Roye for landing the fatal blow to the snarky #TLDR hashtag.

2DiCampoEverydayAfrica

© EverydayAfrica

SECOND BEST USE OF INSTAGRAM

Peter DiCampo and fellow journalist Austin Merrill (both white American) set up the Everyday Africa after years of reporting from the continent and witnessing nothing but sensational and scary images of war, tragedy and the like. What about the normal everyday stuff? In an attempt to make the most of boring daily things, DiCampo and a wide cadre of collaborator quickly put together a simple, illuminating, sometimes colorful, and intimate Instagram feed. It’s political but not difficult. Okay, so it’s a free-for-all that promotes aesthetically ordinary pictures, but I’ll take neoliberal relativism over neocolonialist manipulation every day of the week.

EverydayAfrica spurned dozens of loose collective of photographers who set up EverydayMiddleEast, EverydayAsia, EverydayIran and even EverydayBronx. Instagram sponsored an Everyday “Summit” at the 2014 Photoville Festival and ponied up cash to fly in contributors from all corners of the globe. These guys are much better IG-movement than the creepy Christians making VSCO lifestyle shots to pair with their #blessed affirmations and bible quotes.

Watch out though: EverydayUSA has some of the best photojournalists under it’s belt. Photo-industry-folk reckon EverydayUSA will soon eclipse all the other accounts, at which point the whole Everyday movement may have announced its death. Get on this young movement while it’s still fresh and focused on countries other than the one you live in.

3MishkaHenner

© Mishka Henner

BEST USE OF GOOGLE EARTH

If there’s a controversial topic Mishka Henner hasn’t produced a body of work on, he’s probably in his studio, right now, making it. From censorship, to prostitution in the Mediterranean, from military bases to big-ag food production, from war to big oil, Henner doesn’t shy away from tough topics. His skill is to do so without really leaving his studio. Henner is one of the cleverest, canniest and hardest working artists dealing with Google and the machine age of image-making.

He winds people up with his methods that are anathema to photo-purists but what else is there to do with available imagery if not to capture, ‘shop and frame it in political terms. Google is the all seeing eye that doesn’t care.

tomasvanhoutryve

© Tomas Van Houtryve

BEST USE OF PERSONAL DRONES

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates American operated drones have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians. That’s a whole lot of killing.

The program of U.S. airstrikes which began in 2002, but was only publicly acknowledged in 2012 is a remote war driven by a remote technology. Belgian photographer Tomas Van Houtryve decided the best way to grab Americans’ attention to the issue was to show them how drone attacks would appear in America.

There’s no shortage of projects about drones to get us thinking about the issue. John Vigg has his Google surveilled drone research labs and airports; Jamie Bridle traced a drone shadow in Washington D.C. last year and launched Dronestagram to populate social media sites with satellite views of drone strike sites; Trevor Paglen has photographed drones at distance; and Raphaella Dallaporta took a drone to Afghanistan under the guise of an archaeological survey.

Most recently Not A Bug Splat made a splash. Cheeky and powerful the project installed massive portraits of children in regions subject to U.S. drone strikes, with the intent of pricking the conscience of remote U.S. drone operators stationed in Nevada about to bring the hammer of destruction down on that Waziristan village.

JoshBegleyPrisonMap

Screenshot of Josh Begley’s Prison Map

BEST USE OF SURVEILLANCE IMAGERY AGAINST THE SYSTEM

Data artist Josh Begley specializing in scraping images from publicly available sources. He then creates App and websites to publish the info and produce push notifications you can’t avoid.

For his project Prison Map, Begley took the GPS coordinates of every prison, jail and immigration detention center in America and fed them into a Google Maps API code he had modified. He ran the script and it spat out more than 5,300 satellite images — one for every locked facility in the U.S. The prison population in this country has grown 500% in the past 30 years. One in every one hundred adults is behind bars and most of them are poor people. The recurrent patterns of brutally functional architecture within Prison Map are staggering. We’ve been building prisons in high desert and rural backwaters. Begley makes the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) visible once more.

Likewise, for his project Profiling Is, Begley snagged the NYPD’s surveillance shots of business and residences in the NY boroughs which were under monitoring.

He doesn’t stop there. Begley’s App MetaData alerts users to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This didn’t happen until the conclusion of a merrigoround of negotiation with the “apolitical” Apple. Begley finally got his drone strike App approved when he removed all mention the word drone! Now, you can get next-day updates of Obama’s largely-ignored drone war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen straight to your smartphone.

State Business II

© Mari Bastashevski

BEST USE OF PHOTOGRAPHY, MUCK-RAKING AND INVESTIGATIVE NOUS

Mari Bastashevski skirts a fine line between journalist, artist, researcher, photographer and tourist to dig up the personalities and money makers in the international arms trade. Here’s the feature I did for WIRED a while back. Her ongoing project State Business is devastating inasmuch it reveals how pervasive and complicit most nations are in making billions on the slaughter of humans.The US, the UK, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Georgia; Bastashevski’s following of the money takes us all over the place … sometimes even to the carport on the Facebook pages of international arms dealers.

elahi

BEST MAKING SENSE OF SURVEILLANCE

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. In 2002, after Hasan Elahi was mistaken for someone on the terror watch list and detained for hours at Detroit airport, he decided he’d save the authorities the bother and monitor himself. Caustic, direct, creepy and amusing, Elahi photographed everything he did, ate, shit, saw and worked on. He also GPS tracked his every move on a live web map. The project is titled Tracking Transcience. One of the by-products of the self-monitoring is the creation of a typology of toilets. Taking sousveillance to another level and entertaining thousands while he does it. Brill.

migrazoom

© MigraZoom. A migrant on a cargo train traveling from Arriaga, Chiapas to Ixtepec, Oaxaca. After crossing the Mexican-Guatemalan border and traveling to Arriaga, migrants hitch a ride on top of cargo trains to Ixtepec. This trip takes about 12 hours. In addition to the risk of falling off the train (amputations and death are common), gangs frequently extort migrants, charging them $100 to ride. They face threats of being thrown off the train, kidnapped, raped or trafficked if they do not pay.

REALEST VIEWS OF IMMIGRATION

There’s some great fine art projects out there about the U.S./Mexican border. Probably, the stand out is David Taylor’s Working The Line, which documents the militarization of the border. But it can be criticised for being to distant and tends to rest on the creaking aesthetic mores of American landscape photography. If we want to see what is really going on during the tough journey’s into North America, we should pay attention to MigraZoom, a project by Spanish-born photographer Encarni Pindado which puts disposable cameras in the hands of economic migrants during their perilous treks northward.

DavidTaylor

© David Taylor

Another beautifully shot and more unexpected treatment of new arrivals is Gabriele Stabile’s Refugee Hotel which documents approved asylum seekers’ first nights in America at four hotels adjacent to four hub airports through which new refugee migrants arrive. Respectful documentation that is pregnant with uncertainty.

Taylor’s work is currently on show at the amazing ‘Covert Operations’ at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

BEST USE OF INTERNET FOR DISCUSSION

Photographer Hank Willis Thomas is a prolific force. One of his most recent projects Question Bridge is a platform for black males to ask other black males questions about black identity. Participants do so through video and provide answers similarly. Access is easy, involvement free, connections priceless and it works well in exhibition format too. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson is the latest incident to demonstrate to the entire nation our shared need to face racial inequality int he country. Willis Thomas is doing his bit.

LOCKWOOD-01

© Lindsay Lochman and Barbara Ciurej

BEST COMMENTARY ON MECHANICAL AGE FOOD PRODUCTION

With Ag Gag laws becoming ever more common, clever responses to imaging industrial food production must be inventive. Lindsay Lochman & Barbara Ciurej rip on the much-mythologized West and specifically on the hero-worship of Carleton Watkins by constructing sugar-coated and corn-fed diorama reconstruction of Watkins’ landscapes with shitty foodstuffs.

Will Potter ain’t a photographer but he’s putting imagery to good ends. Potter, a TED Fellow, has been reporting on the crack down on environmental activists under homeland security legislation that was designed to tackle terrorist. Instead of chasing bombchuckers, our law enforcement is going after tree huggers. The title of Potter’s book, Green Is The New Red, say its all. Routinely, it has been eco-activists who’ve brought us the shocking footage from inside factory farms. Potter, continuing the tradition of expose, wants to fly drones over feedlots and take advantage of laws being slow to be written. Again, we seeing the convergence of technologies and activist peel back the layers of obscurity purposefully put over our shady business practices in years past.

DonnaFerrato

© Donna Ferrato

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

The greatest photography work being done to reveal the entrapped, terrorized lives of those victim to domestic violence, is done — perhaps not unsurprisingly by female photographers. Donna Ferrato has trained a lens on the topic for decades. Recently, young gun Sara Naomi Lewkowicz captured similar images to Ferrato as an intimate witness to partner abuse. The parallels were saddening proving that this is a strand of violent psychology we just are not dealing with effectively. To be frank, the issue isn’t being imaged enough; intimate partner abuse remains hidden behind closed doors.

Paula Bronstein was one of the earliest and most direct photographers to document the survivors of acid attacks in Asia. If we’re to mention women’s rights abroad we have to look at the work of Stephanie Sinclair, whose multiyear project Too Young To Wed is pitch perfect. Quiet, weighty, tragic and polychrome portraits of child brides throughout the world. Sinclair’s had help from all the major distributors and grant makers to cast the net of her survey far and wide. The transmedia project is about as good as it gets in terms of audience engagement tactics too.

jim-goldberg

© Jim Goldberg

BEST COMMENTS ON WEALTH INEQUALITY

It’s difficult to name a stand out photographer who has taken on the wealth gap in a resonant way. It sounds strange to say but maybe cash is difficult to shoot? This apparent lack is consistent with other art forms though. If Occupy taught us one thing, some issues are designed for public performance, demonstration, walking and protest signs. Think of music, for comparison. In the sixties musicians such as Joe Strummer and Nina Simone emerged with brilliant anger toward social injustice. Despite public disgust made visible in anti-Iraq-war protests and Occupy, there’s not a protest song from the 21st century of note. Perhaps music isn’t the format for anger or the wealth gap either?

Don’t worry, I’m not being a pessimist here. Violent dismay certainly exists. I’m just not convinced art is the realm where we see the most direct political action. Gone are the days of the great labor photographers such as Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis. Inequality was laid bare in the photojournalism of the civil rights era (Ernest Cole, Charles Moore, Danny Lyon) and while those reportages were about money and opportunity they weren’t primarily about the markets. Check out the work of Gregory Halpern for your modern day Milton Rogovin.

The most indelible and forthright description of wealth inequality is Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor, which remains the high point and the tone at which aspiring photographers should aim.

Dang, that’s been a lot of men’s names. I think it right to end with LaToya Ruby Frazier’s name then. She, better than anyone currently making work, ties together class, race, income, post-industrial America, public health, personal health, family and environmental hazard with her generational survey of the women in her family and her home town of Braddock, PA, in The Notion OF Family.

LaToyaRubyFrazier

© La Toya Ruby Frazier

 

Cage

Screengrab: FeelingCagey.com . Via WIRED.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Selfies recently. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about what useful things I might have to say.

I wrote an extended comment to Marvin Heiferman’s blog post about Selfies. It’s as certain as I can be right now about a form of portraiture that is changing faster than my thinking.

“I cannot accept that Selfies should be dismissed out of hand as a lazy mode of photographic production, as to do so would be a refusal to engage with the way hundreds of millions (of predominantly young) people choose to image the world and their place in it. The Selfie form doesn’t make sense to an adult world as the dominant imperatives of social responsibility and/or artistic merit tied to past discourse about photographic production seem absent. But why should kids step sideways to meet old priorities of the medium when adults could as easily step sideways to meet them where they are?”

I cover a lot more in the (long) comment including: the Selfie as empowerment; the gender disparities in how we judgement and consume Selfies; the best written analysis on Selfies; and why artistic responses to the Selfie might be the most valuable departure points for discussion on the form.

Check out Marvin’s post and have your say about Selfies.

ig

Just a quick heads up to let you know that my Instagram handle has changed to my actual name. Find me at @petebrook from now on.

All those past mentions for @p3t3brook are confined to history and will only guide you to a non-existent account. Such is the price to be paid.

Also, remember that time I laid out my Instagram rules? I’ve had a couple of slips, but generally I think I’ve done an okay job sticking to them.

ashgilbertson

Prison Photography (PP): You use Twitter.

Ashley Gilbertson (AG): I initially got on Twitter because I found Facebook pretty boring. It was turning into people’s family photo albums, which is fine, but …

Twitter was a place that I was getting breaking news from. Not always correct but sources on the ground. That for me was very effective in terms of looking at primary sources and things as they developed. I still go to a few news sites, but I am getting my breaking news from Twitter. It sounds ridiculous, but I do.

I use Twitter for conversations and ideas too. I come across stories. Somebody can tweet something that sets the wheels turning in my head that can turn into a story idea. If I don’t want to cover it then I’ll retweet it and say this is potentially a good story idea. I try to share in this creative process.

PP: You use Instagram.

AG: I joined Instagram because VII started an account and I thought I’d be a team player. I keep trying but it’s not really my thing. My digital photographs suck and so therefore my iPhone photographs are freaking terrible.

I took a picture of a dead rat I came across on the street, posted it and suggested I might do a series on roadkill and make a book. I’m trying to take the piss a little bit but no-one really gets it. Someone contacted me and said, “I hate to tell you Ash, but someone has already done that.”

I present certain photographs to the world that are very carefully edited and all of a sudden I’m making photographs on the fly and they’re bad! That’s got to hurt my reputation!

I love taking pictures of my wife and son but they are for me.

PP: I don’t want to know about your heroes, I want to know about how you think is making good work right now.

AG: I think Seamus Murphy is doing some really great stuff with multimedia – he takes unusual approaches that I thoroughly enjoy.

I love Peter van Agtmael. Peter’s a thinker. His work is very emotional, really textural, really beautiful and I think Peter is turning into one of the best photographs that we have out there working today. I have a lot of respect for his approach.

Todd Heisler. Reading the New York Times, his pictures just stand on their own. I like being able to look at a paper and know who the photographer is – “It’s Todd. He nailed it again.”

I like Mishka Henner‘s approach to the medium, I like his execution of ideas, and I like his defense of the work. That to me is the complete package. I’ve argued about Henner’s work without him in the room. One person was calling him a photographer, I was calling him a curator, and we realized it didn’t matter. Call him what you fucking want. Henner’s just interesting. Period.

I like people who are pushing the medium. While I have a hell of a lot of respect for traditional photography, I don’t see the need for ten photographers to all shoot the same scene in this reportage manner. I’d rather see three photographers, say  from the New York Times, LA Times and Wall Street Journal [do straight shooting] and see the other seven trying to connect with an audience in a different manner.

PP: Cell phones?

The iPhone debate has legs. Cell phone photography is not that boring. It’s the first time photojournalists have ever let themselves go, stylistically. We’re not confined to having to reproduce colours in exactly the way that we see them or not add certain elements of light, sun-flares or whatever it is.

The problem with the conversation [about style and filters] is that it is so often talked about in a defensive manner.

PP: People start by defending the ethics of cell phone photography?

AG: Yes. And, of course it’s totally ethical. Rather they should start with, “Obviously, it is very different to how I shoot on a Canon 5D; it’s a totally different approach with a totally different understanding.”

It doesn’t bother me that photojournalism is loosening up.

PP: For the longest time, a mythos has surrounded anointed photojournalists. They’ve been treated as gods, if you like. But, with the rise Instagram – which is, paradoxically, considered a platform for navel gazing narcissism – famous photojournalists have become more familiar, less godlike.

AG: We’re from a new generation. The photographers I knew growing up were either dead or very mysterious. I remember picking through magazines and trying to find little scraps of information about Ron Haviv or James Nachtwey and these giants in the industry. They were so mysterious it was almost part of the allure. They’re not the story; they’re behind the camera and they are not there to talk about themselves, they were there to talk about their subjects and that to me was very effective.

But now, I realize that to reach the widest possible audience you often have to engage yourself in the production of the story. I need to explain how it was meeting hundreds of families who had lost a son or a daughter to the war. I think that adds to the story and to people’s compassion for the subject. But, it doesn’t sit well with me. It might look like it does because I am so open to it, but still I wonder if I should shut my mouth, close down all my social media, and just get on with photography.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Image by Ash Gilbertson, from his Instagram feed, a rat I think, sometime in late Summer, somewhere, accompanied by the caption, ‘Tyre Tracks!’

LG VX5400 flip hone. Born 2006. Laid to rest 2012.

After 6 years with the same LG flip phone, it was long overdue to get a smartphone. The timing was right to get the iPhone 5. Friends who’ve had iPhone’s in the past just want to hold the 5, “It’s so light,” they fawn.

I waited a day to turn the iPhone on – I was hesitant because I was about to voluntarily submit to yet more corporate networks. But, I’d reconciled that with my decision to go for an iPhone weeks ago when I placed the order. Breathe deeply. Sync the thing with Twitter. First app? Instagram. It reamins the only app on my phone.

So yeah, I’ll be using Instagram with the handle @p3t3brook. But I have rules.

THE RULES

1. No cats.
2. No dogs.
3. No cocktails.
4. No pints/jugs of ale.
5. No frothy coffees.
6. No plates of food.
7. No babies. Already bent that rule with my second Instagram pic, but the baby is unidentifiable and I tell myself that the leaf the chubby baby hand holds is the actual subject.

THE WHY

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with cats, dogs or babies; they are wonderful things in life to be with and be around, but as I don’t have any children or pets, it’s hard for me to justify why I’d make photos of those things.

As for food, well, food has become the fastest most unquestioned trope on Instagram. People used to think it silly to waste film on photographs of food, but the digital age allows us to indulge a common urge. We all want to share – and brag about – what we’re about to demolish. Food Instagram photos are part homage, part evidence, part guilt sharing, part all sorts of things but not something I want to be part of. There’s too many photos of food online and you don’t need any more from me.

On beer, cocktails and coffees, just read the previous paragraph replacing the word ‘food’ with the word ‘drink.’

THE WHAT

So what does that leave? Here’s a few things I think are a bit of a challenge.

1. Street photography. Must be well edited. High contrast, light and shadow, unknowing subjects, knowing subjects, reflections, bustle. Avoid reliance on signs; you want the picture to tell you the story, not words (I’ve already failed on that one.)
2. Strange unidentifiable details, preferably achieved by found texture, not filter, but I’ll still take a mix of the two.
3. Inside views of current projects. Tidbits. Teasers.
4. New landscapes. Mad infrastructure. Clever combinations of light as it pings off man-made stuff. LOOK UP!
5. Portraits of strangers.

I’ll try to make images along these lines and I’ll find value in others’ doing the same. So, an emphasis on photos made on the fly and inpublic yes. Which is precisely the point of having a camera with you all times. But, I still want to bring a standard to it – if I feel a photograph is poking fun at someone, or voyeuristic in a creepy way, or that the photographer decided not to get close enough or maybe even have a conversation, I might not Like it.

If Instagram is used consciously, it can be an exercise in mindfulness. Look for interesting views, take the pic, upload, put the phone in your pocket. I want people around me to know that I’m using it in a directed manner. Instagram (and its streaming-app-brethren) counters browbeaten, downward gazes. It remedies our forgetfulness to look up.

Clearly, the majority of what is on Instagram is not good photography, but I reckon we’re seeing millions of experiments of people heading toward good photography, AND at a faster pace than in the past. The end result? Hopefully, widespread understanding of what makes a good photograph.

ALL OVER THE PLACE

If you are short of things to read on the topic of Instagram and cell phone photography:

From Memory To Experience: The Smartphone, A Digital Bridge (Stephen Mayes on Jens Haas’ blog)
Wired Opinion: Rip Off the Filters – We Need a Naked Instagram (Wired.com)
Dappled Things: Pinkhassov on Instagram (The New Inquiry)
Everyone shoots first: reality in the age of Instagram (Verge)
Instagram — It’s About Communication (John Stanmeyer)
Stefano De Luigi’s iDyssey (The New Yorker)
Instagram, The Nostalgia Of Now And Reckoning The Future (Buzzfeed)
Hipstamatic Revolution (Guernica Magazine)
Ben Lowy: Virtually Unfiltered (New York Times)
Magnum Irrelevant? (Wall Street Journal)
Instagram: Photography’s Antichrist, Savior, Or Something In Between? (Huffington Post)
Picturing Everyday Life in Africa (New York Times)
reFramed: In conversation with Richard Koci Hernandez (Los Angeles Times)
In an Age of Likes, Commonplace Images Prevail (New York Times)
Why Instagram is Terrible for Photographers, and Why You Should Use It (Photoshelter)
New Economies of Photojournalism: The Rise of Instagram (British Journal Of Photography)
Instagram Isn’t an App, It’s a Publishing Platform (So Treat It Like One) (Photoshelter)

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