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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)

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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