Essays:

Things As They Are

So, followers of this blog will have noticed that I recently relocated to NY. Hence the silence on my end.

In the meantime, things are still bubbling in the photo-internet world…  Some of which dovetails with recent conversations.

To start, Kaugummi books is shutting down after a good 7 year run. Bartolomé Sanson announced that with a farewell e-mail (viewable as the front page of their website).  Marc Feustel, of Eyecurious fame, noted a key passage towards the end of the text:

How many independent / zines publishing companies have emerged in these last few years? I can’t help but wonder if this fast rise is ultimately a good or a bad thing… Of course being part of a scene in its fast expansion period is super exciting, but what happens when you see this scene becoming autophagic? I mean, what’s the point of being a zine publisher among so many zine publisher? What makes the difference between one and another when we all have the same influences and the same defects? What’s keeping this medium so particular when so many “artists” have the sudden similar passion for zines and artist books; when you realize that the zine is becoming the new academism?

Sanson goes on to compare independent publishers and artists involved in this to those in the ‘ivory tower‘; caught up in a self perpetuating bubble referencing only each other with an audience of only each other. Not a completely unfair argument though there are, of course, limits to the metaphor.  And, it must be mentioned, the photo world has always been in a bit of a self-contained bubble, though work does tend to bleed out into the wider culture from time to time. Still, though, I’d warrant that most people reading this are within that bubble, for what it’s worth.

Bigger problems, though, are the sheer ubiquity of the ‘zines and their cursory nature – 2 issues directly related to the very strengths of the medium.  ’Zines, are, of course, cheap, which means that anyone can create them and send them around.  Whereas when Kaugummi Books began, there were relatively few ‘zine presses and they provided a way, as Sanson says, to publish “something that wouldn’t exist without my structure.”  Now, there are too many to keep track of, as evidenced by the Indie Photobook Library and other similar projects (some examples of which are accompanied by the comment, “A great way to build up a free collection,” and a roll of the eyes).

The other problem/strength is that they’re so so so very easy to produce.  This leads to some wonderfully immediate work, like Preston is my Paris, but it also leads to many projects just so utterly lacking in ambition. I won’t speak to specific examples here, because it’s an almost universal trait – great work can take years to produce, and perseverance.  I’m not saying there isn’t some great work contained in some of these ‘zines, but why plug away and work at it until you can get a traditional publisher to take a risk when you can just throw it in ‘zine form and sell it off your website?  And why not just show that project you shot in an afternoon?  It’s nice and has a certain charm all its own – why not just put it out there and see who bites?

Well, in all of our defenses, it must be said that publishers aren’t exactly breaking down the fences for unknown talent.  It’s a sad fact that many of the best books today are produced because the maker was able to get a grant to help finance it’s production (though a sad fact is that that’s now drying up along with all the other money that went to the arts) rather than a risk on the part of a publisher on someone they believe in.  Errata, for example, just became a nonprofit just so it could take exactly these types of donations…

And in the meantime, many of the photoblogs continue as before, though updated less frequently because many of us are getting opportunities that are not on the internet – exhibitions, curatorial gigs, writing, even taking pictures takes us all away from what was, in retrospect, a feverish publication schedule.

I suppose it’s a sign of middle age (?) of the internet – When it first appeared, the position of the expert was radically undermined.  The internet (as we’ve discussed – here and elsewhere) took away the endings and structure that a curator, a specialist, or an editor who imposes order on chaotic reality (see, for example, the recent Guardian review of Arles).  If you were interested in photography, you could start a blog (as I did) and your opinions would stand next to those with years more experience and training.  Now, many of us are stepping up (and offline, in a bit of cognitive dissonance) to fill the very roles that our very existence in this medium undermined. I say go for it.

Other links to catch up on:

First off, I just finished James Burke’s Connections.  Not in the slightest bit photo related, but I highly recommend a viewing.
Irish Postcards on Mrs. Deane.
As well as sweet sweet blacklight. (In all seriousness, I actually really like this work).
Triple Canopy web magazine.
Which is where I found these sentences on photography.
Summing up Street View, a topic which has proved unexpectedly popular.
This Jonas Mekas Film.
Another excellent ICP Library acquisition.
I must say that I love this work.
And this.  I’ll be buying this book.
A good essay on Subway photography.

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