I was reading a recent ArtForum article about moblog photos, and the reviewer hit upon a key word: inessential. Photos that run counter to the notion of "a perfect flower," they are just "a flower." They don't contend to any special uniqueness or meaningful significance. They're just tonight's dinner, or the cat. They're even less momentous than old snapshots — at least old snapshots were made on someone's birthday or on the family's Grand Canyon roadtrip. Moblog photos tend to be somewhere even less worthy of inspection, between snapshots and the dull gray eye of a security camera. And there's a lot of them.

After seeing Luis's quote of Robert Frank from the 1958 U.S. Camera Annual, a quote I've seen often kicked around, I thought I'd go find the original. I found one in the San Jose library. The due-date stamps showed that it had last been checked out in 1986. And there in the middle was Frank, first with a brief writeup by Walker Evans, then a pretty hefty slice of the then-yet-to-be-published The Americans (one shot rudely clipped-out of the book — wish I knew which one), and then Frank himself. His comments are brief, just a page.

Frank wrote in his Guggenheim application of his desire... "To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation..." The first half surely fits the moblog aesthetic, but what of the second?

I have a genuine distrust and "mefiance" toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photo journalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infect with the "smell" of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drug store.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all — even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

Frank's still out there, wandering New York or the wilds of eastern Canada. Wonder if he has a celphone cam.

November 08, 2003





Comments on "Essential"

November 10, 2003 03:55 PM

Is the chef with three Michelin stars getting upset about people cooking their daily meals? I don't think so and neither should we.

Times have changed. In the old days we had say 50 well-known photographers and millions of viewers and private snappers. Today we still have those 50 or possibly more, BUT we also have millions of people taking pictures and publishing and each of them having 50 viewers. Of course not everything is of high quality, but the main point is that people are empowered to go out there, take pictures and publish them. The gap between privileged producer and passive consumer is being closed. That must be a good thing. If only for the fact that some of those snappers may realise that producing an enticing photograph is not as easy as they are led to believe, which could lead to a completely new appreciation of the skilled photographers.

And there is no point complaining about overload. We are free to ignore it, and return to the world as it was before. Although we may be missing out on something.

But I do take issue with people that claim a revolution of journalism. Just having a camera in your pocket, or having a blog does not mean that the old institutions and their craft's days are numbered.


November 14, 2003 10:17 AM

Wow. I did a double take when I saw this photo. THat's because I took a photo very similar to it, and it just made me go whoa! Here's the picture. The rest of your photos are also very beautiful! :)


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