Finite Foto Feature

New Mexico has a long lineage of art and photography. This continues today in the form of book publishers, galleries, collectors, workshops, etc. We also have New Mexico based online photographic outlets like Finite Foto, formerly known as Flash Flood. I’ve written about these folks before, and even had a piece featured a while back.
A few weeks ago I ran into Melanie McWhorter, one of the masterminds of this organization, and she asked me if I was interested in writing something about photojournalism.
Now I don’t consider myself a photojournalist, but at past points in my life I had done work in this genre, so I thought I’d give it a go. At the same time I had received several requests from blog readers to write something regarding my projects, why I do them, how I do them, etc.
I had just penned this little story when I ran into Melanie. So, here we are.

Now I don’t think this is going to answer all the questions, and this is also rife with my opinion about several things related to the modern documentary world, but I think it will be relevant to many of you, and might surprise or confuse a few others.
Also, I’m just one feature of several in this particular issue, and if you are interested in the doc/pj world, then have a look and bookmark this site.
Any thoughts, notes, feedback, drop me a note and I’ll give you my two cents.

I Have a Question

I have a question.

As you know now, I’ve joined Flickr. I’ve done this, after all this time, because I just kept looking at the work being shown on this public space and was continually blown away by the quality, depth, range and level of personal commitment.

It got me to thinking. And when I get to thinking, typically, I have more questions than answers.

How can it be that Flickr contains far better, more powerful work, than our professional sites, our professional magazines and our professional outlets for photography? I think this is totally accurate. Just take a look. Sure, there are literally millions of images on Flickr that might find themselves in the outtake pile, but there are many, many more than are simply fantastic. And yes, there are pro sites that contain wonderful imagery, but many are simple slick content sites.

I think professional photography has been diluted to such a degree by the technology which currently is front and center in much of what I see. The means of how a photo was made, and consequently the workflow attached to the back end. And, for being a “creative” industry, photography sure loves its conformity. “The future is multi-media.” So now what, I’ve got to start shooting video LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, so that my work can look like everyone else? Please. Lets stop and take a deep breath and look at the pictures we professionals are producing. Our pictures are sharper than they ever have been. We have a higher bit depth. We have better software. We have more control. We have the ability to shoot more than ever before. And look at us. Look at our work.

Something doesn’t compute.

Let me ask this. Where do you see more soul? Flickr? Pro industry? Huh? Take a moment, just like Jeopardy before you scribble your best answer for Alex to read aloud. In the form of a question people, “What is Flickr Alex?”

I think, in great part, we have lost our personality. I think anytime the commercial aspect of something becomes the overriding factor, the quality and soul of the work begins to fall off. Anytime the people involved in a shoot, who are not the photographer, become the overriding factor, the quality and soul of the work begins to fall off. Sure, there has to be a collaboration, but I find, more and more, the photo-voice doesn’t come from the photographer.

Flickr is a bunch of people who love photography making pictures and posting them online. There is no confusion.

Part II

One of my concerns about Flickr was the security. Anytime you put images up you are risking infringement of some sort. As one friend put it, “You want more exposure, you get more risk.” I’m also leery of the major, online, content providers of the world who are always seemingly behind things like Orphan Works Bill, etc. They are angling for something, and that something might be our images in places like this. Just a thought.

So anyway, back to the great Flickr. I’ve decided to join, to put images up, but only ONE kind of image, ONE format and ONE style. Just 35mm, black and white, totally unrelated to anything imagery. Photography purism in a way. Nothing commercial. Nothing shot for someone else.

I think this is what makes Flickr so grand. Yes, there are plenty of working photographers posting work for various reasons, to gain exposure, etc, but for me, the power of this site is that it is driven by people who love photography more than anything else, and want to share that love with other like-minded people.

I keep thinking professional photography will have a reality check, but I think that would require an admission that things are not moving in the right direction, something I don’t think the industry can “afford” to do, both literally and figuratively.

In the words of a Poison song from the 80’s, “Give me something to believe in.” And at the moment, it’s Flickr.

I think that the pro’s and the Joe’s (Flickr) can totally learn something from each other. I think from the pro’s you can learn about the business, about marketing, etc, and from Flickr I think the concept of shooting what we want, how we want, and living with that style. I’ve always found it strange to hear from so many photographers, “Well, I have to shoot it this way, and use this type of camera and provide this type of image.” Regardless of what style they really have, they conform, and then we wonder why things are homogenized?

Shouldn’t be just be photographers, and work the way we feel best suits us? Doesn’t that make more sense than reading a magazine and buying what we are told is the hot new thing, producing work that we are told is hot new thing, etc.

For example: Billy shoots pinhole cross-processed pictures. Everyone loves Billy’ work. But if Billy wants to work for such and such a client he has to rent a digital back, tethered to the laptop so the client can see. The work looks nothing like what Billy is known for, and frankly looks like it could have been shot by anyone. But Billy has the connection. So, the great photographer, Billy the Pinhole Kid, has been reduced to a content provider.

How many times a day does this happen?

What I would love to see are photographers who are not afraid to spread their creative wings. Our commercial work should be our personal work. Period. End of story. Do I really need to see another commercial photography site? No, never. For any reason. Ever again. B O R I N G

But, I’ll bet you that commercial photographer, who is providing this “image front” for the world to see, has a body of personal work that is far more interesting and far more who they really are. Show me that. That is what we really need. That is what the world needs.

And that is what I see on Flickr.

I have a feeling I will be spending far more time on Flickr in the coming months than on professional sites. With pro sites I’m rarely if ever surprised anymore. With Flickr it is like reading a choose your own ending book.

It just goes and goes.

I think most photographers are creative, interesting people, and there is so much more we do if we just make an attempt.

Here’s to doing something different this Saturday.