Queen of Lefitte | Minolta Instant Pro

Why Do This?

Digital consumer photos in the form of smart phones produce billions of images every year and will only continue to exponentially increase. All things have been shot, many lives are documented, it is an easily accessible art form. Trying to do anything “new” is essentially moot. New technology will continue to twist the limits of what we call photography. Virtual reality, augmented, social media, these have already changed how we currently and will consume images in the future. Western lives are visually curated in ways not seen in even in the recent past. Aggregated results and viral images can change lives. The singular image is still important, but the volume is unprecedented. In this avalanche, I am forced to make images simply because I feel compelled. I would call my approach one of playful documentation and experimentation. I just like to take pictures in as many ways and with as many machines as I can. I like to twist it, give myself limits, and use something old, heavy, outdated, miraculous, and otherworldly.

My approach to image making is one foot in the grave, one foot in the door. I keep an active social media presence through several apps and blogs. However, the images I create are mostly produced on black and white and instant film through a range of second hand cameras. I love the immediacy of digital photography. I love the convenience. But being descended from generations of Catholics leaves you wanting to suffer a little. Honestly however, I have some reasons why I prefer the older methods outside of the usual “because it is more honest” line that many people in my generation use to describe their passions. This is a reasonable point of departure, I don’t dissuade anyone from employing this argument. My generation (I will be twenty-nine in 2017) live in an era where many everyday devices and hobbies we engage in are needlessly complex or no longer respect the intelligence of the user. Either the complexity of the smartphone does not give us a meaningful path to discover its functionality, or hold our hand to an infuriating degree in order to try to keep us from being frustrated. With that in mind, I gravitate towards single use objects. A Film SLR camera does one thing, take pictures according to your inputs. The usual second hand camera allows for three, maybe four, adjustments to take a picture. This machine gives you freedom and control without being needlessly complex. Simple toy cameras free you from even those basic choices and imposes interesting limitations that pushes you to experiment, to double expose, to use old film.

History and design were my college pursuits and influence my photography. I love the history of photography and the design of the devices. The corporate rivalries and stories from Kodak and Polaroid push me to discover and use historic devices and processes. Dials rotate, shutters clunk, electro mechanical operations spring into action. There is certainly a bit of machine worship behind the images I produce.

The Saint | Mamiya RB67

Aesthetically, I like old equipment and processes like instant photography because it impacts the final image in ways beyond my control. Spontaneity and surprise extends the enjoyment of the image. Film grain, emulsion streaks, color blooms, can all create another level of appreciation. Effects like these can often distort images far beyond the lived experience. A certain magical realism pervades images, something wholly beyond my control, especially in automatic and toy cameras. The cameras and processes produce these effects by happenstance. There is a collaboration sometimes bordering on the spiritual in these images. Allowing that conversation into my work, to live in the moment of the limits of the equipment, frees my mind to keep on shooting, to keep on exploring. Exploration of the image, to make images, to simply keep exploring the world and my collaboration with the devices I find so meaningful and alive.

What's left? | Holga 135

Caves and Appreciation

"You actually make me look good"

This, or a variation on this, comment usually happens when I show people a picture of them. This is both resonating and strange. Photography has long been a medium for “truth” and a medium for “expression” which are not mutually exclusive. Both seem to exist together in each image produced. But we are typically taught that photography reveals the truth, is a record, even in this day and age. As an art Photography is simple process today. Consumer photography is constant and omnipresent. Billions of digital stills and videos proliferate. Automated exposure and correction, determined algorithmically, or by engineering create images of historically unmatched “clarity”. But I still find that photography is almost always encountered as an enhancer of the world as perceived by humans. The traditional still image is very different from how humans experience the world. Frozen in place, clarity, confusion, beauty, and otherworldliness. Decisions of the makers and the limitations or ability of the technology used can create vastly different depictions of the same subjects in space.

Framed and set on a wall, locked into a small screen in our hands, or as a precious print on fine paper, these very conservative reproductions of photographic images no longer act like the reality they represent. Let's compare a still photograph to another media. Far more abstract in appearance but perhaps more fitting to life is a particular passage from Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. Abstract beasts roam across the undulating surfaces of the cave as Herzog speculates as to living quality of the drawings under firelight. With fire flickering and the contours of the cave imparting natural movements to the narration of endless hunts. Photography as is, as a still image is perhaps less representative of lived experience than those cave paintings. Tens of thousands of years separate cave painting and modern photography. Modern photography is starting to shift from the tradition of a singular still image. We sit on the edge of a medium which is becoming much more akin to the cave in Herzog’s film. A critical wall between motion pictures and still photography has long existed. That wall is breaking down in popular usage.

Throw | Nishiki 8000 | We live in moments amplified by the gif.

MMobile apps, Instagram, Snapchat, and others are helping break those critical structures down. The breakdown of the barriers between motion and still pictures lead back to the origins of film and the invention of photography. The magic lanterns, and Louis Daguerre’s own Diorama theaters. Both of these media operated by using light sources to modify still images, to create the impression of night or day, movement, fire, and other enhancing qualities to the still image. The Graphical Interchange Format, the gif is perhaps the most famous digital call back to the origins of the motion picture. The zoopraxiscope lives again through the internet with gifs becoming an artistic media. The Lytro camera, a device that captures multiple depths of field in a single shutter press also breaks down the barriers of what is motion and still. These digital media types with perhaps dubious longevity for future reproduction and archiving are nonetheless becoming common in everyday photography. They lend a living experienced otherness to almost still images. Very short films and endless loops bring images and life closer together in a way I feel the fire light did to cave painting.

Nishiki 8000

As the cave did, these motion embellished photographs bridge and enhance further the image from our experienced reality. So how does this tie in with individual reactions to images. I have spent a great deal of time on the technological magic of photography. There is certainly an element to that in the commentary I receive. Subjects tend to ascribe value to prepared images. There is magic to the way a machine makes an image. There is also am more important and lasting reason. Like the cave above that moved in the fire light, like the twitching of the gif, and like the simple still image, Human narcissism loves to see itself reproduced and preserved. Even if today's file types leave some preservation questions to be solved. Although there is an argument to be made, with so many billions of images being produced, if there is a need for them to be preserved. Regardless, images, enhanced or otherwise, quickly made and greatly disseminated, and for the most part obtainable by everyone is still a fairly recent phenomenon. Why do people think they look better in a picture than lived experience? Artistic choice, skill and technological novelty combine to change what a subject knows of themselves. Perceptions are altered of the subject and their concept of time. Seeing a version of the still or moving past is only recently accessible to most and is a profound alteration to human conceptions of the self. I conjecture that the final element has something to do with the average person being a little awed, still in this day, that they have an image of themselves that can outlast them. Even now, there is an element, perhaps a kind of narcissism that can make photography precious, touching ever so lightly on immortality.

Sacred Geometry | Holga 135

Contemporary Augmented Reality

Sill photography and the augmentation of life

A great amount of speculation surrounds the maturing consumer technologies of Augmented and Virtual Reality.Specifically in the headset form factor for either entertainment or work. Oculus, Vive, Google Glass, and Hololens are on the lips of the tech press. While early out of the gate, the very public form of augmentation through Google Glass crossed a line many people are uncomfortable with. I always found the hostility to Google Glass curious. The only real difference that the device had from a smartphone was it’s form factor and heavy reliance on voice prompts.Many of the technologies in Google Glass migrated very quickly into other devices, like voice prompts for an always on assistant and deep life integration with google products and platforms. The functionality of this off putting headsitting device was transferred and diffused into the public life very quickly. The argument of how these head sitting technologies will change our lives seems moot.

Many in the west and elsewhere are carrying powerful reality augmenting technologies with them everyday, through our tragically misnomered smartphones. Augmented reality is very much a consistent and normal happening. Telephones and television, newspapers, books, and of course photography have already altered human senses and to a large degree our personal and collective realities. While the implementation isn’t exactly what we are sold when the terms Augmented and Virtual Reality are used in the modern consumer sense, observation would yield that we are experiencing more or less the same result. Current personal computing reality augmentation relies on the abstraction of graphics and written words laid out before us on a fixed screen. Nonetheless, our world is infinitely expanded on and modified through these devices using generations of data both recent and old to present endless possibilities. These results are currently more akin to the created environments of books and murals as opposed to motion pictures or theme park rides, more or less, a lot of it still relies on our imaginations and ability to read abstraction.

We are all together, even when we are apart.

For the sake of enclosing these thoughts around the concept of photography, for all the possibilities of the augmented reality through pocket computing, I would like to concentrate on Instagram as an App and a reality augmentation I use most often. I use Instagram for the as a virtual gallery of analogue photography. There are superior apps and sites for uploading photographs of this nature. Flickr and others allow for a robust desktop environment and high quality uploading options and with superior communities and niche audiences for traditional analogue photography. Routing your virtual world through a very linear timeline of single images (though recently, galleries and disappearing messages have been added) may seem downright quaint compared to the flexibility of services from parent owner Facebook, Flickr or Tumblr. Disappearing stories and simple nature of the App allows for a curious curation that often includes banal moments like getting ready in the morning or first person video of the author watching TV with a pithy caption overlaid. The ability to draw over or comment on videos or stills combines with the narcissism of the selfie allows for some fascinating intersections for life as performance. Commenting, liking, following, and other interactions create communities and the inevitable monetization that follows from instagram influencers using bots and auto commenting to gain followers and potential sponsors. All of these things are overlaid with the simple original functionality of the linear photo post.

We live in a community of images.

Instagram is a complicated mixture or public journaling, mirror, self promotion, gallery, and socialization. I personally keep up with people’s lives and appreciate them more through Instagram than through it’s parent Facebook, which has evolved over time into a glorified event calendar and soapbox. Facebook suffers from product bloat or to use a pentagon term “mission creep”. Instagram, being image and photography oriented has stayed overwhelmingly positive and thus far manageable in its experience and features. In it’s inception, Instagram harkens back to simple consumer photography. Poor image quality and small screens pushed filters and the drive to populate your stream. Keep shooting, they may not all look good, but some of them will eventually! Emphasis on the image makes the temptation to soapbox less appealing. There is a focus on the still image, or short video, the app still drives home the conception of augmented reality. You are given a window into other’s lives and Instagram singularly rewards the photograph as the gateway into that window. Intensely personal and raw is allowed to exist and thrives next to the meticulously planned and curated. It is the essential conception of a postmodern art world. Everything is permissible, all “texts” are interpretable. Truth and emotional punch will come to you in the image of an exhausted friend’s selfie at the end of the day as powerfully as any meticulously thought out, composed, lit, and modelled art portrait. They can both exist in the same platform and a feed based on your interests to be appreciated on their own merits. It connects you with people and movements and penetrates your emotions in ways that your basic human senses would rarely be able to access through life experience. It produces an augmented aesthetic and emotional reality.