Experiments in Editing / Sequencing

(Disclaimer: this post has no street photography content. It also has a self-link or two. That is all.)

A few weeks ago, a friend got me thinking about how websites, particularly photoblogs, fail to use their inherent “webbyness” to their advantage. Meaning, the presentation of images in photoblogs is typically date-based. You drill down and down into the past. It’s a one-way, time-based tunnel. 98% of photoblogs follow this model.

In the mid-nineties, art sites like Superbad sprang-up as a reaction to web consumers (and the businesses that created them) who’d grown used to navigating sites by clicking tabs, browsing for their products via the ubiquitous lefthand nav bar. By contrast, the art sites were immersive, anti-commercial and disassociating. You could get lost. There were no comments or permalinks, and there was often no way of finding where you were or how you got there.

In the last few years, tags have sprung-up as a solution for helping users find exactly what they’re looking for. Tags do a great job of categorizing. They create a nice horizontal path to vertical, date-based browsing, which results in very pretty grid.

But what happens if you want more from your images? What happens when you start to look for linkages in your photographs that aren’t related to time or subject matter? It seems that in the rush to organize everything, we may be missing out on evocative threads that exist just below the obvious.

This weekend I was talking with a photographer who has a new book out that is “about the edit”. In looking at how his book flows, it’s clear that he’s put a lot of thought into how one picture leads to the next. The photos leap back and forth across time, span all kinds of subject matter and formats, but there’s a strong, visible through line, page by page.

This month, I’ve been experimenting with “Overlap“, a different way of thinking about image sequencing. The included photos aren’t the kind of thing I can go out and pursue. The pictures arrive or they don’t. I can’t step outside and say, “I need a new picture that follows that last one.” Perhaps something from my archive jumps out and bridges the gap. Or not.

I haven’t seen many examples of photoblogs or sets organized along these lines. Why is editing like this relegated to art books? My feeling is that photoblogs (including my own), are more boring than they might be, because of their “bloggyness”. As in, “this follows that because it’s new and I just did it.”

With “Overlap” I’m hoping to articulate what may (or may not) be passed between two particular photos. If two photographs were to shake hands, what might they be palming?

7 thoughts on “Experiments in Editing / Sequencing”

  1. I had noticed what you were doing a couple of weeks ago and agree that since it works in books, it should also work on a computer screen…

  2. Michael:

    I like this editing style – but more for print. I think on the web, I would love to have t least some kind of navigation back to another photo set or archive without having to mouse around.

    Looking at the shots, I clicked back so much, I ran through the set again. I love that shot of th ring girl’s feet, btw. Shots like that are inspiring, and I wanted to see more and investigate.

    I like the fact that, say, on blogger.com blogs- you can navigate from the right or left to another day or set easily in one click.

    ps – Waiting for my Nikon coolpix L3 to arrive from NY, NY. I’ll be shooting again soon! Learned on a Nikon F SLR and a Leica M rangefinder.

  3. I agree, I really would love to see or make a picture pools where I throw my images in somewhere, but then I or the computer could decide when to bring them to the surface. Instead of sets or tags, the photo could lead backward or forward through a random or preset path, there could be many paths or destinies the photos would move depending on the “surface” photograph. There could be newborn pictures or well established series and would allow for playfulness relying on how you feel like ordering photographs or just let the computer play linear games with pictures. editing accidents can be fun.

  4. Ah, you’ve hit upon one of my favorite techniques!

    This is actually a long-lived concept in print design… sequencing photography by common visual elements, ideas or themes over many pages. It’s something that I like to play with in my own site’s photo sequences per set (sometimes more successfully than most other times), and it’s one of the elements that I’ve commented about here: Multiple or Single Photo Entry“…the context of how you view each image is influenced by its relationship to the previous (or following) images. Sometimes one photo included within different combinations of imagery can completely alter the impression of that one photo. Editing, rhythm, order, visual and content juxtaposition is the key there…”

    I have a few favorite examples of the art at its best:

    — A lot of Paul Rand’s old design books do this well, but one in particular (I *think* it’s Design, Form & Chaos) is a good example. it helps that much of Paul’s aesthetic ran along the same visual lines, but he really thought about those visual relationships.

    — A more recent book is a Phaidon publication called Minimum. The entire book has photography that is visually placed to connect with its previous and following page neighbors. Nicely done stuff. (To really see the visual themes, the big book is better than the miniature version.)

    — In storytelling and sequencing, be sure to get Larry Clark’s Tulsa, and then flip through it slowly. It’s a well-choreographed journey.

    — My favorite example is an out-of-print book (or was in 1996 when I bought it second-hand): Observations, a 1959 book of portraits by Richard Avedon that was designed by Alexey Brodovitch. Alexey was a brilliant visual sequencer. He was the Art Editor for Harper’s Bazaar from 1934-1958, and used to lay out all of his photos on the floor — adding, subtracting, and moving them around to make strong visual and thematic associations. Observations was designed that way and is a stunning example, page by page, creating a rhythm and flow that doesn’t happen as often in current publications. I wish more of today’s designers and photographers studied Brodovitch’s work.

    It’s definitely a quieter and more introspective way to present — sequencing images with more in mind — and understanding the before and after within the presentation can impart so much more meaning to each photo. But the Web changes things. While sequencing is not a difficult practice to pursue (tho perhaps difficult to do well), the nature of the Web is to be checked often, so people expect to see new content immediately. In publishing more of a curated set, it can be hard for readers to tell what is new, unless it is published very clearly. Photographers’ portfolios will sequence shots, but they are often not updated regularly like photoblogs are.

    Perhaps it is a general lack of patience in Web audiences, or a lack of strength in our presentations as publishers. Perhaps the click and the scroll have changed our relationships to content. Maybe the date-based bloggy style is just far too pervasive for anyone to have questioned it much.

    But I’m glad to see the conversation here. There is a definite need to bring a stronger awareness and practice of editing onto the Web.

  5. A public thanks for the thoughts and the links on that, Rion. Your second-to-last para boils it down. Publishing is so easy on the web, and editing is hard work, so there’s a big gap between the two that few try bridge.

    I like thinking about the difference between editing out the bad (to publish the good) versus editing with an arc or theme in mind. The latter’s an extension of the former. But yes, at the moment, the “date-based bloggy style” rules.

    We’ll see… I think this kind of editing can only be done in hindsight, after you’ve sat with the material for awhile and thought about how it might connect-up in new ways with older work. Part of me remembers that Erwitt’s “Snapshots” book succeeds at this; in there (if I recall correctly) he thematically links images that were taken more than 20 years apart. He must’ve played “concentration” a lot, as a kid.

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