Seeing Everything, Michael Wolfe, Robotic Cameras as a Kind of Surveillance, Trawling for Gold, Gigapan as the New Digital Back (and only 1 self-link)

A long time ago, in a post far away, I pitted a few pictures against Google’s Street View as a lark, to see which had more aesthetic muscle, a chosen picture or a robot’s picture. A faulty Word Press upgrade later, the pictures were wiped out, but a question remained. “Are robots good photographers?” (A shoutout if you can find an image of a humanoid-shaped robot from a Sci-Fi movie, walking around with a camera around its neck.)

The hullabaloo over David Bergan’s inauguration photo, taken with the help of a robotic tracking device, is instructive for a few reasons, not the least of which is the picture has brought the server to its knees. The picture is a step toward trying to solve how lame it is to look at detailed photographs online (while introducing a whole host of other problems) which is something I’ve been trying to address in my own work (no links, yet).

Michael Wolf has taken a crack at the more-is-more pixels-are-good style in Transparent City“, where the detail he’s unearthed is only limited by the resolution of his scanner and the size of his film.

What gigapan instructs, is that you can achieve more resolution with an inexpensive (and multi-purpose!) $400 Canon G10. Now that gigapan’s robot is available for sale, every techgeek and equipmentnut is going to be taking timed exposures and printing them huge and mining the 100% view for gold (like Clarence Thomas nodding-off in the middle of Barack Obama’s inaugural address.)

from David Bergan

It’s easy to fold-in a discussion about Antonioni’s “Blow-up” here, in that the ability to see so deeply, so easily will lead to privacy concerns, whether or not you know you’ve witnessed a murder in the park. What interests me is when photography becomes a kind of driftnet, in which you don’t know what you’ve got (really), until the robot’s done and you’ve gone home and another robot (in effect) stiches the whole scene together for you.

Rosie the Robot Maid. She stiches?

As with Google Street View, or this incredible curation of satellite photos of sculpture and architecture, someone will be mining the digital clarity for nuggets of gold.

What amazed me in looking at the 100% views of a photograph by Joshua Schapiro of the view from Hotel 71 in Chicago, was that you didn’t have to look far to find areas of aesthetic interest.

Untitled 6
from Joshua Schapiro

Kinda looks like “The Architecture of Density“, doesn’t it? To be fair, I’m not trying to compare them as objects (I’ve seen Wolf’s prints from this exhibition, and enjoyed them very much) but I’m interested in how the aggressive resolution and detailing that’s only been available to photographers with large format cameras and sheets of expensive film/processing/scanning has now trickled-down, and the explosion of global detail is about to literally, blow-up.

On the pure surveillance level, and on the issue of street photography, there’s the inherent weirdness of being photographed everywhere, all-the-time. Londoners don’t seem to care, but Americans are a touchy lot when it comes to privacy. Look at them Chicagoans, wandering around as if no one were watching.


Untitled 5

Untitled 7

All from a photograph by Joshua Schapiro

Here are more Gigapan images from Chicago. I’d be interested in seeing what the (ahem) blogosphere comes up with as a kind of filter for these photographs, even if the gigapan site allows notating small details.

I don’t know where any of this is going, and don’t try to know. But I think that the inauguration photo is interesting if only because of what it’s sparked. It’s the beginning of something — a new trend for sure, where eager, able amateurs will begin to quickly adopt digital techniques that until now have been the limited-edition, analog signature of fine artists.

© Olivo Barbieri, “Site Specific_Las Vegas”

Black and White; So Wrong It’s Right

I don’t know if it’s the font or straight-up info fatigue, but I couldn’t make it through Charlotte Cotton’s “New Color” piece, though parts of it piqued me and I was glad to see Tacita Dean getting props. (Best Show Ever: Tate Britain, 2001. Who stole my copy of FLOH, anyhow?)

Because “blogger” rhymes with “irresponsible”, I have an opinion formed from little experience and zero authority but I can at least try and make it web-readable.

Color Black and White
Did Ziggy Really Play Guitar? vs. Iggy

Most tussles over the merits of color vs. black and white photography end-up in a thrash about business, the market, & the hole-y history of photography, but it’s all a knife-flashing grudge match from which neither colorspace can emerge unbloodied.

Worse, it’s all too similar to the great ‘free verse’ vs. ‘formal’ dustup of 1915-200x in poetry rodeos.

What interests me are the decisions photographers make, and frankly, I don’t think most make a decision about color vs. black and white. The decision’s been made for them by the market. If you want to be successful (in journalism, documentary, or art photography) you really should shoot color. Really!

A few years ago, Lauren Greenfield asked me why a particular photo of mine was black and white, and I was too flummoxed to admit that shooting color film seemed expensive. I was beginning to make the switch from digital-to-film, and didn’t know any better. In a pinch, I’d used my faulty excuse for not photographing from 1987 to ’99: “photography’s too expensive”. It still is, but enough about that. (For now.)

Cat Show (2)

Black and white may be increasingly culturally irrelevant, and if I were more saavy, I’d give a cr*p. Color may be the modern world’s wavelength, but sometimes the modern world is hell-on-the-eyes, and it helps to switch things up, if only to see what happens. Just this morning, I read another example of a photographer who started shooting color after meeting Martin Parr. Does Parr work for Fuji, AGFA, or Herbalife? (Heck, I guess the reverse happened with everyone who met Robert Frank in the late 50s.)

I occasionally shoot black and white because:

  • I have a kitchen sink and know how to use it
  • I spend more time looking at the fine-grained black and white prints I’ve made in a darkroom than I spend looking at my color lightjets
  • I can shoot, develop and scan in one pretty leisurely day, so long as I’m wearing a cape
  • I’d rather practice photographic craft away from the computer
  • For the laffs when yet another film-mimicking pshop plug-in is released
  • Learning new workflow tricks in Adobe Camera Raw cannot compete with unspooling a reel from the Photoflo and getting a glimpse of what’s there, transparent in the kitchen light

And sometimes what’s new looks too new.

Most of all, I shoot black-and-white for not-so-sexy reasons like increasing subject isolation, reflectivity, flexibility, dynamic range, just because, and because developing my own film reminds me of sparging sweet wort from the mash tun. And its fun. Honestly, every now and then, $s play a part.

But really, if the chips were down, wouldn’t you want Iggy to have your back?

An Aside on Art from Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse, via Michael Kimmelman’s “the Accidental Masterpiece“:

“Learn to say ‘Fuck You’ to the world once in a while,” LeWitt told Hesse. “You have every right to just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose-sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evel-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding grinding away at yourself and just DO.”

“Don’t worry about cool. Make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world.”