Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Picture's Far Too Big To Look At Kid

From Instagram Portraits by Max Gerber

The picture is far too big to look at kid.
Your eyes won't open wide enough
and you're constantly surrounded
by that swirling stream of what is and what was.
-Conor Oberst, from The Big Picture

It really seems like things are hitting some photographic tipping point right now.

The summer of 2012 will be remembered as the time that this photography thing was suddenly being discussed as if it was a living breathing entity that either let us down, befriended us, or has been throwing away it's future hanging out with sketchy characters.
The dialogue, as best as I can nail it down, seems to focus on three hot topics:
  • Instagram/Hipstamatic
  • Joe Klamar's Olympic Portraits
  • An ongoing debate about something being or not being "Real Photography"
Jonathan Horton of the US Olympic Gymnastics team (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)
While pondering the significance of all of this I receive an assignment from a major magazine to shoot a week long story with nothing but my phone. The photo editor references camera phone images he's seen on my Facebook page as the reason for handing the job off to me. The week that follows is surreal: the mornings are spent working on a series of portraits for a science magazine created with intentional lighting and craft. The afternoons are spent running around with my phone, making simple photographs with this phone that seem to have a flow I wished my creative process had every day. The image making isn't totally satisfying, but the novelty and enthusiasm carries the process. Later that week I realize that powerHouse book founder Daniel Power announced an exhibition at the powerHouse Arena of Klamar's Olympic Portrait series. All of these things colliding at once. It has to mean something?

While I'm writing this essay and digesting all of this dialogue, I discover Max Gerber's newest blog entry, on his birthday for some reason, is a straight-up manifesto defending his love for his Instagram camera and the newest creative door it has unlocked for him. Titled 1,073 Words About Iphone Photography, and 54 Instagram Portraits, they essay has a defensive tone that is really un-necessary when one views the images. The portraits are great and the photographer's sense of discovery is apparent in every image. Read the manifesto HERE.

Well, let's do our homework first.

Jorge Colberg:
David Campbell:
Kate Bevan:

Then, we have Joe Klamar's portrait series on the 2012 Olympic Athletes. Never before have I seen the public to come out as a group and essentially declare a series of images "bad". Blogs and sites and all over the internet people angrily took a stand against these photographs. Quickly, Daniel Power of Powerhouse Books chose to exhibit the work and throw his support behind it and the dialogue surrounding it. This series is something to reckon with: the more time I spend with the work, the more my viewpoint changes. I feel that sometimes there are photographs that speak to you strongly, and you don't know where to put don't know how to classify them, but here they are, in your brain, and they aren't going away. Klamar's images are that. They aren't great. They aren't terrible. They are something else, and that something else certainly carries power.

Like with alot of things in this era, the power of the piece is in the public's response. So do read the responses at the following links.

How does this all wind together?

Just wondering if Instagram/Hipstamatic has made the ability for everyone to take a beautiful retouched photograph so easy that now we are hungering for something else? These shots by Klamar, do they contain this thing we are hungering for? And could it be that they are so full of this thing we are hungering for, and so devoid of the thing we used to think we wanted, that we are simply confused by it? I shared his work with a friend who immediately loved the photographs, assuming that the photographs were trying to capture the playful goofyness of the DIY photobooth, that every office party sets up these days with a backdrop and props. She felt the people's charm came through, the silliness of the Olympic athlete putting a birdie on his head...that was all there, but the packaging, the technical stuff, wasn't important in this case at all. Looking at the shots with this sentence in mind, it was hard to disagree.

Olympic Portraits by Joe Klamar at PowerHouse Arena, Brooklyn N.Y.

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