A LITTLE, NOT TOO LATE
The highly acclaimed institution that is the British Journal of Photography decided to opt for a ‘Women Only’ issue this April. Photography is a boy’s club and this seemed like a logical step towards addressing that problem. BJP have decided to tackle their own gender imbalance with an issue dedicated solely to the minority. 
The book is filled with liberating projects detailing what it’s like to be a women in today’s world. I won’t pretend that I can relate to even half of these. It’s filled with inspirational stories of courageous females who are undeterred by the probability that they will never be seen as important as their male counterparts. This is capital-A Artworld after all and BJP is a part of it. 
And I’m flicking, and scanning, and reading, and just generally trying to absorb what they’re trying to achieve. I stumble across a great line in it by Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London. "There is a tendency for women to belittle their achievements, but as an institution, it’s our job to seek them out". 
This is an important moment in my reading. The magazine doesn’t dwell on Rogers long, in fact he’s only a small part of one article, but this moment carries a lot more weight than some of the more predictable elements that follow. 
Perhaps BJP are hamstrung by their sponsors or afraid to alienate the male side of their audience but I’m left underwhelmed. This could have busted an important issue wide open and knocked us all on our backs gasping for air. But it doesn’t. It’s idle threats. The opening address by Deputy Editor Diane Smyth is aspirational and ambitious but then it all goes a bit limp. 
There is a lengthy feature on Cass Bird and Susan Meiselas gets an in-depth profile and nothing strikes me as all that groundbreaking. I can’t help but dwell on that Rogers quote. What needs to be spoken after it is on the tip of our collective tongue. "It’s our job to seek them out … but we don’t". 
I’ll never claim to know even half enough about feminism but surely, there could have been smarter ways to tackle gender imbalance without having to be so on-the-nose about it. If the problem is integration then open-label segregation isn’t the way forward. I would have liked to have seen this magazine publish this without the ‘Women Only’ title and see how it was received. Tip the scale the other way until someone notices and adopt a practice that better reflects the ideals set out by Smyth in the opening. Now that’s change. This is just reparations. 
This magazine doesn’t work as a solution in the same way a once-off women-only meeting in parliament isn’t the cure to a lack of women in high ranking government positions. This magazine is treating the symptom not the disease. But it’s a start.

A LITTLE, NOT TOO LATE

The highly acclaimed institution that is the British Journal of Photography decided to opt for a ‘Women Only’ issue this April. Photography is a boy’s club and this seemed like a logical step towards addressing that problem. BJP have decided to tackle their own gender imbalance with an issue dedicated solely to the minority. 

The book is filled with liberating projects detailing what it’s like to be a women in today’s world. I won’t pretend that I can relate to even half of these. It’s filled with inspirational stories of courageous females who are undeterred by the probability that they will never be seen as important as their male counterparts. This is capital-A Artworld after all and BJP is a part of it. 

And I’m flicking, and scanning, and reading, and just generally trying to absorb what they’re trying to achieve. I stumble across a great line in it by Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London. "There is a tendency for women to belittle their achievements, but as an institution, it’s our job to seek them out".

This is an important moment in my reading. The magazine doesn’t dwell on Rogers long, in fact he’s only a small part of one article, but this moment carries a lot more weight than some of the more predictable elements that follow. 

Perhaps BJP are hamstrung by their sponsors or afraid to alienate the male side of their audience but I’m left underwhelmed. This could have busted an important issue wide open and knocked us all on our backs gasping for air. But it doesn’t. It’s idle threats. The opening address by Deputy Editor Diane Smyth is aspirational and ambitious but then it all goes a bit limp. 

There is a lengthy feature on Cass Bird and Susan Meiselas gets an in-depth profile and nothing strikes me as all that groundbreaking. I can’t help but dwell on that Rogers quote. What needs to be spoken after it is on the tip of our collective tongue. "It’s our job to seek them out … but we don’t". 

I’ll never claim to know even half enough about feminism but surely, there could have been smarter ways to tackle gender imbalance without having to be so on-the-nose about it. If the problem is integration then open-label segregation isn’t the way forward. I would have liked to have seen this magazine publish this without the ‘Women Only’ title and see how it was received. Tip the scale the other way until someone notices and adopt a practice that better reflects the ideals set out by Smyth in the opening. Now that’s change. This is just reparations. 

This magazine doesn’t work as a solution in the same way a once-off women-only meeting in parliament isn’t the cure to a lack of women in high ranking government positions. This magazine is treating the symptom not the disease. But it’s a start.

FOUR ESSENTIAL THEORY BOOKS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

There is a mass of literature out there just ready for photographers to consume but the problem is finding an opening. Starting points are perhaps the hardest thing to nail down when analysing a topic so I’ve outlined four books that have helped me in countless ways over the years. I’ve returned to these texts for nearly every project I’ve had to tackle. These are not going to be sources you use as primary texts and it might not be wise to write a dissertation on them but as a tool for getting an initial critical insight into the nuances of photography, these are the books for you. 

1. The Photography Reader
Edited by Liz Wells - 496 pages - Routledge

This is a compendium of essays from other authors edited by Wells. It’s a weighty book but the segregation into topics allows the reader to jump right in wherever needed. The index at the back is quite extensive and should be utilised when possible. Some extracts dealing with the relationship between photography and technology haven’t aged well but the points they raise remain relatable today. 

2. On Photography
By Susan Sontag - 224 Pages - Penguin Books

Approaching this text, it appears almost like a novel. While the book was released in 1977, it still remains as relevant today as at the time of writing. Ruminations on the balance of power between photographer and subject are explored in depth and on a more personal level than one might expect from academic writing.
"To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed."

3. Camera Lucida
By Roland Barthes - 144 pages - Various Publishers

People in college hated this book by the time graduation came around. There were a lot of jokes about him being obsessed with his mother but among the so called “weird bits”, there is a story of a man coming to understand the limitations of photography. Much like Sontag’s ‘On Photography’, this has a very personal tone and is very accessible for new readers.

4. Photography: The Key Concepts
By David Bate - 224 pages - Berg

This is by far the book I recommend to the most people. I talked about it so much in college that other students suggested I had a man-crush on Mr. Bate. Joking aside, this book is an indispensable tool. It operates like a dictionary of concepts. Core principles are defined with brevity. Numerous times I used this book as a starting point for an essay, both for college and for here. If you can only afford one of these four books, get this one.

I SAW RICHARD TURLEY GIVE A TALK

He said that the world is ruined by men. Anything with more than four men involved is probably terrible. Richard Turley, Bloomberg Businessweek's creative director spoke with no doubts or misconceptions about his job on Sunday. He was invited to speak at OFFSET, an annual arts conference in Dublin and he arrived on the little island by himself. He said that sometimes he would just Google an idea and copy whatever comes up in an image search. He looks younger than what you expect of someone with that title. Turley says he gets paid a lot of money to do what he does. He’s definitely young though. He doesn’t appear small on the stage by any means. There is no hiding behind the podium and he uses his clicker with confidence. It’s clear he knows this presentation well, yet, like his Businessweek covers, nothing ever appears too polished. Conversational would be the right word. He said that sometimes with design it’s difficult to tell what’s good and what’s bad. There are flecks of grey in his hair that don’t suggest aging as much as they suggest wisdom. He said that women’s bodies are boring and complicated. A man’s body is funny. After his talk, he had his portrait taken upstairs where he sat with his knees together and toes turned in. He looks young in those photos. He told us, an audience at a conference highly geared around design, not to take offence but he doesn’t like being around designers. After the photos, he sat by himself downstairs in the lobby, narrowly missing a group of people discuss how his lack of polish is all an act. He looked up from an iPhone that sports a red-and-yellow plastic cover resembling a portion of McDonalds' fries. I agreed with him when, towards the end, he mentions briefly that content is more interesting than systems.

THE MODEL CURATORS OF MOSSLESS MAGAZINE
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I’m always going to be pretty outspoken against the idea of using loose concepts to bind huge volumes of art together. If you travel into any city centre right now, it wouldn’t be hard to stumble into a poorly curated group exhibition. These artists, in an effort to band together, force their square images into round holes, ruining them in the process.
Curation is an under-regarded aspect of contemporary work. Many artists consider the role something they should be adept at in order to streamline the entire process. It’s often considered a rejection of a DIY ethic to consult a third party for such services. The DIY movement is often the victim of its practitioners adopting its views as literal rather than conceptual. Shortcuts for art don’t work.
And yet, the curator role gets self-assigned quite often in the digital world. Outside of the big-name-blogs, we see few working artists observe the need for good curation. So-called important sites have begun to act as battlegrounds in which to carve some sort of reputation. “Internet-famous by association” is the new best thing to have on your résumé.
The role of the modern curator is still adjusting to its new found independence. Unlike artists, the new curators have to make a name for themselves outside of an established system. As often as artists like to complain about the burdens of networking and ass-kissing, they have it easy. New curators have to build their own platform. They have to build the grid in which they want to display themselves within.
And so it’s understandable why so many people who wish to follow the path of curatorship end up starting out as websites and blogs. Unfortunately, most of these lack the discipline to become anything other than aspirational tastemakers. So often the message becomes muddled. Sometimes it gets lost in poor vision. Sometimes it’s a shortage of content. There is a common misunderstanding that curation is about publishing personality rather than work. Like all good art, show don’t tell.
A great example of the right way to approach this is Mossless, a small photography magazine from New York. Romke Hoogwaerts and Grace Leigh are the face of the publication. Over time, they transformed a strong web-based presence into the real world through earnest work and discipline. In doing so, they are now set to radically change the game. Their Kickstarter aims to fund issue three of the magazine and has far surpassed its goal of $25,000 and now has less than 48 hours left. This latest foray into publishing is not really a magazine at all. Instead, it has evolved into a broad-scoped anthology spanning a decade of the North American aesthetic. I backed the project based on my trust in the previous work that has come out under the Mossless title. Though, I must admit in the early days of funding, the numbers didn’t look too optimistic. I got a bit nervous that perhaps the couple had bitten off more than they could publish. My quiet faith was rewarded and now come summer, I’m set to take delivery of this mammoth publication.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of Mossless has been differentiating itself from the concussive noise. It would have been easy for Mossless to have remained online. They could have kept their a solitary voice interviewing artists in a formulaic manner. However, the internal pressure to evolve is showing dividends now. We’ve all ended up here, with possibly the largest independently-funded photobook in history.

THE MODEL CURATORS OF MOSSLESS MAGAZINE

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m always going to be pretty outspoken against the idea of using loose concepts to bind huge volumes of art together. If you travel into any city centre right now, it wouldn’t be hard to stumble into a poorly curated group exhibition. These artists, in an effort to band together, force their square images into round holes, ruining them in the process.

Curation is an under-regarded aspect of contemporary work. Many artists consider the role something they should be adept at in order to streamline the entire process. It’s often considered a rejection of a DIY ethic to consult a third party for such services. The DIY movement is often the victim of its practitioners adopting its views as literal rather than conceptual. Shortcuts for art don’t work.

And yet, the curator role gets self-assigned quite often in the digital world. Outside of the big-name-blogs, we see few working artists observe the need for good curation. So-called important sites have begun to act as battlegrounds in which to carve some sort of reputation. “Internet-famous by association” is the new best thing to have on your résumé.

The role of the modern curator is still adjusting to its new found independence. Unlike artists, the new curators have to make a name for themselves outside of an established system. As often as artists like to complain about the burdens of networking and ass-kissing, they have it easy. New curators have to build their own platform. They have to build the grid in which they want to display themselves within.

And so it’s understandable why so many people who wish to follow the path of curatorship end up starting out as websites and blogs. Unfortunately, most of these lack the discipline to become anything other than aspirational tastemakers. So often the message becomes muddled. Sometimes it gets lost in poor vision. Sometimes it’s a shortage of content. There is a common misunderstanding that curation is about publishing personality rather than work. Like all good art, show don’t tell.

A great example of the right way to approach this is Mossless, a small photography magazine from New York. Romke Hoogwaerts and Grace Leigh are the face of the publication. Over time, they transformed a strong web-based presence into the real world through earnest work and discipline. In doing so, they are now set to radically change the game. Their Kickstarter aims to fund issue three of the magazine and has far surpassed its goal of $25,000 and now has less than 48 hours left. This latest foray into publishing is not really a magazine at all. Instead, it has evolved into a broad-scoped anthology spanning a decade of the North American aesthetic. I backed the project based on my trust in the previous work that has come out under the Mossless title. Though, I must admit in the early days of funding, the numbers didn’t look too optimistic. I got a bit nervous that perhaps the couple had bitten off more than they could publish. My quiet faith was rewarded and now come summer, I’m set to take delivery of this mammoth publication.

Perhaps the biggest achievement of Mossless has been differentiating itself from the concussive noise. It would have been easy for Mossless to have remained online. They could have kept their a solitary voice interviewing artists in a formulaic manner. However, the internal pressure to evolve is showing dividends now. We’ve all ended up here, with possibly the largest independently-funded photobook in history.

Printing The Internet: How My Dad Accidentally Caused a Pokemon Micro-Economy

I’ve always liked pictures in some way or another. I scribbled when I was really young. Eventually, those scribbles started looking like things. Then I intentionally drew things. Pencil always. Pen was difficult and I made lots of mistakes, or things I would consider mistakes. I went through junior school drawing anything and everything that interested me. One day at my Aunt’s house, I managed to work in some red pencil while colouring in a field and felt the need to point it out to everyone. “See, I even threw a little red in there”, I’d say, holding up my drawing of a local mountain for inspection, “You have to look closely though. It’s very subtle.” I was a weird kid. Weird, but I knew what I loved.

One Friday morning in Summer1, my brother and I caught a new cartoon on TV. It was intense, bright and instantly fascinating. It was Pokemon, which at the time was just a little known Japanese show about minitature creatures with crazy powers and whose owners made them fight each other.2 Regardless of the moral implications of glorifying animal violence, the vibrant characters and crazy battle sequences gave me an instant motivational boost for my daily drawings. Like a lot of kids that eventually discovered Pokemon too, I was obsessed. I began trying to draw characters as much as I possibly could from memory, but that approach lacked a lot of the nuanced detail work that I loved to put into my drawings, the red in the grass for example.

I tried taping an episode and drawing from what I saw on screen but that too yielded minimal success. There was a lot of poor off-brand looking Pokemon drawn that summer. Several Pikachus without red cheeks.3 Some misproportioned Charmanders. A Squirtle without a tail. It was difficult but man, I had so much fun. It reminds me of this thing comedian Demetri Martin said on ‘You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes’, a podcast I recently started listening to. He said something along the lines of “Over time, you can get better at something but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ever going to get good”. I think that’s how I’d sum up my early Pokemon drawings. Their progress developed from ‘Poor’ to ‘Not Horrible’.

My Dad, unaware of what the hell his 10 year old son kept making pictures of, decided to look online for any helpful information. He printed off a simple webpage that contained a brief description of Pokemon and a thumbnail image of Pikachu. At dinner that night, my Dad showed the piece of paper to my Mom to explain that he had looked up what it was his children seemed so suddenly fixated with.
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
“Get what?”
“That.” I answered, grabbing the piece of paper to study further, “Jody, that’s a picture of Pikachu. Dad has a picture of Pikachu. Dad, why do you have a picture of Pikachu?”
My brother seemed non-plussed, but I was rapt. This was an actual paper image of that thing I had yearned so much for just hours earlier when I was frustratedly erasing yet another warped Cubone head.

I spent that night tracing the lines of the Pikachu thumbnail onto thin sheets of A4 paper along with several sketch attempts that, despite a lack of perfection, were at least a little more comparable to the actual image than those previously drawn from memory. Working from another image, my drawings were suddenly upgraded to “Unremarkable”. I was proud.

I brought the paper into school the next day and unsurprisingly, the other kids who shared my common interest in Pokemon were also fascinated by the printed image. You have to consider that this was a couple of months before the trend really hit Ireland, so this was kind of a cool under-the-radar thing to like at the time. Kids didn’t really understand the broad scope of the internet the way we can assume most kids now do. The availability of images online for this niche interest was something that totally baffled me as a 10 year old and I think that this is a signature experience that was only available to a very specific generation. Growing up in a world based around online culture is the standard right now, irregardless of if you consider social media or not, and that experience is simply a lot different to growing up in a culture just discovering there’s an online world at all. I fully maintain that what was about to unfold was something that couldn’t have happened at any era other than Web 1.0 and is unlikely to happen again now that the democracy of visual language is so readily available to all those who can afford it.

Myself and the other kids all drew Pikachu that day and sat around for a while during lunch break comparing whose iteration was best. It was like a life drawing class for kids who just discovered they could draw from something other than memory or imagination.4 It was a crazy unexplainable experience. Naturally, we were all hooked.

In the days that followed, I bothered my Dad asking could he get me more “internet sheets”, the term we adopted for paper with webpages printed on it. The other kids caught on soon too and within no time, there was a big market for a product5 that most people had never considered and may not ever consider again. The abstraction of the internet was materialised into this tangible object that kids could bring into school and show off. It became important for kids to get good folders, the kinds with the plastic pockets, and keeping sheets creaseless with tidy corners becme top priority. My folder was bright blue and had permanent marker drawings of that weird S shape drawn from six lines that people did in the 90’s while my brother’s was black and lacked drawings but held plenty of decoration in the form of free stickers he had gotten from a band that played on the seafront that summer.

Much like the Bible, you could derive different versions of a similar story depending on whose internet sheet collection you were looking at. Due to the canonical nature of the original sheet printed by my Dad, I’d like to think my blue folder was the ‘Gospel According to Mark’ of St. Cronan’s Boys National School.6

Every night I’d wait for my Dad to come home from work and annoy him until he told me he’d get me some more internet sheets tomorrow. Even after one time when my Aunt Lisa was visiting from America7 and brought over a haul of Pokemon merchandise for my brother and I as gifts. There was a talking Pikachu and bouncy balls with little plastic figures embedded in them but, and I felt bad about it even then, but I was more excited about the 5 pieces of paper my Dad brought home because one of them contained a tiny picture of every single Pokemon. That sheet gave me a reference point for all possible character drawings. I was totally engulfed with this quest to obtain images of Pokemon, which, turns out, is not unlike the show’s catchphrase, “Gotta catch ‘em all”.

My friend Joseph had a dream set up for his collection. He had a dial-up connection that he was allowed to use after 6pm, which was unheard of really for kids my age but he came from a family that didn’t drink tap-water and always had Sunny Delight in their fridge. The connotations of stating that make my childhood sound a little poorer in comparison but it wasn’t really. He was just a lavish bottled water drinker.

He and I were good friends, around this period especially, and some days when I was at his house (which seemed so distant at the time but is definitely closer than the train station I now regularly walk to) we would be able to use his computer to surf the internet for what all preteen boys biologically crave, that’s right, Pokemon.

I don’t remember if it was Joseph’s doing or not but the Holy Grail of internet sheets ended up being a full page colour print of a character rumoured to be called PikaBlu8 and that sometimes kids would swap sheets just to be able to have a loan of the PikaBlu image. My brother got it to bring to our house one Friday. That was a wild weekend.

Other boys in my school adopted a cheekier approach. One kid, Niall, had most of the underpinnings of what could have made him a legend in certain circles. He had full, unrestricted access to a family computer and inkjet colour printer. Unfortunately for Niall though, this did not include an internet connection. Nothing even close to Joseph’s post-6pm information superhighway. Undeterred and eager to make a name for himself, Niall arrived in school with folders full of printed material. He would approach kids and offer ten of his internet sheets for one of theirs and upon opening his ring binder, the kid would find dozens of pages of misspelled WordArt Pokemon names. What Niall had done, in the absense of an internet connection, was open up a word processor, spell out names of the most popular characters, and apply a colourful layout to the document. The word “Charissard” written in fire. “Cleferry” in kind of a metal looking font. “Side Duck” cascading across the page in rainbow colours. His early work was flawed but as it went along it got better. ‘Poor’ to ‘Not horrible’. In the later stages of the craze, he had sheets typed up with fake web-addresses and ‘Page 1 of 1’ in an attempt to seem more legitimate. Like all good counterfeit artists, he evolved his craft through study. I think after college Niall got a job as a journalist somewhere. I know for certain he used to write for the local paper.

When we all grew up and grew out of Pokemon, which admittedly probably took a little longer than it should have, we were in a world where the internet wasn’t as mysterious. Most of us, by our mid-teens, had significant experience with the web. That isn’t to say I wasn’t still completely obsessed by the quest for images, it was merely that the interests in question evolved.9 The post-millenial me once spent 45 minutes downloading a single high-resolution (for the time) front-on image of a 2001 Subaru Impreza WRC10 because, yep, I wanted to draw it and needed a front-on image to draw from as wheels are still something I’d find impossible to sketch today so for about three years my parents found hundreds of drawings of front-on Subaru Imprezas scattered around the house. I was still weird kid. I still I knew what I loved.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***


Endnotes:

1.
[I remember it being summer because I would have had school on Friday otherwise]

2.
[The morality of this, now as a vegetarian a decade and a half later, I can assure you is not lost on me but to which my younger self was most certainly oblivious.]

3.
[I always forgot the cheeks for some reason, sometimes I accidentally added whiskers too but mostly just forgot the red cheeks]

4.
[While these are two traits that are absolutely crucial in the understanding of what makes a kid’s drawing great, the ability for a kid to feel freed from those elements and somewhat more professional and accurate in his creative works is something that any working artist today can relate to.]

5.
[in this case the product was the internet sheets, not Pokemon itself]

6.
[A large, for Ireland, all-boys Catholic school that required uniforms. In addition, no students were allowed wear shoes indoors on account of the management didn’t want the new floors getting wrecked so kids either had to learn about long division wearing socks, or wear these weird almost-ballet shoe type things called plimsoles that were predominantly soft fabric and rubber and were the only shoe permitted inside the building.]

7.
[She and her husband have three kids and live in New Orleans. Altogether, that family are my clear cut favourite relatives, which is really saying something as my Mom had 15 brothers and sisters, most of which had/have families and kids.]

8.
[The name was derived from its colouring and resemblence to Pikachu, and was thought to be somehow related though it was later discovered to be a separate unconnected character named Marill. The revelation of this caused a dramatic reduction in the value of the PikaBlu sheet and became looked upon purely as an aspiration of form due to its colouring and full-page print]

9.
[I guess you could say somebody used a Moon stone on my brain, but you also wouldn’t/shouldn’t laugh at that because it’s a dumb joke and my girlfriend says not to encourage my dumb jokes. I guess that’s why it’s down here in the footnotes.]

10.
[World Rally Car]

A LOOK AHEAD TO THE BEST PHOTOBOOKS OF 2015
—
Life in Everwood - Ryan McGinley
This groundbreaking book contains the signature colourful portraits of pretty twenty-somethings with some forest animals thrown in for good measure. McGinley’s incessant romanticism of nudity and the empty landscape is yet again further expanded on to the point where we begin to wonder if this is a test of endurance. “How much of the same thing can we tolerate?” becomes a question that is suddenly retro-actively applied to previous projects as he unfolds this new interpretation of his career work. 144 pages, hardcover.€50.00
—
The Obelisk - Gregory Crewdson
This goliath of a book measures in a 32x45 inches and details Crewdson’s journey to photograph a series of self-constructed underwater cityscapes. By far his most ambitious project to date, the Amazon-funded work is as vast as it was expensive, though the structuring of the contract behind the series allowed Amazon to recoup most of its investment before the launch date thanks to the record-high sales (€750k per print) through their in-house art-auction department, DRUID. Notably, these ethereal images were rumoured to inspire Baz Luhrmann’s dramatic retelling of The Little Mermaid which is due out next summer. 196 pages, woven seaweed hardcover, comes packaged with fossilised seahorse suspended in rosewater. €250.00 (Amazon Only)
—
Retrospective - William Eggleston
Much was made of the court case regarding Apple’s right to do whatever they wanted with their recently purchased Eggleston Collection, however, this much sought-after limited edition app puts new life into the grumpy genius’ work and coming in at 10,997 images, you certainly get your money’s worth. €12.99 (Download from App Store only)
—
The Venus Diaries - James Franco
Franco’s decision to document his year living as woman was too much for VICE to pass up and the pairing of publisher and content seemed like a perfect match from the outset. While hit-and-miss in terms of reviews, this book has at least gotten everyone’s attention, which is exactly what you’d expect from a VICE book. 220 pages, softcover.€33.00
—
Misfigurement - Joan Fontcuberta
Fontcuberta’s falsified archive of wounded Vietnam veterans undergoing radical limb regeneration experiments maintains the visual acuity that previously earned him the Hasselblad Award. While this book initially requires the viewer to consent that this was a JFK-authorised experiment and that the subsequent assassination of the president came as a result of this, it’s hard to flaw the substantial amount of work that went into this book. 377 pages, hardcover with metal plating and dog tags. €79.00
—
Collected American Selfies 1999-2007 - Taschen (Edited by Martin Parr)
This glimpse into the early days of web-based self-portraiture provides a snapshot of the American zeitgeist in a predominantly post-9/11 and irony obsessed world. The massively mediated and manipulated task of the taking a self-portrait is highlighted through Martin Parr’s selection of appropriated portraits collected through the GoogleGrab program. The book’s main focus seems to be on the secondary representation of self through the barrier and distortion of mirrors. It’s a clever element to include and really ties the narcissism of the medium together in a way a lot of self-portrait projects fail to reference. 310 pages, hardcover.€20.00
—
Brandon Stanton vs. The World - Michael Pemulis
This book traces the journey of Brandon Stanton from his days working under the name ‘Humans of New York’ to an attempt at realising his impossible dream, beginning with the cataloging of the North American population. We see a sleepless Stanton hard at work preparing the prototype full-body photobooths that he had planned to install on street-corners across the US, Canada and Mexico before the much publicised budget blow-out the project suffered as a result of the photobooth recall just days before the project went live. Pemulis’ images grant the viewer unprecedented access to the man behind the lens and we’re treated to a depiction of the exhausted Stanton as an almost Howard Hughes-esque figure. 196 pages, hardcover. €55.00
—
Porn.0 - Noah Kalina
Blurring lines between hardcore pornography and high-art, Kalina delivers a book that is remarkably self-aware of its subject matter. Given that it’s one of the most grossly misrepresented areas of interest, even in the “documentary” genre, this refreshing take on the dirty secret of America is generated mostly due to the hiring of well-known adult industry film stars to perform for the camera. This is certainly a book that initial reviewers misunderstood as an excuse for male gaze but it’s hard to justify such narrow viewpoints with the understated yet rich narratives that are contained here. Kalina’s willingness to let the viewer observe the presence of the camera, whether it’s through reflections, flashes or equipment left in the shot, Porn.0 maintains a feeling that this book is neither documentary, nor fiction, but something else entirely. 175 pages, softcover. €69.00
—
Credit:Original image by Justin Sullivan was taken from here.

A LOOK AHEAD TO THE BEST PHOTOBOOKS OF 2015

Life in Everwood - Ryan McGinley

This groundbreaking book contains the signature colourful portraits of pretty twenty-somethings with some forest animals thrown in for good measure. McGinley’s incessant romanticism of nudity and the empty landscape is yet again further expanded on to the point where we begin to wonder if this is a test of endurance. “How much of the same thing can we tolerate?” becomes a question that is suddenly retro-actively applied to previous projects as he unfolds this new interpretation of his career work.
144 pages, hardcover.
€50.00

The Obelisk - Gregory Crewdson

This goliath of a book measures in a 32x45 inches and details Crewdson’s journey to photograph a series of self-constructed underwater cityscapes. By far his most ambitious project to date, the Amazon-funded work is as vast as it was expensive, though the structuring of the contract behind the series allowed Amazon to recoup most of its investment before the launch date thanks to the record-high sales (€750k per print) through their in-house art-auction department, DRUID.
Notably, these ethereal images were rumoured to inspire Baz Luhrmann’s dramatic retelling of The Little Mermaid which is due out next summer.
196 pages, woven seaweed hardcover, comes packaged with fossilised seahorse suspended in rosewater.
€250.00 (Amazon Only)

Retrospective - William Eggleston

Much was made of the court case regarding Apple’s right to do whatever they wanted with their recently purchased Eggleston Collection, however, this much sought-after limited edition app puts new life into the grumpy genius’ work and coming in at 10,997 images, you certainly get your money’s worth.
€12.99 (Download from App Store only)

The Venus Diaries - James Franco

Franco’s decision to document his year living as woman was too much for VICE to pass up and the pairing of publisher and content seemed like a perfect match from the outset. While hit-and-miss in terms of reviews, this book has at least gotten everyone’s attention, which is exactly what you’d expect from a VICE book.
220 pages, softcover.
€33.00

Misfigurement - Joan Fontcuberta

Fontcuberta’s falsified archive of wounded Vietnam veterans undergoing radical limb regeneration experiments maintains the visual acuity that previously earned him the Hasselblad Award. While this book initially requires the viewer to consent that this was a JFK-authorised experiment and that the subsequent assassination of the president came as a result of this, it’s hard to flaw the substantial amount of work that went into this book.
377 pages, hardcover with metal plating and dog tags.
€79.00

Collected American Selfies 1999-2007 - Taschen (Edited by Martin Parr)

This glimpse into the early days of web-based self-portraiture provides a snapshot of the American zeitgeist in a predominantly post-9/11 and irony obsessed world. The massively mediated and manipulated task of the taking a self-portrait is highlighted through Martin Parr’s selection of appropriated portraits collected through the GoogleGrab program. The book’s main focus seems to be on the secondary representation of self through the barrier and distortion of mirrors. It’s a clever element to include and really ties the narcissism of the medium together in a way a lot of self-portrait projects fail to reference.
310 pages, hardcover.
€20.00

Brandon Stanton vs. The World - Michael Pemulis

This book traces the journey of Brandon Stanton from his days working under the name ‘Humans of New York’ to an attempt at realising his impossible dream, beginning with the cataloging of the North American population. We see a sleepless Stanton hard at work preparing the prototype full-body photobooths that he had planned to install on street-corners across the US, Canada and Mexico before the much publicised budget blow-out the project suffered as a result of the photobooth recall just days before the project went live. Pemulis’ images grant the viewer unprecedented access to the man behind the lens and we’re treated to a depiction of the exhausted Stanton as an almost Howard Hughes-esque figure.
196 pages, hardcover.
€55.00

Porn.0 - Noah Kalina

Blurring lines between hardcore pornography and high-art, Kalina delivers a book that is remarkably self-aware of its subject matter. Given that it’s one of the most grossly misrepresented areas of interest, even in the “documentary” genre, this refreshing take on the dirty secret of America is generated mostly due to the hiring of well-known adult industry film stars to perform for the camera. This is certainly a book that initial reviewers misunderstood as an excuse for male gaze but it’s hard to justify such narrow viewpoints with the understated yet rich narratives that are contained here. Kalina’s willingness to let the viewer observe the presence of the camera, whether it’s through reflections, flashes or equipment left in the shot, Porn.0 maintains a feeling that this book is neither documentary, nor fiction, but something else entirely.
175 pages, softcover.
€69.00

Credit:
Original image by Justin Sullivan was taken from here.

Trading Cards for the Artist Elite:

A Criticism of Photobook Culture

Yesterday, November 25th, I was scrolling through my various social media hubs and came across a lot of people posting links to ‘TIME Picks the Best Photobooks of 2013’, which I thought, despite sounding a lot like a declaration of self-praise, was a bit early to be something that existed on November 25th. I’m not quite sure why people continually sit down and write “Best of-” lists on any date before December 31st.

Anyway, I found myself, like probably a lot of other people when they saw the link, drawn in and clicking through each of the site’s selections. I’ll 100% reserve comment on any of their personal tastes in photography and how they may contrast or reflect my own opinions but what I did find interesting was how such a large selection, 32 books, ended up making it into their final list. This was a shockingly huge number for a “Best of-” list based on 11 months of a calendar year.

Before you read any further, I would like to make very clear that I am a huge fan of photobooks themselves. I have quite a collection of books that I love to look at to fuel my own creative thought processes and they sit proudly, and prominently, on my bookshelf before all else. What I’m worried about is that this caveat will come across as an indictment of the photobook as a product and read as “I’m not racist. A lot of my friends are *insert ethnicity here*” when really my intention is to present a criticism of the culture that has surrounded photobooks in recent years.

My main argument regarding contemporary photobooks, and it’s one that I’ve probably harped on about before, begins with my thinking that the fixation on the image-as-object in the digital age has spun out of control. The exclusivity of limited run printing is age-old practice but when the primary form of limited runs is exploited due to small batch publishing houses then the fortitude of the overall scheme loses value. A lot of publishers, and artists, don’t understand that second editions of books, softens the market for the originals. This screws over those who were banking on having picked up a piece of exclusive material from the Next Big Thing, though it’s difficult to blame the struggling artists for buying into a system in which they can make money from their art, but this is the economic equivalent of drinking seawater to cure thirst.

This is not to say that photobooks, per se, are dead, on the contrary, but their resurgence in a digital age as a form of fetish object, something to be collected in first edition form, reflects quite heavily towards an oncoming depression like that suffered by the trend of sports trading cards. A good condition T206 Honus Wagner card will probably get you enough to make sure your grandkids can afford college, but outside of the top end historic cards, the bottom has totally fallen out of the market. A previous generation valued these cards so poorly. Those kids drew on them, they stuck them on their bedroom walls, they generally just allowed the cards to get damaged. And now, when it came time for our generation to get our grubby little hands on them, we wore protective gloves and made sure every card was kept in a protective acid-free case. We kept them perfect, and as such, the market for trading cards totally collapsed and became worthless. Nothing in a given category is valuable when something in its new state is immediately cared for as if it was an endangered species.

There was a great point made on a new podcast I listen to called Soundings, in that the presenters Dylan Haskins and songstress Lisa Hannigan discuss an exhibition about London subcultures and in turn mention the possibility that the DIY movement didn’t necessarily revolutionise corporate business models, it simply reconfigured them. Instead of moving towards a system of self-support, we allowed businesses to shift their concerns away from selling us a product and instead, selling us the tools to create our own product. Understanding a consumer’s need for total control (especially in creative industries) allowed new business models to focus on letting you doing the work for them. This approach has been marketed as a feeling of self-satisfaction for yourself, when really it’s a basic discount in labour costs for them. Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Give a man the possibility of selling custom artisanal fishing rods, and he’ll eat modestly for a maybe a little longer than a day. Meanwhile, the fishing rod component factory chairman gets insanely rich and looks down on your peasant fish food.

So in steps the photobook. Here is an object in which you can place your images and, if you’re lucky, sell, or, if you’re even luckier, sell for a marginal profit. But photobooks have been stripped of their utility factor ever since the spread of digital media as a photographer’s primary form of showing work. Replacing pages with pixels is an incredibly cost effective way of reaching your maximum audience but the downside is that it becomes exponentially more difficult to make money on any non-commercial work and this leads to many artists force-feeding their projects into books; a format that in many cases the project was never intended for. There is suddenly a tragic feeling that a project requires a book to make money, or maybe that it is required to make money at all. The disconnect between projects developed as photobooks and projects adapted to become them is a subtle wording, a huge difference and an overwhelming dilution of the market.

The problem though is the process of how the general public have come to view these books. Instead of acting as a vehicle for displaying images, photobooks have become a symbol of aristocracy, trading cards for the artist elite. The desire to look at a photobook is often replaced by the need to covet it. Obtaining first editions of up-and-coming names has evolved from supporting young artists into a form of currency; an investment that hopefully may pay dividends at a later date. Nothing is valuable when everything is limited, much in the same way that nothing is valuable if nothing is limited. Value is determined by contrast, not constant, and the current system of having everything online or in batch production is not a successful model to base an industry on.

Now, why does this stand out as different from any other form of art collecting? What makes it different, or sinister, in comparison to the hundreds of years of institutionalised art dealing? The theory enforced behind making books and the rationale that this is important to one’s practice doesn’t hold up. The in-vogue notion of placing a focus on the physicality of photography is farcical. While people champion the need to make objects in an increasingly digital world, the photobook has flourished yet print sales have floundered. The print is an object of a bygone age. It’s consistently abandoned as a form of exhibitive media in favour of “online exhibitions”(which I’ll never understand) and books. Any already established artist can maybe rely on print sales of touring solo shows but the majority of practicing photographers have to rely on commercial work, or again, if they’re really lucky, book sales in order to get by.

The experiential and temporal nature of visiting exhibitions of selected images has been replaced by a preference for the permanence of a constant availability to large indexical bodies of work. This can only be provided by photobooks or websites, and it’s hard to argue why either of these options wouldn’t be preferred. After all, they’re the easiest, if perhaps laziest, way to enjoy images. The demand for permanence has been rammed down the throat of photography and it’s possible to argue that this outcome was likely deep-seated in the fundamentals of image replication systems from the outset.

This mechanism of replication that was inherent to photography’s popularity as a tool of “capturing” the past and sharing images sets it apart from other forms of art. The notion of the original, even in terms of negatives and exposures, has always been a contested area and it’s not one that painting or sculpture really has to concern itself with unless they wanted to purposefully diverge into the realm of editions and prints; something that comes as standard and cannot be avoided with photography.

The main fear is that the market is about to go the way of sports trading cards. Perhaps it already has and it’ll be a year or two before we realise it. I don’t imagine that people will stop making these high-priced exclusive books printed on lavish paper with rare bindings but I do imagine that the object itself could suddenly fall back to earth. Right now, it’d probably be fair to categorise this surge in the photobook market as the boom. We’re just riding this train to see where it goes, though, I do wonder if there’s someone at the front, frantically laying down track like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

A N   I N T E R V I E W   W I T H   E D W A R D   C U S H E N B E R R Y

I don’t know that many artists like Edward Cushenberry. Take that however way you like. Maybe there are some unpolished points, some devil-may-care cavalier attitudes that invade his work from time to time, and for that I’m a little bit grateful.

No artist likes to hear that they don’t put thought or effort into their work, and that’s not what I’m saying about Cushenberry here, though nor am I singing his praises simply because I’ve decided to feature him on this site.

What exemplifies his images are how raw they are. That aforementioned unpolished nature of Cushenberry gives the viewer, or at least I feel gave me while viewing, a rare feeling nowadays. It’s a feeling that indicates maybe what we’re seeing is unrestricted, that there aren’t many shots that ended up on the cutting room floor. Not that this work is a bevy of poor self-editing, it’s more that his work has a certain flow of intentionality that indicates that every shot really mattered to this guy. At a time when the finnickity nature of photographers is most likely at its peak (or God forbid, still rising), it’s refreshing to get access to something a bit more real. This is a body of work composed without melodramatic flair or ironic mesh screen.

It would be easy to fall into all sorts of traps analysing Cushenberry’s images under archaic banners such as ‘the snapshot’ or ‘the family’ but none of that is interesting at this stage, not for fledgling artists still trying to find their footing. Nothing here is new, but what’s fresh about Cushenberry is a firm standhold in not dressing his images as something they’re not. And as an oversaturated viewer dealing with copious amounts of artist statements and vague declarations of departure from previous artistic institutions, it’s a bit nice to get something devoid of artificiality.

What are the people in your photographs to you?

On the surface the people in my photographs are just family and friends.

But on the whole, they play a big part of who I am and the work that I make. My work is extremely personal, invades peoples’ privacy, and allows me to live vicariously through my camera. I first started shooting this way when I was in school at Art Center College of Design. My friend Josh Schaedel and I were sneaking into an abandoned office at school to sleep because we both lived far away from school.

Soon I found myself being on campus 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I began taking pictures as a way to leave the office, and eventually the photos transformed into a way for me to share experiences with people who were close to me. I found myself living through my camera. The more I shot, the more intrusive I wanted to get because I was interested in others and the way they thought, behaved, looked, and how they lived and existed. A lot of my subjects gave more than others but I was able to get really personal and intimate, and create narratives that were a mixture of intense and quiet moments.

Right now, post­graduation, I pretty much shoot the same but I’m also looking for commercial work so I’ve been doing test shoots and shooting a lot of digital and a lot portraits. But I’m still interested in my friend’s lives, especially now because the majority of them are out of school and are in the same boat as I am. I’ve also been documenting my relationship with my girlfriend and my relationship with my friends who are women.

What are the challenges of photographing in your space?

One of the challenges of photographing in my studio is that after a while the work becomes very repetitive and constrained. I’m currently working on this portrait series that takes place in the corner of my studio only because that’s where the best lighting is.

But as of late, all of the portraits have been looking similar because I’m shooting at the same time and location. The goal of this series was to take very minimal portraits but at the same time trying to convey the personality of my subjects during these shoots. Some of them work, some of them don’t. So I’m finding myself using different areas of my studio, shooting at different times a day/night and using on camera flash with my point and shoot in order to have some variations to the project.

Watching for light in and around my studio has become a little easier but it’s still hard to get people’s schedule to match with the best lighting situations.  7am­-8am has beautiful lighting but it’s hard to find someone who wants to come to my studio that early, especially on a Monday.

Tell me about ‘The Weirdness’.

Man, The Weirdness was and is still weird.

It’s a documentary of my friendship with Emily who was also in the photo program with me. We had color theory class together and we eventually started spending a lot of time together. Soon I started shooting very intimate photos of her and it became this project about pushing the limits of what a friendship was. Even though the photos were sexual in nature, that’s the furthest it ever went and it never went past taking pictures. I’m not bummed about that part it, but I feel that it’s important to state that only because people always ask me that question.

On the other hand, in order to get some of the photos, limits were definitely pushed, there were nights I was questioning why or what I was doing with her and I’m pretty sure she thought the same thing too. I never intended it to be a separate project, for me it was experiencing something new- the majority of the project took place during my days in the office and it gave me something to look forward to when I was staying on campus. The Weirdness was shot over two years and began to slow down, especially when we started our own respective relationships. Besides the obvious, it was a fun project and very important part of my work. I called it “The Weirdness” because that’s the only way I could describe it, it’s some of my rawest work that I’ve made.

Even though the work has a lot of sexuality in it, I never meant for it to be anything more than just a documentation on a friend.  A lot of people like the project. I had a teacher tell me that I made being a pervert “beautiful”, in fact a lot of my teachers liked that body of work once it was finished. My mom and dad have seen some of the work, they get it.

Forgive me if this is an opportunistic question, or a leading question, but what are your views of minority representations in the Art World?

When I was at Art Center, I was lucky enough to have a few knowledgeable teachers and friends who introduced me to “different” artists. I’ve always been in a position where I felt somewhat under represented.

I grew up in the suburbs, went to private schools and that feeling didn’t go away when I went to art school, especially when I had teachers and students question my “blackness” and the majority of those teachers and students were white. I get really stoked when I see galleries that have group shows or solo shows by black and/or minority artists.I also get excited when I see black artists who have work that speak to my experiences of being black. Like I said, I grew up in the suburbs and I feel that my work is a result of living in Orange County.

So my idea of what it is to be black is different from others’ ideas of what it is to be black. So, as much as I’d love to be “I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist” I do get excited when I see artists who are like me. It gives validation to what I’m what doing. I still hate myself for missing Henry Taylor’s show at Blum and Poe, and the Blues for Smoke show at Moca Geffen Contemporary was amazing. Come to think of it, I always get stoked when I see black contemporaries.

grew up listening to Punk and Hardcore and I felt that Bad Brains made it okay for me to listen to that music without having to question myself. I also love skateboarding and I remember years ago there was an all­ Black issue of either Transworld Magazine or Skateboarding Magazine and every article was an interview with a black skater. I had torn out pages of the magazine and had them taped on my wall until my dickhead cousin took them and threw away the pages calling them “Whiteboys”. 

Getting to the point, 30 Americans is the best example I could give to answer that question. I love that book.

***********************

Edward Cushenberry currently resides in Los Angeles, CA and can be found online at the following:
Main Site | Tumblr

Identifying as a Grumpy Old Man who Shouts at Kids Who Play on a Digital Street

What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” - David Foster Wallace

I’m tired. I’ve been tired all summer and now it’s October. Almost November even. That’s not good. The post count here has dropped quite a lot in the past year as college wound down and I’ve tried to maintain a sort of balance between good content and consistent output. That’s about as difficult balance there is to strike for a single-person website, and as such, I’ve ended up with underdeveloped thoughts and half-written posts composed purely for the sake of the act of stringing together words. I’m still very much enjoying the writing. It’s not the writing aspect that’s hard. When I have a plan of action or something burning a whole in the back-pocket of my brain, then the concept clicks. But when it doesn’t click, when the thoughts don’t really know where they’re going, then, surprisingly, the words still come. It’s just not very coherent. It reads nicely and there’s as much of a rhythm to the words as I’ve ever been able to manage, but it’s purely that they don’t seem to instruct towards any sort of endpoint. The writing is good exercise of craft but it lacks on any kind of fulfillment. 

I think my main problem- yes mine, this is a personal issue more than anything else- is that I’ve been too plugged in to the system over the past year, too exposed to multiple streams of the same aesthetic. Winslow Laroche’s Je Suis Perdu and the MPDrolet stream are two of the best sources of contemporary photographic work but the problematic nature of image streams lies not with their curators but in the hands of the viewership. There’s an overexposure point (volume of content + frequency + time) at which all work seemingly blends together. Each project just becomes an amalgamation of several components already seen before. This is not to say that there are no longer new and exciting projects that should garner the attention they deserve, but mainly that it becomes difficult for the viewer to differentiate which projects these actually are.

So in the past month or so, as a remedy of sorts, I’ve tried to branch out of photography. I’ve been reading a lot more. I’m quite close to finishing Infinite Jest and I’d like to read Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge at some point soon too. Really embracing a book is something I haven’t done in quite a while. For most of my college years, they’ve mainly maintained a background entertainment role; something to keep me from being bored while on the train, something to distract me from the rest of the unhappy commuters also trying to distract themselves from everyone else. Being challenged by a book was a new experience and a rewarding one at that.

I also tried my hand at graphic design. I created a custom copy of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan for my girlfriend’s birthday. I had some experience with design but it was purely as a tool of functionality, creating a vehicle for an existing project or laying out photobooks. This was a bit out of my comfort zone though. Sourcing graphic design styles for that book was exhilarating. I must have put over 100 hours into designing it and not one of which I feel was too much or poorly spent. 

And I’ve been trying to look at more traditional art. I’ve often felt ashamed about how little I know of art in a historical context. Simple things like looking at precisionist works by Ralston Crawford and Charles Demuth have made me really wish I could paint but also quite happy that I don’t have to.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that this expansion in creative scope has allowed me a great deal of relief from the fatigue I’ve been feeling when observing photography. I think it’s my lack of knowing what the rules are for these media, or maybe what’s popular, that’s letting me enjoy, truly enjoy, these works. It allows me to indulge creative impulses without hitting that big red button in the frontal lobe that reads ‘OVERANALYSE’.

It’s different with photography for me. A degree in any creative area has problems- the likelihood of landing a non-intern non-voluntary non-degrading job aside- but the fatigue and cynicism that have imposed themselves on my view of the medium have become remarkably destructive. The flaw in any particular work comes into mind long before I can acknowledge any of its merits.

And I think a lot of what has turned me off a good deal of new work is the mobilisation of an ironic rhetoric- though this is not an exclusive annoyance to just photography. The majority of these new line of works hide behind grandiose artist statements whose only function serve as a deference towards any line of questioning that may come an artist’s way should they end up getting any of that attention they so desperately crave. Artists should be held accountable for their work and these ironic works should under no circumstances be allowed speak for itself. I understand that the written word is merely a reference point for other media, that the days of it acting as a companion are over, but this level of micro-criticism of representational art have to be backed up in more readable manner than Jogging-grade jpegs. 

And I am no doubt, knowingly unalone in this experience. In fact, I presume it is embarrassingly archetypal of the newly graduated creative media student to be even talking about such things. I am an unoriginal and overused trope of the very sort that I am complaining about. It’s hard to separate which of my opinions seem clear and which seem unnecessarily callous, especially, again, for age 24. 

A N   I N T E R V I E W   W I T H   R O M K E   H O O G W A E R T S
I’ve interviewed Romke (pictured above with Grace Leigh) before. Back in 2011, when he was crowd-funding the the publication of the first physical issue of Mossless Magazine. I’d been following Mossless a little while online at the time, mostly drawn to its interviews with new artists that maybe I hadn’t come across before, or the words of those I had and most likely looked up to. 
In two years not much has changed. He’s still working on Mossless, albeit probably with a bit more confidence at this stage. He still lives in New York. Mossless continues to be a foundational springboard of emerging talent.
I say these things whole-heartedly, and with little time for the Mutual Appreciation Society that has become much of the artworld. With so many people vying to establish any form of legitimacy as a tastemaker, it’s refreshing to come across someone approach this by doing rather than talking. I’ve come to respect Romke’s opinion not because he says things that are important, but because it comes through in the work he does. 

DigitalFaun:On Twitter last week, you posted: “To think much of contemporary art is about the failures of mechanics and digital processes, so really about the fantasy of that failure”. How much of this do you attribute to photography and how much is relevant to broader art processes?
Romke Hoogwaerts: It’s more about contemporary art than photography. People like Wade Guyton make bank on fucking up their printer, for instance. People love it because computers are fucking terrifying. It’s like soft proof that we’re still superior. It’s not my thing, though. I like computers. At least they don’t try to play pretend.

When I read this tweet at the time, it sent me into one of those speedy-thought cycles that mostly accompany my anxieties but occasionally, like this time, help me with creative processes. I wanted to write about it. I wanted to use it as a jumping off point and write about how accurate it was in thinking about some of my favourite artists, but I found myself stumped, and instead, decided on asking Romke about it himself so that I could clarify it in my head before putting anything down in type. 
I think the words a pretty true, but not true in the I-Swear-To-Tell-The-Whole style of the word. I mean more in the vein of the unabashed honesty of fucking with ‘the system’ in order to make something of one’s self inside it.
The capital-I Interruption is nothing new to art. It’s been the primary source of income for post-modern workhorses and personally I think that’s because today’s work has gone past the stage of trying to shock its potential audience. The goal has now shifted towards independence and rather than systematic interdependence. I am fascinated by the idea that success might not be measured in how well one does in the artworld but how well you can do in spite of it. 

DF:Do you have any tips for getting over the feeling of having seen it all, that nothing is new anymore?
RH:The problem isn’t the makers of content, it’s the providers of it. So you have to think about where you’re getting your content from. The biggest issue is that the best of the best of most work is not getting seen. The most interesting news stories aren’t getting reported. The most fascinating people are not getting coverage. Good stuff doesn’t necessarily warrant pushy PR campaigns and the publishing industry has gotten exceedingly lazy. Trust me, you’re not alone in this frustration! One good way of circumventing impotent content publishers is to aggregate (and maintain) a feed of a lot of them, and balancing that with a good crowdsource content platform. Reddit has some brilliant subreddits, but they can be hard to find. Hubski is really small but is constantly good, though there’s not much art on there. As for art, well… that’s coming, I hope. The cool new sites aren’t doing it right yet.

I graduated from a four year B.A. in Photography in June. The exhaustion of creative spirit that is required to complete a college course in something one has pride in- rather than for monetary gain- is something I wasn’t totally aware of until i experienced it. I had heard from previous graduates that afterward they needed a break from the medium, a little bit of time to rebuild themselves, and in short, I had dismissed them as lazy. I thought that anyone who was tired of their chosen field before they had even started work in it wasn’t truly serious about their line of work. 
But now I find myself in this post-graduate state of flux and am really unsure of what comes next. Aside from the crippling fear of eternal unemployment - a fear that feels as if my rib-cage has suddenly been swapped out with one much smaller - I’ve become totally jaded as to whatever is going on with photography right now. 
College instilled a way of seeing, a very specific vista in which to compose your work, and all of us as students were pushed to make work in a certain way. Now that I’ve finished with the school, I look around and see so many copy-cat-practices at work. Soft-focused portraits of economically depressed areas and fruity photoshop-heavy still life is everywhere. It’s not that I think there is nothing new to photography right now, it’s just that I don’t know where to look to find it. 

DF:What do you think of guys like Bobby Doherty getting bigger jobs for mainstream media?
RH:Nothing gets me more excited. Bobby’s doing beautiful work for the New Yorker. Dave [Brandon Geeting]’s killing it too with his commissioned work. Brea [Souders]’s exploding onto the fine arts photography scene. It’s all really fantastic. I think it’s a really good sign that these mainstream magazines are bringing in these pretty radical aesthetics. It’s a gutsy thing they’re doing, but I’m glad they did. I think Richard Turley of Bloomberg Businessweek is responsible for much of this shift in magazine aesthetics. I met the guy at a job interview and his behaviour was frenetic, you can tell his energy is a lot higher than other creative directors. His style is unbeatable. It’s frenetic too—it looks a lot like the way society feels. I’m a huge fan of his.

I’ve liked Bobby Doherty since back when I was a kid with a point-and-shoot posting over-clarified jpegs on deviantArt. Doherty’s images were so much sharper than anyone else’s. He posted photos of his Dad and plaid shirts against plaid wallpaper. It was totally different to anything I had seen at the time. i remember mailing him asking him the most boring question anyone can ask any photographer - “What kind of camera do you use?” - and more importantly, I remember getting a genuine response, explaining how using medium format cameras and really small apertures are a recipe for perfect image sharpness. He totally could have ignored that question but he didn’t. 
Doherty was a featured photographer in the first issue of Mossless. Now he does editorial work for big New York publications. I couldn’t be happier for the guy. 

DF:Are there differences between developing a magazine and a photobook? How does narrative apply to the way you do things?
RH:Oh god, the differences depend on who you ask. I’m not a traditionalist, so to me the difference is just in the frequency of their publication. A magazine can come in the shape of a book. A book can’t really come in the form of a magazine though, because it comes out only once. Everything between is completely relative I didn’t focus on [narrative] much in our first issue, because the four books were supposed to instill a sort of democratic sampling of photographers, but for the second I worked hard to get a sort of flow through the pretty disparate artists, and to get a sort of philosophical arc along the various essays interviews, which I have to say were really pared down to those essentials.For our third issue we’re focusing hard on a sort of narrative structure. We haven’t sequenced them yet yet but it’s going to string hundreds of the best contemporary social documentary photographs from all over the US, and only by online photographers. So we have to think out of the box. To me, a good sequence is really important. I’m a cinephile, mostly on the front of cinematography and editing, so you could see how that’s affected my thinking of books. Our third is definitely going to feel a little cinematic.

Photobooks and magazines, to me, are a lot more difficult to classify than how Romke put it. I’ve never thought about working as an editor on a photobook of someone else’s work. I’d imagine the process would be a lot more comparable to producing a magazine than developing a photobook of my own - something at which I am very hard on myself.
I think it might be a lot easier, in terms of artistic works, to aim to please someone else than yourself, but that’s resulted in a lot of work which I wouldn’t hold much pride in. Developing someone else’s work into a format which fulfills both the artist and the editor is a really tricky balance. 

DF:Is there a role for the written word in photography? Has there ever been or is the lack of it more evident because of a growth in global image production?
RH:Yeah, but it’s more of a supporting role. But you’re right—it’s increasingly absent, or at least, good words on the matter are. The written word is more of an extra nowadays. But that’s the way it’s gotta be—the more that visual motifs are exploited in mass, the less we can rely on them, so as artists we go deeper. We go more complex, less recognisable, until there’s little left to say about these things. I embrace that work though, because I feel the pain of the raping of our visual language too. But having said that, I’m excited for our third issue because it’s pushing for the opposite.

I write about photography and image media in general. I write about it a lot, and aside from some NFL coverage for a different website, I write about it almost exclusively. I think, while it does only provide a supporting role, and I do wish it had a larger influence sometimes, the words are probably the only reason DigitalFaun has any sort of popularity. There are so many places people can plug into if they want a curated stream of images, but this is not one of them. 
It’s encouraging to see an approach such as Romke’s towards Mossless as the inclusion of text to apply editorial context to other people’s work really makes a publication one’s own. It’s a policy I’ve practiced for a couple of years now with DF and it’s not something I’m likely to give up anytime soon. 
***********************
Romke Hoogwaerts currently resides in New York, NY and can be found online at the following:Main Site | Mossless | Mossfull | Twitter
Image credit: Nicole Reber

A N   I N T E R V I E W   W I T H   R O M K E   H O O G W A E R T S

I’ve interviewed Romke (pictured above with Grace Leigh) before. Back in 2011, when he was crowd-funding the the publication of the first physical issue of Mossless Magazine. I’d been following Mossless a little while online at the time, mostly drawn to its interviews with new artists that maybe I hadn’t come across before, or the words of those I had and most likely looked up to. 

In two years not much has changed. He’s still working on Mossless, albeit probably with a bit more confidence at this stage. He still lives in New York. Mossless continues to be a foundational springboard of emerging talent.

I say these things whole-heartedly, and with little time for the Mutual Appreciation Society that has become much of the artworld. With so many people vying to establish any form of legitimacy as a tastemaker, it’s refreshing to come across someone approach this by doing rather than talking. I’ve come to respect Romke’s opinion not because he says things that are important, but because it comes through in the work he does. 

DigitalFaun:
On Twitter last week, you posted: “To think much of contemporary art is about the failures of mechanics and digital processes, so really about the fantasy of that failure”. How much of this do you attribute to photography and how much is relevant to broader art processes?

Romke Hoogwaerts:
It’s more about contemporary art than photography. People like Wade Guyton make bank on fucking up their printer, for instance. People love it because computers are fucking terrifying. It’s like soft proof that we’re still superior. It’s not my thing, though. I like computers. At least they don’t try to play pretend.

When I read this tweet at the time, it sent me into one of those speedy-thought cycles that mostly accompany my anxieties but occasionally, like this time, help me with creative processes. I wanted to write about it. I wanted to use it as a jumping off point and write about how accurate it was in thinking about some of my favourite artists, but I found myself stumped, and instead, decided on asking Romke about it himself so that I could clarify it in my head before putting anything down in type. 

I think the words a pretty true, but not true in the I-Swear-To-Tell-The-Whole style of the word. I mean more in the vein of the unabashed honesty of fucking with ‘the system’ in order to make something of one’s self inside it.

The capital-I Interruption is nothing new to art. It’s been the primary source of income for post-modern workhorses and personally I think that’s because today’s work has gone past the stage of trying to shock its potential audience. The goal has now shifted towards independence and rather than systematic interdependence. I am fascinated by the idea that success might not be measured in how well one does in the artworld but how well you can do in spite of it. 

DF:
Do you have any tips for getting over the feeling of having seen it all, that nothing is new anymore?

RH:
The problem isn’t the makers of content, it’s the providers of it. So you have to think about where you’re getting your content from. The biggest issue is that the best of the best of most work is not getting seen. The most interesting news stories aren’t getting reported. The most fascinating people are not getting coverage. Good stuff doesn’t necessarily warrant pushy PR campaigns and the publishing industry has gotten exceedingly lazy. Trust me, you’re not alone in this frustration! One good way of circumventing impotent content publishers is to aggregate (and maintain) a feed of a lot of them, and balancing that with a good crowdsource content platform. Reddit has some brilliant subreddits, but they can be hard to find. Hubski is really small but is constantly good, though there’s not much art on there. As for art, well… that’s coming, I hope. The cool new sites aren’t doing it right yet.

I graduated from a four year B.A. in Photography in June. The exhaustion of creative spirit that is required to complete a college course in something one has pride in- rather than for monetary gain- is something I wasn’t totally aware of until i experienced it. I had heard from previous graduates that afterward they needed a break from the medium, a little bit of time to rebuild themselves, and in short, I had dismissed them as lazy. I thought that anyone who was tired of their chosen field before they had even started work in it wasn’t truly serious about their line of work. 

But now I find myself in this post-graduate state of flux and am really unsure of what comes next. Aside from the crippling fear of eternal unemployment - a fear that feels as if my rib-cage has suddenly been swapped out with one much smaller - I’ve become totally jaded as to whatever is going on with photography right now. 

College instilled a way of seeing, a very specific vista in which to compose your work, and all of us as students were pushed to make work in a certain way. Now that I’ve finished with the school, I look around and see so many copy-cat-practices at work. Soft-focused portraits of economically depressed areas and fruity photoshop-heavy still life is everywhere. It’s not that I think there is nothing new to photography right now, it’s just that I don’t know where to look to find it. 

DF:
What do you think of guys like Bobby Doherty getting bigger jobs for mainstream media?

RH:
Nothing gets me more excited. Bobby’s doing beautiful work for the New Yorker. Dave [Brandon Geeting]s killing it too with his commissioned work. Brea [Souders]’s exploding onto the fine arts photography scene. It’s all really fantastic. I think it’s a really good sign that these mainstream magazines are bringing in these pretty radical aesthetics. It’s a gutsy thing they’re doing, but I’m glad they did. I think Richard Turley of Bloomberg Businessweek is responsible for much of this shift in magazine aesthetics. I met the guy at a job interview and his behaviour was frenetic, you can tell his energy is a lot higher than other creative directors. His style is unbeatable. It’s frenetic too—it looks a lot like the way society feels. I’m a huge fan of his.

I’ve liked Bobby Doherty since back when I was a kid with a point-and-shoot posting over-clarified jpegs on deviantArt. Doherty’s images were so much sharper than anyone else’s. He posted photos of his Dad and plaid shirts against plaid wallpaper. It was totally different to anything I had seen at the time. i remember mailing him asking him the most boring question anyone can ask any photographer - “What kind of camera do you use?” - and more importantly, I remember getting a genuine response, explaining how using medium format cameras and really small apertures are a recipe for perfect image sharpness. He totally could have ignored that question but he didn’t. 

Doherty was a featured photographer in the first issue of Mossless. Now he does editorial work for big New York publications. I couldn’t be happier for the guy. 

DF:
Are there differences between developing a magazine and a photobook? How does narrative apply to the way you do things?

RH:
Oh god, the differences depend on who you ask. I’m not a traditionalist, so to me the difference is just in the frequency of their publication. A magazine can come in the shape of a book. A book can’t really come in the form of a magazine though, because it comes out only once.
Everything between is completely relative I didn’t focus on [narrative] much in our first issue, because the four books were supposed to instill a sort of democratic sampling of photographers, but for the second I worked hard to get a sort of flow through the pretty disparate artists, and to get a sort of philosophical arc along the various essays interviews, which I have to say were really pared down to those essentials.
For our third issue we’re focusing hard on a sort of narrative structure. We haven’t sequenced them yet yet but it’s going to string hundreds of the best contemporary social documentary photographs from all over the US, and only by online photographers. So we have to think out of the box. To me, a good sequence is really important. I’m a cinephile, mostly on the front of cinematography and editing, so you could see how that’s affected my thinking of books. Our third is definitely going to feel a little cinematic.

Photobooks and magazines, to me, are a lot more difficult to classify than how Romke put it. I’ve never thought about working as an editor on a photobook of someone else’s work. I’d imagine the process would be a lot more comparable to producing a magazine than developing a photobook of my own - something at which I am very hard on myself.

I think it might be a lot easier, in terms of artistic works, to aim to please someone else than yourself, but that’s resulted in a lot of work which I wouldn’t hold much pride in. Developing someone else’s work into a format which fulfills both the artist and the editor is a really tricky balance. 

DF:
Is there a role for the written word in photography? Has there ever been or is the lack of it more evident because of a growth in global image production?

RH:
Yeah, but it’s more of a supporting role. But you’re right—it’s increasingly absent, or at least, good words on the matter are. The written word is more of an extra nowadays. But that’s the way it’s gotta be—the more that visual motifs are exploited in mass, the less we can rely on them, so as artists we go deeper. We go more complex, less recognisable, until there’s little left to say about these things. I embrace that work though, because I feel the pain of the raping of our visual language too. But having said that, I’m excited for our third issue because it’s pushing for the opposite.

I write about photography and image media in general. I write about it a lot, and aside from some NFL coverage for a different website, I write about it almost exclusively. I think, while it does only provide a supporting role, and I do wish it had a larger influence sometimes, the words are probably the only reason DigitalFaun has any sort of popularity. There are so many places people can plug into if they want a curated stream of images, but this is not one of them. 

It’s encouraging to see an approach such as Romke’s towards Mossless as the inclusion of text to apply editorial context to other people’s work really makes a publication one’s own. It’s a policy I’ve practiced for a couple of years now with DF and it’s not something I’m likely to give up anytime soon. 

***********************

Romke Hoogwaerts currently resides in New York, NY and can be found online at the following:
Main Site | Mossless | MossfullTwitter

Image credit: Nicole Reber

Dreamlike Geographic Discontinuities in Film

Last night I watched Neil Jordan's return to the vampire genre, Byzantium (2013). Other than the employment of Sean Bobbitt, the gifted cinematographer responsible for the visuals in Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and The Place Beyond The Pines (2012), there wasn’t much to convince me this would be a serious artistic piece of work. And that’s a forgivable misconception. On paper; it’s a time-lapsing picture of a 19th century vampire harlot and her immortalised daughter. That kind of story structure comes across as an attempt to capitalise on the maybe-already-bygone supernatural teen craze and I had no preconceptions about how good it may or may not be, but excluding the fact that it’s maybe about 20 mins too long and that I have a positive bias towards both Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, it turned out to be actually quite a decent flick. 

That wasn’t what caught me off guard though. Putting the merits of the movie itself aside, the main surprise was that a good portion of the film was shot in my hometown of Bray, Co. Wicklow. This isn’t a town that garners any sort of serious cinematic attention despite that there are major film studios located here, though the sound-stages don’t exactly register the vistas of the town with any sort of recognisabie definition. Outside of Byzantium, it’s quite rare for Bray to turn up on film. The experience of seeing a representation of one’s home in popular culture may be a common occurrence for New Yorkers, London folk or even Les Parisiens, but for a guy who comes from a small seaside town on the East coast of Ireland, it’s a very unusual sensation. 

This had an especially disorientating effect considering the featured town of the film wasn’t supposed to be in Ireland at all. The story is established in an unnamed Brighton-style coastal region, complete with funfair and all the other connotational imagery that goes with a seaside economy. It would have been fine had the director, also Irish, exclusively used footage of one location for his fictional town, but instead he opted for an amalgamation of three Irish towns - Dublin, West Cork, Bray- and the English-located Hastings as the backdrop for this transcendental tale of vampiric hedonism. 

The cuts between one location to another are rough and for those who recognise anywhere involved, it destabilises the narrative. For example, many New York-based movies are criticised for choosing particular tourist attractions regardless of proximity to one another and the representation of a large city can at least be excused for featuring relatable imagery for the mass audience and to thee majority of people the movie continues without any discernible problems. In this instance, the practice of cherry-picking the best parts of several towns, is merely an aesthetic choice, and again, it’s only the extreme minority that is affected by the geographic inconsistency.

It’s unusual that a break in the illusion of cinema adds to the end product but the result here was a surreal experience where distinguishing roads lead to places they shouldn’t. That familiar fracturing of landscapes in dreams where “something was something except that it wasn’t” became a recurring state, though maybe just for myself and a few other residents of the town. The dreamlike aspect; it added an individuality to the viewing that I didn’t know was possible. It was different. 

Representations of 9/11 in Documentary Art
The two buildings, smoke billowing from the tower blocks like sky-high chimneys, the aerial views of New York destruction; this was a potent example of iconography long before the events of September 11th, 2001 even occurred. The relationship between the viewer and images of metropolitan destruction is long lasting one. Built upon through many 1990’s CGI-blockbusters such as Godzilla or Armageddon, the understanding that skyscrapers are occasionally obliterated was ingrained in the public’s mind for years before any of 9/11 terrorist attacks took place. It’s little surprise that so many people described witnessing the events as “surreal”, or “like a movie”.
Susan Sontag wrote that “Photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed”. If this is true, then the 9/11 home viewer was suddenly overwhelmed with unwanted possessions. What unfolded, and the unprecedented media coverage it received, tricked a viewership into processing what they saw in a similar manner to how they’d process the latest Roland Emmerich epic. The tension that was produced in  coming to terms with the hyperrealism of the million or so replays on news media was something that caught viewers off guard. These non-fictional images lacked the detachment of foreign lands or the rules of war. How we processed the totality of the situation was so heavily influenced by our previous experiences with cinematic concrete carnage and that it caused an inability in so many to peel themselves away from their TV screens, hoping at some point a hero would come along and save the day.
On top of the city-spanning aerial footage captured by news helicopters was a huge influx of crowd-sourced media. Shaky handheld video cameras and survivor snapshot photographs were rushed in to news sources across the world. The aerial footage did nothing to separate itself from that of the sweeping cityscape shots contained in popular movies. It was in the personal element of subjectivity, the snapshots and shaky video, that the viewers could begin to process the horror of that day. 
Below I have compiled what I consider the most relatable examples of documentary art that have dealt with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This is not to judge someone’s art or interpretation of that day as better than another’s, this is simply a list of well formed expressions. Everyone has a story of that day, where they first saw the towers like that for the first time, who they looked around to in hope of solace. These are those which I felt best described the various distances of experience. 
 
1. ‘9/11' by J. Hanlon, G. Naudet and J. Naudet
This is about as first hand as it gets for anyone that didn’t work in the towers or wasn’t a first responder. This documentary follows two brothers making a film about a firefighter trying to make the department and then inadvertently gets caught up in what happens as the battalion gets called to action on one of the most tragic days in United States’ history. 
It’s an interesting film because it doesn’t focus on reasoning or rationale behind what took place. It never attempts to judge or tackle wider issues. It localises the point of the film to the witnessing and documentation of the firefighters while understanding that there would be no place to attempt objectivity. The lens is regularly wiped, the cameraman frequently talks to those in the shot.
In hindsight, it’s hard not to watch this and think of the Matt Reeves film Cloverfield. Reeves unabashedly took techniques of documentation that viewers encountered during 9/11 coverage and he applied those to the B-move monster genre. If there was a real life equivalent film that Abrams could have maybe been influenced by, it’d be this one.
At the end of it, this film becomes just as much about the story of the camera crew than the fireman they were following, but it does so unashamedly, and that’s important. It was refreshing to watch a documentary that didn’t focus on the factual side or any sort of conspiracy theories and stuck to accounting for the day. It’s a personal, well edited, account of 9/11 and for that it’s relatable.
 
2. Image from the series ‘Untitled Photographs' by Tim Barber(pictured above)
The image of the burning towers has grown to iconical status in the last decade or so. It can be held alongside the crucifiction of Jesus Christ in terms of public recognition. Much like how the great painters of the Renaissance wanted their version of religious scenes to stand as definitive, this is Tim Barber’s contribution to the collection of images that stand within our collective memory of 9/11. 
If we were to break down the image on a connotational level, we begin to see some interesting developments. This image is, by far, not his most technically astute example of work but I think that’s why it excels. In a society where the use of Photoshop in the field of photojournalism is almost a weekly issue now, it’s refreshing to see what looks like an unedited snapshot. The contrast is poor, the focal point is overexposed and the image lacks depth of colour but its in these shortcomings we find credibility. 
The cinematic stylings of many more well-known photographs only add to the detachment factor of fiction-association and stand as yet another barrier to processing realism. It was the act of making this a spectacle in which to gaze upon that created America’s fear of another attack. Rather than simply documenting the moment and letting it go, it became fetishised and held up in martyrdom as a vague symbol of oppressed freedom. 
In Barber’s image, the attack is depicted as an interruption. First and foremost, it shows daily life, the everyday, the antithesis of the spectacle. The subject is shown on the phone, facing away from the camera and with a document in hand. The document  was maybe at some point important, at some point held attention but now it’s pointing away in irrelevance. She has been interrupted. The phone in the subject’s hand is so symptomatic of the majority of the public’s experience when they learned of the news. 
Inside the living space, on the walls, we can see framed pictures and in comparison to the window space, the terrorist act appears as just another framed image for us to look at. It simultaneously presents itself as both the object, the image and the document. 
Again, the effectiveness of these documents come down to their inherent subjectivity and the unwillingness of the artist to shy away from it in such a time of wider importance. Understanding the personal fears of those in the city that day is impossible but that does come across to a certain degree here. I imagine this image is most relatable for New Yorkers during that time but I cannot place tags like that on something which I experienced in such a detached fashion as an Irishman. 
 
3. ‘9/11: The View from the Mid-West' by David Foster Wallace
A lot of David Foster Wallace’s reportage is best known not for what he’s covering, but for the details he produces as a spectator wandering around inside any given landscape. In this piece for Rolling Stone, we are gifted with an exemplary piece of writing in which the role of the author is likely the most relatable position for those across the world; the news spectator. 
Foster Wallace was in Bloomington, Indiana and found out while listening to the radio in the shower. From there he rushed to the nearest TV in a 74 year old neighbour’s house and tried to make sense of what was going on. What’s important about this piece of writing is, like the Barber photograph, subjective worries and the act of communal witnessing. The need to reach out in times of tragedy is well understood. It’s almost taken for granted. But the small details that the author includes here grant it an anxiety that otherwise wouldn’t be present. 
When he arrives at the house, he says that “In retrospect, the first sign of shock was the fact that I didn’t ring the bell but just came on in, which normally here one would never do." This small familial custom that is deemed unimportant here is so relatable to me. Given the time difference, it was afternoon and I had just arrived home from school when I heard the news. Friends, as they passed my house, were called in to see what was happening. At one point, one friend was particularly distressed as she was under the impression her absent father worked in one of the towers. 
Foster Wallace takes care to note the effect of shock on himself and includes, at several times throughout the essay, references that he may not remember things perfectly well. “I know at some point for a while there was the sound of somebody mowing his lawn, which seemed totally bizarre, but I don’t remember if anyone said anything.” 
No point hits home more than the notion that these comparisons I just made with big-budget Hollywood films were something that a previous generation were actively making at the time of these events. it’s one thing to reflect and compare, it’s another to see something and instantly think of it’s similarities to entertainment. “Nobody’s edgy or sophisticated enough to lodge the sick and obvious po-mo complaint: We’ve Seen This Before.” That was when it hit me how well written this piece was. For the unassuming teenager I was then, I didn’t have the ironic coating of critique that the author’s generation had. I wasn’t educated enough. I wouldn’t have even known what “po-mo" was. I probably have that skepticism now and it was that connection I felt with Foster Wallace biting his tongue and not commenting to a room full of old ladies about the intricacies of news manipulation, that let me to love this piece of writing.
This author made a living through creating a narrative out of what seems like irrelevant details, but these tidbits serve always end up serving a purpose. The details contain Foster Wallace’s human element, something so startlingly absent in the innumerable statistical accounts or expressionist eulogies that were pushed out in the twelve years since 2001. 

Representations of 9/11 in Documentary Art

The two buildings, smoke billowing from the tower blocks like sky-high chimneys, the aerial views of New York destruction; this was a potent example of iconography long before the events of September 11th, 2001 even occurred. The relationship between the viewer and images of metropolitan destruction is long lasting one. Built upon through many 1990’s CGI-blockbusters such as Godzilla or Armageddon, the understanding that skyscrapers are occasionally obliterated was ingrained in the public’s mind for years before any of 9/11 terrorist attacks took place. It’s little surprise that so many people described witnessing the events as “surreal”, or “like a movie”.

Susan Sontag wrote that “Photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed”. If this is true, then the 9/11 home viewer was suddenly overwhelmed with unwanted possessions. What unfolded, and the unprecedented media coverage it received, tricked a viewership into processing what they saw in a similar manner to how they’d process the latest Roland Emmerich epic. The tension that was produced in  coming to terms with the hyperrealism of the million or so replays on news media was something that caught viewers off guard. These non-fictional images lacked the detachment of foreign lands or the rules of war. How we processed the totality of the situation was so heavily influenced by our previous experiences with cinematic concrete carnage and that it caused an inability in so many to peel themselves away from their TV screens, hoping at some point a hero would come along and save the day.

On top of the city-spanning aerial footage captured by news helicopters was a huge influx of crowd-sourced media. Shaky handheld video cameras and survivor snapshot photographs were rushed in to news sources across the world. The aerial footage did nothing to separate itself from that of the sweeping cityscape shots contained in popular movies. It was in the personal element of subjectivity, the snapshots and shaky video, that the viewers could begin to process the horror of that day. 

Below I have compiled what I consider the most relatable examples of documentary art that have dealt with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This is not to judge someone’s art or interpretation of that day as better than another’s, this is simply a list of well formed expressions. Everyone has a story of that day, where they first saw the towers like that for the first time, who they looked around to in hope of solace. These are those which I felt best described the various distances of experience. 

 

1. ‘9/11' by J. Hanlon, G. Naudet and J. Naudet

This is about as first hand as it gets for anyone that didn’t work in the towers or wasn’t a first responder. This documentary follows two brothers making a film about a firefighter trying to make the department and then inadvertently gets caught up in what happens as the battalion gets called to action on one of the most tragic days in United States’ history. 

It’s an interesting film because it doesn’t focus on reasoning or rationale behind what took place. It never attempts to judge or tackle wider issues. It localises the point of the film to the witnessing and documentation of the firefighters while understanding that there would be no place to attempt objectivity. The lens is regularly wiped, the cameraman frequently talks to those in the shot.

In hindsight, it’s hard not to watch this and think of the Matt Reeves film Cloverfield. Reeves unabashedly took techniques of documentation that viewers encountered during 9/11 coverage and he applied those to the B-move monster genre. If there was a real life equivalent film that Abrams could have maybe been influenced by, it’d be this one.

At the end of it, this film becomes just as much about the story of the camera crew than the fireman they were following, but it does so unashamedly, and that’s important. It was refreshing to watch a documentary that didn’t focus on the factual side or any sort of conspiracy theories and stuck to accounting for the day. It’s a personal, well edited, account of 9/11 and for that it’s relatable.

 

2. Image from the series ‘Untitled Photographs' by Tim Barber
(pictured above)

The image of the burning towers has grown to iconical status in the last decade or so. It can be held alongside the crucifiction of Jesus Christ in terms of public recognition. Much like how the great painters of the Renaissance wanted their version of religious scenes to stand as definitive, this is Tim Barber’s contribution to the collection of images that stand within our collective memory of 9/11. 

If we were to break down the image on a connotational level, we begin to see some interesting developments. This image is, by far, not his most technically astute example of work but I think that’s why it excels. In a society where the use of Photoshop in the field of photojournalism is almost a weekly issue now, it’s refreshing to see what looks like an unedited snapshot. The contrast is poor, the focal point is overexposed and the image lacks depth of colour but its in these shortcomings we find credibility.

The cinematic stylings of many more well-known photographs only add to the detachment factor of fiction-association and stand as yet another barrier to processing realism. It was the act of making this a spectacle in which to gaze upon that created America’s fear of another attack. Rather than simply documenting the moment and letting it go, it became fetishised and held up in martyrdom as a vague symbol of oppressed freedom. 

In Barber’s image, the attack is depicted as an interruption. First and foremost, it shows daily life, the everyday, the antithesis of the spectacle. The subject is shown on the phone, facing away from the camera and with a document in hand. The document  was maybe at some point important, at some point held attention but now it’s pointing away in irrelevance. She has been interrupted. The phone in the subject’s hand is so symptomatic of the majority of the public’s experience when they learned of the news. 

Inside the living space, on the walls, we can see framed pictures and in comparison to the window space, the terrorist act appears as just another framed image for us to look at. It simultaneously presents itself as both the object, the image and the document. 

Again, the effectiveness of these documents come down to their inherent subjectivity and the unwillingness of the artist to shy away from it in such a time of wider importance. Understanding the personal fears of those in the city that day is impossible but that does come across to a certain degree here. I imagine this image is most relatable for New Yorkers during that time but I cannot place tags like that on something which I experienced in such a detached fashion as an Irishman. 

 

3. ‘9/11: The View from the Mid-West' by David Foster Wallace

A lot of David Foster Wallace’s reportage is best known not for what he’s covering, but for the details he produces as a spectator wandering around inside any given landscape. In this piece for Rolling Stone, we are gifted with an exemplary piece of writing in which the role of the author is likely the most relatable position for those across the world; the news spectator.

Foster Wallace was in Bloomington, Indiana and found out while listening to the radio in the shower. From there he rushed to the nearest TV in a 74 year old neighbour’s house and tried to make sense of what was going on. What’s important about this piece of writing is, like the Barber photograph, subjective worries and the act of communal witnessing. The need to reach out in times of tragedy is well understood. It’s almost taken for granted. But the small details that the author includes here grant it an anxiety that otherwise wouldn’t be present.

When he arrives at the house, he says that “In retrospect, the first sign of shock was the fact that I didn’t ring the bell but just came on in, which normally here one would never do." This small familial custom that is deemed unimportant here is so relatable to me. Given the time difference, it was afternoon and I had just arrived home from school when I heard the news. Friends, as they passed my house, were called in to see what was happening. At one point, one friend was particularly distressed as she was under the impression her absent father worked in one of the towers. 

Foster Wallace takes care to note the effect of shock on himself and includes, at several times throughout the essay, references that he may not remember things perfectly well. “I know at some point for a while there was the sound of somebody mowing his lawn, which seemed totally bizarre, but I don’t remember if anyone said anything.” 

No point hits home more than the notion that these comparisons I just made with big-budget Hollywood films were something that a previous generation were actively making at the time of these events. it’s one thing to reflect and compare, it’s another to see something and instantly think of it’s similarities to entertainment. “Nobody’s edgy or sophisticated enough to lodge the sick and obvious po-mo complaint: We’ve Seen This Before.” That was when it hit me how well written this piece was. For the unassuming teenager I was then, I didn’t have the ironic coating of critique that the author’s generation had. I wasn’t educated enough. I wouldn’t have even known what “po-mo" was. I probably have that skepticism now and it was that connection I felt with Foster Wallace biting his tongue and not commenting to a room full of old ladies about the intricacies of news manipulation, that let me to love this piece of writing.

This author made a living through creating a narrative out of what seems like irrelevant details, but these tidbits serve always end up serving a purpose. The details contain Foster Wallace’s human element, something so startlingly absent in the innumerable statistical accounts or expressionist eulogies that were pushed out in the twelve years since 2001. 

Michael Schur is Living with Unfilmable Material

Due to copious amounts of free time, and the impending release date of a new season, I’ve been rewatching NBC's Parks and Recreation right through from the beginning. I’m actually pretty far in now with only a handful of episodes left to tackle. The most recent one I finished was ‘Partridge’, where Ben and Leslie return to the town where Ben was previously a teen-Mayor and end up facing an onslaught of references from David Foster Wallace's mega-novel Infinite Jest

Books like that aren’t normally referenced in prime-time TV comedies so it obviously stood out to anyone who, like myself, is a fan of the book. I read up on the reasoning behind the episode’s obvious allusions to the late author and it comes down to one of the show’s co-creators, Michael Schur. Most people will know him as Cousin Mose, Dwight’s only semblance of family in The Office, but that’s such a minor accomplishment in comparison to his other accolades. Apart from co-creating a hit with Parks and Recreation and acting/writing/producing for another, Schur is a baseball journalist who writes under the pen-name Ken Tremendous for the sports site, SBNation.

I’m yet to touch on his most intriguing distinction though; he owns the film rights to Infinite Jest. For those of you unfamiliar with the novel: it’s a fractured narrative of a tennis academy, a rehabilitation facility and a piece of video so addictive it causes madness from withdrawal. On top of all this, the timeline of the novel jumps around constantly. It’s experimental literary fiction and 1100 pages long, with the last 250 pages or so compromising of endnotes, some of which contain important plot points, and their own sub-endnotes. It was a book so grand that it caused the author to question his own mortality within the medium. It’s a book that’s simply impossible to adapt. And I think Schur knows that.

Other than the references in a single Parks and Recreation episode and a music video for The Decemberists, based on a game played inside the book, Schur has left the rights to Infinite Jest well enough alone. I’m not saying this from a fanboy point of view, but that’s a film that never needs to be made. It’s perfectly okay to let it live undisturbed in book form. This isn’t some Nicholas Sparks work that can be transferred to the big screen with a flick of the pen. I really admire the personal self-restraint to purchase the rights to something just to leave them dormant.

The cinemagoing market currently places a burden on each movie to be more grandiose than the one that preceded it. Nobody is more egregiously wrong in this scenario than Marvel Comics. Their model for movie adaptation sickens me. Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers, joked that he didn’t like Iron Man 3 because of the introduction of multiple battle suits for the main character and it left him unsure of how to make a sequel to his franchise bigger than what he had just seen. I’m not the one with multiple lucrative contracts on the go at once so forgive me if I’m overstepping my qualifications but I consider this to be absolutely the wrong attitude to have in regards to filmmaking. 

The match between director and project is so crucial, especially in a film-industry that facilitates adaptation and collaboration. It can often come down to what someone doesn’t do with the material more than anything else.

This summer we saw the release of The Great Gatsby, a charming understated story ripped from its pages by director Baz Luhrmann and translated into a computer-generated 3D sparklefuck. The Great Gatsby never needed to be directed by Luhrmann in the same way that nobody needs Gregory Crewdson to take their passport photo. 

And this is Michael Schur’s ace in the hole. I don’t believe he’ll ever do anything with the film rights to Infinite Jest. I think his ownership of them is a preventative act more than anything else. The man wrote his college thesis on the book and his subtle allusions to the the work in other projects stand for themselves as a mark of respect to the original material. Much like Damien Hirst's sculpture For the Love of God, a diamond encrusted human skull designed to be of no use other than the act of flipping the art market on its head by setting record numbers at auction, I believe that Schur’s greatest artistic endeavour may be not lie in a finished product but in an act. Schur has so far let the novel, and author, rest in piece. 

An Absurd Understanding of Not Witnessing Death as a Child
I always thought my first memory was my 5th birthday. i remember sitting on the floor assembling a toy cube that from six coloured puzzle pieces. But this week, while watching Senna, a documentary about the late racing driver, I realised that my memory of his death predates this by a little over two weeks.
My Dad must have been watching it on TV at the time, because he shouted to my Mom in another room that Ayrton Senna had been killed during the Grand Prix. I recognised the name because I grew up with my father watching a lot of car racing (motorsport administration was and continues to be his job), but I was confused because the television showed a man taking something out of a big metal oven, like a stone-bake pizza oven but maybe larger. Presumably, this was a cooking show on another channel. i think my Dad must have changed the channel to avoid either of his young sons seeing what was being broadcast on the Formula 1 coverage.
The combination of what was on screen and what was being said by my Dad confused me to such a degree that I remember being in school next year when another kid mentioned that the best racing driver ever died, I replied with: “Yeah, it was in a race last year and he hit a wall and it was so bad they had to cook him in an oven right after.” The other kids obviously thought I was crazy but I remembered what I saw. I remembered the man that had died and turned into food. 
Much like the trope about realising later in life that your childhood dog didn’t go to live on a farm, the subjectivity of the relationship between trauma and experience relies on the understanding that we trust our own judgement and our senses in order to create memory. This is why sometimes we absorb memories from home-movies only to later discover their point of view as being that of the camera, not our own. When we struggle to comprehend the reality of a situation, it becomes difficult to remember afterward. In my case, the trigger of the film recovered the memory and the recollection of not only the event but then the proceeding detail regarding the kids in school.
At the time, I didn’t think ‘the racing driver who was cooked’ was a traumatic image because my judgement didn’t declare it as such. Experience of death, especially at such a young age, is uncommon so archetypal principles of trauma recognition don’t really apply to the situation. The registration of the cooking show imagery should have been disconnected to the death of the driver but the unreliable nature of early memory, let alone traumatic memory, meant that I ended up with this fractured surreal memory whereby the two forms, the concept and the image, remained entangled until triggered, and thus dissected, much later in my life. 
I wonder if I would have remembered that day at all if my Dad hadn’t changed the channel and I had seen a man lying on the ground, resembling how my toy soldiers lay on the ground when the others had shot them, would I have thought anything of it?

An Absurd Understanding of Not Witnessing Death as a Child

I always thought my first memory was my 5th birthday. i remember sitting on the floor assembling a toy cube that from six coloured puzzle pieces. But this week, while watching Senna, a documentary about the late racing driver, I realised that my memory of his death predates this by a little over two weeks.

My Dad must have been watching it on TV at the time, because he shouted to my Mom in another room that Ayrton Senna had been killed during the Grand Prix. I recognised the name because I grew up with my father watching a lot of car racing (motorsport administration was and continues to be his job), but I was confused because the television showed a man taking something out of a big metal oven, like a stone-bake pizza oven but maybe larger. Presumably, this was a cooking show on another channel. i think my Dad must have changed the channel to avoid either of his young sons seeing what was being broadcast on the Formula 1 coverage.

The combination of what was on screen and what was being said by my Dad confused me to such a degree that I remember being in school next year when another kid mentioned that the best racing driver ever died, I replied with: “Yeah, it was in a race last year and he hit a wall and it was so bad they had to cook him in an oven right after.” The other kids obviously thought I was crazy but I remembered what I saw. I remembered the man that had died and turned into food. 

Much like the trope about realising later in life that your childhood dog didn’t go to live on a farm, the subjectivity of the relationship between trauma and experience relies on the understanding that we trust our own judgement and our senses in order to create memory. This is why sometimes we absorb memories from home-movies only to later discover their point of view as being that of the camera, not our own. When we struggle to comprehend the reality of a situation, it becomes difficult to remember afterward. In my case, the trigger of the film recovered the memory and the recollection of not only the event but then the proceeding detail regarding the kids in school.

At the time, I didn’t think ‘the racing driver who was cooked’ was a traumatic image because my judgement didn’t declare it as such. Experience of death, especially at such a young age, is uncommon so archetypal principles of trauma recognition don’t really apply to the situation. The registration of the cooking show imagery should have been disconnected to the death of the driver but the unreliable nature of early memory, let alone traumatic memory, meant that I ended up with this fractured surreal memory whereby the two forms, the concept and the image, remained entangled until triggered, and thus dissected, much later in my life. 

I wonder if I would have remembered that day at all if my Dad hadn’t changed the channel and I had seen a man lying on the ground, resembling how my toy soldiers lay on the ground when the others had shot them, would I have thought anything of it?

Southcliffe [2013]
Directed by Sean Durkin

"Shit like this just happens. You get over it. Move on. Stop wasting your time looking for answers."

A couple of weeks ago, myself and my girlfriend visited her parents’ home in Cork. Her house isn’t in the city, it’s not even in a town. Aside from a few clustered properties belonging to family and neighbours, there isn’t much around bar some fields and animals. It’s a place where you can genuinely hear silence. You can see the stars without any sort of orange hue.

Southcliffe is perhaps the first TV drama I’ve come across that accurately expresses that quietness that can only exist in life outside the city. It’s not that there aren’t a huge number of examples that try to emulate Arcadian lifestyles, but the majority of them usually fetishise the rural landscape with some sort of sweeping cinematic soundtrack. Of course, Southcliffe isn’t based in a rural setting, we’re told by reporter David Whitehead in the opening scenes that this is “a sleepy little English market town”. But it’s a place with truthful silence and that catches you. You can identify with it.

It’s easy for the viewer to become aware that this is a carefully considered aspect of the show. Any music you hear, the characters are aware of too. It’s their choice what sounds you hear, and aside from moments where you would expect to hear music (a pub, a concert, a party), the characters are left undisturbed. I really applaud the discipline required to let the writing stand for itself outside of any sort of instructional emotive music cues. The quietness of it rings true. 

And inside that strength, director Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) has found the catalyst for Tony Grisoni's story of a town whose peace is ripped from them. A broken-down man uses his military experience and a collection of firearms to embark on a series of careless murders. In the cold open, shots immediately ring out over a hazy early morning and moments later the audience faces its first challenge as we see an elderly lady gunned down during some routine gardening. Grim though it may be, it doesn't dwell on the moment. It doesn't relish in its tragedy and that's what sets it apart from gore-fest blockbusters and transgressional showboating. 

This show is about interrupting the viewer, and while there was media coverage of Southcliffe from the exhausting angle of television violence ('Is there too much violence on TV?' - Serena Davies for The Telegraph), much of it failed to see the reasoning behind deploying it. It isn’t violence in the Quentin Tarantino sense of the word that problematises shows like these, it’s trauma. Accounting for trauma, rather than just depicting the visual brutality of it, is an important step that satisfies a need to ground this series in reality. This show has no interest in cultivating heroes or villains. It displays itself in a way that the characters are too busy grieving to care if they’re likable or not. 

Grisoni, in an interview for the show’s official site, said that “One of the things that came out of the research of people suffering any major tragedy is that it kind of smashes time and space in a certain way. You hear over and over again, people have had that experience of hearing someone or having the sense of someone who has gone as if they are there, present now." This non-linear strategy is visible from the start as timelines shift and events are shown from multiple perspectives, but the show is careful never to exhaust this structural-device so that it simply explains each character’s point of view. Rather, it’s there to blur lines of narrative and, more often the not, when a scene is repeated, more questions are raised than answered. 

After viewing, for better or for worse, the viewer is enlightened a little as to the nature of tragedy. The motivations of the crew behind this well-crafted work are honest. There is no injection of saccharin sweet resolution. There’s an overwhelming sense of permanence. Something terrible happened to these characters and as a viewer it affects you. Like all good art, it affects you.

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