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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Before Social Media, Photography Was a Social Medium

 The state of photography as an art just keeps moving into further oblivion. The talk going on is not good and I'm wondering if and when it will reverse course. If you're into instagram selfies, lunch photos, and the now majority Keeping Up With The Joneses, you'll be perfectly content. If you're into whatever cluster fuck of the day social or political issue you'll be fine as well. It's why so many galleries and museums are hosting exhibitions on these topics of the day. They know the iZombie drones will stumble through their doors. I watched a couple of good photographers throw in the towel over the years such as Markus Hartel who moved out of New York City, Clay Benskin also from New York but for reasons unknown, and most recently Zoe Strauss from Philadelphia who has won just about every major grant and fellow, had a major museum retrospective, and had a shot joining Magnum. She is going to sell all her camera gear because she's flat broke. If she can't afford to live as an artist what hope do the rest of us have !?
 I've spent a great deal of time speaking to those in the field such as gallery owners, curators, collectors, critics, and they're not sure of what's happening either. I've read hundreds of articles, books, blogs and forums searching for an answer beyond the obvious that Instagram and smartphones have devalued the photographic image. Remember when people though that digital cameras will be the death of it ? Well who knew something worse was around the corner.
  Speaking of forums, I freaking hate them but someone talked into joining one of the largest in photography to pep it up. I was very reluctant because I knew what to expect which was a bunch of gearheads who constantly buy the latest gear but rarely take photos and God forbid ever post them. The place always erupts into the most insipid arguments when these fauxtographers should be out there taking photos or at least learning how to. So after I grew tired of the camera forum I moved to its Street Photography/Documentary Photography forum. There are photos posted by a handful of people but nothing that comes close to good mostly because they don't have the discipline to learn. Communication is rare because they're either afraid or because today's internet has made everyone too lazy except for a click on a like or little red heart. When they do respond most of it is in the form of an argument which is either uneducated in the field of photography or a personal opinion being passed on as fact. When you have no experience why talk when you can listen ? Even when you try to help they take it as an attack on them. I've brought up the question about street photographers collecting others work and just about all said they don't and they won't. Claims of clutter, living minimal, not wanting to leave physical things behind for love ones, and my personal favorite not wanting strangers hanging on their walls even though they themselves go out and take photos of strangers. It's a typical Millennial attitude that even two of the late 40's members agree to. Fucking Millennial wannabes are the worst. Some of the more Google savy people will try to use terms such as "historical baggage" as a narcissist way of saying that time didn't exist before them. What a sad existence they've constructed for themselves and at the same time destroying photography.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Matt Weber

I'm dedicating this post to New York City photographer Matt Weber. Not only is Matt a great photographer but he's one of the most humble and down to earth people that you'll ever want to meet. His photos of New York go back to the early 80s when he drove a taxi for a living. I could write an entire book about Matt but it will be more fun to discover him for yourself. I'm proud to own 3 of his prints and all of his publications. Lots of links below.

Matt Weber Website

Matt Weber Instagram

Book - Street Trip. Life in NYC: Photographs by Matt Weber


Daily Mail - Matt Weber

Book - The Urban Prisoner

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Blank Generation

 With in three days two great photographers passed away. Robert Frank who was 94 and Fred Herzog who was 88. I doubt there are many photographers or fans of that don't know who Robert Frank was but I have run into a surprising amount who didn't know his work beyond the Americans. Fred Herzog who wasn't really discovered until he was 75 put together a fantastic color portfolio dating back to 1953 but was still mostly unknown when compared to the icons. With recent passing of so many great photographers and those getting up there in years I'm wondering who if any middle aged photographers will be recognized by the art world or lionized by the press. Will the torch be passed or will photography from this point on be downgraded as something not as important.

William Klein - 91
Elliott Erwitt - 91
Bruce Davidson - 86
Lee Friedlander - 85
Daido Moriyama - 81
Joel Meyerowitz - 81
William Eggleston - 80

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Death of the Urban Warrior

 Yes I've said most of this before, some of it more than once, but it needs repeating until I convince myself that I've outgrown today's version of the city. That the dullness, the sameness, and all the polishing isn't for me, and neither are the new suburban transplants infected with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Just about every place I enjoyed is no more and so are the people that I enjoyed it with. While repeating this doesn't make me feel any better, while truthfully it makes me feel worse, I feel it's the only way I can overcome what has happened and assimilate into my more suburban surroundings as a person and a photographer. While technically still with in Philadelphia's borders Chestnut Hill is anything but urban and there are a fair amount of New Yorkers moving here, some for the same reasons I did, more bang for their buck even considering that most of this neighborhood is extremely wealthy, or a better place to raise their children. And no the place isn't "Instagramable".
 Some people on the internet where they feel safe would question and even chastise my comments on modern city life. My favorite is "everything changes" by those who have barely left home and haven't really experienced anything. Yes things change but when that change is no longer organic and is been forced, branded and hyped, it's no longer just simple change. Inexperienced people who think like that are being commanded and brainwashed into acceptance by that $1000 device in their back pocket that's spying on them. Some are actually believing that city life before they arrived is nothing more than historical baggage but thrive off of faux appropriated versions of what came before. I would sit at Little Pete's counter and stare at them walking by the window trying to understand them and they would sometimes glance up from their phone to stare back at the sad middle age guy in bummy clothes eating at that old dirty diner in that blighted building, and what's that thing...a camera. That last part was true as it was told to me by James who sold umbrellas across the street from the diner for more than 30 years. Sometimes my contempt for these izombies turns to sadness that they'll never be able to truly experience the real city, any real city. Their entitled life of needing such a planned existence that's been curated just for them while being directed down that yellow brick road by Apple, Google, Facebook and Instagram is suicidality depressing. Gone with them are the street smarts and survival skills needed to navigate life, and the ability to think fast and deal with the unexpected.
  So where does this leave me? Well for one I haven't been back to center city(downtown) in two months and too tell you the truth I feel no need to go. My few remaining friends there take the train out here to see me, they need a break from the new norm even though some won't admit to it. New York is no different and in some ways worse. I'm sitting on three free round trip tickets but I can't get myself to go for the same reasons, but for size and wealth it's worse. My remaining friends there feel no different than I do and want out and for a true native New Yorker that's a very difficult thing. In a week it will mark one year since I moved here and I need to adjust my photography to my new situation. I've struggled with it so far but I think the cure is for me to think and move more slowly in my approach, ok and maybe some Transcendental Meditation. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Grant Money

Just some of the offers I received by email today. Unless you're connected you'll need a grant just to apply for all the pay to play artist grants out there.

The Harper Prize Grant - $40

W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography - $50

Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer's Fellowship - $25

 Fuck it, I'll buy lottery tickets instead. It's the same thing.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Photojournalism Today Is......

  A few weeks ago I was offered the position of photographer for a local paper but of course reality came crashing down after I was told they really didn't have a budget for one. The actual reality part of it is that "photo by Michael Penn" would be my paycheck. Three or five years ago this would have made me blow my top at whoever suggested it but for some reason I didn't this time and you want to know why? Because I was expecting it. I can't pay my bills with "photo by Michael Penn", I can't buy food with "photo by Michael Penn", and "photo by Michael Penn" will definitely not pay for health insurance. Since this was offered I've given a great deal of thought to photojournalism and the sad state it's in.
  Newspapers began to disappear after the internet picked up steam in the early 2000's and when the masses became addicted to their smartphone and social media the death of printed news went supersonic. The photojournalist was usually the first casualty because any schmuck with a smartphone could take a photo and quality no longer matter. A good photo was no longer needed to grab someone's attention, that was relinquished to the clickbait headline. Nothing had to be good or truthful anymore, it just had to be fast and first. Photographers are rarely sent out on assignments anymore, if ever. The editor will scour social media to find the photos they need and then offer "exposure" to the person as payment and if that doesn't work they'll go to a stock photo website and pay about 17 cents for a photo, even less with a membership. The payoff for the free or next to it photojournalism usually was a photo that didn't relate to the story or was horrible enough that a clickbait headline was required to take the reader's attention away from the bad photo. Sometimes when on a news website it's hard to tell the difference between the editorial photo and one of the many ads that appear around it. This method became a bad habit to editors when they figured out that the photos really didn't matter anymore, especially to the youth who are looking for headlines to make them angry and insulted. Their attention span for photos is something you scroll by at the speed of light and click the like button every once in a while.
  While speaking to a now retired photojournalist of over 30 years his tone went from disappointment to rage in about three sentences. The paper where he last worked was hiring photographers at about 40% of what he was being paid and his own salary began to decline rapidly. After claiming that some of these people should have never picked up a camera he quickly learned that a few were still living at their parents home even though they were around 30 years old and the rest were either supported by someone else or were trust fund babies. He claims it wasn't hard to figure out since some were carrying more in gear than what they would make in a year which wasn't enough to pay the rent in a small old one bedroom apartment. There was one photographer who was a college student but quit after a month because she didn't like the social aspect of being a photojournalist. Instead of increasing the pay in hopes of attracting seasoned or serious photojournalists they now have their field reporters take photos with their phone. This photographer now wonders how he'll survive. 
 An old paper editor who recently left his job said that "photography is almost anonymous because it's become homogenized (that word is being used a lot lately)". Photojournalism used to be incredibly prestigious and a much sought-after profession. The overall devaluation of photography that started years ago ran concurrent with the gradual demise of newspapers, which ran concurrent with the rise of the internet, which ran concurrent with the use of video, and it was a long, slow, critical illness for photojournalism. So why would someone underwrite the expense of a four-year undergraduate degree to compete for a $25,000-a-year job? Now when approached by someone interested in the job he states that you better have two or three years of salary in the bank before considering it. Even if you get in they now expect you to shoot video, tweet, instagram, facebook, and file to the web. Renaissance artists were supported by patrons. There are no patrons supporting photojournalism now. The patrons were newspapers and magazines. And they’ve cut off the money. That’s just the raw truth of it.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Death of the Photo Essay

 As a child my father once told me that Gene Smith was the only American photographer that was worth a damn. I know he met Smith a couple of times in New York and while he began to teach me photography I was too young to fully appreciate what he was trying to tell me. He called him a "complete photographer" and went on to explain how he could photograph any situation in front of him with any camera and then print as well or better than the master printers of the time. W Eugene Smith, Gene would tell people that the "W" stood for "wonderful", has always been a source of inspiration to me. When I say inspiration I don't mean the idol worship that plagues photographers today, what I mean is his pure love of photography and his tenacity to it. There has never been a more dedicated photographer who truly understood the power of the photographic image and yet he's still not given the credit he deserves as photographer who developed the photo essay. Photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Steichen were in awe of his talent and had no problem publicly expressing it. They fought for him when he was known to be difficult to work with, mostly because editors didn't understand his genius or dedication to his subjects.
 Gene had a huge fear of failure and never being satisfied, but it was those two things that drove him to always try harder and in some occasions made him suicidal. While on assignment one night his assistant found him standing in the middle of the country road in front of the motel they were staying. When he asked Gene what he's was doing Gene answered " I'm waiting for a car to drive by and hit me". His addiction to uppers didn't help but without them he wouldn't be able to spend three days or more in the darkroom without any sleep. His perfectionist attitude would result in him spending up to a week working on one single print, going thru hundreds of sheets of paper, developing chemicals, and endless bottles of the poison Cyanide that he used to brighten highlights in his prints. Books, magazines and definitely your computer monitor don't do his prints justice. They HAVE to be seen in person to understand just how great they are.
 Today the photo essay has dissolved into an afterthought of popaganda ( See urban Dictionary ) with branding overtones. There is neither truth in the words or photographs. True photographic talent has been replaced by anyone with an iPhone. Quick has replaced great, the complex has been dumbed down for the clickbait addicted internet masses with a 15 second attention span. Pick up any old copy of Life magazine and see for yourself.

My copies of Life magazine with W. Eugene Smith photo essays.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Down, Down, Down, But When Up ?

 The bad news of places closing that were meant for EVERYONE is going beyond critical ! In the last week I found out about an apartment building up the street from my old loft is not renewing anyones lease and 100 people will have to find a new place to live including several friends of mine. The owner of the building is leasing every unit to a "short stay company", oh fuck it and just say AirBnB. The areas affordability has already vanished and this will only make the situation worse. This is all about money from tourism, fuck those that have called it home for decades.
 The second news of this madness is the closing of the 100 year old I. Goldberg Army Navy Store. I've shopped there since 1983 and even as I sit here typing this the clothes on my back were purchased there. In the last 17 years they were forced to move twice and they weren't being supported by Millenials who wouldn't be seen dead in clothes from this non-Instagramable store.
 Today I awoke to the news of the Trolley Car Diner closing for good on October 15th. The diner is a short walk down the street from me and the thought of having a diner so close gave me comfort when we moved here from Old City. The property will most likely be developed into condos or townhouses.
 Besides these three I've been bombarded by insider information and rumors of the two remaining center city Philadelphia diners closing soon. One more in South Philly on life support and another no longer 24 hours. What's going to happen when entire cities become habitats for tourists and their well to do overlords who have infested and de-urbanized the city?

Before Social Media, Photography Was a Social Medium

 The state of photography as an art just keeps moving into further oblivion. The talk going on is not good and I'm wondering if and when...