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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Penny Stock

As a form of desperation I joined a photo stock agency. I looked at a half dozen of them and ended up submitting to Getty Images which I guess is still the most well known and highest paying. After a few days I received and email that I was not accepted into Getty and instead their cheaper iStock division. My first rule to doing this was that I absolutely would not upload any of my portfolio and that the photos would either be outtakes or photos taken with the purpose of stock only. It's been a couple of months and my first months invoice arrived that showed that I sold 4 photos. After Getty/iStock took their cut I made a whopping $2.47 ! Enough to buy a cup of coffee ! At the very least I was hoping to make enough to pay my monthly Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom bill of $11. I wasn't looking to get rich but I find this little amount ridiculous. Oh, by the way, I won't be  actually receiving any money until my total reaches $20. Then it gets deposited into my PayPal account who will then take a percentage. When I started this I told myself that I would stick with it until the end of the year, I'm still going to and since my first invoice I've uploaded 18 more photos. Their editing process can be a royal pain in the ass ! While you can now have people in the photos if you submit the photos to their editorial department but no logos, signs, or even graffiti (even a scribble on a wall). It really makes you wonder just how truthful the photos in newspapers, magazines, or on tv are if things are being photoshopped out.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


I decided to stay in Chestnut Hill today and not venture into center city. The weather proved to be lousy for most of the day and when there's a threat of cool weather and rain you can bet that the city will be dead and the few wandering outside will be miserable. Still I have a bit of anxiety and guilt for not going because I'm enjoying my new method for street photography and I hate to think that I missed an opportunity. But today was not a total loss. I found a great little diner that you would never guess was a diner from the way it looks from the outside right on Philadelphia's border. Even better is that it's at an entrance to Philadelphia's massive Wissahickon Park. After breakfast I went for a long walk with a friend of mine and my anxiety slowly went away but the guilt of me not going to center city remained. On top of that I had to switch from a black and white mindset to color. Maybe tomorrow I'll take the train into the city.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Spray and Pray

 In a desperate attempt to capture something interesting I've noticed more street photographers shooting everything, like a machine gun. Taking hundreds if not a thousand photographs a day. Is this driven by social media which dictates that you have to post everyday to stay relevant ? I don't know. It could also have to do with laziness, as in it's easier to take a ridiculous amount of photos and sort through them later than it is to search and wait for something to happen. This reminds me of an old tv sitcom where someone said "When you talk all the time you're bound to say everything", so when you're photographing everything you're going to capture everything. There is something very disingenuous about this method. Photographers such as William Eggleston and Vivian Maier rarely if ever took more than one photo of a scene they were photographing. With digital cameras able to hold thousands of photos on a single tiny memory card without reloading anyone can be a street photographer if they're strong enough to hold down the shutter button, no talent is needed. All this technology has destroyed the credibility of street photography and I can only respect those who use digital no different than they did film.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


 My father taught me photography on Kodachrome before moving on to Tri-X. He said if you could master exposure for Kodachrome the rest would be easy. My father knew all there was to Kodak film and during Summers in the late 70s taught those in the industry about the films. My father taught all I would ever need to know about photography and was my only instruction. Sadly almost all of his photography was either destroyed or lost after my parents divorce and his passing. I think about Kodachrome a lot. The physical aspect of it, the colors, the slide projectors, and of course the weeks it took to get developed and mailed back to us. Could you imagine the younger generations today having to wait a month or so to get a few dozen photos back? If Kodachrome was still available today I could see myself giving up digital cameras altogether. It's sad to think of all the people who never had a chance to use it, it truly was something special.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On The Street

Using zoom point and shoot cameras have really given me a chance to see differently in a city that I've already seen everything. New angles, new perspectives, new photos. Unfortunately the Nikon S9600 only survived two weeks before developing a power problem but the camera was a gift and well worn. Not to worry, the camera will most likely be replaced with a Fuji F850exr. As I've said before, you can never have too many of these cameras as they're getting older and not built as well as "enthusiast" or "pro" cameras. I'm really enjoying this new method and without it I doubt that I would have ever gone back to the street.


Monday, April 22, 2019

The Disappearing Point & Shoot Camera

   It's no secret that the so called smart phone is hurting the camera industry and murdering the point & shoot camera. These small more versatile cameras with their capability to produce much better physical prints is being left behind for a device that's a Jack of all trades but master none. They're for the iZombie who lives online, posts their small square photos on social media, and never print them out. There are several photographers that I know, including myself, who are trying acquire enough of them so not to worry about having to buy a new super megapixel, super expensive model with 4k (8k coming soon) anytime soon. Every once in a while someone will gift me a camera which actually happened a lot with the Ricoh GRD1 camera. Lately I've been using the tiny Fuji XQ2 camera for my latest street photography and have enjoyed using it but someone recently sent me a Nikon S9600 superzoom point & shoot. So yesterday I took the train into center city to try it out. First it's wide zoom of 25mm-550mm is slowish with it being f3.4 at the wide end. I don't think I've used anything that slow since the film Yashica T4 camera. But since I'm mostly using it during the day it's not a problem. There isn't any RAW setting and everything is on automatic like a true point and shoot. For the first hour I had to change my method and slow down a bit to figure out where I left the zoom for the last photo and the cameras semi-slow autofocus. After I got use to the slower operation there weren't any problems and the camera is about as simple as it can be in today's obsessive technology driven world. As for the photos themselves I have no issues. The color jpegs convert to black and white well but pixel peepers who never actually make any prints would complain about detail when enlarged to 100% on their 4k monitors. They don't have that overly sharpened digital look to them. I'm more than happy with the prints I made last night and for now I'll be carrying this camera along with the Fuji and will be on the lookout for other P&S cameras.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

If I Could Begin Again

  No this isn't one of those posts about going back in time and changing your life around. It's about one particular thing that I would change. Yes, I wish I pursued photography more strongly in 1995 but that just would've meant I'd have been poor ten years earlier. This about in 2012 when I decided to begin to print and archive my portfolio with hopes of it ending up in a museum collection or something my wife could sell after I'm gone. First up was printing the 1000 photo Philadelphia Project which took almost a year to complete. My first mistake was printing it on 13"x19" paper which doesn't sound large until you need to find space for all the portfolio boxes that were quickly piling up. I should have printed it on 11"x17" paper and while a couple of inches doesn't seem like much you actually be surprised. But if that wasn't bad enough there are several portfolios of New York City and the Ben Franklin Bridge that I printed even larger at 17"x22". What the hell was I thinking ! I was thinking that I was always going to be living in a large loft with lots of space, even vertical space. So here we are in 2019 and I began photographing on the streets again but I wanted to have a way to be able to look at the photos that isn't digital so I started printing them out on 8.5"x11" paper and inserting them into portfolio books. This way I can show others too. I never look at my boxed printed archive because I'm afraid of damaging the prints (ink and paper isn't cheap) but now with this new method I don't worry. So right now I'm kicking myself for not doing this in the beginning because I can really picture a large bookcase lined with these albums and frankly a library of photographs that can be looked through now is a hell of a lot more interesting than a print archive that no one might be interested in in the future.

Friday, April 19, 2019

What's the Purpose of the Collective ?

 I often wonder what is the purpose of the photography collective? Besides showcasing the work of selected photographers what is their goal? Do they try to host physical exhibitions? Do they market the photos as a form of stock images? Do they hold meetings ? Are they even relevant in the age of Facebook and Instagram? I've inquired several times but the answers only left me with more questions than when I started. The most prevalent answer was " the best of" followed by "similar photos". If they're all claiming to be the best doesn't that make "the best" lose all meaning? A few photographers think it will help with exposure but is anyone really paying attention outside of social media? As I've stated before I prefer websites and blogs to social media where you're at the mercy of algorithms, ads, and influencers but I'm not understanding these collectives. If anyone has any idea please let me know.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dual Personality

  Photographing in black and white while in center city, and color in my neighborhood has me thinking completely different for each method. I actually become two different photographers with two different methods. I've noticed that with color I tend to move more slowly and think about the composition a little longer, but it has nothing to do with the fact that my neighborhood moves more slowly than center city. Even though I'm becoming more comfortable with color there is still an internal struggle not to think as a black and white photographer. My battle with color has been a long one that goes all the way back to being a kid using Kodachrome with my father.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

At War With The Obvious

 "I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don't care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the centre. Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don't get it. They respect their work because they are told to by respectable institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious. The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word 'snapshot'. Ignorance can always be covered by 'snapshot'. The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious."

William Eggleston 1988

I completely agree with Eggleston, but have come to the conclusion that you have to be already famous to get away with saying this.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Stuck in First Gear

 Nine years ago I started the three year Philadelphia Project and besides my observations about change and gentrification there's something else that I finding strange. People are walking so much sloooower today! I'm 50 and don't walk as fast as I did nine years ago but it feels like I'm running around the sidewalks compared to people who are half my age. Some of these sidewalk slugs aren't even on their phone and I can only imagine how long it must take them to walk a mile in the city. To tell you the truth it's throwing my timing off a bit. I also noticed this phenomenon the last time I went up to New York City. If you showed a video of 5th ave in 2019 next to one taken in 1990 it must look like someone pressed fast forward on the 1990 one.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

See Differently

For almost 15 years the vast majority of my photography was taken with a 28mm lens and Ricoh being the dominant camera. When you use a single focal length for that long you begin to see with a 28mm view. You no longer need a viewfinder or lcd screen to frame a shot, it becomes second nature. The problem is you tend not to pay attention to things happening outside of that focal length. There's a saying that goes "If you want to see differently, change cameras". I've heard this for many years but never gave it any thought because I was happy with walking around with imaginary 28mm frame lines around everything. The problem is that street life today has become boring and predictable with not much more for me to see so I needed something to change. As I've said before, last year I was on the street with a Yashica Mat medium format camera and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But without going into the whole story again the cost was just too much for an artist who makes about as much as someone who breaks big rocks into little rocks. What I decided to do was to take a small point and shoot camera with a mild zoom and see what the world looks like. I got my hands on a very small Fuji XQ2 camera with a zoom range of 25-100mm and once again begun to wander the streets. In the beginning it was difficult getting that 28mm frame out of my head and working slower but in a short while I realised more was being opened up to me. There are those out there that will argue using only a single focal length is the best method for street photography but they're usually so called purists who talk to damn much. Changing cameras has gotten me back on the street again and wondering what I could see with a zoom camera with even a wider range like 24-200mm. We'll see where this leads.

Friday, April 12, 2019

What a Difference a Couple of Years Can Make

After almost a two year hiatus from taking photos on the street I feel invigorated being out there again. I'm trying my best to avoid things that aggravate the hell out of me about the new city. Mostly the iZombies, chain stores, and obvious suburban Millennial transplants. Ok, I still have an urge to knock down those annoying clipboard (now iPad) people asking to help or save something by trying to relate to you somehow. I'll always prefer the night for street photography because most of those annoyances would be closed or home because of being afraid of the dark (why cities are installing overly bright LED street lights). The one thing I've noticed so far is the lack of other street photographers. A couple of years ago you couldn't walk more than a couple of blocks without bumping into one, even worse in New York City. So at this point the gluten of wannabe street photographers have seemed to vanish and maybe with a little time it's credibility will return.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Light and Shadow

Applying the same method I used during my night photography I'm constantly searching out light and shadow. For over 20 years my technique has gone unchanged, even before digital photography I looked for high contrast scenes and then followed up with printing those in the darkroom on the now long discontinued Agfa Brovira paper which provide beautiful contrast when pushed. There's more to this method than abstract, it's my memory.

   Current Print Available 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Master Plan

  I spend a good amount of time thinking of a master plan. A way I can continue as an artist without being a homeless one in my old age. A way to pay for supplies and local travel. A way to pay for print archiving and publishing. A way just to survive. I have several notebooks scattered around for recording thoughts, memories and ideas, also for the better part of the last three years I always carried around a pocket notepad to jot things down. I don't own a smartphone and I'll do everything in my power to never own one. To me the are the worst piece of technology that has infested the world today. I'll always physically write things down on paper or on the large school house chalkboard hanging on my wall. Things are too easily forgotten when they're on a little digital device loaded down with apps and other BS. Oh, that also goes for photos too.

Monday, April 8, 2019

My Street

 After getting off the train in center city I walked down to the South Street Diner for a good breakfast before my trek around downtown. Sadly the diner had four booths occupied in a place you would once have to wait in line to eat at. What the hell is going on in American culture today that people feel they're too good to eat a diner ? Ok, I'll keep that rant short. I must have covered about ten miles on this warm Spring day and slowly began to snap away but not as quickly as I would have liked. there are a few things I'm trying to do different this time around. One is too spend more time in one neighborhood instead of covering all of downtown. Second is to take more photos and not to analyse the situation as much as I use too. By the end of the day I ended up with a few photos I was happy with and I'm looking forward to getting out there again.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Project Funding

It's time to raise some funds for train fare back and forth to center city. Since I no longer live downtown I'm reliant on our regional rail service for transportation. So for a limited time I'm offering a choice of two signed prints on 8.5"x11" Hahnemuhle Photo Silk Baryta paper for $75 each (includes domestic shipping). These two prints were the first photos from my return to street photography. Thank you for your support.

Print Choice:

Email: michaelpennphotography@gmail.com

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Matrix Has You...

 Last night I deleted all photos from what was my main Instagram account and uploaded a photo explaining that I will no longer be posting any photos from my portfolio there. The photo depicts a couple photos printed in a portfolio album. The prints are from a new body of work that will be continuing for the foreseeable future. I lost all interest in posting photos and waiting around to see if anyone interacts. Most of the time other people will just try to emulate the photos, or they get lost in a sea of shit and ads, influencers who don't influence, or "Instabimbos" who post soft porn images, so I see no real reason for Instagram to exist anymore. It's time to get back to what's real and lose the high school cliquishness of social media. I want to interact with real humans in person where you can have their undivided attention or can walk away when they can't stop looking at their phone. I want control back and I'll get it ! I'll gladly show my portfolio books to anyone in person.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Another Provoke Movement

 There has never been a Provoke movement in American photography and the closest thing to it was the one man show of William Klein's 1950s New York photography. It's breakdown of photography was as much about the photographer as the photographs. The fight against boring photography, academic photography, and advertisement photography led to a group of five photographers in Tokyo in 1968. Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Takahiko Okada, Yutaka Takanashi, and Koji Taki produced imagery and words that would scare the hell out of most curators and academic types in this country. Only a brave few have exhibited or championed the work here. The photos, especially from Moriyama and Nakahira not only make you look twice but requires the viewer to think. they were trying to deconstruct photography itself. More than ever there needs to be a movement like this today. Social media with instagram in the leed proves the boring communal or collective state of photography today. As Moriyama said back in 1968 "photography has become shitty". In America photography has almost always been straight forward because of the viewers need to feel safe and intelligent. This is primarily the fault of the photographer who wants be understood, relevant and not an outsider. Photography in this country is in serious trouble.
50 Years Since Provoke

Video: Daido Moriyama on Provoke

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


Adjective. grantable (not comparable) Capable of being granted.

"The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage handed 
out $8.7 million to 45 Philadelphia artists and organizations in 2018. It awarded grants of $10.3 million in 2017."

 Over the last 15 years I've noticed the same artists receiving sizeable grants over and over again from the big names. Once you are awarded a PEW your chances of receiving a USA Gund, Guggenheim Fellow, Lewis Comfort Tiffany, etc, etc greatly increases and then you become even more grantable or as I say "super grantable". I thought the goal was to help artists, not just the same artists over and over again. There is something very disingenuous about this practice. I've spoken out about this practice and I'm sure I've been blackballed at this point. The granting trend which has moved more towards nominators than the application process also leaves a lot to be desired when you only seem to be nominating artists with an MFA or linked to a university or other cultural institution. The art of politics has nothing on the politics of art.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

On the Street

 Yesterday was the first time I walked the streets looking for photos in over a year and even back then I was working on my subway portfolio. So I jumped on the train into center city and walked for a couple of hours. The cold and windy Spring day kept most people inside even though the sun was fully out. I carried two compact cameras, the tiny Fuji Xq2 which I haven't used for street photography before and the Leica D-Lux4 that I haven't used in about a decade. They both took a little time getting use to after using the very simple Ricoh GRD1 for more than a decade. It was a slow day out there with the only real aggravating sources being the sidewalk iZombies and Uber/ Lyft drivers who make real taxi drivers look like the most law abiding drivers on the road. But besides the annoyance of the digital dust generation the walk was productive. There are a couple of things I'm doing different this time with the first photographing in broad daylight which is something I don't do a lot of and taking those photos in the shorter 4:3 ratio instead of the longer 3:2 ratio. Right now I'm hoping to return to center city once or twice a week and bucking the social media trend I'm in no rush to show the photos. I might actually print them out and carry around a small portfolio album to show people in person.

Monday, April 1, 2019

When Great Ideas Fail

 A/Fixed printed on tabloid size newspaper was a fantastic idea that fell short due to lack of real support beyond the small group of photographers with a passion for this type of photography. At $10 it was a bargain and it's format original and non conforming. Will there be a second edition, who knows ? I believe it's failure was due to the lack of open mindedness of today's American photographers who can't see beyond the rules of photography, the rules of creativity, and the rules of publishing.


Inspired by Love for Japanese Photography and its History

The only borders that should exist in photography are frames; what they capture and what they say can be limitless. A/fixed, the creation of the Japanese Photography Project, intends to break language barriers by bringing the art and inspiration of Japanese photography to Western culture. Through both historic work and modern insight — and with both print and online publications — A/fixed aims to take photography beyond the Western frame.

Breaking The Connection

 Apparently two years off of facebook and a year off of Instagram still isn't enough of a pull-back for me. I've deleted all my foru...