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Friday, May 31, 2019

Submission

  I've been shopping for a book publisher for my color "Welcome to Market East" portfolio and have become frustrated by a couple of things. One is the lack of publishers who accept submissions, so far I've found one (no fee). Second is the nerve of a Brooklyn publisher that charges $300 for submissions. That's right, I said $300 ! Usually if there's money to be made off a book it's the publisher that gets it with very little if anything filtering down to the artists themselves so the asinine idea of charging the artist $300 is a big fuck you. 
  Next up in my email I received a message to submit to a local institution's annual competition for the low rate of $45. It's bad enough that the judges for this competition usually choose horrible winners so why would I want to pay $45 to enter ? Summertime is usually a bad time for the art gallery world and institutions so they have pay to play exhibitions where nothing over $100 sells with the gallery receiving half of that money. Once a week I scour the internet looking for real opportunities but there doesn't seem to be any besides these scam events. In a couple of hours I can find enough of them to spend $1000 in entrance fees. The only way they will stop is if people would stop paying to enter them.

 
   

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How A Great City Lost Its Soul

"How A Great City Lost Its Soul" is the title of a book by Jeremiah Moss and one I highly recommend to those who are wondering what the hell has happened to New York City. I've read the book twice and often think about the unnatural change happening there and in other cities. Yesterday was no different as I took the train up to see fellow photographer Matt Weber give a slideshow presentation of his New York street photography at B&H Photo. Matt's photos capture exactly what I remember about the 80s and 90s New York. While change has always happened it was never at this hyper pace and in just about every area of the city at the same time. There is also a huge difference between this and every other period of gentrification and growth, it's money. You would be hard pressed to find development going on for the true middle class and lower class. It's out of control and I don't think history will be kind when it looks back at what has happened. I'm betting photography won't either. After leaving Matt's presentation I did what I normally do before getting on the train home. I stop at the nearby Skylight Diner for coffee and something to eat. With the Cheyenne Diner at 9th and 33rd closing in 2008 the sole remaining 24 hour place around for affordable food was the Skylight Diner. Yes there's the Tick Tock around the corner on 8th ave but to call it a tourist trap would be a great understatement. Over the last few years I've noticed the crowds dwindling as what seemed to be a mostly older Jewish clientele stopped coming. Most likely they've been priced out of the area and those that do remain will feel the wrath of the new mega Hudson Yards development a block away. Hordes of mostly young white professionals scuttle like roaches along the sidewalk on the phones. Gone is the true diversity, the culture, the unexpected. Jeremiah was right, the city has lost its soul.

* The photo posted below was taken in 2007 from a window booth at the Skylight Diner

Jeremiah Moss
Vanishing New York: How A Great City Lost Its Soul

Matt Weber
Matt Weber Photography

Skylight Diner
Skylight Diner


Monday, May 27, 2019

The Burbs

 Since moving out of Old City I've read several articles with titles such as "How to Take Boring Photos", "At War With the Obvious", "Photograph the Ugly Stuff". The purpose for these articles is to show that suburban photography can be as interesting and important as photography taken in large cities. While it will fall on the deaf ears of the young suburban population now returning to the city for the sole purpose of "coolness" there does seem to be an older portion of the photography population in their 60s,70s, and 80s that have done an excellent job of portraying the burbs. The reason I'm bringing this up is because of my problem finding myself right now as a photographer who has only photographed the city and now lives in a suburban setting. You won't find track housing, convenience stores, strip malls, and some other things you would find in the traditional burbs. My new neighborhood which is barely in Philadelphia's borders has a slightly upscale main street that divides it into two. The one side is full of mostly old stone mega mansions full of millionaires and a couple of billionaires while my side of the main street is a lot more middle-class. It seems that I can go out for days without pressing the shutter and that frankly scares the hell out of me !


Sunday, May 26, 2019

All's Fair in Love, War.........and Photography


  There are often too many conversations about ethics in street and documentary photography. In today's ultra PC world full of people just looking for ways to be offended the photographic image is usually the first example of an item that's attacked. Without understanding the reality of what was actually happening these over-sensitive people will quickly claim that you're "exploiting", "cruel", "a creep", blah, blah, blah. Every photographer has a different gauge in which they measure ethics. For most it's if someone is or has been physically harmed and everything else is up to interpretation. Those who easily get up in arms fail to realise that editing real life is disingenuous and the stuff that dystopian movies are made of. Several people were screaming that I took advantage of the woman in the photo below by capturing her with her dress up ( edited for the internet). What they failed to realise is that already several weeks in on my "Welcome to Market East" project that I previously took several photos of her and one night after doing a few laps of the area she said " you want a good photo, count to three". When she got to three I pressed the shutter and the flash went off. Tell to you truth I wasn't prepared for what she did and I wasn't even sure I got the shot until I looked at the camera's LCD screen. There were several other people standing around and we all laughed, including her who followed up with "I just made your night dear". I don't think I'll ever again have the type of interaction I had while working on that project. There was something very real about those people in a world becoming increasing fake.




Friday, May 24, 2019

Broken Record


  Sometimes I repeat myself on this blog but that usually happens after one or more conversations that I have with other photographers or collectors. Just this morning I was chatting with a photographer who is in his early 60s and is now asking if his life's work will ever see the light of day or as he repeated what I said "just end up in the garbage after he dies". He had relatively high numbers on Instagram but has since deleted his account because of the "popularity contest" that so called social media has become, the spammers, bots, fake accounts with their likes and follows, and people who have engaged less. Much like myself he's worried that photography in the 21st century has lost its importance, it's clarity, and direction. I couldn't argue with him because I believe photography as art art form, as storytelling, as something special is in serious trouble. I know photographers that have published books that sold well but no longer do so because why should people buy a book when they can see the photos for free on Instagram or Facebook? Many people praise social media for opening up the world of art but I truly believe that ended five years ago. It's become an outright sea of shit where anyone can put up photos of street photography and no matter how terrible and non-cohesive the photos are they will achieve fame if their follower/like numbers are high enough no matter if those numbers are real or fake. There are others who have a hard time fighting the urge to return to Instagram. There are those who post their portfolio photos and judge their value on how many people "like" the photos, people that they don't know, people that might not even be real. Where's the reality in that ? I recently watch a 49 minute documentary on just how fake the social media platform has become ( link posted below ). I suggest that everyone should watch it, specially other artists.

"Follow Me" documentary


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Searching

 To call me efficient and organized is an understatement. Even as a child I was overly neat, I had to know where everything I owned was. My friends would make fun of me because I made to do lists, inventory lists,  and sketched things out before doing them. It's most likely why I have to work in nice neat projects instead of photographing my whole life the same manner. It's also my way of dealing with a city that moves slower than I do. Maybe, just maybe if I spent my life in a city like New York or Tokyo where there's more and that more moving faster could I photograph as one life long project.  Right now I'm thinking of new projects but as just about everything is or has already been gentrified it's become increasingly hard. Unless my goal was to show a before and after there is no way I could mix pre and post gentrification into the same project. As I type this there is a black composition book next to me where I keep track of ideas and that book usually goes wherever I go.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Welcome to Market East Revisited

 After my last post about wishing I had more time to work on "Welcome To Market East" before the gentrification began I went back and looked through all the original color photos before I converted to black and white. I NEVER keep original RAW files once I'm done with a project, it's just something I've always done but for some reason I held onto these photos. I still had 99% of them and while I did lose the original file of what I consider an important photo (police on horses), I did manage to find 10 photos that didn't convert well to black and white that look great in color. In the end I edited down to 107 photos that I'm considering as a submission for a book. Granted if published it might be edited down to 70-80 photos but I'm ok with that. I guess I had to wait five years before I could appreciate these photos in color, most likely because color seems to be lost today in favor of boring neutral non-colors. Will I replace my black and white photos for these color ones ? Right now I have to say no but seeing them in color was like seeing this area for the first time. My next step is to put them in some sort of cohesion order and find a publisher willing to publish a Philadelphia based photo book. Any ideas on a publisher would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Just a Little Bit Longer

In 2014-2015 I began documenting an area of center city called Market East (now East Market). It's an area East of city hall to roughly 6th street with its main focus on the urban mall "The Gallery" and the "Market East Station" now named Jefferson Station. There was talk about renovating the area which is just another way to say gentrification with a side of trendy. As I prefer to photograph at night I set out with my camera but this time my method changed. Unlike my street photography where I never stopped moving and try to blend in, I decided to try something different. Using a larger camera with a flash and actually stopping to talk to everyone that I wanted to photograph. Unless they were passed out I asked for permission before taking any of the portraits in this body of work. I got to know a lot of the homeless, junkies, and hustlers that I call the "residents". I gained their trust very quickly and there wasn't a night I didn't hear "Hey Michael" coming from the shadows, doorways, or bus stops. Today there have already been two towers built with another 3 on the way, more hotels, and the old Gallery Mall will reopen after a massive rehab as the heavily branded "Fashion District". The area is being thoroughly sterilized and commercialized with 4 large LED billboards (more on the way) and hype advertisements. When this began a lot of the "residents" said this was the "de-blackification" of Market East and frankly it's hard not to agree with them. Much like everything else today the area is marketed and branded to white Millennials and tourists. In the end my only regret was that I didn't begin this project earlier.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New Prints Available

For a limited time I'm offering these two new prints for a very special price to help fund transportation costs to center city so I can continue my photography. The prints are 7.5"x10" on 8.5"x11" Hahnemuhle Photo Silk Baryta paper and signed on the back. The cost is $75 each and includes domestic shipping.



Print:



Monday, May 13, 2019

Losing Interest

 I seem to be losing interest in seeing photography exhibitions, buying photo books, and even speaking with other photographers. With that broad statement let me be more specific. For photography exhibitions I have a better chance of seeing a unicorn in Philadelphia. We have no real photography galleries and most of what is shown is the result of pay to play competitions. If you want to see a proper exhibition you have to travel 100 miles north to New York City but even there most of what you'll see is either from the dead or those closing in on it. I love photo books and to tell you the truth I would rather publish books than have exhibitions. The problem is the huge amount of photo books being published around the same time about the same subject. Take a look on Amazon (I hate Amazon) and search for latest photo books published on New York City. I came up with a couple dozen in the last year. Publishers think because it's New York City it will automatically sell well. Hell they might be right, I've seen more NYC photography and books in people's homes in Philadelphia than those about Philadelphia. I can't remember when the last street photography or documentary photography book on Philadelphia was published, or if ever. What about Boston, Detroit, Seattle, Miami, etc, etc ? the whole thing is very lopsided. As for speaking to other photographers, most of my communication to those are either by email or social media messages and not to those in Philadelphia. It seems that all the ones I use to talk to a decade ago became more reclusive as they became older. It also seems that while the under 38 photographers only congregate amongst their own generation the rest of the photographer community has shrunk or moved away. I'm not ashamed to say I'm jealous when I see an exhibition in NYC and I see a dozen photographers that I know of in a group talking. My last couple of years in center city I felt most isolated as a photographer and since I've moved eight months ago out to the city's border I've felt like I'm in photographers purgatory. Maybe it's time that I myself become more of a recluse.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

What Would John Szarkowski Do ?

 I credit John Szarkowski for once solidifying photography as a legitimate art form. He was the director of photography of MoMA from 1962 to 1991 and his accomplishments were nothing short of incredible. To hell with the experts, the purists, the critics, he was going to show you what photography was, were it is, and it's future even if you weren't ready for it. John died in 2007 before the age of Facebook, Instagram and their virus like infection of the art world. What would he think of the importance put on social media "likes" by the masses who are clueless about photography and how those "likes"can dictate exhibitions, book publishing, and print sales ? I can't imagine he would be pleased but would he have been powerful enough to sway people's attention away from it ? To put it simply, COULD HE SAVE PHOTOGRAPHY ? Could he make it special again ? Could he restore its importance ? Ok, John is gone never to return so who will be the next John Szarkowski ?

Friday, May 10, 2019

I Don't Care

 The world of photography has been infested with ideals, politics, PC correctness, branding, marketing, influencers, and other viral crap that's become vastly more prevalent than the photos themselves.

I don't care about your political beliefs, what you stand for, your sex, your sexual preference, your race, your religion, your education, the equipment you use, how many followers you have, your CV, your artist statement. I base my interest on the photos themselves so leave your self importance to your memoirs or news fluff piece and the gallery walls to the photos.

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

"I'm Tired Of Being Disappointed But I'm Glad I Have Photos"

  "I'm Tired Of Being Disappointed But I'm Glad I Have Photos" will most likely be the title of my memoir or manifesto. The two reasons I switched to street photography was that I got tired of being detained by authorities after 911 or being told "NO" when asking for permission to take photos of buildings and certain areas. The other was the unnatural rapid change happening in cities. A great disappointment in the unurbaning of cities and the rapid rise of the suburban 9 to 5 transplants. When I look at my Philadelphia Project which began about 10 years ago it seems that the vast majority of what and who I photographed are gone. The city has become a disposable object much like today's smartphones. Anything that's been around for more than a couple of years is old and needs to be replaced by the next new shiny thing. Never have I seen such a quick turnover with signs in windows saying "Thanks for a great two years". Two freaking years ! Most of the businesses, diners, coffee shops I would frequent were around for decades, not years.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Advice

 I've been trading messages with a street photographer from New York City who has been suffering from anxiety and depression over stagnant print sales, exhibition opportunities and a city that's become boring and homogenized at the speed of light. He's wondering how he'll survive and if it's even worth creating new bodies of work since it will most likely end up in the trash after he's gone. Any interest is for his "safe" photography while his grittier prints sit in boxes or on hard drives. He's wondering if he continues should he switch to color which is something he's hardly done since the end of Kodachrome because he just doesn't see the city the same way. He's even given thought to giving up on the city all together and begin photographing in the suburbs. After his first email I told him that I was laughing for a good ten minutes. A little confused he asked why. I told him that everything he said sounded like it came out of me. The sames things I discuss with my wife everyday. After the laughter stopped I felt no solace that I was not the only one currently going through this and my symptoms have worsened. We have both achieved somewhat moderate success with a few exhibitions, articles written, print sales, self publications, etc. Neither of us has been awarded grants or fellowships, been included in museum exhibitions, or have published beyond self-publication. In the end I had no advice to either help or easy the suffering.
 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Weather

 Yesterday I spent a very wet Sunday roaming the streets downtown. I made the mistake of taking the bus in which took an hour and a half because of the Broad Street Run. Next time I'll spring for the $5 train instead. After that long boring trip I needed breakfast so I ended up at one of the last diners, and 24 hours at that in center city. Midtown III (there were four) had about a dozen people all which were easily over the age of 40 and it's waitstaff in their 50s and 60s. Finishing up with several cups of coffee it was time to hit the street and under it in Philadelphia's massive subway concourse tunnels. In the end I did manage to take a few good photos which have already been printed and added to the album. But mostly I ended up very wet.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Manifesto

 15 years ago I began thinking about photography as a form of art but since endless copies can be made I couldn't put it in the same category as painting. Back then I wanted to produce a body of work on film and then offer only a single print of each photo, attach the negative on the back and include a certificate of authenticity. I eventually moved on to other projects but started to think about it again in 2017. I sorted through some of my recent photos and choose 40 photos for my Manifesto Single Print project. I settled on a print size and designed a certificate of authenticity. The goal here was to offer collectors a chance to own a one of a kind print. There are of course many photographers who edition prints but I couldn't find one that limited to a single print. Even though I've only sold one so far I haven't become discouraged

http://michaelpennphotography.com/manifesto.html


Friday, May 3, 2019

Crappy Cameras

 The replacement for the Nikon S9600 just arrived. I'm only using this type of slow super zoom camera for street photography. I'm sick of these camera companies and fauxtographers spewing the need for ultra fast mega pixel peeping cameras with see in the dark iso capabilities. To be frank I don't care if every camera company went out of business, after all they helped destroy what was a great photography culture by putting cameras in the hands of so called influencers who photography capabilities were either hipster dufus or things postcards are made of. I know of several good photographers who have been passed over because of low social media numbers. But seriously, what kind of schmuck buys a camera because someone has 100,000 followers ? I even lost the interest of two camera companies when I pulled back from social media. Companies that supported me when no one cared about Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Gone, caput, won't answer emails only to support these wannabes. So back to this current camera. It's a Fuji f850exr from 2012 and I look forward to using it this weekend. In the end my advice to others is not to give in the manufactures and the peer pressure of needing the latest wonder camera that no one needs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

You're Doing It Wrong !

 At least once a week I'll receive a message or email from someone telling me what I did wrong on Instagram. "You shouldn't post more than once a day", "You should only post every other day", "You should post between these hours only", "You have to use these hashtags", "You have to follow and interact with influencers" and on and on. I absolutely refuse to play these ridiculous social media games just to garner more likes. What the fuck do likes accomplish anymore? Do they pay the bills? Do they grab the attention to curators, collectors, and museums? Why the hell should I or anyone else for that matter care who or how many iZombies press the little heart on Instagram as they scroll through at the speed of light. How soon is it until we see the first Millennial gravestone that reads "Here Lies Kim Kimberly, She had 120,000 Followers on Instagram". Laugh , but it's only a matter of time.

Press Photos

 I always like the thought of collecting press photos. The idea of having the only known physical copy of a print is an exciting one. Yes so...