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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Digital Dark Ages

 A few weeks ago I was asked to help breathe some life into a camera review sites Ricoh forum. I hesitated because I was a member of this site a decade ago and the gear junkies and fanboys attacked and made the place hell for actual photographers. It seems that all they did was bicker about useless specs and always wanting more, always upgrading and complaining that a new model wasn't coming fast enough. Apparently they do everything except take photos. I gave it a couple days thought and read as many posts as I could and the place seemed calmer. I posted several groups of photos with basically no response. I posted some old articles on camera models that led up to the current model and still crickets. I answered a bunch of people asking questions and after a rare 'thank you" it went quiet again. Then I posted a review of the latest camera which was fair and accurate, then all hell broke loose. These fanboys and gear junkies acted like insulted their religion or family. Even those that have never had a hand on the camera attacked. The old forum came out of a deep sleep. I stepped back and watched this unfold and inaccuracies and insults flew. The post reached its response limit and was locked. Once again the place is quiet and it seems that people on there are only interested in fighting and I think they use it as a form of entertainment. There's just no helping them. I poked my head into the Fuji and Sony forum which wasn't much different, just a hell of a lot busier. The posts are full of people wanting more. More pixels, more iso, more stabilization, more wifi, more dynamic range and the biggest trend is wanting their cameras to be more like the one in their phone. They want it to produce a perfect balanced photo without them having to do anything. I think it's time for me to leave again because there is no helping iZombies.

Monday, July 29, 2019

To Unthink

     Anytime you want to change your method and style of photography your brain will begin to push back to what you're comfortable with. It's just human nature and it gets worse the older you are. It's never easy in the beginning but once you rid yourself of doubt things become a little more natural. You have to unthink, unremember, unlearn, and proceed like photography is completely new to you. These are all things I've told myself repeatedly over the last 96 hours. I have to forget about all my past projects, future projects that I'll never get to work on, and my style of black and white photography that I've used since I was around 12 years old. I have to convince myself that I just picked up a camera for the first time and use it for its most basic purpose of the snapshot which is basically photography without much of a purpose. It's not for self promotion, branding, influencing, keeping up with the Jones, or self esteem. Maybe I should have just said everything that Instagram now stands for.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Not Black and White

There seems to be some confusion about my snapshots taken with the Canon G2. After several messages and emails people assumed I would be shooting black and white, may because my post showed a black and white with the camera. Well that's not the case because to me the American snapshot was about color and usually garish color at that. The most commonly used films for snapshots were the very cheap Kodak ColorPlus 200, Fujicolor C200, and the Agfa Vista Plus 200 which had tendencies of exaggerating colors. Up until 1996 I would use Kodak ColorPlus and Kodak Gold because of the low price. I remember my early digicams of 2000-2004 had a similar look to their color jpegs which is one of the reasons for me currently using the Canon G2 from 2001. Especially when used with the cameras flash.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Snapshot Is Not A Dirty Word

   When most people hear or use the word "snapshot" they relate it to the amature. The word itselfs projects a visual impression of a photograph taken quickly, haphazardly without discipline or a meaning behind it. Sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? That's right, the same definition could be given to street photography but "snapshot" just doesn't sound as cool or pretentious. The Japanese have no issues saying they take snapshots, and I'm talking about photographers like Daido Moriyama among others. In the Western world calling someone's photos a snapshot is considered and used most frequently as an insult, as something amature, less important, something shitty. With the massive ego of most photographers who occupy the street photography genre it's as insulting as one could get towards another photographer. For the life of me I have no idea who the hell would want to be labeled a "street photographer" today. All the good intentions of the descriptive term are long gone. At first it turned into an elitist activity where the snobby film people would look down on the low life digital camera user, use a non-prime lens was blasphemy, or you had to subscribe to some rhetorical nonsense as the "Decisive Moment". These cliquish and self proclaimed purists had minds as narrow as their perspective and in any visual art this type of thinking is very destructive. Things were about to change but not for the better.
   About ten years after the turn of the 21st century when just about everyone owned a camera or a phone that had a camera the world of "street photography" changed again. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were rocketing up in popularity and people wanted to be "Internet Famous", today it's called "Influencer". Something worse that the elitists happened, street photography became trendy, I mean TRENDY! Walk around any major thoroughfare in Manhattan and you would have to fight your way through hordes of new street photographers who were mostly in their 20s, all working the same corners trying to live out their Garry Winogrand fantasy. They changed gear every couple of months, usually to whatever their hero of the moment was using. They used the term "street photographer" as a badge of honor, a brand, a marketing term, a way to make that type of photography seem more involved that it really is. The trend began to wear thin when the began to figure out that they couldn't survive as a "street photographer". These fauxtographers weren't willing to make the very real sacrifices that artists have to make. The fantasy began to crumble when real life crept in. They were blinded by an overly P.C. ethics while trying to capture their so called version of real life and when in doubt make sure there's a big poster behind the scene to make it comical. Individual aesthetics didn't exist and it didn't need to because their own branded story was more important than what they were capturing. When the panic of failure appeared they began to take photos that they though the masses would like instead of taking photos for themselves. They became offended when they didn't receive massive social media likes and followers, many tried to buy them. In the end their vision was narrow and a lie.
   The damage done by all this has rippled through the art world with galleries and museums reluctant to exhibit anything new. They are as confused as the rest of us who are looking at this with eyes wide open. Collectors have either stopped or greatly reduced their activity waiting for this quagmire to end. Non self-publishing of books has sloooowed with some resorting to only those with huge social media numbers with hopes their mostly fake followers will buy a copy. The genre has been decimated by a generation that sees no reason to own a print or book if they can look at it for free on a 5" phone screen. I seriously question the great importance of photography being restored in this century and all of this has me to the point where I want to strip the words "street photography" from everything related to me. For now on I have no problem being called, or considered a "snapshot photographer". My vision and photography has never been so narrow to have rules on what is or isn't street photography. The latest gear doesn't interest me in the least. I give as much attention to a garbage can as I do those walking down the street. To disregard anything on the street paints a very disingenuous picture of life today which is the very purpose it. Hello, my name is Michael Penn and I take snapshots.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Fighting Back Begins Today !

Today I begin my quest to fight back!
The fight against the camera companies who through bullshit marketing and branding coerce the young, the naive, and those with G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) that they need 20 more megapixels than they did last year to mostly post on social media, that they can’t hold a camera steady at ISO 10,000 so they need 5 axis stabilization, and so on. The fight against the street fauxtographers that spend more time showing their latest gear than showing their photos. The fight against everything Instagram and for their destructive effect of photography being seriously taken as an art. Finally, the fight against the art world and it’s new safe academic stance on photography. This is my movement, manifesto.
Photos will be taken with A $19 Canon G2 from 2001. 4 megapixels

 400 max ISO

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

What I'm Reading

 I haven't posted in the last four days because I've spent that time trying to get myself out of this funk. So far no luck. In the meantime I picked up a couple of books to read and I'm waiting on my $18 camera to arrive tomorrow and thinking about the statement that I want to make with it. I’m thinking of creating just one big visual diary, think the Philadelphia Project but MUCH larger. No set location, no set subject, just what I see on a daily basis. I’m sure it will confuse a lot of people but I don’t take photos for other people.

Friday, July 19, 2019

At War With Myself

Over the last couple of days I've been feeling very uneasy about my recent path in photography.

I start, stop, start, and stop again. I'm beginning to believe that my current color photography is nothing more than a subconscious attempt at mainstream photography. Speaking academically, the photos good and safe, but they're just not me and I don't think I'm ready for that late life type of photography that plagues so many photographers.

I've always been a dark gritty photographer and painter, I don't think that's going to change. I'm sitting in a coffee shop right writing this on my notepad. Feeling discouraged, uninspired, and angry that I tried to sucker myself.

As someone who has a reputation of being so observant how did I not see this coming?

Maybe my attitude towards the current climate of the world of photography clouded my mind on what I was doing. Sometimes the ego of an artist no matter how small can do a world of damage to their own work. You can have mediocre success and then you begin to dream big, then the art world kicks you around and you begin to dream a little smaller.

This is why so many artists live a reclusive life, something I endorse. So where do I go from here? This is something I ask myself a dozen times a day. I've been conflicted on how to continue in a now sterile environment (includes center city) while trying to take gritty photos. Even seeing in the same manner as I have for decades I'm notting clearly seeing enough to press the shutter button.

I'm not convinced this is something I can overcome anytime soon. All photos lie to some degree but to use my method today seems like one huge lie which makes me feel uncomfortable. This confusion is preventing me from taking the type of photography I care so much about, if that's even possible anymore.

I have tried to experiment with my main camera which is a Fuji X100F which I purchased primarily for color photography but it takes entirely to long in Lightroom to get the photos somewhat close to what I'm looking for but it's still not primitive in nature like the original Ricoh GRD. In the end it feels like I'm faking my own photos. There is a chance that I might stumble onto a method that will satisfy me, but it does feel like a whole lot of wasted time.

The original Ricoh GRD is becoming quite rare due to it now being 14 years old and those looking to profit from its cult following which has dwindled over the years.

Another problem is that you can't just own one with just about all of them reaching the end of their life cycle. At anytime they can break so you need at least one back up. For years I've been trying to find a more affordable and abundant alternative but I have yet to find one. Remember I'm not into a lot of megapixels and super high ISO.

In conclusion, my brain is a little scrambled and writing this is a way for me to get it out of my head and attempt to organize it so I can work out a solution.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

4 Megapixels

I always have several photography ideas floating around my head and I figure, if I'm still thinking about one after a year or two, they just might be worth doing. 

I've never hid my disdain for camera manufacturers who have turned cameras into a jack of all trades but master of none with ridiculous megapixels, ISO numbers, 5 way stabilization, 4k video, WiFi, Bluetooth, and whatever other bells and whistles they can cram into it.

I just looked at photos taken with the recent Nikon Z6 at ISO 36,000 that looked like ISO 800 about a decade ago.

The only camera company I'll give some leeway to is Leica because they still try to make cameras for photographers first with maybe the exception of the latest 42 megapixel Q2 camera but for us mere mortals of meager means I'll leave them out of this.

None of this wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the gear heads or those with insecurity issues who need to be seen with the latest gear or feel that the latest super camera will make them a better photographer. Well enough of the rant and on to my project idea.

I want to create a body of work that was taken with a low resolution 4 or 5 megapixel sensor camera in jpeg that has a max iso of 400/800ish. Shot in black and white during the day and night I want this to be a big F.U. to the manufacturers, the gear junkies, and the internet fauxtographers. I've been gathering information on cameras such as the Olympus C4040, Panasonic LC1, Canon G3, and some others.

**UPDATE: Ok, screw the Panasonic LC1. I just seen what people are asking for them**

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Only One Copy Remains

An oversized zine at 7"x10", 60 pages featuring 39 full bleed black and white photos, signed. Already in the library collection of several museums.

BUY: Lonely New York Zine HERE

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


There seems to be more people as of late making the same complaints as I about the current state of photography. While it's nice to see other photographers waking up instead of employing the old mantra "If you can't beat them, join them," it's going to take more photographers, more collectors, more critics and more curators to voice their concerns.

The curators, as a whole, seem to have one of two methods when dealing with this. The first being; to ignore the problem and it will go away, eventually. The second is to play right into grasp by hosting exhibitions based on the hot social topic of the day, politically charged genres, etc, etc. The more controversial the better with hopes of "trending" which might translate into more ticket sales.

The art itself means very little anymore, it's the statement, the message, or whatever else they can dream up to put asses in the seats. If they're not careful their actions, which have already damaged photography, will also eliminate their own jobs; replaced by a PR person.

We have more being aware of the problem, so what's the next step? Do we write articles? Do we cancel our museum memberships until they get their act together? Do we delete our Instagram and Facebook accounts(yes you should!). How is credibility restored?

Please comment below.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Rush to Sameness

 I've spoken before how just about all of street photography has become a cliche. People seeing someone's photo on social media and then they try to take a similar photo to ride that train of "likes". The same seems to be happening with just about every other genre of photography too. Search the internet for an interesting building and there can be dozens if not hundreds of photos that all look the same of the same place, and I'm not talking about famous buildings either. So how do you stand out in this sea of shit that was formerly known as photography? How do you make a scene or building your own? Granted through out the history of photography there have copy cats.  Bresson's "Man Jumping Over Puddle" and Ansel Adams "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" are perfect example of this. Now imagine if countless people copied every photo they've ever taken. Would they have still become icons of photography or would they have been lost in an endless pool of sameness?


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Finding Friends

 Now that I'm back on Flickr I've been searching for other photographers that weren't that active on social media and that I very rarely run into anymore, especially since I've moved. While I've found on a few so far I did manage to find on person who I've always liked, a person with a personality as witty as his photography. That photographer is Ted Adams. Ted has a very unique personality and to say that he's interesting to talk to is an understatement. Ted was a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer until they almost eliminated the entire department. I'm glad to see he's still out there taking photos.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Missing the Train

 Ever since I quit Instagram and more accurately Facebook 19 months ago I get a lot of emails and messages asking how hard was it to quit. People were talking to me like it was an addiction and I guess in a way it is for most people. Even in the beginning I wasn't a fan of it and could smell the false sense of importance, but that's just me. I never had a MySpace account, at some point I started a Twitter account but never understood the point because it felt like you were talking to yourself, I had a Google plus account for a couple of months and prefered it to any other platform out there, and the platform with the most promise for artists was Ello. In the end all of these will fail and they should because it's sickening that everyone has to tun their so called life as a "brand". Wake Up People The Matrix Has You...  Some of the messages I receive ask me if it's too late to begin a popular Instagram account and my answer back is a FUCK YES, and that goes for any of the platforms right now. Well you can cheat and buy thousands of followers, likes, and comments, but what does that accomplish besides lying to yourself. So now I have a question for those who have quit some or all of social media, especially other artists. What are you doing to get your art seen ? I know Natasha posts this on the Michael Penn Photography facebook page that she manages but I would prefer you answered me on my blog.


Thursday, July 11, 2019


 I've only been on Flickr for a couple of days and I've made some observations. First, I'm not seeing the big return to the platform as stated in the half dozen articles I've read. Were those articles just hype with the hope it would catch on or am I just not seeing it? Second, I know it's been a decade since I've been on Flickr but I remember a lot more in the way of comments, now the hit and run practice of clicking the like button and quickly moving on rules the roost much like on Instagram. Third, Groups were the best way to have you photos seen by the masses outside of Explorer but all most all of the groups have been abandoned. Ok, now for a few positives. The first thing you notice is how great the photos look without Instagram's image compression . Also the ability to have organized albums is great. On Instagram rarely does anyone go back more than a few photos into someones feed but on Flickr they will look at a whole reasonably sized album. This has been an interesting experiment so far and only time will tell if I stick with it, and there are those who predict I'll go back to Instagram, I say don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


  I'm currently putting together portfolio books of all my projects from over the last 15 years. I've switched from print archives in boxes to this method for the much smaller space it consumes and the much friendlier viewing experience. Try to show people bare prints and they put on white cotton gloves and are usually so worried about handling the print they lose the experience of viewing a physical print. I'm trying to assemble these at as low of a cost as I can and I'm in constant need of paper and ink. A local art supply store has been working with me on the books. So what I'm looking for is few hundred sheets on 8.5x11 Epson Premium Luster Paper or something comparable and ink for an Epson P800 printer. If anyone has either of these items and are no longer in need of them please email me with a description and price. Thank you.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019


You mention the name Flickr to me and I cringe. That place was the largest source of my photos being stolen and the place got even worse after it was purchased by Verizon and the Yahoo. To be honest though it was a much better place to view photos without the mess of today's social media. Also I sold more prints to people coming from Flickr than I ever did on facebook or Instagram, and not ridiculously cheap $50 prints. Recently the photography group SmugMug purchased Flickr with the hope of creating a platform for real photographers and for the people who like photography. Doing everything in their power to fend off the current Instacrap scammers, bots, influencers, and fauxtographers. One of the ways there are doing this is by charging a small yearly fee for a "Pro" account. The $50 yearly fee gives you an ad free experience, unlimited uploading and backup storage, also a bunch of other discounts on everything from Adobe products to services. Over the weekend several photographers told me they returned to Flickr after deleting their facebook and Instagram accounts. To tell you truth I was a little shocked ! Can Flickr survive in today's iZombie social media age? I think it can if enough real photographers return to the platform and realize that those massive "follow" numbers on Instagram don't mean a damn thing. After all I would rather have 100 truly interested people on Flickr than 10,000 fake followers on Instacrap. Will I return to the platform? I do think I'm going to run a little experiment and see what happens. Post a few photos, poke my head into a couple of groups, and search for some photos. We'll see what happens.

Michael Penn Flickr

Monday, July 8, 2019

What is Safe ?

  I spend much of my time think of where and what I want photograph. When sharing my ideas I'm usually asked several times about safety. It's nothing new and when I was working on my Philadelphia Project that was mostly photographed at night I was asked about the city not being safe at night. When I was working in the subway that question continued and became more frequent when I was in New York City at night taking photographs for Lonely New York. To this point I never felt not safe but my level of being on guard his risen in some occasions. Over the last two weeks I've ventured into parts of North Philly that are very much riddled with burned out factories, abandoned houses, vacant lots, a great deal of people living in poverty, and other forms of urban blight. In the late 20th century people would have just said "ghetto" but I'm not sure that's politically correct anymore. I would have to say that my on guard meter is on it's highest setting in this area and you can feel the tension in the air. The few people that I've run into weren't exactly welcoming and you could see the anger on their faces. Maybe it's just a front they constantly have to put on to feel safe themselves in such a dangerous area but I can almost see what they're thinking in little word bubbles above their heads. Being the only white person in an almost all black area can lead the residents to think am I there to buy drugs? Am I a cop? Do I work for another city agency? Am I a developer looking to snatch up property and gentrify the area? Or am I a tourist who got really lost? After all I do have a camera around my neck. I guess in the end I'll continue until I feel all hell is about break loose.
   I took this photo of a coffin today on a street where several people were shot and killed this weekend.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Lack of Curation: Lost on the Internet

Continued over from yesterdays theme. I'll once again post the most poignant statements.

A Lack of Curation: Lost on the Internet

"With so many images being created and pushed out into the internet it’s starting to look like the Pacific garbage patch"

"Even if I took out the axe and started pruning the people I follow on Instagram the ads and sponsored images would infiltrate my feed and my feed would look no better."

"Curating your own images to share with others in a clean, clear concise way it’s how photography and storytelling is meant to be, not loaded with clutter. "

" For a while everyone was excited about the democratization of photography. I was too, but after spending an afternoon at the Boston Museum of Fine Art it really hit home that there is a ton of value in having curators and editors keeping the bar high. If the goal is to view and enjoy great images then curation is required. "

"After searching online for an example of a well curated site or magazine it was obvious that advertising slapped randomly inside a feature or presentation is the only model that is used today"

" It appears that we just keep lowering the bar and continue to be more and more comfortable with a flood of mediocre content poorly presented.  Do you ever find yourself posting just an “alright” image on your feed just to keep feeding the social media?"

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Does Photography Really Mean Anything to Anyone in the Digital Age?

 This article explains photography's current situation perfectly and says much of what I've said over the last two years. I'll cut and past several points for those with short attention spans.

Does Photography Really Mean Anything to Anyone in the Digital Age?

"But how much do you care about the photos you’re taking? Do they really mean anything to you? Do you really care about other digital images you see on a daily basis?"

Cameras and photography are accessible to billions of people in every corner of the planet, but the ability to overindulge in what used to be an art form that was not as easy to access has had some negative effects."

"The digital age has enabled us to take photos of literally everything. But in the process of photography becoming so accessible it has cheapened the value of the art"

"The value in photography comes from the emotions that great photos can cause, and we just don’t get that very much in the digital age because digital images come and go in the blink of an eye…"

“We can start valuing photography again when we take pictures that really mean something, instead of just having digital photo albums filled with nonsensical dross.”

“People just don’t care as much about digital images as they do about physical prints.”

"Physical images have value, they have worth, and it’s something that we should be doing more of as a photography community so that we can appreciate and share our work with others in the real world, and not just in virtual spaces."

"Photography in the digital age has become devalued to a disturbingly low level. Photography is abused to the point that real works of art will never be seen due to the millions of images of last night’s dinner, or Fido the dog, or Fluffy the cat that gets shared online. "

"The value in photography comes from the emotions that great photos can cause, and we just don’t get that very much in the digital age because digital images come and go in the blink of an eye, and that’s only if they make it off of your hard drive and on to the web, and that is a real shame."

Friday, July 5, 2019

Importance on Year

 A phenomenon that seems to gaining momentum is the importance some place on the year a photo was taken. Most likely this could be lumped together with nostalgia but it could be more simply a case of older is better or worth more. As I've stated before when speaking about nostalgia, a good photo is a good photo no matter what year it was taken. The problem is I've seen too many print sales come apart for the insipid reasons when and where a photo was taken. Too me it sounds like the most important reason to purchase a print falls to third or fourth place behind those two with another reason being film versus digital, which I can't believe still happens today. Speaking with other photographers I know I'm far from the only one who's noticed this strange occurance. one such photographer said if he renamed his Detroit alley photos as New York City he would sell a lot more of them. I don't doubt his claim for a minute because I myself have lost sales after potential collectors learned that the photos were taken in Philadelphia and not New York City. A couple of us discussed the idea of un-titling, un-dating, and the un-location of future photos. To tell you the truth I like the idea a lot and if someone asks where the photo was taken the response could be "Earth". Even Picasso wouldn't title his paintings which left galleries and curators to come up with titles of their own. He felt that the art should stand on its own without tile or explanation. Today everything needs to be over-explained and over-exploited before people who mostly live on the internet can understand what it is they're looking at. Artist statements, which I loathe, have become bloated to the point that their importance outweighs the art itself. The idea that words and numbers are needed to explain something visual is just downright ridiculous.


Thursday, July 4, 2019


   I just deleted my Instagram account because as a photographer its usefulness has become zilch. Several times before I've mentioned the problems from algorithms to influencers and bots so there isn't a reason for me to repeat them. Even as a research tool it's become a huge failure even though everybody today is a photographer. I've been searching towns to photograph but almost all of what appears is selfies, food, or slut shots. For large cities it's even worse because you have the aforementioned and then the same buildings and scenes photographed over and over, like there's a sign on the ground saying "take photo from here". So that's pretty much it for me on social media. I've been off of Facebook for 19 months and my Michael Penn Photography page on there is run by Natasha and if she wanted to delete that page today I would be fine with that. There was a time not that long ago where all you needed was a good website to succeed as an artist, today you have to pimp yourself out with a trendy cause, money to buy thousands of followers, and become a bullshit artist (no pun intended). The who process is fake, disingenuous, and down right sleazy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Photo Albums

 I've spent the better part of the last two weeks assembling photo albums. Not digital, not on the internet, and definitely not on social media. I'm talking about physical, real to the touch photo albums. Each of the three albums so far feature 48 prints on 8.5"x11" paper. The first album is comprised of black and white street photography form this year and the other two feature color photos from my "Welcome To Market East" portfolio. Next I'll either do the Ben Franklin Bridge or Little Pete's. Until I can find a suitable book case I'll keep them on my coffee table for people to look through. At my own hand the sharing of my photography on the internet has almost come to a complete halt.

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...