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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 True photographic talent has been replaced by anyone with an iPhone.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?

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Matt and the Evergreen Dairy Bar

 It's Sunday again and Matt and I are heading to another spot for breakfast. In the last three years we've been to over 30 different diners for breakfast in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City. Matt has a been a fixture in my photography for a long time now and we've been friends for over 38 years. Today we headed to the Evergreen Dairy Bar which has been part diner and part drive-in for 70 years now. Located on Route 70 in Medford, New Jersey it's the go to place for breakfast when heading down to Long Beach Island. It was great to see the place so busy even though we were there very early in the morning. Even being 50 years old I felt like a youngster compared to the crowd and I wonder what happens to places like this after they're gone. The parking lot had a fair amount of classic cars including a beautiful cherry red Chevelle SS 396. There's also a great abandoned gas station a few hundred feet away that even as a kid I remember being closed. I got some good snapshots today.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019


 I've decided on the Canon S45 as a backup to my Canon G2. It has the same 4 megapixel sensor as the G2 and the rest of the specs are close enough. The canon s45 was another camera that I owned in 2002.
 For printing my snapshots I decided on Epson's Ultra Premium Glossy 4"x6" paper. I have no idea what makes it Ultra Premium, all I know is that for 100 sheets it was cheap.
 I now turn my search for photo albums that can hold a few hundred 4"x6" photos.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Jaundiced Eye

 In the past I've received too many emails to count by people asking me about whatever project I was working on. A good portion of these emails ask more questions than most interviewers. In the beginning I guess you could say that I was naive by answering all the questions. Some times afterwards I began to notice copycat projects from a few of these same people. A couple of years ago I was discussing one of my ideas with another photographer but in the end I couldn't begin it because I just didn't have the funding. At the end of that year I noticed that the same photographer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for my project idea. He has also received a fair amount of press and exhibitions. To say I was angry was an understatement and from that point on I rarely give out details, especially on projects I haven't begun. The reason I brought this up is that over the weekend I received two such emails from people who were trying to masquerade their interest. They both wanted to know details such as where I was finding these cheap cameras, how was I printing them, what paper was being used, how much was I charging for prints, what made me decided to due this. My B.S. alarm went to red alert! These people wanted nothing more than for me to do their work for them, the research and even the why.


Saturday, August 17, 2019


    From my childhood to my mid twenties I would get excited when getting back a roll of film back from the lab. These everyday photos were always taken with Minolta point & shoot cameras, mostly because of the brand loyalty my father instilled in me when I was younger. He taught me photography on a Minolta SRT101 slr camera and if were alive today I wonder what he would think about Minolta's demise. I remember finishing a roll with and jumping on my bicycle to get it developed at the local Fotomat. For those who don't know what these tiny yellow roofed hut size buildings are here's a link Fotomat . At one time there were over 4000 in America offering one day developing. With in a couple of days I would ride back to pick up my envelope of 4x6 prints and a fresh roll of film. Opening up that envelop was an adventure because after taking the photos you had no control over cropping, manipulation, and there was no such thing as Photoshop. Afterwards the joy came when you showed the photos to friends and family even though a few of them might be embarrassing. This was a great way to enjoy and share photography without the several week wait and cost of getting Kodachrome developed. You also didn't have to set up a projector and screen for family "slide night". For those under the age of 40 "slide night" was an American family activity of sitting in a dark room together to view slide photos. Even in the late 90s I would take my film to my local corner camera store and lab. Jack's Camera in Old City, Philadelphia was another yellow building that would develop your film but in under an hour. They had their color machine set up in the window so people passing by could watch photos being developed. It was a very sad day when digital photography finally put the place out of business. Today there just isn't the same level of excitement  when rushing home to plug the camera into a computer. The social experience of this type of photography no longer exists. You would have to travel to and from the lab were you would most likely know the staff or bump into friends. Conversations being struck up was commonplace and friends were made. Then after picking up the photos you had to physically show others the prints, not like today where you post them on social media and wait for mostly strangers to "like" them. Just how depressing is that ?


Friday, August 16, 2019

Snapshot Archive

 I've been discussing with other photographers about starting a 20th century snapshot archive. Instead of people throwing those old photos away they would send them to me who would organize, catalog, and save them. A few others around the country would do the same thing and at some point try to set up a museum with all of the photos we've collected. What would most like be a massive archive of ordinary 20th century life in America would also be a way of preserving this disappearing printed matter. I've received some very positive response and a few are already looking for film snapshots to send me.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Collecting Other People's Memories

 When ever I begin something new I try to learn as much about the subject as I can. I mean I completely immerse myself in it. Back when I was photographing the Ben Franklin Bridge I purchased the final engineers report book from the 1920s. The book had full diagrams, photos, and every other possible weight, measurement and spec of the structure. When I had a meeting with Homeland Security about taking certain photos they're weren't happy with how much I knew about the bridges construction. I've always had what some would call obsessiveness but to me it was knowledge.
  Since I'm now taking simple snapshots I once again need to know all that I can about the subject. I've watched dozens of documentaries, short videos, and interviews. Browsed through countless blogs and purchased several books. BTW books on snapshot photography are ridiculously cheap for around $3 to $10. I've even been taking part in some internet conversations with collectors.
  The collectors of snapshot/vernacular photography are a lot more laid-back than their fine art counterparts. They're genuinely curious about photographs without the pretentiousness that plaques fine art photography. They are in it for the photos themselves and not the name attached because so many of the photos are anonymous. Some see themselves as saviors of the printed image and have amassed collections in the tens of thousands. They have saved boxes of photos from the garbage dump and I thank them for it. Even John Maloof who discovered Vivian Maier was only looking for snapshots of Chicago when he stumbled upon her work. Maybe Vivians photographs are nothing more than snapshots that were marketed as something important by the art world and her fans. It's easy to see that point of view since so many of the photos shown featured the close people in her daily life. Maybe the internet turned her into something that she wasn't or would approve of. Was she a victim of clever marketing ?
  A few of the collectors are very worried about the future of printed snapshot photography. There have been several auction houses that have successively sold these photos for thousands of dollars and once that news broke the internet followed. They claimed that you would be able to buy photos for a dollar on ebay, and a box for far under a buck a piece but now $10 to $20 seems to be the norm for something ordinary. For the last couple of weeks I watched two dozen photos on Ebay and the average price sold for was approximately $44. That was for a 3.5"x 5" photo in which none were in perfect condition. Granted it gives you the opportunity to own a one of a kind item but we've seen this kind of price gouging before because of internet hype. I like the idea of saving these photographs from oblivion and now even more from those who are only interested in profit.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Printing Snapshots

 The snapshot is a small print that you hold in your hand or is meant to be viewed in a photo album. It was not intended to live and die on a hard drive or in your phones cloud. It was designed to be something tangible. I'll be printing my snapshots on 4" x 6" paper and will begin my search for photo albums.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Observer Effect

  Snapshots are photographs of everyday ordinary experiences. They are laced with elements of strangeness, obliqueness, and some juxtaposition. A good snapshot while still being ordinary and sometimes boring can also bare an informal perfection. This basic definition has helped guide me back to old terrain, back to when the photographic process was simple and it's only purpose was necessity. The difficult process of unlearning the past, the history, and that strategic eye that first led me down photography's road is a difficult one but it must be achieved then forgotten. There is no system for understanding the snapshot and no logic or purpose beyond freezing time in a personal manner. Those with formal training or from the world of art will of course have a problem understanding a system with no rules, direction or cohesion. Mostly these are the kind of photos that need to be taken. Not for art, not for social media ego, not for self-promotion or commerce. Today hoards of these photos are thrown away, forgotten in attics by the younger generations, and sold under the term "vernacular photography" which are purchased by curious voyeurs peeking into people's private lives. These collectors often considered "low-brow" are the REAL collectors of photography. They find far more curiosity in the snapshot than in the fine art prints hanging on gallery and museum walls. I've come to understand the snapshot as the true time capsule of photography and the champion of stillness. We live in a world where everything needs to come to a conclusion. The snapshot usually leaves the viewer with more questions than answers and in a state of confusion. Why? Because there is no formal method for understanding them. There is a freedom to this, a freedom to just observe. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A New Language

“There is a war on. Everyone is separated and afraid. It is as if we have been robbed of a language to describe the bewildered brokenness we inhabit. Best to leave and learn another language.” - Deborah Levy

An accurate analogy that can be applied to the state of photography but maybe it's time to actually go back to an old language. 

Friday, August 9, 2019


Snapshot (photography)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Snapshots render memorable moments in imperfect images. Here, glare exposes the photographer and implies a close and familiar relationship to the subject.
snapshot is a photograph that is "shot" spontaneously and quickly, most often without artistic or journalistic intent.
Snapshots are commonly technically "imperfect" or amateurish—out of focus or poorly framed or composed.
Common snapshot subjects include the events of everyday life, such as birthday parties and other celebrations, sunsets, children playing, group photos, pets, tourist attractions and the like.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Photos Use To Be About The We...

"When’s the last time your printed one of your photographs? We live in an age of immediacy. It’s not unheard of to take several pictures a day and share them on Facebook within seconds of their capture. But with the speed of life, our online images are also quickly forgotten. Gone are the days of the printed snapshot." - Nicoal Price

"Photos use to be about the we and now they're about the me thanks to social media" - Robert jackson

 A good 12 minute documentary.


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...