I’ve commented on internet debates before, but here is a good opportunity to do it again.
So here we have an article that talks about the internet, images and Flickr, embracing and endorsing all of it. I then take that article, and I talk about mostly the last paragraph in it, to discuss whether or not there really should be such a schism between “high art” and the rest; and as a final thought, right at the end I note that a) Flickr is being taken seriously by the art world and b) those people who don’t use Flickr might simply looking for something different (which is like saying that people who don’t eat chocolate might instead be looking for hard candy). hyperallergic, an art critic in NY, then comments on my little article, saying that he uses Flickr “ALL THE TIME”, and claiming that “the main thing that makes Flickr unattractive is that it is dominated by ad-educated aesthetic”.
You’d imagine that as a Flickrite you’d be pretty chuffed, right? Three comments about Flickr, all of them pointing out that it’s being used and that it’s useful, one - the critic - having some issues with the aesthetic, but one could argue about that, couldn’t one? All in all, pretty good.
Well, not so. lapuravidagallery immediately attacks all of this, noting that he is “constantly amazed that intelligent people make such flippant comments without really understanding the variety of communities that are using Flickr.”
Which, taken at face value, means that the first three articles were all wrong, since they contain “flippant comments”. So even though people write they are taking Flickr seriously, that’s just a “flippant comment”. And then it goes downhill fast, with - last time I looked - the final complaint being that “I think I was rather straightforward in my response, merely making the point that there is this tendency to stereotype Flickr as nothing but kittens, sunsets, and chipmunks.”
The “rather straightforward” point that “there is this tendency to stereotype Flickr as nothing but kittens, sunsets, and chipmunks” of course never happened in the three articles that caused all of this. In fact, it was the exact opposite (but apparently, artists like Penelope Umbrico or Joachim Schmid are not worthwhile talking about - well, if that isn’t just the same form of elitism that is usually leveled at the “fine art” community I don’t know what it is).
But this is a “wonderful” example of how so many “debates” on the internet evolve, and as someone who is interested in talking about photography online, it’s actually pretty disheartening. Why should anyone bother trying to engage with Flickr, if regardless of what is written it is automatically taken as stereotyping “Flickr as nothing but kittens, sunsets, and chipmunks” - even if in reality the exact opposite is happening?
This is not to say that all debates online follow this pattern, but as far as I can tell, many do. And that’s just really, really sad.
PS: My reaction to this phenomenon has been (partly was) to a) have no comments on my blog and to b) refrain from commenting anywhere. If I have something to say I’ll write a blog post or send an email. Probably the best reaction to these Flickr reactions would have been to simply ignore them - but this is something I meant to write about for a long time. I have no illusions as to what it might achieve (or lead to), though.
a) I wasn’t debating. I was commenting on an article that I found on the internet. It’s pretty standard.
b) “Why should anyone bother trying to engage with Flickr?” This is like saying, how do you engage with ‘Twitter’ or ‘Tumblr’ or ‘Wordpress.’ You engage with the communities that use these platforms. And here is the problem and why people who use these platforms tend to get a bit agitated. You are lumping everyone who uses them into one group, calling it ‘Flickr’ or someone who uses it a ‘Flickrite.’
c) Photographers, serious photographers, who are passionate about photography and the history of the medium use Flickr. These are people who read books, have MFA’s, go to shows, debate new work, critique each others work, share ideas, create collectives, etc, etc, etc. But how do you know this if you don’t participate? It’s not like you can just do a search for a key term and stumble upon a community. And this is the real challenge for people who don’t use the platform or any other social networking platform. It’s impossible to fully understand the nuances of what’s going on without participating.
d) Debates on the internet evolve in a variety of ways. And sometimes, they’re not debates. I don’t really have any desire to debate Mr. Colberg. I was commenting on his post, and yes, cherry picking the points that I wanted to comment on. What is wrong with that? From my experience, this happens daily on the internet.
e) I discuss photography online every single day. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s pointless. Sometimes it’s illuminating. You can’t always have the conversation on your own terms. Sometimes it goes in different directions, with one group of people taking it one way, and another taking it in a completely different direction. That’s how it goes on the internet.
‘awesome light’ the back of everyones’ lame heads looking out at ‘vast landscapes’ rainbows triangles the photographer’s hand holding something ‘interesting’ upside down crosses girl with cryptic bruises or otherwise looking ‘vulgar’ in some capacity a person with their really long straight hair in front of their face a person wearing all black doing something ‘interesting’ like standing in front of a white wall crystals white girl naked except for native american headwear and facepaint
“On the other hand, flickr it’s just a massive thing. Nobody can just diss it like that. Probably a quarter or half of the photographers we’ll talk about in the future are now or have been there at some point. I think that the whole thing is just starting. Now it has been brewing for a while, and the first photographers and curators are getting out of it into the world. Those exhibitions, books, etc. will have nothing to do with flickr, but flickr has just been the yeast in the process. You’re not looking at it to find the best of the photographers that you already know. You’re looking at it to try to figure out who out of those millions of users you’ll know in a decade. - Joni Karanka”—time out…. | burn magazine
It’s futile to attempt to stereotype a community as large as Flickr. There are thousands of photographers that are working in the fine art and documentary genres. It’s not all ‘vernacular’ or “sleek, surface-based” photography. I’m constantly amazed that intelligent people make such flippant comments without really understanding the variety of communities that are using Flickr. […]
Of course, neither in my nor in the follow-up post was anyone “stereotyping” Flickr. The problem with these kinds of complaints is that instead of reading what people write and them responding to them in an adult way, they’re basically cherry-picking some bits and then complaining about those (note the “It’s not all ‘vernacular’ or ‘sleek, surface-based’”), adding all kinds of characterizations of the people who dared to write about Flickr (“such flippant comments without really understanding the variety of communities”), even if those people actually use Flickr “ALL THE TIME” (that’s a an actual quote from the first response to my original post).
Thing is, part of why so many people indeed ignore Flickr is because if you go to the discussion panels there is just so much of that stuff - and, really, why bother having an argument with something like that?
It seriously reminds me of how resentment and pseudo-debates derived from that are more and more being used in American politics. In this case, it’s not so much about discussing Flickr, it’s about denouncing those people who dare to question Flickr as elitist or, in this case (a variant), as people who just don’t (what is really meant is: don’t want to) understand it. This is not much different from how people like Bill O’Reilly, Shaun Hannity, or Keith Olberman operate: Instead of engaging with a debate, carefully push those buttons that you know will make your real audience react.
Ha. Now I’m like Bill O’Reilly. Awesome. You can judge for yourself. I think I was rather straightforward in my response, merely making the point that there is this tendency to stereotype Flickr as nothing but kittens, sunsets, and chipmunks. And for the most part, the people making these comments haven’t invested the time to explore the various groups and communities that have developed there.
I love what he says about contemporary “elites,” but in general I would add three things for clarification:
that art is also about experimentations, which sometimes fails. So those chipmunks with Star Wars figurines might be necessary to ensure that playfulness;
the main thing that makes Flickr unattractive is that it is dominated by ad-educated aesthetic, by which I mean, sleek, surface-based, and impressionable with little beyond that point. That’s not to say that much of the “art” being produced today isn’t informed by that aesthetic, just that most of the best art gives you more than just that; and
I am an art critic in NY and I use Flickr ALL THE TIME, if I find something interesting, I write about it, like this or this.
I don’t think that art is necessarily about haha effects and visual gags - even though, undoubtedly, a lot of it can be, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But a lot of art is about going beyond haha effects and visual gags, and there is a reason why art made in the past and still admired today is not just a collection of visual jokes (of course, there are some exceptions). Part of that reason is that what we find funny depends very strongly on our cultural environment; and that environment changes very strongly with time (ancient Romans were amused by things which we often only find baffling). But older art admired today appeals to the same core inside us that it did appeal to in the past (this whole complex is a can of worms with tons of other points and exceptions).
Of course, pointing this out invites people coming up with the usual complaints that I am being “elitist”. But here’s the thing: Even if we accept the assertion that art can be elitist for a brief moment, it’s important to realize that it’s not an exclusive elite. It’s inclusive. Unlike in the case of monetary elites - where if you don’t have the dough, then you simply won’t ever be part of them - art is something that everybody can experience, and everybody can develop an appreciation for it. And yes, developing an appreciation is not a bad thing - just like an acquired taste isn’t a bad thing: Remember when you had your first sip of beer? Wasn’t that a truly disgusting taste?
Seen that way, the art “elite” it’s not really an elite the way we usually understand the word, since the idea of an “elite” is usually exclusive, as a group of people who shut themselves off from the rest and won’t let anybody in. That’s how it’s predominantly used in a political context, especially when conservative politicians - who usually represent monetary elites - rail against the arts: It’s a real elite (usually wealthy white men) railing against something that is actually not an elite at all.
The role of art is not necessarily to be entertaining; it’s much more interesting when it becomes transformative, when it does something to you, when, after being subjected to it, you’re a different person - regardless of whether you smiled or laughed about what you saw or not. That, I believe, is the true essence of art, and that’s something we should aim for.
The role of curators or critics is to point this out - that’s what they’re being paid for. Of course, there’s the lingo, the “art speak”, but it’s easy to ignore that (just don’t read the press releases).
So back to Flickr (and more or less the rest of Jin’s post), there are two major problems with the usual complaints about it not being taken seriously by the art world. First of all, it’s not true. There are lots of people who use the site to find “vernacular photography”, say, or to collect images and transform them (for example Penelope Umbrico; also Joachim Schmid, etc.). Second, one of the reasons why so many critics or curators don’t consider Flickr is simply because they are looking for something else.
It’s futile to attempt to stereotype a community as large as Flickr. There are thousands of photographers that are working in the fine art and documentary genres. It’s not all ‘vernacular’ or “sleek, surface-based” photography. I’m constantly amazed that intelligent people make such flippant comments without really understanding the variety of communities that are using Flickr.
The list could go on and on. Flickr is simply one channel that photographers can use to distribute and broadcast their work. Most serious photographers are intelligent enough to distribute their work through various channels. Flickr, for the most part, is more geared toward networking and meeting other like minded artists. But it’s also a great place to find new work from photographers who maybe just finding their voice.
We’re living at a time when attention is the new currency: With hundreds of TV channels, billions of Web sites, podcasts, radio shows, music downloads and social networking, our attention is more fragmented than ever before.
Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible look set to capture the most value. They’ll be the richest, the most successful, the most connected, capable and influential among us. We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.
Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Fitbit and the SenseCam give us a simple choice: participate or fade into a lonely obscurity.
APE: So, you think on average it takes a couple years to start getting some traction?
Yes, and with all the people in no man’s land it’s that much harder to get seen and stand out, but the photographers who have that vision and have taken it into their direct mail, email, website, who go on sales visits, who are blogging and twittering and linking their photographs from posts and developing sales trails and doing this continuously, those are the photographers who are going to get the traction. That’s where you build that identity in the first year. There are many more people out there who are talking photography but not any more people who are doing photography. It really does take that special person and you need the mix. My most successful photographers during the downturn have been people who have sales, traditional marketing, social networking and they work their asses off and they never stop no matter how successful they’ve become.
“Oh yeah. Because Fifth Avenue was the most exciting, and it had the most light. I think Madison was too dark, Park was too wide, Third still had the El in the early sixties, or they were beginning to tear it down-anyway, Third was creepy. Sixth Avenue didn’t have much on it. We certainly made some circuits around there, but really Fifth Avenue had the pulse of lie, the most vigor, the most beautiful women, the heaviest business action. The mix was best on Fifth. I mean, you got it all, from high fashion to messengers. It just was everything. Pushcarts, pretzel vendors, and limousines. It had the contradictions of life in a big city, and that kind of counterpoint was the stuff of commentary. That’s what you could mock, that’s what you could wait for, because it was more exciting to see those combinations there. - Joel Meyerowitz”—AMERICANSUBURB X: INTERVIEW: “Colin Westerbeck with Joel Meyerowitz (1987)”
“Belief in inspiration. Artists have an interest in others’ believing in sudden ideas, so-called inspirations; as if the idea of a work of art, of poetry, the fundamental thought of a philosophy shines down like a merciful light from heaven. In truth, the good artist’s or thinker’s imagination is continually producing things good, mediocre, and bad, but his power of judgment, highly sharpened and practiced, rejects, selects, joins together; thus we now see from Beethoven’s notebooks that he gradually assembled the most glorious melodies and, to a degree, selected them out of disparate beginnings. The artist who separates less rigorously, liking to rely on his imitative memory, can in some circumstances become a great improviser; but artistic improvisation stands low in relation to artistic thoughts earnestly and laboriously chosen. All great men were great workers, untiring not only in invention but also in rejecting, sifting, reforming, arranging.”—Nietzsche, from “Human, all too human” | Street Level Japan
“We feel throughout the history of photography a chafing at its limits, an impatience with mere visuality, and a wish for some more intimate expression of the world’s relation - but one somehow made available through the eyes. This makes the photographer into a strange kind of artist, at least in the modernist sense - part showman, part magician, part stage manager. The photographer does not "create" but harnesses and directs. The photograph itself is a piece of performance art, and the performer is light - passing through and encountering things in the world.”—Lyle Rexer, excerpt from The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography (via From This Moment: Found Quote From This Moment )
“Harris noted in response to an audience question that, based on her experiences at ABCNews.com, where she worked previously, and at The Daily Beast, online audiences do not respond to black and white photography. She also noted that prior publication of a photo or series was not a big concern for The Daily Beast.”—PDNPulse: How News Works Today: VII Seminar at PPE
“Feng Bin: “As the moments flow in the world, they flow in me as well. By freezing those moments in still pictures, I’m presenting my view of the world in that constant flow. And photography becomes a way for me to explore the outside world as well as my inner self.””—Why photography? - Conscientious
“Welcome to the newly designed tinyvices.com. For the re-launch I’m going to re-introduce all the content on the site bit by bit, day by day, along with new content, updated portfolios and other posts. So everything from the old site will get re-posted over the next few weeks/months.. - Tim Barber”—Tiny Vices
“The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The New Rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of the gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.”—David Foster Wallace in “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” published in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. (via jeffbenner) (via theremina)