The Image Source creative team and I went to the The Media Space’s talk by Alec Soth at The Science Museum last night, to get insights into his working practices, influences and the push and pull of Documentary, Art and Commerce in his imagery.
The talk launched his retrospective called Gathered Leaves, which curates chronologically his four major books: Sleeping By the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015).
Taught for a time by Joel Sternfeld, you can see his influence on some of Soth’s work. He also referenced William Egglestone and Robert Frank as photographers he admired – but saved his highest praise for Paul Graham.
Alec Soth calls himself “a photojournalist, blogger, self-publisher, Instagrammer and Educator” and last night he drew parallels between the avalanche of photographs taken today and the volume of music available on iTunes. He understands that today the sharing of the image can be as powerful as the image itself.
He also runs a publishing company called Little Brown Mushroom and self-finances ‘Zines and books as well as seeking funding through the likes of Kickstarter for publications and educational programmes. Interestingly, all the publications on the site are Sold Out!
His imagery is impactful but subtle. With soft colours, poignancy and considered compositions, you can see echoes of the photographers mentioned above but also a very particular vision where the images in his bodies of work connect with each other as much as you the viewer want them to. His influence in turn can be seen in advertising, on social media and in fashion editorials, where contemporary but nostalgic photography is the visual currency. There’s a timelessness though to Soth’s pictures, making him one of the great photographers working today.
Before the physical version of Paper magazine was actually released, its digital cover by Jean Paul Goude had already ensured a second life, a third life, a life where the celebrity image is the intangible currency of extraordinary power
The Winter issue of Paper magazine might not have broken the internet but it gave it a damn good hammering! Nothing techy was involved, no viruses released – just the old fashioned exposure of a well known, well-oiled behind!
Photographer Jean-Paul Goude’s images of Kim Kardashian pastiched his original 1970s version with Carolina Beaumont and resulted in five million unique visitors to the magazine’s site in the first 30 hours, according to Paper’s Chief Creative Officer, Drew Elliott. “We believe we have had more visitors but Google Analytics is down,” said Elliott, who pointed to significant traffic as the reason. “So we’ve literally broken the Internet.”
The #BreakTheInternet tag on Twitter gave rise to a lot of debate about the questionable taste of the cover and also some very amusing parodies. The magazine had not even hit the news stands at this point; it lived entirely online.
To complete this perfect digital circle, print issues of Paper have been selling very well on eBay. And in the tradition of Demi Moore’s pregnant Vanity Fair cover and John Lennon’s naked Rolling Stone cover, will continue to do so for some time yet.
Firstly The New Yorker gets giffy with Christoph Niemann, then digs deep into the changing relationship of the digital and the physical
The New Yorker has been playing with the theme of Hard and Soft recently, not least with it’s October 6 “Rainy Day” cover by Christoph Niemann, which had an alternative life on the web as the magazine’s first ever gif cover (see the full story and the gif here).
The November 24 issue features illustrator Richard McGuire’s, “Time Warp” cover. He explains the image on The New Yorker website, “As I walk around the city, I’m time-travelling, flashing forward, planning what it is I have to do.” (McGuire is long-celebrated in the more cultish circles of comics connoisseurs as the creator of “Here” originally published in Art Spigelman’s Raw magazine).
The cover (headline image) echoes McGuire’s interest in how our experience of the everyday is layered with different slices of time. But the issue’s features explore the changing relationship between the 2D and the 3D. ‘Print Thyself’ explores how 3D printing is transforming medicine and features the image below by photographer Lori K. Sanders.
The caption for the image reads “A 3-D printer used by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute creates a model vascular network.” When we still don’t know what this tech means for us, or how it will radically change our familiar systems of making and distributing, Sanders delivers a highly textural photo, of contrasting surfaces, blocks of colour and geometric shapes. The visual and design shorthand for the future has always been Kubrick and 2001, but Sanders shoots the future like Mondrian – blocks of shape and colour.
“Good Game” explores the rise of the professional cyber athlete and is accompanied by an image by photographer Jenny Hueston. The caption reads, “Scarlett [Sasha Hostyn], the most accomplished woman in e-sports, is known for her macro mutalisk style and kick-ass creep spread.”
The strange language in the caption comes from the world of gaming (strategies) and that blown out look is a great look for someone living in the in-between of the Hard and the Soft, a space that is neither and both. The kind of dazed-over-exposed visualises a kind of of jet-lag you might get as you recover from the intensity of game space. And if anyone doubts that this is a thing, the feature notes that, “As of last year, gamers of international renown are eligible for P1-A exemptions, otherwise known as ‘athlete visas.’ Robert Morris University, in Illinois, has added League of Legends, a “multiplayer online battle arena” game, as a varsity team sport, and this semester the program began awarding athletic scholarships.”
The November issue of Creative Review samples the ongoing craft trend, looking at creatives striking out into new areas
Our readers will have kept track of the ‘Craft’ trend in image-making and usage as we explored Provenance over the last year, so it was great to see the November issue of Creative Review investigating some great examples of craft-making and in their feature on Altered States looking at the relationship between the digital and the physical.
And the multi-layered story of Hiut jeans which tracks a unique transition in making and customer experience from the industrial to the post-industrial, from the mass production of physical objects to a moment where these objects, things have value because of the stories attached to them. The Hiut “History Tag” enables the wearer to log/upload life experiences associated with wearing these jeans.
Kind of like Our Song but with trousers. This explanation is from the Hiut website, whose content, photography and tone of voice is an extraordinary vision of how to engage people as people first and customers second.
“It’s super simple. Each jean will come with a unique number. Your unique number. You go to the HistoryTag website and register. That’s it.
Then you can upload pictures of where you went, what you did, who you did it with…to the HistoryTag website.
So those memories get saved. Not a big deal right now. But when you look back, it will become a big deal.
And yes, the History Tag is a bit like a blank iPod, but as you add more and more music it becomes more and more interesting. Or in our case, the more memories you add to it, the more fascinating it becomes.
So if in the future, your jeans get handed down, or end up in a second hand jeans shop, their memories will go along with them.”
It does address some of the questions raised by Brendan Dawes in his interview around memory. Founder David Hieatt gave a talk at the Authenticity event at the Point last year, and while ‘Authenticity’ has clearly been a commercial trend over the last decade, the problem with it is that it is a conversation-stopper – for each brand there’s always a specific need Authenticity is responding to in advertising or branding projects. In Hiut jeans, the ‘Authenticity’ of the company’s roots and mode of production, disguised a couple of more innovative trends – how consumer products are transformed into personal things through a web of storytelling relationships and archives.
It’s also a different way of designing the idea of Sustainability into the product and getting a customer becomes a virtuous circle of business Sustainability. It’s not that the age of the Hard Sell has disappeared, its just that smart brands understand the longer sustainable game of the Soft Sell.
When is a photo of a crying girl not a photo of a crying girl? News photography in the age of truthiness
The issue of picture provenance and authenticity in news photography raised its head again in the form of the face of a young girl. The Daily Mirror ran a feature on the growth of food banks in the UK, supported by the image of a crying girl. It turns out the tears were not caused by hunger but from losing an earthworm she had adopted. It was a Flickr image from 2009 with the caption explaining the girl’s tears as she saw the invertebrate propelling itself into the distance.
The response in the mainstream media have condemned the cover while offering some rationale for the decision, no doubt due to the gravity of the story The Daily Mirror was pursuing on their front page. Here’s a quick summary of viewpoints.
Tools of Persuasion
Andrew Brown who regularly writes on religion for The Guardian newspaper takes the view that exposing the growth of Food Banks in a wealthy country like Britain would have been better served by an image of a genuine child. But he argues that rhetoric and the tools of persuasion are at the heart of language.
“It is fundamental to the nature of storytelling and of language itself that one thing stands in for another. Metaphor is not a garnish we put on facts. It is the thing that makes language possible and so, in a sense, the thing that makes “facts” possible at all. The whole skill of communication is to make the other party jump to conclusions unwarranted by the evidence and this need not be sharp practice at all.”
Roy Greenslade, Professor of Journalism at the City University of London and regular writer on media for The Guardian gathered some responses including an email from Daily Mirror editor Lloyd Embley who wrote sardonically, “And there was me thinking a million food parcels was the story.”
Then Embley added “It’s a picture of a crying child made available to Getty [Images] for them to use and distribute through their library, which we used for illustrative purposes. Imagine the stink if we’d used a pic of an actual child who had received food parcels.”
In The Independent newspaper, Ian Burrell wrote, “I have some sympathy with the Mirror. The poverty issue is a real one – and no doubt there were genuine tears this morning from kids pained with hunger in contemporary Britain. But trying to take a picture of a crying hungry child with the consent of parents who might feel in some way responsible for that hunger is an assignment that would challenge any news photographer. It’s the sort of picture that might result from the kind of long embedded investigation that the media rarely has the resources for these days.”
One might add to Burrell’s observation that as mainstream media budgets get cut, perhaps sending a staff photographer out to have look is not an option, the photographer’s craft (like any other craft) is often a function of time – researching, making, editing. Perhaps the front pages of popular newspapers heavy with celebrity have blurred the notion of ‘news’ itself. And ethics issues aside, perhaps it just wasn’t a good solution in the absence of real documentary footage – perhaps the use of an archive shot of a child from the 1930s highlighting the return of a world we thought we’d moved beyond might have done a similar job.
And just as the notion of news is extended, stretched, blurred by the mash of our social media sign-ups, maybe the cover is an example of what comedian Stephen Colbert coined as ‘truthiness’. Back on the premiere of his show in 2005 he explained parodcially, “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart. And that’s exactly what’s pulling our country apart today. Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats or Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart…
….Now I know some of you may not trust your gut…yet. But with my help you will. The ‘truthiness’ is, anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news…at you.”
The use of the photo of the girl crying wasn’t a ‘true’ image, but it was probably ‘truthy’.
Congrats to the three Image Source shooters who made it into one of the toughest Photo-awards annuals around
In what felt like an incredibly diverse selection of work by jurors Carolyn Roberts (Creative Director, The Observer), Tom Ewart (The Corner), Fernando Gutierrez (Studio Fernando Gutierrez) and Cretaive Review Editor Patrick Burgoyne, three Image Source photographers made the final cut into the annual.
And finally congrats to Julian Love for his Handmade London series (see Julian on Image Source)
The death of the great Lou Reed prompted some thoughts on influence and communication.
Lou Reed may have helped to change music as all the obituaries attest to, but in his modesty he was keen to attribute the possibility of his career to Andy Warhol – a former illustrator who made a career from his understanding of the new age of art, commercial imagery, celebrity and brands. Two thoughts on Lou Reed and communication.
1. Given the relative obscurity of the Velvet Underground (seriously, ask around the office how many people have anything by the band) my wife wondered how did we actually come across them? Going to an all boys school in Dublin in the late 70s, there really was only one trusted, credible source of ground-breaking pop music – your friend’s Big Sister’s record collection. This was a strange network of influence, the Big Sister wasn’t necessarily ‘cool’ in the eyes of the self-conscious male teenager who looked up to a different set of hairy-bloked peers. But this little known sub-group of the Big Sister wielded enormous cultural power. Unlike Big Brothers, whose musical taste expressed a kind of head-shaking masculinity – Deep Purple, Motorhead, Frank Zappa – the Big Sister had an angle on visual pop (David Bowie), art pop (Velvet Underground), eccentric pop (Roxy Music). Recent studies have cast doubt on Marketing’s love of the idea of Alpha influencers (re Malcolm Gladwell’s account of Hush Puppies in the 1990s). But perhaps these researchers are just looking in the wrong place. Big Sisters weren’t coolhunters, they were just interested in interesting stuff.
2. The most quoted comment in the press reports on Lou Reed’s death was an observation attributed to musician, artist and innovator Brian Eno – “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”
In the age of social marketing, of brands seeking likes, shares, and influence, what Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol happened on was the fact that it’s not the volume of people you connect with that matters, it’s the right people. And like the Big Sister, the true arbiters of the interesting, the new, the exciting are not necessarily where you expect.
For businesses, deep, lasting, impactful influence is difficult to measure and easy to miss. You might have to go off the radar of what is conventionally considered cool and go offline because stuff happens in the physical world too. For photographers seeking to maximise exposure for their work it’s not size that matters, it’s quality – and finding the contemporary equivalent of the Big Sister.
All aboard! Artist Doug Aitken and a merry crew of musicians, artists and film-makers travel by train across America creating events and ‘happenings’
Over three weeks in September, artist Doug Aitken is travelling across America on a train, on a public art project whose name is a nod to David Bowie, “Station to Station will connect leading figures and underground creators from the worlds of art, music, food, literature” creating unique work along the way.
Sponsored by Levi’s, the journey and the accompanying website is designed to raise money to support non-traditional art programs at museums across America.
The lively site documents the journey, lists events and captures the idea of the fleeting moment of thought, expressed with quotations, from photographers such as Stephen Shore
And travelog photos that remind us of the freedom of being on the move, evoking a freedom of mind and spirit.
Tonight Illinois and Thursday in Minnesota. To follow the journey and donate and support public art projects click here
The Rolling Stone cover controversy provoked the most fevered debate of 2013. Here’s a round-up and 6 key photography takeouts
The background: The August issue of Rolling Stone featured a cover portrait of the Boston bomber Dzokaher Tsarnaev. A backlash and boycott of the magazine ensued, which on the face of it, amounted to one central criticism – the photograph glamorised a killer.
But an overview shows that in this case, the devil really is in the detail. It’s easy for those not in the profession to take photography for granted – and for most people photography does what it says on the tin. It is what it is. But as we know the photograph has many layers, and how it’s used can change everything.
It was no surprise that Adweek have just reported that, “During the week ending July 21, the website attracted 1.5 million unique U.S. visitors, according to comScore—a 41 percent increase over the previous week’s traffic. For all of July, Rollingstone.com traffic was up 20 percent year over year, with 3.6 million uniques.”
This was a story that needed to be read and the controversy of imagery helped fuel that. Below are some fascinating responses to the single image of a young man.
Rolling Stone contributing editor and Boston native Matt Taibbi, argued that the backlash (unfair he argues) was due to the cultural context in which it was shown. The New York Times ran the exact same image on its front page – admittedly surrounded by columns of text.
“But there was no backlash against the Times, because everyone knows the Times is a news organization. Not everyone knows that about Rolling Stone. So that’s your entire controversy right there – it’s OK for the Times, not OK for Rolling Stone, because many people out there understandably do not know that Rolling Stone is also a hard-news publication.”
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is defined by where it’s used.
Michael Joseph Stern wrote a thoughtful, rounded piece for Slate magazine, but pointed out that the cover of Rolling Stone was often “prime celebrity real estate.” Was the problem a confusion of photo styles or genres – the news image and the celebrity image?
“Few people complained, however, when the Columbine shooters graced the cover of Time, perhaps in part because that magazine is devoted primarily to news, whereas Rolling Stone devotes more space to music and culture. And it’s certainly true that Rolling Stone’s cover is prime celebrity real estate; many forget that the late Michael Hastings’ explosive piece on General Stanley McChrystal was tucked in an issue featuring Lady Gaga on the cover.”
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is eaten by Celebrity
On a similar but slightly different tack Freya Petersen reported in the Global Post that “Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner over its decision to offer Tsarnaev “celebrity treatment.” He called the cover “ill-conceived, at best,” and supportive of the “terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their “causes.’” In this instance using the photo is seen as wrong because it publicises the killer, rewards killers for the heinous crimes.
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is that it is a prize for infamy
One of the most valuable insights was dug out by Joe Coscarelli in New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. Coscarelli sought out someone who would have something to say about magazine covers and issues of celebrity, adman and Art Director George Lois. The former king of cover art dismissed the idea that the cover had anything meaningful to contribute to understanding the motives of the killer.
“George Lois, the man responsible for Esquire’s classic covers, is having none of it. ‘I can’t believe anybody with half a brain doesn’t look at that thing and immediately go, ‘What!?’’ he told Daily Intelligencer over the phone this afternoon. ‘The cover of Rolling Stone says: This is an important person to our culture, in some way — a terrific person or an emerging talent or a cultural icon. There can’t be any debate about this.’”
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is in the iconography of the cover
5. Rock Star
The New Yorker’s Ian Crouch found in the magazine’s Facebook comments one source of outrage who complained that “the image gives Tsarnaev the ‘rock star’ treatment – that his scruffy facial hair; long, curly hair; T-shirt; and soft-eyed glance straight at the camera all make him look like just another Rolling Stone cover boy, whether Jim Morrison or any of the many longhairs who appeared in the magazine’s nineteen-seventies heyday.” Not just a celebrity but a rock star, the visual styling is subtly different.
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is the visual codes and styling
6. Re-Frame the Image
The most visually informed piece came from former Rolling Stone Art Director Andy Cowles who pointed out that the portrait was unique for a cover image for very different reasons that reflect something about generation of social media relations. “This is an extraordinary image for Rolling Stone to use, not because he looks like a Rock Star, but because it’s a selfie. Rolling Stone is legendary and rightly so for creating powerful identities on their cover. Here, they are doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.”
Takeout: The meaning of the photo is the self-portrait
The United States’ Transport Security Administration, otherwise known as the TSA, have turned to Instagram to highlight some of the items confiscated by their agents at airports nationwide.
The TSA aren’t exactly America’s favourite Government agency. Often faced with heavy public criticism over search techniques, body scanners and more, the TSA has a hard-time justifying their heavy-handed approach. However a new Instagram account set up under the @tsablogteam moniker may be about to change all that.
The TSA have been posting artsy images of grenades, guns, bullets and cigarette-style stun guns for just under a week, and in that time have managed to mass thousands of followers. Images of confiscated items have been kept on their blog since 2008, but the move to Instagram has been an ingenious way of publicising and educating travellers about the risks faced by Security staff and travellers everyday.
“The Transportation Security Administration uses a variety of ways to engage with the traveling public in order to provide timely information that assists them in traveling safely,” the TSA said in a statement sent to ABC News.
Take a look at some of the images from the account below. To see the whole collection, visit the TSA Instagram account.
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