BLOG

Insights

  • PHOTOGRAPHY - THE PASSIONATE JOURNEY

    On Thursday 30 August at 6:30pm I will teach the first iPhone Photography class in Sydney at the Australian Centre of Photography (ACP).  I am so excited and honoured to be teaching at this prestigious photography hub in Paddington. I'd like to start this blog post by thanking all the people at ACP who were involved in making this class a reality.

    Michael Baranovic and I used to joke about one day teaching iPhone Photography at ACP. But teaching at ACP is no joke. It's an amazing opportunity to meet and teach people with a passion for photography.  However, photography is a journey - not a course, and there's only so much I can teach in the three hours.  I have received a huge amount of support from family, friends and other photographers. I want you all to know that your support means more to me than I can really convey in words. As part of this process I have also seen and received a range of negative feedback since the course was announced, but I’ll address that all later. First, I’d like to talk briefly about the course.

    It's not just a course at which you learn a range of iPhone photography techniques and tricks. It’s a chance to teach each person the importance of content, composition and context when creating (and sharing) an image. It's highly likely that the people attending the course will already understand these photographic principles, but I want each of them to walk out of the class with the confidence to try to create (and share) quality personal photography with an iPhone.

    I want people to use what they learn in the class to help them shoot and share their own world with clarity, and vision. I believe that by giving people the confidence to shoot quality images with an iPhone it will encourage them to explore and experiment with photographic imagery, and that they will use their iPhone as a part of their own photographic journey.

    Lighting Lightning

    I mentioned the three elements of content, composition and context because I think that the majority of “personal” photography I see (mostly shared online) is lost in translation. The majority of personal photography I see fails to communicate and engage because of a lack of content, composition or context. Yes, these elements aren’t “rules”, but they’re an easy way to define some common reasons why many images will fail to connect and communicate with the audience.  

    I'm not just talking about the failure of mobile photography; I'm talking about photography as a whole. I've seen beautifully bound and presented “personal” photography books failing to engage (and thus sell) for lack of context, just as I've seen highly personal images on the Nat Geo Instagram feed suffer much the same fate, where although the Nat Geo photographers are bound by a beautiful photography brand they’ve failed to engage with an audience.

    I want to teach people to capture (and share) their iPhone photography with an emphasis on content, composition and context. So I'm not really teaching anything new, as it's all just photography, right?  So why bother?  

    Well, because the journey is everything, and I know that from my own experience. And there are millions of others with the same device, on a similar photographic journey.

    So, let us talk about the negativity. 

    Dancers, preparing for the Chinese New Year Parade in Sydney

    I've seen negative responses to the course from people who I really admire as photographers.  What I’ve realised is that most of these people are being negative about the course because of their passion for quality photography. They don’t like the way that much of mobile photography trivialises photography, and neither do I. They don’t like the reliance on faux retro filters in mobile photography instead of understanding lighting, composition and the importance of self-editing, and neither do I. We all want to see great works of photography with quality photographic elements of content, composition and context. These photographers may have a different ideal for the aesthetics of an image, but their concerns about this course are welcome because they take their photography personally and passionately. Their passion is inspiring.

    I can't argue with the passion of these photographers, although I do think it’s a bit disappointing that several people have simply concluded I’m going to be teaching the use of faux retro filters (I’m not, and how these people would jump to such conclusions after looking at my iPhone photography is a mystery to me). In the end their passionate concern has actually made me feel that we're really on the same photographic journey, just on different paths. I think it’s important that I tell these people (and anyone else who feels concerned) that I want people who attend my class to walk out with the potential to explore photography; and to use what they learn as part of their own photographic journey.  I want them to use a device which dominates much of our personal lives as a means to explore and develop their personal relationship to photography.

    I believe that when it's personal and passionate, photography is a journey.

    Mobile photography is a new and exciting part of the personal photographic journey of millions of people around the world, and I'm really lucky and excited to have this opportunity to teach at ACP.

    Light Speed, George Street, Sydney

    (all images copyright Oliver Lang)

  • ANOTHER ARTICLE ABOUT FILTERS

    Inspiration:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jul/19/instagram-debasing-real-photography?

    I don't think I have seen a single blog post or article that doesn't simply whinge and moan about "Instagram" and mobile photography. It's the moron's picnic, where the well intended but ineffective use of filters brings out the whinge based blog posts and news articles, and the mobile baby is thrown out with the filtered bath water.

    Do you really think because you know "photography", "better", than a few people that you know better than everyone? You're so securely superior that you forget how to look for something worth looking for. Hah, you're missing out, you're stuck in the past. Goodbye, suckers.

    The photographers and/or writers who attack mobile photography and Instagram often initially validate their opinion by expressing a love of photography. They then say, that they know how to share images without compromise. They convince themselves that their creative ideology ensures that their conclusions are sufficiently supported, or sometimes simply convince themselves of superiority based upon photographic medium or prior photographic history. There's no questions asked, just half baked conclusions.

    Not one article I've read either asks or answers: Where are the visionaries? The people who see the future and the potential? Who is out there spotting the pioneers? The cutting edge insightful and inspirational leaders of a new medium? I know that such people are not simply writing articles about filters and basic app functions. And they're definitely not the enthusiastic mobile photography lunatic fringe, where platitudes, words and suggested follower numbers somehow qualify you as a medium leader.

    So, next time you hear another complaint about mobile photography, that sounds the same as all the others, maybe you'll realise that Instagram filters aren't the only things that get repeatedly applied without significant purpose or effect.

    The prevailing attitude still being expressed here is "mobile photography is simply unconscious fun, with an element of randomized post processing using an retro-like filter". If this is you, I really need to know why do you continue to assume this definition? Are you really that easily convinced by the mass of "non-photographers" that you allow them to be the ones that define a medium?

    Why would you keep making these assumptions about the medium based upon a single type of user? This is exactly my point I made previously, that people decide that one example of the images created by the medium determine the nature of the entire medium. It's a failure in the current attitude in photography to cling to such a conclusion.

    I welcome alternate aesthetic preferences, but I've seen bad photography in every medium, and I didn't assume that it categorized the photographic medium. What's clear is that there is an inability among existing photographic circles to look for examples of mobile photography that are outside of mainstream press articles. There is also a complete misunderstanding of the nature of "mobile photography", and confusion as to where it becomes "mobile publishing".

    I know that some people already know, but many do not understand that Instagram is simply a mobile publishing platform. Instagram is not "photography" - that's akin to saying that stretched canvas prints, platinum prints or photo books are "photography" - they're essentially just how the images are displayed. The image size shared on Instagram is simply optimized for mobile viewing, while the original image file is capable of the larger resolution printing if desired. I've seen excellent quality images printed and exhibited from mobile phones.

    It seems to me that the mobile photography capabilities have easily surpassed the knowledge and attitudes of people, and their assumptions need to be challenged.


  • MINIMAL ON INSTAGRAM

    I'm really glad that people have connected via this post on my Instagram feed from Sunday. The purpose of the post was to discover great minimalist photographers on Instagram by crowdsourcing names within the app.

    With over 180 comments and plenty of great minimalist photographers suggested it's a great resource for all who were involved, so thanks to all those who contributed to the conversation! We all know that the popular page long since failed to serve photography, but Instagram can still be used as a source of photographic culture, you just have to seek it out.

    To get the right response a specific leading question is required, and by asking others to participate by suggesting who they admire creates a larger resource of names to consider, and also goodwill between participating photographers. 

    It’s best to connect people based upon like-minded photographic endeavours, rather than simply asking for “so, who do you like?”, and then drowning under the “follow for follow!” responses.

    It is useful to have a larger following to ensure that the specific conversation quickly builds momentum and spreads outside of your existing circle of interaction. Instagram is an app built for immediacy, and anything that is not on the top of the pile is easily forgotten.

    While going over the suggestions I received (and there many) I personally was really impressed by the work of the following users:

    (blog continues below)

    amaranths

    melrae66

    zerdzaiwitwora

    __miki__

    stuffcarlsees

    dankhole

    brockdavis

    livingpod

    I’m looking forward to spending some time checking out their feeds.

    Please have a look at some of the others who were suggested in the original comments, and answer the following question:

    What sort of minimalist photography do you like?

    After years of looking at mobile photography, I’ve realised that there are two divergent effects from the repetition of minimalistic images.  

    The majority of minimalist images on Instagram are of a certain stereotype which, when repeated, simply serves to reinforce the cliché. For example, the image of a single bird in flight over water is idealistic rather than insightfully minimalist. Then there’s the silhouetted figures against a sunset, figures jumping, people holding umbrellas or balloons, and that small lone figure in a landscape that seem to be almost everywhere. I know how images like this require skill, dedication and patience, but I've seen thousands like it over the last few years and I can no longer connect in any way, although I’m sure that I did - once upon a time.

    These idealistic images may usually be created with minimalist content and composition, but the sharing photographers are motivated by a significant mood, or emotion. This mood or emotion is usually explained within a single word or phrase that accompanies the posted image. These clichéd idealistic images are usually heavily reliant upon the word or phrase for clarification of the photographers reason for sharing.  The text is sometimes simply a crutch to the cliché image.

    This is mobile sharing and self-expression via imagery, and does not provide the best insightful, personal story-telling.  But, this idealistic imagery is a significant reason for the growth of mobile photography.  A large portion of Instagram users prefer the app as an emotional outlet, however, as more and more people add these idealised minimalistic images the repetition simply reinforces the cliché at the cost of the reality of the emotions that motivated the shooting and sharing.  The more I see these images repeated, the less I engage with the image or the reason behind it as one simply blurs with another. Ironically, I now have a minimalistic response.

    A while ago in a conversation with Nick Moir and Misho Baranovic we agreed certain images should be tagged “#likebait” because they would always gather likes on Instagram much faster than original and engaging photographic compositions. It has become a cheeky way of criticising each other’s images when they have strayed towards the popular cliché.  This criticism is important because on Instagram there are few reasons to avoid being unduly influenced by the number of likes as an indication of an images worth.  Instagram is like most social media apps, designed for clear affirmation and positive reinforcement, and #likebait is our reminder that photography isn’t just about the number of likes.

    I originally provided Brentsky as an example because his minimalist door series (check through his feed) is the opposite of these clichés. His repetition of images of various doors (usually focussed on the handle) are composed to let the varying colours, the wear and tear and environment of each door define the place. By repeating these door images, he subtly contrasts their individualism and also reveals the purpose of the door and the nature of the people who use it. Brent also names each place when sharing the door image, rather than tying the image to an abstract emotion or phrase. This is minimalist story-telling, and I would love to see more like it on Instagram.  

    Disclaimer: Opinions are my own, this is not criticism of anyone or any image. I've long since learnt that for every honest sentence shared on the internet, an apologetic sentence is required, despite never intending to need it. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing any responses.

  • MOBILE PARTICIPTION IS DRIVING THE EVOLUTION OF DIGITAL CURATION

    Mobile participation is driving the evolution of digital curation.
     
    I was recently asked to be the official mobile photographer for Vivid Ideas, a part of the Vivid Sydney festival. My role at the festival is to capture and quickly share key moments and behind the scene images from the amazing talks and presentations that are being held at the Museum Of Contemporary Art and at other locations around Sydney.
     
     
    My favourite panel so far has been the "GAME CHANGERS" panel which discussed the continuing impact of the internet on the creative industry. The discussion identified the exponential growth of digital media on the internet as a key development, and that this growth was changing how we interacted and experienced the online world. I’d like to expand on these points and identify why mobile consumption and participation is driving an evolution of digital curation.
     
    The panel members were:
     
    Keiran Ots, Creative Director, Leo Burnett
    Keiren Cooney, Chief Communications Officer, National Broadband Network
    Kate Armstrong Smith, Partnerships Manager, Sydney Festival
     
    Towards the end of the discussion Kate said that now the artist is the game changer, because it is the artists who can create a personal connection, take the audience on a journey, and it is the artist who is best positioned to invite their audience to participate.
     
    Participation has played a huge role in my own approach to mobile photography. In the mobile photography walks I led for Earth Hour Global and City of Sydney, and also the Instaburb competition I organised with Misho Baranovic the aim has always been to create both an online and offline participatory experience.
     
    These shared experiences, along with the experience of sharing of my mobile photography online over the last four years has lead me to believe that the artist is about to enter the age of digital curation. The driving force for this change is the incredible growth in online interaction via a mobile device.
     
    I was able to ask the members of the "GAME CHANGERS" panel (via twitter) the following:
     
    "Why is curation not the keyword for the future?"
     
    Digital "creation" and "consumption" dominate any discussion of digital, while the role of "curation" is rarely considered in the conversation. So, why isn't "curation" the key word for the future of digital?
     
    The panel discussed my question, and agreed that the connectivity of the internet meant that the artist is now also the online or digital curator.
     
    Digital curation has existed online for years, but now, with increased mobile use and reliance on smart phone technology to interact with the world, art, and its digital curation is colliding with the expanding potential of mobile user experience.
     
    My key thoughts on this point are:
     
    1. Digital curation is not simply collection and storing of art, it is the art of digitally connecting and communicating art to the audience.
     
    2. The capability of the device that enables digital curation is equally as important as the art itself.
     
    3. Digital creation has advanced enough that the reach of digitalised art is only bound by the limitations of digital curation (and the resulting consumption).
     
    4. The growing trend for consumption (and creation) of art via mobile device, means that it is the people who create tools for mobile curation that are the game changers. Not just the artists.
     
    These points are why I believe that mobile photography is not only about the device that creates the art, but the device that allows the curation and communication of photography. 
     
    Instagram is a excellent example of a digital curation tool. It is a streamlined mobile publishing platform that has attracted millions of mobile (and also non-mobile) photographers, to present their creation to the participating consumers. But Instagram is by no means perfect.
     
    I have spoken to several photographers about the immediacy of mobile photography sharing. They believe that the culture of immediacy that drives mobile photography creates pressure to constantly connect and deliver artworks, and that this pressure can destroy an existing artistic process and interrupt artistic reflection.
     
    I agree. There is a huge risk of digital distraction; even a loss of artistic integrity as audience feedback (from the digital communication process) cannot be ignored. Artists who receive positive feedback (online or offline) may cling tightly to a “liked” or “popular” approach rather than exploring the medium and breaking new ground. The addictive stream of online feedback can become more influential to an artist than the real world stimulus that would otherwise guide them in their creative process.
     
    Although these risks exist, by engaging an online audience an artist is able to refine their ideas, concepts, processes and practices. An artist who used digital curation must understand how to manage participation, or else become a victim of its influence.
     
    I certainly do not believe that all art can or should be digitalised, or that all artists are digital. However, artists are in some way now a part of the digital world simply because their audience is increasingly interacting with the world through a digital (mobile) device.
     
    The importance of digital curation cannot be underestimated, as art and its curation is moving from the walls of the gallery, and into the hands of the audience, wherever and everywhere that they connect.
     
    (An excellent write up of the event by India Brown is here: http://www.vividsydney.com/business/game-changers-at-vivid-ideas/)