29 November 2008
In the name of increasing "Broadcast Localism," the Federal Communications Commission seeks to establish "Community Advisory Boards" that would oversee the content of radio programming. The "advisory boards" would keep the radio station "informed" of the "needs of the community" so that the station could "better serve" its listeners.
There is a great write up in Ars Technica . . . from March. That's right, March. Normally, I'd be imploring my readers to comment on--and against--this new proposal, as I did with Bloomberg's photography regulations in NYC, but the deadline for comments has passed.
Rush, NPR, Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz, and even the local Matt Mittan all failed to keep me informed. The mainstream media didn't breathe a word about any of it, as far as I know, because this isn't law. There are no legislators to smear. It's "rule," imposed by unelected bureaucrats.
I got lots of comments from people who didn't understand the quotes in The Long November. So let me be perfectly clear.
Free speech is a binary code: It's either there, or it's not. And there is no cause great enough to justify the oppression of speech. None. Not fairness, not religion, not Art, not change, not the common good. And certainly not "localism."
I'm aware that broadcasting on the airwaves is a privilege, and not a right. Blogging is also a privilege. I have no right to express my views via this channel, just as Limbaugh, Schultz and Mittan have no right to their radio microphones. Our right is speech, not its amplification. And so this privilege may be denied, in time, to me. And you.
I'm also aware that we already have PBS and NPR, and we do not need more state-controlled media. And instituting "advisory boards" made up of "leaders" from the local community, no matter how "local," is state-controlled media. And so, under these rules, and under the coming Fairness Doctrine, amplification will be a privilege of the state.
I start my classes off with the concept that art is the expression of the artist's will. It's not ideas, or feelings, or rants and raves. It's the thing that sets us apart from animals--our sovereign, reasoned will--expressed as communication. It is the same thing, made from the same substance, as talk radio, televangelism, infomercials, SOS signals, and the rock and roll broadcast into space. So I post this not to inflame or agitate, but to shine a light. Where it is too late for action, there can only be vigilance.
"Given the record, we conclude that modification of certain of our rules, policies and practices may be necessary to address the deficiencies of many broadcasters in meeting their obligation to serve their local communities. These proposed changes are intended to promote localism by providing viewers and listeners greater access to locally responsive programming including, but not limited to, local news and public affairs matters . . .
"As discussed above, we tentatively conclude that licensees should convene and consult with permanent advisory boards made up of leaders from the community of each broadcast station. In addition to informing broadcasters of issues of importance to their communities in general, such advisory boards should include representatives
of all segments of the community, to ensure that those community elements have a continuing opportunity to communicate their group’s perceived needs and interests to their local broadcast station management."
-Report on Broadcast Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Federal Communications Commission, 24Jan08
24 November 2008
© 2008 National Geographic
Rarely does a photography book encompass the nature of the art. HCB's Decisive Moment, Abell's Photographic Life, or even Ansel Adams' Camera, Negative, Print trilogy stand out for me as milestones, books that transcend their content. Not only are they photography books, they are photographer's books, the way jazz is musician's music.
The Geographic's new publication, Odysseys and Photographs, is such a milestone. The book tracks the journeys of four Geographic photographers--Maynard Owen Williams, Luis Marden, Volkmar Wentzel and Thomas Abercrombie-- field men who Sam Abell calls the magazine's "Greatest Generation," and presents their images from around the world. From the press release: "The book includes 200 of the photographers' most arresting images, many of which lay hidden in National Geographic's archives for decades. These historic photographs present a unique visual chronicle of the previous century . . ."
Arresting, indeed. The images in this book are like a punch in the gut, possessed with a power and resonance that arrests not only attention, but the reader's vision.
Photo by Volkmar Wentzel, © 2008 National Geographic
Photo by Luis Marden, © 2008 National Geographic
Photo by Volkmar Wentzel, © 2008 National Geographic
Photo by Thomas Abercrombie, © 2008 National Geographic
There is an irony present in today's photography, a kind of self-awareness as an art form, that softens the punch of contemporary images. Even in the work of today's Geographic photographers, we see the allusion to what has come before, the weight of crafting an original statement for a magazine that has spanned more than a century.
What we see in Odysseys and Photographs is the lack of that burden, photos made by men who were experiencing for the first time not only their subjects, but their ability to photograph their world. The result documents a way of seeing and the adventure of capturing those sights.
It's a stout statement to compare any photo book, let alone a compilation of several photographers’ work, to The Decisive Moment. Odysseys and Photographs is about more than archived Geographic photos--this book is about the decisive lifestyle, the choice made by men to be journalists, and to accept the joys and poignant hardships that accompany that calling.
19 November 2008
My response was to become withdrawn and play video games for three days. I figure that's a pretty good response to most of life's challenges.
Ok, seriously, I'm not that much of a moody artist. I've been busy. I have a job* and a life.**
I saw the dogs on the way to the Prop 8 protest. I was hoping for some good sin and debauchery to photograph, but the protest was very polite and civil. Yawn. So that's why you saw dogs, instead of . . . well, instead. The first two were at some kind of adopt-a-dog fair at the Brew&View, and the last was tied up to a tree downtown.
And the Asylum. Photographed on some dreary day in 2004 with this camera . . .
. . . which kind of explains the look of the photos. At the time, I was very unhappy with that look, and gave the Zeiss to Madame Rex.
And then bought a new Ricoh, only to find that it had the same shutter problems that lead me to throw the old Ricoh into the ocean.*** I found out about those shutter problems the hard way, shooting on an impromptu trip to Charleston and finding every photo half-exposed. Not under-exposed, HALF exposed. Just like this picture I got of the Asylum when I went back with my "modern" Ricoh.
Now I kind of like the shutter effect, at least in the context of the Asylum. Nothing is more important than what a photograph DOESN'T show.
And now I'm feeling extra self-conscious, because this post is long winded, has serious photography commentary, and includes a picture of a camera and nerdy photo talk about shutter problems. So to redeem myself with some real Art, here's a blurry, underexposed shot of a nude woman.****
* Sort of
** Not really
*** I made that part about the ocean up. I sold it for parts on eBay.
**** Not really. How long did you stare at it?
15 November 2008
12 November 2008
I spent two long years in the darkroom with this guy, who even back then was taking some real serious photos. In fact, I'm arrogant enough to say that the two of us took it more seriously than anyone else there, even though most of the time we were goofing off and making fun of Larry White.
Burdett did a pretty heavy documentary on Canton, NC, which is where I now teach. So for the first month or so, I'd leave class and wander through town with this feeling that I'd been there before, and wondering why it didn't smell like fixer.
11 November 2008
My original intent with this project was to document shooting events between Super Tuesday and Election Day, and then fall into a heap of journalistic accomplishment. Well, the election is over, and I've accomplished a great deal here, but I don't want to stop shooting.
One thing I've learned over the years is that if you think you know what you're doing, you're wrong. My intent for this project--pursuing some kind of publication or exhibit--was pretty off-target. And of course, The District and the election filled up the late summer like mosquitoes on a screened-in porch.
I guess I'm always looking for that one amazing photograph that will finish the project. As if Joe Rosenthal said, "Oh, I've photographed some marines raising a flag on Iwo Jima. I can stop now."
The reality is, most documentary projects either take much longer than the three years I've spent on this one, or take much more money that I've spent on this one. So the project continues . . .
03 November 2008
The election is over.
Randex.org has picked up the Citizen-Times interview. At first, I'm honored. Ayn Rand's conception of art--the selective recreation of reality--mirrors my own. And then I wonder: Is this objective enough? Will this be seen as a political endorsement?
Art and politics do not mix, as much as some factions may try, and artists who attempt political change only alienate their audience.
So I squirm when ThunderPig labels me a "conservative blogger," or when the Xpress reviews my photos as "not-so-subtle political statements." I feel very uncomfortable when I'm seen at an event by other members of the media, and they ask who I'm shooting for, or when I'm asked at a gunshow if I'm a "commie liberal." I'm very careful, so very careful, to shoot each photo objectively, and to cultivate neutrality as a central element of my vision.
Eugene Smith once wrote that "subjectivity is not a crime." There was a time when I disagreed. These days, I'm not so sure. At some point, you have to stand for something.
The Day Itself
4Nov08: It is a beautiful day to be an American. I'm riding shotgun with Carl Mumpower to as many polling places as we can hit, lurching all over the county in what his campaign calls "The Mumpower Truck." It's a bright red late-80's Tacoma, outfitted with gigantic Mumpower-for-Congress signs, a stark contrast to Carl's refined countenance.
"It will be a miracle if we win," he tells me above the truck's grinding gears. He is right.
It's a miracle that I am here, that any of us are here. At some point during the day, I stop and take off my sunglasses to look at a tree set on fire in the bright fall sunlight. How many good people are dead, gone from this world where the sky is so blue it's impossible to photograph, so that Carl and I can do this today? There are places in the world where people risk this sight, place it within the reach of Death's arm, to cast their vote.
The campaign's work is brutal, and almost over. Mumpower and I are both running on only a few hours' sleep, crackers and bottled water. But I'm lucky; I'm just the photographer. We stop for lunch, and I eat while Carl is greeted by supporters. Between the restaurant and the truck, Carl has given out balloons to three little girls and talked with their families.
The things I've seen working for this campaign, taken all at once in the swift breath of memory, evidence a world I thought was gone before my time. You think you've missed it, that you were born too late for your difference to be made, but the photos are clear--honest Americana, and the Americans that create it. There are times when I can't believe I'm taking these pictures.
One thing I've learned this year is that everyone loves balloons, but grown-ups hide it well. We park the truck outside of Mumpower's headquarters and start to unpack. As I reach into the bed for an armload of gear, Carl greets a young boy and his grandfather, and asks if they'd like a balloon. They would. I turn around and see that the boy and his grandfather are black. Forty years ago, they would not have been able to sit in a restaurant with Carl and me, and in a few hours, we will elect our first black president.
I make a mental note to mention that to my students, in whom I'm always trying to instill some sense of historical perspective. When I do, they respond, "Isn't it terrible that it took forty years?" Yes, it is. But now we have a country where a politician can casually offer a child a balloon, and neither of them thinks of the gulf that once would have been between them. At some point in the last 40 years, someone decided they weren't born too late to make a difference.
Quotes and Whispers
From a blog entry, after photographing a meeting of the UNCA Socialist Unity League, formerly the UNCA Marxist-Leninists, 16Feb2006:
"Are you with the Blue Banner?”
And then the room got really quiet. He was afraid to ask why I was taking pictures, and I wasn’t going to offer an explanation. Because I didn’t have to. Because--and I mean this in the most literal way--photographing people in a public place is my God-given right.
Finally the girl who was leading the meeting stopped and said: “I’m sorry, who are you shooting pictures for?”
“No one. Just myself.”
“Well, who are you?”
“I’m just an independent photographer.”
“Oh. Well, okay. You know, with all the hate and oppression in our society, it just makes me nervous.”
I didn't know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything at all. It’s not my job to make people feel comfortable.
Photographer accused of voter intimidation:
"When Kathy Rhodarmer pointed her camera at residents of Canterbury Hills, an adult care home, the residents got nervous."
Press from pro-McCain papers booted from Obama's plane:
"It would be wiser to resist the impulse to punish those who ask hard questions and wiser still to show more respect for the free exercise of the press."
"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ." 15Dec1791
Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. (Amen) But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. (Yeah) [applause] And I don't mind. [applause continues] Like anybody, I would like to live a long life--longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. (Yeah) And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. (Go ahead) And I've looked over (Yes sir), and I've seen the Promised Land. (Go ahead) I may not get there with you. (Go ahead) But I want you to know tonight, (Yes) that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. [applause] (Go ahead. Go ahead) And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [applause]
"A more disturbing position taken by Obama, however, is his view - articulated on draftobama.org - that "I hope Congress gets to work right away on reestablishing the Fairness Doctrine with the FCC. There needs to be balance on the airwaves again on radio as well as TV and cable." The Fairness Doctrine, known officially as the Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1993, essentially codifies a 1949 FCC mandate that broadcasters "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance." It was scuttled in 1987 because it had failed in its original intended purpose and ran afoul of the free speech protections of the First Amendment . . . Obama's supporters should advise him that any candidate for President who does not fully support a strict, literal application of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution is unfit to take the oath to uphold and defend them."
-Obama and free speech, Samuel Berkowitz, 7Feb2008
"This is a list of books [Sarah] Palin tried to have banned."
-False internet rumor, Snopes.com
"1 Harry Potter [by] J.K. Rowling
4 Of Mice and Men [by] John Steinbeck
5 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings [by] Maya Angelou
11 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [by] Mark Twain
56 The Things They Carried [by] Tim O'Brien
72 Fahrenheit 451 [by] Ray Bradbury"
-Partial list of most banned books from 2000-2007, compiled by the ALA.
"This cancellation is non-negotiable, and further opportunities for your station to interview with this campaign are unlikely, at best for the duration of the remaining days until the election," wrote Laura K. McGinnis, Central Florida communications director for the Obama campaign.
-Orlando Sentinel editorial on the Joe Biden interview with Barbara West.
On McCain-Feingold: "In just a few months . . . bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines."
-The Coming Crackdown on Blogging, Declan McCullagh, CNet News, 3Mar05
"It is forgotten that the medium was always malleable, that some of our most well-known photographs are forgeries, and that we trusted photographers like Rosenthal, Evans, Eisenstaedt, and Lange not because the technology wouldn't allow them to lie, but because they were honest journalists." -On Lies and Pricing, artist's statement for The District
"I have here in my hand a list . . ."
-Sen. Joseph McCarty, in a Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia.
"Let the truth be the prejudice."
They say F8 and be there. "There" is a hard place to find, unless you know your way.
I teach my students that the noblest aspect of journalism is objectivity, but I may be wrong. In this election, we've seen the press lose any pretense of objectivity, and I hear conservative pundits bemoaning this as the end of an era of journalism. Those of us aware of photography's history know that this is not true: There never was such an era.
It is not that our novel digital age has corrupted the media: It has revealed its corruption. To believe that bias was not present before Rathergate, or Chris Matthews' tingling leg, or Rupert Murdoch, is to believe in human infallibility. It never was, it never will be.
The unprecedented human communication in the digital age is the next step in a disillusionment begun by photography, radio, and television. When the people can educate themselves, the media is revealed for what it is--generally a positive force, requisite for the health of a free state, but sometimes an agent of control.
So where does that leave an intrepid photographer, an idealistic young photojournalist, who wonders if the age of the camera's authenticity has passed?
I wrote this in a post announcing the Declare Arms project: "But the public is more aware than ever that the mass media’s objectivity is a cheap sham, and more able than ever to think for themselves. As digital technology has enabled photographers to work more independently, so has it enabled to the public to think more independently."
I can no longer look at the work of Rosenthal, Evans, Eisenstaedt, and Lange, and believe they shot without prejudice, because I myself cannot shoot without prejudice. It is that prejudice, that empathy and engagement with the subject, that makes photography resonate. The challenge, and the burden, is as Smith says it is: To let the truth be the prejudice.
After the polls close, I walk into Mumpower's office with a Citizen-Times photographer. Exactly a year ago, I interviewed for the position that this photographer now fills--I was turned down because I could not leave my teaching position until the end of the semester. I've spent the last year regretting it.
We step into the elevator together, talking about the latest Nikon gear, the gigantic instruments around our necks. It's hard for me not to resent him--we all pay our dues, but he at least is accruing equity. Then the elevator door opens, and there is an eerie hush. No sound comes from the campaign office. If it is that quiet, I think, the news must be very bad.
It is very bad, but that's not why it's quiet. Mumpower is speaking very softly, and the entire packed office is holding hands. It's not a prayer, it's an expression of gratitude. The office is full of volunteers, because there is no paid campaign staff--the only person in the room who is paid to be there is the Citizen-Times photographer.
He moves through the hush and begins shooting. I do not. This is my moment, too.
The returns are dismal. By nine o'clock, Mumpower is down 25%, and the GOP calls to tell him not to concede. It's a final illustration of how poorly the Party understands the Mumpower campaign: No matter the numbers, there will be no concession.
Other media outlets flood in as the race closes. Mumpower is called into the hall for interviews. The Citizen-Times photographer gets his shots and leaves. I wander through the crowd, but the photos just aren't there, so I follow the light from the TV cameras. Off the record, a member of the media is the telling Carl how much they respect him for his steadfastness and dedication to the truth. The reporter sees me with my camera, and asks me not to repeat what has been said.
Sometimes objectivity means hearing the truth and not repeating it. But the truth needs no warrant for being, no word of sanction upon its being, and no counterpoint to make it fair. Looking back on the last year, I am glad the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I don't know what weight any of this carries. I don't understand the importance of these moments, any more than I can understand the importance of being able to sit where you please, cast your ballot as you please, or take the pictures you please. Few of us can understand; We have been led to the Promised Land by those who did not make it themselves. But I know that somehow, taken together, these things amount to actual, living, breathing Liberty. And we are more blessed than we will ever know.
02 November 2008
And I've got dignity to spare.
So this morning I woke up with an extra hour, and a new lease on life now that my eyeball has returned to its usual bloodshot state, instead of the ghoulish throbbing mess it had become this week. That also meant that I had a ton of work to catch up on, since I wasn't able to see much for the past few days.
My right eye was fine. So I could function ok, as long as nothing happened on my left. Like, say, on-coming traffic.
Anyway, I woke up with a ton of work, and promptly found this post on flickr about photographing negatives. A capital idea! And besides, the more work is piled up, the more fun it is to procrastinate.
I have this old picture of myself in the rearview mirror of my VW, with a sign in my back window that says "Thank you vets for defending my right to vote." Thought it would be good to schedule it for the fourth, but I really don't have time to get it scanned. So why not try the ghetto negative Pringles can digitizer!
The problem was, no Pringles can. I thought that I could just frame the neg in the back of my K1000 and put it in front of the window. No such luck. Apparently, it's the residue of the Pringles that makes the picture good. Briefly, I considered buying some at the store, because even if it didn't work, I could stick the can on my arm and pretend I was a robot.
Like I said, dignity to spare.
Anyway, somehow I spent like two hours trying to get enough resolution to read the damned sign in the negative. I could have made another sign, rented a VW, and taken another picture in the time it took me to fail at a project whose main ingredient is discarded junk food packaging. That's what I learned in art school.
And how to make a vegetable-shaped tea pot out of clay. I'd rather make something creepy out of vegetables.