Family photos from this year’s packer trip. It really is a family trip and I do spend a lot of time taking photos of my family there.
Category Archives: photography
Same trip as previous years. This may be the first year since I’ve started the blog though that I spent an entire week there. This is also the first time I’ve taken a TLR* hiking. Only a few of those photos are here but it was good to learn that I enjoy hiking with that camera.
*In this case a YashicaMat 124G
Continuing from July. Still mostly family photos. I’m happy to have gotten through two months this month!
It’s been an interesting two weeks. The White Guy Photography posts brought in way more traffic than I’ve ever seen. I was ready for a surge of negative feedback but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of positive feedback I’ve received. So thanks for all the support and to everyone who shared the article.
I should also specifically thank the Flickr user* who suggested that I read The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic and Double Take: Diary of A Relationship With An Image. My posts were mainly written from the point of view of me examining my own opinions. To receive suggestions for exploring and really thinking about those opinions is really why I have the blog.
*He contacted me privately so I’m letting him stay private.
And I should thank Tom Griggs for putting together a very nice response to my posts which says a lot of what I was fumbling around in a much better way.
I’m not sure how many people have decided to stick around, but for those that have, here’s an updated jumping-in post of where to start on this mostly-photography (but not exclusively) blog.
First, general photography posts.
- Freshly Pressed. My previous jumping-in spot. Most of the links in here I reference a lot.
- Looking at Photos. The post which got me Freshly Pressed. Probably still the best thing I’ve written here.
- AP Art History. A short post observing where photography appears to sit in the AP Art History canon.
- Boston. Looking at various versions and crops from the Boston Marathon Bombing.
- Chris Hadfield. Thinking about the effect that his photos had on me in terms of reigniting some of the wonder of space travel that I felt as a child. I also put together a gallery of my favorites of his photos.
Photography exhibition reviews which I’ve written, and am proud of, since the Freshly Pressed post.
Photo books I’ve looked through and written about.
- Linda Butler’s Yangtze Remembered
- Eliot Porter’s Down the Colorado and The Place No One Knew
- Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s King Survey Photographs
Random photo-related silliness.
And I put together a portfolio of sorts. A few commenters pointed out that despite my claim that I take mainly family photos, my portfolio is pretty much devoid of people. This is indeed true. My portfolio is exclusively photos I shot at my work—most often during my lunch break but also after arriving in the morning or before departing in the evening. It represents an easy-to-bite-off chunk of my photography which can be consolidated into a single project. There are no people because I was taking photos as a way to get away from my coworkers for 30 minutes or so.
As for why I don’t have a portfolio of my family photos? Simples. I have no idea where to begin with the thousands of family photos on my computer.
So I’ve been to a lot of birthday parties in bouncy house places now. It’s the thing to do with my son’s generation. Let the kids run wild for a few hours, then give them pizza and cake and hope they nap all afternoon. A lot of the parents just chill and talk while the kids run. Some play with the kids. At the parties I’ve been to though, I’ve been the only parent who takes a camera up into the top of the slides.
It’s been a fun way to play with using my camera in ways that I usually don’t. I was a no-flash, available-light-only guy for years. Bouncy house parties were a great place to play with the pop-up flash and learn how to use it.
I only posted after one party since I liked the before and after photos as well. But I’ve got enough photos accumulated now to make one big bouncy house gallery of kids, and some grown-ups, having fun.
So the response to White Guy Photography post was interesting. I’ve never had a post take off like this. Seriously. WordPress sent me the following backhanded compliment yesterday.
Yeah, no one reads my blog. So I’m finding it pretty flattering that so many people seem to care about what photography projects I find boring.
I’m also starting to receive some interesting comments on that post. Much more interesting than the comments on the only other post which has ever taken off. Yes. I know. Never read the comments. But I have no choice on my own blog. In any case, I’m, so far, finding myself interested in responding to them. Not in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” way but just because what was intended to be some naval-gazing into why I found myself bored by certain projects has been picked up and turned into:
- Me being an anti-white racist.
- Me criticizing HONY.
- Me bitching and moaning and whining.
- Me bitching and moaning and whining without offering any solutions to address the problem.
- Me being consumed with white guilt.
- Me being a shitty photographer trying to tear down good photographers.
- I’m somehow the judge of what is acceptable photography for a white guy to practice.
I can see where these readings come from and there’s a significant part of me just hanging my head and shaking it ruefully—partially at myself—but also at the number of people who like to parachute into a blog spouting insults and trying to mansplain why a single post is wrongheaded. This might work on some blogs but most blogs I read consist of posts which tend to build on and reference each other. Mine is no exception. My blog, especially the photography portion, involves me thinking about my reactions to art and trying to figure out why I react the way I do.
In the case of White Guy Photography, I realized there are a lot of photographic projects which I see and immediately click out of all because they trigger the same sort of reaction. My brain tosses it into the “white guy photography” pile and I move on to the next tab. Should my brain call it “white-privilege, colonial-view” photography instead? Probably. But it doesn’t. Does this make me an anti-white racist? I don’t think so.
I use “white guy” the same way I use “haole.”
If, as a white guy, the worst stereotype I have to combat is the assumption that I’m not checking my privilege, then that pretty much confirms my privilege.
If, as a white guy, you’re offended at this stereotype. Be thankful that this is the only stereotype you’re fighting.
In any case, the intent of my post was to think about why I was not interested by those photography projects. Especially because there are a lot of them—many of which are actually quite beautiful to look at.* I tried my hardest to avoid actually criticizing HONY itself since it’s the only project I specifically named. I haven’t looked at it enough to be able to offer a legitimate critique. I was only trying to figure out why my gut reaction was what it was.
*Yes, something can be both beautiful and boring.
Am I complaining about White Guy Photography? A little. I’m more tired than annoyed though. It’s not worth the effort to complain over and over again. The self-examination to find why I react the way I do was good and, as a white guy, worthwhile so I avoid trying to make work which would bore me.
Why don’t I offer any solutions? Two reasons. One is is that the solution of seeking out photographers representing themselves and their own communities were referenced in previous posts—notably Blinders. The other is that publishing the post itself is part of my proposed solution. Not by myself, but just in terms of putting it out there that I find this kind of approach to be boring may be useful in causing other people to think about how they present their work. I’ve had discussions which suggest that I’m not alone in feeling this way and so just the awareness that this kind of thing is potentially boring to a lot of people should serve as a warning to anyone starting a project.
Is this white guilt speaking? Not really. I’m mainly tired with the viewpoint because it’s old and worn out and I’d like to see different approaches or ways of framing the photos.
Am I a shitty photographer trying to tear down better ones? I try to play nice on the internet and not tear anyone down. I’d much rather write about what I like and I’d much rather spend my time and effort looking at things I enjoy looking at. Still, I find it important to explore my other feelings—good, bad, or ambivalent—just to become more self-aware about my tastes and opinions. Writing about something I dislike is harder too because it’s often a much more nuanced discussion. I try to articulate exactly what and why I react the way I do. It’s too easy to just be a troll on the internet.
One thing I can attack though is the idea that I’m unqualified to speak on photography because my own photos are crap. That’s elitist garbage. Anyone can have an opinion on art. The trick is to figure out why you have that opinion. And that’s the whole reason I have this blog.
Also, please stop asking me if your project is somehow an acceptable project for a white guy to do. Odds are that if you care at all about not falling into this category, you won’t. Being aware of your privilege is usually enough to avoid abusing it. But if you want a primer on avoiding it, it’s almost all about the framing of the project.
Present it as personal as you can and acknowledge that it’s your point of view. Collaboration is not the colonial viewpoint. And don’t treat people like animals or objects.
Also, keep in mind that this advice is related to how to create a project I don’t find boring. Other people’s taste will obviously vary.
This post is prompted by, but not exactly about, the Humans of New York (HONY) project/phenomenon.* I’ve been aware of HONY for a while as it’s been gathering steam and it’s never interested me. I’ve skimmed it a few times but each time I do, I have a gut-level reaction to it as “just another white guy photographing New York.”
*If anything, HONY is merely the straw which broke the camel’s back.
It took me a while to confirm that that was indeed my reaction to the project.
Thinking about it more, I’m realizing that it’s my reaction to a lot of photographic projects. Not just in New York but in general.
I’m allergic to “white guy photography.”
This is distinct from photography by white guys. What I’m having problems with is the approach which entails traveling, or moving, someplace with the intent of documenting and photographing so as to “explain” or “capture” it for others. And the amount of privilege required to start such a project and make those kinds of claims is generally limited to (but not exclusively the domain of) white guys.
As much as this is a time-honored approach, I’m done with it.
I grew up looking forward to each new issue of National Geographic. The photography was great and it was a fantastic way to learn about the world. At the same time, even as a kid, I was aware of the colonial viewpoint in how it depicted different cultures, bodies, etc.*
*Note. This is not an anti-National Geographic rant either. That magazine is responsible for a lot of my visual education and it’s still a source of excellent photography. At the same time, I’ve come to realize its limitations, especially when the photos are decoupled from the articles.
As a child of the 80s, I got to watch its viewpoint shift from the exotic abroad to focus more on the US. In some ways this must have been an interesting editorial shift as it applied the colonial view to ourselves. However, since a lot of those features were on American cities, I can’t help but think that the result has been to view our cities, especially the poor, majority-minority ones as being dangerous or exotic.
But this was all in the 1980s. To see the same approach taken toward non-white or non-mainstream cultures now feels old and stale. And with almost everyone having the tools to document and represent themselves now, it starts treading into self-serving, patronizing, white-guilt behavior too.
The colonial view doesn’t work for me anymore.
At its best, I find it boring. At its worst, I find it racist. In almost all cases I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of the outsider view which treats cities as urban jungles full of diversity which have to be tamed. I’m tired of the idea that you can just drive through a culture snapping photos and claim to be presenting it to the rest of us. I’m tired of the idea that non-white or native people are exotic objects. I’m tired of the lack of context which results in the photos providing little to no information about the actual culture being depicted.
I’m tired of the way that, even today, so many westerners gush about this kind of photography.
I’m tired of the way that so many people still aspire to create this kind of photography.
We’ve already reached the point where most everything has been photographed. If our goal is to increase the sophistication with which we photograph, a large part of this has to include how we approach and view other cultures.
Which means that this rant in many ways is the other side of the blinders coin. So many of us only see—without realizing it—the white-male perspective that we’ve come to believe that that perspective is what photography is. We need to do better, whether it’s showing how other cultures are representing themselves or explaining why we’re bored of certain points of view.
Continuing from June, Mostly family photos. I’ll eventually get more than one of these done a month…
A late-summer trip to San Gregorio beach. This is typical Northern California year-round beach weather. In the winter, the beach is thinner due to more-aggressive wave action.
Another year, another Obon festival. In Japan, this is their version of Día de los Muertos where you remember and honor your ancestors. In the US, while there’s still some of this, it’s morphed into a major celebration of Japanese-Americanness with all kinds of food, treats, entertainment, games, etc. I’m glad it’s in the summer so I can look forward to taking my sons, all dressed up, to this year after year.