Hipsters and bandwagoning

While this conversation mentions my Gloryhunting post, it sort of touches on something different too. Most people choose their sports teams based on local reasons. For those of us who choose a non-local team, how is that decision reached and at what point does it become a non-bandwagon choice?

I’ve touched on my Barça origin story before here in a post about the rise of the global megastar. And while I chose Barça for reasons which went beyond soccer, to say that the quality of the team or the luminance of the players had nothing to do with it is also incorrect. I chose a team with players I had seen and appreciated and would very much have been considered* a bandwagon fan.

*correctly so

So what changed? And when did I become a real fan?

The simple answer is that I stayed a fan. I didn’t follow Romario from team to team. I didn’t bail during the Gaspart years. But there has to be more to it than that. It shouldn’t take the star player leaving or having the team hit a dry patch to validate any remaining fans. And it’s not as straightforward as merely following the team for a number of years; some people can become real fans in their first season while others remain gloryhunters forever.

The more complex answer is that to go from being a bandwagoner to being a proper fan, you have to almost establish a local connection. It’s not enough to follow the team, you have to learn the history, get the references, understand the context of the team to its area, etc. etc.

That’s what I think annoys fans the most about bandwagoner jumpers. A gloryhunter is in it for the immediate return and has no understanding of the history of the club nor its context in the bigger picture of sport. A gloryhunter is also unwilling to learn this information.* Gloryhunters don’t care. Fans do.

*compared to say a newbie child who will drink it up and then start teaching you things.



Part of the buildup to SFMoMA’s Richard Serra exhibition has involved interviews and booksignings by Richard Serra at the museum. Highlights from these events are then tweeted out to all of us art junkies who follow @SFMOMA. I was very pleased to see this tweet come across my timeline so soon after I posted about experiencing Sequence at the Cantor Center in Stanford.

I definitely approached Sequence as something to be walked through while I carried a camera, looked for things worth seeing, and listened to how the world changed while I was  inside. The idea that someone would approach it as just an exploration of steel never crossed my mind.

Serra’s work provides for a lot of the rare instances when you can engage with a museum piece. All too often, museumgoing involves looking at things on walls and pedestals. Please don’t touch. And avoid leaning in and looking closely too.

That he’s sculpting because he’s interested in “walking and looking” is good to see. That we can partake in the same experience is even better.

Government documents

Earthrise Seen for the First Time By Human Eyes.
Taken by William Anders in 1968.
Printed in 1999 for the series Full Moon by Michael Light.
Image from SFMoMA

I hadn’t considered that the question of editing and art applies beyond a single person’s output. I had only really thought about it with regard to photographers like Charles Cushman or Vivian Maier and how, having access to only their unedited work, whether or not they are indeed artists. Quoting my previous post.

Photography is unique among the arts in that discards are both preserved and often indistinguishable from keepers. The print is the final state, but everything is stored as negatives. This also puts photography in the position where it is possible to have multiple edits of a photographer’s work which end up portraying the photographer in completely different ways.

The NASA photo archive coupled with Michael Light’s Full Moon series proves that I need to think beyond a single photographer’s work when considering the question of editing. The NASA archive is huge. The photos in it are taken for documentary purposes by engineers and scientists. Michael Light however has gone through the archive, picked certain images, rescanned them, and produced something which is worthy of display in an art museum.

Earthrise - Apollo 8Earthrise — Apollo 8
Taken by William Anders in 1968.
Image from NASA’s Flickr stream

The best advice for any photographer is to distill the composition down to the essence of what, exactly, is interesting about the subject. While the NASA photos consist of images made by many different photographers, the best ones share this purity of photographic purpose. The story behind Earthrise is that despite being up in space and orbiting the moon, the single most impressive, beautiful, important thing they saw was Earth. The result is arguably* the most important photo ever taken.

*I tend to argue for others but I completely agree that Earthrise belongs in the discussion.

It’s amazing to think that photography wasn’t even considered to be part of the original purpose of an astronaut’s mission. John Glenn took a camera up with him as part of his personal allowance and took photos of what he found interesting. It didn’t take long for photography to become part of the official mission.

Orbital sunset photographed by Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. aboard the “Friendship 7” during his Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) flight.
Image from NASA Image Archive.

Despite the quality and importance of the photos, it’s telling that no one really cares which astronaut took a given photograph. Space photos all end up being about NASA and NASA’s directive rather than the specific photographer. This is very different from photographs taken by other government agencies using already-established (and now famous) photographers.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)
Destitute pea pickers in California.
Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.

AKA Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange.
Image from the Library of Congress’s Flickr stream

While the NASA photos can definitely be art, it took some curation by an external party to get them into a museum. Earlier government-sponsored photographs however have been in museums for decades. Because the photographers are famous, most people aren’t even aware that the government was responsible for the photos. And because the photographers had more control about the curation of their work at the time, the resulting presentation has been static for 65–75 years.

Another quote from my previous post.

Does the fact that someone else can edit your body of work to make you look like an artist actually make you an artist? How much of being an artist means editing your own work? I’m inclined to say that it doesn’t matter who the editor is, just that it’s not art until someone has actually edited it.

It’s not art until someone has edited it.

Dishing out artistic credit when the creator and the editor are different is a difficult concept. We’re not used to art being like that. But the idea that the artist has to do the editing rules out a lot of things from becoming art. It also preëmpts the idea of going back and re-editing an already edited work.

Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies (LOC)Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif.
Shown checking electrical assemblies.
by David Bransby.
Image from the Library of Congress’s Flickr stream

As access to government photo archives increases, it will be interesting to see if any projects similar to Full Moon are published. If they are, the logical next step will be to take the same approach to an individual photographer’s negatives—for example, re-making The Americans using different frames from those Robert Frank selected.

And it will be especially interesting to see how photographers respond to the idea and how credit is divvied up.

New Industrial Parks


It only took me ten months to fulfill this. I received Gohlke’s Accommodating Nature for Christmas. And today, Baltz’s The new Industrial Parks near Irvine, California arrived.

In looking at the photos, I find myself realizing that what I like most about them is that they show me my world.

... ...

While I’ve been shooting the area around my work with the explicit intent of being Baltzy, I see emulating him as the same phenomenon that causes me to emulate Ansel Adams when I take my camera on hikes in the Sierras.

I’m a child of the suburban west. Industrial parks and the Sierra Nevadas are two worlds which I grew up in. There’s no need to talk about Adams but Baltz’s work speaks to me in the exact same sense of being true. It captures what I grew up seeing and feeling about these places. And it inspires me to go out and shoot some more.

Serious Art



Inspired by a blogpost from Colin Pantall.

The discourse of art photography is a discourse of pretension and deceit on the whole

And an article on the Online Photographer.

anybody want to tell me where the image sites are that are edited (moderated), where serious photographers present redacted bodies of work? I’ve heard that the founders of Facebook, flickr et al have raked in millions; now what we need are people willing to run some sites to present serious photography in a serious way and rake in thousands.

And expanding on one of my previous posts on how artwork is presented.

I’m not sure why photography is treated the opposite of other artwork in museums. Most museums distinguish between art and craft by describing art through its content and craft through its purpose or provenance.

One of the chief distinctions in a museum is between functional objects displayed as examples of craft and non-functional objets d’art. Curation, in general, tends toward suggesting that non-functional art is more important. Objects of craft are often presented as cultural artifacts. Purely non-functional items are presented as fine art.* I don’t mind the distinction but I have a problem with implied superiority of one over the other.

*An item for another post is the heavy western bias where non-functional items from the third world are assigned pseudo-functional descriptions such as “fetish figure” when the same kind of item from the west will be given a name and creator.

The distinction is good because it is important to know the purpose behind a given work. Is this intended to be used? Is it decorative? Is it ceremonial? Is it an intellectual exercise? Without knowing the purpose, you risk not understanding the piece at all.

Duchamp’s Fountain at SFMoMA

While I embrace the distinction, I reject the idea that non-functional items are somehow superior or more important than functional ones. It bothers me when museums and other art appreciators buy into that way of thinking.* What’s more annoying though is when that way of thinking starts to be applied to items outside of the museum.

*One of the reasons why I loved the Oakland Museum’s Marvelous Museum exhibition was because of how it mixed functional and non-functional items together. My favorite example of this was the large overhead powerline insulator amidst the rest of the art ceramics.

Visiting museums involves a willingness to be surprised and provoked. I attend with the expectation that my mind will be engaged and for the entire experience to be intellectual at some level. What is art inside a museum loses much of its context when it is taken outside. It is no longer curated and so I have to do it myself. While I can decide how I wish to approach things, I cannot presume that my taste in art is applicable to others. I can only state what I like, not what someone else should like.

Which brings us to the overuse of the word “serious.” Like the porn designation, serious is used as a way of dismissing things which aren’t Art. Unlike porn,where there’s an implied surface appeal and a gut-level critique at whether there’s actual meaning, the labeling of what is serious* is a conscious choice at distinguishing what is intellectually worthwhile. People who label things as serious also tend to do so in a way which suggests that there is some sort of universal criteria for making that choice.

*Except in cases where serious is used to denote an extreme quantity of something.

The entire point of art (especially modern art) is that there is no such criteria.

What is serious for one person is frivolous to another. And, often, vice versa. Is food for sustenance or for show? Are movies for entertainment or enlightenment? Is photography for family scrapbooks or gallery walls? Yes—while only some of them are art, all are serious.

Let’s go back to describing things as “art.” We don’t need a value judgement, just whether an object was created for a purpose beyond its usual intent.

When in doubt…

Cristo (and Jean Claude) is ALWAYS acceptable as the funny response to a modern art question.

And for the record, I really like Cristo and Jean Claude. It’s easy to use the concept of wrapping things as a joke but I challenge anyone to do it in such a way that it actually looks like one of their works.

Hogwarts and sports

Way back in January, I made a comment about the Hogwarts houses as they equate to baseball players.

FYI, houses of Harry Potter in baseball terms:
Hufflepuff: Kirk Reuter
Ravenclaw: Greg Maddux
Gryffindor: Brian Wilson
Slytherin: Roger Clemens

Then yesterday I made a similar comment on twitter:

Yes, I probably should have chosen Puyol for Gryffindor instead of Piqué.

I like the Harry Potter books. I don’t love them. But one thing I think J.K. Rowling did get perfect was the general attributes of the four houses at Hogwarts. Definitely more fun and easier to remember than any Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

They’re also almost particularly suited for evaluating athletes and avoiding a lot of the standard athletic clichés.

Gorilla girls

The original question is very close to the one I keep at hand for whenever I hear someone suggesting that the art world isn’t sexist. I challenge people to name three non-photographer female artists since most of the famous female artists people know of are photographers and I want to force them into the other arts.

When I first came up with the question, I was shocked to realize that the three most-famous female artists were all married to famous men. I suppose it’s at least refreshing that none of them changed their names.

My answer, while flip, does have a point beyond the wise-assery. Are those three women famous because of their art, or did they get a boost from their famous partners? And does it matter?

Approaching Art


Initially a tweet, and now a post with comments at 1/125.

My initial reaction was a series of joke responses. Partly because that’s all that will fit in a tweet. Partly because properly answering that question requires serious thought. But mainly because I can’t actually answer the question.

For me, the whole point of art appreciation in general, and museum going in particular, is the willingness to be surprised and provoked. No specific questions, just reactions and the expectation that questions will occur to me. I try to be aware of how I react, how the people around me are reacting, how things catch my eye, and what other details are present in a piece beyond the obvious. I take my time and circle back to things.

This isn’t to say that I always go into exhibitions unprepared. It’s very nice to have a sense of context and background knowledge (beyond the provided wall text) about what I’m seeing. At the same time, I try to avoid letting my preconceptions cloud my reaction.

With specific regard to photography, because I’m much more familiar with the craft and history of the medium, I have many more details to be aware of.

Where things get interesting is when we move out of the museum realm. In a museum, a trusted curator has already made a statement that a work is worth looking at. I don’t have to agree, but that I’ve chosen to visit the museum means I’ve committed to looking. And much of what I see does not translate well to books or the web.

Photography is one of the few arts which is actually translatable to books or the web. However, as anyone who’s read McLuhan will agree upon, the medium in which I encounter the work produces very different responses. It’s impossible for me to treat photography I encounter outside of the museum experience the same as something which I find in a museum.

The chief difference is that I can’t be as open minded. And I do have a question in mind when it comes to books and the web—namely, “is this worth my time?”

Photo books. A book is a product. It’s something which is supposed to be worth buying and keeping. But only after I’ve had a chance to flip through it. Books also force a very specific viewing sequence since they are complete works in and of themselves.

I have a hard time separating photos from the larger work when they’re in a book. This is a nice thing for works like The Americans which are best experienced as set sequences of photos. As a result, I respond to photobooks as books more than photos. Although I also typically entertain the “do I want this?” question since I’m also handling a product.

On the web. This is where things get interesting. I’m exposed to a ton of photography each day—most of which sucks—and I’m required to make snap gut-level judgements about what’s worth looking at and what’s skippable. This biases me toward immediate impact photography* rather than work which requires time. I subscribe to photoblogs which do some curation so that I don’t have to do the immediate bullshit detection. On those blogs, I spend more time looking.

*What we jokingly call the “flickr wow factor” includes a lot of immediate-impact superficially-appealing elements combined with a nice thumbnail. I try to avoid falling for that but in an immediate-impact world, it’s unavoidable.

At the same time, the web is all about choosing my own adventure. If I choose to spend time looking at a photo, who knows where it will lead me and what non-photographic context I’ll generate for it. The variety of context means that I have no consistent approach to photography on the web. Oftentimes I’ll come back to a photo which I completely missed previously and, with the different context of the day in mind, react completely differently.