Measuring success: work that challenges, changes, transforms ?

Reading a nice article : “ping pong” chat over on Conscientious

Key  questions /issues:

  • How to engage work that challenges, changes and transforms?
  • What is a  measure of success?
  • Can photography effect change – really?
  • Can a photograph serve as a model for “what to do”  instead of “what not to do?”
  • What evidence of change are we seeking?

Perhaps there is collection of projects that celebrates the actions taken to postively change – perhaps creating a model by which the viewer / audience might actually believe that a change in simple behaviors might lead to a bigger change in a positive and meaningful way…. wouldn’t it be great to see more work celebrated in a way that begins to address the questions above?

It reminded me about something I’d written previously, a question really – wondering if Jordan’s work is going only  “half way”  into the problem (written back  Jan 2008)


Crushed cars #2, Tacoma 2004 – Chris Jordan

The images are there – a lot of them – some flirt with an aesthetic that is almost “beautiful” albeit ultimately destructive.  Most of the photographs, that I’m aware of (please, I’d like to become better informed), seem bleak in outlook, or so about destructive imagery that I for one, can’t imagine myself ”transfering” seeing into doing,  taking an action about the situation…  It’s novel to be able to view a million, billion sheets of paper and realize that we use up that much resource.. by the minute… or something along those lines… but it leaves me feeling dismayed and disconnected – I feel like ”throwing up my hands” with a helpless feeling overwhelming me – I can’t not use paper after all… maybe more wisely, but… source

Specifically,  the notion of promoting  what work strikes you as meaningful (which lets be honest –  is after all what these blogs are all about right ?) that potentially challenges, changes, and transforms the viewer audience – in some yet undefined /  immeasurable way…  is what matters.

Work that produces a measurable outcome – a positive change – takes time to evolve to achieve… to be recognized as such.

Photograph: Chris Jordan – Midway; Message from the Gyre

This is one aspect of what I might call a “new success” – by this I mean success which is gauged not by the amount of money earned by the author – (this is still extremely important and necessary), but instead, a success measured by the amount of change and kind of change that work provokes

Perhaps if over time these sorts of projects get more into the “mainstream”  the effect will be one of challenging us the viewer into seriously making a change in the way we live our lives.

For example – why not take a small step in our own consuming lifestyles for example – resolve to never again buy bottled water…

If there were only a way to objectively measure the change effect on a larger scale – actions for example do speak louder than words (or pictures) for that matter…

“Storybook wolf” a depiction of a “mental model” and a real thing.

Some considerations regarding the “model wolf” image … over on Conscientious (and I would agree the specifics surrounding the photographer and the resultant image / award / “unaward”  in the specifics of that situation isn’t that controversial itself)…  but I thought that this is something worth thinking over some more!

I saw this “staged” image story earlier this week and initially I thought “that’s too good to be true”…. also… but what I was thinking about, specifically what I imagined was a lot of prep work on behalf of the photographer (the actual planning was alluded to in the related article before the image was in question…(infrared / motion trap / trigger rig)… To me this is a first rate example of a “staged” photo – that is “setting it up”.  This supposes a mental model already exists about what the picture will depict. Seems to me like it might be akin to the press photo opportunities public officials so carefully orchestrate and too this is the skepticism with which many approach the photographic image these days (in certain contexts).  I don’t care and it doesn’t matter if the image was “set up”.  It is just a picture of a wolf leaping over the fence…  but…

I’ve written my own thoughts previously wondering about the “mental model” and photographers who seem to put the photograph into service as a way to create the image of that “mental model” . But in this case two very different kinds of “models” comparing examples by Paul Shambroom and his work in the Security series...  which are depictions representing simulation that of “First responders and law enforcement officers training in large-scale simulated environments…” or “real” simulated events, compared with the work of Paolo Ventura and  “War Souvenirs” – Ventura’s work as pure image invention, simulation and authorship – it reveals itself as such…

The important thing is that the Storybook Wolf picture did make me wonder… would there be any difference between a “real wild wolf”  trapped in the photographer’s image and say a trained / captive “performing” wolf? A zoo specimen perhaps in a good diorama set up might have produced the same photographic object and result…   Maybe a “real wild wolf” would tend to look a little more scuffy?  Who knows?  But it remains that the picture clearly was made to be viewed in the context (and with that all of the expectations)  of it depicting a wild creature in a real situation… this was my expectation…

The idea of what we “expect” of photographs is a great topic… the Morris articles in the Times a while ago regarding Walker Evan’s “documentary” work and the role of “captions” elaborated on this while interpreting photographic objects viewed in the context of documentary work do come to mind…

My first gut response to the storybook wolf is that it is a case of context trumping the photograph especially considering how that object may be interpreted specifically in the context of the competition rules – the photo probably shouldn’t be presented as a representation of anything more than a wolf jumping over a fence.

I think the key is to try and discern as carefully as possible the context with-in which the photograph will be received / interpreted as a visual representation – this is what colors our expectations of what it is we’re viewing.  This becomes problematic when you can’t predict the context. Perhaps this is why we find all these vintage photographs from anonymous sources so fascinating… we can finally look at them for what they are…without the baggage of context.

Olaf Otto Becker at Blue Sky Gallery

Ilulissat Icefjord 09 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

Ilulissat Icefjord 09, 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

I’ve enjoyed viewing the work of Olaf Otto Becker albeit previously through online web work and so I jumped at the opportunity to visit the current (January 2010) hanging at Blue Sky Gallery here in Portland, Oregon.  As always, it is good to see the work in person and it was time well spent.  The work from his series “Broken Line,” is shot in Greenland with 8″ x 10″ camera and the results are as expected loaded with fine crisp detail and a rich pallet of colors.  The prints hanging are “modest” in size at 25″ x 30″ and with the fine detail I found myself practically nose up to the prints in an attempt to take it all in.

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003 69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003
69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

What I found most interesting in terms of viewing the pictures is with a personal question about the problem of describing “a place” through photographs. In this case what sort of impression does Becker’s characterization through pictures of “place” in Greenland leave behind?

Becker’s photographs as assembled in the show reveal a balance between what I would call “natural beauty” as pictured in the more decorative photographs of icebergs and sculpted bays with the images of resident cabins, outbuildings and associated detritus of human inhabitation.  I recall about a 2/3 to 1/3 distribution with natural beauty leading the way…

The pictures of human habitation at first seem to me to keep to a neutral presentation – meaning my assumptions are that the images are simply “what can be found”.  The pictures seperately do not seem to convey an explicit indictment but when coupled together with overtly beautiful images of a potentially devastating environmental situation to me alludes to a larger question of how we choose to live in our surroundings. The human places pictured indicate to me a pretty ugly disregard and disordered inhabitation.  Of course this is completely my own conjecture, but the pictures of local inhabitation chosen to be pictured are what I would call beautiful pictures of ugly things and by transference, I begin to recognize how the “Broken Line” may be much more revealing in general about how we inhabit places and is therefor much more than simply pretty pictures of icebergs. Of course it’s a pretty big jump and a lot of transference to allow the inhabited pictures to speak about “human disregard” of the landscape… but I think it’s there none-the-less.

Thinking about the problem of keeping a body of work together in order to convey (potentially) an intent held within a group of pictures is a problem probably best solved by the photo book – the book containing these pictures The Broken Line by Becker presumably may hold some more answers.  I have not yet had a chance to see the book – but am curious to see if my intuition and assumptions might play out in the book…

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

This relates to a couple of posts as well on the potential value of a photobook as a reference item for collectors and is blog and post worth visiting as it is quite nicely elaborated upon by DLK collectors offering another point of view.  The photobook posts might explain a bit more regarding Becker’s work from the same DLK collectors on the new series “Above Zero”….  All of this make me wonder more about the question of “decorative” work as a hook to bring a larger audience towards work that ultimately wants to be more than just beautiful…

Brad Moore – photography

I’ve been following some great photography work by Brad Moore – I think this work shows an extraordinary constraint and edit.

Vista Belta, Wimington, CA by Brad Moore

Vista Belta, Wimington, CA by Brad Moore

Also receiving alcolades from Lens Culture among many others…

Notable for making the cut at Photolucida, Critical Mass 2009 portfolio reviews: Congratulations to this year’s Critical Mass Top 50 – 2009. I think his work would be great to see in book form!  Let’s hope the work is considered for this – as a have appreciated many of the fine books put together by Photolucida which can be found here: http://www.wmjasco.com/photolucida/photolucida.html

Happy Kids Nutrition by Brad Moore

Happy Kids Nutrition by Brad Moore

I’ve appreciated Moore’s work for some time – especially the surburban landscape themed photographs – as written previously in this post. It would be terrific to see a group of this work presented at Blue Sky Gallery here in Portland…  Maybe someday soon!

Theme: Looking closely (at rocks)

Juergen Bergbauer: 42 Studien (Print Detail) Installation virtual 2008

42 Studien (Print Detail)
Installation virtual 2008 – JÜRGEN BERGBAUER

I first came across JÜRGEN BERGBAUER earlier this year through a 5b4 –review of Bergbauer’s book: Studien nach der Natur – which I see has made a “best of 2009 book list” on 5b4.  I wrote about my interest here in a previous entry

Bergbauer’s project – Studies after Nature” has been on my mind off and on for quite a while now.  In Bergbauer’s work – the “final” images are constructed out of an archive of objects – specifcally found objects (rocks) – from the roadside according to the artist statement.  The “studies” of the archive are arranged in various patterns of which I’m unsure of (or if) there may be an underlying organizing structure – outside of an aesthetic judgement and arrangement although the constructions do appear to be bound to a sense of gravity.  None the less the resulting constructions are I think quite beautiful – but also quite artificial – and deliberate – full of patterns hinting at structural issues – yet not really resolving them in my opinion. I’m also quite amazed (although admittedly it looks too laborious) at the amount of apparent work done to “catalogue” all of the pieces which are incorporated in to the final studies…

Untitled (basalt - East Central Oregon) 2009 - Matt Niebuhr
Untitled (basalt – East Central Oregon) 2009 – Matt Niebuhr

On my own road trip this summer, I came across a section of land by the roadside in East Central Oregon, that I have one image thus far that gets me very excited to explore further but with a different approach.

What I’m intrigued by is natural dazzle of that which can be found out in the world (by anyone) as determined by the forces of nature – just by looking carefully or deliberately.  This is a theme that I am beginning to be able to discern as a thread in a number of photo studies I’m working.  Here, the fractures of basalt arranged according to natural laws – the horizontal fissures describing the shifting forces inside the earth – reminders that the solid ground beneath is not still.  I’ve collected a few shards of basalt and the shapes that are revealed in these shards amaze me.  I’m looking forward to trying to document these shards in a meaningful way.  And then, I’m really looking forward to the next road trip back to eastern Oregon.

Chance Juxtapositions

Edward S. Curtis: Chief Garfield – Jicarilla /Russell James, Natural Beauty.

Edward S. Curtis: Chief Garfield – Jicarilla  |  Russell James, Natural Beauty.

Copyright by respective photographers both images above

Edward Curtis “Shadow Catcher”

Russell James “Celebrity Sittings”

Two different results from essentially the (it seems) same starting point…. documentary projects of sorts of relative importance.

Darwin, without the car…

Robert Adams_Frame for a Tract House

“Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, Colorado”
1969 – © Robert Adams

“Something had to change,” he added. “You just can’t keep going with that many cars.” – source

Same might be said for houses (sprawl)…

Instead of feeling deprived of having a new car every other year (the marketing of personal identity wrapped up in the car one owns – needs a new twist – like the obnoxious “I own the road” Tahoe driver… we all hate them really don’t we?) –    one might feel freedom…  The car as a form of personal transportation is both a blessing and a curse – – obviously, now we must find alternatives that have less impact…

I wonder what (or if) Robert Adams would have found “The New West” – without the car.  Would Robert Frank have been able to make  “the Americans” ?