What are you looking at?

Taking photos in the streets of Seoul

A post of a couple of weeks by Tim Gander (Curb your enthusiasm) made me think about Street photography and if I do that kind of photography myself.  The situation reminded me of the photo above.

When I was in Seoul, I wanted to take a photo of the photos shown in a photo studio. Then a man on a motorbike came into the frame and stopped, waiting for the lights to change. I didn’t to want him in the picture but the shutter was already triggered and since the composition somehow worked to me, I decided to keep the photo.

I don’t like to take photographs of people. There’s a part of me, the Indigenous one, which still believes that by taking a photo of someone you steal part of their soul. Think about it. The man that drove past me won’t be the same ever again after the photo was taken, but in the photo he’ll be permanently wearing a helmet, driving a motorbike. The old man in the photo on the background might have already passes away and his photo will still be hanging there. We will all die and leave only pieces of our soul hanging off photos until they also fade away slowly. If we’re lucky, those photos will show us in our best light, if we’re unlucky, they’ll show us in our lowest. In that sense, there’s something really disturbing about people so affect to photographing homeless people (e.g. see Street Photography: Exploitative vs Respect)

Why so many people like to do “street photography”? I don’t know. I know that for me is not much of a choice: I don’t have enough resources to do much other styles of photography. I don’t have access to a studio; I have a couple of tripods but no external flash, no reflectors, no special equipment, a hide, access to wilderness spot to do wildlife photo… In fact, taking all into account, I don’t do more than the original Kodak Brownie owners did: take snapshots of the vistas during my travels. Because you want to prolong the feeling and emotions of being in a foreign place, because you want to share with loved ones and, now, the whole world, what you discovered in the other side of the world. We are all discoverers of places and people that have existed long before we met them and long before we’ll leave them.

While taking photos in Seoul, I put myself in a funny situation. All of a sudden I felt like all those Asian tourists (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, take your pick) we mock for carrying a camera and snapping photos all the time of all they see. And then, it was my turn: I was the naive tourist taking photos of store windows, cars, food stalls. And the locals were looking right back at me, both an exotic view myself, taking photos of, let’s say, some very ordinary photo studio window shop.



Memories from South Korea – Introduction

Some days ago I came back from a trip to South Korea, in total about a little more than four weeks; the first part of the travel was for business and the second for pleasure. I’m not very good at telling stories of my travels. When people ask me to tell them about them my mind usually goes blank, I guess part of the problem is that I don’t see much point of telling what I’ve done, most of the time, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the trip or lived many experiences, but somehow it’s difficult for me to translate impressions and memories into a personal narrative. A similar story goes for the photographs I take during my trips. I usually take photos of graffiti, or odd objects I found fallen on the ground, or torn posters, of shadows forming lines, or power lines and light poles. Even I have to admit those images don’t make for great slideshows, neither travel albums.

And yet, I have many wonderful memories from my travel to South Korea. I loved my time there. I loved the people and I loved the places I visited. I learned a lot about Korea and wish I could learn more about the country, the language and their people. So, I’ll try to write some of my memories from my travel to Korea here, maybe someone else will find them interesting, while I get to extend a little bit of the joy I feel for having been fortunate enough to get to know such a fascinating country.

South Korea flag graffitti saw in Myeongdong, Seoul.

South Korea flag graffitti saw in Myeongdong, Seoul.

On Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Death is born with every new life

Death is born with every new life – Manuel Álvarez bravo

A young pensive MAB

A young pensive MAB

I told one of my dear Twitter friends, Tim Gander,  how he reminded me of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and he wrote this excellent post about him. The photo that prompted me to make this comparison was one of a young, pensive Manuel Álvarez Bravo (MAB) that was  used as the poster image for his retrospective exhibition in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Mexico City last year.

The Museo de Bellas Artes inherited of his collection, comprising not only his photographic archives but also his art collection that included prehispanic figurines, books, prints, illustrations and photos of contemporary photographers that were personal friends of MAB.

I have not much too add to what he wrote that hasn’t been already said before by more informed and knowledgeable people.

MAB's "Public thirst" photo made the cover of the BJP in 1976.

MAB’s “Public thirst” (1934)  photo made the cover of the BJP in 1976.

MAB has been in the world photo scene since the beginning of his career – the 20s of last century – but I would like to comment in something Tim picked up in his post: MAB’s obsession with death.

MAB was born in 1902 in Mexico City and while growing up he witnessed the violence and crudeness of the conflicts leading towards and during the Revolution, as well as the union struggles of the 1930s . Those were the same years that saw the birth of the “Catrina” and other skelleton characters of Posada.

Pencil sketch after the famous Posada's famous Catrina

Pencil sketch after the famous Posada’s famous Catrina

Death has been a constant companion of Mexicans throughout our history and an important part of our search for a national identity, one that will integrate European and Indigenous roots and was taking shape amidst the conflict.

Another big influences on MAB’s work was the surrealist movement which reminds me of Man Ray’s work. MAB, as Man Ray, also started as a graphic artist but decided to learn and use photography as a medium, not just to portrait reality but to talk about concepts. André Breton said of Mexico that it was the most surreal country in the world, so maybe MAB work’s look surrealist to European eyes while to us Mexicans it’s the illustration of our identity.

An insatiable curiosity

An insatiable curiosity

It was a day in March.

Never, never begin a story this way when you write one. No opening could possibly be worse. It is unimaginative, flat, dry and likely to consist of mere wind. But in this instance it is allowable. For the following paragraph, which should have inaugurated the narrative, is too wildly extravagant and preposterous to be flaunted in the face of the reader without preparation.

Sarah was crying over her bill of fare.

Think of a New York girl shedding tears on the menu card!

To account for this you will be allowed to guess that the lobsters were all out, or that she had sworn ice-cream off during Lent, or that she had ordered onions, or that she had just come from a Hackett matinee. And then, all these theories being wrong, you will please let the story proceed.

–  “Springtime A La Carte” Author: O Henry

To read the whole story, go to http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/629/

Everything changes…

Last week my C:\ drive died so had to replace it. I’ve got a new c:\ with Windows 8, which means I need to adjust to a new operating system. And reinstall all the programs, applications, devices I use. And try to recover my iTunes library. ITunes has also changed lately so I have to relearn how to install everything again. Firefox has been reinstalled and I lost all my marklets, booklets, shortcuts, you name it.

And now Flickr has also changed. Yeah, my photos look better because I’ve uploaded in most cases high resolution versions, but everything is so crowded, or at it least it looks that way to me. I feel like I have to learn everything again, feeling so old suddenly, things changing so fast. It’s been almost 8 years I’ve been on Flickr, I’ve been through many changes since I’ve started. Before it was acquired by Yahoo. And now Tumblr has also been acquired by Yahoo. I loved posting quotes on Tumblr. Will that change too? Am I being left behind by the social media train? One that is biggr, fastr, bettr and ultimately irrelevant?

I’ve never been good at baking or knitting. My hobbies consist of butchering images and posting them on Flickr. And posting quotes on tumblr of articles I found via Twitter. That was so 2010…

But as the Red Queen said “…it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”




The problem with Instagram

Some time ago I opened an account on Instagram, I didn’t post a lot there mainly because I the camera on my iPod wasn’t that good and very few connections (followers and people or corporate accounts I would like to follow). Lately I got an iPhone with a better camera, which meant that I had the means and increased opportunities to post photos on the go.

As Instagram gather traction and my connections grew, so the interactions and incentive for me to post grew. One of the features I really liked of Instagram was the possibility to post images directly to Twitter and Flickr, as the main connections I wanted to “share” my content were in those networks.

But then Instagram was acquired by Facebook, which meant that Facebook “friction-less” sharing model will apply to it, but more important, that Instagram would need to justify its acquisition value.

After the infamous change of Terms of service, that was somehow modified subsequently, it was clear that Instagram intends to use its users and their content for commercial purposes. This issue deserves to be discussed separately but for me it meant that now I’d have to watermark images I’d like to upload to Instagram. Seeing this need to clearly identify the copyright of image authors, an app was developed. I use Marksta for this.

Then come the problem of the square Instagram format, which might have been appealing at the beginning of the Polaroid nostalgia trend but can only go to far. And though at the beginning of photography most images were shoot in cameras using square format (film or plates), once developed photos were usually cropped in more aesthetic landscape or portrait formats. Instagram forced you to go the other way around, first you shoot your photo most of the time you compose your image with a device that has a screen/viewer with a landscape format that can be shifted to portrait. Then, if you want to upload to Instagram, you have to crop your image into square format which distorts the composition you were trying to achieve. Granted most of the images uploaded to Instagram don’t have that much of a deliberate composition, but still.

But when there’s a need, there’s an app. There’s an app called NoCrop that will add enough white space around your photo, whatever the ratio, to make it square. So there, you only have to use three apps so far – The photo one to take, do a very basic retouching of your photo and crop it according to the composition you want to enhance. Then you add some white space to make it square. then you add your watermark, then you open it on Instagram, where you might decide to add a filter for good form. And then you can finally publish the damn photo! Talk about convenience!

I wouldn’t mind the cumbersome process as long as it was about getting the images I wanted, in the format I wanted, posted to and shared with the networks I wanted. Until Instagram decided to tell all my Facebook friends were to find me and to start following me which really annoys me because if I have wanted to “share” any images posted on Instagram with my Facebook contacts, I would have posted them to Facebook directly.

At the end of the day is a matter of cost/benefit. People might argue that the benefit derived from sharing images on Instagram comes at no cost for the user, when as matter of fact, I’m providing Instagram, and Facebook, with content and connections. Ultimately Instagram and Facebook will have the right to push advertising to me (the user) and my “friends” (connections) using my information to companies to target advertising and even using my photos to sell to other content providers or to be used for advertising. And as for benefit, the only benefit I would personally gather would be the odd like here and there.

I prefer to save me the trouble and continue posting my images on Flickr. I pay them a fee, I upload what I want in the format I want, I share it with whoever I want and from time to time I get the odd fave. Everybody wins, isn’t it? 😉

Quick review after 7 years on Flickr and a year and a half on Instagram

It’s been more than 7 years that I’ve been on Flickr. Over these 7+ years I have posted 4,632 items (photos, drawings and the odd video) and had 10,806 views of them. So roughly two views per item on average.

I’ve been on Instagram for over a year and posted 155 photos. I don’t have statistics for the views on my Instagram items but I think my ratios must be about the same or even less encouraging. I’ve been posting more lately on Instagram, but feeding back into my Flickr stream as Instagram gives you the possibility to post directly to other media.

Views on my images on Flickr were close to non-existent as I’ve chosen to hide them from public searches, don’t use tags and don’t post images to groups frequently. So if you want to increase the views on your Flickr items, do exactly the opposite. I have, however, increased the views of my photos by posting links to Twitter. I’m very grateful to the positive feedback I get from followers on Twitter about images on Flickr.

It’s a bit frustrating that only other Flickr members are able to “fave” a photo. And the same goes for images on Instagram. So you’re kind of forced to publish material on several platforms to reach the users of any of them – Flickr, 500px, +G, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, your blog, and whichever newest thing comes next week. Though some of these allow you to post the same material in several platforms, there’s no way to have a single location to store your material and different venues to access. Each service would keep a copy of your material in their servers, with different degrees of privacy and usage terms. Copyright control and license issues aside, there’s still the problem of views statistics. How to keep tab of views, comments, links to your images, etc.? It’s almost like a job in itself. But what for?

I sometimes look with envy at the numbers of other users (followers, faves/likes, comments, thumbs up). I imagine that they’re not only the result of the quality or nature of the image, but also of the promotion efforts and connections gathered by the poster. In a way, you can argue that a big part of the success of a work of art has always been a matter of how known is the artist. Promotion is good for the artist, the more your work is known, the more you’ll be requested, the more work you’ll produce, the more you’ll get known, a (theoretically) virtuous circle.

But then again, not every Flickr (or other photo-sharing service) user is an artist. At least I know I’m not.

When I look back at some of the things I posted 6 years ago I realized I’ve come a long way. Equipment and graphic tools have improved and advanced so much in these years. I’ve learned a couple of things while butchering photos. I’ve met friends that have inspired me more than once to draw and create something new. Maybe after 7 years I’ll be able to produce good images and increase my average of views per photo. Maybe get some more “faves”. Oh the possibilities! 🙂