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Dog Day Afternoons: Bits & Pieces (1)

A. D. Coleman, 2010. Photograph copyright by Willie Chu.

With heavy rain off and on, the summer heat has returned. Not nearly so enervating as the mid-month hot spell, but sufficiently intense to make it preferable to stay inside after about 10 a.m. On the plus side, the nights have cooled, so it’s encouraged us to get up early, do our gardening in the cool of the morning, and shift our daily schedule and routine.

We got a late start with a number of our plantings due to spending June in China, but we’ve already eaten two squash, a Japanese eggplant, several kinds of basil, and some Thai hot peppers grown with our own hands. On the way: more of the same, plus sweet peppers in assorted colors, several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, snow peas, watermelons, figs, raspberries, and Polish blueberries. If we do reasonably well with those this year, we’ll expand our garden growing space and assortment of edibles next year. Who knows? With the recession showing little sign of coming to an end, we may have to start living off the land.

Getty Images logo

Getty Images logo

Back in the ’70s, a paramour and I found ourselves saying “Exactly!” so frequently, when confronted with evidence that our suspicions of systemic malfeasance and incompetence were well-founded, that we took to calling that condition “the zacklies.”

“The auction for a potential sale of Getty Images Inc. has progressed to the second round, with several private-equity firms putting in initial bids of around $4 billion, people familiar with the matter said,” reads the lead in Anupreeta Das’s July 5 Wall Street Journal report, “Getty Draws Initial Bids In Auction of $4 Billion.” Having any substantial chunk of our cultural heritage in corporate hands gives me a serious case of the zacklies, and hearing that private-equity firms have entered into a bidding war for Getty Images doesn’t exactly leave me sanguine.

Granted, this doesn’t look anything like a repeat of the destruction of the Polaroid Collection, the last scraps of which are for sale as we speak. Getty Images is apparently healthy and profitable, not crippled and flailing like the late Polaroid Corporation. And Getty Images is neither a publicly accessible, curated collection nor a repository of a unique form of creative work in photography; it’s a heap, not a whole (to use a distinction from general systems theory), albeit a constantly growing heap with an omnivorous appetite for more of itself.

Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling nervous when vast aggregates of images get treated as corporate assets, bought and sold and variously swapped around amongst “buyout firms” that treat the images as widgets and couldn’t care less about them. As I write this, on July 30, three private equity firms, including Carlyle Group LP, CVC Capital Partners, and TPG Capital, are weighing final bids on Getty Images, due August 6.

The Polaroid Collection saga demonstrated that such traffic in culturally significant artifacts all too often sets the stage for what people who do care about our visual history would consider serious trouble. So be very afraid. And what do we say when those fears come true? “Exactly!”

That same issue of the WSJ included a feature story concerning a new trend: hiring a professional photographer to make your vacation photographs for you. See Andrea Petersen’s July 5 report, “Don’t Forget to Pack a Photographer,” for details of this development. (The online version includes an audio report by Petersen.) From this story:

“Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury-travel outfitter, occasionally has clients who hire photographers for their entire vacations. ‘They just want to enjoy the destination without anyone [in the family] being responsible and having to worry about missing a shot or a memorable experience,’ says Rob Veden, manager of private travel at A&K. Mr. Veden says many clients hire a photographer for hours or a day.”

Undated public-domain photo by by April Sommers.

Undated public-domain photo by by April Sommers.

Heaven forfend that you should risk “missing a shot or a memorable experience” by failing to keep a photographer handy during your holiday. Why, you’d actually have to commit that memorable experience to memory — what a burden! In short, while Justin Bieber is risking life and limb to get away from paparazzi, and Alec Baldwin is punching them out, people with a bit of discretionary income to squander who want to feel like celebrities are hiring photographers to follow them around, surrendering their privacy in order to have a total stranger make pictures of their “special moments” for them. Romantic.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The very rich are different from you and me.” (To which Ernest Hemingway replied “Yes, they have more money.”) But, sliding down the food chain, this new practice makes itself available at daily or hourly rates, so just about anyone who can afford a vacation anywhere can spring a few more bucks to outsource the making of their vacation pix. (Of course, if the photo-ed BFAs and MFAs cranked out by the thousands annually can’t crack the gallery/museum/festival circuit they can now enter this burgeoning field. Indeed, the trope under discussion in recent posts suits perfectly the purposes of such images.)

Undated public-domain photo by Piotr Wojcicki.

Undated public-domain photo by Piotr Wojcicki.

I hope I don’t find myself alone in considering this tendency strange . . . and not in a good way. Weird, in fact, even creepy, by my lights, to take a stretch of personal time intended for rest and relaxation and turn it into a planned photo shoot with yourself and your significant others as not just unpaid but paying models. Personally, I would much rather see whatever pictures you and your companions took among yourselves, or had the half-crocked guy on the beach chair next to you take, however inept or hackneyed, than view the inevitably clichéd images that you and your hired hand cook up.

By coincidence, I read this WSJ article during the course of an afternoon ride from the southern tip of Manhattan to the northern edge of Staten Island aboard the legendary Staten Island Ferry. The day was baking hot, the boat jam-packed with New Yorkers cooling off with a free ocean voyage and tourists from everywhere seeing the harbor. At a conservative estimate, about 300 cameras were in action throughout the trip, with people managing to photograph the sights — and themselves, in various configurations — without feeling the need to hire a professional for that purpose, so far as I could tell.

No Trolls sign

No Trolls Allowed

Apparently my policy here at Photocritic International of requiring commenters to give real names and verifiable email addresses has influenced YouTube, which has begun to move in the same direction. See Keith Wagstaff’s CNN report, “YouTube wants commenters to use real names,” datelined July 24, 2012. It’s good to see a major site like YouTube follow my lead, even if only partway (they request but don’t require identification), and to know that there’s a wick-up effect possible in cyberspace. Always nice to see someone else making life a little more difficult for the trolls; leaves me feel less alone.

Hotshoe International, the magazine from the UK for which I provide a regular column, has for some time made its content available to subscribers online at its website. Now they’ve initiated an app edition, delivering the same content (my column included) to cellphones, tablets, and other such devices. This marks the debut of my writing in app format.

 Hotshoe International, app edition ad, 2012

This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.

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1 comment to Dog Day Afternoons: Bits & Pieces (1)

  • Donna-Lee Phillips

    Scraps on Bits & Pieces

    There was an old joke, old meaning I heard it in the ’60s. A woman — for some reason I remember her as the grandmother — pushing the new baby in a stroller is stopped by a woman who admires the baby. She coos and cuddles the child and says “What a beautiful baby.” The grandmother replies, “That’s nothing. You should see his photograph!”

    The commodification of everything, everything, everything leads me to understand something I have known for a very long time. WE are the product, the commodity, in a consumer era.

    Creepy indeed is the concept of hiring a professional photographer to document one’s vacation! With a professional the vacationer will have well-formed proof that “a good time was had”… and I mean to write that in the passive voice. You have seen — far more than I have — people with cameras in front of their faces while “enjoying” travel. They do not live the experience, the journey, the travel, the unfamiliar sights and sounds. So fixed are they on “capturing” the vacation or travel so they can pore over the photographs when they get home that they are not really traveling at all.

    When I had my one and only trip to Europe, and later to Hawaii, I did not carry a camera. I had one with me, but I wanted to SEE everything so clearly and deeply that I would really experience what and where I was. As it happened I was traveling with a now-famous (although not very impressive) photographer who was loaded with half a ton of gear to make large-format photographs, and I did not want to be infected with his obsession. So, I do not have photographs of my trips. What I do have, when I open myself to memory, is vivid snapshots of what I saw and felt.

    Watching what were once images made by humans become artifacts commanding obscene sums, of which the photographer or other artist will not see a cent, is depressing. What were once part of a living being are now things to be auctioned … probably overly sentimental on my part but it hurts.

    I recently discovered some of my work on a personal blog by an employee of SFMOMA which does not own the work. I was not consulted or even informed that the work would be posted, and I complained. It was taken down, although if asked I would have given my permission to post it, and as punishment I no longer have access to the blog. I have sold very little work in my life, and the person who bought this piece was not aware that anyone had made scans of it — he doesn’t have any — nor did he know the woman on whose blog it appeared. I do understand that once work is sold it is no longer the property of the photographer, but I did not know it would be painful to see it passed around like so many bubble gum trading cards, or that it could be reproduced and posted freely (in both senses of the word “free”). Since the images I made with words on the photographs are one-of-a-kind, much like Polaroids only more so, it felt strange to see them appropriated for a personal blog by a woman I don’t know, a blog posted by a person working for a museum which does not own the photographs. I am commodified!

    Technology is, no doubt, good in many ways… but it has also replaced direct experience for many, many people. It puzzles and frightens me to see a clutch of teenagers walking to school or haunting the malls, each equipped with at least one digital device, texting each other as they go but never actually talking. I am even more frightened — literally — to see people driving cars while talking or even texting.

    Are we the last generation to experience any life unmediated by some kind of documentation?

    Random thoughts before breakfast or meditation (and before my PT exercises), but this column was especially inspiring, if depressing. I will not read you on an app … not on an iPad, iPhone, or other digital device. Reading your words on a computer screen is as far as I will bend to technology, and even then I often have to print articles in order to really read them.

    Just personal musings. For what it is worth your columns inspire me to scribble something, even if only random scraps of thought … my bits & pieces.

    Yr Mst Hmbl & Obdt Svt,

    Donna-Lee

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