Considering Photography Online

Because Lenscratch is all about viewing work online, I thought I’d share Jennifer Schwartz’s terrific blog post from earlier this week, where she asked a variety of photographers, editors, and publishers for their perspective on the subject.

As an offshoot of this subject, I want to briefly post my thoughts on sharing work on Facebook as a “look-see” or “get feedback” activity. I have come to realize that outside of using an image to promote an event, exhibition, or work being featured in a publication or garnering an award, our photographs are in a very vulnerable and fragile state when offered up to the masses. My own example was recently when, in a moment of “what the hell”, I posted a new image I wanted to share. I wasn’t asking for feedback, just wanted to share something I was excited about. It got a lot of nice reactions, but I also received a Facebook message from a photographer who stated that it was “just too beautiful to leave alone” and he proceeded to download it, crop it, photoshop the heck out of it, and send it back to me as an “educator”, suggesting that his was the better version. Needless to say I was horrified on so many levels, but it was a signal to me, that it was my own fault for not protecting my work from unnecessary and unwanted feedback or exposure. Something to consider.

Viewing Photography Online: The Perspectives

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Jennifer Schwartz
The photograph and the Internet are a beautiful pairing. More than any other medium, photography is perfectly suited to be viewed online. Over the past ten years, and especially in the last three years, venues for viewing photography online have cropped up everywhere and have flourished. From blogs to online magazines to purchasing sites, the opportunity to get exposure to fine art photography on the internet has skyrocketed.

As a gallery owner and general photography lover and collector, I look at a lot of images both in print and online. From exhibitions to portfolio reviews to my daily trolling through websites and blogs, I see photographs all day long, but most of them are online. I often purchase photographs and select photographers for gallery shows without ever seeing a printed image. It’s easy and powerful and personal to sit in front of my large computer screen and get transfixed by an image.

Not that viewing photography online should replace the experience of seeing a beautiful image printed, framed and hung on a wall. To me it is a supplement. But I was curious to hear some other perspectives on this trend. How do photographers, bloggers, editors and curators experience photography online?

Laura Griffin, photographer

When I finished graduate school with an MFA in 2001, I left with big dreams. I was encouraged to want recognition, attention, a solo show – just to see my name in print somewhere. It feels great to be that ambitious, to acknowledge you want it, and have your mentors tell you to go for it. Except…the art world doesn’t always work that way.

Back then, the hope was to make a connection with someone important that may want to help you. There are a lucky few for which this worked. For me, sending out slides (!) was an ultimately fruitless endeavor. I wasn’t able to get my work in front of the right gallery at the right time. So, I continued to make work for myself. And that needed to be enough, or I would just quit altogether out of frustration.

Today there is an opportunity to view an endless frontier of photographs online from photographers working all over the world. The strict gallery model is no longer the sole goal for me and a lot of other artists. While it’s still important to be making connections, there is some freedom and possibility that wasn’t there a decade ago. There are countless shows and online forums to submit to, and the choice is really up to the artist whether to participate in that way.

Looking at images online and being a part of that dialogue is crucial today. And although the gallery model did not work for me right out of school, I was able to continue making work and ultimately have found an outlet for that work online. Showing my work online has given me a wider audience and has brought back all of the original ambition and excitement I had towards forging an artistic career.

David Bram, photographer and creator/editor of Fraction Magazine

Because Fraction is an exclusively online photography venue, the representation of a photograph on a screen is paramount to me. As important as a well-printed image is, if it cannot translate well online, I cannot feature it. Both online and printed material should match and be excellent.

That said, online media should just be an introduction to the work. The ultimate goal of a viewer should be to connect to work and want to explore it further, either in person at an exhibition or as a collector who purchases a photograph for themselves.

We are fortunate to be involved with a medium that can be exposed so widely online. The internet makes art generally and photography specifically so much more accessible. You don’t need to live in a major city with access to museums and galleries to love and appreciate photography and to see images from all over the world.

Amy Stein, photographer, teacher and blogger

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sharing My Work Online (posted 7/25 on her blog, reposted with permission)

Blake Andrew’s post about the unauthorized proliferation of Melanie Einzig‘s photograph of a man knitting on the subway highlights an all too familiar tension between content producers and content sharers in the age of social networks. The reality is that if you live and work as an artist on the web you are choosing to both exist in a constant grey area between copyright law and Fair Use and participate in a vast frontier of wobbly ethics that vacillate depending on the network, community or individual. Einzig’s desire to maintain full control over the use of her images is admirable, as is Blake’s call to the blogosphere to help remove all unauthorized uses of the photograph in question, but it does seem a bit like spitting into the social wind.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the proper attribution of images and have done so on my blog since day one. In the age of Google Image Search, there is absolutely no excuse for not crediting an artist. But, I’m also a realist and long ago I fully embraced the idea that my images will travel and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s mostly a very good thing. If someone is moved to share my work or inspired to use it to create something new, that’s kind of cool. I know the free flow of my images has certainly helped my career and I often tell my students to swim with the current and make their work as shareable as possible.

I have found my images in every nook of the Internet, mostly attributed and not altered in any way, but often unattributed, remixed, appropriated as paintings or drawings and cropped in ways that offend me to no end. Every time I come across my work presented like this, I cringe a little, but most of the efforts are benign and nobody is profiting off my intellectual property. When someone is profiting, I shut that shit down.

I understand the photographer’s desire to manage use of her images online, but that became damn near impossible once the web evolved from a destination medium to a networked medium. You can’t stop the flow of information. You basically have two options: don’t post your work online or do so with the knowledge that interesting images will inspire people to share and alter them in ways both good and bad.

I believe it’s important for the arts community to lead by ethical example on this issue, so to that end I solute Blake’s efforts. However, in the spirit of not clogging the flow and respecting the talents and value of artists, I propose a slight modification to Blake’s call to activism. Instead of stripping the images from the web, let’s reach out to the offending posters and ask them to credit Melanie Einzig as well as any and all works they include on their sites in the future. Let’s create a kind of attribution Neighborhood Watch where we confront site owners, editors and publishers that post images without crediting the artist and kindly ask them to get with the program. If we all have each others back on this our little photo community may be able to bring attention to the work of otherwise nameless artists and bring some ethical order to the wild frontier of the social web.

Lauren Henkin, photographer, bookmaker, founder of Photo Radio

Whether looking at photography online is a true or rewarding experience of viewing imagery is certainly a point up for debate. I think that for some photographers, their chosen medium for presentation is online or through some form of electronic distribution. Others photograph with an intent to show their work through traditional prints. Others still choose to show their photographs in book format.

I am writing this from a hotel after spending five straight days with printmaker Tyler Boley in Seattle who helped me print some large images for an upcoming show, and we talked about this topic at length. We both have felt for some time that the experience of viewing a printed photograph far surpasses that of a digital viewing experience for many reasons. I’ve never looked at an image on my monitor and been blown away by it. I remember seeing in person George Tice’s Petit’s Mobile Station, or a Harry Callahan Cape Cod, or a Caponigro Sunflower. Those were ‘a-ha’ moments. Never, have I felt that way looking at an image on screen. It was seeing these prints that made me want to become a photographer.

So, while I understand the necessity of showing images online, do I find it rewarding? No.

However, I do think it has had a huge impact on how photographers widen their audiences, and I would count myself included in that group. The wide influence of blogs, online publications, websites (which now are becoming obsolete), and of course, social media outlets like Facebook has afforded photographers a quick, easy, and inexpensive way of distributing their work to an eager and global audience.

While I am a fan of these new opportunities and have benefited from them, I also think there are downsides that are rarely acknowledged. I think there is more pressure to produce. The expectation for continually putting out new work in order to keep the attention of this newly gained audience which might include gallerists, dealers, and collectors has made five or even ten-year bodies of work more challenging. I think most artists would benefit from time away from looking at imagery and engaging in these outlets to gain perspective on their own work and the freedom to not be influenced by others.

Andy Adams, Editor, Producer, Publisher, FlakPhoto.com

A big part of my mission is to help artists get their work seen and my contributors are always updating me with news about exhibitions and publication opportunities that have come out of their pictures being discovered on the site. Web 2.0 technology has played a huge role in expanding Flak Photo’s reach and the site’s readers are web-savvy people who use social media on a daily basis, so that’s really inspired me to explore how those tools can encourage online audiences to communicate with each other about contemporary photography. In addition to the website, I publish a Facebook page and Twitter feed and I host the Flak Photo Network and Flak Photo Books, Facebook groups focused on photography discussions. I’m passionate about creative collaboration and am constantly energized by what’s happening in the photo community, so publishing the website and participating in these channels gives me an outlet to satisfy that craving.

Flak Photo provides unique opportunities, and it’s just a small part of a vibrant online photo ecosystem brimming with images and ideas. The Internet has changed the way we consider photography, so these are exciting times for image-makers wishing to publicly show their work. The photographer who understands how to be an online publisher can share his or her visual ideas with a worldwide audience and that is incredibly exciting. It’s hard to predict where the technology is heading, but it’s clear that more of us are connecting with each other in blogs and social networks and those connections are bound to provide new opportunities for collaboration and discovery.

Michael Kirchoff, photographer

“I know I’ve seen that picture somewhere before…..”

Anyone who has spent even a minute online looking at photography has noticed the flood of work to be seen from every corner of the planet. Truly, the shrinking of our world from the global online community that exists has given photographers a helping hand in reaching an audience that had been extremely difficult to reach before. What once took an airline flight or a FedEx delivery to share your work (both considerably more expensive, time consuming, and slow), can now be done with a few clicks of the mouse. Even my own social media marketing campaign (sounds so official, huh?) has put me in touch with a vast network of fellow photographers, gallerists, curators, and collectors, and has quickly become a very necessary part of my business. Clearly, the ultimate goal of any photographer in the business of selling prints or handcrafted photobooks would be to connect with the serious collector and turn all of those likes, views, and comments into tangible sales.

Another aspect of the accessibility of quality photography online is that, for me personally, it raises the bar as an artist when I see so much outstanding imagery. I’m constantly blown away at the techniques and ideas that others offer to the world, and it makes me want to be a better photographer because of it. The networking aspects of the online photography community are almost limitless. I regularly view work of other photographers online that I fall in love with and periodically add to my own collection of beautiful and thought provoking work from these talented individuals.

There does seem to be a bit of a downside to the access and ease of seeing work online however. The ability to view work that is enjoyed by a wide audience is wonderful, but it begins to seem as though many feel this is the end result of our efforts, instead of the finished print that could hang on your wall and be appreciated for a lifetime and beyond. It should be mentioned with certain regularity that viewing a photographer’s work online is merely a step to the experience of viewing the physical and tangible print in the gallery or museum setting, and knowing that that print in your own home is the most satisfying experience of all. These prints are indeed works of art that cannot merely be appreciated to the same level in an online aspect.

Aline Smithson, photographer, educator, publisher of Lenscratch

In thinking about how we view the bulk of the photography we experience today, I remembered that when I was a fashion editor, I was required to edit the hundreds of exposures from a photo shoot. In a dark room, I looked at work on a projector screen that went directly to print. There was never a physical photograph to hold and now I realize that it is not unlike looking for work to feature on Lenscratch. I look at thousands and thousands of online images each year, and ultimately, I am looking more for ideas and concepts than the quality of the image. Unlike online dating, when one is confronted with the reality of the digital image (from what I hear, daters are often shocked by the difference of the submitted photo and the real person), when I come across the work in person, I feel like I am meeting an old friend who is looking refreshed and at their best. More often than not, seeing the work in person is a far superior experience–nuances lost on computer screens, scale, and impact are only evident in the actual print–but as an image junkie, I’m happy to look at a photograph in any form.

Once in a while, as a juror or curator, I have been really disappointed in the physical print. The work doesn’t measure up to the small jpg, (due to poor printing skills) and that is a problem when you are juroring an exhibition online and bringing work into a gallery without having seen in it person ahead of time.

When I first started looking at contemporary photographs, it was mainly done by spending hours and hours looking at magazines or books. If you liked someone’s work, you sent them a postcard. Now we have the amazing ability to get our work under the eyes of the world and make connections that never would have happened without the online experience. We are an international community and that is truly remarkable.