Photography Changes Everything

Photography Changes Everything


Good evening. I’m Joanna Marsh, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, and it’s a pleasure to welcome you to the Smithsonian American Art Museum this evening. Before we begin, I’d just like to ask everyone to silence your cell phones or other mobile devices if you would. We’ll have a brief question and answer period following the panel discussion tonight, and we just kindly ask that if you do have a question you use one of the two microphones that are positioned in the aisles so that our audience who’s tuning in by a webcast can hear your questions and the answers. Our program tonight celebrates the publication of a new book from the Smithsonian and the Aperture Foundation which offers a provocative rethinking of the role that photography plays in our lives and its impact on our culture. “Photography Changes Everything” Copies of the book are going to be available in the museum store following the program tonight, and there will be a signing upstairs in the G Street Lobby, also following the program. Now before I introduce our moderator for this evening, I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly welcome Lisa Hostetler, our new curator of photography at the American Art Museum. This is Lisa’s first week at the museum, and we are thrilled that she could join us here tonight. This is really a momentous week for photography at the Smithsonian, so welcome Lisa. [applause] Now it’s my distinct privilege to introduce our moderator for the panel discussion Merry Foresta. Merry joined the Smithsonian in 1977 and became the first curator of photography at the American Art Museum in 1983. From 2000 to 2010 Merry served as founding director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, a program dedicated to greater public access and use of the Smithsonian’s vast photographic collections. As the inaugural project for the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, Merry authored “At First Sight: Photography and the Smithsonian,” which featured a broad sampling of photographs from the collections. In 2011 she launched the Smithsonian’s first interactive online program devoted to photography. “Photography Changes Everything,” the book that we’re celebrating this evening, is drawn from that project and offers a glimpse at the profound way that photography has changed what we do and who we are. Please join me in welcoming Merry. [applause] -Mary: Good evening. Thank you all for coming, and thank you Joanna for that nice welcome and introduction, and thank you Smithsonian American Art Museum for the use of the hall. I also want to take a moment to thank publicly my colleagues at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative. Effie Kapsalis, Liza O’Leary, Susanna Wells, and Kathryn Steinberg were instrumental in making any of what we did at the photo initiative possible, and to them I owe a great deal of thanks, and thank you for the memories of that and also to the Smithsonian Archives, which some of these people continue to work for. I thank the Smithsonian Archives because they were the supporting mechanism for the Smithsonian Photo Initiative during the years that we were putting together this project “Photography Changes Everything.” For much of the 20th century the history of photography seemed to be written as a litany of masters and masterpieces, but in fact photography is a collection of the many. Archives of many disciplines come into play when you think about the big picture of photography. From the vast collections of institutions like the Smithsonian or libraries like the Library of Congress or even smaller ones to the shoebox full of family photographs that you have at home are proof that the source for a rich history of photography has yet to be written and is going to be written from those boxes. I’m pleased to welcome you tonight to what I hope will be a lively presentation of the discussion of ideas about the power of images to communicate the way they did in the past, the way they do today, and possibly how they may do so in the future. How photography since its invention has changed our lives in almost every way. Photography certainly changed my life. I began my career, as you heard, many years ago. I began my career here as an art historian of American Modernism. When I first came to the American Art Museum 30 years ago to work in the Department of Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture, there were very few photographs in the permanent collection. About 50, as I recall. Photography changed the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It changed me, and at the time I don’t think I realized it was an entire change for the history of photography itself. How it was made, how it was collected, how it was exhibited, how it was distributed. It was all so on the cusp of profound change. In the year 2000 when the Secretary of the Smithsonian asked me to think about the collections of photography across the entire Smithsonian. Specifically I was asked to answer the question: does the Smithsonian have one of the world’s great photography collections, and if so, why? I and a number of colleagues began to think broadly about photography as a whole. How it functioned as an art, certainly, but also how it affected the disciplines of the sciences, history, and culture? This effort eventually became the Smithsonian Photography Initiative beyond simply acknowledging the vast numbers of images held by collections as seemingly different from each other as astrology, anthropology or aeronautics, engineering or zoology. We were interested in the question of what role photography itself played at a multiple disciplinary institution like the Smithsonian. Perhaps most importantly of all what do these kinds of historical archives tell us about our current selves? How in a digital age when almost everything is being digitized, how does photography serve as collection, as evidence, as research, as history, and as art? For me one of the great revelations was that photography and the Smithsonian were born almost at the same moment. Photography first announced in 1840 in France and England and arrived in the United States shortly thereafter. The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 when Congress accepted the gift of a wealthy British scientist James Smithson. Photography, a new way of collecting and knowing the world, and the Smithsonian, a new breed of National Museum, were almost simultaneously entries into the mid 19th century American quest for invention when change and invention were almost continuous. It seemed totally appropriate that our initiative considered the once new technology of photography with the strategies and opportunities of the new technologies. SPI was appropriately inaugurated as a website. Tonight, we are celebrating the publication of “Photography Changes Everything,” and I’m very pleased to tell you that the first edition has already sold out and it’s now in its second printing. Just published by Aperture. The book began life as an online exhibition or publication. I don’t think we ever figured out exactly which one it was and maybe that’s not important. It was inspired by the example of the Smithsonian’s many and diverse photographic collections. We asked photographers, critics, public figures, scientists, historians, writers, and everyday consumers of images to write about the way photographs shape our experience of the world. Think of these as reports from the field of visual endeavors. We thought of it as a big picture of photography and why today photography still matters and at least we think it does. Tonight, I hope I can expand on the ongoing uses of photography and why photographs remain such powerful instruments of change and to do that we’ve invited several very wonderful people here to do that, and I’d like to begin by introducing you to the curator or editor depending on whether it’s an exhibition or a publication for “Photography Changes Everything.” When the Photo Initiative began thinking about an innovative project to encompass the idea of the vast multiple disciplinary Collections of Photography at the Smithsonian, I knew Marvin Heiferman was our person. Marvin is a curator and writer, originates projects about photography and visual culture for organizations that have included the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, the Whitney Museum of American Art, PS1, and the New Museum in New York as well as the Smithsonian. He’s a contributing editor to Art in America. He’s also written extensively about visual culture for museum publications and magazines, including Art Forum, Book Forum, Art News, and Bomb, and I can tell you that Marvin is really the bomb. Each day David Griffin has more impact on our consumption of images than almost anyone, at least around the Washington DC area. As Visuals Editor of the Washington Post, he oversees and coordinates the efforts of the design, photography, video, graphics, and digital teams in print and online. David started as a photographer, moved to editing and design before taking on directing and management responsibilities. He’s been the photo editor and designer of a number of books and directed an iPad app, “50 Greatest Photographs of the National Geographic.” Writing for Photography Changes Everything, Bruce Hoffman described how the image of terrorism has changed in a generation. From one of faceless and anonymous or other to the image of the terrorists next door, one with a face, sometimes a name and an identity that may be eerily close to our own. Professor Hoffman has been studying terrorism and insurgency for more than 35 years. He is a professor in Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where he is also the director of both the Center for Security Studies and of the Security Studies Program. He previously held the Corporate Chair in Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency at the Rand Corporation and was also director of Rand’s Washington, DC office. He was scholar in residence for counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency between 2004 and 2006 and an advisor on counterterrorism to the office of National Security Affairs, Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004. From 2004 and 2005 an advisor on counterinsurgency to the strategy plans and analysis. He is the author of “Inside Terrorism” published in 2006. His forthcoming book “Anonymous Soldiers: Terrorism and Counterterrorism and Palestine and the Rise of Israel” will be published in 2013. Phillip Kennecott is the Art and Architecture Critic of the Washington Post, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. Phillip has also served the Post as Classical Music Critic from ’99 to 2001 and Culture Critic from 2001 until last year writing about urban planning, museums, documentary, and general culture subjects. He is a regular reviewer for Gramophone, a frequent contributor to Opera News, and a writer, speaker, and blogger on the arts. His blog for the Post and his own blog often address ideas about the effect of visual images and, by extension, visual literacy: how we go about reading the images we encounter in public places. Right now I’m going to ask Marvin Heiferman to come up and tell you a little bit about how we did what we did to make “Photography Changes Everything” happen. Thank you. [applause] -Marvin: Hi, everybody. Thank you for coming. Mary, thanks for the introduction. What I’d like to do tonight is start off by talking briefly about the project and how it happened and what brings us here. As Mary suggested we were looking at photography across the Smithsonian and how it’s used in various ways and what became clear in working with the Smithsonian and having access to so many images and so many people who worked with them was it became clear to me that there was no single or simple story that you could tell about photography, that so many photographs have been made by so many people and for so many reasons that tidy narratives about the medium are difficult to construct and just as difficult to defend, but here’s one. This is a 1913 exhibition on the history of photography at the Smithsonian. This widespread use of photography for so many reasons is what makes photography absolutely unruly as a medium and completely fascinating. Ask an artist or a politician or a food stylist what a good photograph is, how it changes our experiences of the world and in the world and you’ll get three very different answers. Ask even more people how they use and respond to photographs in the forms they take and you’ll get a sense of what triggered this project. Photography helps and excites us to the point that we’re greedy to see more pictures and given the ease and the spread of digital imaging we’re taking more photographs, too. An estimated 1.3 billion new photographs are made every day. It’s an astounding number and it keeps changing obviously. 1.3 billion photographs made every day and they can span the world in seconds. This is a photograph that I wanted to show. It’s an installation by an artist named Eric Kessel that was shown last year in a festival in Amsterdam in which Eric printed out every photograph that was uploaded to Flickr in a single day. Our need for photographs and the breadth of photography’s reach and authority are without exaggeration awesome. “The more I thought about what photographs are,” Susan Sontag wrote in “On Photography,” “the more complex and suggestive they became” and that’s why some people, including myself, are always trying to figure out photography and how it works. In late 2004 and based on a number of projects I had done, I was invited by the Smithsonian to develop some programming around the estimated 14 million photographs that are housed in close to a thousand distinct collections in the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and research institutions, and it was at a meeting at the castle about a year or so later that the idea that shaped “Photography Changes Everything” began to emerge that day. It was an eclectic bunch of people were brought together: a former Contemporary Art Museum Director, a noted astrophysicist, a geographer, and surprising, certainly to me, an information analyst from the CIA whose job was to examine and analyze aerial thermographic images of parking lots to establish the timelines in which drug dealers turned on and off their car ignitions. We were sitting in a castle having lunch and over the course of the day two things became very clear. The first was that photography was central to each one of our pursuits and the second was that each person in the room looked at, used, and spoke about photography quite differently. What made for an effective, important, or even a beautiful photograph depended entirely on who was doing the looking and who was doing the talking. What struck me at the end of the day as I was on a train going back up to New York, my mind was like crazed from this meeting because people were coming from such interesting and different places. What struck me that day later on was, as I was going home, was the fact that in recent decades the most sustained and promoted discourse around photography, a tool that’s so central to our everyday lives and to so many aspects of it has tended to focus on one specific category of images. Those photographs that were made as art. This a John Baldessari picture from 1988 called “Frames and Ribbons.” Either photographs made as art or the handful of vernacular images that over time get upgraded to the status of art. This is an 1890 photograph by Jacob Riis, and while the promotion of photography as art without doubt has helped to foster a serious consideration of the medium, it’s also created something of a roadblock. As art historian Jeffrey Batchen described it, “photography is a sprawling cultural phenomenon inhabiting virtually every aspect of modern life and is consistently left out of its own history because so few photographs qualify for inclusion in the art history of the medium.” Over the years, in addition to working with artisan and art museums on various projects, I’ve also done many projects about the other less pedigreed kinds of images that are out there. Given the images that I was seeing in the conversations I was having at the Smithsonian, I came to understand that conventional perspectives on photography needed to be revisited in order to more accurately represent the kinds of interactions we were having with photographic images of all kinds. Today in the midst of what people still keep calling a digital imaging revolution even though it’s been going on for over 40 years, right, this is the first digital camera in 1975 which was about this big. We are forging the relationships to photography and as photography is being transformed so are our relationships to reality and our relationships to each other. This is a photograph by Dina Letovsky, who’s actually an ex-graduate student of mine in New York. With that in mind, I work with Mary and the people at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, some of whom are here tonight, and who were extraordinary to work with on this project. We all worked together to create a project that online and now in book form. The goal of it was to encourage people to think more broadly and critically about how photographs function as active agents of social and cultural change. That was one of the things that startled me when I worked on this project, starting to talk to anthropologists who used photographs very, very differently and saw them very differently as things, as instigators of conversation, as carriers of information This is a button that Stewart Brands, who was the originator of the Whole Earth Catalog created in 1966 when he was a student at Berkeley and then passed out and then when the photograph of the Earth that he asked for appeared, thanks to a moon landing or a moon mission, it became the cover of the Whole Earth catalog. Because the project’s goal was to advocate for a more accurate assessment of photography’s reach and power, I invited a large number of people from the Smithsonian and from beyond the national mall to become part of it. This is a list of the people who are in the book. There’s close to 80 short pieces in the book. The online project has some more people, closer to a hundred. Among the people who we invited were a pioneering neuroscientist, an adoption specialist, film director John Waters, a wedding photographer, an expert on spiders, the inventor of the cell phone, camera, a cookbook publisher, anthropologists, Hugh Hefner, and an eight-year-old to name just a few and each of them. What happened was I asked each person involved to consider and write about how photography had transformed their professional or personal lives and each one of them had a great story to tell. Taken together what their stories in this project show is that far from being a universal language the meaning and the values that we extract from photographs always depend on the specific needs and the perspectives that we bring to them. What became clear in doing the project was that if “Photography Changes Everything” that everything was a little too spacey, a concept to deal with so the project was divided up into six themes. It’s about how photography changes what we want, photography changes what we see, photography changes who we are, photography changes where we go, and photography changes what we remember and explored one at a time the individual stories in the book offer up vivid examples of the way photography both demands and holds our attention, how it raises and dashes our hopes, how it transforms us and the world we live in. To explore how some of that happened we decided to invite the three guests tonight to join us who Mary told you a bit about and to take part in the conversation that touches on some of the themes that are explored in the book so now I’d like to invite our panelists to come up here tonight, and we’ll do a quick reintroduction to people. The first person who I’d like to start off with is Bruce Hoffman who wrote a piece for the book based on this photographic image, so thank you very much. We’re going to talk among ourselves. We’ll open it up to questions and answers later. Thanks. So David, Merry, Bruce, Phillip. I thought if Bruce could perhaps start off and talk a little bit about how you responded to our request -Bruce: Well, I thought actually unfortunately one of the tragedies of the first decade of the 21st century is that everyone’s familiar with the the violent consequences of terrorism, and we’ve seen the iconic images of the planes crashing into the towers, for example, countless times. When I thought about what photograph would best encompass or depict terrorism as it’s become today, I thought one of the fundamentals of terrorism is it’s a form of violent communication where terrorists are trying to communicate a message and often are using very tragic and very gory images to communicate that message, but it’s also designed to instill fear and one of ways they do that is how they depict themselves. I thought, actually 40 years ago this month, the iconic image of terrorism was the anonymous faceless terrorist that was captured on the balcony of the Athletes Quarters at Munich during the Olympic Games, and it was someone wearing a balaclava, a head covering with his eyes cut out, and we didn’t know who he was. What struck me about this image is that as Mary said these are the guys next door. I mean the terrorists in the 21st century unlike the 20th century became almost anyone or ever man. Here they are captured where as 40 years ago we had to rely on the TV news to give us the image of terrorists. These four guys are walking into the Luton train station. They’ve traveled from a town outside of Leeds, England They’re in route to London in essence to blow themselves up, and they’re captured on an ordinary closed-circuit TV camera surveillance camera that’s put there probably to catch people engaged in petty crime or just for security reasons. That’s the image that almost, you know, casually they’re captured, and this is the image of terrorism I thought in the 21st century. -Merry: Then by extension, the initially almost casual images that people participating not even in terrorist activities, but images that can cause a terrorist response become incredibly freighted where they were not originally meant to be so. It’s not as if someone made the image to cause this to happen, but someone taking a cell phone image that gets posted online gets sent to a million people that’s taken to extremes or offends where it was not meant to. I mean these are another category of these kinds of photographs. I don’t even know what category to put those in. -Bruce: The reality of the 21st century is that the terrorists through digital photography and through the internet and online communications have the ability to transmit whatever images they want us to see, and they transmit them to their supporters and sympathizers who they’re trying to impress or engage in their struggle. They also send them to their enemies to scare us. Of course you know one could have chosen some of the other iconic images of the past decade, horrific as they are, if that many people have been publicly beheaded or at least beheaded in front of a digital camera. Again, it shows how important communication is to terrorists, and how they are intent to control the medium that they communicate in one way or the other, but that’s also why I chose this. I wanted to take it away from the terrorists and describe how we see them now today. Why do we have this image? Was it released so that people would recognize them for capture purposes? -Bruce: They were all blown up, so it was it’s a very good question. It was in the forensics afterwards in the inquest to try to determine how did they get to London and how did they carry out this attack. There’s actually the whole trail of these that – well Britain is very different from the United States. I think at last count there are more than 5 million closed-circuit TV cameras in the United Kingdom. On any given day any person in London just normally is picked up over 300 times. The police are in essence able to trace them getting in a rented Blue Ford Fiesta, they drove down the M1 Motorway, and there’s all sorts of a time series of photographs with the time and date stamped on which is also a feature of digital photography. This is them, this photograph, right before of them pulling into the carpark, and then this is how police in essence using photographs could reenact how the terrorist incident happened which was also something that couldn’t have been done a generation ago. -Marvin: Tracking terrorists has become the – photography is used more and more in that, right? You talk about the closed-circuit TV cameras all over England, but do those cameras prevent terrorism or are they used after the fact? -Bruce: It’s not clear yet that there’s a causality that they may necessarily prevent terrorism. They certainly make it easier to understand how something happened if perhaps to apprehend terrorists may not have blown themselves up who may still be at large. I think they’re designed in part especially in this sort of parlous condition of 21st century security to impart a certain safety amongst people in big cities for example. I mean, in New York. I mean, it’s not quite what London is but certainly in Time Square there’s plenty of cameras that NYPD, the New York City Police Department, has. In part I think that for many people in the public that imparts a sense of security and safety that may be divorced from reality but nonetheless someone’s watching and therefore if something happens at least the authorities can intervene far more quickly. Of course the attempted bombing in Time Square in 2009, it was a hot dog vendor and a T-shirt vendor had intervened, it wasn’t a camera. -David: You’re also talking about a world that eventually will be sort of a big brother-ish kind of environment in which there are cameras photographing every aspect of our lives and that certainly has implications for just how people will feel about going about their lives. It might be a deterrent, but it also could be, you know, there’s something else going on there. I mean particularly with the number of photographs that are now going up every single day. It’s sort of a constant world of surveillance. -Bruce: Absolutely, and anyone who looks quote-unquote different or threatening all of a sudden may attract attention. That’s completely unwarranted. -Merry: I was struck recently by listening to a story about Google Earth and Google Street and these trucks that go around. This was a story about an objection in a German town by a mayor of the German town who had actually resisted allowing the Google cameras that go into vans because they go house by house, and they take pictures, but apparently as they’re moving by they’re also capable at that moment of the picture being taken of also sucking out all the photos that are on the hard drives of all the computers that are in that house. -Marvin, It was also all the data. They were they were scooping up data as well. -Merry: This innocent facade of your house is suddenly housing this block of who knows what kind of information, and they don’t capture all of it. They’re not saying that they’re posting it, but this idea of innocence and the innocent photograph seems to be something that we can no longer assume at all. There is no innocent photograph. When it’s made and where it’s made, and not to create a wave of paranoia here, but it does suggest that there is more imaginative thinking that we need to bring to the making and use of images of all kinds that we can begin thinking about. -Philip: I don’t know that we really feel particularly observed. I mean, we know the cameras are out there. We know that, especially in places like England, they’re always looking, but in a way this situation now seems to sort of mirror the way we think existentially about going out in the crowd. You walk out, you don’t feel that every one of those people is watching you, especially if you’re not doing anything conspicuous, and I think we’ve actually become pretty comfortable living in a thoroughly surveilled world. We know that the cameras are taking the data, but we don’t really believe anybody’s looking at it. I guess that’s what I’m curious about. You’ve got these five millions cameras. How much of this is being digested? How much of it is actually getting to a human intelligence that can do something with it? -Marvin: Yeah, but I think how images get looked at and used changes. From a personal perspective, I had a loft in New York City and was being surveilled by my landlords who were videotaping my comings and goings over the course of years and couldn’t do anything with it because it was on VHS tape, and you have to look at it in real time. As soon as they figured out how to get a digital camera this big and hide it in the fluorescent light over the door to my loft, they nailed it. They got me out of there pretty fast, right? What’s interesting was them being able to, it’s what you do with the data and the images, and so what part of what I’m fascinated with in terms of imaging and what’s happening and what’s happening not so much in terms of terrorism, but in terms of surveillance, the data analysis of pictures and the idea that you think about facial recognition programs that are extraordinary or the ability of police around the country to see a license plate on a car going 70 miles an hour and get your traffic and driving history. I was reading about more data analysis of images and facial recognition is one thing, but you can sort images by the height of people in them. You can sort images by skin tones, so I think it’s a really interesting thing this notion of you’re out on the street and get used to it is one thing and then it’s what happens to the images and the analysis of them that’s really interesting. I think we’re just starting to see the tip of that is drones that you can buy from the airline magazine, and outfitted cameras can fly around your neighborhood and take pictures of whoever you like. -Philip: Wow, New York sounds like it’s getting scary. -Marvin: I’m not a conspiracy minded person, but it’s pretty fascinating. -David: I know one thing we were talking about earlier about this idea that there are cameras on all the time. There’s photographs being taken all the time. The one thing that I thought was interesting that I hadn’t thought about was that until you all sort of brought it up was that by having this wealth of images taken that you can, it helps to validate an event. That if something happens, you take 9/11, all the cameras that turn towards the towers. It’s very hard for anyone to say that was a faked event because you’ve got so much photography, so I think there’s a good thing about having all of this photography being taking all the time because it keeps people from being able to easily manipulate it by the fact that there’s only one blurry photograph. When you think about some events in the past, Kennedy being shot or something like that, in which the number of cameras if they were there today how much more information you’d have to sort of reconstruct that event and and in essence put down a lot of conspiracy theories. Not that there are any fewer conspiracy theories about 9/11 I think there’s actually a positive to it. I’m creeped out about it. I’m glad you aren’t. -Philip: Well the difference is a million people each taking one shot of one event versus one entity with a million cameras, and I think there’s a big difference philosophically in the way power is being dispersed. In terms of epistemology, having five thousand people confirming an event with five thousand different pictures coming from individual places, that’s convincing to me. It’s much more troubling to think of course of one government, one corporation having that multiple perspectives on you. -Merry: So as Visuals Editor for the Post, out of all those many photographs that are being made, you’ve got professional photographers taking them, you’ve got these surveillance pictures to choose from. Now you’re going to validate one photograph on the front page. Does that become the responsibility to make that picture the authentic picture because it’s on the front page? Out of all of those pictures, has the choice gotten more complicated? -David: Oh yes, absolutely, but again because you’ve got so many sources, you actually have more choices, and so you you can really go through an event. I mean you’re really listening to the event and understanding what the event was. I mean that’s the beauty of working for the publication where you have a lot of reporters and a lot of people putting a lot of thought into what is the news and what is going on and so you’re looking for that moment or that photograph that captures that event. Is it harder? I’m not sure it’s really harder. As you get tuned to judging photographs, we also have to deal with things like reproduction and how’s it going to read and and how is it going to be interpreted. All of that comes into play when you’re choosing a photograph and so as long as you are having an open dialogue about photographs, and we talked a lot about pictures particularly going on the front page of the newspaper. It’s not done in a vacuum. -Merry: Since we were talking about authenticity before, and we were talking about the relationship between the very sophisticated way in which photographs are staged for us all the time in politics and all kinds of ways. How much understanding do you have? Like that picture was made for us so I’m actually more interested in the picture that was made from the side or the back. -David: Part of the reason you hire photographers who get into the question of why do you have professionals because professionals uphold a certain level of ethics and also if you’re working with a set of photographers you create a relationship. Theoretically, the reason they’re staying with you is because there’s a trust built in there that they’re doing the things that good journalists do. We had a debate; we did two special sections, one on Romney and one on Obama. Pete Souza, who’s the White House photographer, who is someone that is known in the profession a really great photojournalist. He also works with the White House, and we had his images of Obama to consider. He’s got access like no one else does, but we eventually backed away from it because it was a White House photograph. It was fed to us. We couldn’t go in there and say let’s take a look at three other frames. The kind of process – if we had a photograph, anytime we have a photograph that we’re starting to question about it, we start asking things like let’s see the frames near it. You know those ways to start to validate it. You know photographers really know how to hold down a button nowadays, so it’s pretty hard to get a single photograph. You’ve usually got 500 that you can barely tell the difference between them, but that is a form of validation of the event. You can usually tell. I know there are some photo editors in the audience, and they certainly know that when they’re going through the take of any photographer that they’re working with, they’re getting a sense of what is really going on. It’s hard for a photographer who is being professionally edited to get away with something. It’s the photographs that just come across the transom, the ones that have all the makings of a great photograph and are absolutely right there, but you have none of the structure around it that we have as editors and as a profession that you really get nervous about. When we see photographs like that, even this morning, photograph of Stephens supposedly being dragged. We weren’t sure whether he was dead or alive, so we opted not to publish it because it couldn’t be validated. Then, there’s a taste question that’s in there, too. At that moment, when we were just trying to figure out whether we’re going online with it or not, we didn’t have enough information and you have to make those kinds of calls. It says what it says. It looks like it is what it is, but you do have to make those calls particularly in really tough situations. You don’t do that with pictures of trees. -Marvin: When you’re looking at images and making those kind of choices do you think about what’s going to look good on the front page of the paper versus what’s going to look good on my Android? Today I was coming down with a friend on the train, and he was reading the New York Times in print, and I had read it on my phone, and I’m looking at the amount of real estate that photography takes up on the front page of the paper now, which is significant and much more of that used to in the past. It’s differentiated and prioritized in ways that it don’t happen at all when I’m reading it on my phone. -David: The real estate of the phone is a tricky environment, but I will say that it’s about the view window. When you’re looking at a phone, which is not an ideal photographic medium, but it’s certainly getting pretty good compared to where we were, it’s this far away from you. It’s filling this much of your view. If you take a front page as a four column picture and you’re holding it about here, it’s about the same point of view. More for me, it’s a question of reproduction. It’s easier to get greater detail out of something that’s on a screen than it is something that’s being printed with ink, which is dirt smeared in oil smashed onto wood. There’s a different gamut there that you’re playing with, so that’s really the factor that you go into more than anything. We were looking at some pictures that we will still publish but from the inside of the embassy and it’s just dark, it’s burnt, but you’re still going to publish them, but that’ll be a challenge for us to reproduce, but it won’t – in that case of the news value is so high that your concerns about the aesthetics, or you know is this a beautiful picture, start to drop down. They’re inverse of each other. It’s a grey area. It swings all the way through, so the beauty of it is that there isn’t an absolute “ahh” that’s exactly where you want to be. That’s why you have discussions. That’s why people should talk about photography when they’re making those sorts of selections. -Merry: Do you think we should see if there are any questions in the audience? There is a question in the audience Okay, I think you need to go to that microphone over there. This by the way just to make you really nervous when you get up to talk is being webcast, so all of this is going out into the ether as well. -The question is around the idea of photography as real estate in media. We started out with this image here that was a police image or a surveillance image and that image might make it on the front page of the newspaper, and then become a news image. The question is – maybe not the front page, but other pages in the newspaper if it’s a low advertising day, do you get more space for images, or if there’s more ads that the images, do the photographs get smaller? The images that you put in the paper, for example the front page, and we know in fashion magazines, of course, they’re trying to sell the magazine. They really strategize, People magazine, who they put on the front page of the newspaper, or of the magazine rather, a fashion magazine, how much of these decisions one, advertising, and two, selling the news, is a part of how much real estate that image gets. I guess that’s a question for David. -It’s always a low advertising day. -Yes, I was going to say I’m looking forward to those high advertising days when we we’re shrinking images because of advertising. -Philip: Actually, I’d be curious of your answer because it always seems to me that the paper shrinks. Space is always at a premium. There’s no such thing as having unlimited amounts of space for photography. -David: You know, it’s just the size and shape that you use your photography has a lot to do with the character of the publication you’re doing. I used to work at National Geographic where it’s very photographic obviously for certain reasons, and so your real estate devoted to photography is a much higher percentage. The Post is really well written and raw edited. It’s across the board a great journalistic kind of operation. Photography works in conjunction with that and thus there’s a balance that I think we’re trying to achieve. The size is really just – you’re often looking at how small can we run it until it can’t be read and then you are happy when you get to run it bigger. Newspapers are fast-moving operations. It’s not like a weekly or a monthly magazine where you have a little bit more time to contemplate what you’re doing. You have a lot of people that are just built with instincts and just know and you hire them because they have those instincts to naturally know that’s the right size for that picture. -Merry: I’m really interested in the exercise that I encourage you all to do which is to go through the Washington Post or the New York Times and don’t read anything, don’t read a word, but just look at the images whether they’re actually news story images or advertising images and see if you can tell what the news was that day and what is the current effect of looking at it. All the information you get just by looking at the pictures. Maybe not the specific details but you get a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the world just by looking at those images and even the advertising images. If you look at Vogue Magazine, the first half of Vogue Magazine any issue is advertising, it’s just advertising, and then the last half is more content. It’s a lot of photographs of fashion or portfolios of fashion pictures, and it is hard to know when you’ve left the advertising and you’ve gotten to the content. -David: There’s a reason for that. -Merry: There’s a very good reason for that. It has to do with many of the photographers who are working in the advertising place where they might not have their name on the picture or some of the people that are in the content side of it, so there is that blending, too. I read the New York Times Magazine, and I have a hard time telling when I’m in an article or when I’m in the advertising portfolio. It’s a very interesting blending, so the whole notion of real estate of images in news journals or magazines or on iPhones it’s becoming difficult at best for me. Interesting also. -Bruce: Well it reminds of the tremendous piece of art that’s in the Norton Kenton Collection, the Norton utilities that used to have on computers, and it’s by Sarah Charles Worth. It’s about a dozen full-page but bigger than full page reproductions of the same day in 1978 when Aldo Moro who was the Prime Minister of Italy, former Prime Minister of Italy, was kidnapped by a terrorist organization. It was the search for him, and it’s just the headline so you know which newspaper it is and then just the photographs from the front page. How many of them are similar and how many of the editors chose the same image? Then others that had greater priorities or different priorities that didn’t have that image at all. -Philip: We published a section devoted to Civil War on Sunday, and we were looking through it afterwards at the images. Finding images of the Civil War means going back to lithographs, going back to old photographs, and they’re very unsatisfying to reproduce in newspapers, and then looking at the finished product in the newspaper, there was an advertisement for the new Steven Spielberg film that had this beautiful image of Lincoln. It said very clearly everything that we wanted a Civil War image to say, but they just wouldn’t say no matter how we manipulated them crop them and blew them up and there wasn’t. It’s remarkable when you see the visual sophistication built into selling through photographs and how much more powerful that can be than an actual factual photograph or archival photograph. -Merry: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln really added to that you’ve got to admit. Anyway, another question over there. -Thank you. Scott Talon, a professor at American University in the School of Communication, and with apologies to the fellow professor on the panel this question has nothing to do with terror or terrorists. It has to do with Millennials and Facebook. With that entity being the top place for photos are now stored and posted, curious especially for Marvin, David, Phil or whomever, and/or your thoughts on this penchant and increase in popularity for posting pictures to validate lives and events even the mundane things that are happening and your thoughts on that. Not that I’m concerned, just curious on your take on this. -Marvin: I think it’s a great opportunity for everybody to make themselves famous and you know be the celebrities, the culture tells them they should be so in that sense I think it’s terrific. I’m fascinated by people posting a lot of images online and how they’re used and how they circulate. I’m also interested in people who choose to print out pictures or whether anybody does anymore. I spoke to someone who also wrote a piece for the book, a guy named Steve Hoffenberg who is an image analyst, and asked him what was going on in terms of photographic printing. He said the biggest people, the biggest demographic group of people who were printing out images are our 20-somethings with kids who believe that Facebook may not exist by the time their kids grow up, and so on you know on the one hand there’s this impulse to put all this material and all this imagery out there and then on the other end of it, it’s like what’s going to happen? Who owns those pictures? That’s always been a big issue in terms of Facebook and Flickr. It’s like who can use those pictures, market those pictures, so those are all tremendously interesting issues, and then the issues of what you should be pictured. What’s allowable out there? Facebook’s policies around imaging is fascinating in terms of like watching them try to differentiate between porn and a photograph of a Manet painting. You put porn up there, you’re off of Facebook in a second. Put up a Manet painting and you’re off of Facebook for 24 hours until somebody says it’s art. It raises all kinds of interesting issue. Just the sheer volume. You look at that installation picture from the Eric Castles piece and negotiating like all of those pictures is daunting, thrilling, whatever, but I think digital mining of imagery as I was talking about in terms of software and recognition and sorting makes the experience of looking at pictures really different. It’s kind of great. It gives a great new life to imagery and raises all kinds of issues about appropriation, huge issues, so I think we’re just kind of living through it. I think what was interesting to me about working on this project at this point in time is there are people who were saying oh, you know film is done and we’re like digital, and I don’t want to do digital, and there’s people who love digital. What’s clear is that this is a huge transformational moment, and certainly the time that I’ve been working with photographic imagery I’ve never seen the field this wide open to use to discussion to interpretation. I think it’s an extraordinary period of time to be making pictures and using pictures, but I think it’s also time to talk a lot about them which is something that I don’t think happens enough, and it’s one of the reasons we did this project. Everybody pays lip service to visual literacy and everybody talks about how we all function in this photographic universe, but we don’t talk about it enough. I think that all of these images out there – I was reading an article last week online, and it was addressed to parents, and it said have you had the talk with your children and the talk wasn’t the sex talk, the talk was what pictures are you putting up on Facebook talk. -Merry: When I started working in various archives around the Smithsonian Institution, it struck me that most of the people that I spoke with who were managers of large collections of photographs did not refer to their collections as collections of photographs. They didn’t use the word photographs. To them, what they collected were the things, so the Curator of Engineering had a collection of bridges. What he had was a collection of 10,000 photographs of bridges, but he didn’t refer to them as that. He referred to them as bridges. The fish curator referred to his collection of fish, 20,000 fish photographs, and it strikes me that one of the things that is happening via the enormity of images on Facebook as people are putting things up. They’re not putting photographs of things, they’re collecting objects. They happen to be doing it using photographs, but I think they’re creating collections of things or collections of groups of their friends or groups of people they’d like to have be their friends, but I don’t think they’re thinking of them as necessarily collections of photographs. – Philip: I think the Lucson essay in the book has the figure that I did a double-take at which was that at the height of the photo postcard craze there were a billion of these things being sent a year and this is in 1905—1910 and one wonders you know per capita a billion images at that point circulating for the population of the United States. How does that compare with the 1.3 billion being uploaded at this point to Facebook? I somewhat question the implicit statement of the installation picture you showed which is this sea of photographs in a room. Yes, those are all the photographs uploaded to Flickr, but those are structured to seem like waves. They’re structured to make us feel inundated, and I don’t know that I actually really feel all that inundated. I say this in response to the Facebook question because I look at how quickly people negotiate Facebook, how rapidly you go through incredible numbers of photographs, discarding most of them. Even the sort of social intuition skills you have. Somebody you’re interested in, you’ve never met them, you want to find out something about their lives and you go and look at their pictures. Within a few seconds you know whether or not they’re going to tell you anything through those pictures. I think that we’re developing actually very rapidly the skills to process this quantity of data that we’re seeing show up in places. -Marvin: I think that’s part of what makes it all an interesting period of time. One of the people who wrote a piece for the book is a neurologist. It’s the last piece in the book and it’s about visual memory, and this little test at the end of the book where you look at a grid of pictures for like 10 seconds or 15 seconds and then look at another grid where some of the ones you’ve seen have been switched out, and you’re asked to say which ones you’ve already seen before and people are extraordinarily good at it. What he writes about in this piece is the fact that our visual acuity and processing is probably the strongest of all the senses, that the information that we take in visually is remembered more, better, longer than smell, words, sounds, touch. I think what you’re describing is this kind of transitional period that we’re going through. I was looking at a video yesterday of Sergey Brin from Google going out and doing a demonstration of Google Glass which are the new glasses that are going to be available for 1500 bucks apiece sometime soon. You put on little glasses and it has a little camera on it, and he’s saying – you know I love it because I can just say take photo and it does and he can keep playing with his kids – but it’s about looking. It’s this quickness. It’s about looking at things as experienced as and as images and processing through it extraordinarily quickly, but I would kind of argue also that what does that mean and what aspects of images are we looking at and looking for and what are we not? That’s part of another reason I’m interested in this project and the visual literacy ideas around it. -David: Using you know glyphic forms in words to represent ideas for an animal if that’s we are, that has been without words for the majority of its existence, and so in a way, I almost wonder whether the emergence of writing is an interim step to return us back to more visual culture. This is somebody who loves photography speaking, but I do think that there’s something in there that where you blend the two where we allow and that comes back to the teaching in that we’re not elevating visual literacy at our most basic levels. There is something there, and it’s obviously writing and words can express ideas so much more succinctly. That’s why it’s so great, but there’s also an emotional thing that comes with photography that I think is what we’re seeing in this whole Instagram sort of craze of sharing things. It’s about I want to be able to express myself in a sort of pseudo artistic way, and I can do it even easier by just taking a photograph of something as opposed to trying to describe it. There is something that’s going on here. -Marvin: I mean one other thing that Steve Hoffenberg, the image analyst, mentioned to me was that when he worked at a company called Lyra Research, they would ask people why they took pictures and people increasingly can’t answer the question. They’ll say I took it because it looked interesting or it was cool or it was weird, right? I’m not so sure why and I know lots of people who take pictures that way, myself included, and send them to friends and post them. Again, that’s why I think the dialogue around what’s weird, what’s cool, what’s interesting? Why should we look at this? How do we respond to it? It’s an interesting thing like they ties back to the Facebook question. -I had a related question what stands out to me. I guess to most people about this image as well, this surveillance type photograph is the utter banality of the banalization of the terrorist. An ordinary guy walking down the street and I guess related to the Facebook question and the ubiquity of photographs and is I guess what effect that is having on folks nowadays in this age of digital media. That blunt kind of literalism of the image, the ways that we can we can see our favorite TV star drunk on the street, you know what I’m saying? This is kind of banal imagery. Am I right in suspecting that that’s changing us and the way we look at the world? I’m not sure I put my finger on it exactly. -Philip: Yeah, I think you’re actually right. The banality of that image becomes a style and that style reads as authenticity and truth, but that style is easily faked. That can be manipulated. It’s not the authenticity and the truth, it’s really the banality of it trying to get it. -Philip: I mean looking at this, my first thought is how close it is to watching television, and how seeing those images created an entirely fictional context and make it seem as if they’re real images. In a sense, I sort of discard the images as anything more than just a couple data points for that reason. -Merry: In this picture, we wouldn’t be looking at it if these people in this picture hadn’t gone on to blow themselves up and a lot of other people with them. It would have just been somewhere. It’s the notion, not only just the making of this image that’s significant. It’s that it has information attached to it now that makes it significant. It’s how does that information get attached to it that becomes part of the process of looking at a photograph now. There’s a responsibility to looking that’s not so incidental to just a banal photograph. -Philip: Would a surveillance system that took more beautiful images be more effective? -Merry: I’m sorry? -Philip: Would a surveillance system that made images more beautiful be more effective in terms of sorting through this visual data? -Merry: Define beautiful. -Philip: Not quite so grainy. -David: Eventually you figure that’s going to happen to where this is going to be perfect, and you could probably choose the angle you want. -Philip: The camera angled not so high. -Merry: Will the terrorists be aware that they’re going to be on the camera and they dress a little better or pose a little better? -Marvin: I mean think about what happens with computational photography, right? I mean you can take a photograph, and now it’s easy enough to sharpen it, but there are people who are developing cameras realizing that pictures don’t need to be that good. You can take a picture that has less information in it and through algorithms sharpen it up, so it’s back up to where it would be as if it were taken with a 4 by 5. That’s an interesting idea. Another interesting thing that’s happening is this notion of what’s a good picture? -David: That’s the thing. The banality can eventually lead us to a world in which banality becomes the new normal for what’s good, and you have this world in which quality drops as an accepted level. That gets into an interesting space about what we end up creating for ourselves. I would hope that we’re trying to attain a higher aesthetic and what we do as an existence. That may also lead to what defines a really great photographer from the regular just flow of people documenting their lives. I think it’s fascinating. That’s really what you’re getting – you’re getting this like almost non-stop documentation of our world. I still don’t think that that’s necessarily affecting what we consider great photography. That’s much more about a mind and an eye and thinking about what you’re doing and composing. For me, that’s what still stands out even with the amount of photography that’s going on. It does not somehow decrease the need for someone to actually think about the photography, and that’s a skill for anybody. There’s a lot of folks here that are interested in photography. It’s not easy. -Yes. -Hi, thank you. I have just have a question. I work with high school kids and photography and their connection to photography. It’s very fleeting, which is very freeing I think for them in a lot of ways, and it gives me a lot of renewed energy in that way. Can you talk about the image as permanent? I don’t think they think of them that way and so when they photograph themselves and their lives and they post them and in the thousands and tens of thousands, it’s not the same feeling I get when I discover or rediscover a polaroid my mother took of me in 1972 when I know that there are only probably ten of them. How that affects how they are being raised around images, so I’m energized by it every day when I go and work with them, but I’m curious about your thoughts on the fleeting versus the permanence of imagery now and the young folks making those images. Whether they’re you know considered high art or not, whether they’re just documenting their lives. -Merry: You threw me with the high art part. -In 20 years when they apply for a job and someone looks up those pictures, they’ll be rethinking about how casual they are about putting their pictures up. -See, I’m not sure about that. I actually really am not sure what – I don’t have the answer as to what I would be doing if I were 16 right now – I think that moral compass is in there somewhere I hope. I just don’t think that they think of it in that way at least from the conversations I’ve been having with them for the last few years, and I’m new to teaching them and that age group, so it’s very interesting for me to do it. It’s a brand new way of thinking, so I’m just curious to know what you all think that effect has on them, that permanent versus fleeting. -Merry: Well, I’ll take a stab at it. You can bail me out. It seems to me that I truly believe that all photographic images hold some kind of information, and I think some of that information is fleeting the way information passed in a conversation is fleeting information. It’s not permanent information, it’s circumstantial information, and I think one of the things you talked about is the way that students find it freeing, as you say, to have a conversation with images or to use images as a tool to start conversations or to tell stories or to engage in some kind of communication and correspondence with other people around the images that they make which might be freeing because they don’t have to talk about themselves. They could talk about a photograph of something and talk about the feelings and that kind of thing, and I’m not saying that some of those images might last longer and become more lasting parts of other conversations and maybe get passed forward. I think that there’s another kind of photograph that is made very self-consciously to be more permanent and to be a more serious contribution to a longer conversation, and maybe that’s where art making and photography come into play more consciously. Those may have a greater chance of ending up being permanent and lasting kinds of images that we hold on to because the communication is either timeless or or seen if they’re older photographs can be drawn forward and have new meaning based on what they once knew and what their context might be and relooking at them. It just seems to me that there are two different kinds of things. There’s using photography as a vehicle for telling stories and having conversations, and then there’s making images that are consciously more timely. -Philip: I like the fact that you bring around to art because I think the problem requires essentially a spiritual answer. I think the reason we rely on cameras so often is that we feel our existence is fleeting and the quantity of images we can make all the time reinforces that. Then we can delete them, and we can go on and there is a sort of tear that you’re not going to be there, and if you’re not really there, you take an image so that you are there. That’s essentially a spiritual dilemma. That’s not really knowing how to be present in the moment how to be in a place. In a sense, I don’t have an answer to it, but I think that the crisis is more about how these kids want to exist in the world what they actually think their presence in being is. Sorry I can’t, I have to resort to bad.. -Marvin: There’s one other point I’d like to raise that you know you were talking about this notion of kind of contributing to a dialogue and a certain kind of permanence of photography and how it might function, but I I teach in a couple of MFA programs, and I am interested and a little startled to look at the websites of students that I’m working with because they almost never refer to the images that they’re making as things any more. Websites are full of images. They may have a title attached to them, and they may have a date attached to them, but they’re not thinking of them as things, so I’m wondering if they’re the people we think are going to be making those kinds of images that are going to be things that enter this dialogue that will continue with the photographs that are in this museum that we’re sitting in. I’m not so sure. I don’t know. I think it’s again like an interesting phenomenon. It’s like what’s the materiality of photography? What is it? How does the materiality of it change our relationship to it? -Merry: I guess my head was going towards all those images that are out there that no one ever thought they were making to last for very long, and yet they’ve lasted for a really long time. -David: Well, specifically, I have a 16 year old, and trust me, there’s no thinking going on. -laughter- That comes later I hope. -Merry: One more over here, and then one more over there, and I think that we’ll have to wrap it up after that, but go ahead. -As someone who works in publishing and is dealing on a day to day basis with the rise of digital electronic books I’m curious to hear what the panel thinks is the future of books upon photography. -Merry: Books on Photography. I think it’s a good future. [applause] I don’t know if this is exactly an answer to your question, but it’s been a very interesting process in turning what originated as a website project or an online project, “Photography Changes Everything” was conceived of to be online. We thought this would be quite wonderful and innovative because it would not have the kind of finality that a book requires of deciding. This is the book, and it’s done, and you can’t add any more. We would just be able to add things and perhaps it could become interactive and people could contribute in it. In fact, some of the stories that are in the book were once contributed by invitation to the website. When Aperture approached us to publish the book we thought it’s been an online project and who’s going to buy the book and it turns out the book is really another beast altogether, and the book is a thing. It has this thingness about it. Which has really been quite wonderful to experience how people have responded to it as a book when they could have been reading it online all this time. Quite literally there were more eyeballs on the content of that book in an online situation, hundreds of thousands, as opposed to any number of books that we might sell, God willing it, it will sell. It has had more readers and responses as a book. I just think that there this one category where the photo book, the art book, are always going to survive and be a really strong part of the publishing. -Marvin: I don’t think we know the answer to that yet. When I was working on the book I kept trying to find neurologists to talk to and neurological psychologist to talk to you to better understand how we perceive photographic images. I’d call up people and ask really stupid questions like what’s the difference neurologically between looking at a photograph of the thing and looking at the thing, and the answer was nobody ever asked us that question and we haven’t thought about that yet, and I think that’s something that needs to be thought about, too. It’s like what’s the difference between looking at a photograph as a thing. What’s the difference between looking at a print object versus looking at the picture on your phone? What’s the difference between seeing the same image on the front page of a newspaper and seeing it on iPad or seeing it somewhere else? I don’t think we know that. I don’t think we know what we’re looking at and how we perceive it. That’s why I’m interested in what Phillip was saying about yes, you look at it and you process it and you just kind of go through it, but I’m interested in that other part in us that’s like how does our response change in by the way we encounter pictures. I don’t think anybody knows that. It kind of goes back to what I was saying about the MFA students I’m working with. It’s this amorphous kind of situation at this point. I think books let you look at something in a certain kind of way, let you come back to it in a certain kind of way that this ephemeral mist of digital media which is like, you know, disturbing to some people and thrilling to others doesn’t, so I think the photo book phenomenon is kind of amazing. There’s more photo books than there ever were. Photo books have become a commodity. People collect photo books, the prices of them, the resale value goes up and up and up, so I think you’re going to stick around. -And yes. -First of all many thanks for this good conversation. During the development of “Photography Changes Everything” did you ever wake up one morning and begin to question that maybe photography doesn’t change everything that maybe photography actually reaffirms what we already know, that photography confirms dominant ideology in society. Did you ever have a moment of skepticism about the underlying thesis of the project itself? -Marvin: I woke up everyday thinking like what are we doing here, but I think ideology comes from somewhere, and photographs are used to create and spread that, too. I think the book addresses those kind of issues, and I think you have to talk about that role that photography plays. There are in the essays in the book about photo ops and the construction of images. There’s the manipulation of desire. It’s a huge part of the book. We’re not talking about it today. I did a panel on the project in Los Angeles, and it was all about celebrity and glamour. Clearly that’s there, too. I truly think that it does change everything. I think we can’t imagine a world without photographs. We can’t imagine ourselves without photographs we can’t contextual. It’s very hard to do at this point. I’m pretty firm with the title stands. It’s good. -laughter- [applause] -Merry: Thank you all for coming. [applause]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *