A friend of mine and I travelled into Toronto’s Canary district over the weekend to make some photos. Normally I take photos on solo walks, and it was a nice experience to be in the presence of someone else who was also focused on making images. Some of my highlights are below.
All images were shot using an Olympus E-M10ii and and Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R Lens. They were edited using a combination of Apple Photos and Polar.
I owe a lot to Instagram. Starting in January 1, 2017 until October 2017 I began a project of uploading a photo a day (or thereabouts) and, in the process, I learned an awful lot about how to use my cameras, shots that I tend to prefer taking, and the cool stuff you could do by looking at other photographers’ shots.
It was pretty great.
But for reasons I’ve previously written about I’ve drifted away from regular postings to Instagram or even taking photographs with the regularity of the last year. Specifically, I wrote:
… something is changing in how I approach photography itself, at least right now: I don’t want as many amber memories, and instead want to enjoy the development and unfolding of certain memories, and feel more comfortable in the knowledge that the ‘final’ memories I’ll have will be even more subjective than those associated with photographs. Some will even vanish in their entirety.
In fact, from November 2017 – April 2018 I didn’t post a single photo to Instagram and only logged in once or twice.1 But my not uploading photos has been nagging me because I know that part of why I was taking shots — and getting good ones! — was because I had been actively trying to upload stuff on a regular basis. Instagram was a method for pushing me to practice my own skills and, occasionally, receiving feedback on the shots I was getting.
So I dipped my toe back in, with a fresh upload, and then started to browse my feed. As usual, there were great photographs from the photographers that I follow.2 But there were also a lot of ads. I mean, every 5-7 images was another ad. That really, really, really sucked because it made the platform a lot less enjoyable to browse and look at; it was less a network of people, and more an ad network that was interspersed with real people’s photographs.
So what I’m going to do is upload a photo a week, or so, to Instagram because I’d like to keep my profile alive. But I’m not going to invest the time in the platform that I did in the past. And, instead, I’m going to reflect on where I want to put my content, why I want it there, and with what regularity I want to upload photos to the public Internet. That’s part of an activity I’ve been undertaking over the past year but I’d honestly thought that Instagram might remain a fun place to interact with people. Sadly, it looks like that might not be the case after all.
I was, however, taking photos during that period though not with daily-regularity. ↩
I don’t tend to follow people, including friends and family, unless they take shots I find aesthetically pleasing. So there aren’t a lot of family photos, breakfast shots, or other site such material that make their way onto my feed very often. ↩
Earlier this year, I suggested that the current concerns around Facebook data being accessed by unauthorized third parties wouldn’t result in users leaving the social network in droves. Not just because people would be disinclined to actually leave the social network but because so many services use Facebook.
Specifically, one of the points that I raised was:
3. Facebook is required to log into a lot of third party services. I’m thinking of services from my barber to Tinder. Deleting Facebook means it’s a lot harder to get a haircut and impossible to use something like Tinder.
At least one company, Bumble, is changing its profile confirmation methods: whereas previously all Bumble users linked their Facebook information to their Bumble account for account identification, the company is now developing their own verification system. Should a significant number of companies end up following Bumble’s model then this could have a significant impact on Facebook’s popularity, as some of the ‘stickiness’ of the service would be diminished.1
I think that people moving away from Facebook is a good thing. But it’s important to recognize that the company doesn’t just provide social connectivity: Facebook has also made it easier for businesses to secure login credential and (in others cases) ‘verify’ identity.2 In effect one of the trickiest parts of on boarding customers has been done by a third party that was well resourced to both collect and secure the data from formal data breaches. As smaller companies assume these responsibilities, without the equivalent to Facebook’s security staff, they are going to have to get very good, very fast, at protecting their customers’ information from data breaches. While it’s certainly not impossible for smaller companies to rise to the challenge, it won’t be a cost free endeavour, either.
It will be interesting to see if more companies move over to Bumble’s approach or if, instead, businesses and consumers alike merely shake their heads angrily at Facebook’s and continue to use the service despite its failings. For what it’s worth, I continue to think that people will just shake their heads angrily and little will actually come of the Cambridge Analytica story in terms of affecting the behaviours and desires of most Facebook users, unless there are continued rapid and sustained violations of Facebook users’ trust. But hope springs eternal and so I genuinely do hope that people shift away from Facebook and towards more open, self-owned, and interesting communications and networking platforms.
Thoughtful Quotation of the Week
The brands themselves aren’t the problem, though: we all need some stuff, so we rely on brands to create the things we need. The problem arises when we feel external pressure to acquire as if new trinkets are a shortcut to a more complete life. That external pressure shouldn’t be a sign to consume. If anything, it’s a sign to pause and ask, “Who am I buying this for?”
I think that the other reasons I listed in my earlier post will still hold. Those points were:
1. Few people vote. And so they aren’t going to care that some shady company was trying to affect voting patterns.
2. Lots of people rely on Facebook to keep passive track of the people in their lives. Unless communities, not individuals, quit there will be immense pressure to remain part of the network. ↩
I’m aware that it’s easy to establish a fake Facebook account and that such activity is pretty common. Nevertheless, an awful lot of people use their ‘real’ Facebook accounts that has real verification information, such as email addresses and phone numbers. ↩
Photographing something that captures the situation you’re in emotionally and in life, while reflecting something about wherever you are in space, can be a deeply revelatory experience. When I try to take such shots I’m often alone with just some music or podcast and a camera, and exploring areas that are sometimes brand new and other times are well tread shooting grounds. Sometimes I want to get a particular ‘feeling’ — one that, only afterwards, I tend to realize reflects where I was emotionally at the time — and other times I want to deliberately try to shoot for a certain kind of colour, shadow, or pattern. Quite often, it’s only after looking at photos taken during the session that I realize that a certain kind of emotion was really behind my shooting choices.
If I’m being honest, the experiential nature of photography really only hits me as I look through my photos, after taking them, after processing them, and after I set them to display through my TV (my ‘best of’ photos are my Apple TV’s screensaver). I need to see them, repeatedly, in order to appreciate what is in them. Sometimes it’s months before I really realize what was really going on in a given photo. Sometimes, even years later, I may know that particular shots are important to how I was at the time but still can’t quite describe why I know this to be the case. I can (at least somewhat) deconstruct the technical elements of the photos but can’t necessarily also identify the meaning of the photo I took.
At the same time, there are times when society asserts that I “should” want to hunt for photos, but I’m disinterested in doing so because I don’t want to try and capture the emotional or physical space I’m in, in the amber that is a photograph. Sometimes I want to ride out experiences; rather than hold onto them in perfect perpetuity, I want to leave them in the malleable space of human memory with the knowledge that how I remember the past will inevitably change over time as the temporal distance between my current existence and that memory grows and extends. Sometimes I want to experience to grow and contract, through and with me, instead of act as a defined anchor to a given time or place.
It’s that difference — between choosing to hold times in the amber of a photo versus storing it purely in the mind — that I’ve been mulling in my mind for the past little while. Some of the photos I have manage to capture times that are joyous, others melancholy, others full of light and joy, and yet others alienation and loneliness. And I tend to tightly hold onto the meaning of the photographs I’ve taken: I don’t go out of my way to explain my photography to anyone else, nor do I think it’s something that I need to do. Shutter therapy is just that: a kind of physical and intellectual therapy. But there are specific moments that I deliberately keep separate from my camera, and they’re often times wherein people are most likely to entrap time in amber, such as vacation or celebration. But I’ve found myself less and less excited to engage in such photography over the past several months.
I’m not entirely certain why: perhaps the weather has just been so miserable that it’s had an impact on my motivations to shoot. But equally possible it’s because something is changing in how I approach photography itself, at least right now: I don’t want as many amber memories, and instead want to enjoy the development and unfolding of certain memories, and feel more comfortable in the knowledge that the ‘final’ memories I’ll have will be even more subjective than those associated with photographs. Some will even vanish in their entirety. I don’t know why this is my current state of mind but, regardless, it’s an interesting intellectual moment that is prompting reflection on my photography, what drives it, and the relationship between amber memory and living memory.
“If you can change one thing about yourself then please be kinder and change how you end things because it matters way more than how you begin them.”
– Sartaj Anand
New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week
iOS 11.3 dropped last week and for the entire time I’ve been testing the Notes application pretty regularly to see if it’s stopped freezing, crashing, and otherwise not working properly. It seems to be working once more, which is a huge relief as huge portions of my life are locked up in the application. Not sure what was broken, or how it got fixed, but I’m pretty happy to discover that things are working once more!
Great Photography Shots
Many of the winning shots for the Smithsonian’s 15th Annual photo contest are just spectacular.
This has been a particularly grey week — the weather has been mostly overcast and slightly rainy — and it’s had all the hallmark effects on my mood and attitude as it did when I lived on the west coast of Canada. With hindsight, I can see that some of the depressive funks I fell into while doing my PhD were the result of the weather, combined with diet and work/life imbalance. And when I was on the west coast, I discovered that getting in some significant amount of walking each day was what it took to fight through those funks.
Cue this week, and the solution has been getting into an exercise room and just doing work I didn’t really want to do, but which I intellectually knew would improve my perspective on life as soon as I was done my circuit. Unsurprisingly, each day that I dragged myself to exercise helped to improve my next day. In the UK, this has been taken a step further, and persons who are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, anti-social behaviour, or other mental health challenges are being prescribed exercise, socialization, and related activities that are meant to naturally modify the chemistry of their bodies and brains. No pills or drugs required.
It strikes me that such prescriptions could have a range of positive outcomes. First and foremost, for those who ‘fill’ the scripts, they might derive relief from the symptoms affecting them. That’s a clear win. But, second, it would have the effect of pushing people who might avoid certain kinds of physical activity to be there, with others, and realize that the portrayals of ‘fit’ or ‘active’ people in the movies and television tend to be drastically out of step with reality. I know that in my own case, I had this idealized idea of what people looked like when they exercised, how hard they worked, and so forth. But by going and exercising I’ve improved upon my own sense of my body by, first, doing some exercise but, second, seeing that the persons who are exercising look an awful lot like me.
In other words, developing a pretty regular exercise routine has had the dual effect of improving my mental health by just pushing my body, as well as improving my sense of bodily self-worth by destigmatizing my (pretty normal) body. I imagine that were more and more people gently pushed to get into workout rooms, running groups, or other socialized exercise spaced they, too, would experience that similarly destigmatizing experience.
For the past few weeks I’ve been deliberately constraining my photography by shooting exclusively by a 35mm equivalent lens. This was the focal length that really convinced me that I enjoyed photography as a way of seeing and experiencing the world. I’m a big fan of zoom lenses, and keep eyeing the Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 Pro lens, but I find that I learn the most about a scene by having to walk around it with a bright prime lens.
When I travelled to Cuba, having to march around with a 50mm equivalent lens meant I went into entirely new places and angles that I wouldn’t have if I’d had a zoom lens to otherwise get a shot. And while I’ve previously used my 35mm equivalent, I have to admit that I’ve been far more reliant on some of my zooms and the 50mm; I just haven’t focused on learning to use the 35mm lens because there is so much more walking-by-zooming that I have to do with it compared to even my other prime lenses.
But that’s silly: I enjoy the focal length, I just have to work a lot more to get things out of the camera. So I’ve been using it at night, during the day, and exclusively attached it to my camera body for the past month and intend to bring it (along with an 80-300mm equivalent lens) when I travel to South America in a week and change. I like the idea of an unobtrusive lens as my walkabout, and then the zoom for when I’ve trekking through nature. And, perhaps most importantly, I really like the idea of forcing myself to get a lot more comfortable with my current gear as a way to inhibit my desire to buy more gear: I have functionally underused equipment, and I should be playing with it, first and foremost, before even considering the purchase of new kit.
“We start on the path to genuine adulthood when we stop insisting on our emotional competence and acknowledge the extent to which we are – in many areas of our psyche – likely to be sharply trailing our biological age. Realising we aren’t – as yet, in subtle ways – quite adults may be the start of true maturity.”
I find it really hard to identify the stories in my photographs, prior to actually pushing the shutter button. When I look through, say, my best photos of 2017 I can see which ones have stories embedded within them but it’s a pretty rare thing that I saw, and decided upon, the story before taking the shot. In part, I think that my challenges are linked to only taking my photography more seriously for a relatively short period of time.
But some of the difficulties I’m encountering are also linked with my still learning to take ‘technically’ good photos, after which I think I’ll be more comfortable with more ‘narrative’ style shots. And I want to get better at the latter because I take Martino Pietropoli‘s statement pretty seriously: “Good photos tell stories. Average photos are just beautiful.”
Pietropoli’s article is excellent, insofar as he spends the time to walk through not just the importance of building a story into a photograph but because he also shows examples. In choosing examples he doesn’t merely say ‘here are narrative photos’ but, instead, he spends the time to spell out some of the narratives which might be bundled up in the shots in question. For me, his article was a particularly clear and poignant way of thinking through what stories might be in any given shot, and also as a way to differentiate between what he identifies as narrative versus ‘merely’ beautiful shots.
If I have one critique of the article — and I think it’s pretty minor — it’s that there’s an assumption that someone understands how to take photographs competently, and using this basic competence they can take shots with story. Put another way: I think that a lot of the efforts to create popular stylistic shots are very helpful in teaching people how to use their cameras and lenses, and to think through the importance of framing. Does that mean the people may end up with a series of ‘generic’ skills that many other photographers can roughly approximate or precisely imitate? Absolutely. But just as it’s important to learn how to write the five paragraph essay before breaking into longer-form writing that breaks all the rules of that high school essay format, learning the high-school format in the first place is an important skill that leads to more advanced writing.
I think that spending time looking at Instagram or Flickr or other places which hold ‘beautiful’ images is entirely appropriate for those who are learning to take photographs, and take them seriously. But I also tend to agree with Pietropoli that a photographer must eventually come to a decision: will their photographic style focus principally on technically beautiful shots or, instead, try to engage with the world by evoking emotions and reactions linked to the stories contained in their photos.
New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week
Cypher – a puzzle game about the history of cryptography
Great Photography Shots
I was really impressed with a range of the shots which won in the 2017 International Photographer of the Year contest.