November 2008 Archives

Just Shoot Me

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This quoted entry below from Wikipedia is a great bookend to the experience I had earlier today when friends just back from Japan showed me their photobooth pix made there. The photobooth automatically altered their eyes to enlarge and round them off so that in the pix their faces resembled animated characters in a Manga style.

(Underlines in this quote are not all necessarily live links. Blue links may be hard to read uless you highlight them.)

"Nov Takahashi, from the Japanese studio called Studio Hard, coined the term cosplay – a contraction of the English-language words costume play – while attending the 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon.[citation needed] He was so impressed by the hall and masquerade costuming there that he reported about it frequently in Japanese science fiction magazines. This follows a common Japanese method of abbreviation: combining the first two moras of each word to form an independent compound. Costume becomes kosu (コス), and play becomes pure (プレ).

Cosplayers in Japan refer to themselves as reyazu (レヤズ?); pronounced "layers" (by writing the word cosplayers in katakana, コスプレヤズ, it is possible to shorten it in this way). Those who photograph players are called cameko, short for "Camera Kozo" or "Camera Boy". The cameko give prints of their photos to the players as gifts. Tensions between players and cameko have increased due to perceived stalker-like behavior among some obsessive males who push female cosplayers to exchange personal email addresses or do private photo sessions. One result of this has been a tightening of restrictions on photography at events such as Comiket."

Unrestricted photography is what the photobooths are getting to be about. Under additional entries about photobooths, Wikipedia also notes:

"Once the pictures have been taken, the customers select the pictures that they wish to keep and customize them using a touch screen or pen-sensitive screen. The touch screen then displays a vast array of options such as virtual stamps, pictures, clip art, colourful backdrops, borders, and pens that can be superimposed on the photographs."

It seems only a matter of time, then, that cameraphones will merge with PDAs to provide the firepower to take your own picture, alter it in the phone, and broadcast it or narrowcast it, all within a couple of minutes. The issue will not be the technology, as I'm certain this can all be done right now; but instead, the price of the gadget, which will need to be low enough to assure that enough people under 28 years old will do it with as little provocation as being bored in a checkout line. To make this happen, advertisers will need to start subsidizing smart cameraphones to entice people to push their pictures to channels on MySpace, YouTube and so forth.

What we'll have then is any number of times where the cameraphone -- which is untethered and not confined like the space of the photobooth -- will be used in the open air, thus creating "live" backdrops or "studio-ed" backdrops to the modeling and alterations of the faces in the foregrounds. In essence, an entire genre of fashion photography will go way beyond mainstream and literally become autographic.

The fashion autograph versus the fashion photograph may already have more to do with what comes next in retail. Autographs are going to be predominantly on the web and trend-spotting on the web will resemble watching large clouds of small fast birds flying mysteriously in synch through a range of highly random maneuvers. What is the purpose of retail fashion photography in these circumstances? I don't mean the photography of retail fashion -- rather I mean the retail photography of fashion. So far, that photography has been almost entirely predicated on the idea that the photographer was not the model -- and now, with what is reasonable to expect, that idea seems almost quaint. The only question is whether the retail part is obsolete -- and if yes, then what will all the fuss go on to be about (as surely it will not subside...) ?

Rudy's Until 1

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(Postcard)

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 Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe

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(Postcard)

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 Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Meals Ready to Eat

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(Postcard)

 

Standard armaments at Green Day's eatery Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, featuring $1 beers after 9pm.

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 Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Incidentals

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(Drawing)

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Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Funkin' for Jamaica

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Last stand for an aging fashion model

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Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Noon Tune

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For Aleta

 

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Copyright 2005 Malcolm Ryder

The Function of Form 2

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(Postcard)

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Copyright 2006 Malcolm Ryder

The Function of Form

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(Postcard)

 

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Copyright 2006 Malcolm Ryder

The kiss

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Snapshot

 

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Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Transitions

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Snapshot

The groom (right) and bride, standing exactly on the seam between the end of the wedding and the beginning of the escape by limo to the future.

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 The vast majority of photographs of transitory moments are meant to be seen almost as briefly as the moment they describe. For such pictures, in the heat of the moment of their presentation where they usually are to appear, a very few column inches of pretty degradable newsprint bring more life to the photograph, precisely by threatening it with limits of space and time... Yet their record is intended to keep the duration of the portrayed moment as small as possible for as long as possible. The beauty of such pictures would be in making very disposable copies of them, again and again, anytime desired...

 

Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

The Wedding

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Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

Evidence

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Northern California

 

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Copyright 2008 Malcolm Ryder

AfterEffect

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The photoaesthetics of ruins sits on a meeting point where extraordinary force mixes materials that get landscaped with the camera.

Ray Mortenson does the 1983 South Bronx.

Ray Mortenson_1983_SouthBronx_Broken650.jpgThe New York Times does Ray Mortenson:

As a sculptor and photographer, Mr. Mortenson began making these Bronx trips because he was interested in the purely physical and visual characteristics of a once dense, elegant urban landscape that had come to look like excavated Pompeii or Dresden after the firebombs. Not that he would have ever wanted part of his city to endure the kind of devastation it did, but once the South Bronx reached that state he approached it aesthetically, as a “hard-art project.”

“I like being here,” he wrote. “I like the way it looks.”

Others, like Robert Polidori, do New Orleans in 2006.

PolidoriNO2.jpgTyler Green's modern art blog Modern Art Notes does Polidori:

"I thought originally that I was going to do a book that was about the end of this, or the drying out from the flood. I knew that there was bound to be some demolition that was involved and I thought there would be some re-construction. I was wrong about the reconstruction part because I didn't think it through."

Notes:

As done by the photographer with the found environment left by some decisive force, this collaborative landscaping produces images that are nowadays very commonly produced as movie moments or, essentially, theater sets -- which shows that they have become vocabulary items lending themselves on demand to narratives. The narratives are more important than the pictures, so long as the narrative is about someplace important. Similarly, the slightly paradoxical appearance of "new ruins" in galleries or books tends to draw its excitement not so much from the actual images as from their provenance. To push this to its limit, the most interesting tension to develop in the pictures would be from providing the sense that the scene was entirely invented for its own sake, just to look the way it looks -- but to not really admit it, mainly by showing them in places that are not supposed to exhibit fakes.

Taking the possibility of that artifice into account, the problem with "ruins" is to keep a grip on whether the scene is a matter of fashion or art or other credentials.

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Google finds what appear to be Alan Kong pictures but might be someone else, of somebody doing cheap chic.

This simple juxtaposition, of stuff you want to keep using in a place you normally might not want to be, is fashionable and theatrically invented -- in effect, making the location un-ruined. But without a back story to say whether this was done out of life necessity or out of entertainment, we just decide for ourselves how or if we care about the "missing persons". Vandals could alter the scene later and re-ruin the location with a big furniture smashup, but that would not by itself apply the ingredient of premature decay or disintegration that is so essential to the typical idea of "ruins".

Catastrophes both natural and unnatural often suddenly and even hugely dismantle locations or environments, and the scene that remains is often not quickly grasped as "ruins" even though they are. Fully submerged neighborhoods look like lakes; while deserts were once sea floors. Instead, it's as if we have an active and contrasting imagination of what things will be like if they fall apart or degrade on their own, and "ruins" are what we call it when their current state  -- whether forced into it or not -- resembles that imagination. This conventional imagination also allows us to artistically portray "ruins" more or less at will, which makes the images more commodity, which is then why the narrative around them carries more of the weight than does the picture...

The narrative of ruins is heavy on a sense of place. But usually, pictures of "ruins" need to appeal to a sense of time, or perhaps more precisely, timing, to get their motors running. Knowing when the ruins were alleged to have been sighted is a huge part of their appeal.

Without that combo bit of time and place, there is little actual difference between the pictures above; they each used the same conventions, conventions known before the picture was made and, in the best case, conventions offered as speaking parts to the scene... allowing the scene to say something about itself but not necessarily saying much more than what the imagist wanted them to. (That said, I've pigeonholed these pictures into the mood of this article, just as much as the photographers may have cast their scenes in premeditated roles.) 

potsdam_08_fakeruinsTomGalvin.jpgTom Galvin does Potsdam

"Potsdam was an incredibly beautiful city, but perhaps suffered from being too close to Berlin to capture the attention of most travelers. .. [This] shows the colonnade connected to the back of the Sans Souci palace.  Two arcs of columns met at a small pavilion (at left in photo) that faced across to a set of fake Roman ruins.  Fake ruins were a common decoration on German palace grounds as it conveyed a sense of long history to guests."

In this case, the fun is in the photograph being an "authentic document" of a fake, which is again what we actually expect from lots of movies without even acknowledging it, and which hardly even strikes us as being "special" effects anymore. The fabrications (including the corroborating photo) are just more landscaping. Meanwhile, I enjoy the idea that Galvin might mail thousands of copies of this around, with only some of them admitting to what they are showing.

In the genre of "ruins", though, what makes even fakes important is that ruins are sought because they intend to be about places we care about, and it is very acceptable to have pictures of ruins represent the cared-about place even if the picture is not of the place.

Ironically, that ease of arbitrary associations opens the door to the more radical approach to the imagery, which is to not even care about the place, except to say "I like the way it looks." We are extremely hesitant to grant photographers the right to be dispassionate in the circumstances of truly new ruins, yet in the long run, it is editors who keep up the sense of sanctity; most of the pictures can't do it on their own; and once something is no longer in the news, most viewers wouldn't know the difference without being told. (Note that of the pictures shown above, the first three could easily all have been from the same place on the same day.)

In fact, the new back story is more about the level of effort needed by the photographer to "get the picture". Individual pictures of ruins are documentation, if not trophies, of the photographer's performance as the hunter-gatherer.  But, it's also true that avid photographers of ruins rarely stop with an individual picture, and instead they "cover" the ruins with a suite.

(All photos copyright of the associated named photographer.)