The online world is mostly fake. A facade if you will. People, brands, organizations, leaders and the rest of our flesh and blood horde pretend to be the most likable version of themselves in an attempt to gain following. When online life became an option, most photographers went all in. Historically, an insecure and egotistical lot, the online world wrapped around the photo world like a warm glove. The kind of glove you find on the ground in a park where nefarious activities take place. Don’t lie, we’ve all seen this glove then felt the death shiver down our spine. Find a happy place. Find a happy place.
As the years tick by, the all out assault on reality takes on a greater intensity. News media realized they didn’t have to broadcast for the entire viewing audience. They realized they could thrive by serving only a tiny sliver of the audience by finding out what that sliver enjoyed then feeding them a nonstop diet of that one dish. Our education system rewrites history to satisfy deranged parents and political parties and our religious figures get caught stuffing the walls of their home with cash.
Social outlets like Instagram provide the narcissist with endless opportunity. Things like inflated ego, lack of empathy, need for attention, repressed insecurities, and nary a boundary that can’t be crossed. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Does this remind you of anyone you know? Thought so. Platforms like Twitter work best for the passive aggressive narcissist. Posting images with understated and self-deprecating captions. Downplaying their incredible travel, “my fourth airport this week,” or posting “Twitter fodder” style content images that ping off the masses. (Photoshopped nature?) Or how about the pathetic bait posts now employed by even seasoned snappers who will do ANYTHING to gain whatever pat on the back they can find. “What are you shooting this weekend?” Good God people. Where does it end?
The internet itself does provide an incredible amount of relevant, pertinent and non-biased data. Anyone with an interest in birds knows this rather well. Add another topic to the mix and you will find copious amounts of straight dirt. There is a wonderful aspect of the net. It’s just when humans direct the lens upon themselves when we get in trouble. Photography is a wonderful thing. The online world of photography is the minefield mentioned about, while the reality based world of photography, here on Earth, can be quite rewarding. Fact vs fiction if you will.
Perhaps what I refer to is pace. When we slow our pace, take our time and create with history in mind we immediately fall from the grasp of the online algorithm. The online world is an insatiable beast. There simply isn’t enough content in the world to fill the pipeline. Let me state this again in case you were trying to multitask, which by the way, is a physiological impossibility but something the online world claims to have mastered. Anyone familiar with the Orphan Works Bill of a few short years ago? If you create for a living and don’t know how close we came to all out thermonuclear destruction, well, now is your chance to play catch up. In short, artists owning their copyright doesn’t work for the global data pipeline. Copyright slows things down and we just can’t have that. And when I say “we,” I mean Google. And others like Google.
Books reflect the pace in which I am referring. The “good” pace if you will. Not perfect, not always the right pace, not the only game in town but a very important piece of the creative puzzle. The people you see in the image above are at a book fair in Paris. There is even a famous Magnum photographer in that image. Look at that crowd. And look at those tables. And most importantly, look at those books. Each one of those books is like a punch to the neck, a kick to the groin, a spray of lemon to the eye. Books don’t happen by accident. Books are expensive. Books, historically, don’t sell. Photography books in particular, again historically, REALLY don’t sell. So why does anyone do them?
They do them because books are a representation of thought. Undiluted, long-form thought, not to mention hunger because few people are asking us to make them. You have to want it. Really want it. Books are emotional AND physical. Books confront. You must touch them, fondle them and turn the pages. Books smell. They age and decay, like us. They yellow and fade and crackle and break when the temperatures and coagulation materials fail. Books are imperfect. But books have a chance at remaining forever. In our minds.
Most likely, every single person reading this site, granted that’s not many people, are haunted by a book or two. Might be fiction or nonfiction. Might be a fairytale or a front line recap. A book taps into our mind and forces us to create the visual. The author plays us, sets the table then gets out of the way. This applies to “wordy” books and it also applies to illustrated books. Books take time and focus and energy and palettes of money and are the antithesis of the online facade. Books take phony out to the woodshed and do terrible things to it. Rightly so.
When you see a book on a table you must realize the number of hands and minds responsible. And you must understand the cost. Does a facade book slip through from time to time? Yep. Luckily, most of the time they are outed and recoil into the ego chamber. The smoke from the chimney of bad books can be seen for miles. When I see an image like the one above I feel relief and happiness. Relief that so many others live for the printed page, but also that so many people continue to make the effort. Creating a book means you can’t spend your days and nights in a perpetual state of self-promotion. You actually have to do the work.
Doing the work takes time and skill. There is failure and financial issues. There are hiccups, hidden fees and hellacious steps that require patience. The book is ballast to our manufactured reality. Walk the stacks at your local library. Stepping over the unhoused, the lonely and those possessed by the book. Proof. Evidence that these bound beauties fulfill something in us. Ironically, we might not be able to put it in words but when we close our eyes the playground of emotion and memory flood back to surround us in ways we can’t escape.
First: how are you and your ribs? Are you getting to feel better? I can remember the last time I had a bike crash (worst one about 25yr ago) that the pain got progressively worse the first few days to a week. Back then I wore braces. The original task was to get my teeth straight, but I still thank those braces for holding on to my two front teeth when making a head roll over my handlebar.
Second: when I read the words Twitter and Birds underneath eachother, I had to think (and tip you) about Jojan, a Dutch woman who paints, sketches and draws Dutch wild life. Mainly birds, foxes etc. I bought a print from her where all common garden birds from The Netherlands were on. I love that print. I think you might enjoy her work, and if not it doesn’t really matter as well. But that thought surfaced out of the blue. https://twitter.com/JojanTekent
Third: I’d love to hear you ramble about the changes that the publisher of Dahl books made. Do you agree, disagree or do feel indifferent? I feel like it fits the same page as the fragile souls that depend on validation in the online world. The toxic narcissist environment where it is second nature to feel offended first, and think second.
I’m healing. Able to run and ride once again, so things are looking up. Thanks for asking. There are SO many great illustrators when it comes to birds. I am so jealous. If I had that talent I wouldn’t touch a camera again. As for Dahl, I had to look it up. It’s the era we live in. “Sensitivity” readers. Good God. And there are holes in what they left in and what they did not. We deserve to implode. Everyone is pissed about something.
Actually, about the first thing I noticed in your picture was Mr Parr, tucked away in plain site, hard left; struck me as kinda apposite, considering his early interests…
There he is, scouring for a score.
Pre-Covid…appears to be pre-smartphone too. It now seems odd not to see everyone staring at a screen.
Books are confrontational. You can’t look at one and look at your phone. Its’ brilliant.
I’m currently reading a couple of used Japanese photo books from the 1970s about an obscure valley route that a photographer walked years ago. He walked the route for decades, shooting film of course, and published years later. It’s difficult to find any of the photos online and even the books are hard to come by at a reasonable price.
It makes the whole experience far more valuable than seeing stuff online.
Old books are so great. And there is an endless supply. I can’t believe what our local library has.
I definitely agree with your viewpoint on the narcissistic nature of social media. I’m getting tired of seeing people setting up fake engagement posts, hanging out for a bit and then ghosting the rest. All in the name of stroking an ego.
Books hold value because, like you said, they take effort. They take effort to curate, create and the willingness to put it out there. Not, throw a grenade into a room and hope you get some collateral damage.
Thanks Brandon. Social is gross. Harder and harder for me to engage with in any way. But yet it still seems to be everywhere.
Not everything belongs in a gallery, on a wall, not everything belongs in a book. Seeing things online is sometimes the only way most common folk can see interesting work, and yes, there is a great deal that isn’t particularly interesting or unique online. Also, I have more photo books than I need right now, and I love the ones I have, but purchasing more, as expensive as they are becoming, just doesn’t make sense in my life. I’ll probably self publish again in the future in my crude cheap way, give them away to friends, but publishing a legacy “real book” is another thing that makes no financial sense. The practical legacy of books may be us burning them to keep warm.
It all depends. Books make careers, even to this day. So a legacy book can result in marvelous things. None of them make financial sense in themselves really. Most lose money but what they can lead to far outweighs the cost. Sometimes even if a photographer only places one or two books. Photoeye is filled with small, one-off books now. Far less expensive and frankly often more interesting than the bigger books. And to your point, tons of shit books are made each year. That’s been the case since the invention of the printing press but occasionally a stellar little number slips through. I don’t buy photobooks anymore either, at least not that often. Living in a van and traveling so much makes it a mute point.