Sunday, February 6, 2011

Musings on the " New York Times effect" and the world of photoblogs

While I was wandering around the house brushing my teeth tonight (peripatetic tooth brushing=deep thoughts, no cavities, and the occasional dribble of foam down your shirt), I started thinking about the RSS feeds from the photoblogs I read and how they relate to a film I saw at Sundance. The film, "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times," is a must-see documentary about, among other things, how traditional newspapers try to adapt to an evolving media environment. In one of several scenes featuring NY Times columnist David Carr in all his cut-through-the-BS glory, a panel of journalists and bloggers duke it out over their relevance and place in 21st-century society. The arguments are predictable: The blogger accuses the newspapers of out of touch elitism and the newspapers accuse the bloggers of being parasitic narcissists. During the exchange, David Carr pulls up a printout of a popular news aggregator. The printout has large thumbnail images from a variety of sources, each image representing a popular story. "It's a great site!" Carr says, "You should check it out." He then holds up the same printout, this time with any image corresponding to a newspaper-sourced story cut out. He peeks through the empty window of the now-eviscerated page at an audience that bursts into applause. End of debate. Eat that, blogosphere! It's the kind of brilliant rhetorical gesture that makes good movies.

The fact is, people have been parasitically dependent on the Times long before the internet. People that study the flow of news discovered years ago that page one of the Times suddenly becomes news everywhere else a day or two later. The phenomenon was given its own name: the New York Times effect.

Read the "SongMeanings" site commentators attempting to decipher the Bee Gees lyrics:

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I'm a woman's man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm, I've been kicked around
since I was born.
And now it's all right. It's OK.
And you may look the other way.
We can try to understand
the New York Times' effect on man
Yeah. I never knew those were the lyrics either.

But indecipherable falsetto disco aside, I think the "New York Times' effect on man" has been amped up by blogs. It might be the "Design Sponge" effect or the "Good Tutorials" effect or whatever, but my RSS feed is clogged up with the same stories, the same reviews, and the same trends. It's like a pool of information made up of backwash. (OK, that was bad.) I know this is turning into a rant, but it's really been getting on my nerves. Why was everyone suddenly in love with polaroid once it started to die? Why is found photography suddenly such a find? Why the love of lomo? the passion for cheap plastic cameras? Zeitgeist or laziness? Sometimes, trends just emerge from some Jungian collective unconscious. But then, sometimes they just come from a complete lack of conscious engagement with oneself. Not that there's anything wrong with loving yellow hues and lens flare or whatever. It's just that asking yourself what you want to photograph and how you want to photograph it might lead to more heartfelt, honest photography. To quote a slightly more recent song:
Say what you say,
Do what you do
Feel what you feel,
As long as it's real.
Now, the last thing I want to do is cloister myself off from what's happening in the world of photography. But the multiplication of the same stories and the same styles can hypnotize me if I'm not careful. Looking at my own tastes and interests is an ongoing project for me. And I think it's worth a little meditating. Even it is while brushing my teeth.


Lucy Call Photography said...

I appreciate your rant. . . or meditating thoughts. I especially liked the last few lines about doing what you want. Some good advice from a seasoned photographer not too long ago followed that same idea. "Follow your instincts in your own work—that makes it yours and not a copy of what ever seems fashionable at the time."