Thursday, January 19, 2012

Called it. Apple's new software is very promising for digital photo books

It's not what they're marketing it as, but Apple's new iBooks author software (free!) looks promising for making digital photobooks—especially multimedia ones. Check it out:

How can you not be excited about this? Yeah, it basically looks like a glorified Keynote, but the possibilities (if you're creative) are amazing. Photo galleries? Video? Seems like just the way for a poor photographer to get their book out there. Sure, it doesn't have the charm of a staple-bound zine in a limited edition of 20 made from photocopies you stole from work, but think of the distribution possibilities. My previous post on this goes into more detail.

Ed Bott on ZDnet says "I have never seen a EULA as mind-bogglingly greedy and evil as Apple’s EULA for its new ebook authoring program." Uh-oh. That doesn't sound good.  What is the problem? Well, let's say you author a book and you want to sell it, but Apple (who reserves the right to approve or not approve your painstakingly crafted masterpiece) says "nope. it's not good enough for us." Well then, too bad. You can't take that book and sell it elsewhere. Yikes! Sounds bad, right? Actually, it's not so bad, if I understand it correctly. You actually can still can sell the content, you just can sell the ibook version of it. I don't think that's unfair. I'm sure Apple doesn't want a bunch of Apple-looking ebooks floating around out there (for sale, free is fine) that don't meet their standard. I have no problem with that.

Ed Bott also points out that Apple won't export to the industry standard EPUB format. That's no surprise to me. I had looked into EPUB when I first got an iPad, but was extremely disappointed to learn that it didn't handle images very well. So, of course Apple doesn't conform. Guess the industry standard might have to catch up. I'm just not seeing a problem, other than the fact that the product will be limited to Apple products (i.e. playing it on iPads but not--I assume--Kindles. I could be wrong on that).

To quote a Seinfeld episode, "it's a story about love, deception, greed, lust and...unbridled enthusiasm." I love it, Apple is (according to Bott) greedy and deceptive, and I'm full of unbridled enthusiasm (lust? not so much. It's software, after all.)

Will I make a photobook soon on it? Well, not until the Sundance Film Festival is over. I'm entering full insanity screening mode. Only two films tomorrow, but FIVE on Saturday. All next week I may be out until 3 a.m., so I'll be lucky if I can get up and teach in the mornings

My first project will likely be adapting a French intro to literature class I wrote. It's great for 2nd/3rd year college level students, the content is killer (If I do say so myself), and I own the copyright (except for images, boo-hoo), so the thought of putting something out there for cheap that the textbook companies had tried to get me to do for them would be so nice.

Anyone out there diving into the iBook author software?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yes, Joerg Colberg, you are a snob.

I'm guessing (a snob's assumption or an understanding of my demographic?) that a good portion of my readers don't know who Joerg Colberg is. Why do I assume this? Because about 7,000 of my visitors in the last month have arrived at my site looking for tutorials about changing background color in Photoshop or getting a bleach bypass effect or other techniques that are (gasp! horror!) associated with the plebeian masses that do mommy blogs, wedding photos, and other things that snobs disdain. Colberg, meanwhile, has a strong following that relates primarily to art photobooks.

Exhibit A: "Presenting A Head With Wings by Anouk Kruithof":

18 seconds in: "...and you've probably all heard of Anouk's work." Sure. Anouk's that Inuit hunter in the 1922 silent film that...what? that's Nanook? Oh. Never mind. I'll just skulk back to my teeth whitening project now.

Exhibit B. quote from his "Are We Snobs?" post:
There are all kinds of ways to think about those books. My favourite approach is to treat them as the equivalent of gateway drugs. If someone is buying a book like Arthus-Bertrand’s Earth from Above isn’t it possible that that person then might be interested in other photobooks?
By those books Colberg means the likes of Anne Geddes or Artus-Bertrand (of Earth From Above)—the kind of books you find in your local Barnes & Noble. Gateway drugs? So Anne Geddes might be a gateway to Anouk Kruithof? I suppose it's possible. Shall we also say that JCPenney's is the gateway to becoming a hipster? Tintin comics a gateway to Proust? It could happen.

Exhibit C. (let me wax academic): "We".
The very question "Are We Snobs?" presupposes a hegemony that risks casting the "other" as a subaltern who at best might profit from a mission civilisatrice...Wait. Where was I? I got distracted by an infomercial about the amazing Robostir. It does the stirring for you!

Oh yeah. Joerg Colberg as snob...
Actually, he's one of my favorite people to read. He is earnest in the very best sense of the word. I love his presentations of photobooks because they allow me to see works I would never otherwise see. I'm amazed at all of the thoughtful posts he manages to put out there. Google the word "conscientious." Colberg comes up as the third hit after Wikipedia's definition of conscientiousness and the dictionary's definition of conscientious. That's pretty much like having Colberg's picture in the dictionary:

[kon-shee-en-shuhs, kon-see-]
1. controlled by or done according to conscience;  scrupulous: a conscientious judge.
2. meticulous; careful; painstaking; particular: conscientious application to the work at hand.
See also Joerg Colberg 
Yes, it's the name of his website, but it also describes his work. Asking "Are We Snobs?" might be the gateway drug for the art community to have some conversations with people who aren't quite ready to spend $150 on this year's most buzzed about photobook: Redheaded Peckerwood. Incidentally, Colin Pantall's post "Introspective, navel-gazing nitpickers" (nudie pics at the head of that link—don't say I didn't warn you) in which Pantall admits that this year's "it" book left him cold, seems to have struck a nerve with some people. It stirred the pot, so to speak. It didn't robo-stir it, but we can always dream. The art world could use a bit of robostirring.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is Apple making the equivalent of "GarageBand" for ebooks? Wild Speculation.

Rumors are flying, as they always do, at "Cult of Mac." This time it's about Apple's big announcement this coming Thursday (Jan 19). Whatever it is, it is supposed to revolutionize education or textbooks or epublishing or...well, I guess we'll see.  Since I'm a professor and have made online courses I am interested in just how revolutionary it will be.  Call me skeptical, but the fact that several major textbook publishers are going to be there makes me think it can't be all that revolutionary. I don't like the textbook industry much. They charge outrageous amounts for mostly boring material. Since I love photobooks, I can't help but think it absurd that a first year French textbook with one star reviews (such as "I whole heartedly regret purchasing this book.") costs the same as a gorgeously printed,  hard cover, slip-case, Steidl, two volume book on Berenice Abbott that has 5 star reviews (like this one: "This is a special book. I was going to give it to my son who is a professional photographer, but selfisness has overcome me and its staying right here in my library"). Which would you rather spend $133 on?

I can gripe about this in good conscience because my students don't pay a dime for my online textbook, which, with podcast downloads and interactive exercises throughout is more user-friendly than most.

But why bring any of this up on a photography blog?

Mainly, because while we are in the wild speculation period, I would like to speculate that maybe Apple's announcement will be some sort of GarageBand for ebooks, and that if it is, maybe it will be something that can really bring photobooks to the iPad.

Right now, anyone can author an ebook, but not a photo ebook. There are just too many limitations on file sizes and formatting. If you want to do a photobook, you need to make it an app—and how many of us can author apps?

What if iBookstores could be filled with self-published photobooks that could be sold for $1.99 but reach a huge audience? I'm not talking about Steidl, but rather about all of those photographers who are lucky to be able to afford a "limited edition of 20" (unless you're also do a larger print run, "limited edition" is usually code for "that's all I could afford to publish.")

Considering how many photographers are running around showing portfolios on their iPads, it's a wonder Apple has come up with something that would allow them to create books they can sell. I would LOVE to have a library of photobooks on my iPad, especially ones I could buy from lesser known photographers for the price of apps. I would LOVE to author a few photobooks and sell them for $1 on an iBookstore.

Maybe the big announcement won't have anything to do with that. Maybe it will just be "ooh. look. textbooks by big publishing houses on your iPad." But until Thursday, I can imagine something better.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A thought from John Szarkowski's lecture on Atget

Atget, Avenue des Gobelins (via Wikipedia)
 Last week I watched the dvd "Speaking of Art: John Szarkowski on Eugène Atget." The production values were complete crap so I was happy to have borrowed it from the library instead of paying the $45 it costs on Amazon. You'd never know that it was a product of the 21st century. The content, however, was first rate—not surprising considering we get to hear a legendary curator talk about a legendary photographer.

Szarkowski had strong opinions on what makes art meaningful. Of Atget, he says :
It is important to remember that we value Atget not because he loved French culture, but because he made original pictures out of that material. Thus, he enlarged our sense of what the world was made of and of what photography might be for.
Contrast that with his comments on Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz took a lot of photos of clouds that ostensibly represented his philosophy of life. Szarkowski was not a fan:
I’ve spent a good deal of time looking at these cloud pictures, and I think it is time for me to admit that I still don’t know what Stieglitz’s philosophy of life was. And I’m really not certain that I should care.
To be fair to Stieglitz, check out this youtube clip and see what you think:


I'm sure Szarkowski could have said something profound about the cloud photos, but he was trying to make a point about self-expression as an artistic goal. He goes on to say:
I might as well also confess that the goal of self-expression seems to me a deeply inadequate artistic goal. It’s not simply that it is too easy. It seems to me that it is virtually unavoidable. Think of your own friends. Which of them, on reflection, has managed to avoid self-expression? (even if sometimes you wish they had)
If self-expression is "deeply inadequate" as an artistic goal, what, then, would constitute a praiseworthy goal? I think Szarkowski's answer to that is at the very end of his lecture when he praises Atget's use of photography:
He [Atget] practiced photography not to express what he knew and felt, but to discover what he might know and feel.
This strikes me as an insightful distinction. If we only use photography to express what we already know and feel, we are greatly limiting what it can do. If, on the other hand, we use it to investigate the world, to examine possible points of view, or to see things we might not otherwise notice, then we move beyond narcissism and into a broader view of the world. This is not to say that we are not expressing ourselves—after all, it's unavoidable. But if we use photos to discover what we "might" know and feel then it might change who we are. My own example of how photography can change a point of view relates to my of moving between Utah and France. I poked fun of my tendency to want Utah to be France back in 2008 with my "Extreme Makeover" project:
 That was around the time I really started to shift my opinions about Utah. Once I had made fun of my own unrealistic expectations of wanting Utah to somehow offer me the same things as France, then I could start using photography to see other possibilities in Utah. Amazingly, by 2009, I was running around taking photos of Salt Lake City like mad just nights before leaving for Paris for a few months. That had never happened to me before.  This reminds me of what Szarkowski (I believe it was him, but I could be wrong) reportedly said to William Eggleston when encouraging him to take photos. Eggleston (as his wife tells it) said that there wasn't anything pretty to take photos where he lived, to which Szarkowski replied "Well, then take pictures of the ugly stuff." That's what I started to do in Utah—not because I was trying to say that Utah was ugly, but rather that I wanted to appreciate Utah on its own terms. And it worked because taking photos finally made me see things I had managed to ignore for years.
Hmm. Maybe this means that I like Paris more because I've taken more photos of Paris. rrright. Or maybe not. Let's not get carried away.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Photo-Eye best of 2011 photobook list

Crime pays. At least as far as photobook topics go. The following all made their way into the best of 2011 lists at Photo-eye bookstore. Last year, there were a lot of cars--especially smashed ones. Is this the year of CI photobooks?

Under House Arrest.
you'd think plants were criminals by the way we use them in domestic situations :)

Redheaded Peckerwood.
 a book about a teenage crime spree. 2nd most cited on best-of lists. A week ago you could buy it for $65, but now it's going for $300 on Amazon. How's that for criminal?

Gomorrah Girl.
 about a girl accidentally killed by mob violence in Italy.

A Criminal Investigation.
 crime scene photography

Believing Is Seeing.  
conspiracy theories and a lot of Abu Ghraib.

Tooth for an Eye.  
 Homicide New Orleans style

People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground.  
 protests, acts of terrorism in Belfast, etc.

 Latin American assassins 

"the hidden meaning of the bloody 20th century"
 Looters in the London riots

Another big trend this year: other people's photos. Whether from Google, police archives, newspaper clippings, or family albums, it seems that everyone is using other people's photos in their books. Will the trend continue in 2012 or will it be that's so 2011?

For the crime-weary, however, you'll be glad to know that the most-cited best-of 2011 book was:
What is Kawauchi's photography about? Well, the publisher quotes the following: "there is always some glimmer of hope and humanity, some sense of wonder at work in the rendering of the intimate and fragile."
Hope? Humanity? A sense of wonder? 
How nice to know that in the year of CI photobooks, hope is still alive.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year 2012: time to (ugh!) assess last year's goals

highbrow/lowbrow Paris 2011 Marc Olivier

The big change last year was that I officially killed the monthly special. For the most part, I haven't regretted it, but there's a tiny chance that I might bring it back. If I look back at what I thought I was going to do during 2011, it was an abysmal failure in all but the overarching goal. First the failure.
  • I planned on doing lots of interviews. I did none.
  • I planned on doing more posts about photo books. I did a few.
  • I planned on making real-life retouch a regular feature. I didn't.
  • I planned on doing micro tutorials. I did a couple.
  • I planned on doing more posts about actual prints and displaying them. I didn't--at least not so much on my blog. On Pinterest, however. I have a board of photo display ideas with 88 pins and 146 followers.
So what did I do? Well, I worked on my overarching goal—the "epic fail" project. I decided that I wanted to publish/display in art venues my photos. I documented my failures and the failures to fail. I started out the year with a feature story in jpg magazine. Then I tried a few contests. I got 3 photos accepted to f-stop magazine and another 3 accepted to a show at the Kiernan Gallery. I also submitted to 2 shows where I didn't get in.

What did I learn?
  1. Submitting to shows is expensive and getting accepted (framing and shipping) is even more expensive. I don't think I can afford success in that area right now.
  2. I questioned my motives for caring about a certain kind of recognition. As a result, I think I care more about doing what pleases me.
  3. Seems contradictory, but I also care more about doing commercially viable work than I did last January. Given the fact that I have commercial representation, I kept wondering why I spent more time trying to get into galleries (and spending money) and less time sending out work that could end up in homes (and actually earning money). Not that I have to choose, but I was ignoring the latter for no good reason.
Last thing from last year: I started a movie blog with some friends but realized that I don't have time to commit to it. Maybe I'll do a few posts during the Sundance Film Festival, but I think I'd rather just do a short critique via Pinterest or something.

Which brings me to the current obsession: Pinterest. It's very addictive and has been a great source of inspiration. My blog + my pinterest boards are a lot better for me and anyone following me than just the blog. I pin about books, tutorials, products, interviews, etc. If you follow my blog and don't already follow me on Pinterest, you should really check it out.

What about 2012?
The long term survival of any non-commercial 1-person blog depends on how useful it is to the person writing, so it's all about adapting or dying. My plan is to keep it honest. In other words, to post about what I'm interested in and what I'm pursuing. Like my "about me" section says, I'm a "distractable dilettante"(i.e. I like to dabble and, unlike most, I see that as a positive thing). So this will likely mean:
  • more posts about photo books I'm reading
  • a variety of projects
  • an occasional tutorial
  • another attempt at making "real life retouch" happen
I'm teaching another photography class this semester, so I'll post about it and share links to some of my students' work.

Since my overarching goal last year was the one success out of all of my plans, I'm going to set a new goal for 2012: epic success. Why not? I'm going to experiment with the business side of things. Unabashed commerciality. Shameless optimism. Let's see how that goes.