Dan Gerber

Dan Gerber literally and figuratively blurs the line between reality and fantasy in his project, “Playscapes”.  Using a toy camera to photograph his two daughters’ play scenes the project is at once a documentary of a child’s fantasy world while the dreamy softness created by the toy camera emphasizes the fantasy. The children are unaware of their father’s documenting of their play scenes adding to the innocence conveyed in the pictures. Dan presents a very interesting series which incorporates a wonderful technique to strengthen the narrative. As Dan said in his statement: “The juxtaposition of the mood created from innocence fascinates me. These scenes are created, and re-imagined several times per day, and weave a complex strand of emotion. Just as a moment in a photograph, they are swept away to create a new imaginary narrative.”

Tom Wright

Serendipity plays a role in much of photography, however it requires a talented photographer to realize when an opportunity presents itself. In making this picture photographer Tom Wright capitalized on such an opportunity while traveling through Arkansas. Reminiscent of the nostalgic work of illustrator Norman Rockwell, this picture may be taken as a satire on the lifestyle of Americans emphasized visually by incorporating the famous illustrators look. It’s a wonderfully humorous yet poignant picture.

One Billion Eight Hundred Million Reasons My Pictures Suck

or Who Stole The Carrot?

I’m a photographer. I’ve been one for 50 years now. Photography is what I’ve done since I was 12. It’s what I studied in college and received a degree in. I’ve made ads, annual reports, portraits, three books, and numerous mistakes. I’ve taught, mentored and spoke numerous times on photography. I’ve had solo shows worldwide and am in some nifty collections. My peers have awarded me over 100 times for my pictures, and for that I am most appreciative. I never lie, but have been mistaken. Most importantly though, I’ve been able to do what I am passionate about with my life. There, that’s my resume.

I share my resume to help you understand who this tiny essay comes from. That being not a writer, analyst, critic or curator, but rather a practitioner, one who supported his family by his art. As you may imagine, I have some insight and observations garnered from 50 years of photographic history and I make it a point to speak with a lot of folks who have something to do with photography, decision makers who affect our craft like picture editors, curators, gallerists, publishers, critical writers, managing editors and researchers. Some of them I am friends with. Some, maybe not so much….Did I mention I never lie?

This short essay addresses an issue that is infecting our art, one I am quite concerned over and that I regrettably feel will have serious repercussions for the future of the medium. I have always believed in content over craft, but the two are not inseparable as we all know. It’s apparent the magic of the silver image is now relegated to the past, utilized by practitioners who desire the process for presentation of their content, some unfortunately letting the process dictate content. The masters are those who integrate the process into the final image allowing technique to support and enhance the content. I have great respect for those few who accomplish this symphony of blending aesthetics with content. To those I present my kudos and say thank you. You are the keepers of the light.

Unfortunately there are not many of these masters left in our medium. What we do have is an abundance of ill prepared “practitioners” creating a barrage of images presented daily to an apathetic audience, specifically the 1,800,000,000 photographs a day posted to the internet sucking the air out of our craft and creating a visual vacuum. This may be great for Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest, Twitter, and the milieu of other platforms encouraging this visual maelstrom in return for advertising dollars, but not so much for the serious photographer. Unfortunately, this visual barrage of vacuous pictures created a visual apathy which lead to visual atrophy and ultimately the current state of visual illiteracy. Simply put; people just don’t see any more. Oh sure they spend nanoseconds looking at pictures social media platforms, and they look at hundreds if not thousands of pictures a day. But they do not truly see. I don’t blame them, they simply don’t know how to look. They need to be informed, but good pictures are not easily accessible on a smart phone, tablet or computer screen. They may be there, but are well hidden within the 1,800,000,000 other pictures posted that day.

It’s apparent that now the “Medium is the Message”.

Not seeing photographs has become a serious issue for those of us in the “seeing” business. We need trained eyes to assure our existence as viable artists. We now rarely get experienced eyes on our pictures, and the vast majority of those few visually literate viewers we do get are sadly other photographers in search of eyes for their own work. This becomes an incestuous formula for failure. Any economist will tell you the market for your product won’t be your competition. The outlets we had as photographers are also suffering from this blindness. The print media is in it’s death throes because people are now too impatient to flip a page or hold a magazine. Add the fact that the magazine and newspaper experience has diminished because the quality of those media have so drastically declined. Less readership means more cuts and further decline. It’s an accelerating downward spiral towards oblivion for conventional print media if they do not act to set themselves apart from social and internet media. One way to do that is to improve the experience for readers by printing high quality pictures, writing, and design. Make a magazines special newspapers smart.

Journalism and visual documentaries are available on the internet immediately, stacked tens deep and proliferated with poor pictures. This visual void is filled by picture editors selecting content supplied by the masses or, even worse, stock agencies. This practice serves only to visually dumb down the readership. Many gallerists and curators have sacrificed the good for the novel in an attempt to stop untrained eyes long enough to make a purchase. Many gallerists attempt to remain vital by selling bad pictures to the blind, but the good gallerists know they are best served by engaging and educating their clientele. Unfortunately there is little of lasting import to most “novel” work. To that I say “But, the king has no clothes!” I told you about the not lying thing.

So what’s a person in our business of seeing to do? Despair is not an option. I believe we should work towards increasing visual literacy. We need to bring back the magic of our medium and the best way to do that is to set an example and encourage others to do the same. We need to help people see again and foster the interaction and enlightenment which seeing brings. The best way to do that is to only do good work. We should slow down, look longer, post less, post better. We should fight for our craft and the integrity it deserves. We should respect good pictures, the photographers who make them, and those who support good photography. We should be supportive of our peers. Those of us who are more experienced should mentor younger photographers by encouraging them to find their purpose and respect their craft. We should share our passion. We should set the bar higher and learn from our failures. We must persevere. If photography as a viable art form is to survive we must create a new visual literacy. And if you want to truly see, pull up a chair.

David Heberlein

I’ve spent most of my life living in or near small towns. Now I’m an urban dweller (a pedestrian photographer) living in the heart of St. Paul. Despite it’s size, Minnesota’s capitol feels like a small city. The downtown area is compact, accessible, and easy to navigate on foot. Meandering with the camera provides moments of exhilaration, uncertainty, and sadness.

Many downtown buildings have been restored. Many have been demolished and rebuilt. The now deserted building on the left was originally built in 1963 as the Dayton’s Department Store, which became Marshall Fields, which became Macy’s, which closed almost four years ago. The elevated skyway (walkway) to the right provides year round access between buildings, but has sucked the life out of a once vibrant street level scene.

Photographer Todd Hido refers to a the ‘subtle psychology of space’ evident in some photographs- they show what’s visible, but hint at the invisible. This image has multiple meanings to me.  ~ David Heberlein

Sally Davies

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When a photograph combines a strong aesthetic with compelling content it works very well.  This is an outstanding example of doing just that.  The shroud of snow softening the overall warm palette presents a perfect environment to emphasize the point of focus, the aqua wheel chair.  The entire picture is shrouded in a mysterious wonderment compelling the viewer to consider the scenario while embedding it’s visual strength upon our memory.

Photograph © Sally Davies • New York, New York  • www.sallydaviesphoto.com

Hank Hauptmann

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.”  –  Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Street photography relies upon the “decisive moment” as defined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the most famous practitioner of the genre. In this picture the red hijab focuses us upon the woman’s expression leaving little to doubt about her emotional state. The hard cold steel wall can be seen as a symbol of entrapment and impersonal confinement while working as strong visual background. Captured as she enters a beam of light while pushing her child in a stroller this decisive moment allows us to reflect upon the fear and persecution so many people must endure. Most of them women.

Photograph © Hank Hauptmann

Whitechapel, London • www.hankhauptmann.com

Mitch Weiss

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Mystery and symbolism are strong components of a good photograph.  Reminiscent of W. Eugene Smith’s iconic A Walk To The Paradise Garden,  this well composed and lit picture of a child in a dapple of light crouched in the shape of an egg portrays a symbol of youth nestled in a glow of innocence.  The light both protecting and exposing her possibly from what is beyond the fence where we see the trappings of adulthood.  Is she hiding from what is beyond the fence or simply playing? This picture presents us with a strong visual mystery.

Photograph © Mitch Weiss • Boston, Massachusetts © www.mitchweiss.com

Mary Pat Coburn

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Every part of a good picture is important. In this stunning picture of a retired tractor in a farm shed the photographer has created a visually stunning composition using color and light. The warm toned wooden interior is a perfect environment for the faded green tractor and it’s cool toned black tires. What makes this picture special is the information on the left edge of frame placing the tractor on the great plains at a time of agricultural rest as the fields are fallow. The same fields this old tractor has worked so many times. The picture symbolizes the respect and dignity that come with hard work and age.

Photograph © Mary Pat Coburn • West Branch, Iowa

Chehalis Hegner

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Great portraits are difficult pictures to make. They should present the subject in an honest manner, be visually compelling, and interest viewers beyond the subject’s friends and family. A good portrait should also exhibit a collaboration between the photographer, the subject, and the viewer, serving as an introduction of the three. This beautifully made portrait is of the photographer’s stepson wearing her father’s WWII military uniform. By incorporating family heirloom wardrobe the photographer has brought a fourth person to the relationship, her father. This beautiful picture, a true portrait,  speaks on multiple levels in a universal way.

Photograph © Chehalis Hegner • Harvard, Illinois • www.chehalishegner.com