Galleries and Exhibitions

In today’s digital age and the constant go, go, go lifestyle that has dominated urban living all around the world, it’s easy to forget to stop for a minute and take time for yourself.

As a photographer and an artist, a gallery or exhibition can easily become your amusement park, your wilderness, your library, your school all rolled into one.

As computer screens become bigger with higher resolution, it can very easily become your window to the world. For me as well. A few years I started to really start to study some of photography’s legends. I’d read blog posts about them, I’d watch old documentaries on YouTube about them. I’d look at their photographs all without leaving the comforts of my home office.

Something happened.

But before we get into that I should preface this with:

I love art galleries. I enjoy going to a gallery to see some of the master painters: Matisse, VanGogh, Dali, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Delacroix just to name a few. I had, at the recommendation of my art history professor, to avoid going to the Louvre, and go to the Musée d’Orsay instead. I loved it. I was also there at a time that wasn’t over run with people. So when a Musée d’Orsay exhibition came to Seoul, it didn’t take much convincing to go.

Photography museums and exhibitions were not as accessible. So when I found that there would be an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, (the photographer I look up to the most) in Seoul, I knew I had to go, and the 3.5 hour drive to get to Seoul wasn’t going to be a factor at all.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Saint Lazare station. 1932

This is where it happened… At the Dongdaemun Design Plaza… An epiphany of sorts. I had always respected and at times been in awe of the paintings that hung in a museum.

Edouard ManetLe déjeuner sur l’herbeen 1863huile sur toile H. 207,0 ; L. 265,0 cm.
@ avec cadre H. 243,5 ; L. 305 cm
musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
©photo musée d’Orsay / rmn

I still remember my jaw literally dropping when I saw  Édouard Manet’s – “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” hanging at Musée d’Orsay. We had studied it in class only weeks before I visited, so it was still fresh in my mind. I saw it in class both on the projection screen and in the textbook. Nothing prepared me for its sheer size of 5.4912 square metres.

The ability to just stand there with the photograph in front of me, no links or web browser tabs, just me and the photograph. It was a calming effect, but it also brought with it a desire to soak up the entire photograph. Not just look at it and walk to the next one. Or scroll down as would be the case in Instagram. The photos were no larger than the full screen that I could produce in my office on my desktop, in fact many of them were smaller. There was just a completely different feeling involved with a physical photograph.

It inspired me like nothing else. I left the exhibition a few hours later with my camera in tow and changed the in camera settings to shoot only in black and white. Before that exhibition, I wasn’t a fan of black and white photos at all. I needed colour. I’d almost go so far as to say I hated black and white photos, and I don’t hate much in this world. Strongly dislike, yes, but hate, no. It single handedly showed me the path to appreciating and enjoying black and white photography.

Exhibitions don’t have to be entirely a visit only excursion. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have my photographs included in a number of fabulous exhibitions all over South Korea as well as Japan.

Which will lead us to our next issue. Thanks for reading.

Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

WARNING: This is not one of those kind of posts…

Instagram, in the beginning, was a curious thing. (When I say “in the beginning” I mean before its purchase by Facebook.) It was one of those things where, it was, to me, “Hey I can take photos with my phone and add these little presets to them.” Nothing more, nothing less. I really didn’t see the point of it all. After all, I was a landscape photographer and I preferred my camera and having no digital filters.

Then everything changed. A photographer by the name of Nick Laham was shooting portraits for the New York Yankees during spring training. He set up in the bathroom, apparently as there wasn’t much space anywhere else. After he finished his “pro” work he pulled out his phone and grabbed shots of the players using the Instagram app.

The photos went viral. Well as viral as they could in 2012. About a month later, Facebook bought Instagram.

Now deals of this kind of magnitude and dollar figure take time, so who knows how long the negotiations were. But one could easily get the idea that the popularity of these shots was the stepping stone to what Instagram has become.

It’s blown up to degrees that I don’t necessarily agree with. The idea of the “influencer” makes be cringe every time I have to see, hear, type, or say the word. With that being said, it is the world that we’ve made and everything that comes with it.

One of the side effects of Instagram is having to make almost everything photogenic (aka Instagrammable). Restaurants used to ban customers who were taking photos of their plates before eating in part because it was annoying the other customers as people would stand on their chairs to get the overhead angle. Some of those same restaurants have now changed their interiors, uniforms, and even chefs who have more artistic presentations to encourage the practice of photographing the meals.

Some restaurants here in Korea are now offering freebies for anyone who snaps a photo and shares it on Instagram, Facebook, Kakao Story, etc. with a list of hashtags. I got a free drink for these two. It also gave me the chance to test out the closed beta test of the new Photoshop Camera app that will be coming soon. (My favourite has actually been the food mode.)

This practice has spilt over into the landscape and travel photography field as well. Tourist locations are setting up Instagram-like frames for people to use as frames for their feeds. Bloggers and magazines alike are posting more and more “The Most Instagrammable Spots (Locations) in (enter city name here)

I get it. People want to be loved. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment. But what level of accomplishment is one actually getting from this? After all, hundreds if not thousands of people are literally lining up to take the exact same “Instagram” shot.

Case-in-point:

This was about 33% of the line-up waiting to take a picture with or in the “Instagram” frame. I didn’t even think about trying to get the whole line in one shot, I didn’t have a wide enough lens nor the software to stitch a panorama together.

From a strictly selfish standpoint, I love them. They herd all of the tourists and influencer-wanna-bes who don’t give a rat’s behind about the history or geography of a place, let alone respecting it enough not to vandalize or damage property because they think it would be a better photo into one place. So it opens up the rest of the area for me to search for other angles that haven’t been photographed yet or as much.

But photography should be about art and creativity. The “Photo Zone” or “Kodak Spot” was bad enough, but these things are sucking creativity out of people. It’s not just these spots, either. It’s Instagram as a whole. The person behind the Instagram account “Insta_repeat” is a genius. One of the things that I find amusing is how some people get so angry in the comments. Clearly (stealing a line from Digital Underground) “the image and the style” is similar if not exact, and there are thousands of them. Do a Google search for “Starfield Library COEX Seoul” or even better, do an Instagram search for “Starfield Library“. How many of the escalator in front of the rounded corner shots can you count? Right? Every time I see a new post with this or some online “magazine” with this shot I want to scream.

It’s a big place. Get around and look. The COEX account actually left me a comment.

But if you really, really, really, must have that escalator with the rounded corner, you can mix that up, too:

Or without the reading man:

The point is there is so much more going on in that space than the escalator. No one can reach the books higher than the 4th or 5th row from the floor anyway, that huge wall is all decoration… sorry.

How people expect to stand out by doing the same thing that many other people are doing blows my mind. It’s one thing to study and research a location before you go, but looking up what is “Instagrammable” and then going to do the same shot, it’s a hard “no” from me. Listing 5 to 10 places that you should go to for that “Instagrammable” shot will never come from me, and I hope that others at least cool down on it.

Everyone has different likes and experiences. What was good for me, may not be your cup-of-tea and vice-versa. But if you like a frame that I’ve published, I’ll be more than happy to tell you where it is or how to get there if you ask me. I’ve given out exact GPS co-ordinates to some of my favourite spots. But I’m not going to make a list, the searching for and finding it on your own is part of the adventure that makes photography so much fun and rewarding.

But hey, my main Instagram account is under 350 followers, I’m probably not one to be giving Instagram advice … but it does lead nicely into the next issue …

So What’s Your Point?

What’s it going to be?

There’s been something on my mind for quite some time. I think it is something that a lot of people need to stop and give a long hard thought about.

I, like many of you, wander around the vast space that is the World Wide Web looking at images that many of you have photographed. I also read the same articles and blogs as you. There’s a chance that I’ve even read yours. I also read a lot of the comments to many of the articles. It’s always interesting to me to see the debate that most articles stir up, usually accidentally.

There’s one topic that isn’t much of a debate, but I’ve noticed a trend that contradicts what many people either think, and definitely say.

Background

Over the last little while, the big mirrorless versus digital single-lens reflex camera debate. Which one was better? Will mirrorless ever replace DSLRs? Are DSLRs dead? Is the mirrorless camera a trend? Surely you’ve seen them, heard about them, and maybe even threw your views into the fray.

As funny as it may sound to you now, for those of us of a certain age, these were pretty much the same questions being bantered around about 20 years ago when the digital camera entered the market and prices started to drop within reach of the avid amateur.

This post isn’t about this argument. I want to bring in the smartphone into the conversation today. There’s no denying the fact that the photographic abilities of today’s smartphone have come a long, long way. I look back at my first device that had a camera-my Sony Clié NR-70- and thought that the photos were good enough for my trip to Mexico instead of bringing a camera. (Unfortunately, I have no idea where it or the photos are now.) Upon my arrival to Korea in 2003, I didn’t see the need for a cellphone. I went my entire first year without a cellphone, instead using that money to buy my first camera, a Nikon F-65.

My second year here, I started to see a need for a phone and bought a second hand one. It was the Samsung V-200. I still have a few files saved from the camera on that phone. At the time, they were good enough for grabbing the spontaneous shot while you were out with friends or that first in-match 180,

My first league match 180. I was so happy.

or a surprise fog over the mountains behind the Olympic Bridge.

Horrible quality by today’s standards for a cellphone. Horrible composition by any standards.

The Gap is Getting Smaller

Today’s smartphones’ cameras and image quality are very good. Can they do the same as a mirrorless or DSLR? As of the date of this post, not yet. Will they ever? Only time will tell. But that gap is much smaller today than it was in 2004 when those photos were taken and Nikon’s 6 megapixel D50 was still a year away from being released.

That gap is so small that I know first hand that National Geographic magazine has published photos taken with phones in their stories. My jaw hit the floor when I was told this bit of information. One of the photographers that I talked to even went so far to say that most of the photos he takes are now done with his phones instead of his camera.

What are you really trying to say?

Photographers are a strange bunch.

Let’s try to figure it out, shall we?

On one side you have: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

On the other side, that same person (not you, but others) will turn around and rip into someone for not having a pro-level DSLR camera to shoot with.

So what is it? The camera doesn’t matter, or it does?

Another hot topic that gets a lot of people’s blood boiling for some reason is when someone writes an article or post about that one non-photographer person who compliments a photo with the comment on the lines of, “Wow, that’s a great photo, you must have an expensive camera.”

I will guarantee that one of the adjoining comments will be, “Wow that was a great meal you must have an expensive stove.” followed by “Wow, that’s a great painting, you must have expensive brushes.” (Which actually falls in a little bit of their own ignorance as much like the camera, the better quality brush, paint and media, the better quality…well you get the idea, but we’ll save that one for a later post.)

For those keeping score, they get upset when someone judges a photo based on the camera, saying that the camera is only a tool, but they get upset when they compliment the fine tool that they have, and they get upset when someone else’s tool doesn’t match the price of their tool.

But that’s not all

This is the thing that confuses me the most…

If the camera is just a tool, and it doesn’t matter what tool or camera you have, why do many people feel the need to post a photo and writing “I shot this with my phone.”

What game are you playing?

It often feels like when someone posts a photo with “I shot this on my phone,” they are doing one of 4 things.

  1. Apologizing;
  2. Showing off, or;
  3. Building an excuse;
  4. Hiding.

At first, when I first started reading this, if felt like it was the photographer’s way of saying sorry for the poor image quality, or it was a shot that needed a telephoto lens but was greatly restricted by the ultra wide angle of the typical phone camera.

Then it dawned on me that some of these photos really didn’t have much wrong about it, and it almost started to feel like some people were writing it to say, “Hey look how good I am. I got this photo with my phone and it’s a lot better than the photo you got with your $4000 camera/lens combination.

Then it got to the point where photographers would use it on a photo that they were proud of and think is a strong photo in composition, light, colour, and interest. But when another person not nearly as enthusiastic about it would comment that something needed to be corrected or changed, it becomes a way of saying “I could have done better if I had my ‘real’ camera.”

Then it turned into a way of saying “Please don’t post any negative comments about any aspect of the photo, my fragile ego can’t handle it.”

The Obsession

There is an obsession with camera gear. I get it. I’m also curious as to how the newest lens or camera can help me. (I’d love to have that new instant wood camera with the bellows in my hands just to play and experiment.) But if gear doesn’t matter: “The best camera is the one you have with you,” then why is it so important to tell other people that you shot it on a phone?

Just Enjoy

At the end of the day, I feel a lot of photographers both the creator of the photograph and the audience of said photograph, need to get past the gear and just appreciate the photograph for what it is… a photograph.