Play them off, pleeze!

June 15, 2009

Look3

The close of Look3 last night left many images, people and conversations lodged in my psyche. The 7 hour ride home today left me with some time to digest. A few of the things that I burped up included these pleasant memories:

  • Martin Parr’s talk about photography, creativity and innovation
  • Gilles Peress and the concept of Ambiguity
  • Philip Toledano for his 3 bodies of work sketched in quick and entertaining succession
  • Simon Bruty’s talk about luck and preparation and sports. Sports? uh-huh.
  • Yolando Cuomo Studio’s Paper Cinema. Leave it to a pair of book designers to create one of the most creative multimedia events of the week.

Chaskielberg

I was also pleasantly surprised by the BURN Magazine grant to to Emerging Photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg for his project The High Tide. Wow, work that is truly fresh and exciting gets rewarded? My hope is renewed, if just for a little while. Thanks, David.

For the grand finale, I was looking forward to the “Works”, multimedia pieces “showcasing some of the most current photography projects.”

The evening program included three wonderful and stimulating projects:

rax_is

These ranged from a simple, straightforward but extremely well crafted visual story with music and sounds to a very sophisticated narrative that left me breathless to a mind blowing seemingly breathing, living multimedia triptych that was like a very bad nightmare–but in the best way.

As for most of the rest of the multimedia last night, the only image that came to my mind was Play Them Off Keyboard Cat. And the sooner the better.

My second big take-away from the festival was about storytelling. “Storytelling” is the buzz word for everyone these past few years but it seems that only people from the United Kingdom really seem to comprehend what it means, at least at Look3 this past week.

As my colleague Jessica explained it to me on the long drive home, Americans pretty much think they themselves are the story, that anything they say or do or happens to cross the very shallow threshold of their attention span is interesting to someone else.

Perhaps it’s because it’s illegal to say to someone of any age: “That is boring” or “You are not the winner,” that American’s think that anything that pops into their mind is as fascinating to everyone else as it is to them. It is not. You are not the star of the show. Play Them Off.

Photographers so often think that because they’re talented image makers, they’re going to be equally good at things like writing and voicing narration. There are legions of talented and award winning people who are very good at those things. You are not. Play ‘dem Off .

Telling a story and engaging an audience that is not your family or friends does not include taking a pile of your very excellent images and dropping them onto a stolen pop song and expecting them to have any cohesion or power. They do not.

Contrary to your belief, your belly button is not the most interesting thing onstage. Look, I love you already and your images can tell me a story. But you have to work at communication else, Play YOU Off.

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Look3The third Look3 a festival of the photograph founded by National Geographic photographer Nick Nichols and Jessica Nagle comes at an interesting time for photography. With newspapers and magazines losing subscriptions and every photographer I met telling tales of diminishing assignments and struggling for survival, it seems like a great chance to explore where photography can go next.

So I was particularly excited to see the Shots show at the open air pavilion at the end of the pedestrian mall in charming Charlottesville, VA where the festival is held. This was all about multimedia, and trumpeted as “work from emerging and internationally recognized photographers.”

and there was some mighty fine work and presentations, including:

Michael Wolf’s Transparent City,
Christian Ziegler’s Art of Deception,
Saiful Huq Omi’s Bangladesh,
Alejandro Chaskielberg’s High Tide,
Andrew Cutraro’s Out Yonder
and the merciful relief of Alex Prager’s Big Valley.

But at the end of 2 hours, I came away overwhelmed from that distinctly American desire to confuse giving people too much crap the better option over smaller more thoughtful bites of quality.

So for a festival of three’s, I offer my gallery of too’s:

  • too much volume. YEAH!! DISTORTEDAUDIO!!! YEAHHHHH!!!!!
  • too many pictures. Thank god for the 4 minute limit
  • too much self importance, visually and in narration, without showing me why
  • too many things I’ve seen before in terms of style and approach
  • too few surprises
  • too many wide angle pictures following by more wide angle pictures
  • too little desire to communicate understanding.

One big surprise was the amount of stolen popular music. It’s astounding that photographers, an artistic community that values ownership and rights to creative work would baldly rip off other artists, often without credit and most probably without permission. A colleague suggested we should have a music festival where all of these images were shown onstage without permission and without credit or payment. Any objections?

But if you’re going to steal, be bold so my vote for the best use of stolen music goes to Michael Rubenstein for his witty use of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On’ with his photos of Mumbai Sperm Banks. For a moment we got to laugh .