Some photographers want to buy equipment. This is what I want to buy

No, it’s not beads I want to buy. This is just a pic of gratuitous colour from my Flickr stream to brighten what would otherwise be a very dull blog post. There’s another gratuitous picture a bit further down, but it has a much better caption.

Flickr is for sale, according to this PetaPixel article. I want to buy it. I don’t have the money. If you, or anyone you know, has a spare few million US dollars lying around, (or some shiny, colourful beads that will impress the sellers) please let me know in the comments section below.

Or, if you are a banker or (ad)venture capitalist who could be interested in this little project,  you can also leave a note in the comments section.

Just for the record, Yahoo acquired Flickr in 2005 for a measly $25 000 000 (a paltry sum considering they paid a whopping $1 billion dollars for Tumblr in 2013! Tumblr is also in need of a major overhaul to regain its lost lustre, but at one time it was the fastest growing site on the Internet!)

I’m quite serious about this. Unless I can get my hands on the best photo-sharing site on the ‘Web, someone else will get their grubby little paws on it and they’ll just screw it up because they don’t understand what makes Flickr great. Eventually, it will just wither and die.

What Flickr needs at the helm is someone who not only loves photography, but also loves the Internet in general, social networking in particular, and Flickr most of all. I’m all of those. I have loads of ideas to make Flickr even better than it is right now. Not the kind of things people hate, the kind of things Flickr users have already said they want, and some things that will make it the world-beating photo site it should be.

Actually, if I was Marissa Mayer I’d keep Flickr and just appoint me as CEO. Why sell something that, with me as head honcho, will become a massive money-spinner without making users pay any more than they do right now? To paraphrase a controversial political campaign of recent weeks, I want to “Make Flickr Great Again.”

A workshop
With a bit of tinkering, Flickr will regain its once-preeminent status as the BEST place for your photos on the web. The secret lies in knowing what to fix and what to leave alone. Oh, and good marketing, too.

Actually, Flickr has been improving by leaps and bounds in the last couple years, but marketing for the service has been lacklustre, to say the least. Good marketing is vital for the success of any business, it’s not just something one tacks on to the product and hope it works. I’m no marketing slouch, but I also have access to some of the finest marketing brains on the planet, men and women who would love nothing better than to get involved in an exciting project like this because it’s a reputation-maker of note.

(If Yahoo wants to throw Tumblr into the deal as well and make me CEO of that,  I’ll fix both sites for the price of one. I cannot be any fairer than that!)

If you want to see some more of my gratuitous photography…

Where else would I be?


PetaPixel Continues their Anti-Flickr Tirade

Urgent Update!

Since publishing this post, I note that PetaPixel has now published a counter viewpoint. Here’s a link to the article, written by Thomas Hawk: In defense of Flickr: 8 Reasons I’m Sticking Around My thanks go to Thomas Hawk for writing the piece, and also to PetaPixel for publishing it, restoring somewhat my faith in the site. I’m not in any way suggesting that my criticism of the two most recent PetaPixel anti-Flickr posts has influenced their decision to post the Thomas Hawk  rebuttal – in all likelihood they probably don’t even know my little blog exists.


Below is my own response to the Allen Murabayashi piece that appeared earlier today, written before I saw the Thomas Hawk piece on the same subject.


PetaPixel is on the warpath. Their target is Flickr.

Wielding the hatchet this time is Allen Murabayashi, chairman and co-founder of the online portfolio site, PhotoShelter, in an article entitled: Flickr’d Out: The Rise and Fall of a Photo Sharing Service.

Given Murabayashi’s background, it’s hardly surprising, though unfortunate, he’d want to trash Flickr (or any opposition photo site, for that matter), even though both sites appeal to very different market niches.

photoshelter home screen
A portion of the PhotoShelter home page. Obviously, focused as it is on the professional market, the site appeals to a very different demographic than that of Flickr, so why chairman and co-founder Allen Murabayashi feels the need to denigrate the long-standing photo-sharing site is something of mystery…but perhaps not.

My gripe is not really with Murabayashi, it’s with PetaPixel, who publish nonsense like this uncritically and with no counterpoint or alternative view.

Obviously, I don’t have any say in PetaPixel’s editorial policy, but I feel that a site that claims to promote photography in general, should be a little more circumspect in their attempted demolition of a venerable and much-loved photo-sharing site like Flickr.

Flickr has been around since 2004, making it one of the oldest social networks on the Web. Many loyal Flickr users have been with the site almost since inception. I’ve had an account with the service since early 2007, and a paid account (called Pro) since 2008.

Nevertheless, the site has had its share of problems over the years, particularly since the Yahoo buy-out in 2005.

The World Wide Web is a strange place. A “darling” site one week is excoriated the next. Yahoo was once one of those “darling” sites. Then it wasn’t. Google came along and swept all before it.

Since then, one feels, Yahoo has struggled to find a relevant place for itself.

Flickr was largely left to fend for itself and the site no doubt suffered from a lack of development, particularly as newer sites with better interfaces and slicker layouts gained traction. But Flickr underwent a major revamp in 2014, a process that is continuing as we speak.

As part of this revamp, Flickr announced a huge one terabyte of storage space to all free account holders, and unlimited space to paid account holders.

One-freakin-terabyte! Do you have any idea how big that is? Let me illustrate. According to Flickr, I have 20 619 photos loaded on the site. Admittedly, most of these pics are produced with older equipment that doesn’t produce the pixel-chomping image size of current cameras. Others are scans from low-end scanners that also produce images in an easy-to-digest size. Even so, you would expect over 20-thousand images to take up a sizeable chunk of server space. And it does. 48.46 GB to be precise – less than 10% of the 1 TB allotted space at my disposal if I had a free account!

This alone makes Flickr the absolute best bargain, photographically speaking, on the entire Internet.

Even if you never make any of your pictures available for public viewing on the site, even if you never participate in any Flickr community activities, even if you aren’t interested in any of the social aspects of the site, Flickr is a place you need to be. If just for that cloud storage.

So what do you get for free at Murabayashi’s PhotoShelter site? A 14-day trial, that’s what. When your 14-day trial runs out you start coughing up. (In the interests of openness and fairness, I’ve just signed up for a free PhotoShelter trial account, to learn a little more about the service.)

Also, contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not opposed to PhotoShelter either. I firmly believe there’s a place for everyone on the ‘Net. It really comes down to defining your audience and going after it. PhotoShelter is very squarely and unequivocally aimed at professional photographers.

“Experience more than 100+ features specifically developed for professional photographers” and “Exceptional tools that simplify how you take care of business, from upload to sales.” are just two of the come-ons displayed in boldface headlines on the site.

The basic PhotoShelter package will set you back US$96 (billed annually) or US$119.98 per year (billed monthly @ $9.99). This buys you a grand total of 4GB cloud storage. Given today’s large camera chips it ain’t gonna take you long to use up all that space (especially if you upload RAW), and then you’ll no doubt want to upgrade your account accordingly.

If so, there are two options open to you; the mid-price range at $25 – 30  p/m (100GB cloud storage), and the “Unlimited” package at $45 – 50 p/m (unlimited cloud storage.) By contrast, unlimited cloud storage at Flickr will set you back US$39 per year, (or a measly $3,25 p/m).

Of course, storage space shouldn’t be the sole determinant of where you place your pictures on the ‘Web. There are many other things to consider, especially if your livelihood depends on your pictures. And I’m sure PhotoShelter’s 80 000 users (according to their homepage) are delighted with the service. The portfolio design options look pretty good, and there are some big name photographers there, like Joe McNally. But, it turns out, Mr. McNally also maintains a Flickr account! He hasn’t made any photographs available for public viewing yet, so he’s either using it purely for storage, or maybe it’s just for family snaps, or maybe someone else set up the site for nefarious purposes.

But regardless of who does or doesn’t maintain an account on PhotoShelter, there’s really no good reason for the chairman and co-founder to post a petty, whining, “obituary” about his possibly-longed-for demise of a competitor(?) site.

Ironically, Murabayashi does praise two other sites in his article: Google + Photos and Picasa. The problem, as he himself notes, is that they are both defunct. For a site that’s currently alive and kicking he recommends the “swell consumer tool named Google Photos”. That’s fine and good. I also recommend Google Photos, particularly if you want your pictures to show up in Google image search results (although obviously you will still have to optimise your pictures manually to get results – SEO doesn’t happen automatically no matter what site you use.) But in recommending Google Photos, I don’t trash other photo sharing and/or storage sites.

And just what kind of file storage do you get with Google Photos? Here’s what Google tells me:

High quality (free unlimited storage) Great visual quality at reduced file size.

Yep. “Unlimited” storage, but your pictures are compressed. Of course, if you don’t want your images compressed, you can always buy more storage. For instance, 1 TB will cost you US$10 per month, or $120 p/a if my maths is correct. Compared to 1 TB free? Looks like Flickr is still the better deal.

As I’ve said before, there’s a place for everyone’s pictures on the ‘Web, even on [gasp!] Facebook (often trashed by photographers, but properly understood and used by others).

As I have also said in this post, it’s understandable for Murabayashi to hold the views he does with regard to Flickr. But publishing those views on a popular, public,  photo reportage site is just plain bad marketing. Marketing 101 suggests you don’t knock your competitors. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of potential customers who actually appreciate the slated competitor.

But PetaPixel  is simply without excuse. If  they are just chasing clicks with articles like this, they should perhaps consider the wider ramifications of what they publish. Do they really want to see a site like Flickr vanish into cyberspace never to be heard from again? Regardless of their answer to that question, they should at least give Flickr the right of reply, or, failing that, publish blog posts like this that provide a counter opinion.

Finally, I think Flickr could quite happily say, in agreement with Mark Twain, “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

DISCLAIMER: I am not employed by, nor derive any income from, Yahoo, Flickr or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates. But obviously,

I hope to see you there soon!

Oh, and you’ll find Thomas Hawk’s brilliant Flickr page right here.

Hey, PetaPixel, what’s with the Flickr-bashing?

flickr home page
The best place on the Internet for your photographs.

Geez! Hardly has the virtual ink on my previous post dried when this shrill, Flickr-bashing post from Peta Pixel comes along to add to the noise.

The piece, from people who are supposedly photography lovers and who really should know better, also bemoans the the fact, like the Wired article I mentioned in my previous post, that the Flickr Uploadr app for desktop and mobile devices is now being made available only to paid Flickr members.

Is this the end of the world? Hardly. Flickr users with a free account still get a pretty nifty in-site upload interface that offers both drag-and-drop and file-search options, with multiple file upload capabilities. In other words, if you haven’t been making use of the Uploadr app, you won’t notice any difference in getting your pictures onto the site.

upload interface
Uploading photos to Flickr is as easy as it ever was.

One of the things that really irritates me about the Peta Pixel piece is the headline:

“Don’t Trust ‘Free’ Photo Hosting Sites, or: The Problem with Flickr”.

Peta Pixel is being somewhat disingenuous in singling out Flickr in this way. In reality, Flickr has never been an entirely free service. Sure, there has always been a free component to it, but everyone knows you derive maximum benefit by actually paying for it – just like many other services on the web, including the paid services mentioned in the Peta Pixel hatchet job. What’s more, Flickr is much more generous to its free subscribers than any other photo hosting service I know of.

Another contentious statement in the piece is this bit of nonsense:

“Right now it almost feels like nobody really uses Flickr much anymore (it was probably as popular as Instagram around 5-10 years ago). Most people use Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.”

Does the writer of the piece actually live on Planet Earth? Flickr has millions of active members with a database of billions of photographs. While Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat may well have their places, they serve different needs. They don’t do, nor can they do, what Flickr does so well.

In all fairness, Flickr did appear to be losing relevancy a few years ago. Facebook’s improved photo display interface, the great photo handling capabilities of G+, the arrival of Instagram and, to a much lesser extent, 500px all seemed to be stealing Flickr’s thunder.

But in 2014 Flickr received a major overhaul. As result, far from “Nobody really uses Flickr any more”, I’ve noticed a definite surge of newer accounts springing up in my contacts list, as well as many returning members who I haven’t seen in awhile.

One can possibly understand some petulant geeks at Wired magazine throwing a bit of a tantrum at the loss of a previously-free Flickr feature (even if they never used it – we just don’t know).

But Peta Pixel is a freakin’ photography site and should know better.

Instead of trying to drive prospective members away from Flickr, they should be encouraging them to join! Ye gads! Peta Pixel even runs its own Flickr group (which I’ve just joined 🙂 ). That’s right. It’s been running since 2009 and there are currently 106 342 photos posted there, although that number is set increase slightly as soon as I’m done working on this post.

Oh, and here’s a cool little piece of info I found on the group’s main page:

“Quick tip – Photographs added to our group pool are displayed on!”

So if you want your Flickr pictures to get a little more of that good ol’ Interwebs luurve, you know what to do.

Finally if you want to sign up for a free (or a paid) Flickr account, you can do so here. If you want to share your pictures with the world at large, you simply cannot do better than Flickr, regardless of what Wired, Peta Pixel, or any other petty naysayers may tell you.

DISCLAIMER: I am not employed by Flickr, Yahoo or any of their affiliates, nor do I have any financial interest in any of their companies.
<p style="text-align:center;"Naturally, it goes without saying…

You should be, too.

Is it Really Time to “Give Up” on Flickr? Not so Fast, Wired…

According to an article that appeared in Wired magazine’s online edition today, Flickr is dead.

This came as a bit of a shock to me as I was busy (coincidentally) preparing a different article to this one, a post extolling the many benefits of the long-standing photo-sharing site.

Just so that you are absolutely clear, I want to say upfront that I am a big, big, fan of Flickr. I first signed up for a free account in 2007, and about a year later I upgraded to a paid (what Flickr calls “Pro”) account. Flickr is the only online photo service I pay for, although I have free accounts with a couple of other photo networks (I like to check things out, okay?).

Flickr does a better job than any of them. So what’s got Wired so riled up about the service. Well, Flickr has just announced a couple of changes to its service. One of these means the Flickr uploader app is now only available to paid subscribers.

camera roll sample
Pictures from yesterday and today automatically uploaded from my phone. They appear in the new Camera Roll section from where they are easily accessible. The eye symbol on the top left image indicates that the picture can be publicly viewed, while the lock symbol on the other pics indicates they are “Private”, i.e., they cannot be publicly viewed until I change the setting.

The uploader scans whatever device its installed on for photographs and automatically uploads them to your Flickr account. These pictures are hidden from public view until you decide otherwise. I’ve had it installed on my desktop almost since it was launched about a year ago and it’s uploaded close to 20 000 pictures from my hard drive and another external USB drive. It also automatically uploads pictures from my phone without me having to do anything.

Eventually I had to deactivate the desktop uploader because of bandwith issues. But fibre is coming to our neighbourhood (hopefully next month) and then it’ll be all-systems-go again until every last picture is safely stored in the cloud!

With a free account you get 1 terrabyte of storage! That’s far, far more than any other photo hosting platform gives you. But, with a paid account I get unlimited storage. Not that I’ll ever need it. Right now, with those 20 000+ photos I’m still only using about 48 GB of space.

flickr storage used graphic

But Flicker is much more than just a storage service. It’s also a great social network and photo sharing site. After all, that’s why it was started in the first place. Regardless of your particular photographic affinity, you’ll find a group (or groups) where you can not only display photographs, but engage in lively debate as well. Flickr’s dynamic group dynamics is one of the things that keeps legions of Flickr-ites hooked to the site.

One of the things that surprised me about the Wired article was the number of Flickr fans who immediately sprang to its defense. This was a real joy to behold because, usually, when Flickr announces any changes the forums are full of people predicting its immanent demise. I guess it’s a case of “hometown syndrome” – I can say what I like about where I live, but woe betide any outsider who bad-mouths the neighbourhood.

To make matters worse, Wired ran another article titled How to Get Your Photos Off Flickr (and Where to Put Them)! I can think of a few places I’d like to put the article.

So, should you follow Wired’s ill-considered advice and ditch Flickr? On the contrary, there’s never been a better time to enjoy it. If you love your photography but you’ve never had a Flickr account, do yourself a huge favour and go get one a.s.a.p. If you are a member but haven’t checked it out for awhile, it’s definitely time to re-acquaint yourself with the site.


Well, Is Black and White Photography Just A Gimmick?

flea market cutlery shot illford c41
Cutlery in a flea market in Cannes. Shot on Illford XP2, a B+W negative film made for .processing in C41 colour chemicals.

Click on images for larger view

No less an authority than Allen Murabayashi, Chairman and Co-founder of Photoshelter, posted an article on his site’s blog posing this very question. I was somewhat surprised when I saw the title of the article, and at first I dismissed it as someone seeking a bit of controversy for the sake of it.

Then I began to  ponder the question. Is Black + White a gimmick?

Originally, all photography was b+w, and, apart from some early pioneers, it remained that way for several decades. The question then was not “is b+w a gimmick?”, but rather “is photography a gimmick?” B+W was all you had. In the 1930s, as Murabayashi states, Kodak introduced Kodakchrome, and colour became “mainstream”.

b+w portrait shot with kodak brownie
This is a picture of me shot by my brother in the 1960s, on a Kodak Brownie camera. At that time we didn’t ponder whether B+W was a gimmick or not…it was all we had.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s I can remember very few (perhaps only two) people who used Kodachrome, or colour slides as we plebs used to call them. The vast majority of us still used “normal” black and white film. Colour slides were for people who took their photography seriously. But there was no getting away from it, those Kodachrome pictures were impressive. I’m not talking about impressive from a colour rendition perspective – who the heck knew anything about colour rendering back then? – I’m talking about impressive due to the simple fact that they were in colour. Of course we saw colour photographs in magazines, but here was a picture, shot by Uncle George, who was just “one of us”, that was also in colour.

This is a shot from the very first roll of colour film I ever used. Kodakchrome loaded into my (then new) Olympus OM1. The picture was shot from a moving train. January, 1976.
This is a shot from the very first roll of colour film I ever used. Kodachrome loaded into my (then new) Olympus OM1. The picture was shot from a moving train. January, 1976. I didn’t choose Kodachrome because of its amazing qualities, I chose it because it was easy to get processed; just drop it into the envelope provided, pop it in the post and a short while later your slides would arrive all nicely mounted. Wow.
colour print from kodak
A colour print from Kodak. The smaller picture on the right was for cutting off and giving to someone else. Automation and C41 processes now made colour easy to do. From the collection of Annemieke Hall (how’s that for pretentious?)

Only b+w film went into our family camera, a Kodak Brownie. We didn’t even think of it as black and white, to us it was just film. We didn’t even know if the camera could shoot colour! If someone had asked us “Why don’t you take colour pictures?” we would probably have replied “because we only have a black and white camera.” In that context one may well have asked “Is colour photography a gimmick?”

Colour really came into its own when cheap, fast, print emulsions appeared on the scene. Easy to process with non-proprietary processes, suddenly everyone could “take” colour pictures – even people who weren’t interested in photography per se.

And with the arrival of the automated one-hour photo lab, it appeared black and white photography was headed for the “remember when” basket.

As colour film and processing became the dominant force in photography, the use of b+w became more of a creative choice. Black and white photography still relied on traditional developing and printing skills which relatively few people were interested in mastering.

But, here’s the thing; even when black and white was all we had, there were still relatively few people who were interested in mastering processing and printing skills. By far the majority of us were happy to drop our film off at the chemist and pick up the negatives and enlargements a few days later. Only “serious” photographers did their own processing. What’s more, the same later applied to colour processing as well. Because no matter how easy colour became, there were still a few people who wanted to do it themselves. Let’s face it, no one-hour lab could do the job as well as a skill;ed darkroom technician. Still, no-one asked if black and white photography was a gimmick.

Another aspect to this conundrum is of course that “older” photographers learned their craft on black and white. Those who took their craft seriously only began to experiment with colour after they had mastered black and white. Some, like Alfred Eisenstaedt, never really moved on to colour in any significant way. I remember seeing the legendary Mr. Eisenstaedt when he gave a lecture at an exhibition of his work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. In the closing minutes of that lecture he put up a few colour shots he’d done on his travels in South Africa. During question time he was asked if his approach to colour was any different to his approach to black and white. “Oh yes,” he replied, “very different. When I want to shoot in colour I put colour film in my camera.”

First train of the day arriving at Fishoek.This picture would lose all meaning in black & white. Shot on colour transparency, Olympus OM4Ti. Jan '93.
The first train of the day arriving at Fishoek, near Cape Town. This picture would lose all meaning in black & white. Shot on colour transparency, Olympus OM4Ti. Jan ’93.
houseboats on the thames
This pic was originally shot on colour negative film, but I think the image works better in B+W, so I converted the scan in iPhoto. Pentax PZ1.

It may have been a creative choice, but it wasn’t a gimmick any more than colour was. And there were still enough enthusiasts willing to pursue monochrome to make it a viable proposition for companies making the necessary tools for it; film, chemicals, paper, enlargers, trays, and all the other accoutrements of the analogue dark room, well into the 1990s.

The Digital Age

Everything, of course, has to start somewhere. The first digital camera to hit the consumer market was the Logitech Photoman, released in 1990. And guess what? It only shot black and white pictures. That’s right, if you wanted to shoot digital pictures in 1990, you could only do so in glorious greyscale. And with only 376×240 pixels, the pictures were not great. In some ways the dawn of digital photography was quite similar to the ascendance of analogue.

These days, everyone who carries a cell phone also carries a camera. The world has never been as photographed as it is today. And whether we carry a smart phone or stand-alone camera, we’ve never been this spoiled for choice. Switching from colour to black and white is as easy as pressing a button.

walter sizulu botanical gardens
A shade shelter at Walter Sizulu Botanical Gardens. I never even shot this in colour; it seemed pointless.

With each advancement in photography the photographer’s choices have increased. At one time large format was the only format. Then small and medium format became available. Once there was only black and white. Then along came colour transparency and suddenly we could choose colour or mono. Then colour print technology arrived on the scene so we could choose how we wanted to shoot our colour. Then SLRs gave us a massively expanded range of lenses to choose from. And so on, and so on. It’s simply a matter of choice. And our choice depends on what we want to say. In fact, I believe it’s what we are trying to say, or convey to the world, that should be the underlying reason for any choice we make about both equipment and treatment.

monaco tourists 1993
I was first attracted to the shot by the bright colours of the tourists’ clothing and their casual footwear, which combine to give the impression of relaxed people enjoying a summer holiday. In that sense the colour version more accurately conveys the intent I had when I pressed the shutter, in other words, it says what I wanted it to say.
tourists in monaco 1993
Whether we choose colour or B+W should really only depend on what we are trying to convey. Does this image work better in colour or B+W? Actually, the question is irrelevant – each picture conveys a different feeling. Whether you prefer one or the other is simply a matter of preference. And if I had only presented one of the two versions, you wouldn’t miss the other.

With this underlying attitude to photography, there are really only two questions to answer: 1.) Will the equipment I’m using help me realise my vision as a photographer? and 2.) Will the treatment I have in mind for this picture (or body of work) help me convey the message I want to convey? If a black and white treatment will better convey your message then that’s what you should use. It’s not about is which is better, or if one is a gimmick or not. They are equal. But different.

That’s why I don’t believe b+w in this day and age is a gimmick. If it is, then shooting in colour is just as much of a gimmick.

In all fairness, Murabayashi doesn’t conclude that black and white is a gimmick. I think he takes a very very balanced view of the subject. My response is more a response to the title, which poses an interesting question, rather than the entire post. His post quotes several photographers and makes for interesting reading if this topic interests you. You can find his original Photoshelter article here

Actually, Photography Isn’t Art.

Click on images for larger view

An article in Digital Photographer Magazine is headlined “Photography is Art and Always Will Be”.  I, of course, take a contrary view.

I don’t believe photography is art. Frankly, I don’t understand the obsession of some people in the world of photography to equate photography with art. Do they have an inferiority complex about photography? Or do they think they can stand on an equal footing with Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Constable, Picasso, or Miro?

Recently, the Internet lit up with the news a photograph had fetched $6+ million at auction. (This story remains unconfirmed.) If true, this is an impressive price for a photograph. But it pales into insignificance when compared to what you’d get for a van Gogh or a <i>Titian.<i/> One reason photographs can never reach these stratospheric values lies in their reproducibility. As long as a half decent print is available, negatives can be made and reproduced. And unless one was “in the know”, you’d never be any the wiser.

The digital age makes it even more difficult to know with certainty if a photograph is an “original” or not. Who can say for certain if any file has been deleted, especially after a version of it has been uploaded to the Web. This isn’t the case with art. A painting or drawing is a once-off event. This “rarity factor” gives art its value.

Photography is easy. Art is difficult.

It would have been a lot easier to photograph this tree than it was to paint.
It would have been a lot easier to photograph this tree than it was to paint.

You can hardly equate the effort required to paint, say, The Night Watch or The Haywain, with the effort expended in shooting a Vogue fashion spread, even though it may be quite labour intensive.

When I say photography is “easy”, I’m not suggesting that it’s “easy” to take great photographs in the mold of a Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, or Steve McCurry. But it’s much easier than doing a painting. If you doubt this statement, I suggest the next time you want to head out with your camera, take a sketch pad and a couple of pencils instead. I know how difficult drawing is, I spent almost three years of my life trying to learn how to do it. At the end of it, I still had barely a clue. It may be have been easier for those with more talent, but it was never “easy” for anyone.

In the time it takes you to bang off 300 frames of that rainy Paris street scene, an artist may have made a few lines on a piece of paper. How can you equate these two endeavours? Quite simply, you can’t. Anyone walking out of a modern camera shop with even a modest point and shoot is, theoretically at least, capable of producing great photographs. Does this make them an “artist”? Not really. Walk out of an art shop, however, with your first sketch pad and pencils in hand and you know you’ve got years, maybe decades, of learning ahead of you.

Photography is photography, and art is art.

This is not to say that photographer doesn’t have an artist’s sensibility. In fact, I think most photographers are artists at heart. Cartier-Bresson started his life as an artist but later got into photography. In his very early days as a photographer, he called himself a surrealist. When someone suggested he would probably make more money if he called himself a photojournalist that’s what he became. But it’s interesting to note that in his latter years he hung up his Leica and returned to his sketchpad and his easel. I think he felt that photography was too ephemeral, too fleeting, not weighty enough, to express what he wanted to say. I think when you look at Cartier-Bresson’s work there is definitely an element of the surreal about it.

drawing of stormwater drains
I think I could have photographed these a lot better than I drew them.

And I don’t think Elliot Erwitt, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Robert Capa, or countless others spent too much time obsessing about whether they were artists or photographers.

How Photography Changed Art

When photography first arrived on the scene, many artists were horrified. If a machine, they reasoned, could reproduce nature and faces with such unerring accuracy, what need would there be for artists? If you wanted a representation of your family you no longer make an appointment with your local portrait painter, but with your local photographer. He was much cheaper…and much faster.

Art had to change. And it did. It became less realistic and more abstract. Ultimately, art may have gone down that road anyway. But I think photography gave it quite a strong push. Of course, some photographers have followed suit and produce work that is more abstract and conceptual in nature. But it remains photography.

trees in the hogsback eastern cape
How long would it take to paint this scene? Photographed in the Hogsback, Eastern Cape in 1986.
drawings from beatles let it be
The photographs were better. I did these drawings of The Beatles based on photographs that appeared in the book accompanying the “Let it Be” album.
my bedroom during my art school days
Your favourite blogger during his art school days, East London, South Africa, 1973. The framed artwork on the wall was a Norman Catherine silk screen print which went missing many years ago, and the picture below that is an art school exercise for a cover design for a David Bowie album.

You can see my other photographic efforts on Flickr. Apart from this blog post, none of my other art efforts are online.



The long and the short of it…

Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I found it while going through some old photographs and bits of paper that once belonged to my mother. Dating back to the 1920s or ’30s, it appears to be a booklet of sorts that was probably given away or sold at shows put on by Fred Roper and “his” midgets.  Or perhaps it was sold in news agents and bookstores, although there’s no price on it.

I’ve not been able to find any reference to the show coming to South Africa, but being a British colony in those far-off days it’s quite possible the show did do a tour in these parts. While searching for more info I came across some old footage at the British Pathe website. Below are a few more pages from the publication.

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