When Red Disappears

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I became aware of Elspeth Diederix‘s When Red Disappears the way I learn about 99% of all photobooks — online, possibly through some marketing email. I don’t remember where and when, but I do remember that I made the choice not to pursue the book (I will contact a publisher and ask for a review copy when I see something that I feel I want to cover). After all these years, I have a pretty good idea what a book might look like when seeing it presented online.

But there still always is everything the book, the object, brings that cannot possibly conveyed by digital photographs plus the obligatory advertizing copy. So making such decisions online isn’t fool proof. In the case of this particular book, I found out when the publisher in question, Hans Gremmen’s FW:Books, sent it to me (along with others). I would have easily agreed to reviewing the book, had I come across it as an object and not online.

I feel this lesson is something that anyone interested in photobooks will have to keep in mind, especially when operating on a limited budget, which requires some careful decision making: the internet is great to share information about books, but it actually is pretty lousy when it comes to conveying their physical attributes.

A brief digression: Another major shortcoming of the internet is its tendency to amplify the voices of those who don’t really need such amplification, while others (more often than not women or minorities) simply aren’t heard or are only heard by a very small number of people. A lot of photobooks by famous photographers sell very well not because they’re any good but because they get massive play, and no critic is willing to write anything negative about them — while, in private, admitting openly that, well, they’re terrible.

My digression doesn’t have anything to do with When Red Disappears… Oh, whom am I trying to kid here? Of course, this article is going to get read and shared a lot less widely because the photographer isn’t a household name in large parts of photoland.

The reality is, though, that this particular book is more nicely produced than roughly 80% to 90% of all photobooks, and for that reason alone it deserves to be appreciated. This might sound like an incredibly silly thing to say, an endeavour of engaging in photobook-production geekery. But it is not, because without the production and the choices made for the underlying body of work, the book would be one of the many forgettable ones produced every year.

In other words, what actually can — and I would argue should — be gained by very carefully considering the form and materials of a photobook is demonstrated very clearly here. For those who have followed Gremmen’s work as a publisher, this will come as no surprise.

The book features a body of work produced under water, details of some Dutch ocean floor, with the various organisms living there being the subjects in what comes across as a fairly murky world. As the essay at the end of the books makes clear, there are various reasons for things looking the way they do under water, including a limited amount of actual light, the colours provided by the organisms themselves, and the way optics plays out in the sea.

“The first colour that vanishes is red,” Diederix is quoted in the piece, “by about 30m down, the yellows have been lost too”. Even though I studied optics as part of my undergrad degree in physics, this had never occurred to me. I must have seen many films and pictures taken underwater, and I had never asked myself why things looked the way they did.

Diederix’s achievement is to have taken photographs that are amazing despite the fact that they don’t look anything like the kinds of imagery one might know from some touristy location, with colourful coral reefs shining brightly in some impossibly blue water. Here, things are very reduced. Where it is visible the ocean floor looks like some uninviting grey desert, and marine life doesn’t look too interesting, either. Photography is good when it can make the remarkable look remarkable. But it is great when it can do the same for the unremarkable, the kinds of places photographed here.

Having the pictures is one thing, making a good photobook out of them is another. Hans Gremmen knows how to do such a thing. In a variety of ways, When Red Disappears invites comparisons to Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. In both cases, the printing of the book needs to deliver so that the book will come close to the photographic prints by these two Dutch artists. And it does.

Much like Sequester, When Red Disappears appears to have been printed on black paper, so the added inks literally lift the images out of the darkness. What looks like black paper, though, is not that: the printer worked with white paper and fifteen times as much black ink as usual. In addition, the edges were treated to be black (Hans Gremmen kindly revealed these production details). The overall effect is tremendously beautiful — and it is exactly this that simply cannot be appreciated in digital reproductions (I might also add that the smell of those inks is quite something, but that is really only production geekery).

As far as I’m concerned, a photobook ideally is more than a container for photographs, whether we’re looking at catalogues or monographs. All too often, it is not. And often enough, that’s OK. But I feel the photobook itself should be its own object of art — possibly even at the expense of the photographs it contains. If I had to make my case in front of some jury, When Red Disappears would be an ideal example.

Honestly, if you can’t appreciate this book regardless of whether you like the pictures or not, then I don’t think you understand the form of the photobook and the many aspects that go into its production (printing, material choices, etc.). But there’s more to the form: it will also make you like the pictures or, at the very least, make you appreciate them. So here we have photographs from the murky waters of the Dutch sea, presented in all their glory. This is photobook making at its very best.

Highly recommended.

When Red Disappears; photographs by Elspeth Diederix; text by Philip Ball; 88 pages; FW:Books; 2019

Rating: Photography 4, Book Concept 5, Edit 4, Production 5 – Overall 4.5

Photobook Reviews W39/2019

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Publishing photobooks is a labour intensive and almost completely thankless business: at best, you might see your company’s name listed in one of the many, many shortlists (that often aren’t so short at all). If a prize is given, it’s the photographer who gets it, regardless of the fact that while it’s her or his photographs, it might actually be other people who made the book what it is, starting with, well, the publisher. The reality is that good publishers know how a photobook can succeed, whereas many photographers don’t.

The best way to understand photobook publishers is through looking at their books. With many publishing houses, if the name on the spine is mentioned, one instantly has a good idea of what a book might look like or, roughly, what work an artist might have produced. For example, everybody knows what a Steidl book looks like and what kind of photography is likely to be found therein. In this particular example, there is a dedication to the craft of printing that I can appreciate regardless of whether or not I like every book made in Göttingen (I don’t) or whether I think every book needs to come with heavy layers of ink (nope).

Walter Keller might not be a household name in photoland, even though many of the books he produced and championed clearly are. In the world of photobook making, he’s a legend. Whether it’s Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh, Michael Schmidt’s Ein-Heit, Merry Alpern’s Dirty Windows, Roni Horn’s You Are the Weather, Gilles Peress’ Farewell to Bosnia, Nan Goldin’s I’ll Be Your Mirror, or Here Is New York — A Democracy of Photographs (the book that would ultimately wreck the publishing house) — these are just some of the books made by Walter Keller, some in conjunction with Fotomuseum Winterthur, an institution he co-founded.

A new book, Walter Keller — Beruf: Verleger (Walter Keller – Profession: Publisher), now dives into the man’s life and work (note that at this time, the book only appears to be available in German). Keller wanted to publish early on in his life, and he wanted to work with photographs. His earliest product was a pamphlet that later turned into a more refined magazine named Der Alltag (The Everyday). Besides Keller, the magazine involved a number of people who would go on to play serious roles in the world of photography, such as Urs Stahel (one of the driving forces behind the book) or Patrick Frey (whose own company published it).

There are ample examples of spreads from Der Alltag, just as there are spreads from the many books Keller ended up producing. In addition, there are numerous essays and conversations about the man, who comes across as incredibly driven and visionary, with the flip side of not the best sense of business and a certain degree of myopia. The book also dives into Keller’s womanizing, devoting a whole essay to it, which I found a little bizarre. What insight is gained from the essay is unclear to me.

One aspect that I enjoyed about Walter Keller — Beruf: Verleger is to discover artists whose books I hadn’t heard of before. So far, my own biggest discovery is Marianne Müller’s truly extraordinary A Part of My Life, which is still available for next to nothing everywhere online. If that book were published today, I think it would be widely discussed: it’s such strong work that does not betray its age at all (the photographs were all made in the early to mid 199s). It’s not included in the recent How We See: Photobooks by Women, so there’s a book by a well known publisher that somehow ended up being more or less forgotten.

Walter Keller — Beruf: Verleger; editors: Urs Stahel, Miriam Wiesel; texts by Theres Abbt, Bice Curiger, Regina Decoppet, Nan Goldin, Martin Heller, Martin Jaeggi, Liz Jobey, Friedrich Meschede, Michael Rutschky, Joachim Sieber, Andreas Spillmann, Urs Stahel, Nikolaus Wyss;432 pages; Edition Patrick Frey; 2019

(not rated)

Rebecca Fertinel‘s Ubuntu (I Am because We Are) employs a few tricks to elevate pretty standard documentary-style photographs into a interesting book. It speaks of a sense of community in ways that don’t feel quite as restricted as an ordinary documentary photobook would be. To begin with, the text that provides the (basic) background of the pictures is hidden underneath the flap of the back cover. There are no title page or table of contents. The photograph on the front of the book continues inside, and this device is used for all horizontal images: one half can be seen on one side of a page, the other half on the reverse.

Such an approach runs counter photobook orthodoxy (which is most pronounced in the United States). But the key here is that while it’s a photobook, it’s not necessarily a collection of photographs any longer, with some added text. This is not a new idea, but one that said orthodoxy just can’t wrap its head around: the book is the entity to be considered and not any one (or a few) of the photographs contained therein. Consequently, the various celebrations contained in the book blend into one another, whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, a funeral — it’s all one community coming together to celebrate life through being a community.

It’s not just some community. The title already contains a hint. Ubuntu is often translated as I am because we are, “but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.'” (sadly, if you Google just the word “Ubuntu”, you’ll learn all about some computer operating system). The term originates in Africa, and so do Fertinel’s subjects. There are a few hints in the photographs betraying the locale, and the text at the end of the book confirms what an attentive viewer is able to puzzle together: the portrayed form part of the Congolese community in Belgium (background).

This is a book for our times. Not only does it show the beauty of a group of people that, I’m sure, is not very widely known at all. It also very strongly hints at the value and beauty of the idea of community, the idea of belonging together and of living with and for each other — and not against each other, as seems to have become the modus operandi pushed by neofascists and populists all over the world and amplified on social media. The fact that Ubuntu is as much a concept originating out of Africa as humans themselves holds special relevance: there is much that can be learned from those who for too long have been at the receiving end of colonial violence.

And it is really only the form of the book itself that conveys this message as it refuses to reveal time and again the kinds of specifics that anyone based in a Western tradition is used to expecting. With the idea of community in mind even the treatment of the photographs, the wrapping of the horizontal ones around the pages, makes sense: it’s all about the overall result, about making a viewer feel the larger whole instead of them getting each and every one in an atomic fashion.

Ubuntu (I Am because We Are); photographs by Rebecca Fertinel; texts by Hans Theys, Rebecca Fertinel; 164 pages; Lecturis; 2019

Rating: Photography 3, Book Concept 5, Edit 3, Production 5 – Overall 4.0

On a surface level, Yann Mingard‘s Everything is up in the air, thus our vertigo has nothing to do with Ubuntu (I Am because We are). It’s highly conceptual — a stark contrast to the documentary approach used by Fertinel. But in both cases, the larger idea is being approached through photography’s strange muteness: pictures show, but they don’t tell — because by construction they can’t. In this particular case, the Swiss artist presents a number of seemingly separate topics that, together, address the larger issue of the Anthropocene.

In each case, a grouping of images (presented without captions — some very basic factual captions are hidden in the book’s front flap) is being accompanied by some short, factual text. The images might be photographs by Mingard, or they might be screen grabs of videos, or reproductions of documents or paintings. The text itself then reveals the very basic underlying topic, which explains everything and nothing: everything because the viewer/reader gets an understanding of what s/he might be looking at, and nothing because abstract or long-term processes cannot really be visualized, let alone understood. They just are.

I think it’s the book form that’s most conducive to allowing for a project like this to shine. The photographs are beautiful and incredibly competently made, but I’m not sure on a wall, with some text next to it, they’d work as well. Maybe this is me being impatient with reading wall text; but maybe this is also me being a little bit tired of looking at large prints in expensive frames in some white-wall environment (that you might have to pay an admission fee for) attempting to speak of some larger drama: I’m just unable to look past the production value and the sheer artifice of it all. But I haven’t seen the exhibition the book is based on, so maybe I got it all wrong.

Regardless, the challenge of conceptual work always is that it runs the risk of coming across as too complicated, as too cerebral, as too much made for that small crowd of curators that really loves conceptual photography. I think the only antidote possible is for the photographs to be beautiful and not too clinical. With its inclusion of a relative wide variety of materials, Everything is up in the air, thus our vertigo succeeds. I particularly like the beginning of the book that compares Turner paintings with screenshots of air pollution in China. The colours themselves are visceral, and the artifice in the image sources makes for an unexpected comparison.

Much to his credit, in his “straight” photographs, Mingard resists the temptation to stylize the work too much. A lot of the photographs are very dark or use a black background, but there are enough others that avoid the risk of the style becoming a gimmick. Taken together, however cerebral the idea of the Anthropocene might be, its consequences are all around us, most notably in the form of climate change. There is much for each and everyone of us at stake here. Hopefully, books such as Everything is up in the air, thus our vertigo can help raise awareness of what we’re dealing with.

Everything is up in the air, thus our vertigo; images by Yann Mingard; texts by Frédéric Moser; 144 pages; Editions GwinZegal; 2018

Rating: Photography 3.5, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 3.5 – Overall 3.6

Images and Text, Text and Images

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When it comes to their own photographs, many photographers are divas, insisting on them being treated as precious entities that ought to be treated with the utmost respect. This approach works well enough for some photographs (as exasperating as it can be to see it in action), but it ultimately does photography a big disservice. Many of the various trends we still unfortunately witness in photoland can be traced back to the precious image, whether it’s the bad mouthing or outright dismissal of what so-called amateurs produce on Instagram or whatever else.

But the precious-image approach also has repercussions inside of photoland, in particular when it comes to photographs sitting next to text. Divas don’t really like anything possibly competing with their precious images. Consequently, where text is present (often for reasons of sheer necessity), it is often treated as at best secondary, as something that more often than not doesn’t work, in fact cannot work given that much like photographs text needs to be able to do operate on its own terms. The secondary-text approach works well in a variety of contexts, such as, for example, in photojournalism where often clunky and awkward reading text serves to provide the captions or the larger context, telling everything that, alas, pictures can’t show.

Having spent the better part of the last decade writing, my relationship to text is a little different than most photographers’. But I also came to photography not as a writer or blogger but as someone who enjoyed taking pictures, and I still do. Now, whether or not I am a good writer and/or photographer is really besides the point. I will, however, make the claim that I understand the perils of both photography and writing a little bit better than many who only do one or the other.

I’m not even talking so much about how to make a good picture or write a good text, I’m talking about the psychological struggle. I do understand the precious-image approach. But I not only know that (photographer’s voice) it’s so great when things just come together in a photograph, I also know that (educator’s voice) there’s always another picture, and I know that (critic’s voice) pictures can only do so much. The reality is that photographs can come alive in a variety of ways once the insistence on the precious image falls away — if anything the recent photobook boom has demonstrated just that (the presence of the many conservative gallery-show-on-paper books notwithstanding).

Of course, to understand how photographs can work with text, looking at some cases where things work very well helps. I know that many photographers are enarmoured with Larry Sultan‘s Pictures from Home. That is a good book, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the book that reaches the full pinnacle of what images and text (or text and images) can do with each other. For that, you’d have to look at books like, for example, John Berger and Jean Mohr‘s A Seventh Man or at W.G. Sebald‘s Austerlitz. The use of photography in these two books is very different, but in both cases they contribute to the overall book immensely. Crucially, while you could easily show Sultan’s pictures without any of the text, for A Seventh Man or especially Austerlitz that would just be an absurd idea.

So for images to work well with text, I want to claim that they have to fully shed their precious-picture aspect. This is not to say that they simply have to be shitty. That’s really not the point. They need to be good pictures. But the moment they come alive next to text, they cannot insist on being precious any longer. They need to be content with operating alongside text — or rather their maker has to.

A new benchmark achievement of what the combination of images and text can achieve is now being made available in the form of Alan Huck‘s I walk toward the sun which is always going down (full disclosure: I was Alan’s grad-school advisor when he worked on the book). It contains ample text, which of course will have to be read. So strictly speaking this isn’t even a photobook — it’s basically a form of literature that uses photography prominently (I’ll leave it to academics to argue over whether or not that is a photobook).

References and/or quotations abound, both in the text and in the photographs. In the writing, the quotations can be found more easily than in the images; but they are very apparent in the photographs as well. The author thus betrays his being deeply embedded in a literary and photographic tradition. In part, the book is thus a form of synthesis where all these influences are being brought together to form a meditation on what it means to take in the world on a long walk.

On the other hand, there also exists a clear voice of its own — I walk toward the sun is not merely a collage. That voice is one that I’d describe as one of resignation, even though that’s maybe too strong a word for what’s going on in the book. Maybe melancholy would describe the mood more clearly.

I’ve read the book many times (in all kinds of iterations, including its earliest ones), and I still don’t tire of it. Each repeated reading/viewing has brought out new elements, has made me see things in a different way. I can only hope that I walk toward the sun which is always going down will find the wide audience that I think it deserves. The world of books working with text and images has just become a lot richer.

Highly recommended.

I walk toward the sun which is always going down; text and photographs by Alan Huck; 144 pages; MACK; 2019

New Dutch Views

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A 1989 publication entitled Hollandse Taferelen (Dutch Scenes) by Hans Aarsman presents the authors views of his home country through a combination of photographs and text. Photographically, the book is very much a product of its time, with the view-camera images referencing more widely known bodies of work, whether (mostly in process) Joel Sternfeld‘s American Prospects or (in the spirit of the work) Joachim Brohm‘s Ruhr. Much like Brohm’s portrait of parts of Germany, Aarsman’s portrait of Holland reveals a rather unremarkable place being made utterly remarkable. In a sense, Aarsman’s views of the country are much more true to it than any tourist brochure could be (but then, they do make for very bad tourist-brochure material).

In a country as educated as the Netherlands, with its long and widely shared artistic and cultural tradition, I suspect that these 1989 scenes would have not necessarily be seen against either Sternfeld or Brohm. They would have been seen against the long history of portrayal of the country over the whole course of art history. Aarsman’s photographs are completely unlike Dutch Golden Age Landscape Paintings. But ignoring media and styles of portrayal, I think the spirit of these works is very much the same: artists celebrating this fragile part of the world which is constantly threatened by the sea not only for what it is but especially for how it reflects the lives and efforts of those living within it.

Marwan Bassiouni‘s New Dutch Views follows this tradition. To write that it does so with a twist is both correct and not correct. It is correct because the Dutch views each are part of another view, one in which the interiors walls and windows of mosques are visible. It is not correct because the inclusion of who is looking at the land might have been made explicit — but isn’t all art made from a particular view point? To insist that there’s a twist might just reinforce the very separation the book in my mind works so hard against, namely the one that divides those Dutch citizens who happen to be Muslims from all the others.

I can think of at least two immediate reads of the work. The Dutch views present the land outside of a very specific environment, the mosque. I’m alternating between reading the work as aspirational, as wanting what is inside these buildings to be an integral part of what is visible outside, and reading these photographs as an expression of a frustration, a frustration arising from the feeling that the inside and the outside might not be easily reconcilable, given societal and political circumstances.

A country like the Netherlands is embedded in a larger geographical region — Europe — that is no stranger to the persecution of religious minorities. To pretend that Islamophobia is anything other than yet another variant of any of the various religious follies that have wrecked the continent for the past two millennia is disingenuous. The various neofascists pretending they’re aiming to protect the values of whatever countries they’re from — in the Netherlands, you’d have Geert Wilders — are not doing that. Instead, they’re following a tradition that has led to the deaths of millions of people over the course of Europe’s history.

But the toothpaste has long been out of its tube anyway: Islam is a part of the Netherlands, just like it’s a part of Germany and many other European nations. This then would be the third read of the work, the read that in the ideal world that we don’t live in would be the only one, the obvious one: these pictures happen to show what the Dutch landscape looks like from the windows of mosques. The aspirational read, the frustrated read — they are caused by the politics inserted into our societies.

As is the case with most photography, it’s really the context that provides the fuel that drives a work’s power. These photographs are powerful and challenging because they assert what ought to be the case, given the constitutions of Western nations, but what is being challenged on a daily basis by neofascists and also many conservatives, namely that all people are equal, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, political orientation, or whatever else. The photographs do what they do because of what we bring to them when we see them. In other words, they make us react, and we better pay attention to how we react to them: we might learn something about ourselves.

The book contains some added text in the form of short fragments that are hidden inside the pouch pages. The pages haven’t been trimmed at the top, so the interiors of the pouch pages are easily accessible, but they don’t present themselves right away. With these fragments, Bassiouni expresses his own sentiments and ideas, covering his upbringing and identity. This adds another element to the book, a human voice that will help the viewer get a better understanding of the photographs on view.

With so many complex, narrative-driven photobooks having emerged recently, I’m enjoying seeing one that tackles a complex subject matter as simply and beautifully as New Dutch Views does. With just a few basic devices employed (also for the design and production of the book), it demonstrates the power of the photographic book.

New Dutch Views; photographs and text by Marwan Bassiouni; 64 pages; Lecturis; 2019

Rating: Photography 4, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 4 – Overall 3.9

Photography in the Era of Digital Proliferation

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Photography can be art, but usually it is not. It is something entirely different. Where it attempts to be art, it has to conform to corresponding expectations, resulting in a type of packaging that even before the digital era was at odds with the medium’s central property, namely its ease of reproducibility, an ease that was grounded both in technology and people’s desires (exceptions to the rule, whether Daguerreotypes or Polaroids, do not invalidate the central point to be realized here).

Walter Benjamin wrote about some of the consequences arising from this fact against the background of the threat of fascism. Yet again, that threat has re-arrived, only to now play out in an era where vast parts of communication take place in the digital sphere: information is not tied to a carrier any longer in the sense that it was in the past. Instead, it arrives and disappears on screens of all kinds, in particular those we carry with us.

Those screens have become battlegrounds of information warfare, fueled by a variety of actors. Most famously, the 45th President of the United States is using his Twitter account as a daily exercise in narcissistic hate speech, whipping up ugly sentiments and inspiring domestic terrorists to kill those deemed subhuman.

The public sphere in which these developments play out has become intertwined with our most private one: we wake up, and we look at our smartphones to check for messages, emails, articles, and/or pictures. Pictures, however, have ceased to be just that, pictures. Instead, they have become essential elements of our communication, whether they’re emojis (which make the connection between pictures and communication most clear), photographs, or whatever else.

Pictures, in other words, have fully become important elements of our most basic communicative acts, given that to share them they do not require anything other than a device that can temporarily display them.

This unmooring of photographs from a photography-specific carrier (a “print”) has exposed the artificiality of the medium during the (roughly) first 150 years of its own existence, an artificiality driven ad absurdum by those operating with photographs in the art market.

Photographs demand to be seen, and for that demand to be fulfilled they needed to become data: This is the central aspect of the digital revolution (the ease with which pictures can be manipulated is relatively meaningless in comparison). Of course, photographs do not command to be seen on their own. It is us, their makers, who want them to be seen.

To share a photograph is a communicative act in which more often than not the actual picture in question is meaningless: it will be looked at for a fraction of a second, all kinds of thoughts might be triggered, but it will never re-appear. It could re-appear because the photograph will exist in some memory banks somewhere, but it will not be re-displayed.

When it will re-appear, it will often do just that because some corporation’s algorithm was designed to trigger a feeling of nostalgia in its users, to attempt to tie them more strongly to whatever platform they are engaged in. Beyond such machinations, however, the vast majority of photographs are looked at briefly, once. Consequently, there exist platforms which share pictures that disappear forever once they have been seen.

In the long run, most photographs are thus completely meaningless, however much meaning they might have possessed in the moment when they were shared and seen: there will always be another picture, another communicative act.

Photographs have thus more in common with money than with the kinds photographs money can buy in an art gallery: we all use money, whether in physical or digital form, but we only care for it thinking of its exchange value.

As noted above, our private communications are never very far away from the most public ones – they all end up on the small screens we carry around us and that we look at in a regular fashion. The public and the private have merged: we share parts of the latter with the former, and the former reaches us in a variety of ways: social media, the news, or whatever else.

These days, expressions of hate are never far away, whether in the form of a tweet by Trump (which we might see even if we don’t follow the man on Twitter, given that the news media still happily quote it) or by anyone emboldened by what can only be understood as a complete collapse of central parts of the idea of the US presidency (however flawed many of their ideas and approaches were in retrospect, it is hard to imagine the founders be willing to accept a complete moral vacuum at the very core of the country they founded), a comment left by someone angry (or someone possibly in the indirect employ of, let’s say, Russia’s president), or whatever else there might be.

Whatever else there might be – there’s a lot. These days, to partake in that public/private sphere that’s connected to our smartphones is to inevitably enter a cesspool of willful ignorance, hatred, and barely concealed violence. To be connected to the world these days means to partake in a racist reality TV show that runs on all channels — and we are not given a choice whether to watch it or not. It simply is there. Our lives have thus become invaded with violence of all sorts, and photographs play an essential part of that.

Before pictures became data, one would have been easily able to disengage from all the nastiness that has become such a dreadfully ubiquitous part of our daily lives now. Now, though, that choice is essentially gone.

It is true, you could still cut yourself off from most of it. But could you really go about a life of your own willful ignorance as Gestapo-style raids target immigrants or as any trip to the local supermarket or mall might end up on the coroner’s table?

If, in other words, you care for someone other than yourself, anyone really, how can you avoid caring for the larger good that in some form or another we’re all part of?

Can we, in yet other words, make pictures while pretending those pictures do not enter this particular environment we live in right now? Is there such a thing as an activist photographer?, Colin Pantall asked. I’d like to propose a re-phrasing of the question: when the private and the truly ugly public have become as enmeshed as they are now, can there be a photographer who is not an activist? Aren’t you an activist of some sort the moment you share a photograph and drop it into the larger public-private pool?

I am not convinced that in the era of Trump, which would have been impossible without the incessant digital proliferation of information, photography cannot be a form of activism. To deny it that status would be to deny the extent with which public ugliness and violence have entered our own private lives, in part because of our choices (nobody forced us to sign on to social media), in part because the choices available to us have become so relentlessly limited.

Activism here does not necessarily entail attempting to change the world on a larger scale. Sure, one could go about something to help solve the climate crisis, to help immigrants, to help bring about gun legislation (and thus give coroners a break), or whatever else.

But at its most atomic level, any photograph that is shared with someone else and that was made with elements of compassion, if not love, is already a form of activism, a push back against the aforementioned onslaught of outrage, anger, ugliness, and violence.

Maybe those of us who think of themselves as photographers or even artists need to realize that that is their medium now: a means of communication, maybe the means of communication, and if we want to mentally (let alone physically) survive the times we live in right now, there will have to be a collective push back against the ugliness that we have allowed to invade our public and private lives.

Enough is enough!

Make pictures and share them!

But make picture and share them with the intent of brightening other people’s days, of reminding people that the hatred and cruelty perpetuated by Trump et al. are their choice, not ours, a choice that we can and will reject!