The windswept beach, the cresting waves, the melting warmth of the sun, they’re all a fleeting vacation memory at this point. Frigid temperatures, driveway ice, and rock hard snow have welcomed me back to a new year of writing about photography, and a bracing, fresh-eyed, skepticism has got me wondering about the nature of this never-ending dance with our favorite medium. With the benefit of some suntan lotion covered reflection, I’ve got some changes cooked up for this blog. Nothing major exactly, but a tweak to the formula to liven things up. Otherwise, we’ll all end up glassy-eyed and bored, frantically looking for something else.
Over the past few years, the terrain of this site has slowly but undeniably narrowed to a heavy dose of structured reviews of gallery and museum shows of photography in and around New York. This specialization has made managing the blog very straightforward, as it’s allowed me to stay laser focused on one kind of thinking/writing and to refine that approach without being otherwise distracted. At this point, I see shows and crank out reviews with a scary kind of military precision. (If you’ve ever seen my eye straining 400 line spreadsheet of current shows in the city, you’ll know that I’m not exaggerating too much with that analogy.) But this blindered method has crowded out lots of other potentially worthwhile photo-related ideas, mostly due to the constraints of the fixed amount of time that I can reasonably devote to this volunteer endeavor. It’s a zero sum game of available hours, and by forcing myself to write only reviews, I have effectively limited the size of my play space.
But ruthlessly churning out reviews, however well-crafted and thoughtful, leaves too much other intriguing stuff unconsidered. So I’ve decided that the best way to keep the reviews from getting stale and rote is to do less of them, thereby freeing up some mindspace and hours for thinking about other aspects of the world of photography. And so with a sweep of my keyboard, I’m preemptively eliminating roughly 25% of the reviews I plan to do this coming year. For context, I did 159 individual reviews in 2012, so we’re talking about 40 plus reviews not happening in 2013. If we make the assumption that I’ll still see and review all of the 3 and 2 STAR shows I would have written about normally, we’re talking about killing off a meaty cohort of 1 STAR shows. My hope is that this winnowing process will keep me on my toes and force me to really think hard about which shows truly merit a review, and perhaps make the 1 STAR rating something gallery owners and photographers hate just a little less (since it will be all that more scarce). And if the spirit moves me and a show really earns it with its astonishing flameout, I may yet unsheathe the mythical 0 STAR rating.
With roughly one day free each week (one of the reviews I would have written having now been eliminated), I plan to do two things. First, I plan to get back to reviewing photobooks again. Honestly, I’ve missed it, as there are plenty of books worth taking about that aren’t directly associated with a concurrent New York show, from museum catalogs from far off exhibits to independently published small runs. One new twist though is that I will only review books that I purchase with my own money. When I did photobook reviews before, I felt like I became trapped by the siren song of free books. I came to see that it was one thing to review a valuable book you had been given for free and quite another to plunk down $75 bucks for that same thick tome. So this time, I’m going purist – no review copies or freebies; if I review a book, you will all know that I actually consciously shelled out the cash to add it to our library. I think this better supports the publishers and authors/artists, and more accurately reflects the hard choices we photobook enthusiasts with limited budgets are forced to make.
Second, I’m going to start writing a column of sorts, longer essays that roughly run the length of a New York Times Op-Ed piece (plus or minus 800 words). These pieces will not dive into the specifics of a particular show, but will tackle many of the issues (large and small) that surround photography, from collecting and the art market, to the impact of changing technology and the coalescing of trends. Ironic types might say I am going meta. I used to think that someone out here on the interweb would eventually ask the questions I wanted to hear discussed or at least mentioned, but sadly, at least so far, I was wrong; perhaps this is a function of being an entrepreneur, investor and collector rather than a working photographer, gallery owner, or museum curator – my mind seems to be wired differently. In any event, using this longer form approach (and working on my craft as a writer in the process), I’m going to dig in and see what I can swirl up. I’m either going to be the guy who has timidly raised his hand and finally asked the question you always wanted to ask, or the jackass in the back row who has burdened the entire class with his annoying, tangential ramblings. Either way, I plan to have some fun and hopefully spark some broader and more analytical photographic debates.
So next week, I’ll begin with the various summaries of 2012 and then move on to the new crop of shows, with a sprinkling of books, essays, and my usual one-off diversions into relevant art fairs, auctions, and other marginalia added in for good measure. My goal is to have the new mix be more uneven and eclectic, with less room for boring, too nice reviews of expected, forgettable shows, and more space for ideas worth wrapping your head around.