#BillJayDay: A Collection of Forgotten Articles and Writing…

To celebrate the first ever #BillJayDay we have curated a small selection of Bill Jay’s forgotten articles and writing presented here in no particular order. Enjoy!

Photographers as Exhibitionists: A few of the reasons why gallery and museum exhibitions of photographs are so predictable and dull. 

There’s something basically wrong with exhibitions of photographs. To be more accurate, photographic exhibitions of the type which have become commonplace today always leave me feeling dissatisfied, as though the effort of having a shower, travelling to the gallery, making small talk with the other guests, is never compensated by the experience of seeing the prints. 

There was a time, especially in England, when exhibitions of photographs were such rare events that I could wait impatiently for perhaps months, even years, before the next one was available for viewing. This became so frustrating that I felt obliged to instigate many exhibitions in order that I would have a show to attend. Today, the situation has changed dramatically and the medium has become so acceptable, and accessible, that there is a surfeit of photographs on public view. Now I must attend scores of exhibitions each year and there are scores more which are hung, promoted and dissassembled before I have had a chance to pay a visit. And I am only talking about the exhibitions available in the photographic community in which I now live. If I was willing to travel greater distances I could attend several exhibitions a day, every day of the year. Everywhere I go on my travels there are always a few shows to see. 

But I have a confession. Of the hundreds of photography exhibitions which I have seen over the past few years there have been only a handful that have been worth the effort. The question is: why? 

It is possible that I have become jaded over the years, and am suffering from ennui, a boredom with photographs, and that the surfeit of images in my past has produced a picture-dyspepsia, like someone with a craving for chocolate eclairs who ate 20 at one feast and now cannot stand the sight of them. I do not think that this is true in my relationship with photographs. I can still be immeasurably moved, excited, energised, angered, and intellectually and emotionally charged by photographs in almost any other context than hanging in white mats in a spartan gallery setting. 

One minor reason for my dissatisfaction with photography exhibitions undoubtedly has something to do with the usual gallery ambience. Most modern shows are hung for commercial reasons – to sell prints off the walls. I have nothing against this idea per se but I must admit that I feel (am encouraged to feel?) slightly guilty about the fact that I am there to (merely) enjoy the prints and not buy any of them. Inevitably my appreciation of the pictures suffers unfairly because I am constantly aware, through the price tags as well as the environment, that these are commercial objects, and that although browsing among the goods is tolerated it is not wholly welcome. Even when this pressure, this self-inflicted anxiety, is removed, such as in the non-commercial rooms of a museum, I am still conscious of money. These exhibitions reek of wealth, preciousness and privilege. I am well aware of the efforts on the part of caring curators to obviate this attitude, but the fact remains that galleries and museums are inevitably associated with a small- and favored-class of people, and are likely to remain so. Photography becomes under these circumstances less and less democratic, appealing to smaller and smaller audiences as the “language” between artist/photographer becomes more and more esoteric. 

There was a time in the medium’s history when the photographer’s work appealed to both his peers and the general public, and was understood by both, if for different reasons. Today, the message or meaning of most exhibited photographs is so encoded that only the initiated can begin to understand them. Even though I have studied photographs all my adult life I still resent this deliberate obfuscation of ideas – being able to decode the image does not give me a feeling of superiority but a resentment that the photographer cannot “speak” clearly and leaves up to me the work of translation. And that is being generous. A good deal of the time I am convinced that the work has nothing to say. 

This brings me to another dissatisfaction with most photographic exhibitions. It is necessary to see a lot of shows before finding anything of real value. When exhibitions were rare events there was a fair chance, if a photographer was given space to show his work, that the show was worth seeing. Not any longer. With the plethora of exhibitions you must look harder and longer to find the important ones. That necessitates a great deal of wasted time. 

Photographers themselves seem to be becoming jaded with the idea of exhibitions. In the past few weeks I have heard several fine workers say: “I don’t bother with shows anymore. I spend a great deal of money on preparing prints, overmatting, framing, insurance, publicity and so on, and then the exhibition is seen by a handful of people who have forgotten it within minutes.” Another photographer was more succinct: “Exhibitions? I don’t give a damn – they’re a waste of time and money.” 

These speakers then went on to list many different forms for presentation of their prints to their peers and public which included self-published books, magazine “portfolios,” displays in public places such as restaurants, theatre and motel foyers, display cases in buses, underground trains and alongside elevators, in shopping malls and so on. 

Personally I would agree with Stieglitz when he said that a good slide was one of the finest ways to look at a photograph. There is nothing comparable to the experience of a fine photographer projecting a large quantity of his work while commenting on the images. I not only find words, gestures and inflections of speech extremely revealing of personality (and therefore contributing to an understanding of the work itself) but the sense of participating in the event of viewing with other members of the audience is just so enjoyable. It certainly eliminates the anxiety of tip-toeing around a hushed, empty gallery, staring with isolated reverence at a print surrounded by acres of whitewash, as if in the presence of some sacred icon of Art. 

This is a different experience of viewing photographs than was commonplace in the 19th century. The typical show in the first half century of the medium took place in a high ceilinged Victorian room, and hundreds, even thousands, of prints mounted in all shapes and sizes of frames, were hung edge to edge over the whole available wall space, from knee-level to the roof, all jostling for attention with each other, patterned wall paper, gas fittings and furniture. All those prints for which no wall space could be found were casually dumped on a table in the center of the room. I think I would have enjoyed visiting an exhibition in those days. I could have seen more prints in one room than I now see at 50 contemporary exhibitions. And I do believe that quantity is important. I would guess that most modern one-man exhibitions include 40 prints, and I have seen “shows” that included only ten photographs. I cannot help feeling that something intrinsically photographic is lost in such overrefining. The merit and meaning of photography is intrinsically linked with a cumulative effect, each print reverberating with messages in a continuous chain reaction, the final result of which is an explosion of possibilities. Such a continuous progression cannot occur when individual prints are seen in isolation or in excessively edited groups – a chain with missing links is useless for any practical purposes. 

Perhaps one reason for such small units of prints today is that photographers do not work so hard. Consider Adolphe Braun. He is renowned for his portraits, landscapes, alpine views and genre scenes of Parisian street life – but also photographed flowers. At the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855 he showed over 400 plant studies! And it must be remembered that he was working with the tedious, complicated and time-consuming collodion process. Which art photographer today would make 400 prints in a single series, let alone consider exhibiting a final selection of this number? 

Of course, the earlier obsession with quantity (as well as quality) could be taken to ludicrous levels. The most extreme case of which I am aware was the exhibition of photographs of colonial life displayed at the Royal Horticultural Hall, London, in 1907. Fifty-thousand photographs were on display for only three days! That would mean looking at just over 16,666 prints per day; viewing over 2,000 prints per hour, assuming an eight-hour day. Or approximately half-a-second for each photograph, and moving on to the next. 

Although this exhibition reduced the idea of quantity to an absurd level, it is interesting to contemplate how and why there has been such a massive shift in emphasis from the Victorian notion of a photographic exhibition to the sterile attitude that prevails today. One of the major changes has been the move away from the rag-bag assortment of styles, subjects and processes of the 19th century exhibition to the emphasis on the individual artist, and hence away from the communication with the public to the artist’s communication with his peers. To a 19th-century photographer there was no difference in the work which he produced for money, for exhibition to his peers and for personal gratification. The same prints were used in each context. In fact, the Victorian would have been bemused, and amused, at our categorisations of art versus commerce. Nineteenth-century exhibitions displayed art-compositions by Robinson, alongside architectural studies by Bedford, and mass-scale stereoscopic views by William England. All styles and attitudes coexisted amicably. All exhibitions until the 1890s made no distinction between photographs taken with artistic intent and those for more utilitarian purposes. 

This situation did not begin to change until the formation of The Linked Ring society in 1892. These “artists” expressly demanded “the complete emancipation of pictorial photography . . . from the retarding . . . bondage of that which was purely scientific or technical, with which its identity has been confused too long.” Their first exhibition, in 1893, was called “The Photographic Salon” in order to connote fine-art exhibitions “of a distinctive and high-class character.” The rift between art and documentary, or commercial, photography saw its first cracks in the salon, and the gulf has been widening ever since. 

It was also at the Salon that the presentation of photographs began its shift away from the higgledy-piggledy jumble of the earlier shows towards the pristine preciousness of today’s exhibitions. The individual responsible for beginning this trend was Frederick Evans. In 1902 he was charged with hanging the annual exhibition; the scheme which he adopted was revolutionary and set the style for most future exhibitions down to the present. He covered the Victorian wall coverings with neutral jute canvas. From the skylight he draped a canopy of this white cloth which not only diffused the light but hid all the other visual distractions. Evans was also fastidious in grouping the prints, considering every photograph – its size, it colour, its frame, its mount, its subject – in relation to its neighbors. One awed critic remarked that “The amount of trouble he has taken over the hanging alone is hardly credible” and that the display was “a sermon in massing and composition.” 

Evans hung the next three Salons, setting the pattern for all future “serious” art- photography exhibitions. When the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession were opened, late in 1905, it was evident that the new style of exhibitions had been accepted. Edward Steichen designed the rooms in neutral colours, the walls covered in burlap with a creamy gray canopy. Each print was displayed in a large light mount in thin-edged frames. No longer were the prints stacked several deep; the photographs were hung in a single neat line. 

This “modern” display of photographs was undoubtedly a welcome change from the chaos of earlier 19th-century exhibitions. But now it is time to ask: Was the baby thrown out with the bath-water? After nearly 100 years of these super-refined, precious little exhibitions, is it not time that the pendulum swung back towards the excitement and rawness of the early shows? Is it not time (now that photography has won the acceptance of the art-establishment) to begin bridging the gulf between art and other photographic applications, including technical, scientific and, yes, even the best of commercial photography? 

I, for one, would welcome now and again the excitement, and even the mistakes, of a wall-packed, diverse and chaotic excess of pictures, in a multitude of styles and presentations and subjects. I am tired of only looking at one band of the photographic spectrum. Let’s splash a gallery with the rainbow hues of the medium! 

Photography: The Contradictions are Clear
What is most interesting about photography’s career. . . is that no particular style is rewarded; photography is presented as a collection of simultaneous but widely differing intentions and styles, which are not perceived as in any way contradictory.  Susan Sontag(1) 

Whether presented with delight, bewilderment, or criticism, these words by Sontag are undeniably true and can clarify a good many misconceptions about the medium which are still staunchly held by many contemporary photographers. Although not designed to be so, the images in any anthology, in their diversity and stylistic variety, will serve to illustrate the point that photography of merit is, and always has been, a mixture of antithetical concerns and styles of equal value. Taste in photography is permissive. This is not to affirm that photographic quality – the good versus the bad – does not exist. It does, but only in relationship to the photographer’s motives and achievements irrespective of his/her allegiance to a pervasive contemporaneous style. In this respect, as in many others, photography as fine art (or use the synonym, painting) presents problems. 

Alongside the rise of interest in the serious making, and collecting, of photographs has grown the academic study of the medium by art historians. This is to be welcomed for many reasons, not the least of which is that a scholarly methodology will often reveal new facts and relationships within and without the medium, cutting through the fogs and mists of ignorance and false assumption and giving us a clearer view of the edifice of photography which, as yet, has only been glimpsed in part (a balustrade of biography here, a patina of process there, now and again a parting in the swirling of the fog which reveals a turret of truth, quickly gone). But there are dangers, too, implicit in such academic study of the medium by scholars trained in fields outside photography. It is a false assumption that the media of photography and painting, for example, are such close allies that an art historical system can be applied directly to the history of photography with the inevitability of valid conclusions. It is tempting to treat a work of art as a purely formal construction outside its dialectical relationship to the various other products of the culture; it is equally tempting to cross-reference the various media and assume art is art. Both temptations should be avoided. Painting is not without its political ideologies; photography is not painting. It is worth repeating. Photography is not painting. Its history, processes, cultural and societal messages, the motives of its practitioners have rarely been coincidental. Photography’s aesthetics are to a large extent dictated by its chemistry and technology; hence a methodology that is not firmly rooted in process (the practice of photography) and which relies on image appearance (stylistic analysis) is sure to deceive. 

The proof of this assumption is to attempt the impossible: the listing of stylistic movements, throughout photography’s history, which have been considered the apex of photographic quality at any period. The result of such a test will confirm that by and large photography is bereft of such groups, movements, collectives. At least such movements, when they have existed, have not played such crucial roles in the development of the medium as they have in painting. Efforts at defining photography, at any period, in terms of a manifesto or a group’s dictatorial style have been short lived – and they have always coexisted, reasonably amicably, with widely differing stylistic movements simultaneously. Indeed, the arch protagonists have often professed their admiration for each other. Hence the topographer Francis Bedford paid his “tribute of admiration for those who, like Mr. [H. P.] Robinson aimed to elevate the art, and for that old master of photographic art, Mr. [0.] Rejlander.” (2) Similarly, the purist Frederick Evans recognized “the compelling artistic genius” (3) behind the works of Robert Demachy. Bill Brandt, during his period of social documentation, could call Man Ray “the most original photographer of them all. ” (4) 

I am not attempting to deny the fact that important stances have been taken by photographers with respect to the medium. Photography would be less rich without its credos, manifestoes, Brotherhoods, and secession groups. (At this point, some of you will question “what about Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession?” I would reply: look at Camera Work and the images reproduced will confirm that this high priest of persuasion was not as consistent in his choice of acolytes as his biographers would have you believe. Also, the Photo-Secession was a noisy, well-publicized but not as universally adopted a concern as might be supposed. And, in parenthesis still, note that Eugene Atget was working at this period.

The basic point remains: at any point in time many, widely different styles and attitudes have cohabited the field of photography and produced such a plethora of diverse images, all of which could be considered as having merit, that no period in the medium’s history has been stamped with the look of a single movement. What was the stylistic trend of the 1930s? The large-format precision of the West Coast (Weston) or photomontage (Heartfield) or newspaper press work (Weegee) or miniature camera aesthetics (Cartier-Bresson) or pictorialism (Mortensen) or social concern (Bourke-White) or studio fantasies (Beaton) or camera-cataloguing (Sander) or. . . All these photographers were/ are considered ‘good’ photographers, even within the eclectic taste of the style- makers of the decade. 

If the body of work by an individual photographer has only a superficial relationship to a stylistic movement how much more problematic when the work itself does not have a formal coherence. In large measure the art historical study of a painter relies heavily on his connection to an art movement and on the relationship of the individual pieces of his production to his growth as a mature artist. In photography, such stylistic analysis and connection is forced at best, silly at worst. The work of two of the greatest photographers of our age support this idea: Bill Brandt and Harry Callahan. Brandt has swung from social documentation to distorted nudes, from barren landscapes to portraits of celebrities, from architecture to constructions. Callahan’s total output. . . well, it defies categorization of style or content. 

There will be the assumption among some readers that the absence of major and dominant movements in photography works towards the detriment of the medium as a subject of serious study. As consolation I would offer the thought that it is, in fact, a source of its strength – if we are able to leave in abeyance our (un)natural urge to equate photography with painting. In this sense, photography is language not art; or rather, it is an art with connotations beyond formal construction or style – an art of the science of signs. (5) 

And here we enter the core of the problem which has bedeviled and bewitched photographers since the birth of the medium: can a process-oriented science deal with the questions besetting the practitioner-as-artist? Two quotations will reveal the horns of the dilemma. When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them, in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner, as well as the features of the outer man. Julia Margaret Cameron (6) . . . less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell us anything about reality.

A photograph of the Krupp works or GEC yields almost nothing about these institutions. Reality proper has slipped into the functional. The reification of human relationships, the factory, let’s say, no longer reveals these relationships. Bertold Brecht (7) Cameron, typical of the romantic/mystical aesthetic notion which still prevails today, arrogantly assumes that the appearance of reality masks an inner essence or truth about a place or person which only photographic genius can reveal through the photograph. Brecht, typical of the topographical/photograph- as-document attitude, which also has adherents today, naively asserts that the machine-made image is not influenced by the human being operating its controls, and that the image cannot operate as an equivalent. 

If there have been any major movements in photograph’s history, they have not been defined by geography, or decade, or personality. Yet two major concepts have served to divide the diverse splendors of stylistic anomalies of the medium from 1839 to the present day. The ‘movements’ differ only in the emphasis given to reality versus individuality. The question is, which has precedence: content or creativity, subject or self? At some times the photographer sees himself as an asocial being, aloofly observing reality, coolly regarding his surroundings with self-effacing detachment. At others, he sees himself as a willing accomplice of reality, struggling to shape and mold it, with the ironic result that it is the self that is pictured. 

Literally and metaphorically, a photograph is not black and white, but an infinite number of grays between the two extremes and it is these shades which reveal the illusion of reality. In the same way that the photograph is considered incomplete without a black and a white, so the polemics of manifestoes, unequivocally affirming the photographer’s right to stand at the edges of the controversy, are important in defining the parameters of the medium. The photographer must, does, understand that the richness of photography is enhanced by the multiplicity of attitudes between the two extremes. It is in these subtle gradations of tonal range, coexisting simultaneously on the surface of a single print, that the photograph is defined. A photograph is its tonal range. 

Photograph is the diversity of its imagery. Photography needs its artisans as well as artists, its priests, its clowns, its snake-oil salesman, its idealists, its rebels and revolutionaries, its popes as well as its posturers. 

1. Photography in Search of Itself, Susan Sontag, New York Review of Books, 20 January 1977, p. 56.
2. The Photographic Journal, 16 January 1869, p. 208.
3. The Amateur Photographer, 12 November 1903, p. 393. 
4. Album, no. 2, March 1970, p. 47.
5. This is not the place to discuss the ramifications of this point. For those interested, I would recommend the writings of Victor Burgin. See: Two Essays on Art Photography and Semiotics, Robert Self Publications, 1976. Or: Art, Common Sense and Photography, Camerawork (San Francisco), no. 3, July 1976.
6. Quoted by Helmut Gernsheim, The History of Photography, p. 238.
7. Brecht was quoted by Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography, Screen, Spring 1972, p. 24. 

First published in Newsletter, DBCC, Fall 1989. 

Photography: the Third Wave: the digital revolution and what it portends for photography

Author’s note: I debated, with myself, whether or not to add this article to the web site. The digital revolution has had a much greater effect on the medium than any one could have foreseen, so this piece might seem quaintly anachronistic. However, with some trepidation, I decided to go ahead if only to indicate one person’s reaction to the early years of the digital age. (It was written in the Spring of 1989). 

We are now entering the Third Wave* of photography’s impact on culture and society. 

“Out there,” evolutionary forces and technological eruptions beyond our control are building a tsunami which is about to engulf us and which will have an immense impact on how we think, talk, write, teach and practice photography. It will have even more profound repercussions in the way images are employed in our lives. We are now entering the most turbulent period of photographic history. The Third Wave is on its way – and there is only one place to hide… 

But before predicting the transformations which will be created by the Third Wave it is first necessary to take a brief look at the two earlier ones. 

The First Wave occurred in 1839 with the birth of photography itself. A great deal has been written about the impact of this event on human consciousness and this is not the place to reiterate these arguments. Suffice to say that the splash sent ever-widening waves of change into the surrounding culture until no aspect of life, then or now, remained unaffected by the camera’s images. But the infinite complexity of these changes can be embraced by a simple statement: photography provided evidence of a tangible, measurable standard of truth. 

*l have borrowed this term, of course, from Alvin Toffler who, through books and articles, has described major changes in society with the wave analogy. Toffler’s first wave was the agricultural society that prevailed all over the world until industrialization. The Second Wave was the Industrial Revolution, with its reliance on machines powered by fuel, when factories became the center of society. Toffler’s Third Wave is the collapse of industrialism and the rise of a technological society dominated by electronics, computers and alternative energy sources. 

Although my wave analogy comes from Toffler, my definitions do not. 

This (problematic) notion is so taken for granted by our own culture that it is difficult to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the idea in the mid-19 century. For the first time in history the burden of proof shifted from the authority of an individual to the authority of a machine. A handmade illustration or a verbal description of a person or place demanded that the viewer/reader suspend cynicism and place a measure of trust in the integrity and skill of the author. The camera image was implicitly trustworthy because it, seemingly, short-circuited the experience of examining reality, by-passing the vagaries of human authorship or memory. In this sense the Victorian viewer was the photographer, and the directness of the experience was believable. Photography quickly became a metaphor for Truth. Newspapers, for example, were often called by photographic terms, such as The Daguerreotype, which emphasized their objective, factual contents. Books and periodicals employed the same idea. Both Sunday School Photographs, a book, and The Photographer, a periodical, concerned “the Truth” of the Christian gospel, and their contents made no connection, or reference, to the medium itself. Social Photographs was a book which contained no pictures. It was a collection of humorous descriptions of human types; it asserted the truth of these impressions by coopting the word “photographs.” And there are many more examples, which merely serve to illustrate the force which propelled photographs, like silver bullets, into the heart of the Victorian culture: a single Truth made visible. 

The Second Wave occurred around 1880. Up to that date, innovations and technical advances in photography had performed two functions: they either corrected deficiencies inherent in previous processes (the collodion negative, for example, allowed finer detail than the calotype and permitted multiple prints unlike the daguerreotype) or altered the presentation of the images in order to generate greater sales (such as the carte-de-visite). The social value of photography remained unaltered. 

The introduction of the gelatin dry-plate created social repercussions of an order of magnitude not yet realized, or at least expressed, by even photographic historians. The new hand camera, and the ubiquitous amateur, are only discussed in reference to their effects on photographic style. It is certainly true that the hordes of “snapshot pests” and their “execrable productions” produced a reaction among serious photographic artists and led to Pictorialism, Salon exhibitions and Secessionist movements. Infinitely more significant in this context, however, were the social ramifications. It cannot be overemphasized that the dry-plate hand camera was not a mere technical advance. It produced a sudden and revolutionary change in consciousness. It is only possible, in the few words which space permits, to point at isolated examples of this radical shift in thinking, and the all-encompassing ripples which left every aspect of society forever changed. One consequence of the hand camera was that people could be photographed without their consent, cooperation or even awareness. For the first time in the medium’s history the act of photography became a moral or ethical issue. The amateur and his or her invading, aggressive camera was feared and loathed by all right- minded, clear-thinking observers of the snapshot phenomenon. In a chain reaction, this fact led to many conclusions: the social status of the photographer plummeted (a state from which the medium has never fully recovered); the photographer was again “visible” as the author – and his/her integrity was challenged; laws were introduced to protect rights to privacy as a direct result of the hand camera; the snapshot altered the visual conventions of the age and hence altered how the world was perceived; and so on. 

The shock waves of change produced a domino-effect in many strange directions. For example, the introduction of the hand camera coincided with a craze for bicycles (which were often sold with cameras attached). Young ladies used the healthy exercise of bicycling and the edification of picture-making in order to escape the watchful, suspicious attentions of chaperones and neighbors. But the bicycle necessitated a different costume (long skirts and crinolines were impractical) which freed the young lady to wear unconventional clothes, such as bloomers. Wider experiences on picture expeditions or at camera clubs led to greater mental, as well as fashion, freedoms. Many of these young ladies became, with the active encouragement of the photographic press, professional photographers. Census reports for 1890/1900 reveal that one-third of all professional photographers (not receptionists, printers, assistants, retouchers, etc.) were female. The hand camera, therefore, is inextricably linked to bicycling, fashion and the suffragette movement. 

A myriad of other examples would demonstrate that the wave of 1880 irrevocably altered directions within photography but with even greater force altered the consciousness of its own as well as all future generations. If the Victorians were passive recipients of Truth through the camera, the Edwardians were also active promoters of social change through photography. (Compare, for example, Francis Frith with Paul Martin). It matters not if the photographer denies a social conscience. The shift in consciousness is now implicit in the medium itself – and the impact on society was devastating. 

Since 1880 the single truth has given way to two truths, the objective and the subjective. Consciousness has placed its fulcrum at various points along the beam connecting these notions and the balance is continually being seesawed by circumstance. Yet no matter how much out of kilter, the notion of some sort of truth is still implicit in photography. 

The Third Wave is now building and, as yet, only the earliest, gentlest ripples have reached us. However these warning signals indicate that we are about to enter the most turbulent period of photographic history so far, an event of such powerful change that the revolution of 1860 will seem relatively subtle. 

Like the previous wave, The Third Wave is signaled by a new piece of equipment – the electronic camera; like the previous wave, the new technology represents more than a new tool for doing the same thing with greater convenience. It is the harbinger of a new society. 

Before I attempt to justify this assertion, it is necessary to briefly describe the new camera, for those as yet unfamiliar with its potential, and indicate its effect on photography. 

All still electronic cameras operate on the same basic principle. The image-forming light strikes a flat wafer, which converts the image into electronic signals that are stored on a small (2 inch) floppy disk. Each disk can store up to 50 shots, which can be selectively erased and reused. The images can be viewed instantly on a television and the best ones printed onto paper. If the new technology was capable of no more than this, it would merely represent a step towards greater convenience, an electronic instant- picture system. 

But . . . this is just the beginning. Now that the image comprises electronic signals, it can be stored, manipulated, transmitted and recreated in a bewildering variety of ways, only a couple of which can be mentioned because it is not the system itself but its effect on society which is at issue. Let us take, therefore, two scenarios as illustrations of the electronic camera revolution. 

Scenario 1:
How you will be informed about a news event. The photojournalist in, say, Lebanon drives to a news event, and “machine-guns” the situation with 50 shots from the electronic camera, capturing 10 images per second in its “motor drive” mode. There is no need for picture making or precise framing. The images are transmitted instantly via the car’s cellular telephone and are received in a newspaper office in, say,New York. Meanwhile the editor viewing the images can call up other shots taken at the scene by various photographers and also file photographs of any subject taken anywhere at any time. Decisions can now be taken to create the most dramatic picture of the event. Using all the available images, one can be synthesized. Alterations can be made by using one foreground with another’s background, a smile changed to a frown, clothing altered in color, flames made bigger and more vivid, and so on. Imagine it and you can do it. Once the final image is “there”, all others are erased (which means they are gone forever). The picture is then combined with text, directly on the screen, and the pagination transmitted directly to the printing machine. Once the presses are rolling, the computer generated image is erased, leaving no evidence in its wake. 

Prophetic fiction? No. Everything mentioned above can be, is being, done in newspapers and magazines right now. National Geographic, Radio Times, Rolling Stone, Country Life, Picture Week, and scores of other periodicals and newspapers have used image manipulation to produce “better” cover pictures. Even photographic books have employed this system. The cover of A Day in the Life of Canada, for example, changed the dandelions in the background to green grass. The cover of A Day in the Life of America, a cowboy on horseback silhouetted against an evening sky, was composed not in the camera but in the computer. Only the photographer would know. And if no one knows, who can care? 

Scenario 2:
How your life will be remembered. Although the electronic camera and “darkroom” of the previous scenario are here and now, their application in the home is, at the time of writing (Spring 1989), still to come. (Four electronic still cameras for the amateur market are due for release this year, by Canon, Sony, Konica and Fuji.) But it does not take a great leap of imagination to foresee the advantages of the electronic system to the snapshooter. No film to buy, no processing/printing delay, previewing images either through the camera or the television, instant hard copies (prints) if needed, and transmission by telephone of images to friends and relatives anywhere in the world. And the image can be “improved” in any way imaginable: closed eyes magically open, frowns are converted into smiles, colors changed selectively (even the color of someone’s eyes), relatives included in the group (or eliminated), backgrounds changed, locations enhanced (using magazine illustrations, for example), wrinkles washed away, hairstyles updated and so on ad infinitum. The photographic record will comprise images which depict what it should have been like and not what it was like. Wishful thinking and fantasy will be the factual evidence of the future. 

This is postmodernist appropriation of real significance. 

Only two factors are delaying the complete and utter transformation of amateur photography from chemistry to electronics: cost and sharpness. The cost of an electronic still camera is around $1,000 which is not petty cash. However it should be noted that the cost was $7,000 just two years ago. (As a point of comparison it might be remembered that digital watches were once $150.00; they can now be bought for $1.50). It should also be noted that the hand camera of the second wave was also expensive, initially. The Kodak camera cost $25.00, almost a month’s average wage. In buying power, the cost of the electronic camera is almost the exact equivalent.

The sharpness of the electronic image is totally dependent on the individual photocells or “pixels” in the disk (the equivalent of grains in the film). A disk contains less than half a million pixels; the average 35 mm film frame contains the equivalent of 18 million pixels. So there is a long way to go. Industry representatives predict that the electronic image will be as sharp as 35 mm film in three years, and vastly superior in 10 years. Kodak has already made a disc with 1.4 million pixels and, it is rumored, one has been made which is producing a legible image of a newspaper at half a mile by starlight! Certainly, all engaged in this field see no reason why such sharpness, at speeds of several million “ASA,” will not be achieved, and soon. 

To some readers the above information will be redundant or irrelevant, but, it was necessary to sketch some of the potentials of the electronic image in order to create a foundation for several speculations of broader significance. 

The future:
Photography as we know it (the reaction of silver halides to light) is now obsolete. That’s not a cry of despair, but merely an observation. To future generations our present process will seem as laborious, intractable and messy as the wet-plate process now seems to us. There is no point in sticking our heads in the sand on the issue of electronic imagery because the medium is already undergoing far-reaching changes. 

One of the instantly apparent changes is reflected in the availability of present materials, like film and paper. We know, but do not realize, that fine-art photography is, with few exceptions, totally dependent on an industry which was not designed for it but for the convenience of snapshots and rapid-processing machinery. When film and paper is no longer required by these services then our source of materials will be gone. Major manufacturers are already beginning to phase out of production certain black and white materials and this trend will accelerate in anticipation of the public/professional switch to electronic imagery. 

Will fine art photography utilizing silver salts die out completely? No. It will, though, rapidly become even more irrelevant to society and culture than it is at present. In the beginning I said there is only one place to hide from the Third Wave. That place is the fine art photography area of a college or university. In an exactly analogous situation to the fine-art reaction to snapshots, future art photographers will emphasize the handmade nature of their productions, but now this will be a matter of necessity as well as choice. In the absence of freely available materials there will be a return to the craft of individually preparing papers in all manner of silver and non-silver processes, and there will be a rise in small cottage industries catering to this specialized market, as is already happening with, say, platinum paper. Ironically, any silver print will be Art because of its rarity and the fact that it was hand made. The situation can be compared to lithography from the stone. In the 19 century this was a commercially viable and common trade in popular demand. Today, lithographers are artists and practically the only place you will find one is in a university art department. Photography (the chemical kind) is moving in this direction. 

Photography departments will have to decide how to respond: either entrench and deliberately exclude electronic imagery from their programs or start incorporating the new system now. Several fine-arts programs around the USA are offering classes in electronic still camera systems but not one, as far as I know, has gone as far at The Polytechnic, London. Every photography major is required to take courses in electronic imagery (and desktop publishing) in the first year of study. 

Photojournalism areas are, for obvious reasons, moving faster towards electronics. At the institution where I now teach, the photojournalism department is small – one faculty member and 25 majors. Yet it has two electronic camera systems and has been teaching classes in their use for the past several years. The fine-arts department, by contrast, has eight full-time photography teachers and 300 majors, but the area has not even begun to think about electronic imagery. This must change if only because the fine-arts students are taking classes in photojournalism in order to get their hands on the new technology. It is the enthusiasm and willingness for change among the young which will eventually force major changes in photographic education. 

These eager young artists, for whom computers hold no mysteries, already know more about electronic imagery than their teachers, who do not have the knowledge, experience or even interest to deal meaningfully with this new work in critiques and tutorials. Something has to give… 

All that can be asserted with any assurance is that the new electronic image-maker will, perforce, alter the way we think, talk about, and teach photography. The only alternative is that we become increasingly irrelevant and are relegated to being “photographers of the Old School”, as collodion workers were dubbed by hand camera enthusiasts in the 1880s. 

And, yes, I am talking about myself. I do not even own a word processor… 

But the problems posed by electronic cameras in photographic education is esoteric and of minor importance compared to the effects of the Third Wave in society. All I can do at this stage is ask questIons because the answers, I feel sure, will be of greater significance and impact than anything I can yet imagine. 

What will be the status of photographers in the field when all the creative work is carried out by electronic “darkroom” operators who were not at the scene and cannot possibly know the truth? 

What are the ethics of electronically “retouching/airbrushing” a photograph or combining several images, under the guise of reality, for publication in a newspaper or magazine? 

In the above case, who will own the copyright of the final image, or be credited, when it has been assembled from the work of several photographers? 

What proof will there be that such a thing ever existed if the used image is erased from the computer in order to make storage “space” available for future images? 

If even the best images are erased, what will be the historical record? 

Will museums view images which only exist electronically as collectable “items”? If so, how will they be seen, stored, retrieved, displayed – and with what assurances that they are fact rather than fabrications? 

Will the very notion of evidence seem an archaic idea in the future, when images will be presumed fabricated rather than factual? 

If so, will there be no such thing as photographic evidence in a court of law, at the scene of a crime, of a news event, as scientific/ objective/ proof of existence of anything? 

Will this be of any concern to the public who will be cheerfully altering, manipulating reality in order to “improve” home snapshots? 

And if such falsifications of reality are so commonplace, and everyone assumes manipulation of information is the rule rather than the exception, will we be left with any standards of truth? 

Will we be returning to a pre-First Wave idea that we must rely on the authority and integrity of an individual who asserts Truth but cannot prove it, and, if that is coming, will we be living in a world where the philosophy of situational ethics (all matters of right and wrong depend on circumstance) reigns supreme? 

If the First Wave led to objective truth and the Second Wave led to objective/subject truth, will the Third Wave lead to no agreed truth but all truth being relative? 

Is that bad?

Will the electronic image hasten the demise of the written word (and hence clear thinking) when pictures become so ubiquitous in every conceivable situation, both personal and professional? 

Will this trend lead to a commonly agreed picture language replete with a profusion of instantly understood symbols, like Victorian allegorical paintings? 

What will be the point of travel (even to work) when the individual can have access to all known information/images from anywhere in the world while sitting at his/her electronic desk? 

Is this the end of our faith in direct, personal encounters with real world experiences? 

I do not know the answers to these and scores of other questions which I could pose. We are moving into that area of photography/ culture/ consciousness which is called terra incognito. All I can do is point towards a couple of peaks and a river or two, easily spotted from the border of the future. 

But what I can say (with only a slight fear of contradiction) is this: the future is here, it is electronic imagery, and it will impact on every aspect of culture and consciousness. 

Published in Cadencies, Photologies and Ruminations: Aspects of Photographic History, SF Camerawork, Vol. 16, Summer/Fall 1989 

Arnold Newman 

I received an urgent message from the editor of a photographic magazine. He was publishing a feature on Arnold Newman and needed, now, a short personal appreciation of his life and work in order to spice up the piece. Could I oblige? This is the piece which was published with Arnold Newman’s response. 

If the careers of photographers who have received acclaim and prominence in the first half of the 20th century are compared to types of runners then the majority have been sprinters. Time and time again we find that their major contributions have been made early in their careers and over a relatively short period of time. From Jacques Henri Lartigue, whose most memorable work all occurred before he was out of his teens, to Robert Frank, whose seminal work The Americans was published over forty years ago, the history of photography reminds us that the medium seems to encourage achievements early on and that extraordinary high levels of productivity and merit are very rare. And, I would add, the duration of such acclaim is becoming increasingly shorter, living as we do in an age and culture which fosters fame based on canny publicity and gallery promotion rather than on solid achievement. Today, photography is a medium of quick stars whose light cannot be sustained and all we are left with is a sense of passing and a question: whatever happened to. . . ? 

In this age of hype and superficiality it is particularly gratifying, therefore, to pay tribute to one of the enduring distance runners, whose career and productivity inspires through sheer tenacity, long-term commitment to a singular vision, and a steady determination to create throughout the long haul. There is something noble in a spirit, epitomized by Arnold Newman, who has not pandered to changing fads and fashions or the art market, but who has narrowly defined a path of progress and pursued it with consistency for more than fifty years. Such devotion (a heavy word but one that I would not change) demands respect. 

By the time of his first exhibition, Artists Through the Camera, (with the photographer Ben Rose) in 1941 at the A-D Gallery in New York City, Arnold Newman had already made his mark as an accomplished portraitist. Around this time he was being encouraged by such luminaries as Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, by Beaumont Newhall who as the Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art purchased his work for the permanent collection, by the painters and sculptors with whom he was interacting and, creatively, by the pictorial discipline of the images by Walker Evans. 

As one of the most celebrated, and congenial, photographers of our age, Arnold Newman has been interviewed extensively and any search of a good library will introduce you to an abundance of biographical, technical and philosophical material concerning his life and attitudes. If you want, however, the definitive book on Newman’s work, I would recommend finding a copy of One Mind’s Eye: The Portraits and Other Photographs by Arnold Newman. Published in 1974, it does not of course include images of the past 25 years but it is still a classic monograph, indispensable for any serious library, not only because of its careful image selection and sequencing but also for the fine appraisal of Newman by Beaumont Newhall and the informative introduction by Robert Sobieszek. It might be difficult to find a copy but it is worth the effort (and the price). 

Interspersed among the texts are comments by Newman himself on the art and craft of portraiture and these constitute some of the most astute and wisest writings by anyone on the relationship between the photographer and the sitter. Unfortunately I only have space to give you a single, but typical, quotation: 

I’m convinced that any photographic attempt to show the complete man is nonsense, to an extent. We can only show, as best we can, what the outer man reveals; the inner man is seldom revealed to anyone, sometimes not even to the man himself. We have to interpret, but our interpretation can be false, of course. We can impose our own feelings upon a man, and these feelings can do him a great injustice – we cannot always be one hundred percent correct. I think one of the greatest tests of the portrait photographer is his intuitiveness, his ability to judge a person, his ability to get along with all kinds of people . . . his ability to have sympathy for each man and to understand the man he is photographing, to show tact and understanding of the problem the man obviously faces being before the camera. . . . 

Give Newman a break for the gender issue (he wrote this before the advent of political correctness) and what emerges from this and many other of his comments is his striking empathy. And so it is if you meet him in person. Physically he is burly, bearded and bespectacled; emotionally he displays an enveloping warmth. On his own admission, he is a “Jewish mother.” On one of my infrequent visits to New York I had a few hours before my flight out and mused on whom I would most like to meet before I left. Arnold Newman was a good choice because he had just published his book, The Great British, which appealed to my (albeit insipid) nationalism. So, on the off-chance as the saying goes, I called him, not expecting his effusive “come and visit.” After two and a half hours I was reeling from his generosity of spirit. My notebook is littered with words like “voluble,” “articulate,” “expansive,” “effusive,” “caring,” and “committed.” I relished his amazing fund of anecdotes about his life, photographers he had known, and the stories of his famous sitters. He was still genuinely enthusiastic about the medium and his own images after all those years. 

If you saw his recent traveling retrospective exhibition (organized by his friend Arthur Ollman, Director of the Museum of Photographic Arts and one of the best curators in the country) you can see the consistency that has informed his work for six decades. He has written: 

I don’t think I’ve changed so much as I’ve progressed. I think change for the sake of change is not creativity: it’s a matter of activity for the sake of commercialism. In my own case I’ve become freer in some of my pictures but in others I have gone back to the tightly controlled approach I started off with. If anything, I’ve simplified, which I think is the natural thing. Most people do. The spontaneity and freshness of youth is one thing. It’s important for any creative person . . . But then, as I would explain it in baseball terms, you begin to pitch with your head as well as your arm, and that’s what I’m doing now: thinking things out more carefully.

Well, Arnold, you might think of yourself as a pitcher, but to me you are a marathon man. May you never reach the finish. 

Arnold responded to my appreciation. He wrote, in part: 

I never thought of myself as a “marathon man,” but you have to realize a marathon man can get awfully tired after a while. So what do you do? You just keep going. . . . Frankly, any good creative person I know (photographer, painter, sculptor, writer, etc) has never retired. This is talked about frequently amongst those kinds of people and all of us agree that complete retirement is inviting death. Besides, one is driven to go on. I am reminded of a story by Jean Renoir, the painter, told in one of his books about his son the great film director, Pierre, who had a friend that wanted to ask his father a specific question. Renoir agreed despite his constant pain from arthritis, his brushes were tied to his hands because his fingers crippled with arthritis could not hold them – he had to go on. The question asked of Renoir by this friend was: “How do I know I should be a musician?” Renoir’s answer, and I can imagine it was filled with irritation, was: “How do you know if you have to take a pee?” 

There’s still a bunch of us racing that marathon, guys like Penn, George Segal (the sculptor), Arthur Miller, and the list goes on. None of us will ever stop willingly. Besides, it’s fun! 

Thanks, Arnold. In an age of superficiality and short-lived promotions, we all need to hear the lesson of commitment to the long haul. (George Segal died this last summer, shortly after the letter was written.) 

How to be Famous, Sort Of and why fame has nothing to do with it

Inexplicably some people want to be famous, while others are hoping for abduction and the prospect of being used in alien sex experiments. Both groups have equal chances of success. But the really, seriously delusional are those who want to be famous as photographic artists. These unfortunates are classified, professionally, as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder 1. And I am not making this up. 

According to the mammoth tome known as the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, the above disease is instantly identifiable because the sufferer “1.) has a grandiose sense of self-importance . . . ; 2.) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success . . . ; 3.) believes that he or she is ‘special’ . . . ; 4.) requires excessive admiration; 5.) has a sense of entitlement . . . ; 6.) is interpersonally exploitative . . . ; 7.) lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; 8.) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him . . . ; 9.) shows arrogant, haughty behaviour or attitudes.” 

That accurately describes pretty much everyone I know in the world of art and photography. But it is nice to know that it is not their fault. They are mentally deranged, on a par with those unfortunates in our society who suffer from encopresis, or the “repeated passage of feces into inappropriate places” such as alien space-craft. (Billing code: 307.7) 

To be fair I must admit that even a cursory scanning of the Manual reveals that everyone is a neurotic sicko, so photographers should not be singled out. As compensation for my insensitivity, I will now act as therapist and guide you through your delusion. I already have the billing code, 296.01, thank you very much. 

Let us start with what is meant by fame, before moving on to tips for getting it if, by that time, the incurables among you still think it is worth having. 

I think we can agree that any definition of fame would include such phrases as “popular acclaim,” “known far and wide,” “public estimation and regard,” “household name,” and similar tributes. Now lay back and concentrate. Name an active living artist- photographer who is famous* . . . . . . . (The dots represent time passing. Go ahead, think about it for as long as you like.) 

Ready now? Good. Who did you come up with? Joel-Peter Witkin. Robert Mapplethorpe. Annie Leibowitz. Sally Mann. Who? Never mind – we have enough names for our purpose. 

The next question is: how many people in the USA have heard of any one of these names? As I cannot hear you I will answer the question myself. Probably one thousand at any one time. More? OK, let us up the figure to five thousand although I think that is stretching it. 

Here is the first conclusion: in a nation of 260 million even the higher figure does not represent “public acclaim”; it means that the name is recognized by only five persons in a quarter of a million. Now, compare. When a minor television sit-com actress of dubious talent declared her lesbianism she inundated every major news outlet for weeks, including the cover of Time plus seven inside pages, and her coming-out episode was watched by everyone in the universe except me. That is fame. 

And the second conclusion is: fame has absolutely nothing to do with merit, achievement, talent, contributions to society or culture, brilliance in a chosen field, lifetime dedication, or haircut. Basically it has to do with sex, but we will get to that later . .. 

The point is that if you want to be famous the least likely route is via photography, which concerns the media hacks about as much as a flea on a wart-hog. As a case in point, look at the much-touted extravaganza called American Visions by Robert Hughes of Time; its special issue devoted to art history includes examples of quilts, lamps, gravestones and chairs but its time-line does not even mention the birth of photography, although the date of 1839 is marked – by the introduction of the rules of baseball. So much for the most significant art historical development of the past two hundred years. Photographers are invisible in the culture. They do not preoccupy the tabloids even if they (the photographers) engage in nefarious conduct with squids or aliens; they do not shake hands with Presidents, even at flower shows; they are not asked to open orphanages; they are not sent on overseas goodwill tours on behalf of the nation; they are not elected to positions of political power; they do not have office tower-blocks named after them; they do not perform in Las Vegas; they are not the subjects of unauthorized best-selling biographies. Frankly, my dear, no one gives a damn. They are more likely to be castigated from the floor of the Senate for sexual perversion. With any luck. 

I hope you are getting the message, young photographer, that fame in your chosen field is not fame at all, but a fickle passing fad of total irrelevancy to the culture at large. Whenever ageing art-photographers gather at their favorite watering-holes you may be forgiven for assuming that the stimulating conversation centers on post-post-modernism and its influence on aesthetic subtexts, or how best to educate their students. It doesn’t. After a lengthy (six-pack minimum) ribald discussion on who-is-bonking-whom, the conversation inevitably reels towards the issue of utmost concern to the nearly-famous or not-quite-made-its: “Whatever happened to . . . . . ?” (Note: In this case, the dots do not represent time elapsing, although they could, because inebriated photographers have a hard time dredging up the names of dear chums of last week let alone of twenty years earlier. No, the dots represent any name who was “famous” a short time ago but has since been totally forgotten). 

So fame in photography is not only illusionary, restricted as it is to a few thousand, but also it is short-lived. How short? Exactly the same as the life-span of a gerbil. 

We already know by consulting our diagnostic manual, suffering as you do from a grandiose sense of self-importance and a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, that such reality checks as i) fame does not exist in art-photography and ii) even in its tiny in-house version its duration is insignificant, are not going to deter you. So here is the practical conclusion. I will now reveal to you for the first time anywhere in print (“shows arrogant, haughty behaviour”) the secrets to becoming a short-lived, inconsequential success. 

What you photograph is more important than how well you photograph it. One of the supreme lessons of photographic history is that there are a limited number of subjects which impinge on the culture at large. They are: portraits of actresses, female nudes, and nudes of female actresses, not in that order. The budding famous photographer would do well to bear this in mind. I will be frank with you, much as it might hurt your delicate feelings and undermine your need for admiration, your arty snaps of out-of- focus tract homes taken with a plastic Diana camera will not make it. Nor will beautifully crafted large-format images of land-fills, just to affirm that these strictures have nothing to do with technique. What is important in being famous is subject matter, subject matter, subject matter. In that order. 

Famous people are best to photograph because you borrow their fame in order to increase your own. Like Annie Leibowitz. She also has the advantage that she can convince celebrities to do daft things for her camera, such as taking off their clothes. Another strategy is to become a stalker, called a paparazzi (named after a spaghetti dish from Italy), like Ron Galella, who followed around Jackie Onassis and assorted film stars wearing a football helmet for fear of being beaten (even more) senseless by Marlon Brando and Sean Penn, who are famous people, unlike Galella. 

The other sure-fire subject for success is anything which is highly disturbing to those uptight sickos who think a libido is a French bathroom fixture. The more outrageous the images – unconventional sex, dead things or freaks, preferably all three – the better. The aim here is to get denounced by the church, the educational establishment and/or a Senator as a corruptor of public morals who is a spiritual enemy of dire consequences for the fabric of this great God-loving nation of ours and a pinko commie pervert to boot. It is not a coincidence that Joel-Peter Witkin is successful. His images of severed heads, hermaphrodites and big breasts are as offensive as they are compelling. Let this be a lesson to you. 

Next to sex, religion is a good subject, especially in America where no one sees the irony in public polls which reveal that 96% of the population believes in a personal loving God, and where “In God We Trust” is printed on every penny, that this is one of the most violent nations on earth. Use this irony, or hypocrisy, or stupidity, or whatever. If you are perceived to doubt the faith of these gentle, loving Christians then they will clamor for the reintroduction of the Inquisition and drool at the thought of ripping you limb from limb. The instructive example here is Andres Serrano, who was a photo- nonentity until he cleverly offended righteous bigots (everyone in America who is not a photographer) by photographing a crucifix in a jar of his own urine, or Kool-Aid, or something. Now he is famous, sort of. 

If you do not have access to famous people, weirdoes or Jesse Helms (often the same people) then you have to cultivate a powerful pusher in the medium of photography. Pushers, once upon a time, used to be photographers, or at least knowledgeable about the field, which helped to keep out most of the riff-raff. 

For example, when John Szarkowski was chief pusher at the Museum of Modern Art he could create a reputation by stamping “MOMA Approved” on the foreheads of his chosen band of accolytes, which included Gary Winogrand, Gary Winogrand, Gary Winogrand and Whatever- Happened-To-Whatsisname-Egglestone. 

Now that Szarkowski is retired, the MOMA no longer has this power to create fame, so no point in dropping off your portfolio, not that there was much hope before, so you have to suck up elsewhere, like the saunas frequented by filthy rich homosexuals who are not photographers. This was Robert Mapplethorpe’s clever ruse, and you can learn a lot about what is wrong with contemporary attitudes in photography by studying his rise to fame. He was a second-rate professional studio photographer until he determinedly cultivated a rich friend/lover called Sam Wagstaff. You must find your own pusher who is plugged in to the sort of moneyed clout that will do you the most good, but I cannot help you in this matter as I have never visited a sauna that I will admit to. 

Now that you have a portfolio of explicit photographs of sexual acts unimagined even by abduction wannabes, you have cultivated a rich pusher, and you have outraged the moral standard-bearers of the nation, your quest for fame is pretty much assured. You can further smooth the way ahead by one or more of these strategies. 

Get a job in academia. The reasoning here is that university/college administrators are ever vigilant about activities which are deemed to corrupt the minds of the young, so this should fuel the fires of outrage and hence increase your fame. Also a college job increases your chances of getting National Endowment of the Arts funding, which can be used against you by irate taxpayers and right-wing politicians. When you are fired for moral turpitude the resultant lawsuit will bring national fame, or a jail term. 

If all else fails, die. It is no coincidence that all the most famous photographers are no longer alive. Still, there is not much point in shedding your container, to use a current euphemism, unless someone discovers your remains (the photographs, that is) and is willing to promote them in order to boost their own income and sense of entitlement. You can help by a) absolving any future biographer from all legal liabilities and b) providing a salacious, tantrum-ridden diary to accompany the images, emphasizing your wayward genius, victimisation and, of course, your sexual escapades with famous actresses and actors. 

I know, I know . . . one or two of you care about beauty, goodness, truth, virtue, ideals and all those other namby-pamby words which prompt the gagging reflex in all neurotic fame-seekers. So my advice, although it is hardly worth wasting a sentence on so few of you, is: get a life! You will never be famous or even abducted. You’re a loser. 

Like me. 

© The Estate of Bill Jay


  1. Your best opinion article yet! Long winded but my god, it is a thrilling read. Congratulations on another well written observation about photography.

      1. Yes, I realized that after I sent my message. Thank you for the posting. I did see the documentary about him that was available on your site and learned a lot. I’m in my mid-70s and was reading all of the magazines that were available at the time. They became part of my photo education since I never took any related classes in college. I’m part of that self-taught group, which wasn’t such a terrible thing in hind sight, but it did take a little longer on the technical end but allowed me to study the history very deeply. Your site is a great part of the “continuing education” course.

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