Monday, July 23, 2007

Slowish Versus Fastish

I've been a fan of Michael David Murphy's 2point8 site for a long while. He's just posted a note about changing the focus of his site:

"The world may not need another online photo magazine, but I’m considering turning this space into something more polished and focused - a little less bloggy - a space for great streetish photography with a critical, editorial vision."
I'll keep watching and I expect he'll do a great job of it. It brings up a point I've been thinking about for a while, however: the significance of speed.

Museums are slow, with shows staying in place for months. Pure photoblogs are fastish, generally posting a photo a day. A number of fastish sites use more of a shoot-and-dump strategy, going to a party or event and posting a gallery of 20 photos or so the next day. And some sites, especially those with multiple photographers, have moved to a pace of multiple posts each day. With RSS readers and subscription sites increasing in popularity, viewers can even more-or-less keep up with the onslaught of images and the avalanche of words about images.

I'm left wondering about each format, however, and I get the sense that there may be an issue of scale here. In almost any photography class, the issue of how large a photograph should be will arise, and after some experience most people get the sense that a number of factors can "tell us" how big to print a particular image (or about other issues of presentation). Some images should be large for best effect, some small.

I think a similar thing happens with Web presentation -- not necessarily regarding size but frequency and significance.

I'm definitely a fan of images in larger units. I love single photographs, of course, but I find more significance, sophistication and interest in small portfolios or sequences of images. Yet the Web has, so far, seemed to hold a grudge against anything but the single image. While it is easy to make a Web gallery, or focus on project or portfolio presentation (Zone Zero is based on the idea), there is something about the medium that seems to push for the single impressive image. Flickr is never used for sequenced images, after all, but posting of single images (or all the images) from a shoot. Blogs are structurally set up to facilitate posting one image at a time.

One of my students presented work in book form this term, and I remembered I love that format. Because you hold a book close, an image that is physically small reads as large and detailed. Because (often) each image is given its own page, significance is granted to it. And because all the techniques of sequencing and storytelling are allowed, a well-planned photobook is generally more than the sum of its images taken alone. During my Saturday visit to ICP, just after my student showed her newly printed book (made through Shutterfly, I believe) we stumbled onto a table of similar books made by Stephen Shore. Freed from the type of pressure a traditionally-published photobook is heir to -- I'm staring at my copy of Garry Winogrand's "The Animals" and noticing it is not physically very different from these new books -- Shore's work seemed very at home in this format. I went back and forth from his "American Surfaces" book -- very carefully printed, packaged and marketed -- to these more "casual" books. I really like them as a way of working.

So how do you give the feeling of a small book to online presentation? What speed should it be?

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