Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

teedering on: evolve or fall

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those of you that know me know i truly do love it. love photography with all my might.

it saved me, gave me an outlet to finally express myself. quiet, young angry women for reasons that no longer serve or phase me. photography gave me a focus, a place to channel my passion for life, storytelling , justice, beauty. for this is i am grateful to have discovered it and grateful to my teachers who nurtured this unbridled passion.

however its changing and its on the brink of death or major evolution. i mean, look how long photography has been around and now film is nearly extinct…

yesterday i spoke at the SPE (Society for Photographic Education) Northwest Conference. I arrived, listened to a few lectures and though amazed at the work and passion each presenter had to share, i felt somber. why? i think because it had been awhile since i was in the strictly photo world. i have been happily deep in the tech/social media world for the last year or so thanks to salamgarage.

true, this was a totally academic crowd.  if you read my blog, a few entries ago i talked about how the ‘classroom’ feels like a cage to me. a prison. a straitjacket. all i wanted from a classroom was out of it, unless a compelling, dynamic conversation was going on..  or… when i was printing my negatives spaced out in my own world.

yesterday i went back down memory lane, talking about ‘a sense of place’ or ‘landscapes’… heady talk describing what ones sees, laced with opinion after critique after what to me feels like nonsense. actually, there wasn’t really a discussion going on. it was more like people raising their hand, telling the audience what they think and what books they’ve read that support what they think. ‘mental masturbation’ is what a professor friend calls it. i am not cut out for academia, obviously…  unless i get to challenge it, which i did a bit yesterday.

this will probably irritate a lot of people, so again, footnote: i was never that kind of photographer. those of you that have met me would expect that from me. i like disruptive conversation and innovation. i do not like people looking at creation and deconstructing it for the purpose of throwing it into a category supported by a critics point of view. why? isn’t it great the way it is, isn’t it great that someone took the time to make something and finished!!!… ?  and.. can’t we just shoot this with an iphone, apply a filter, call it a day? does the medium MATTER anymore, since the medium (and observer) is so incredibly mailable and now we can duplicate nearly every traditional technique…. why are people still talking about the zone system?

it was my turn to get up there. so i do and here are a few of my early slides:

Picture 9

Picture 10

there were others but that was the jist of it. not sure why the text is so small now.
anyway. i am a human being, a collection of cells, not a photographer, but this is how people introduced themselves. i told the audience i am a storyteller and my stories show up thru various kinds of mediums and places.

i  was bored and when i am bored i like to light a fire. i got up and said i don’t think mastering photography matters anymore, i think the ‘cat is out of the bag,’ that so many people can make a good photo now its crazy. and who decides what a good photo is? the observer. and there are the possibility of how many observers? many. so, a ‘good’ photo never made sense to me. a photo that evokes emotion, reaction, change, now that is  a ‘good’ photo to ‘me.’

i started by showing the video of rodney king being beat by the LAPD. that was ‘crappy’ video, but it changed the world.

then showed my work and the work of salamgarage participants. they liked it.

the audience challenged me. asked me something about poor people [in developing countries]. asked something about the ‘us and them’ factor.

i reminded him that i did not use the word ‘poor’ and that i think human consciousness is evolving to a place where we are very aware of our language. let’s be very conscious of our words, because our words shape reality. also,  we at salaamgarage do not think ‘us and them’ at all, we think… ‘we.’ that this may be his consciousness, though not mine.

it was awesome to be challenged and hear where people were coming from. the last photographer cropped out the ‘las vegas’ shirt the pygmy was wearing. he didn’t think it was right, it was distracting.

i’m ok with whatever people are wearing, i believe that whatever they are wearing is perfect, it is their choice and that is very much who they are,’ i told the audience. caxton has a ‘cat’ (caterpillar) shirt on. that is what he decided to wear that day. uniquely him. could also be his only shirt. who knows. still uniquely him.

you know, i felt like i was back in class in the early 90s, talking about the same stuff, enamored by the zone system and deconstructing images.

i’ll have more to say about this, but ultimately my message to the audience of students and educators was as follows:

i don’t think making pictures is enough. lets face it anyone can take a half decent photo these days. what i think matters is what are you going to do with it. why did you take that photo in the first place and what will you do with it? a photo doesn’t do anyone any good sitting on a hard drive. get it out there, do something with it.

also, if i were you students i would be collaborating with tech people. the tech industry is way more collaborative than the photo community. people work together, are less protective of methodology and projects (well, there are those with patents in the pipeline- tho they won’t even mention it)  and they are evolving on a daily basis. when tech and imagery are combined it is incredibly powerful and can have a much further breadth and impact, starting with number one: collaboration.

and last: think hard about why you picked up a camera in the first place. there is something you wanted to communicate. figure out what that is and do not ever forget why you picked up a camera. what will you add to the mix?

Written by amandakoster

November 9, 2009 at 1:12 am

Posted in photography

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