Tatsumi Orimoto. Small Mama & Big Shoes.

Art Mama + Son

Art Mama + Son
Art Mama + Son
Tatsumi Orimoto. Oil can.
Oil can
Tatsumi Orimoto. Small Mama & Big Shoes.
Small Mama & Big Shoes
Tatsumi Orimoto. Breadman Son + Alzheimer Mama.
Breadman Son + Alzheimer Mama
Tatsumi Orimoto. Tire Tube Communication: Mama and Neighbours.
Tire Tube Communication: Mama and Neighbours

Not a new series but I had long forgotten about Tatsumi Orimoto’s work—heck, I’d forgotten his name even—until one of his photos came across my Tumblr feed. Not much to say about these except that, as sort of mean as these are, I find them funny and they remind me of my grandmother.*

*My grandmother got dementia before she died. As tragic is it was to see her decline, we often couldn’t help but laugh at how she dealt with things. And it was always especially amusing to see her routine get shaken up and her not really notice at all.

Edward Steichen, “In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces”

Edward Steichen’s War Years

Steichen began to value photography’s capacity to transmit and encode information, and he soon proved his savvy as a collaborator and producer rather than a solitary auteur—new skills that enabled his subsequent groundbreaking career in magazines.

Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War I

Edward Steichen, “Untitled (Vaux)”
Untitled (Vaux)
Edward Steichen, “In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces”
In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces
Edward Steichen, “Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft.”
Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft.
Edward Steichen, “Bomb Dropped From Airplane”
Bomb Dropped From Airplane

These have been sitting in the write-somthing-about-this queue for a few months. Kukkurovaca’s most-recent Minor White post however reminded me of them. It’s not just that these are interesting technologically* and biographically,** they’re also worth thinking about as communication.

*Adding photography to the list of aerial advancements made during World War 1.

**Marking a key moment in Steichen’s development as a photographer

In their execution, they remind me of the scientific photographs—micrography, aerial surveys, etc.—that found their way into the early attempts at photographic abstraction, except that in White’s case, they are not valuable purely for their aesthetics but for their potential to transmit an understanding that could not be put into words.

kukkurovaca on Minor White

This is especially interesting given how I was looking at Doc Edgerton last week and feeling like all those stop-motion photographs felt more gimmicky than anything else. I think the main difference here is that many of the stop motion photos don’t really communicate much beyond “this looks cool”* whereas aerial photos do. It’s not just “I can see my house from here” but the kind of thing that invites us to think about our interactions with the land from a different perspective.

*The best Edgerton photos actually tend to go beyond that and reveal interesting things about the way objects behave— e.g. how the milk coronet elegantly shows fluid dynamics.

We already know how maps are so different than directions in terms of explaining a place and how to navigate it. Aerial photos take the sense of a map but invite us to really think about the real world implications of what’s depicted. At the same time, like with maps (and any other kind of photography), they’re an obviously abstracted version of the world.

Harold Edgerton. Cutting the Card Quickly.

Doc Edgerton

Harold Edgerton. Bullet Through Apple.
Bullet Through Apple
Harold Edgerton. Cutting the Card Quickly.
Cutting the Card Quickly
Harold Edgerton. Back Dive.
Back Dive
Harold Edgerton. Football kick – Wesley E. Fesler.
Football kick – Wesley E. Fesler
Harold Edgerton. Milk Drop Coronet.
Milk Drop Coronet
Harold Edgerton. Tennis Back-Hand Drive.
Tennis Back-Hand Drive

Nothing really new here. One of his photos came across Tumblr and reminded me of how often Doc Edgerton is on my mind nowadays. He’s one of those photographers whose name you’re supposed to know but, at the same time, feels like someone of technical rather than artistic importance. I’m not sure exactly where that line is but I’m pretty sure both Muybridge and Edgerton are straddling it.

In any case, he’s on my mind so much because every few months another photoseries goes viral* which is pretty much straight out of the Doc Edgerton handbook of using strobes to freeze action and capture the subject in a shape which we never see them in. I’m not knocking the concept. I’m just intrigued at how much interest it still holds.

*e.g. dogs shaking themselves or water wigs.

Edgerton’s photos were pushing the limits of flash and strobes in their time. We didn’t know stuff like this could be done. Now? Besides the photoseries, we see these effects in sports broadcasts all the time. And they still fascinate us.

Part of me thinks this is because the frozen-in-motion effect helps us buy into the photography-as-truth thing in showing us things that are TRUE yet which we have never seen before.* This is still the goal that many photographers want to achieve.

*Even though it’s actually true that these ultra-short exposures are inherently unreal and nothing ever looks like these.

At the same time, I can’t help wondering how, despite the way we constantly get new viral series along these lines, this kind of thing doesn’t feel like art to me. Is it in the framing of the photos? So many of these are in the “look what happens when” camp where the content of the image is seemingly much more important than the photo itself. There’s obviously more to these photos than just the content but the framing suggests that we ignore that aspect. Or is it the fact that Edgerton’s work itself is held by MIT and feels more like evidence from science experiments rather an artist’s explorations.

I’ve no good answers yet here.



Note: This originally posted on NJWV.

Behavior is modified and shaped not only through being observed, but also through the shame of negative social feedback when video and stills of bad behavior are released on a national and local stage. This both corroborates the effectiveness of the Autopanopticon and proves the camera phone as an increasingly powerful tool for social control.


Right after I wrote my Tragedy of the Commons post, Fototazo posted a nice essay about the Autopanopticon which made me rethink everything. I intended to reply over the summer but have only just gotten around to finishing my post—helped in no small part by Model View Culture’s Surveillance theme last week.

There’s a lot of fear of cameras right now. Some people are petrified of people with cameras—mainly from the privacy infringement point of view. Other people are scared of the government acting as big brother and spying on all of us in the name of “security.” In both cases, it seems like people are rarely scared of both government and photographers. It’s usually one or the other and becomes very easy to ridicule their point of view by pointing out how they’re not troubled by all the other photography going on in public.


I’ve mentioned previously that people are retreating from public space because we no longer trust it. That’s not exactly correct. I think we trust it to be itself; we just don’t agree with being monitored and letting someone else access and use our images and information. This is a legit fear. No one likes the idea of being monitored all the time, in part because no one really knows all the possible laws out there.

Heck, this is one reason why we have the 5th amendment and Miranda rights. It’s pretty easy to implicate yourself in something illegal if you don’t know all the ins and outs of the law. There’s also something intrusive and distrustful about someone monitoring you all the time. I wouldn’t want to be taped at my job and I don’t blame police officers for resisting it even though the events of this past summer have made it pretty clear that all cops should have cameras recording at all times.

Still, there’s too much benefit to government in having as many people photographing in public as possible—both in preventing crime and solving crime. As much as cops don’t like people filming them, they’ll be relying on those same videos as evidence when it helps their case.

There is even more benefit to big business—which is the interesting thing that fototazo doesn’t mention. His autopanopticon focuses on news and crime and media coverage rather than the more-likely personal data metrics trying to profile us and sell us more shit we don’t need.

The corporate side actually both scares and intrigues me more than the government side. Government’s interests are pretty obvious and center around behavioral control; there’s a reason why the Panopticon is a prison design. With businesses, it’s not always clear what the goal is. It might be trying to sell us things. It might be market research for new products. It might be market research about their competition. It might be part of an experiment in which we’re the subjects.

Lots of interesting angles. Most of them creepy. But I suspect all of them are going to be similar to the ways that we’re already tracked online.* Even with people retreating to things like Snapchat or tweeting and deleting or using search engines like DuckDuckGo, the web knows a ton about us. It’s not that privacy is dead but rather that being in a public space—which is what most of the web is—means you’re being surveilled by government and/or business.

*Full disclosure, I’ve stopped clearing my cookie information because the ads I get when I’m not being tracked online are creepier than the ones when I am being tracked.

From the photographer point of view, as much as we fear that our rights to photograph will be taken away as more people misbehave with cameras, perhaps we fear too much. Both government and business have reasons to encourage us to record each other as much as possible. And for us to share those recordings.

At the same time, while we photograph in public, it’s important to remember how to act like a grown up and be aware of who we’re photographing and the history of how that population has been surveilled in the past. A lot of the current anxiety about surveillance in the US is due to it being applied to populations which previously weren’t subject to this kind of thing.

The autopanopticon is a bigger change for the white middle class than it is for non-whites or the poor.

What we have decided to call surveillance is actually a constant interplay of various forms of monitoring that have existed and focused on black people, and specifically black women, long before cameras were around, let alone ubiquitous. Surveillance technology is a dissemination of cultural standards of monitoring. Our picture of surveillance needs to factor in not just tech developments, but the cultural standards that have bred surveillance, especially towards black culture, as part and parcel in our world.

Sydette Harry

It’s informative to realize how it’s been applied historically and the differing ways it’s still applied today. Especially since a lot of the tropes of photography buy into the surveillance of black culture and the treatment of blacks as spectacle*—both of which are key differences in how the general autopanopticon idea works. Where we expect the autopanopticon to be about specific people or events, a lot of surveillance is instead intended to generalize, appropriate, and commodify whatever is being monitored.**

*It’s worth reading all of Shit My Photography Professor Says here as a very blunt way of avoiding these tropes. Nuggets like this and this are the highlights.

**It’s also worth reading Dorothy Kim’s essay about how academia treats the digital public space. Lots of the same trends of appropriating non-white culture in that space.

As photographers, since we’re part of the monitoring machine, we have an opportunity to shape—even a little bit—the type of data being collected. Since we’re also being monitored, this is an opportunity to, in many cases, finally understand how it feels to be watched like this in public. Yes, it doesn’t feel good. But if it feels like a new concept, we’ve been lucky to have avoided it for this long.

And it’s something that should help us better sympathize with the ways people react to cameras the way they do.

If we’re disturbed by the fact that walking around with a camera results in us getting stereotyped as creepers or threats, we can either take a number and get in line behind everyone else who was there first or use our awareness of what it feels like to be stereotyped as a way realize what stereotypes we’re projecting on everyone else we see and photograph.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Christoph Niemann. Sunday Sketches.

Came across these via Austin Kleon. While they are obviously drawings, that many of them only work from specific viewing angles also means that they’re photographs. It’s a little gem of an instagram account which is doing some fun things which blur the lines between media.

Many of these sketches also capture some of the character of the object in ways which remind me of Walker Evans’s Common Tools. Yes, these are in many ways the exact opposite of Evans’s photos, but something about letting the character of the object speak for itself rings true here.