The New West

These days photographers whose work focuses on the landscape of suburban dystopia are a dime a dozen. Strip malls, gas stations, chain stores, and so on. But few of the photographers inhabiting this milieu can compare to Robert Adams who was out there in the 60's and 70's. I found a signed copy of The New West, his minimalist masterpiece at my favorite used bookstore this morning for $16. Looking through the book I was struck by how Adams' photography works on me like Antononi's early films (La Notte, Aventura) in which each frame is so subtle and formally perfect that they need to be digested and relished slowly. The bookstore owner was happy to get rid of the book, "Who wants to look at pictures in black and white anymore?" he asked as I paid.

related: found at the same bookstore


Anonymous said...

i don't suppose you're willing to share the name of this magical book store :-)

11/10/2006 04:27:35 PM  
Marie said...

I've been trying to be patient and not ask you this question for a long time....but....any word on those notebooks?

11/10/2006 05:53:32 PM  
raul said...

Not sure I want to completely give it up but here are a few big fat hints.

1. it's in my neighborhood, ie Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.

2. Here's a picture.

3. The hours are somewhat arbitrary.

11/10/2006 11:48:19 PM  
Nancy said...

he is a friend of ours- Contact me for his address if you want.

11/11/2006 08:49:22 AM  
Billie said...

The picture.....how long can you stay in there before coming up for air?

11/11/2006 10:13:56 AM  
robertw said...

I have to point this out: Your footer says "please request permission before using content on this site". I suppose you contacted Robert Adams before posting his work?

I have had this debate with many bloggers, especially local brooklyn blogs that slurp content from the NYT, often my pictures. For a while they did it without attribution, which was most galling, after all, my name was right there at the bottom of the picture. Lately I see often a name and a link back to my site.

When I queried the editor of said blogs he replied that it was not consistent with the "norms" of blogging to not "steal" (my word) content. I pointed out the irony of the situation in the blogging community where they are demanding to be respected a journalists on par with other mainstream media, yet cannot follow the practices of that industry.

I guess what gets me the most is that Robert Adam's work is good. Very good. This is an iconic photo from him. Consider if I had a cola, and began publishing a blog online advertising that cola using content from other well known artists. I think most of us would agree that would be a blatant misuse of copyrighted content for the purpose of advertising a product. Ok, so I don't advertise a product, per se, but I am using it to build "brand" as they say-still guilty, essentially.

In a lot of ways this is no different. To put it bluntly this makes you look good. As in desireable, aesthetically sophisticated, having taste, important, etc. And you already have all of those things anyway since your work is so damn good! So why surf on someone elses wave unless they invite you?

To be clear, I love this picture. And I think your work is very very good, I loved the show I saw in dumbo. But I think it's not good to do this. Maybe RA would not mind. But you are "using" his work to increase your "brand" so to speak, that is obvious, and unnecessary. You are doing pretty well on your own! :)

I would much rather have seen a photo of yours of the book, at home, awaiting a moment to be savoured, or somehow in your company, or a loved one, some context that adds to our appreciation of RA's work and how it is meaningful to your life. Like your photos, how they show what you see, how you interact with and create your world. So this is really a challenge and less of a rebuke.

What do you think?

11/11/2006 11:57:30 AM  
raul said...

The copyright issue is a tricky one for bloggers who blog about photography.

My notice is there to try to prevent people from posting my work and claiming it as their own which has happened many times over the years. I've had people take entire galleries of images and put their name on them even including made up commentary, I've had people copy parts of the blog wholesale again claiming as their own, and probably once or twice a month someone will point me to text or images that have been lifted without attribution....

I have no problem with people posting text excerpts, even full posts, or images as long as they are properly attributed with links back to the source. People always ask why I don't put a copyright watermark on my images and it's because even if someone does use the image without attribution, it's not like they can take a 512 pixel image and make a decent print from it. Fair use for text online is well defined, but for images on the web I we rely mainly on etiquette or netiquette (Standard netiquette would suggest posting a text excerpt for text, and an image or two from a portfolio). I have never posted a current news photo even with attribution, because news photos have value and currency for both the news source and the photographer on their own and are not derived from some other format. But if I post an image from a gallery, museum, or auction (virtually all my 3rd party images come from these sources) am I taking away from the artist or promoting them? I would argue the latter. This seems like a clear case offair use, ie a "quote" for comment or criticism. If I had posted all the images in the book/show, or claimed them as my own, or even presented them without links to sites about the author, it would be another story.

As for the whole idea of promoting my "brand"... well I just don't think of it that way. I love photography and for most of my life it has been a private obsession without a community with which to discuss the the type of things that matter to me about photography). Recently on the web a real community of people who care about photography has developed; This community is full of people who write about photography eloquently and who are generous with their time and knowledge (see my links in the sidebar). Just in the past few weeks I have been introduced to the work of many fantastic photographers by fellow bloggers who have posted images from those photographer's galleries. I hope in some small way I contribute to that community. Could I have illustrated this specifc post better, sure... but I had an an email this morning from a high school student thanking me for introducing her to Robert Adams and that's good enough for me.

11/11/2006 04:39:13 PM  
Anonymous said...

I would love to hear you both on a roundtable about blogging & copywrighting. These are both very articulate and compelling arguments!
-Someone who's not really considered this before

11/11/2006 06:22:30 PM  
robertw said...

The very problems you cite having encountered with others using your work without attribution or even outright thefts are in no small part enabled by a mindset that believes it is ok to use work without permission, protected by whatever legal or moral codes or not.

There is no difference between the currency of news photographs and the "currency" of art photographs. Both can be creative works and have value apart from their timeliness or newsworthyness. To say that you would not use one but use the other is to ignore the point. The point is paying for creativity. This is what we need more of.

I don't really believe this is fair use either, for one, Robert Adams does not need the promotion, so the value to him is negligible. The value to you however is enormous in comparision. There is little review of the work in the book, other than, great work. On the other hand there is a charming story about an interaction with a bookseller in a store we all know. The photo is completely tangential to that. You are taking away from artists because the more that we are able to use works of art without any compensation, the less any works can earn their creators.

In music there is the concept of the performance. A performance of music has value even if the composer or musician is not present. I can't use Bob Dylan's songs in my new movie without his permission. This is because the music adds value to the movie in it's performance in that context. In this context, the performance of the Robert Adams photograph in your blog adds value to this blog post.

It's great that someone else has been introduced to Robert Adams. Someone else has also been introduced to you, even though you don't believe this is blog is part promotion. Is there not a link to purchase you work? There is a brand, or a reputation you might say being advanced here. That was my original point. Now I know you probably make little from prints sales and book sales. In fact, if you ar e like me, you lose money doing these things. But that is the point, protecting the ability to make money from art and earn a living doing so.

I know this will not stop the "netiquette" from being what it is. It is interesting to see how creativity is fostered by the internet, and how little we are all prepared to pay for it in the end. Artists depend on patronage of one form or another to exist in society. The more we erode these avenues, the harder it gets to work in this culture. And I know you are sympathetic to that.

I enjoy your writing and work, I just wanted to challenge your assumptions.

11/11/2006 08:19:09 PM  
M. Hutchinson said...

Interesting discussion, you got my dander up, and I'd like to jump in.

I'm not a lawyer but my brother is and (he works RIAA!) and I've learned a bit by osmosis. Fair use legally allows for quotations of work that don't infringe on the full experience of the work. In practice this allows for long excerpts of text, images from books, and snippets of music and video.

1. It is not transformative. It was presented in context as part of a book, links to the book, and to a page containing the same image were included. The original author's name was included.
2. It was part of published work, and review, parody, comment, excerpting of published work allowed. Whether you consider the review substantial or not is irrelevant.
3. The amount and substantiality of the work was not damaged. Only a single photo from the book/series was shown it was presented in such a way that does not allow you to go out and make a duplicate book or print from this low resolution image.
4. There is no negative effect on the market for the potential work. As you say, Robert Adams doesn't need the publicity.

These are the standard tests for fair use (sometimes a 5th test of malicious intent is implied, and clearly that is not the case here).

I also wouldn't discount the news photo argument. These days news photos are often meant to be shown as end products on the web. In other words the image on the web is the product. This is an entirely different story when it comes to fair use especially given the context of publishing them in a blog about current events. Posting the image instead of linking to a online newspaper or magazine takes ad revenue away from your publication. Big big difference.

Here's a question for Raul, I notice that flickr uses one your photographs in their rotation of photos on the landing page and that the image has something like 100,000 views. Are you paid for this or is this flickr's version of fair use?

I'd also like to say that I have discovered photography as an artform through blogs like this one, jm colberg's conscientious, and lately Alec Soth's blog and have made my first tenative steps as a buyer based partially on shows and photographers I've learned about on blogs. (and I'm still learning, I know the contemporary scene fairly well, but I didn't know Adams). To argue that blogs like this one that include an example of work of the artist they are discussing or reviewing or criticising somehow devalues that artists work is just silly. And to argue that this is somehow a ploy by raul to enhance sales of his photos is also silly especially when taken with the rest of the content on the blog. Would you be similarly bent out of shape if he had posted an image of a Picasso or one by Avedon? Raul, please don't change a thing.

11/11/2006 11:04:33 PM  
raul said...

My understanding of fair use is similar to M. Hutchinson's... and he explains the issues better than I could, so I won't belabor his points.

And to answer hutchinson, re flickr, they asked and I said yes. No pay involved.

rw: The idea that this blog is a performance and posting about photographers I admire is somehow unauthorized infringement that is part of the performance is... um.... in that case what isn't part of the "performance?" I blogged about hating cats once. Is that part of the performance? I was gallery-sitting last week and played some Miles Davis, which one buyer said he liked, was that part of the performance?

For most who visited my show. I was an unknown quantity. This was my first show, the first time anyone, including myself, had seen physical prints of my images in many years. To my knowledge only one buyer was aware that I had a website and it wasn't even this site, it was my portfolio site . Besides, I hardly think anyone makes the calculation, "This guy digs Robert Adams, now I must buy his work." I've been posting about photography on this blog (and it's predecessors) for years before I had this show.

I also disagree with your premise that this kind of blogging about art 'erodes avenues' available to artists. Quite the contrary, I think it exposes art to new audiences, erases physical boundaries, promotes discussion, and encourages community. Not that my blog succeeds at doing all this, but that's what the blogs I read do for me.

All this said I'm sympathetic to the photojournalist trying to make a living when many newspapers pays freelancers two hundred bucks or less a picture. Those photographers depend on tightly controlling resale rights of those images for publication to make ends meet. I get that. But this seems to me another issue altogether and in my mind unrelated to the above. I find it curious that anger is often directed to bloggers as opposed to the media companies that undervalue good photographers.

11/12/2006 01:12:39 AM  
raul said...

ps. You did make me reconsider the copyright notice, I've changed it to make it clearer.

11/12/2006 01:39:01 AM  
robertw said...

I'll leave you we three things

Most of us are TV children, raised in a culture where the "screen" was free. For the children of the internet age, this has blossomed into a full blown case of appropriation-itis. Wherever these attitudes are leading us, I don't know. But I know it exists.

I would encourage you to think of your blog as a kind of broadcast, a performance. Whatever appears here is being performed. Think of it as This American Life. A recombination of media sources published to the web. Ira Glass doesn't get to play whatever he wants without ASCAP knowing about it. Radio has a system of micropayments that was established a long time ago. Photography has never had that. My point is more that regulation exists that recognizes the value of a performance of a piece in another venue. Something to consider. In this context, I can see the rationale being, yes it is fair use. But my question really is, fair to whom?

Which brings us to Flickr. It kind of sums up my whole sky is falling theory. I don't know if they offered you a fee or not to use your photography, evidently now 100000 hits. My bet is they didn't, and you didn't think to make an issue of it. I don't know. The point is we have come full circle. Value is no longer recognized on the screen. Don't tell me about linking, no one is eating links that I can see.

It is wrong of me to single you out and say this is bad. It occurs everywhere. Blogging is this kind of parallel publishing and has grown up in a virtual space opened up by the internet and digital photography. On those aspects I am very happy with the increased dialogue and sharing of images. But I would say you have already admitted most of the points I am trying to make-that people appropriate images willy-nilly, as you have experienced, and that that behaviour coupled with our culture of the free screen have combined to devalue creative work in all outlets.


Robert Wright

11/12/2006 11:00:36 AM  
raul said...

Again I have to disagree with your conclusions. Because Flickr used one of my pictures on their landing page rotation, my images reached an exponentially larger audience than I ever would have had on my own. I wasn't paid in money, but in eyeballs and exposure. That exposure dramatically increased subscriptions to my portfolio site which in part allowed me to get my recent show. I have many photographer friends tell me I'm crazy to put images on a site like flickr, or to put unwatermarked images on my portfolio site, but with a few minor exceptions the experience of having images on the web over the years has only led to good things for me. I sell prints not small digital reproductions of those prints so I'm happy to have those images distributed far and wide as long as they are being credited properly. There's a big difference between 'appropriating images willy nilly' and posting an image from a photographer with proper links back to that photographer's site, book, gallery, or auction house. Far from seeing the internet as a hostile place for creative people I see it as a tremendous well of inspiration, support and discovery.

11/13/2006 12:31:59 AM  
Anonymous said...

One word for Robert Wright: poppycock

11/13/2006 11:56:54 AM  
Bill said...

How anyone could perceive a post about an artist with links to more information about that artist as damaging is mystifying. Wright says he would have preferred a picture of the book itself. If that book has the same image visible would it be equally "damaging" in Wright's view? Logically it should be because Robert Wright seems to be saying that any viewing of that image should be protected, license fees should be payed and so on. The important thing as far as I understand the argument is that specific image no matter how it is seen and that any viewing of that image without payment or expressed consent is somehow damaging to the value of that image and artists images in general regardless of the context. This is obvious nonsense. As noted by Raul, Robert Adams sells prints and books. Putting aside any legal arguments about fair use, isn't discussion or even simply the recommendation of a book or show or a particular body of work illuminated and enhanced by an illustration of the work in question? Don't we see this every day in the New York Times when it reviews a photo show? Isn't someone more likely to seek out an artist's work if they have actually seen it? The music analogy doesn't work. If I download an mp3 it's functionally equivalent to a track on a CD, I own it. If I view this image online it's hardly the same as owning a Robert Adams print or book. You say that Adams does not need props from Raul or anyone else, of course he doesn't but I would argue that in order for photography to stay vibrant as artform it's important for people who care about photography to continue to look at pictures of the Masters, to seek out their books and exhibitions, and to quote Robert Adams out of context to "honor what is greater and more interesting than we are.”

11/16/2006 04:55:55 PM  
robertw said...

These are all good points. As I get backed further against the wall (for the firing squad) I will have to admit that this example of usage without permission is not in any way a problem. Perhaps if someone knows Robert Adams, we could ask him. That would be interesting.

Next week I am going to email some photo editors I know and pose a couple questions; something like, if there was a book review of a new monograph by an artist, would it be necessary to contact the artist and secure permission to run a photograph in the publication; a subset of that: if an art critic wrote an appreciation or opinion piece about the state of black and white photography today, for example, again, would permission be needed to run a photo from one of the photographers mentioned, and third: if a columnist wrote a piece about life in the city and their personal appreciations of some aspect of culture, for example buying used books and one of the books was a photo book by so and so, would they need to secure permission to run a picture.

I think all of these examples are analogous to this situation, with major and minor differences. What I am interested in is the shift in practices from one form of publishing to another, and any possible consequences. Do we know what the internet will look like in 10 years? No we don't. But what we do today shapes that.

I want to point out again it is not fair of me to single any one blogger out, which I have done. (so...sorry?) However, I do believe this is a good place to have the discussion. We all care about photography, sharing work, and compensation. I certainly know Raul's heart is in the right place.

No one I have asked about this has agreed with me either...:)

11/16/2006 09:10:41 PM  
robertw said...

I finally got around to emailing that question, the response is not surprising:

A Viewpoint on Internet Usage

Thanks again-

12/01/2006 09:46:17 AM  
Jimmy said...

Surfed in through see speak remember.

Most everything that needed to be said, has been said, but I can't resist adding my 2 pennies.

Fair use on the internet is well established both legally as as accepted practice. I refer robert to Kelly vs Arriba Soft. Every case I know of that has gone to court in which an image is used to illustrate, thumbnail, or refer back to a body of work has referenced kelly v arriba and has been thrown out as fair use.

But beyond the legalities robertw is saying this kind of image usage is devalues photographers. My experience is the opposite. I've largely discovered art photography through the web and reading about photography and photographers has led me to visit galleries, start a photo book collection, and start to educate myself about this fascinating art-form. In the last 2 years I have spent more than a thousand dollars on photo books. Most of the purchases are a direct result of something I have read on the web.

I don't know old robertw is, but my guess is he came of age before the internet and has a pre-internet mentality. I've seen this mentality in some of the people I work for even though I work for an advertising firm that does much of it's business on the web. These guys look at the internet as an enemy and I guess the net can be horrible for you if you have a business model that doesn't work on the net. But if you start thinking of the internet is your partner and greatest promoter, things start to change. For photographers I'd wager the more people see your work out there the more opportunities you will have to sell prints, to sell books, and to be hired. The internet forces new ways of thinking, new ways of working new ways of sharing and if you or or any other photographer even someone as great as robert adams is going to be remembered by my generation it's important that people talk about your work, see your work, and link to your work because if it's not on the net, for us it barely exists. I know it's a dumb 22 year old thing to say, but it's true.

robertw is a very good photographer. If he had a book of street photography with images as strong as the he you used to illustrate "a viewpoint on internet usage" I'd snap it up in a second. There are so many good self publishing options these days... all out there... on the internet. And if that book was available don't you think he'd sell more copies if other people posted an image or two from it linking back to him?....

12/12/2006 12:29:56 PM  
loveOliver said...

Thanks to Christian Patterson's Blog this discussion has been brought to my attention. I appreciate the lively and well-argued points.

I would like to point out, however, most blogs are not designed to make money. A newspaper, magazine, or similar publication online is designed to make money. The New York Times has a subscription base and payed advertisements, which enables the publication to purchase commercial print rights to selected images. Most blogs do not have paying subscribers or advertising space. Again, they were not created as business ventures, but as a way to discuss various topics. I also understand some blogs do make money, and perhaps they should be held accountable.

Over the past few years, bloggers have fought for respect as legitimate "reporters." The fight has not been about money but about the quality and authenticity of writing.

Robert, I would like to make clear the distinction between an image posted on The New York Times website and this blog. The NYT needs to run stories and photographs that adhere to its standards, which are designed to sell more subscriptions and advertising space. They should pay for those articles and images. This blog--as well as similar blogs--does not post images and articles to sell subscriptions and advertising space. I believe this is an important distinction.

I am a photographer, and I believe protecting the digital rights of images is very important. Contextualization of an issue, though, is very important.

12/15/2006 11:20:44 PM  
Anonymous said...

Good point. Scale is important. The NYTimes makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year and has hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide. Even the most successful of blogs has a couple of thousand readers at most. Many like this one have no paid advertising and cost the user to publish... Being small scale is not an excuse for stealing but it gets back to the fair use thing. Scale-wise most blogs are the equivalent of lending a book to friends...

And back to Christian's blog, the commenter David Ng wrotethis post which hits the nail on the head.

12/16/2006 12:46:22 AM  
JM Colberg said...

I'm a bit late here (I was abroad), but anyway my two cents. I spent quite some time looking into this issue. In the end, I emailed Lawrence Lessig, one of the country's foremost experts on copyright, and he wrote back to tell me that if I ever got sued he'd be quite happy to back me up. I posted an entry about what I found on my blog, it's here

Having got the technicalities out of the way, I personally don't ask people for permission to post photos - for the simple reason that if I did that the output of my blog would dwindle to almost nothing, with me being busy writing those emails instead of, say, discovering new work or conducting interviews. If someone were to email me complaining I'd be very happy to remove the post, and happened only once (someone complained that I didn't ask for permission, and I immediately removed the post - which, as it turned out, wasn't quite what the person wanted). Another time I got an email from a book publisher, and their only concern was where I had actually got the photo (Google image search). They then sent me a better version of the image. And given that the blog has become somewhat well-known, I now get quite a few offers from people to send me images so I can post them.

12/18/2006 09:09:28 AM  

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