The Balancing of Collections and Conservationalism

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment” - Ansel Adams

When Ansel spoke of the protection of our environment it was done so with a certain unbelievability that we were facing these problems. Corporations and individuals that would seek to profit over the lands that should belong to all of us. It was these same special interests that caused the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy valley in order to serve as a reservoir for San Francisco. But I imagine that he would not have predicted the feverish pace in which we are inadvertently consuming our parks.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System. It’s been called by multiple people to be the greatest idea that we as Americans, in both the society and government, have ever had. I’m inclined to agree, and it’s easy to see why. Throughout the retched and disgusting political campaign for president we have had to endure this year (on both sides of the aisle), the National Parks and their centennial are a glimmer of hope, a reminder of what we can do when we are focused and coordinated in our efforts. A look at what can be done to preserve some of the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet from both a visual and historic perspective. But I am concerned that we as photographers are contributing to their inevitable decline.

This is a piece that I have been meaning to write for the last year. I’ve scribbled notes and thoughts down helping to point me in the right direction from the Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming, Crater Lake in Oregon, as well as Yosemite, Lassen, and the Redwoods in California. It’s a piece that I have struggled with, as what I believe to be the core issue is one that I simply don’t want to face. And with some respects writing about it acknowledges the problem for me in a more tangible way.

It was just last week that I sat 8,000 feet above sea level, watching the sun set over the Yosemite valley. Directly behind me purple light washed over half-dome. While to my left the mountain range of the Sierras seemed to continue on forever and lead me to wonder how to moon could rise over a never ending landscape. Just to my right was El Capitan, now covered in shadow but still bringing so much wonder and natural beauty to this location. This one location on the planet that at that point may have very well been the most beautiful to see. But in all honesty the best part was the silent understanding I shared with the 8 or so other people there. Each was respectful of personal space, and without saying a word as the last light for the day would trickle down the granite walls, people simply enjoyed what was happening before them. Cameras were understandably present, but those of us with tripods kept them out of the way, and cell phones only popped up every couple of minutes to take another quick image. Yet one thought continued to exist, how can I justify my being here? How can I justify my camera being out?

This isn’t a question of how we photograph, but why we do so, and do we deserve it? Are we doing more harm than good? And is it worth capturing the photo at the cost of irreversible environmental damage?

Climate change is a known fact, is man-made, and is wreaking havoc on both our natural and unnatural worlds. It’s important to get that out o the way up front. I won’t debate the numbers or reasons as to why it’s happening, because for far too long we have argued those same topics while global temperatures have risen and mass extinctions are beginning to take place. These changes are already manifesting themselves within our National Parks, and one need look no further than the now almost inappropriately titled Glacier National Park to see this.

The United States Geological Society states in plain text that “effects of global climate change are strikingly clear. Glacier recession is underway, and many glaciers have already disappeared.” But the easiest way to see the changes is by looking at the numbers. In 1850 it was estimated that there were up to 150 individual glaciers precent in the area. And 60 years later in 1910 when the park was established most were still present. Yet as recently as 2010, the USGS considered there to be just 25 glaciers larger than 25 acres remaining in the park, even more horrifying is that most models show that within the next 15 years most of the largest glaciers will be gone as well. And yet as photographers we have an innate drive to not only see these areas, but to capture them for ourselves. Even more curiously is that the images we are taking are not new, but ones that have been captured time and time again to the point where the most popular viewpoints will often be riddled with tripods and cameras at certain times of the day. Why are we so driven to have for ourselves what has already been done so many times before?

The common camping and hiking motto of “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.” is one that I argue is in need of updating. As we move beyond the recession and housing bubble of 2007/2008 vacations, travel, driving, and wanderlust are rising dramatically. As of 2014 Yosemite capped visitation levels after seeing record attendance in the four-million range. With many visitors traveling by car and clogging the few small roads within the valley and the rest of the park, it was seen as a much needed measure that unfortunately didn’t go far enough. But it is because of this traveling that the motto fundamentally can no longer be a statement taken at face value regardless of how hard you may try to leave no impact. Each mile driven, each car through the front gates of the park, each person utilizing the facilities including bathrooms, trash, and lighting leaves something behind that hurts the area.

If we as photographers seek to document and preserve all aspects of our planet through our images, we must ask ourselves what is more important - collecting the images for ourselves, or leaving the planet in better shape for future generations? As an exercise I opened Instagram on my phone and tracked the #Yosemite hashtag for 10 minutes. During this time 60 images were posted, and all of them had another that looked similar or was of a similar viewpoint. So if these images are so near to one another, why do we care so much?

Understandably for many photographers it is the imposing of their own “artistic vision” onto a given scene but I don’t buy into that as an argument. That is not to say that artistic vision and ones personal experiences aren’t reflected in the work they create. That is absolutely true. However as more images are taken of any given place, a point of diminishing returns is reached. As an exercise if we were to look at the tunnel viewpoint within Yosemite Valley and all of the photographs taken from this landing spot over the 100 years since the Parks Service was founded, when would we stop seeing unique variations? If we can assume that these variations do inevitably slow down and may ultimately (potentially already) come to a complete stop with a photograph taken at every point throughout every day throughout every month within a year. If this were to happen, we could compile a record of each one, see all the different focal lengths and shutter speeds imaginable as we flip through them like a slideshow.

With this point of diminishing returns, we can look at the timeline as also having a point in where the images taken are doing far more harm than good. By estimating an average value for all photos taken, and the average environmental impact done by taking those photos, a clear line in the sand could be drawn to provide a point in which from a conservationist perspective photography should be stopped from that area. I’m aware that this is an outlandish notion, and one that will never be put into place. But the questions it outlines I feel are becoming increasingly valid. The notion that we can be either a collector or conservationist is one that despite my own creation I have struggled to grasp. The two do not seem to be mutually exclusive at first. However I feel that over time that perspective will change.

Looking at the animal conservation activities of the mid 1800s we see the same flawed, albeit with good intentioned, logic. It was William Hornaday who as one of the first true preservationists changed how we look at saving the species around us who have often required saving due to our own more selfish acts. As a prominent taxidermist, Hornaday learned in the 1880s that there were fewer than 300 wild buffalo roaming the Great Plains of America. Due to the obscene hunting practices taken by the white settlers crossing the country, their numbers had dwindled fast over the prior decades and he saw this as his last opportunity to preserve the American Buffalo for future generations. To do this he prepared the only way he, and others at the time really knew how. Kill a few more, taxidermy the carcass, and send it off to museums. The thought of restoring life and leaving the natural world was one that didn’t come to Hornaday for another twenty years when he worked with an effort to breed them in captivity and ship them back to Montana.

I believe that we are in a similar position as Hornaday, having relied on old methods of so-called preservation through documentation, rather than true preservation, perhaps the change is coming, however I worry that we may be on the cusp of hurting ourselves further.

Looking at Instagram once again and the why of people taking photos I feel as though it is our own community doing the most damage. Needless to say there are photos being taken of families, of one's self, in front of these viewpoints. These are not the images that I am concerned with. Rather it is the prolific use of professional images being posted to social media that causes a snowball effect. With the accessibility of high quality photographs and camera equipment, the desire to replicate a famous Ansel Adams shot, or even the photographer you admire on social media is growing. More people post these images, leading to more people driving to take them, leading to them being posted, and the cycle repeats.

Despite corporate interests, and our government's willingness to align with them, through climate change, and a National Park who’s name will soon speak to what once was, not what currently is. Alongside tourism, photography, collecting images, and conserving the places we take them; it is at the ground level that change begins. And yet I cannot say with any degree of certainty that what I’ve stated here will matter in the end. I doubt that I will even adhere to many of the thoughts, and as I write this I’m planning to visit another park in the coming weeks. Driving there, polluting, capturing the same images. It’s an addiction, and one that will not only be hard to break on an individual level, but a near impossibility on a global level.

It was John Muir, the true founder of the National Parks System who said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. I hope I can learn to have that strand guide me, and support me, rather than pulled out and unravel before my feet.

If you have interest in learning more on William Hornaday and conservation efforts I highly recommend this episode of the 99% Invisible Podcast.

The Four Values of Constructing a Series

The Four Values of Constructing a Series are a set of guidelines and direction for working within multiple photographs as a printed medium. I have used vague interpretations of these same values for years and they became the structure of the larger story within my quarterly film photography journal Serif & Silver. It is important to understand that photography as a medium should not have the single image shared as the end goal. Images, like words, can be used in conjunction with one another to provide a wider audience insight into the passion, inspiration, livelihood, and motivations behind both photographer and subject.

These values are to be used and referenced by all and kept in mind when working on photographic projects on a larger scale. It is our responsibility as photographers not only to elevate our own work, but to elevate photography and its interaction with the world as an artistic form. And it is my strong desire that this manifesto can be shared and expanded upon through the insight and input of many photographers. 

Part One: The Collection 

When looking at any series of images there are multiple defining characteristics. As humans the need and desire to sort, organize, and catalog is built in to our existence. It is how we recognize faces, recall names, and can easily find our way to that bizarre restaurant we’ve only visited once before. However when it comes to translating this into photography as a whole it is easy to lose sight of the completion of our work. 

Photography and Photographers yearn for the compilation of images. Unfortunately this sits outside of much of the current workflow that we employ. Through years of Pavlonian training with Social Media we are encouraged not only to post in the singular, but modify our working methods of photography in order to reach wider audiences and receive more immediate satisfaction. In order to better counter-act this we need to remove our current goals of sharing, likes, and engagement.  

In their place the following must be established: work towards a singular message across multiple photographs. 

By implementing this mentality we can look much further than the single frame and create bodies of work that are concise and direct through ideals such as changing landscapes and communities, rather than the all too common subject titles of portraits and landscapes. These vague subjects are designed to operate as a catch all for the photographer without vision allowing them to take casual images and present them as if it was a planned decision. Rather by defining our goals outright we are able to accomplish them through one of two methods.  

The first follows standard photographic process. By creating a vision and message that will be portrayed through your images you can then photograph in such a way that gets you closer to completion. This tried and true method allows us to spend more time up front refining our message and less time shooting the images themselves. However where it carries strength it also carries weakness. By focusing too much on the outset it can be easy to succumb to a lack of motivation as your goals have become too narrow, and anything outside can be seen as a failure on the photographers part. 

The second reverses the first methodology and encourages shooting before concept. The tactics used here serve as support for the ideals behind the collection. It should be said that there is more work in all aspects of creation except for the beginning. Where the first method says planning is required before depressing the shutter, this method puts the planning and more difficult workflow at the end.  

To get out and shoot offers multiple benefits. When allowed to focus on composition regardless of subject we are able to implement images into multiple series but more importantly it allows us to step away from our work until enough time has passed until the vision becomes more clear. This latter aspect, one of patience and aging is key. By putting ourselves outside of the standard shoot and distribute workflow we can better reflect and judge our own work without bias to ensure the images contained within any given series meet the goals of what was set out to accomplish. 

It is within the above methodologies that the collection comes to be and we begin to build our series. Specific selections of images from prior experiences come together in such a way that a thought can be conveyed, regardless of the presented order. 

Part Two: The Pair 

Beyond our ability to recognize patterns, we also have the desire to translate that ability into spotting differences. Minute changes that appear across areas of our interaction with the natural and man made worlds surrounding us. This allows us to determine friend from foe based on nothing more than appearance, and when applied to the collection offers support for images when positioned aside one another. 

Similar to The Collection, The Pair has been deconstructed after years of individual photographs shared and we must look further back to the photo album or photo storage box to reveal better storytelling. Because so little thought is offered to the corresponding images the single photo finds itself being drowned out due to a lack of preparation by the series creator. 

It is through this that the pair of images becomes the second step of the construction of a series. Built on the notion that a proper photo series will end up in the printed form, be it a gallery or photo book we must recognize the images on either side of any given photo.  

While at first glance this appears to encompass a trio rather than the pair it is necessary to work within the confines of two images, and allow the third to act as a comma within the larger story structure. 

This arc that continues between corresponding pages can be developed through multiple areas of the photo itself that get progressively more complex and rely on the photographer to ensure the complete message is still conveyed. These areas can be attributed similarly to how a photo is constructed in the following forms: Subject, Color and Tone, Composition, Message. 

Starting with the simplest form of connection for The Pair lies we can look more closely at subject matter. As the bulk of what any given photograph is composed of, your subject carries the most direct relation to any other image. 

Moving forward we come to color and tone. If one is to approach The Pair through this methodology they should prepare to address the reasoning behind a choice. It is because color and tone offer less inherent structure to their connections that it must be supplied by the photographer as two images of similar color do not necessarily belong together. In looking at the four forms that are used to structure The Pair, they follow a path parallel to that of the four values of constructing a series. That is to say if we are to start at the top, the most basic, and narrow our focus we can use the previous forms as a reference. Yet if we look forward to future forms the references are not as easily made. This is all to say that when developing The Pair through the use of color and tone, we can and should be thinking of our subject matter. Where two photos that use a lot of blue will not automatically work, two photos of blue restaurants in different locations offers us the direction we are looking to achieve. 

Composition becomes the third form of The Pair. While it is easy to assume that due to composition being most often associated with the image as a whole it is being used here rather to describe not subject matter but the specific shapes the objects within the frame are comprised of. In simpler terms buildings are looked at as if they are simple rectangles, the power cables become bisecting lines within the frame, and people are stripped of their features to be seen as a silhouette and nothing more. It is with these shapes that we are able to step back enough in order to see how the photo is really made, and use that as a statement for the corresponding photograph on the opposite page.

Finally, and offering the biggest challenge within The Pair is the message. This must be treated with a more cautionary approach as regardless of the connection there is a risk of muddying what message you are conveying throughout the series as a whole. That being said it is also important to note that multiple messages can and should exist within a series. These should offer the statements and supporting arguments for what you are looking to say. Because of this staying on topic is key, as it is often easy to stray and begin telling another story. 

However all if this cannot be stated without ensuring one final component. No matter how the images look and work together, they must not in any way over power one another. Once one photo begins to offer more to the viewer than the other, the less important photo serves no purpose being on the page and should be placed elsewhere in the series. 

By taking into consideration The Pair and treating it as a paragraph within your overall story we can support our story, support the other photographs, and offer personal insight as well as hints as to where we will look next. 

Part Three: The Negative 

Throughout our history we have always strived to navigate not only the natural, but man made worlds around us as well. This navigation has been put into our hands through the ability to plan ahead and transform what we see into a more sound and lawful order. That is not to say we have not always strayed from this path, but on a larger scale we can see how it is our duty to ensure we always have a sense of place.

It is alongside this sense of place that we look at the most basic building blocks. And despite the drive to compose a series the singular image cannot be ignored. Rather we must explore the most basic proportions of a photograph and what implications those carry.

To refine our focus from The Collection, to The Pair, The Negative offers the most basic view explored. And in order to view an image we must not look at the subject matter, but instead the negative space that surrounds it.

This space is often discarded as we are told through instruction to think of photographs in a binary sense. Through the subject and negative space, we are offered no middle ground and provided only ones and zeros. This poses a larger problem in that we are disallowed to focus on anything but the subject itself. This is due to the inherent implication that when asked which of the two options is more important, we will instinctively choose the subject. 

While it is important to reflect on the subject when the photo is being made, the construction of a series relies more on the connection between photos than the photo itself. Because of this, it is imperative to ignore our pre-determined notions for what constitutes a good photo, and rather look forward to what creates a good series.

Instead of a focus on the subject of a given photograph, the area around it or negative space is to be used as the primary tool for defining continuity. In a similar fashion to how The Pair is defined through the use of composition we must look at hard shapes and ideas the photo is conveying on its own without us describing them in greater detail. This can be done through many different areas of the photo, and is not confined to one specific region. A large sky holds no more value than trees in the background, what is more important is these elements aligning across any subject matter, or photographic style.

However this idea is not to be misconstrued. In looking at how The Four Values of Constructing a Series use the earlier values as structure, negative space does not preside over The Collection or The Pair. This is to say that regardless of how strong the connection may be between multiple photographs, if they cannot be aligned as a pair within the collection of images as a whole they must be discarded.

The Negative asks of us as photographers to look at images through a different workflow than what we have been taught to do. But once we can begin to work with it we will be able to find a unique order to how all images are constructed, and how this ties in with our livable spaces and the series as a whole.

Part Four: The Story

As we move closer to abstraction within the values offered here the end goals become not harder to define, but more vague in their intent. So while placing the least amount of emphasis on The Story, it is seemingly at odds with how the series is constructed. But it must be made clear that this is not a story in which we convey a tale within our images from point a to point b.

Because the ultimate goal of a photograph is to bring the viewer into the experience in which the photo was taken through the senses. Sight is provided to the viewer and photographer from the start as an inherent inclusion. Since photography is a visual medium we then must turn our focus to the other four senses and offer them within all of our images. This is the make up of The Story.

While offering sensory interactions of sound or smell pose larger questions it ultimately will fall back on the photograph itself. Through this the following ideal must be maintained: images are to not simply document a scene, but offer an invitation into the world in which the photo was created. How this is done lies more within the individual photographer than any written message offered here. Because similar to using the provided frame to remove elements from a photograph in order to refine the individual message, we are able to include key aspects that will bring viewers closer in to the photo, The Story, and the series as a whole. These key aspects surround us yet are unfortunately ignored on a regular basis when it comes to actually crafting an image. 

Because it is impossible to truly offer the sounds or smells of a given scene, we must rely on the memories of a viewer to recall what that sensory experience may actually be. Offered to all of us from the world at large, we can be familiar with how these intertwine with our memories, but perhaps more importantly how they can confuse or offer discomfort through altering our expectations of the scene. While this discomfort can be used as an advantage in certain aspects, it will more often act as a disservice to the series as a whole. 

If we are to imagine an image being put together piece by piece we can better understand what viewers expect to receive and how that will put greater emphasis on the right senses. This includes the garbage visible in street photography, plants that are local and identifiable, even if the landscape is not, and the noise that a big car makes as it is moving. Without this deeper engagement and discerning structure of the photograph itself we offer no more to the viewer than a blank canvas. There is a common argument for this, allowing the viewer to build the scene on their own. Yet as a photographer telling a story the goal is not to let the scene be dictated, rather to provide an area for the viewer to land within each image.

To offer this level of engagement completes the fourth and final value in the constructing of a series. But it must be reiterated that none of these can stand on their own, nor do they offer strengths when one is excluded. They must each be used and applied in the proper order, and once done the series will come together.

Serif & Silver Issue IV: Sobremesa - On Translating Photographs

Towards the end of this past summer I threw my camera bag into the car, woke up at three am and drove south heading towards Reno. I didn't plan to head into Reno, in fact its edge was only meant to be a stopover while I ate and took a break after then hours of driving. But after driving around a bit I sought out more of the area and by the time I had parked the car and loaded my camera I knew I had to stay in this city for the weekend. My end goal was still a few hours south in Bodie, California, and the photos from that destination were actually intended to be the compositions for Issue III. Needless to say that did not happen. I made the decision to cancel the existing hotel I had planned to stay at in California and found my way to a run down hotel and casino with a surprisingly nice view of the fireworks taking place that night unexpectedly.  

The next morning I woke up knowing that it would be a more quiet day involving leisurely getting out of bed, and not hitting the road until nearly eleven. I felt justified as I was making the return trip back to Portland the following day and was ready to take it easy. Plus, I wasn't needed in Bodie until later that evening anyway. Heading south once again, I made my way to Carson City, Nevada where driving through the main strip seemed all too familiar. It was about 17 years earlier that my grandfather passed away form kidney failure. He spent his last years living in Carson City, and as a child it was the only place I knew him. We would visit during the summers where, as a 10 year old boy, activities included getting to drive his old Chevrolet pickup to explore the abandoned silver mines in the hills near his home. Coming out of Carson City I saw the same hills and with some luck, plus a phone call to my dad, I was able to find his home once again.  

He had always been an excellent watercolor painter. While the subject matter maintained being your standard landscapes, he had an ability to wield a brush on canvas that despite many attempts, I have never been able to recreate. It seems that while an artistic intuition may be passed down, inherent talent is not. 

It is within this that photography will always face the challenge of defining its own path as an art form. Unlike painting, sculpture, or music composition we as photographers face the unique struggle of having the biggest hurdles come at the end of our workflow. Whereas a painter proves their worth through the quality of their artwork, we are forced explain ourselves and provide reasoning as to why the photos we have taken matter. This expectation is more or less unique to photography, primarily because within the artistic community it is seen as easy. One has the ability to pick up a camera and begin shooting right away, with fewer barriers to entry more people enter the playing field, causing those of us living in it currently to make ourselves stand out. But we are also influenced by the changes within technology as it relates to photography. Pencils haven’t changed much, nor have oils, pastels, and while techniques certainly have it is my believe that we struggle more to validate the work we create.

I know how that comes across, it reeks of self-entitlement and the medium being unfair. But my intention is to point out that while a lot of negatives can be attributed to this extra effort required, it ultimately does more good for each individual photographer and the photographic community as a whole. 

This mentality, that we benefit greatly from learning to discuss our work, more often is wrapped in ideas that do not pertain to the problem at hand. With mounting pressure to make a name for oneself through likes, blog posts, and any media outlet we can find, we focus more on quantity rather than quality. It is something I have come to learn through putting together four issues of Serif & Silver. While this project began as a way to share images first and have a little introduction as an afterthought, the roles of these two components have switched and the few thousand words opening the door serve not only to give context to the photographs, but defines them in a way that images alone could never do. I'm reminded of the idea that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. These words, what I am speaking to you now are able to stand alone, but I question if the images really could. 

Words, similar to the single photograph offer varying levels of depth depending on the reader and their attachment to the subject. And like the photograph, they have the ability to distort and show us more within any given content the longer we stare. While that sentiment leans towards a deeper message it can also rather simply be looked at from face value. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his 2006 book "The Tipping Point" that words can be treated like an epidemic with regard to how they spread, specifically the word yawn. He makes the case that by saying yawn, talking about yawning, if you yawned, and even pointing out how many times I've said yawn these past few sentences, it will probably make you yawn. If someone saw you yawn, they're most likely yawning themselves after you yawned. 

Not only do words have the ability to reach out into our physical space and force us to interact with them, but they will also distort what is actually there and will cast doubt in our interpretations. 

With the yawning example it was repetition of a single word that evoked a reaction. Looking at a single word however will cause the opposite effect. We are no longer so sure of what is written, and we react to the ink on a page, perhaps questioning the plausibility of the word. How it is spelled, how it is spoken, how it is read. Take a moment to focus on the single word below: 


I like garage as an example as it's unique in so many ways. Two consonants pronounced two different ways and surrounded by vowels. Like many English words it's an amalgamation of many different languages and terms coming together to form an entirely new term that, when looked at alone, doesn’t seem to make much sense. But it not a new idea that subject matter interacts with us as much as we interact with it. It's not even new for me to discuss here as it was the subject of Serif & Silver Issue III. What it allows us to do however is look in a new direction with a relatively simple concept. By forcing ourselves to continue to not only define out work, define our equipment, and define our photography, we inadvertently change the landscape and push ourselves in a direction that, for whatever reason, we as a community are actively fighting against. 

It was in 2012, when we were attempting to launch Pdexposures.TV and filming the first season, that my videographer and I sat down to sketch out ideas for potential new episodes. Over a pint of beer we talked about a lot of ideas that unfortunately never came to be. As you might imagine, it was equipment comparisons, reviews, and other standard fare were the first topics to presented. But as the conversation wore on we shifted into the methodology behind some of the world's most famous images. Within these well known photos we saw a few categories and the photographers who excelled in that area one would expect. Ansel Adams and his landscapes, Bresson as the original street photographer, Dorothea Lange for her intimate work within the depression. Even as more names were thrown out, Arbus, Eggleston, Mark, Weston, Erwit, they would inevitably fall into what we saw one of a few defined buckets. Yet through all this, we found that war photography was more or less empty. 

Thinking on who would fit this role Capa was the first to come to mind. It's understandable as well. Most war photographers get lost to history while those who manage to make a name for themselves rise with a seemingly legendary status. It's that very reason that would cause Leica Brazil to release a three minute commercial about the life of Capa and his Leica III. Although quite a bit of artistic license was taken, considering he used a Contax throughout most of the second world war and only had a brief stint with Leica. I re-told my videographer a story I had heard about Capa (I would later find out it was actually not Capa, but another WWII photographer named Michelantonio 'Tony' Vaccaro), and we concluded that at the very least it would make for an interesting episode. 

During World War II, and under tight deadlines with a desire to control his output, Vaccaro used four helmets to develop his film right there on the battlefield. 

That was it, a small task we thought to be so incredibly simple as we were in truth, too naive to recognize what it really entailed. Sitting at the table, we sketched out how the episode would go. It was to be two parts, the first consisting of using antiquated equipment and older film emulsions in a forest or older town resembling 1940s Europe. From there we would move to nighttime, and sitting in the middle of the woods we were to develop that roll using the same method. Four military helmets, each with a different stage of the development process, the moonlight, and hope that the images didn't get too fogged. 

As you may have guessed by now, this episode never came to be for a few reasons. Primarily, Pdepxosures.TV was simply too time and cost intensive to continue. But the truth of the matter was there was no way for us to really reproduce Vaccaro’s method. Developing in tanks in the dark isn't unique when you aren't under pressure. We didn't have deadlines, we weren't afraid of being shot the next day, and we were only putting film into rudimentary bowls. There was a disconnect that we didn't appreciate in our initial planning stages, and it put such a kink into the overall vision we couldn't continue.  

As photographers, we cannot help but force ourselves to adapt to new processes based on the ever changing situations we find ourselves in. Tony Vaccaro did this by circumventing the standard war photography workflow. Rather than having TIME or LIFE magazine receive unprocessed rolls and decide what to publish, he took the work under his belt regardless of the environment around him. Yet even as I have written (and complained) about our eagerness to share and get our work distributed into the world, how is it that Vaccaro's method is not only acceptable, but encouraged as a lesson of success? 

This is indicative of something I've been meaning to discuss more within the ever shifting baseline that is photography. I first mentioned the shifting baseline in the first issue of Serif & Silver as a way to put into perspective what we are all aware of within the photographic community. Photography, unlike any other artistic medium is intertwined with so many other facets of our daily lives. We use photographs for news, sales, and unlike painting or sculpture, dance or any of the performing arts, it is inherently ingrained with technology. From the earliest Daguerreotype, the concept of putting a direct replica of what was seen through our own eyes onto any medium has been a technological breakthrough. Through the evolution of emulsions with wet plate, to dry plate, to emulsion on a flexible plastic we continue to push the art form and continue to do so with cameras today that break all kinds of technical limitations that even 10 years ago would have been only a dream. 

Similar to my thoughts on the fairness of artwork related to my grandfather in terms of the ease in which we are able to pick up photography, we are also held more accountable on what we put out in the world. Not only in the present as we are actively shooting and creating images, but after we’re gone both digitally and physically. We don’t get to choose who carries along our legacy, what will be said about it, or through what mediums. As evidence we can look no further than Myspace. I still have something of a profile active if you search for my name, and while I’m responsible for the contents uploaded, their continued existence relies on a third party; the photos of a younger me, the text, the comments. I could easily go in and delete the whole page, wiping out what is effectively the first social media network I used throughout my teenage years. But my point isn’t that the content exists, rather that it continues to exist without my involvement. This is what I’ve continued to struggle with as I near the finish line for this project. How are we to stay relevant when we give up all control? How does the conversation continue to flow after the food has left the table?

Every year, the Sunday after thanksgiving I gather with close friends to share in another large meal. The drinks flow freely, and the food (while often subpar) manages to solidify what we are doing togther. We started this simple tradition about six years ago, and while I make no assumptions that getting together with close friends around this time of year is a unique thing we do, I am no less grateful for it. Six years ago fewer were married, six years ago there were no children hanging around the dinner table, and six years ago some people were still with us. Inevitably we finish our meal and continue to sit around the table sharing stories of when we were young dumb kids getting in trouble and were more concerned about how much horsepower our cars had than if we could afford to order a value meal or needed to stick with the dollar menu.

The concept of remaining at the table together after the meal has finished, sticking around after the reason for being there has effectively passed and faded away, has no single word in the English language. It took me thirty-five words here to describe it here. But Sobremesa, a Spanish word, means exactly that all wrapped up in nine simple letters. Sobremesa as an idea has carried a lot of weight with me over the past few months as I gathered my thoughts about how to bring Serif & Silver to a close. What comes next for me photographically now that the meal is over?

I think there is a bigger question to be answered in how do we as photographers operate under the idea that there are some things we simply cannot translate? Many other words like Sobremesa exist with no direct English translation. There are symbolic terms like komorebi, a Japanese word for the way light scatters when the sun shines through trees. Funnier ideas like utepils, a Norwegian word describing sitting outside drinking a beer on a sunny day. Words that are nonsensical like culaccino, an Italian word used only for the ring left on a table from a glass. Or serious concepts like wabi-sabi in which one accepts the natural cycles of growth and decay. If we accept that photography means to write with light at a basic interpretation of the word, then it is a language. Because of that, it should be treated as a language. One that is not spoken, but shared and earned like a non-native tongue. Requiring time, effort, and a desire to understand and interpret fully.

Over the last year, I have gotten closer to finding out how to answer that question although it is through means that aren’t what I had hoped. We must use images not only in the literal sense of a reproduction of any given scene, but as a component that reaches beyond the sense of sight and into the other four senses. It was Bruce Gilden who said, “If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it's a street photograph”. It’s in this line that we can see how best to bring viewers better into the fold. A photograph must not exist only as a replication of light, but as a complete paragraph, sharing the sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes of whatever it is you captured. This is where the impact of a good photograph lies. One that does more than it was ever intended to do. Taking you into the scene and telling, translating the story that happened in the moments before, during, and after you pressed the shutter.

When I first began to push forward on the idea of self publishing, sitting at my dining table with a large box of Polaroids that would inevitably create the first issue of Serif & Silver I had only a rough idea of what I was doing. It took weeks of sorting, organizing, shifting, pulling images and re-inserting them into the fold to locate the beginnings of a series within these assorted photographs. Starting out I anticipated that things would reveal themselves to me, as if a giant lock was waiting the combination and all I needed to do was get the images in the correct order. Needless to say that was not the case. Rather it took effort on my end to look within each image and see what it said. See where it came from, and where it was going. In looking at the photographs I was able to construct the story that formed the first issue. A few months later on the heels of releasing Artifacts I was able to hone that in and look at the paired images as if they were a contracted word. Pulling back for Unchanged I was able to look at the larger structure of how the images were made up. See the larger scope of what was surrounding them and how the indirection ties it all together.

But here I am, looking at publishing what will be the fourth and final issue of Serif & Silver and I feel as if I am only beginning to grasp how these concepts flow together. Sobermesa takes what I have learned of the series, the pair, the surroundings and combines them together for what is the culmination of this project and leaves the discussion open after it is done. I can only hope that regardless of how many issues you read or were able to see my thoughts helped you to look at photography in a brighter light. And on the off chance that it helped you to create your own self-published piece of work, get in touch. I’d love to buy a copy.