Thiebaud Nine Weeks

I’ve gotten my big autofocus Leica SL2 out of the cabinet to photograph my little friend here. Just too hard to grab focus with my M11’s manual focus rangefinder. Classic Lab.

Time for Recovery

SF Monochrome

It’s funny how a few days traveling, some dental issues and work can so quickly shift the environment from one of reflection to one of the constant pressure of activity.

As my posting over the last few days shows, I had time to capture images while in San Francisco. My goal was just to get back into visual mode after some months of ignoring the cameras. But the light in the city and the capability of the tools was enough to very quickly get me into that mode of looking that leads to making images. I brought the Leica M10 Monochrom which is a camera with a digital sensor that captures only black and white images since it lacks the color filters needed to reconstruct colors in a digital image. I brought the Monochrom because I wanted to be deliberate in capture, something that the rangfinder focusing M10 brings. And since my final product is monochrome, the B&W camera takes me a step closer from capture to image- The more casual approach compared to the cinematic imagery I’m made in recent years.

So I more or less picked up where I left off, trying to abstract the bits of the city that I can isolate with my lens. I brought my newer 35mm Summicron lens, ending up shooting mostly wide open in that sharp, defining California light. And I definitely enjoyed collecting the images and there’s a pretty high percentage of interesting captures. So I’ve been having fun doing a very quick set of image adjustments and publishing here and Instagram. The 35mm lens opens up the view a bit. While in San Francisco, I stopped in at the SF Leica store to look at the images on display and look over the cameras and lenses. It turned out they had a used electronic viewfinder for the M, the Visoflex, at a good price. So the rest of the trip was variously shot with the EVF, the glass rangefinder or the back screen.

On Sunday, before heading back to the airport for the red-eye flight back to Baltimore, I spent a few hours at SFMOMA, the wonderful San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not much going on in the way of photography because of new exhibit being hung. So I spent more time looking at paintings this time there. I’ve noted here a number of times that my formative experience with art was with the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Motherwell, Johns, Rothko, Diebenkorn. The headline show at the museum were the paintings of Joan Mitchell. I’d seen them before, but there’s nothing like a retrospective like this to get to know a artist well. Of interest to me was how she wasn’t afraid as an abstract painter to let here images drift back to the landscape enough that the underlying structure of nature starts to emerge from the abstraction. And color. Color is emotional.

Joan Mitchell, La Grande Vallée XVI, Pour Iva, 1983

While viewing the show and since I’ve been thinking about how abstract expressionism informs the images I make. I like the tension between my formal abstraction and the concreteness of the photographic image. I can’t hide the fact that what I’ve photographed a fire plug. But you have to ask why did I capture the image? What did I see in that moment that compelled me to capture an image and publish it here. One of the ideas that I took away from Joan Mitchell’s paintings is that the view wants some challenge. Enough to make viewing a way of participating in the creative act. You see, art presents ambiguous, noisy sensations allowing the viewer to participate in finishing the creation through inference. If there’s no sense of participation with the artist, looking is boring and no fun.

In the Creator Economy We’re All Creators

Since I appreciate art in many forms, I’ve also been interested in the economics of producing and distributing it. In the last decade, delivery and viewing art in digital form has transformed the landscape.

One of the clearest changes has been the fall of the big distributors and the rise of direct interaction of artists with their audience. The profit has gone out of recording and distribution of music because of streaming services. Movie theaters and big studios now join or cut deals with the many streaming channels that aggregate viewers. Newspapers, publishers, galleries have all similarly collapsed and consolidated, limiting traditional outlets for artists to sell their work for reasonable returns on their time.

Over the summer I read The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Techby William Deresiewicz, a survey across media of how difficult it is for artists to provide for themselves and their families with this loss of intermediaries that often functioned as a supportive ecology for the arts. Publishers and newspapers needed writers and essayists, so enough money went out to ensure a decent pool of talent to create content. At the end of the book, there’s a discussion of how artists are now directly addressing their audiences, but sees the shift of burden from intermediary to artist as a burden for the artist that limits their time and motivation to create.

From my point of view, I treasure some of the artists I follow closely and am more than happy to provide some direct support. I always bring up Craig Mod in this context only because I watched his turn from freelancer to online creative as it happened. For example, Craig invited his supporters into his home to watch him pack for his upcoming walk. You see, Craig’s art is walking, producing books, podcasts, essays and photos along the way.

Starting in about 30 mins: Running a members-only packing and Q&A livestream about my upcoming Ten City Walk.

Folks with money and internet platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, etc) have noticed and we now have a name for direct to consumer art transactions. It’s The Creator Economy. I’ve seen repeated use of this phrase

The creator economy is growing much faster than music streaming – Water & Music

To understand this gap, it’s important to reiterate that music streaming is not part of the “creator economy” by most definitions of the latter term. As I’ve written in the past, some of the core tenets of the creator economy (or “passion economy,” as some investors formerly called it) include defying commodification, enabling direct support from fans or followers and giving creators the ability to charge a price that matches the value they provide, not just the cost of bringing their products to market.

Sounds cliché, I know. But looking back at industry discussions in the last year, it’s been practically impossible to avoid the term “creator” — which could be loosely defined as anyone who creates something online that someone, somewhere, finds valuable and wants to pay for — as the universal signifier of what’s to come, culturally, technologically and financially.

Anecdotally, the FedEx shop near my home has seen a huge increase in creatives at home during the pandemic using them to ship out goods to their patrons.

The Pandemic Has Been Very, Very Good for the Creator Economy – Bloomberg

The business around digital talent has gotten so big that it’s spawned a new phrase, “the creator economy,” that has become one of the business buzzwords of the year. Look no further than the rise of Substack, Patreon, OnlyFans, all of which are giving journalists, podcasters and sex workers the chance to replicate the business models of YouTubers. 

It’s now more clear to me that the extra burden that’s been imposed on artists with the loss of traditional intermediaries won’t be empty for long. A new breed of convenience intermediaries are rapidly rising to fill the gap. It really is like watching an ecology adapt in real time. An external event- digitalization causes the near extinction of some key participants in the ecology. Things move out of balance for a while and other populations may suffer, but the system destabilizes with new or newly adapted organisms that fill the empty niche.

One more thought. Is programming another one of these arts? Have app stores also been one of these extinction events as boxed software died. Maybe we didn’t notice because the app stores and software payment services were part of the disruption that killed typical software distribution of expensive, big products.

Just like so many more of us are photographers and musician because the tools are so good and so easily obtained, I think more of us are leaning programming- at least automation and complex No-Code apps.

Chrys Bader had an interesting take on the rise of software tinkering: HyperCard and what it means for the future of No-Code

My theory here is that the more people become software developers, the more the knowledge permeates culture, and the more the number of hobbyists and tinkerers grows. That means our competence in technology becomes more sophisticated as a society.

Apps get smarter and software development moves toward creating the tools used to create the art. Even if those tools are only tools for thought.