Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The good, the bad, and the internet

The downside to the internet is that there is too much information. Ask a question on a forum and you'll either get presented with two polarised viewpoints (when the correct answer is "give it a try for yourself and see what you think" (RAW v JPEG, UV filter yea or nay), or so many different opinions that picking one out is impossible (which camera is best?). Add in the certainty that a high percentage of the 'opinions' will not be based on actual experience but on sources elsewhere on the internet and you're on a hiding to nothing. Too many cooks with too many opinions making for a spoiled information broth.

A far better approach, unfashionable in the digital age where crowd sourcing is the  democratic way of disseminating information, is to seek out an 'expert'. There is still a vast ocean of expert opinion on the web to swim through, and again a fair percentage is not based on experience, but if you read particular sources often enough you should be able to detect the charlatans and delete their sites from your favourites. There might also be genuine experts whose opinions are at odds with your approach who can also be filtered out. Learn to be your own editor.

And so we come to the good side of the internet. There is good advice for everyone, provided you do a bit of work to find it and don't fall into the current default position when a problem is encountered of asking the internet to solve it for you. Once you have found your trustworthy sources they can bring further benefits. They will link you to stuff you wouldn't have found by yourself. This sort of crowd sourcing, where you select the crowd,  is great.

One of my favourite sources for following a breadcrumb trail of links is the Guardian website's photography section.

This page:


Lead to this one which I had forgotten about:


Which lead, via a Google search, to the photographer's own site:


And thence to this video:

And ultimately to the book on Amazon.

This makes another addition to my collection of books about the British way of life. It's a good book, but knowing that some of the pictures were made in colour (everything in the book is in black and white) has altered my perception of it. It would be nice to know if the decision to omit full colour was made on financial or aesthetic grounds.

Possibly the earlier pictures were shot on film, a number have the grainy look which colour films don't have when printed in black and white and which digital certainly cannot reproduce. Making all the pictures black and white brings a visual consistency. However, it also brings the attendant spectre of nostalgia. There are few visual clues as to when the pictures were made. Many could easily have been taken any time between the 1960s and today. Especially the ones where people are seen smoking as the ban on smoking in public spaces in England is a recent one.

Of course this is all a question of editing, and just like editing the information on the internet, editing the photographs from a long project is problematic. There are many selections and orderings which are possible. The set of colour pictures in the first link has a different feel to the selection from the book shown in the video.

Nostalgic or not I'm glad I got the book: the interleaving of quotes and other text with the pictures works well, the pictures withstand repeated viewing, and it's a pleasing object.

The other book in the photo above I picked up in a charity shop for £3.99, and this one most definitely is nostalgic. It's not a photobook per se being more a brief history of changing British culture through the 20th century supported by photographs. As such it fulfils its purpose. The photographs are interesting both in their content and in their different styles - styles dictated by their eras and their intended original uses. Unfortunately the picture credits are disappointing, being mostly to image libraries with the photographers rarely getting a mention, making it difficult to search out more of a particular photographer's other work.

The two books raise the question of how a book of photographs with no accompanying text is a very different thing to the same pictures side by side with words of explanation. Are photographs alone sufficient? Is it presumptuous to suggest they can be? Or is it the mystery of dumb photographs which gives them their power to make viewers think?

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