Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Digital photographers
Bizarre day today, and am only now shoving whatever I can think of to shove up.
I went trawling through the photo-archives, and came up with this weird selfie shot from 2006:
Two cameras I no longer use. My previous pregnant-out-the-back telly. Some book about Something For Dummies.
I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then. I’m hardly even close.
For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:
I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice. I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.
The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography. Consider the stats.
There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine. There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3).
All the other photographers are using mobile phones.
Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen. But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.
What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising. It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit. But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do. A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.
And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.
Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am. That’s their job. And being slower off the mark is mine.
It was posted in August 2012. Better, far better, late than never. I found this in their list of top twenty postings, top in popularity, presumably.
Another of those Things That Have Been Encouraged By Digital Photography. The Art is temporary, but the pictures of the Art will last far, far longer, on many, many hard discs.
Was in the Westminster Bridge Parliament Square area this afternoon. Photoed many photoers photoing. Few of the pictures are of much current interest. Although, give it a decade and there will surely be a dozen absolute crackers. I mean, will a mobile then be a thing you carry? Surely they’ll just be in your earings, or something. With the screen on contact lenses. Again: or something.
But I did like this one:
It’s the square gap in the lid that makes it.
Better blogging tomorrow, I hope, even though I actually promise nothing.
And me photoing the two of them, of course, last night on Westminster Bridge. Time and again, I only really see what I have photoed when I get home and really look at them all.
So, example, when I photoed this spikey-haired guy, I thought that all I was doing was photoing a photographer who was photoing Big Ben. I was doing that, but it turns out I was doing even more than that:
See the bottom left of his screen.
Was he doing this on purpose? Does he share my fascination with other photographers? I have another shot that is very similar, and in that one also, there is that same photographer, in the bottom left hand corner? The fact that he held that exact shot, with the other photographer present and photoing, says to me that it might well have been deliberate.
I think that this …:
… is a spectacularly beautiful photograph.
It is the work of Mick Hartley, whose photos I admire more and more.
What I so especially like about this one is how the colour of the waterlily is contrasted with the black and bleak colouring of the big circular leaves. Usually, in photos of this sort, those big leaves would be bright green. But the indoor setting and the industrialised Kew Gardens ceiling turns the water in which the lilies float into something more like crude oil, giving the whole thing a very distinct atmosphere.
It brings to (my) mind those scenes in Schindler’s List where a little girl in bright red appears, in an otherwise black and white movie.
In general, colour is a big deal for Hartley. From time to time, he features photos at his blog (by him or by others) where there is a big expanse of bright colour and a relatively drab small object or objects in the middle. The opposite of the waterlily photo, in other words. But maybe I just notice these particular photos because I particularly like them.
There was a time when self-consciously artistic photographers seemed deliberately to turn their backs on the huge opportunities offered by colour photography. Digital cameras, which could do colour from the get go, and which have enabled regular people to revel in colour photography whatever the Black and White Photosnobs might be saying about colour photography, have put a damper on all that. At first, posh photographers sneered at digital photographers partly because of all the colour. But now, Real Photographers are, more and more, people who got started with photography because of cheap digital photography.
I’m absolutely not saying that I dislike black and white photography, or photography of very drab and monochrome colours (like when it’s nearly dark for instance). I’m merely saying that bright colours are great also. And these two things are especially diverting when combined in the same photo, as above.
I like to browse through Jonathan Gewirtz’s photos from time to time, and on my latest browse I came across this photo, of a brightly lit building in Urban Florida. Miami? Don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.
What particularly got my attention was the fact that Gewirtz included in the picture: his own shadow.
I have taken the liberty of reproducing this detail here. “Copyright ©2011 Jonathan Gewirtz” is what it says just before saying “jonathangewirtz.com”, but I trust my little except does not break any rules. (Rules often being the point of copyright violations, I’m guessing. Maybe this particular copyright violation, on its own, would not be a problem, but once the line is crossed, by anyone ...) If Gewirtz wants this little piece of his work removed, he has only to say and it will be removed forthwith.
Okay, with that out of the way, the point that I want to make here is that I suspect that this thing of including your own shadow in pictures is a practice that has filtered upwards to the Real Photographers like Jonathan Gewirtz, from us digital amateurs.
Your own shadow in the picture often starts as a mistake, but then you think: well, okay, that’s my shadow, but what’s so wrong with that? I was standing there, with the sun behind me. I mean, did you think this wasn’t a photograph, and that someone standing there throwing a shadow into the picture wasn’t even there? Did you think that God took the picture? Cameras gobble up whatever they see in that moment, and in this moment, for instance, my shadow was part of what it saw. Often, the shadow is all there is, and very amusing it is too.
The crux of the matter is, I think, who the picture is for and what the point of it is. Is it for someone else, someone paying? Is perhaps a happy couple being photographed on their wedding day? In which case, they are the point, not the photographer. Likewise if the point is to photo this dish of salad, or that house interior, or this beloved pet or that sports team, well, the Real Photographer is not being paid to insert himself into the scene, and he will be careful not to.
But if, on the other hand, you are a snapper who is just having a bit of fun, then why shouldn’t you, the snapper, also become your own snappee?
But the thing is, when Real Photographers are out having fun, the way Jonathan Gewirtz presumably is when taking photos in Miami or wherever, just because he likes to, they are liable to take their ingrained Real Photographer habits of self-effacement with them. So, interesting that Gewirtz did not do this, at any rate not this time.
I’ll end with a slice out of one of these photos:
The crooked forefinger being mine.
On Saturday, having dropped Goddaughter 2 off at Westminster Tube, I took a stroll over Westminster Bridge and snapped snappers, just like old times. And the rising tide of people photoing with smartphones rather than just with dedicated cameras was unmistakable. With about the next but one iteration of the smartphone, will there be any small digital cameras left? Soon, it will likely be as above. Big old Real Cameras, and lots of smartphones.
Or then again, maybe instead of all phones having cameras in them, some cameras will have phones in them, and small, cheap digital cameras will carry right on as if nothing had happened.
I know I’ve been saying lately that I don’t show faces of strangers here like I used to. But honestly, if you look this gorgeous, you are going to get noticed and frankly, you look like you want to be noticed. And then when you do this, right in front of me, about three yards away, what is a digital photographer spotter and digital photography blogger supposed to do? Just ignore it all entirely. Can’t be done:
Click and enjoy.
Photographer with two cameras rather than just one, taking a selfie with the other one, which is a smartphone with a great case. Great semi-transparent bag action. A woolly hat. Tick tick tick tick. That second camera says she’s well on her way to being a Real Photographer, closer to it than I’ll ever get. She’d surely understand.
These snaps were not snapped yesterday. I found them while trawling the archives looking for something else entirely, and was reminded. They date from … well let’s just say: a while ago.
Indeed. Yesterday, late in the afternoon, walking along the south side of the river, near the National Theatre (see below), I saw, and photographed this:
Which, for me, was a first.
I took lots of shots where the photographer had only one leg on the skateboard, but with the other leg touching the ground and pushing him forward. But eventually I got the shot I was waiting for.
A Happy Easter to all my readers.
The pictures below were taken on April 16th 2004, in (on?) one of my regular snapping zones, Westminster Bridge (and nearby places), from which, then as now, you get great views of both Parliament and the Wheel, depending on which way you look.
Most of the things I was photoing then haven’t changed that much, but … I was just then starting to realise that my fellow digital photographers were an object worthy of my detailed and prolonged attention, which they have been ever since. That summer of 2004 was the moment when I first got seriously stuck into this category of photo. There are still lots of pictures of people just wandering around, being people. But, the photographers were just starting to figure strongly in the archives. It took me a while to realise that the cameras mattered at least as much as the people using them, that aspect getting steadily easier as zoom got zoomier.
The privacy concerns associated with just shoving recognisable pictures of strangers up on the internet have only grown since then, but I reckon that pictures this old are not such a problem in that way. Recognisable pictures taken yesterday, that I tend not to do these days, or not so much. But pictures of people taken a decade ago, well, I’m more relaxed about that.
The little squares zoom in on the cameras. Click and get the original pictures as taken that afternoon, which would appear to have been exactly as sunny as today is.
Mostly silver rather than black, mostly much bulkier than the equivalent cameras look now. But of course there is one exception to all that. Picture 3.1 shows a kind of camera that looked then pretty much exactly as it looks now. Black. Shaped like an old school camera. These are the cameras that are actually just regular quite good digital cameras, but which enable you think of yourself as the beginnings of a Real Photographer. My kind of camera, in other words. Cameras in this category look now exactly as they looked then. Nothing has changed with those.
Except what they can do.
When I trawl through the archives, I keep coming across excellent snaps which for some reason I quite ignored at the time. Here is one such, taken in July 2007, on Westminster Bridge:
The Thing on her bag, the Wheel, is behind her. She is photoing Big Ben, unless I am much mistaken.
I think one reason photos like this one seem better now than when taken is because hiding the faces of my photographer subjects now seems more necessary than it used to.
The really good news is that the cameras in these old snaps are starting to look very old. Soon, they will be totally out of date, and at that point my Digital Photographers archive will become a wonder.
Incoming from Sam Bowman in the form of an email, dated March 6th, entitled “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism - an apologia”:
Thanks for mentioning my Libertarian Home talk on Samizdata. I look forward to seeing you tonight if you can make it.
“Tonight” was March 6th (Simon Gibbs introductory spiel about Sam and his talk here), when Sam gave his talk at the Rose and Crown. This is not yet available on video, but it presumably soon will be, because as always at these Libertarian Home Rose and Crown talks, a video camera was in action. On the right is a photo that Sam took of me and him with his mobile, after he had given his talk.
And thanks for coming on Monday!
That was an ASI event, about whether prison works. (Answer, with all kinds of reservations: yes.)
I typed out quite a long email to you but decided against it, because I figured none of it would be new to you.
Wrong. Now that my hair is mostly grey and I no longer say everything I am thinking, other libertarians seem to assume that I now know everything that there is to be known, and because I own lots of books that I have read everything that there is to be read, about libertarianism. None of this is true. I do not read and have not read nearly as much as I have time to read and have had time to read. I regret that Sam didn’t preserve this longer email.
Having said that, since it’s something we’re both interested in I thought I’d try to outline my position a bit more briefly:
Excellent. I asked Sam, quite a long time ago now, if he minded me recycling what follows in a posting, and maybe then sticking bits of it up at Samizdata. No, he said, post away. So here it is:
I still hate the term ‘social justice’ (Hayek did a real number on me), and philosophically I’m not on board with the Rawlsian view of ethics. My moral position is preference utilitarianism – that people getting what they want is what’s good. Having said that, practically I think that ethical consequentialists and believers in ‘social justice’ are in basically the same position: both think that improving the welfare of the poor is a high priority.
I think it makes sense to treat libertarianism as being about means, not ends. Most political positions claim that they’re good because they will make people’s lives easier, happier, etc. (There are some exceptions of course.) I think many people make the error of forgetting that the world is complex, so they assume that differences of opinion about politics must be down to differences of opinion about what sort of world we want.
People sometimes also try to waterproof their beliefs by attaching moral claims to empirical arguments – eg, a supporter of the minimum wage, presented with strong arguments that undermine their empirical claims, may fall back on the argument that it’s just indecent for people to earn below £x/hour, and a decent society should simply not allow that, consequences be damned. Of course we libertarians often do this too – presented with strong arguments in favour of the minimum wage we may fall back on the claim that it’s just wrong to interfere with private contracts between adults. I think there’s some merit to both these claims (much more so the latter, obviously) but they shouldn’t be treated as unbreakable absolutes. If they were, were the earlier, empirical arguments just rhetoric?
So you can boil my position down to this: if I was convinced that free markets and a high degree of individual liberty were not the best way of allowing people to get what they want, I wouldn’t support them. My libertarianism/liberalism is entirely contingent on empirical beliefs I have about the world.
I make explicit the fact that I’d be relaxed about redistribution of wealth from rich to poor if I thought it led to good outcomes, and indeed I think the libertarian empirical case is much stronger on regulation of people’s lives (in the broadest sense) and commerce than it is on wealth redistribution. I also think that it’s where we have the most original things to say.
How this makes me any different to people like Milton Friedman and FA Hayek I am not sure, given that both were also explicitly supportive of wealth/income redistribution. Of course, any consequentialist libertarian would have to concede that, at least in theory, they would be open to the idea of redistribution.
Some emails, rather like some comments, can have particular expressive merit. Because people are relaxed rather than mounted self-consciously on their official high horses, so to speak, they often communicate in this more informal circumstance with particular eloquence. So, my particular thanks to Sam for allowing me to publish this. More of his many thoughts here, although you may have to scroll your way past a huge photo of Sam in front of a brick wall. (Odd. Did anyone else have this problem?) I recommend doing this.
Last Wednesday, I was finally able to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather London has been enjoying for last week or so, and walked down Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then across the river.
And the photography is well and truly back in business. There ought to be a nominated day, when photographers all gather to photograph the first grouse of the season. What would be the urban equivalent of that, I wonder?
I photographed other things besides photographers, but mostly I did photograph photographers:
Those are just little square bits from bigger pictures. Click to get the latter.
The fountain behind the lady photographer in 3.1 is the one in the garden of St Thomas’s Hospital, which doubles as the roof of a big car park.
Smart phones getting smarter all the time.
This time it’s another person whose name I am determined to stop getting wrong, who is called Christiana Hambro. For no intelligent reason that I can think of, I have been getting the Christiana bit of her name wrong. The good news is that I can’t now even remember what I used to say instead, because I have known for several hours, ever since I thought about doing it, what the rest of this posting is going to consist of, and because this posting is already doing the job of fixing Christiana’s correct Christian name, Christiana, in my head, even before I write the posting, never mind before I stick it up for others to read.
Christiana is the one on the left, of these two pictures:
And the one of the right is Christian. Christian Michel. I have never got Christian’s Christian name wrong. Putting these two people next to one another in my head has solved my Christiana Hambro problem.
Christian Michel will be speaking at my next Last Friday meeting, on March 28th. This is what he just emailed me about what he will be saying:
In August 1938, a rich and talented American journalist gathered 36 economists and philosophers in Paris, in what has become known after his name: the Lippmann Colloquium. The objective was nothing less than a refoundation of liberalism, under attack by Marxists and Fascists. Participants only agreed in their opposition to command economies. Mises remained attached to unfettered free markets. Röpke and Rüstow developed what became Ordoliberalism, still the official ideology in today’s Germany. Einaudi, future president of Italy, remained faithful to the social teachings of the Church. Hayek tried to federate all these currents in the Mont Pélerin Society, to the point of dilution. In America, neo-liberals merged into the neo-conservative movement, whilst in France, Michel Foucault, in his insightful Birth of Biopolitics, reclaimed it for libertarianism (which he espoused in his last works, to the horror of the Leftist establishment). Today, for the likes of Naomi Klein and George Monbiot, the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a word of abuse, whilst it was meant to characterize the very ‘third way’ they so eagerly embrace. In the talk, I will go over the debates within the liberal movement of the last 80 years, which all revolve around the definition of this neologism: neo-liberalism.
In my thankyou email back to him, I told Christian that this piece alone makes an illuminating read.
Which is a lot of the point of talks these days, now that we can all know about everything that is happening that we even might be attending. Yes, the small number of people who choose to squeeze themselves into my living room on the 28th will hear Christian’s talk, and very good and very detailed it will be, I am sure. They will learn lots that will not be learned by others. But meanwhile, many more will read the above spiel by Christian about his talk, and the ripples will spread out way beyond my living room. If just half the people on the Brian’s Fridays email list read the above piece, when I send it out in about a week’s time, many of them will learn quite a lot. I had no idea Michel Foucault ended up as a libertarian, until Christian started telling me about this.
I found the above picture of Christian Michel here. I probably could have dug up a picture of him taken by me, but image googling was easier, given the state of my photo-archives.
Christiana’s relevance to all this is that she is one of a number of free-market-stroke-libertarian activists who have been putting some organisational juice behind spreading these ideas to British students. She is based at the I(nstitute of) E(conomic) A(ffairs). I took that photo of Christiana at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which she helped to organise, and “helped” may well be a serious understatement.
I hope to organise a Brian’s Friday at which Christiana and/or one of her colleagues describe the outreach work they are doing at the IEA. In my opinion it is the biggest single piece of news about the spread of libertarian thinking in Britain. The British public continue to be indifferent to libertarian ideas, as is their habit with so many ideas. But the British student libertarian movement is now growing from insignificant to … significant, and it is to a great degree thanks to the work of people like Christiana.