What is American Photography?

Color Photos © Gregory Halpern, ZZXYZ

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to teach all of American Photography in an email on Tuesday morning. This is just an intro to some of what’s coming. And I want to be careful with your time.

I’m working on sprucing things up here with the look and organization, and we’re going to change the name of the Digest in the next issue. That will be a bit more of a philosophical email about the change.

And thank you so much for the support, it means so much to me that you would help as I begin this transition. And just as much a thank you to those who want to help but aren’t in the position. It’s a tough economy out there.

Black and White Photos © Mimi Plumb, The White Sky

I think a huge lesson for artists is that whatever you are hoping to achieve, half that is what you believe you will actually get early on if you’re lucky. And then in reality it ends up being half of that half right away.

Then you have to grind to make the rest happen. (We made about $350 of the $1,000 goal to justify the amount of work that I want to do).

Don’t get me wrong, I personally am very encouraged and have been through this process enough. But this is why artists quit or get discouraged because it’s a pattern that happens throughout your career.

Combining money with art is BRUTAL. It sucks. But the ones that survive and thrive through it have this scrappy (and maybe occasionally annoying) quality that allows them to push through those mental hurdles. Or they’re good at denial.

And you have to be a salesperson, there’s no way around it.

BTW those thick Bizan Japanese rice paper prints are stunning 😉 And most of the support was $5, $7, $10 or for the prints. But $1 or $2 is just as important.

That’s the last of the salesman in me. The next step is to just raise the level here.

Now for some of what’s coming.

I’m going to write some personal emails like the previous few and include personal stories and city stories in ways that can relate to the creative life. But a good portion of what I want to create is to build up the world of photography in our heads. And the world of urbanism as well.

I’ve always used writing and teaching as an impetus to learn. If you can teach a beginner photographer about apertures and zone focusing in short internet writing, then you can probably also explain calculus to a monkey.

But there’s just so much information out there now. I feel like I now have to dodge it from social media (and now AI) instead of seeking it out. To combat that, and as I’ve migrated off of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, I’ve been contemplating the idea of how to focus in. To be more methodical about how I spend my time consuming information and where I find it.

I promise this is related – often when my 6-year-old asks for a toy, I have to say, ‘Avery, I would love to get you a kid scale BMW, but that’s a suburban toy.’ (Or actually, as my wife corrected me, it was a Mercedes).

You can tell I didn’t grow up around cars. For many a car equals freedom but for me, it’s the opposite. I much prefer the congestion of people.

James Maher, HYPE

I’m slowly beginning to teach the kid about the differences between the suburbs and the city, but we haven’t gotten to ‘white flight’ or the return of the ‘Sex and the City’ generation yet.

Similarly, I only have an urban amount of bookshelf space, and photo books are expensive (although I get to write them off, pro tip about teaching!) Besides the outliers, I have to justify that a book has an educational purpose or is one to go back to over the years. I try to avoid anything that I’ll only want to read through once, which is tough.

But books are the ultimate form of photography. And in an effort to learn more about my backyard, I want to organize and look more deeply at American photography and photographers, and in a way maybe learn more about my culture in the process. That’s where I’ve been focusing my book purchases over the last year.

We’ll cover other places of course, but American will be a larger aspect.


ZZYZX and The White Sky

Our first book share is two books from California, two all-time favorites. The similarities and differences between the two are pretty fascinating and I think makes them a good pair to share together.

I will try to keep these videos under 20 minutes, and besides reading background intros (and sometimes text in the book), I’m keeping quiet so you can enjoy them. And I suggest putting some music on in the background while you do.


Support The Digest

This column will always be free for all, but the goal is to financially justify a day a week dedicated to it.

$1, $5, $7 a month will help to improve the digest for all. Cancel here anytime in a couple of clicks, no judgments, I’ve been there!

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