The Shame of Instagram

On a recent Candid Frame podcast, street photographer Jonathan Auch said “the shame of instagram is you have a preassigned aesthetic.”  He went on to elaborate about the creative aspect of actual post processing, of shaping a photo to be the best it could be, and canned filters/ preassigned square format suck much of that creativity away.

When I used Instagram it was another ego-stroking method of sharing stuff to a network that is completely about photos. But to share actual photos I had shot with my actual DSLR and actually processed in a creative fashion, I had to chop 30% of the photo off to fit their format. And I usually lost the watermark that way. Meaning if a photo went viral on the internet, it had no attribution to my business- anonymous advertising.

Late 2012, the free service decided they shared copyright to everything that was posted using the app, and I dropped it immediately. Instagram’s new policy disintegrated by the end of the day, but I never used it again and as such never again had to dissect my own photos, never again was deluged by duckfaced “selfies” and food shots. In business as in politics, bad ideas never really die, and I figure Instagram will once again try to get the rights to its image base as soon as it can develop a stealthy way to do so without pissing off its users. After all, facebook paid a billion dollars for something and it expects its billion back with interest.


Locations: Salt River

LiiLii by the Salt River, Red Mountain in the background.

The central valley that Phoenix was built on contains the Salt River, which ancient Hohokam peoples used for farming in canals. The water got diverted by Mormon settlers but some water still passes through north Mesa, and during the summer time it’s a lush cool spot to shoot. There’s a bit with a forest (unusual for Phoenix) and a bit with mini rock islands, and lots of vultures and hawks around. It’s also pretty deserted early in the morning, and faces a stunning view of Red Mountain. It’s my favorite summertime location.

Locations: Chalco Hills

Shot at Chalco Hills, near Omaha, NE

Omaha has a suspicious lack of model/ fashion photo opportunities so I end up shooting a lot of nature and animals while here.  My childhood home is near a place called Chalco Hills, one of the “fake lake” nature areas that ooze Americana.  When you’re not devoured by skeeters it’s quite a lovely place!

Chalco Hills, near Omaha, NE
Shot at Chalco Hills, near Omaha, NE



While digging through my boxes and drawers of polaroids, instax, cyanotypes and polaroid transfers I came across this experiment shot in 2010. It was of a model named Rogue and is an example of how low budget these kinds of shoots were back in the day (and still remain to some degree). I had just bought a Fuji Instax Wide camera and wanted to do Hockney-esque split shots, but the film was so costly and mistakes so easy to make I never pursued it further.

Today I think it fits quite well with the type of photography I do, sort of a proto-version of junk culture-influenced mixed media projects. P.S. it’s up for grabs on etsy!

Inspiration and Influence: Roxanne Swentzell

When I was at ASU, my major was Fine Art Photography and my minor was American Indian Studies.  The AIS program (of which I think I was the only white student to fully pursue at the time) has you choose between civics/ government and arts/ culture, and I was in the arts/ culture camp.  Part of why I moved to Arizona was a love of southwestern Indigenous art and culture, and elements of that influence occasionally creep into my work- specifically in the ceramics.

Roxanne Swentzell

A particular artist who is giving me a lot of ideas is Roxanne Swentzell of Santa Clara pueblo.  Roxanne is widely known for her clean and emotional sculptural work, from iconic faces to something that is very mundane like a character picking at their toes.  I think of when my children were younger and absolutely fascinated by the movements of their bodies.

I love the childlike humor of the work, and the craft is stunning.  But a recent exhibit of a few of her pieces at Phoenix’s Heard Museum really inspired me because… she had created casts of some masks and used them to make candy.  Chocolate masks, which she sold for 4 years.  Which is a completely ingenious idea.  People are so ready to part with their money if it’s for something that appeals to their addiction, and Americans in particular like stuff they can eat that isn’t healthy for them.  Art should have a bit of novelty factor if it’s to be saleable.

Roxanne Swentzell

“I believe that when we reach each other with our emotions, we feel less alone and more understood…thus loved.” – Roxanne Swentzell

Mary Ellen Mark And The Reality Of Being A Photography Icon

As I have become a working artist I am fascinated and learning from the working habits of other artists; this is another in a series of posts I’ve done examining the business part of image making.  I’ve done enough of these that there’s a new category to this blog, “Being A Working Artist.”

Ibarionex Perello did a recent interview with photography icon Mary Ellen Mark where she spoke to her aesthetic of realism as opposed to being an “illustrator”, her term for photographers who utilize a lot of post production.  Depending on the subject I use anything between a day’s worth of post production to 30 seconds worth of post production in an image, but I admire Mark’s commitment to a vision even if it isn’t fashionable with her old magazine employers.

from Mary Ellen Mark’s series of Marlon Brando/ Apocalypse Now images

There were a number of things in the interview that stood out.

1. Mark incorporates teaching and print sales as major parts of her income.  So many amateur photographers fixate on getting paid shoots they neglect these secondary income sources, whereas the long-timers have diversified income.

2. Mark self-finances many of her projects and has to work to find backing for anything else.  It likely gets published and in galleries and perhaps book form but she has to sort out the logistics of making the work- even experienced pros, famous names in the field of photography, don’t get amazing opportunities handed to them on a platter.

Liilii in Space

Model LiiLii shot on the moon!

Model Liilii shot at the Salt River- a favorite location when it’s hot- in June as part of my Scream Queen series. We were talking about the kind of horror films were people were eaten, and after we shot something useful for a “Jaws” Scream Queen scenario, I thought the rocks looked quite moon-like. All post-work on this image was done in the duration of the Avengers on Netfilx.