Clay Shirky has described the process of reading blogs as the inverse of reading traditional sources of news and opinion. In the traditional world, an editor selects (from among pitches from writers for things that might interest a readership), and then publishes (the selected pieces).
But for blog readers, the process is inverted: bloggers publish (everything that seems significant to them) and then readers select (which of those publications are worthy of their interests)
I much prefer following people to publications, and curating for myself what’s interesting out of what those people have curated for themselves. There’s a good bit of noise, but there’s also a lot of serendipity — neat things I would never have encountered on my own, that I wouldn’t have thought to investigate.
While news publications focus on appearing neutral, people (bloggers and newsletterers) have opinions and share context often missing from news articles. I *want* others’ opinions, especially from people who are better informed than I am. I’m interested in news and information as it relates to people, not as discrete incidents. I care more about the trends and the roots of an event, which are all too often left out of the news. Individuals are publishing from a rich, deep, broad perspective in a way publications cannot have, the same way corporations and brands are not people (no matter how they exploit their social media managers).
“Zone Eleven” alludes to Ansel Adams’ Zone System, a method for controlling exposure of the negative in order to obtain a full range of tonality in the photographic print—from the deepest black of Zone 0 to the brightest highlight in Zone 10. “Zone Eleven” is a metaphor coined by artist Mike Mandel in his challenge to create a book of Adams’ photographs outside of the bounds of his personal work. Many of these photographs were found in the archives of Adams’ commercial and editorial assignments, and from his experimentation with the new Polaroid material of the times.
For this book, Mandel has unearthed images that are unexpected for Adams, and created a new context of facing-page relationships and sequence. Zone Eleven is the product of Mandel’s research into over 50,000 Adams images located within four different archives, from which he presents a body of Adams’ work that was largely unknown until now.
Mike Mandel is well known for his collaboration with Larry Sultan from the 1970s to the 1990s. They published Evidence in 1977, a collection of 59 photographs chosen from more than two million images that the artists viewed at the archives of government agencies and tech-oriented corporations. Conceptually, Zone Eleven is a companion book to Evidence. As Evidence reframes the institutional documentary photograph with new context and meaning, Zone Eleven responds to the audience expectation of “the iconic Ansel Adams nature photograph.” But Mandel selects images that do not fit that expectation. Zone Eleven is a book of Ansel Adams images that surprisingly speak to issues of social relations, the built environment and alienation.
I’m not sure what to think of this collection.
It opens with a portrait of two tree trunks: an eleven. It proceeds without commentary, leaving you to draw your own conclusions and connections. The photos span decades and subjects, removing them from any context to create visual and thematic pairings and sequences. I found myself confused and cross-referencing the back matter to figure out what I was looking at, probably missing the point.
Except, what stumped me is why these photos? By choosing photos outside Adams’ oevre, Mandel asks us to reevaluate him as a photographer, yet the signature style and themes we know him for are absent from these photos. This collection could populate an artistic urban Instagram account. They are of course fine photos, but what does it mean that Adams took them when they could have been taken by “anyone”? It feels almost like a trick that I am meant to impart some greater weight to them because of who took them. Or am I meant to see him as more human by realizing he also took plenty of pedestrian photos like the rest of us? This is more meta thought than I really want out of viewing a photography collection, I think I’m not cut out for post-modernist art 😂
I appreciated the brief Manzanar series most. It starts with an overview of the camp as landscape, more familiar framing from Adams. A set of portraits emphasizes the humanity of the interned Japanese people. A young nurse’s expression seems to dare the viewer. Two of the same young man show him being playful, then serious, for the camera.
My own edit process goes much more quickly because I’m not looking for every single image that meets some basic minimal technical standard. I’m looking for the ones that make me lean in. The ones that make my heart sing. The ones that grab me and won’t let me not select them.
You might have a great reason for rating images, but I think trying to decide whether an image deserves 2, 3, or 4 stars slows the process. Because I’m looking for a few frames that are a decisive “Yes!”, I’ve found rating them makes me look for the wrong thing.
I appreciate hearing about other creative people’s processes and approaches. A lot of these things, we kind of figure out on our own, but others may have developed more effective methods to do the same thing.
I totally am a “delete the bad stuff” editor, with my first round of edits simply clearing out the out of focus or poorly exposed or unnecessary duplicates. A second pass clears out boring and blah. Then I select my pool of images to edit (which is probably too many 😉).
As in everything, working with more intentionality yields better results, though it is harder. I like his mindset of thinking of a collection of photos from a trip as a body of work — this is probably similar to my thinking when I’m constructing an excursion blog post, where I try to curate a representative selection of photos, but if some shots are too similar I might remove one. In the comments, Jon Revere shares his perspective of framing a story, which sometimes means including less than great shots. This resonates with the approach I took to my 2021 photography and writing project Sense Memory.
I am unclear from his description: how many images does he delete? Does he save copies of all his photos to revisit in the future, or only the select best? Are there still 30k photos from that trip on his hard drive?
One of his strategic priorities for this year was breaking out of what he calls curiosity ruts. Algorithms typically carve out curiosity ruts—that’s what happens when a platform learns your preferences and gives you what you want to see. In the process, we forget to look for information or ideas that aren’t automagically fed to us.
“What are the tools and systems that you can put into place to find information that you wouldn’t have found? The ideas, perspectives, people, etc., that you wouldn’t have found if you had just been left to your own curiosity ruts?” — Sean McMullin
Create information systems of serendipity — follow sources that are likely to introduce you to the unexpected.
Computers don’t have, can’t have, taste. That’s why there will always be a place for curators like Jason Kottke and tastemakers who create playlists of new musicians. An algorithm can be pretty good at recommending more stuff like we already like, but to make a sizable jump in what we’re listening to or reading, we turn to people we trust to have good taste (similar to our own 😉). Interesting people probably read and watch interesting things.
I’ve always treated social media this way, following people who boost others and share interesting things they’ve encountered. I don’t know how the algorithm worked on top of that, but one of the things I appreciated about Twitter was finding someone new to follow or hearing about a new project or learning something random about history or science or a field totally outside my realm of knowledge, every time I logged on. I saw someone talking about Twitter / this aspect of social media as a delivery system of delight: for me, this is the dopamine hit. As much as it sometimes annoyed me to see posts that “people you follow liked” it was probably a decent way to inject some freshness into people’s feeds in addition to RTs and QTs (they just overdid it IMO).
Over the past ~ six+ weeks since Twitter went to shit, I started following a handful of folks who migrated to Mastodon using the Activity Pub connection from Micro.blog — and through them have found some other interesting people to follow. For my interests, authors, artists and academics are my key to discovery.
Timeless articles from the belly of the internet.
Manually curated. Served 5 at a time.
Like this idea. Somewhat wary about the curation: who’s choosing the articles (one person, an editorial team…?), do they have selection criteria that considers bias in publishing and draws from reputable sources, what is their background (do they have a political bias or subject focus, if so do those complement my views and interests?), where are they sourcing these articles? No transparency on the website.
The People’s Graphic Design Archive is a crowd-sourced virtual archive that aims to expand, diversify, and preserve graphic design history. It includes finished projects, process, correspondence, oral histories, articles, and other material in the form of images, documents, videos, audio, as well as links to other relevant archives and websites.
Meaghan Dew, who works on collections and reader development in a Melbourne public library, suggested that a key part of nurturing a personal library is working out what you really want from it. The aim is ‘not what you think your library should be’, she told me, ‘but the library that you are actually going to use and appreciate on a regular basis.’
I’ve always acquired books individually, without consideration for the rest of my collection; I’m intrigued by this perspective shift of personal library versus book collection as a thought experiment. I’m not sure what I would change by thinking of my books as part of a whole.
My books currently fall into a few categories:
Graphic novels, comic books, and zines
Hiking and travel
Gardening and plant / wildlife reference
Personal growth and productivity
Design and writing craft reference
This balance reflects what I like to read in hard copy, what I want to have handy for reference, and what isn’t available at the library so I need to buy it to read it 😉 (Another metric I’ve added for keep/discard in my thirties, after giving away dozens of indie comics: how hard it would be to replace or access elsewhere.)
A personal library can serve as:
a store for memories… a way to rediscover and revisit ideas and feelings…
a tool for research, which lets you encounter new ideas; and
a source of various pleasures: entertainment, escapism, solace, beauty, inspiration, and surprise.
Sometimes I feel like I could dump a bunch of the graphic novels, which I basically never reread, but this article’s suggestion of a store for memory perhaps fits my reasoning for keeping them around.
For years my personal allocation of books was whatever fit on this bookshelf; I purged and donated books (too) aggressively. I have disappointed people who know how much I read with the paucity of my physical collection 😂
But I have been buying more books in recent years, especially during the pandemic. So I said my Collected Sandman doesn’t have to fit. Then I granted myself an allowance to store comic collections in boxes (Fables, Lucifer, Transmet, Saga). Then I let myself put my husband’s books in a box — he can get his own bookshelf 😉 Then I started to squeeze books in horizontally. All this to say… I need a second bookshelf 😂 Part of a collection is presentation and ease of access, and right now they’re packed to the gills, the divisions visually unclear because I mostly can’t fit bookends, and not very inviting to peruse or use.
Artists (in the broad sense – painters, novelists, composers, etc) are pretty much defined by the struggle to be themselves; to absorb influences without surrendering to them; to be open to others and stubbornly individual. Consequently, artists have a different relationship to influence than the rest of us do. The core difference is this: artists do not absorb their influences passively. They choose their influences, and they choose how to be influenced by them.
“Interrogate your influences.”
Thoughtful, intentional curation and inspiration. I also appreciate the thought to go narrow — some phases of work and thinking benefit from a wide range of inputs, while other times focusing the inputs you’re taking in purposefully can align and refine your work.
I also believe taste is something we can and should try to cultivate. Not because taste itself is a virtue, per se, but because I’ve found a taste-filled life to be a richer one. To pursue it is to appreciate ourselves, each other, and the stuff we’re surrounded by a whole lot more.
I feel like there are two types of taste: generic societally approved “good taste” and a person’s unique, cultivated sense of personal taste. For example, I find “tasteful” home design to often be boring. Give me tacky instead. Instead of immaculate marble-clad minimalist interiors, show me cluttered maximalist ones filled with personality. Art too, give me the lowbrow, the outsider works following their own taste rather than the elite’s.
But I do put tasteful above thoughtless — it is usually aesthetically inoffensive at the least, whereas a hodgepodge can be straight up ugly. Anything done with intentionality reflects some form of taste.
Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention.
Taste requires originality. It invokes an aspirational authenticity.
Moreover, it requires care: to believe it worthwhile to hold, and spend the time to develop, taste about something.
I would say that taste is the sensibility, and snobbery is one way to express the sensibility.
Snobbery is where “societal good taste” brings in class judgments: aesthetic preferences associated with what the upper class can afford, often claimed without evidence to be morally superior as well. Think white bread versus whole wheat, kale versus salad, fresh versus frozen. This is where I am working on catching my own biases, especially around food. This kind of taste is performative and self-righteous.