Enthusiasms

Enthusiasms is an edited stream of consciousness, by Simen.

Bosco verticale (vertical forest), apartment complex in Milan, Italy, contains 780 planted trees and over 1,000 species of trees, shrubs and plants.

May 5, 2017

My Anti-Pitch

Jesus, how I hate pitching. Personal branding. The manipulative practice of selling yourself. Absolute garbage.

I’m talking to you, middle-aged, fat, drunken idiot who verbally assaulted me last summer. Do you remember me, or were you too drunk? I was in a hotel lobby in my home town with some new acquaintances I had made at a local pub. You took offense at something which was not directed at you. I have no idea what it was. You were sitting alone, sipping your drink. Seeping in your mediocrity. None of the people I was with took offense. They enjoyed my company. But you. You took offense. You, middle-aged fucker, took upon you the burden of putting the young, ungrateful sons-of-bitches in their rightful, obedient place, bowing down to the altar of middle-aged mediocrity. I should have ignored you longer. I ignored you longer than any reasonable person would ignore your insults. I know it would have annoyed you even more if I gave you no attention at all. But at some point, your yelling and your insults became impossible to ignore. You confidently stated my age, which you got wrong by at least three years, and then you proceeded to tell me what an ungrateful, unintelligent bastard I was. How I should just shut up and listen to such an intelligent man in such an important, yet vaguely defined position at some company which had probably paid for food and accomodation so you could come into my fucking home town for a trade fair and tell me how I’m supposed to act, and further how dumb I am, how nobody likes me, and what a horrible person I am. A total stranger.

I asked you, “Do you want to discuss neuroscience?”

You exploded in rage. “You don’t ask a grown man what to discuss!”

You know why I asked you that? Because I knew you knew nothing about it, and I knew that I, the imbecile, knew a whole lot and could talk in circles around you. Because your instant drunken assessment of me as a social pariah with a double-digit IQ was wrong.

You are my totem. You, rude stranger, are my fucking totem. You represent all that I am not. The comfortable middle manager position in a moderately successful company, and I won’t ask permission to psychoanalyze you, as you did not ask permission to analyze me: let me guess, two grown kids, middle-aged wife who doesn’t satisfy you sexually, a house that looks exactly like the house next door, a house loan halfway to being downpaid, and a superiority complex manifesting from your complete lack of making any conceivable difference to the world, realizing that life is slipping between your fingers like sand. You are all that I will never be.

One of my old classmates is part of some sort of business talent program. He’s advertising it via facebook. A way for the brightest, most talented students to connect with the most attractive companies for job prospects. A podium to sell yourself, and be bought by an attractive company. All fine for an ambitious young man, of course. But my god, how they’re crawling over each other to be adaptable, to be initiative takers, to be the people who go beyond their comfort zone. They’re selling themselves as the perfect cogs in the corporate machine. They’re going to change the world with their enthusiasm and their guts and their will to lose again and again until they win. They have unlimited potential and unlimited resources to just keep going until they are the best at anything.

They are the future old men who in fits of drunken idiocy decide to verbally attack strangers because they need an outlet for their own mediocrity.

I’m trying to be a photographer, or a writer, or something. But to be that, I have to sell myself. I realized I only have one photographic series from the past five years, in addition to one I made last fall; that one, I think, is quite strong artistically, but it also paints me as a crazy person you probably wouldn’t want to hire. I have to sell myself. I have to read markets and find out how best to sell my unique competence, which for the most part lacks any kind of formal verification. It’s disgusting. It leads to disingenuous, manipulative bullshit. If you wanted to hire me, you’d google me, and find accounts of my drug addiction and my mania and my depressions. It’s out there. I can’t unpublish it. I could portray myself as a Survivor with a huge-ass S, but no. I am not. This is part of who I am.

I am not the infinitely adaptable, creative soul who always gives it his 100%. I am rarely at 100%. I’m often operating at 10% capacity. I’m often inoperative because some days I can’t even face the world. Everything takes on the air of menace. I walk down the winding stairs in the house my sister lives, with its creepy paintings with things sticking out of them, oddly, disoriented, out on the street, I see a shadow man in a window and stop: someone has pasted the silhoutte of a person all in black onto their third-floor bedroom. I walk out of a supermarket and pass a man dressed all in black, black coat with chains dangling from the back, wearing headphones and talking into some kind of walkie-talkie. What is this, have I been transported into an X-Files episode circa 1995? I walk on, see dark shadow people in an apartment building in the back lot near my house, they’re lighting up something—cigarettes? joints?—and nothing is visible excpet their shadowy silhouttes and the lit tips as they inhale and exhale. The world is a menacing place. I am tapering the anti-anxiety meds. I have the bag, and I have infinite incentive to eat them all. But I don’t.

I will never be that guy who is always 100%. I am not adaptable. I am not always creative. I am well-suited to work in teams—on the days when I am well-suited to work with people. On the other days, I might as well not exist. The world sucks, and any encounter with either scares or irritates me.

This is my anti-pitch. I can’t stand it. I can’t lie. I can’t present myself as something I am not. I could list my accomplishments, I could list my knowledge, I could list my continual series of abandoned educations. I could list my lost potential. I could be finishing a Master’s degree, yet I never got a Bachelor’s. Because I could not sustain that 100%, or even 50%.

Why does the world need a person like me? What do I “bring to the table,” how do I “elevate the business,” come up with “creative solutions,” how am I going to “change the world”? Why bother with me? Why don’t I just immolate all future job prospects?

Because fuck it. I’m not humble. I am as arrogant as the lot of them. I am even more arrogant, because I think I can see through all of them, the young “talents” who are going to “change the world”, the middle-aged middle manager types who think it is their place in life to correct the perceived wrongs of the immature, stupid, imbecilic youngsters you randomly meet when you invade their hometown to look at motherfucking boats for your mediocre company and drink too much on the company’s credit.

Fuck it. I’m not 100% even fifty percent of the time. I am often less than functional. I won’t play your games. But my one hundred percent is better than yours will ever be. Even if it shows up at unpredictable intervals, even if it’s only one-tenth of the time, my one hundred percent exceeds yours in every way. I’m more intelligent than you, more curious, I learn better, and my ideas are more original than yours. While you slave away at the modern disease of bettering oneself every day, the self-help industry’s mantra, little by little, I slave away at staying alive most days. But those days when I come to life, those weeks, those months, I fucking come to life in ways neither the young talents nor the stagnant, middle-aged bastards do.

Here’s my anti-pitch: most of the time I suck. Most of the time I’m unemployable. But every once in a while, I do things a thousand of your dependable talents and mediocre middle-aged middle managers never could. That’s it. Take it or leave it.

The world is such a vile, fake place. I will never fit into the asskisser’s society. Many days, I don’t fit into the world at all. But I’ve been operating outside your frame of reference for many years, and occasionally, I take that knowledge and actually do something with it. And that’s why you shouldn’t hire me, dirtbag. Thus ends my anti-pitch.

Feb 1, 2015

Artist, musician and carpenter Markus Lantto in his studio, 2014.

"The only medium I don’t work with is oil painting. And even then I might, if the right idea comes along."

I interviewed Markus in November, and he had lots of interesting things to say. I sold the interview to an art magazine, but apparently there were some editorial changes and it looks like the interview may never be published, which is a bummer. Still hoping they change their mind, though; their next issue isn’t out yet. (via my photo blog; previously)

(Source: simenedvardsen)

Jan 22, 2015

Ad Hominem Propter Trollum

I must admit I like the anarchic internet. It’s perhaps the first large-scale experiment in human behavior in an anarchic environment that isn’t a war-torn country, but rather a stable medium. It’s also, of course, a medium that allows for an unprecedented anonymity, or rather, pseudonymity. The premise that the internet is anarchic is perhaps not one to throw out without justification; there are, of course, some tangible ties to government, but at the same time no one has quite gotten a handle on how to actually govern it without shutting it down completely. Thus illicit business happens all the time, and so far no one has been able to clamp down on it with any consistency. Some of this illegal business I believe to be immoral, such as child pornography networks; others, such as the sale of drugs or noncommercial copyright infringement, I don’t consider to be inherently immoral.

It is the least governed space in modern society. The sphere least affected by the enforcement of laws of any kind. I’m not denying there have been many instances where governments have punished law-breakers on the internet, whether they be child pornographers or Aaron Swartz, whether they be immoral abusers or believers in the principle that science should be freely accessible to the people. But in comparison to any other sphere of society, the degree of law enforcement is insanely low.

This explosive combination of anarchy and anonymity, of course, comes with a number of drawbacks, but also with upsides. I’ve always been a big believer in the liberating power of pseudonymity, the dominant mode of interaction on the internet. I am now writing under my real name, but when I started this blog I used only my first name and it took me years to be comfortable enough to put my name to my writings. I’ve written a lot about the reasons for this: one is the lack of ephemerality; the internet is a permanent medium. Once you’ve said something, it doesn’t dissipate in the air. It’s like an unstoppable information-gathering black hole; only a few specks of Hawking radiation make it out, but often the things you’d want most to disappear are the ones that you cannot make go away, while valuable information may be lost. There’s no predicting what will stay available indefinitely, stored away on servers spread across the globe, and what will disappear once someone pulls the plug on a server. There are billions of dead links but many of those are the sort you want to keep alive, while the ones you want to kill off are sucked into the black hole of the internet, this massive gravitational anomaly that just sucks information in, spreads it across innumerable nodes and just won’t let go.

When I started blogging, before Tumblr even existed, before this blog, I was an immature teenager. I was debating everything from programming technicalities to analytic philosophy to pop culture on blogs and forums, all under the guise of various nicknames, pseudonyms, and I learned a lot from it, but I wasn’t mature enough and had enough awareness of psychology to understand that, while I felt strongly about everything I wrote, I would probably come to regret some of it later. Fifty years ago, conversations between teenagers (or adults) were carried out in person, and there were limitations on how far and wide what was said could spread. Now you could, with a little sleuthing, find stuff I would vehemently oppose today but, like any normal teenager, felt strongly about at some point, and drag it out and smear me with it today. Ephemeral conversations are rare in a medium that seems to fix everything permanently into the annals of history. You’re not allowed to find peer groups and discuss things and then later have it be forgotten on the internet. In the past, when such conversations would be held in person, being young was more forgivable.

At the same time, not revealing my name and age allowed me to be taken seriously by adults, to discuss things on even terms with them, and even if I’ve come to regret or reverse my stance on many things over the years, a lot of what I said was true, a lot of my arguments were sound, and I was able to earn the respect of elders on simple merit, because none of them could tell who I was. I was nothing but what I wrote, and that stood or fell on its own merits. I learned a lot about rhetoric and logic and how to discuss things in a serious manner, how to lay out a good argument, how to build a case for an opinion or a stance, by trial and error. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if not for the internet and its mode of pseudonymity. I credit a lot of my intellectual prowess, such as it is, to learning on the internet, to being allowed to engage with people who were smarter, more well educated, more well informed with me on the level of an equal. Especially for a bright kid—though certainly no genius—this was fantastic. I come from a country whose ideology of education is that everyone is equal, everyone is to learn everything at the same pace; if they lag behind, they are given help, but there is actually active opposition to the idea of nurturing the opposite end of the Bell curve, those who are ahead. Since I was given no opportunities to range further than the standard curriculum in school, since there was no one there to allow me to develop my potential into something real, the internet was a real savior in that regard.

I’ve always been a big fan and proponent of this mode of pseudonymity, which I distinguish from anonymity as I think there’s an important distinction and it’s pseudonymity that is the dominant mode in most internet communities. People go by nicknames, hiding their real identity, but the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity is that pseudonyms persist over time. You may be AnonymousKid99 on a forum, and no one knows if you’re a dog or a Nobel prize recipient, but at least your pseudonym persists over time, allowing you to establish real relations with people, allowing you to gain or lose a reputation on merit.

Of course, pseudonymity offers its challenges. The great experiment that is the internet has proven that people are far more likely to engage in what we in scientific terms call “being an asshole” when they can hide their real identity. Trolls and assholes of other kinds have been a scourge on internet communities since their inception. Sometimes the entire atmosphere of a community is one of playful trolling, in which the unspoken rule is that nothing is serious, and so trolling becomes something of a comedic act when done right. But in more serious communities, assholes, bullies and trolls, overlapping roles, do real harm. They hurt people—words can sting more than blows sometimes—and they hurt communities. Real discussions are disrupted by irrelevancies or nastiness, and what could have been a constructive community of equals who respect one another and discuss intellectual disagreements in a civil tone falls apart.

Of course, as predicted by anarchist theorists, when presented with an environment with very little regulation, people will self-organize into smaller units and impose and enforce their own rules. I’m not convinced at all this would work in “the real world” of flesh and blood; I’m convinced that it would create a nasty world of might makes right, where exploitation of the weaker by the stronger is the norm. I am not a believer in anarchy as a political philosophy. But on the internet, I would argue, to some extent it has worked. Moderated internet communities have become the norm. Disruptive members are banned, disruptive actions are removed or punished. Every owner of a community is free to set their own rules.

But still, the problem of trolls, which henceforth I’ll use as a catch-all phrase for disruptive elements, whether they fall into the Urban Dictionary definition of an internet troll or not, persists. So what to do about it? For two decades, the norm was pseudonymity. Now, many online communities are encouraging or even requiring you to supply your real identity in an effort to curb trolling, on the pretty much proven theory that people are less likely to engage in trolling if they have to attach it to their real identity. The other approach to dealing with trolling, of course, is stringent moderation. Keep a fair set of rules and have the manpower to enforce them. Delete trolling comments, ban persistent trolls. This approach takes a lot of work, but preserves pseudonymity.

Newspapers have tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to become community hubs on par with other web forums. They want the discussion about their news to occur on their own turf, where they can monetize it, instead of scattered across the blogosphere and communities run by third parties. At first, they started in the familiar mode of pseudonymity, or even outright anonymity, allowing people to comment on their articles under whatever name they chose. But increasingly, as has been the trend elsewhere on the internet—see: Facebook and its intellectual predecessors—they have begun to argue for or enforce a real name policy in order to avoid trolls. At least punish evildoers by forcing them to stand by their bad behavior under their real names.

The comment that provoked this article was below an online newspaper article, detailing the rules and expected conduct in the comments section. It went something like this: “We’d really like to know what you think about this topic. We wish that you register, because it makes it makes the arguments and viewpoints more interesting. If you have special reasons for wanting to comment unregistered, contact us and explain yourself. We may make exceptions.

This is such absolute bullshit that it should sear the heart of anyone with an elementary grasp on logic. The words “ad hominem” are overused on the internet, but I’m gonna throw ‘em in anyway. By registering and being held accountable for your comments, your arguments become stronger and your viewpoints more interesting. This is, of course, not the case at all. An argument is a logical sequence following a series of premises through a series of logical operations until a conclusion is reached. It is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises, and sound if it is valid and the premises are true, i.e., it’s sound if it’s a good argument with a true conclusion. What makes a viewpoint interesting is, of course, subjective, but in an intellectual discussion it is almost always predicated on its content, not its point of origin. General relativity isn’t interesting because Albert Einstein is an interesting figure; it’s interesting because it is a whole new way of looking at the world that has withstood many tests and proven to be one of the most accurate descriptions of how the physical world works we have. Einstein the man is interesting because his viewpoints had intellectual merit; whatever his personal eccentricities, they would quickly be forgotten by all but his close friends and associates if not for the fact that he discovered a whole new way of accurately describing the real world.

Your arguments should stand on their own merit. The above hogwash is only a cover for we’re too lazy or understaffed to properly moderate our comment sections, and we’re too proud to admit it, so instead we’ll pretend as if ad hominem is a virtue, not a flaw, as if an argument gains logical force because we can track you down and hold you accountable for trolling should you decide to engage in such behavior. Fucking appalling.

I’ve mentioned two key points about anonymity or pseudonymity that I think have tremendous value even if you’re not a whisteblower who could lose his job, his reputation and his freedom, or even not his life if his identity were known. That have value even if you’re not an Edward Snowden or a mob informant under witness protection. Ephemerality, the quality of being able to test out an argument, or an identity, or just have an informal conversation that, even if recorded for posterity, will not forever be tied to and easily connected with your real identity. And meritocracy: the ability to be heard and treated as an equal, to avoid ad hominem attacks, to be taken seriously even if you happen to be young, or a woman, or a Muslim, or gay, or any of the other myriad cognitive biases people have that they transpose onto valid arguments and thus discredit them on an irrational basis, not on the basis that should count: whether it’s a valid argument and whether what you’re saying is true.

This lazy approach to the problem of anonymous trolling concerns me. I’m afraid of an internet in the future where everything you say anywhere that matters will be directly tied to your real identity, thus losing ephemerality and a system of evaluating opinions and arguments on merit alone.

Since I wanted a fancy title, I made up a Latin expression. I hope the internet doesn’t fall into the honey trap of Ad Hominem Propter Trollum. Don’t worry, I’m not a classicist showing off: I admit I used a dictionary and have no idea if the sentence is even grammatical in Latin. Ad hominem is the familiar fallacy; propter means “because of”; trollum is a made-up neo-Latinate word because Latin doesn’t have a word either for the original creature of Norse folklore or the anonymous internet heckler. Naturally, since neither existed in Roman culture. But it’s good enough for me because I read an article about some guy who really does know his Latin and translated The Hobbit into Latin, and he chose to use the word “trollum” for the trolls in that book.

It’s a honey trap because it seems so delicious, to get rid of the majority of those pesky trolls so easily, with so little effort expended; but on the other hand, it loses a lot of what made the internet such a great place for discussions and debate. The qualities of ephemerality—you can walk away from your name and your words at any time, and none of it can come back to haunt you years later, dug up from an old archive, taken out of context, with no consideration for the fact that people grow up, mature, change opinions—and of intellectual meritocracy.

Jan 19, 2015

The Thin Blue Line (1988) was not nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards because it was marketed as “nonfiction,” which apparently is different from “documentary.” It’s an amazing film which successfully got a wrongfully convicted man out of jail. It’s a shame Errol Morris had to wait more than a decade to get his well-deserved Oscar, while his most well-known film never got that stamp of approval. What strikes me about it is how visually effective it is. The abstract close-ups of newspaper clippings, the seamless cutting between head-on interviews, the story flowing along as if there is no author, which is of course the sign of any good author—excepting those whose subject is not the real world but art itself, namely hardcore postmodernists—and then at the end, the fortuitous breakdown of Morris’ camera, so that his final interview with David Ray Harris, where he finally admits-but-doesn’t that he was the real killer, is delivered indirectly, through a series of different angles of a tape recorder. Form thus mimicking content, as all the interviews have been head on until now, and Harris has spoken directly until now, when he refuses to say that he was the shooter, yet says it indirectly.

There’s lots of talk in photography circles, and really all of the art and literature world, about how truth is dead. Images deceive. We can never get at the truth. Which is, of course, bullshit to an exponential degree. Sometimes we may never know the truth, but the truth exists, even if we will never be able to find it in some instances, and there is infinitely more value in trying to find the truth than in denying its existence. The Thin Blue Line is “postmodern” in the sense that it shows a series of different re-enactments of the murder in question, based on differing and inconsistent testimonies, but no one who sees the film can fail to pick up on the fact that there is one distinct truth being argued. I like that. I don’t like the subjective wishy-washiness of a lot of art. Everything is a lie, everything is context. Tell that to an inmate on death row.

I’ve been on an intellectual bender after listening to the Serial podcast, hunting down other stories of—possibly—wrongfully convicted murder suspects. There’s the tv series The Staircase, a much more ambiguous tale, which follows the Michael Peterson, his family and his defense attorney as they build their case for his innocence. That led me to Murder on a Sunday Morning, a feature length documentary by the same director, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. An excellent film which did win the Oscar, although The Thin Blue Line still remains a much more innovative, forceful, elegant, heartbreaking film—even if you throw in a fifteen-year-old kid and a black denomination singing Hallelujah.

Since The Innocence Project has taken an interest in the case chronicled on the Serial podcast, I’ll link to my review of Taryn Simon’s book The Innocents, a series of photographs of people who were exonerated using DNA evidence after being convicted, mostly, for murder and/or rape. The series, as does Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site, revisits the scenes of crimes long after all signs of the wrongdoing have passed, and in the case of Simon’s book, powerfully situates the innocents at the scenes of the crimes they didn’t commit, but were found guilty of, or at the sites where they actually were at the time of the crime.

I took an interest in this sort of stuff four years ago, and even started an aborted project in that vein looking for the places, forty years later, where the crimes that would lead to the most infamous miscarriage of justice in Norwegian history took place, namely the sad case of Fritz Moen, a disabled and near-deaf man who was tricked or coerced into a false confession for the rape and murder of two young women right here in Trondheim. I didn’t have to do any sleuthing myself, as he had already been exonerated post mortem and a special report prepared for the government investigating the terrible investigation that led to his conviction is publicly available. But it was interesting to pour over original crime scene photos and police statements, even if the conclusion was foregone, and try to piece together the story for myself. I did find the original crime scenes—I think—although one looked almost exactly like it did forty years ago, and the other had been a field and was now a part of the city, with a building sitting over the exact spot, as far as I could tell, where one of the two unfortunate women was found raped and strangled.

Nothing became of the project; there was nothing particularly interesting photographically that I could say about it, and all the sleuthing had been done and the conclusion was, after looking through all the documents, overwhelmingly plausible. There was even a death bed confession by another man, although police never managed to follow up, as the man died shortly after the confession. Still, an interesting dead end that sort of came back to me as I listened to Sarah Koenig describe how she combed through document after document to try to find the truth behind an ambiguous and contradictory set of data.

Current reading/listening: the audiobook version of Errol Morris’ 2012 book A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald.

When I studied photography, the overwhelming focus was on constructing realities. The conversation about art and photography and film is all about fiction, or the elusiveness of truth. I would like it if post-postmodernism is something that—without returning to the most naive aspects of modernism—gets back to the truth, in a way. And I’m happy that Morris, one of the most eminent documentarians working today, is on the same page.

I read a long piece recently about the journalism of David Foster Wallace (advocate of New Sincerity), which I’m a fan of, but which has since his death been exposed as less than truthful in many ways, as less journalism than “inspired by true events,” with characters (i.e., real people) merged, details switched around, taken from other sources but incorporated as first-person observations, and so on. The article argued that this was well within the rights of the “nonfiction” writer, that we shouldn’t confuse journalism with a fiction writer writing an assignment for a journalistic publication and presented as such. That fictional elements, not just techniques taken from fiction but fiction itself, was entirely kosher within “nonfiction.” We still have a long way to go. New Sincerity, my ass. I don’t think Morris, who insisted on labeling his documentary “nonfiction” (and thus unwittingly exempted himself from Oscar consideration), would approve. But then again he made a film about an innocent man about to be murdered by the state for a crime he did not commit, he didn’t write an essay on the aesthetic beauty of Roger Federer’s tennis or the torture of being an intellectual-type guy on a cruise paid for by a journalistic publication.

Jan 14, 2015

No Copyright Intended

If you want to attach “post-” to something and describe a paradigm shift in culture, which is fun sometimes, let’s say this: we live in a post-copyright era. This is a statement of fact, not of ideology or wishful thinking.

The public is hopelessly out of phase with copyright law. Not only does the public not want current copyright law, nor do they act in accordance with the law as a rule; not only that, but most people appear not to even understand the law. It varies by country, of course, but there are international standards for this kind of thing. The most important one being the Berne Convention, which has been signed by basically the entire world. This convention establishes that any authored work, or recording of a performance, is subject to copyright automatically. The author need not assert this right; it’s there automatically. And this gives the copyright holder the right to control the distribution of their work. The internet, of course, neither understands nor cares. Not only is attribution to the author more like an exception than the rule; even when given, sharing copyrighted material (basically anything you can share is copyrighted material, even a funny youtube cat video, as an authored work) without explicit permission is illegal. Even if you put “no copyright [sic, insert infringement] intended” in there.

We torrent, we share, we circulate. The special provisions for “fair use” do not apply to the majority of the internet. A serious essay giving a critique or review may share, say, a picture without permission (although not a complete blockbuster movie); a blog which simply distributes it to the masses, even if “curated”—another awful buzzword—may not.

Tumblr, as a platform, is built on copyright infringement. Tumblr wouldn’t exist without copyright infringement. When tumblelogs, the mixed-media short-form of the blog which tumbled along a series of links, short quotes, and pictures, became Tumblr, the platform which automated such sharing and eventually expanded into a social network, the crucial step was enabling easy copyright infringement. Reblogging is an automatic feature that can’t be turned off; if I share a picture I personally made, Tumblr makes no provisions for the safety of my rights to control its distribution. People could always circumvent such safety measures by simply saving my picture and reuploading it, but at least there would be some nominal protection of my legal rights. But no. Tumblr lives and dies by copyright infringement.

Up until now, I’ve written this to sound as if this is some egregious sin. As if I am a conservative supporter of the current copyright regime. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Even as a person trying to make a career out of photographs and written words—two media extremely easy to share on the internet, for free, thus devaluing my work should I try to sell it—I support radical reforms of copyright law. Exactly what form these reforms should take is still not totally clear to me; but it’s clear that when the public is so out of phase with the law, so opposed to its principles in their actions and at the same time so ignorant of them, the law is what needs to change. The laws are supposed to be made by and for the public, after all. Most of us, at least those of us who most easily and readily ignore and break copyright law, live in what are supposed to be democratic states.

I won’t propose some grand plan for how to fix this, as I think it’s a complicated issue and the only thing that’s clear is that we live in a post-copyright world, that copyright is effectively abolished in practice, and will remain so until copyright law and the masses are brought into range of each other. And it seems like this can’t be done without radical, rather than conservative, reforms. For my own part, acknowledging that I haven’t and can’t consider all factors in this complex issue, I would propose that all non-commercial sharing (such as on blogs, via torrents etc) of any work should be legal, provided the source, when not anonymous, is attributed. I believe this won’t destroy entire economies dependent on copyright; I believe services like Spotify and Netflix show people are willing to pay for convenience even if they can get the same content for free. On the other hand, we are also as a whole consuming more media than before, due to the easy availability on the internet, and so we couldn’t possibly pay what the people with the biggest economic stakes in copyright law want us to pay. But the result of imposing such prices forcefully—many copyright holders, or in hypermodern parlance, content creators, complain that they receive way too little compensation from services like Spotify—would simply be a return to illicit distribution, or a refusal to consume the more expensive media, at least not via any legal avenue.

And those economies that really would perish—most of them middlemen, not actual authors of copyrighted works—are antiquated anyway. Luddites desperately trying to use the law as a weapon against the incessant march of technology, and the possibilities and shifts in public attitudes that come with it.

Often, I will have an idea percolating in my head for a long time, and then some current event or post prompts me to finally write it down. In such cases, I’m trying to say something general and using a recent example to illustrate my point, but it may look like I’m just feeding off the most current stuff, trying to “weigh in on” current issues in a desperate attempt to get ahead in the endless stream of authored works—sorry, content—that we all consume daily. I am not. I’ve been irked by “no copyright intended” and the clear misunderstandings and misalignment between public and law that the phrase epitomizes for a long time, but never got around to writing it out.

Either way, what prompted me this time was the removal of Mark Peter Drolet’s blog, hosted on Tumblr—sorry, his tumblr, in modern parlance, although I refuse to call my own blog “a tumblr”, since that implies a certain style that is mostly unoriginal content authored works and very short and quick—allegedly for copyright infringement. MPD built up a following for being a great photo editor—in the sense of a newspaper editor, not a photoshopper—which necessarily entailed, unless he wanted to work at a pace frankly way too slow for the hyperactive modern web, and add a lot to his workload, that he shared a lot of photographers’ pictures without prior permission. There was absolutely no malicious or commercial intent behind this, and—if we can trust Wayne Bremser on this, which I think we can—he removed any infringing images he was asked to remove by its authors. If this blog was indeed removed for copyright infringement, it’s an enormous hypocrisy on the part of Tumblr.

I’ll say it again: this practice is the foundation of Tumblr. It was enabling this practice—of sharing without permission, i.e., of infringing upon copyright—that was Tumblr’s innovation, its break both from conventional blogging platforms and the older tumblelog genre, and the basis of its success. This practice is integral to the functioning of Tumblr, even if the company has taken steps over the years to lessen the impact: source attribution is now automatic, although it can be removed, and may not necessarily reflect the content author copyright holder, only the source the poster took found the work at. Text posts are now automatically reblogged as a link to the source, with the text body truncated, although this, too, can be circumvented. Yet the fact remains: the platform is built on copyright infringement. It would seem like an enormous hypocrisy, and an injustice, to bring down only a few specific instances when the entire platform is built on this practice. You may as well close down Tumblr, or at least shrink its billion-dollar worth and its user base by a conservative estimate of 90%, if this practice is grounds for forcibly closing down a blog.

I want MPD’s blog back. But Tumblr’s hands are probably tied by the law. The law its very existence spits in the face of. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a post-copyright society where everyone is a serial infringer, yet the outdated laws are still in effect, and sometimes, the copyright holders have the will and means to use those laws to punish single instances of what they, themselves, are likely doing. And what can Tumblr do? If they don’t crack down when the DMCA rains down on them, their entire platform is in danger. Despite the fact that the platform is intended for and built to enable the kind of copyright infringement which the DMCA and equivalent laws are designed to punish. Mark Peter Drolet won’t go to jail for this, but he did lose his blog archives, which contained not just his carefully edited stream of other people’s pictures, but also many of his own, photographs of which he was the legal copyright holder. And the greater public lost a great blog.

Above: unattributed picture to which I have no publishing rights. A blatant display of copyright infringement. Copyright [insert infringement] 100% intended. Somehow, I doubt the legal copyright holder minds.

The Pirate Bay was raided recently and the site taken down. The site is now up again, although not operational: it just displays a countdown over a pirate flag. But what does it matter? Almost everything I could find on The Pirate Bay was also available via other torrent trackers. Temporarily taking down the most high-profile, in-your-face torrent site was only a symbolic act in a losing war. You can’t fight the public forever. The public is currently engaged in a continual guerilla war against copyright on infinite fronts. The organizations tasked with upholding law & order in this area are surrounded on all sides. They cannot take on everyone at the same time. Copyright is dead. We’re over it as a society. We can rescue the idea of intellectual property in law only by radically altering copyright laws so that they more closely align with the public’s views on the issue. Unfortunately, we will probably continue to live in this limbo state, where copyright is like a rare mythic beast, a Sasquatch that rears its ugly head at unpredictable moments, although unlike the Sasquatch, copyright sightings are often public and well documented, frequently criticized and inciting public uproar, yet even this tangible evidence that copyright “exists” does nothing to change people’s behavior. The majority continues to act as if it doesn’t exist—it does, on a piece of paper, whose stock is just a tad above the piece of paper on which a fake Sasquatch picture is printed—at least not in any form that resembles what the law says.

Perhaps it’s a sign of deeper problems with modern states that such deep misalignments between law and behavior can continue to exist, and cannot be thwarted no matter how hard governments try. Like drugs, another war that will never be won. The problem is that there are deep-pocketed interests pushing for keeping the status quo, or even going more radically in the opposite direction of what the public, through word and action, indicates it wants. But only niche political parties are willing and able to take the fight. The public continues to vote for those parties they feel represent their overall interests well; Pirate Parties are doomed to fail because their supporters are only unified on one issue, and most who agree with their core issue, radical copyright law reform, will prefer to vote for a party which more closely represents their overall interests.

After all, it’s not like copyright is real, right? I can torrent and infringe upon copyright on tumblr, facebook, instagram, and myriad other platforms as much as I like. The law can’t do a thing. It would never happen to me. That’s like a rare instance that only happens to other people. Like a Bigfoot sighting. I probably wouldn’t believe my eyes even if Bigfoot stood right in front of me. Like copyright, he’s an urban legend.

I mean, No Copyright Intended, right?

Jan 10, 2015

What I sorely need right now is some daily routine. Tomorrow I get back to Trondheim, where I will have absolutely nothing anchoring me down (in terms of daily activities, not geography) except weekly appointments with a therapist. I’m going to make it a goal to take one hour out of every day to go for a walk with my camera. Many days I’ll probably not even take a photograph, or the photographs I make will be shit and not worth sharing. But it’s routine and exercise. As for this photo: I’m being watched and recorded. So I’ll watch and record you right back. Thanks go to the anonymous kid with a spray can. This was in a secluded “industrial” area with no apparent industry, a place no one would want to snoop around simply because it’s utterly boring. But I like the sign. Looks like it’s bleeding out.

(Source: simenedvardsen)

Jan 8, 2015

The two best shows—and the most visually stunning—I saw in 2014. From top to bottom, left to right: (1), (3), (5-7), Les Revenants (2012). (2), (4), (8-10), True Detective (2014). Both are getting second seasons in 2015. Both combine great storytelling with beautiful cinematography. Listen to Mogwai’s haunting soundtrack for Les Revenants while you look at these pictures. I wrote about the latter in March. It was originally aired in France in 2012, but picked up steam internationally in 2013 and began airing in Norway in early 2014, and the first episode hooked me and had me binge-watching online. I did the same for True Detective, watching all the episodes in quick succession shortly after the last one aired. I didn’t write anything about the latter, as I felt everything had already been said. It had one remarkable character in Rust Cohle, played to perfection by Matthew McConaughey, a strong supporting cast and a great mystery that I felt was perfectly resolved: leaving exactly the right kinds of threads dangling, the way real life works, while giving answers to the most pressing questions it conditioned the viewers into seeking. Very much unlike the quintessential modern show built around a mystery of some sort, Lost, which kept dangling loose ends and then tying them together not like a masterful weaver, but just someone who sort of bundles together a long piece of string and puts it away in a closet when they can’t work out how to untangle it.

Les Revenants had an ensemble cast of great characters, some more intriguing than others, each with their own episodes as the main point of view. Perhaps none as great as the nihilistic philosopher-cop turned hermit bartender in True Detective, but taken together I can’t say either series is lacking in character development. Its central mystery was only partially resolved, setting up for a season two, unlike season two of True Detective, which will work as an anthology series with different stories in each season. I feel like the mystery remaining unresolved, dangling, like a relationship that is not quite love and not quite friendship, is essential to that show keeping afloat, though, and I hope they don’t screw that up in season two.

What sets them apart from everything else, though, is their fantastic visuals. I briefly tried my hand at film this fall, but quickly found that my heart still remains with the still image. I draw a lot of inspiration from film and television, but I think in terms of still images, which is perhaps why I like the static camera or the slow pan with long cuts, instead of the camera moving all the time and the quick cuts often found in modern film and television. Both had their distinctive visual styles—although I’ve snuck in a still of Cohle/McConaughey lighting a cigarette in his apartment all bathed in blue among the stills from Les Revenants, just because it fits. Les Revenants takes place mostly in the night-time, at dusk or dawn, and is bathed in blues. Many of the stills look like Gregory Crewdson photographs, although Crewdson hardly has a patent on exploiting the ominous atmosphere of the blue dusk palette and the half-empty landscape with mysterious figures doing mysterious things. What Crewdson, and photography in general does, is hint at a story; that is the medium’s strength and weakness. But Les Revenants does what Crewdson cannot and actually provides that story, while still keeping the mystery alive.

Meanwhile, True Detective manages to suffuse the warm Louisiana light with an underlying darkness. Many of the shots are in broad daylight, while many exploit the golden hour before dusk; Les Revenants seems to be shot almost entirely in the blue hour after the golden hour, when the warmth of the sun has just gone but the black of night is yet to come. Both are visual marvels, although they may look plain at first sight. Critics rave about a six-minute tracking shot, which I suppose is the sort of thing that impresses tv critics; as I am not a tv critic but a photographer, I tend to think in single images, and I love it when a show manages to convey mood through shots that remain strong when you hit pause.

When a show allows this to become the norm, not just the impressive still in an establishing shot but a series of impressive tablaux even as the narrative progresses, that’s what inspires me as a still photographer.

I would probably not make a very good moving picture maker, although I’d like to think I can make a still picture maker. And if you haven’t seen both of these shows you should do that as soon as possible.

Jan 5, 2015

(1) and (2) Alex Webb, Mexico. (3) and (4) Rebecca Norris Webb, from My Dakota. “ Photography for me is about seeing, not solving technical problems." Alex Webb.

How often is it that married couples both turn out to be amazing photographers? Alex Webb is great, he’s in Magnum, his first project was finished in 1975 and is still great. But Rebecca interests me because she’s a poet, and I’m very much interested in the relationship between text and picture. I try to tell stories, and when I can’t tell them in text, I tell them in pictures. Rebecca:

Thinking about it now, I probably have always seen in images. Initially that took the form of writing poetry. An image would get under my skin and I’d try to write about it.

After college, for some reason my poetry deserted me. Looking back, I realize that perhaps the kind of lyric poetry I was writing during college had become too restrictive, too limiting. It didn’t contain enough of the world, and my curiosity about it. To break through the writer’s block, I decided to travel for a year, buying a camera in order to take ‘visual notes’ for perhaps a future project. What happened instead is that I started to fall in love with photography. It was only after taking a year of photography classes, however, that I had an epiphany: I realized that the eye that took the photographs was the very same eye that saw the images in my poetry. The Nebraskan photographer and writer, Wright Morris, I think said it best: ‘I don’t give up the camera eye when I write, merely the camera.’

And about her project, My Dakota, which she started making, and then her brother died and all those feelings that seeped into the photographs:

I photograph very intuitively. Looking at some of these disorienting photographs now from My Dakota – where it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the background from the foreground, for instance – I realize that kind of confusion and feeling lost was very much a part of my grief, especially when I was most grief-struck.

During that time, I not only felt confused while photographing in South Dakota, but I also felt confused when I returned to Brooklyn to edit the film and to try to make sense of what I’d been doing. I remember showing the work to my friend, Gene Richards, who at that time was travelling back and forth from Brooklyn to the Great Plains to work on his book, The Blue Room. When he asked me how things were coming along with My Dakota, I told him I wasn’t sure what I was doing. He said to me in his soft, gentle voice, ‘Becky, sometimes confusion is good.’

All quotes taken from an interview in an Australian photography magazine in 2012, which I stumbled upon in pdf form.

This is Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb’s website. Here’s an article called 10 things Alex Webb can teach you about street photography, which surprisingly is not just a clickbait listicle, but actually takes some time to consider what makes Alex’s photographs so strong, and how to make them.

Dec 31, 2014

Ingelin, Kodak Portra, 6x6, 2012 (via my photoblog)

(Source: simenedvardsen)

Dec 31, 2014

God jul, Merry Christmas, , etc. Picture by Rob Sheridan. I started sharing this macabre Christmas tablaux seven years ago on Christmas Eve, and then I just kept doing it every year. I guess that’s how traditions are born.

Dec 24, 2014

Martine Franck, Paris, France, 1967, by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Possibly the greatest pick-up line in history: “Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets." They married in 1970.

Dec 24, 2014