Historical Distance

If you’ve ever been turned off by the photography part of my podcast about photography, give this episode a listen. It’s about not fitting in, being ahead of one’s time, and misjudging history.

Listen below or or read on for the transcript.

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The Industrialists’ Dilemma

I could hardly agree more with this piece by Hanson O’Haver on The Outline: Not Every Article Needs a Picture. Go read it for yourself, it makes a lot of important points about internet publishing and how social networks have forced every last piece of text to come with an illustrative photo. As O’Haver pointedly remarks, adults don’t need pictures to help them read—and yet they’re everywhere.

The article struck a chord with me. Not only because prefer images to add value rather than just serve as thumbnails. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how work is presented online and how we can make it more compelling.

Because even though digital publishing has lots of advantages to print1, presentation isn’t yet one of them. Whereas good magazines use the blank page as a canvas, making the design serve the content, online publishers do the opposite: All content2 is shoved into relatively static templates.

Look at Medium: Although the platform has created a very nice reading environment, its strict formatting forces all writing into a generic shape. Sure, there are some slight customizations you can make (like adding a picture…) but the presentation is about as flexible as Henry Ford’s famous approach to car colors: “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”

I’m not the first to observe that “all websites look the same”, and I understand the reasons: Articles live in content management systems that have to output the articles in a predetermined form. Templates make sense to structure content. And the battle for attention on the web has led to huge amounts of content being produced and published every day. Even if large publishers wanted to, they wouldn’t be financially able to individually design each article. They’re like the early industrialist, producing at scale but without much variation in form.

On the flip side, this is a great opportunity for independent publishers to set themselves apart—we have a chance to publish articles on the web with the love and care usually reserved for printed pieces. We can individually design our articles, leave out images if we want to, and challenge the boring sameness on the web. The best part: It might give us some of the attention others are chasing with volumes of generic content. I believe that one compelling piece will always beat out lots of generic ones. And that’s a reason to be hopeful.


  1. It’s more accessible faster, easier, and can be updated after the fact 

  2. a term I truly dislike 

The Final 10%

Over the last year and a half, I’ve gained an insight that I’m still coming to terms with: The importance of the final 10% of any project.

I’ve spent the past six years trying to get friends and strangers to care about the things I care about—through writing and photography. Both allow me to take an idea, give it a digestible form, and push it out for the world to see. With free publishing tools at my disposal, I can virtually fill the internet with my words.

But attention is scarce, and I’ve found that no matter how much conviction and passion I threw into a creative project, the most difficult bit would be for the project to get noticed.

The decisive step, I’ve come to realize, concerns the final 10% of any project. Not coming up with the idea and making it come alive, but taking time to polish, QA, and promote.

None of these are particularly attractive tasks, and I’m realizing that I’ve long made the mistake of neglecting them. I considered the initial leap of creation so important that I would conveniently overlook the rest. Missing the enthusiasm and excitement that carried me through a creative bit, I cast the final 10% aside, blaming scarce attention spans, Facebook’s algorithms, or just bad luck for failing to cut through the noise.

I believe that some of these reason are valid, but they shouldn’t be an excuse not to go the extra mile. Making sure whatever you’re working doesn’t just rely on a good idea, but follows it up with perfect execution is what truly sets something apart—and I’m going to start doing exactly that.1


  1. I am fully aware of the irony that this is a short piece without images or flashy graphics. But it serves a different purpose: This is my way of publicly sharing a lesson and letting it sink in. 

“It is never inspiration that drives you to tell a story, but rather a combination of anger and clarity.”

–Valeria Luiselli

Photopoetry

At record pace, a second podcast episode in two weeks. You thought I was done with Latin American? No way: Here’s an episode about the Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and more broadly about describing something that cannot be seen. Listen, or read on for the transcript.

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“El objetivo del fotógrafo continúa siendo satisfacer los impulsos del ojo: descubrir.”

—Mireira A. Puigventós

Eyes Closed

I’m not sure what attracts me to photos of people with their eyes closed. Is it the intimacy of the shot? The sight of something we usually only catch glimpses of? Maybe it’s feeling of the world standing still, or of a person arresting time—if for a little bit—by not seeing.

Henryk Hermanowicz, Woman with Closed Eyes, 1937