This has been a strange one.
This has been a strange one.
This advertising clip for the Leica M Monochrom is both amazing and completely ridiculous:
It reminds me of how shunned color photography used to be, with Henri Cartier-Bresson reportedly telling William Eggleston, a trailblazer of color photography: “You know, William, color is bullshit.”
Of course it isn’t there is some incredibly evocative color photography, and I would argue some of the best doesn’t rely on accurate color reproduction to bring across it’s effect. The idea that color is bullshit is wrong, but the idea that black and white evokes a certain kind of fantasy that color doesn’t, nevertheless works.
It’s why I can’t get that clip out of my head.
For the first year in ages, I’m actually satisfied with how much I’ve read in 2017. But no matter how many pages I turned, audio remained my favorite way of delving into different worlds or seeing our own from a new perspective.
Coincidentally, 2017 saw a bunch of podcasts that were much longer, or much more dense than anything I can remember hearing in the past. Listening to them on trains, buses, or my endless lapses around Tempelhof airport was like having a book read out in my head. At the same time, I got to be outside—a perfect combination.
Here’s my annual list of favorite podcast episodes, the stuff that made me stop in my tracks or sometimes even giddy with excitement. Have a listen!
Missing Richard Simmons – Where’s Richard?
Beginning with one of the most compelling story openings I’ve ever heard, this podcast takes a topic you probably don’t care about and makes you care. It’s weird, wacky, voyeuristic, and I could not stop listening.
Ways of Hearing – Time
“My friends and I lived in an all analog world”, says musician Damon Krukowski at the beginning of this show. Then he goes on to explore how digitization has changed the way we listen—and how that has impacted everything from our sense of time to how we express love.
Hurry Slowly – Craig Mod
When writer Jocelyn K. Glei announced that she was recording a podcast about “pacing yourself”, I was already on board. Then she got one of my favorite writers on the shows and I listened gleefully. This episode is about many of the topics I’ve been thinking about lately—how to be productive, how not to be distracted, and how to be in the moment—and presents an unorthodox solution.
Heavyweight – Jesse
Season two of Jonathon Goldsteins excellent podcast featured this tale of a man who got hit by a car now wants to find the driver to say thanks.
Reply All – Man of the People
Imagine you’re a shady doctor at the beginning of the radio era. Wouldn’t it make sense to get a broadcasting license and tell the world about your magic cures?
99% Invisible – The Pool and the Stream
Turns out that skating culture is linked to Finnish architecture of the 1930s.
The Memory Palace – Temple
In May, I went to New York City for a week. As luck would have it, Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace would do a live performance at the Met one of the days I was there. “Even though it’s sold out, I’m sure we can get in somehow,” my friend Pete remarked. Lo and behold, we did — and this was one of the stories performed that night, just a room away from the insanity of an Egyptian temple actually standing in a museum, thousands of years later.
Deutschlandfunk – Der Tag
2017 has been the year of news podcasts, with the New York Times’ The Daily blazing the trail. If you speak German, check out our state broadcaster’s one: Der Tag is on point, exceptionally well done, and nowhere near as stiff as the Deutschlandfunk broadcasts I remembered from years ago. (No recommended episode here, since it comes out every single day.)
Available Light – Anterior Future
…and for a bit of shameless self-promotion: My favorite episode of my own podcast, tracing the exceptional life of the photographer Tina Modotti.
Sometimes you need to see a place in a new light.
When I woke up in Porto yesterday, peeked out the window from behind the curtains and saw the sun, it felt like I was seeing a brand-new city. Oh, I had been here before, once as a child and again seven years ago. I had liked it then, but somehow there hadn’t been much of a spark. This time felt different: Walking the streets of Portugal’s second city, I was smitten. By the way this place looked, this an old city coming forcefully into its own.
I was twisting my neck, looking at the historic façades, some crumbling, some restored, and I marveled at the elevation this place had: Hills from which to look down onto the river, winding alleys that went either up or down, that impossibly high bridge.
Having grown up in Northern Germany and having lived in the Netherlands, elevation is not something I’m used to, and I loved the sense of dimension it added to the city.
I felt excitement, not just about the place, but about being there and how it made me feel: It reminded me the same sense of possibility I felt when I moved to Berlin. Which has remained a lovely place to live, but the years of prosperity and renovation have sanded down its rough edges to a degree that some of the excitement evaporated. Or maybe it’s the years that have sanded down my excitement as well; either way, I was reminded to how I felt when I first came to Berlin and it was still very cheap, and charmingly dilapidated. I’m not talking ruin porn, but rather possibility, of which Porto, in that morning sunlight, seemed to have plenty.
I stood at a street corner, camera at the ready, as a cloud of smoke began wafting into the sunlight. It was smoke from one of the local chestnuts salesman, who was just firing up their mobile oven for another round of roasting. People passed through the frame, casting shadows onto the street that led steeply down to the river. I didn’t even take a picture. I just blinked, enjoyed the sunlight on my face, and took it all in.
Found this through Twitter and I’ve probably watched it five times already.
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.
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.
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
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. ↩
Some turbulent weeks lately, but luckily they were full of black and white shots.