I love the Web, I hate the Web

One of the things I love about the Web is that it brings so much good stuff to so many people. Blah blah blah, you all know the drill. Today I’m all agape over some photographs by Russian photographer Chistroprudov Dimitri, who apparently specializes in night-time cityscapes of Moscow, taken from various rooftops around the city.

This is no mild amusement on Flickr. Dimitri has a large body of work, and each image takes considerable effort to conceive and execute. And they really work. This is outstanding urban photography, by any measure.

I found them, via a Twitter post from Vanou, on English Russia — a fascinating Web site dedicated to bringing images and stories of contemporary Russia to English speaking readers and viewers. (Warning: if you click that link you’d better have a high-speed connection because the page loads about 80 photographs, all larger than the reduced and compressed versions I’ve included in this post.)

I love cities and I love urban photography, so I’m really glad to have found these photos.

So what do I hate about the Web? I hate the way the Web tends to reduce serious photographic work down to the level of a quick diversion. Go to the English Russia link above (right click and choose “Open link in new tab” and let it load in the background while you finish reading this post). What will you do there? You’ll look at the first few and say “wow.” Look at a few more. More “wows.” Pretty soon you’ll be scrolling through faster and faster, spending on average about 1.5 seconds on each image.

This is largely due to the design of English Russia and its editorial position (putting 80 images on a single page is a “dump” of the images, and clearly not a thoughtfully considered curatorial decision). Regardless, that’s what you generally get on the Web. Even if English Russia put the images into some kind of album that played with a nice soundtrack, 80 images is still too much. So yes, in a way I’m barking up the wrong tree, so to speak.

But even if they culled it down to a more manageable 25 or 30 images, most of us would still just blast through them, nodding, and then forget all about it. At best we’d make a link on Twitter or Facebook, and then move on.

Compare that with the old school approach; print them up and hang them in a room. A gallery (not virtual). What would you do then? If you did visit the gallery, and if you liked the images, you would probably spend a lot more time with them. You’d walk around the room, pausing on the ones you liked best, move along to another. Come back to the ones you liked. Maybe you’d sit down (if benches were provided) and ponder them from a greater distance.

In other words, you’d spend more time with the images (plus you would get to see them in a larger and more detailed format). So which is better: having a hundred or so people really see your photos, or having thousands scan through them without paying much attention? As a photographer, I think I prefer the former.

You could argue that one does not exclude the possibility of the other; that putting them on the Web could in fact lead to more people showing up at the gallery to see the prints. That sounds good in theory, and for many artists it’s likely true. But for many people (myself included), the Web is the main venue for their work.

So what exactly am I saying? Well, three things, actually:

  • People who put their photographic work up on the Web should make an effort to curate it properly. That means choosing well, presenting nicely, and not overwhelming the viewer with too many images.
  • People who look at photographic work on the Web would be doing the photographers a big favor by slowing down and really looking at some of the images. Not necessarily all, but some. And leave a comment if the site allows it. Nobody wants their photographs to exist in a vacuum.
  • Chistroprudov Dimitri’s photographs of Moscow are really awesome. Go spend some time with them.

(Note: despite the watermark on the photographs, Christoprudov Dimitri does not seem to have a Livejournal page.)

6 thoughts on “I love the Web, I hate the Web

  1. Blork, it seems to me that the medium is at once too restrictive but at the same time accessible.

    If I had no links to the Web and no place for anyone to see (hear) my low-fi music files, well, no one ever would.

    I would *love* for everyone to listen to the songs on a good stereo with excellent headphones, but, more often than not, they’ll just give them a cursory listen, not even the whole song, on their cheap laptop speakers.

    But you’re right: those photos need a vast arena, not a tiny flickering screen. The guy should be in National Geographic, let alone the National Gallery.

    My point is that perhaps something is better than nothing. But I definitely see your point too.

  2. I understand your point completely. I, too, have been making an effort to push my photography more to the forefront of my portfolio, and I have been debating the same issues. I’m redesigning my personal site with the express purpose of making it a better venue for my visual work.

    Having sold a few prints lately, I am reminded of the inadequacies of digital presentation. There’s nothing like seeing a poster-sized print of your own work to remind you of the lo-fi nature of the web. And then there’s the issue of colour accuracy on the web…

    Even if we had perfect reproduction, it still wouldn’t change the fact that the viewer has control over how fast they browse your library.

    But then again, people speed through the Louvre, don’t they?

  3. I have had many of the same thoughts about photography on the web as you, blork, it’s for that reason that UEM doesn’t have the traditional web galleries where you view all images then choose one to click on. I force the viewer to page through each and every photo (each on its own page) and the reward comes from seeing the images in the sequence they were taken as well as reading the story that takes shape from the photo descriptions. Want someone to spend more time with a photo? Put some text underneath it and put it on its own page, to make sure nothing else in the browser window distracts them. In a way flash slideshows are even worse than image dumps, they require computers of a certain speed and newness to view (UEM was designed with the Pentium 100 laptop I used to carry around in mind) and you can easily scroll right by 30 images in the time it takes to scroll by one!

    You just touched on something I’ve thought a lot about, so I thought I’d dump my thoughts into the text box here…

  4. Nick and Jim, you’re both right that having the Web is better than not having it, and having fleeting exposure is better than no exposure at all. You might have noticed that I don’t actually reach a conclusion or propose any sort of solution in the post. It’s mostly a venting of my overall frustration with the oversupply of easily accessible media, and the downside of that.

    It’s self imposed. Any one of us can decide to not be overwhelmed. We can make the conscious choice to not read 150 blogs every day, and to not visit Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook 30 times a day. We can look for only those Web sites that give us something of true value, and to limit our online activity to those.

    As if.

    It’s too seductive. We dive in, and as a result our still waters that used to run deep are becoming wide yet shallow bubbling brooks. Meaning means nothing; the only thing that matters is “impact” and entertainment.

    (OK, I exaggerate, but it seems like that’s the direction we’re moving in, culturally.)

    Interesting approach, Tux. I’ll check out that link…

  5. Beautiful! Although with my satellite internet connection, it will be interesting to see how quickly 80-odd photos load. Thanks for sharing them on your blog. I took the time to look at them carefully.

  6. Blork,

    As far as your comment goes about choices, I see it as, well, there’s only so much time in a day. Am I going to read The Gazette’s entire front page section? Or watch that stupid soap half-heartedly with the spouse? Or go on the balcony and check on my tomatoes? (Wow, well, the luxury on all that).

    For me personally, the idea of Facebook and Twitter make them the same time-wasters as Personal Digital Assistants did in the 90s . . . it’s like, Hey, Do I want To Watch Superman The Cartoon, Now? How relevant to my life is watching Superman?

    The allure of the Web is its own duplicity; just as a small beetle can live on dewdrops in the desert in which water has not fallen for 150 years, people will create something from absolutely nothing when they have the opportunity.

    And usually, something is better than nothing.

    But even better is being above ground to see it.

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