Roger Bruce

I suspect that my photographic works are relics of accident and good fortune. My purpose here is to understand them as worthwhile privilege.

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Stitching up a Landscape


We pass a dairy farm on evening walks. Tonight Becky and I gather with cows near the spot where a natural gas distribution line dives beneath their pasture. Surely my understanding of this event far surpasses that of heifers; they are not tangled in the meshes of politics or the price of oil. How much more than cows do I know of this little view? I do know of our abundant gas deposits. I know that industry has mobilized to frack the stuff out of the ground. I hear that it will be cheap soon. This iridescent pipe fifty yards from my house is the first tangible evidence that the neighborhood is implicated in this particular story – the story of cheap fuel. Surprising really, how quickly the tale has unfolded. Unfinished narratives concerning the destruction of groundwater and aquifers and the inevitable wastewater injection of billions of gallons of toxic slurry pumped back down into the

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A Photography Photography Photographer

In which an artist makes use of the boundless disruptions to the medium formerly known as photography.



Are you one of those people taking some pleasure in watching photography? I do not mean just looking at photographs. I mean observing the expanding role of the entire photographic machine. Seeing the increasing spread of photography’s application in culture, science, industry, and commerce – every cranny of society. The medium’s mission creep begins in the evolution of photography’s instrument, the camera, and also in the artificial intelligence that enfolds it. Again and again photography’s new powers enlarge its domain. Take cartography for example. Photography has been a mapmaker’s tool for over a century, but today cartography and photography are so interpenetrated that there are few clear lines of separation.

If my smart phone is a motion sensor, a compass, a GPS unit

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Hey Imagist Poets – Give Images a Try

The title is my dopey rendering of a question that has been repeated for decades. In an earlier “Privileged View” post I visited photography’s tricky relation to narrative. But how about poetry? It seems to me, that beginning in the 1950s a most significant and lasting thread among the aesthetic projects of photography has been an evolving poetics of imagism.

Ernest Fenollosa’s essay, “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” alleged that the Chinese ideogram was the least abstract medium for poetry because it was rooted in a direct depiction of the world. Since its publication in 1920, the work has been so repeatedly and thoroughly discredited that the most significant feature of this text is that Ezra Pound wanted it to be true. But the imagist ideal in poetry never really required such a buttress, its central principle being that the marriage of well-articulated

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The Ambiguous Specificity of Photographs

My friend, videographer and photojournalist Keith McManus (sitting on the right in the photo below), has said that photographs by themselves are not particularly good at storytelling – they are way too ambiguous. And he celebrates the ambiguity of images as an empowering feature of the medium. So just as the world’s events are subject to interpretation, photographic traces of those events will also call for context, reasons, or histories, if they are to substantiate a narrative.

That photography is narratively challenged may make it easier for its images to aspire to the condition of music. To the extent that it exists, this deficit of the medium is largely responsible for the industry of fine art photography. I was born in 1946, so I remember when photography’s aesthetic projects were generally viewed as aspirational in relation to the other visual arts. In the mid 20th century for

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Imitation of Instagram

I had not realized the extent to which this relatively new international online obsession was really a seamless extension of the last fifty years of consumer picture making. And to excel within its confines is as challenging as it has ever been.

The fabulously popular and successful social media platform for photographs, Instagram, offers a square canvas and a spatial resolution of 640 pixels per side. I have in the past viewed this as a throttling limitation, a keyhole through which my photographic interests would not pass. And up until this weekend, I was right, given that I retain a passion for photographic illusions of texture, depth, and resolution. But the simplest analogy has changed my point of view: The miniature. As with miniature paintings, the artist will adapt content to fit the smaller format. Come to think of it, much consumer 35mm film photography, Instamatic

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Paleo-Digital Photographs

There are such things. If you have been archiving snapshots for the last ten or fifteen years, then you too may possess picture files from the dawning of this medium. Dawn for me was 1995 with a brief loan of an Apple QuickTake, extending to 1998 with regular access to a series of early Kodak consumer cameras with price tags hovering around $1,000 and capturing from 1 to 1.5 megapixel images.

In 2001 George Eastman House acquired the Kodak DCS 660; it looked like a Nikon SLR and it was the museum’s first professional digital camera. Retailing at $7,200 (down from an introductory $32,000) it had a 6 megapixel chip, but more significant, the camera was capable of recording a “raw” file. This is important because raw image files contain the complete dump of sampled image information acquired at the moment of exposure. In this respect it is rather like the negative of the old analog

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Plato’s Warning

And Contemporary Anxieties over Too many Photographs

Have you noticed the fashion of iconoclastic postings repeating reservations on the escalation of photographic production? In a few centuries such concerns will be viewed as particularly primitive in their implicit assumption that fewer photographs or no photographs are in any way an option.
Happy Camera, cast concrete bordering the art walk along the Museum Mile in Rochester, NY.

It is legitimate, however, to wonder at the ways photography’s existence in society may have diminished us, and there is a long-standing philosophical tradition in the critique of emerging media technology. Take, for example, the initial encoding technologies for spoken language – the method that provided means for storing knowledge outside our skulls, writing. Welcomed as an assistive technology, writing could outsource irksome mental toil much as the

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Elements of an Imagined Narrative

Not The Whole Narrative Just a Couple of Elements



I have a peculiar personal affection for a fanciful narrative that could include the above photographs.

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Controlling Negative Emotions

My previous post over-celebrated the untapped shadow detail of old negatives. I feared that this could be understood to reference merely enumerative information that may dwell there – figures, forms, and fixtures, ie: “Note the method by which wooden beams are lashed in the scaffolding used in the construction of the Empire State Building…” That’s great stuff, but the recovery of imagery from old negatives may reveal less effable content as well. 198501530021-Empire.jpg

Having spent much of my career with the interpretation of photographs, I am accustomed to the intense connoisseurship that supports appreciation of fine art photography. My colleagues are familiar with the gallery-speak so often caricatured as merchandizing intended to swell expectations for flat rectangles that neither move nor speak. It is easy to mock language that reaches for the ineffable. Yet it is not unreasonable to expect a

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Glorious Negative Information

House Of Refuge, Randall’s Island, NY, Machine Shop Feb. 25, 1911 by Lewis Hine. I derived this image from a 1,200 dpi scan of its original 8x10 inch glass plate negative. The image is part of Hine’s series “ Randall’s Island.” Post processing included some scratch/stain removal, selective curve adjustment, and exaggerated rendering of shadow detail.
Here is my digital approximation of a simple contact proof print of Hine’s original negative.

These days it is easy to tease meaningful content from the shadows of antique negatives – much of it, practically invisible or at least difficult to view in contemporaneous vintage prints. Traditional darkroom craftsmanship may yield a beautiful continuous tone image, especially with superb negatives such as the one used to prepare the digital positive at the top of this post. But a decent digital scan and moderate use of a tool like

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