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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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. Upright-Position.jpg

The Imagist Abides: The imagist thread of photograph publication has not been a noisy practice, but in its decades beneath the racket of style and theory, it maintains a substantial continuity. Above, on my studio carpet is Return Your Mind to its Upright Position by Nathan Lyons, with an afterword by Alex Sweetman. –August 2014.

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...

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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. Nathan-and-Keith-at-Javas.jpg

These friends convert Saturday mornings into a caffeinated public house. We float from dive to dive depending on season, mood – lately, noise levels. I have never had better coffee or instruction.

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...

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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. My-Imitation.jpg

My first attempt at framing for Instagram taken on the parking roof of Strong Memorial Hospital In Rochester New York earlier this week.

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...

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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.jpg 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

Further speculation on the digital scanning of historic negatives, another arena in which new tools address old jobs. And why we may want to look for revealing new interpretations of old photographs.

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

This photograph is derived from a 1,200 dpi scan of its original 4x5 inch diacetate film negative. The image is part of Lewis Hine’s series on the construction of the Empire State Building and shows riveters and other construction workers...

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Glorious Negative Information

Hine-Machine-Shop.jpg 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. one-light-contact.jpg 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...

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Photography’s Brief Philosophy II

Noting that Part One, in two words, was “Notational System,” I will attempt another brevity: “Locational System.”Silver-Lake-Location.jpg Social media’s appetite for your location information is insatiable due largely to the fact that you are a consumer. Merchandising and marketing data are more precious if they are rich with comprehensive location information on consumers, so naturally, we are incentivized to share as much of the stuff as possible. Using online maps, the nifty functions of Facebook or Flickr reward us daily by showing that our photographs occupy increasing portions of the earth’s geography. Behold my mighty footprint! For a price, you may obtain a fancy camera that captures GPS information at the moment of exposure, writing it into the photographic file. But more significant, your smartphone likely does the same thing to all of your photos – and without any added gizmos or cost. And the...

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Photography’s Brief Philosophy

Nathan-for-Coffee.jpg In the early 1970s I heard the most succinct philosophy of this medium I would encounter in my career. A grad student at RIT, I was employed by George Eastman House and after work, had crossed the street to hear Nathan Lyons address a fresh cohort of students at his recently founded Visual Studies Workshop. For an innocent, Nathan’s speech could seem puzzlingly oblique. I had yet to understand that his delivery was the foundation of a pedagogical method, forcing as it did, students to squeeze out meaning phrase by phrase. Pupils had to work so hard to comprehend, that they could be excused for feeling authorship for all they heard. In this way, Nathan created generations of autodidacts.

Most of the audience had fine art ambitions and the students had enrolled to study photography – so when Professor Lyons said that it was time to define photography, pencils were ready. The speaker...

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