Urbancode is a local arts and literary mag that just got started up here in the District of Columbia. The première issue has just become available, and a photo of mine appears on page 43. Download the issue and check it out.
Four and a half months later, it turns out that an MFA program isn’t in the cards for this year. I received strong words of encouragement from a lot of great places and opted not to go to ICP in favor of hopefully attending a University program in the future. It was an interesting process and I learned quite a bit about what the possibilities are. So, we’ll put this to rest with one final look at the scorecard (until next year):
This morning I went with some friends to volunteer at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, a 400 acre farm where animals rescued from slaughter spend their time to hanging out, walking around, eating grass, rolling in mud, etc. It was a pretty great time. At one point, we were given the task of sort of rounding up the cows and moving them from one pasture to another. Most of the cows were compliant. Three were less interested in accommodating us. One of those three was fucking enormous.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re familiar with Joerg Colberg. Anyone interested in photography who spends time on the internet will come across his blog Conscientious, and probably come across it rather quickly. Conscientious is something of a hub on the web for photography related sites and blogs, serving as something like a massive photography index, updated several times every single day of the week. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he’s (also) an astrophysicist.
I asked Joerg some questions and he was very kind to answer them. On Conscientious, only the smallest bits of his personal history and world view trickles out, and I found it fascinating to hear what he had to say about things.
GW: You write arguablely the most read blog about photography on the internet and you’re a talented photographer in your own right. But photography’s not your day job. You’re an astrophysicist, which isn’t exactly something a person can do in their spare time. How did you come to be a scientist and what attracted you to astrophysics? Is your interest in it as strong as your passion for photography? How do you find the time for two different and highly involved pursuits?
JC: I figured it would be easier to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics and then do photography “on the side” than the other way around! But seriously, after high school, I had to think about what I wanted to do, and I ended up studying physics, because I was interested in astronomy. Back then it did sound quite interesting. In the end, I had to get my Ph.D. to be able to work on what had always interested me the most (computer simulations of the Universe). After my Ph.D., I quit for a few years and worked in a couple of more regular jobs. But I found being a programmer so intensely boring that I tried to get back into science. While writing computer programmes isn’t exactly the most interesting thing I can think of, doing it to find out about Nature is just so much nicer than doing it so that someone can sell that extra piece of soap. Money-wise, switching back from a programming job at a software startup to academia isn’t necessarily the smartest choice, of course, but then, to get the obligatory cliché out of the way, money can’t buy you happiness.
Whether my passion for astrophysics and photography is similarly strong I don’t really know — in the end, your day job tends to be very tedious (regardless of what you do). There is a similar passion to do something worthwhile, though, something that has a value that cannot be measured directly. Cosmology has a strong cultural component — you can’t apply that knowledge of the origins of the Universe to selling soap or building bombs.
As for the finding time, that’s not very hard. If you have something that is very dear to you you will always be able to find the time for it. Other people collect stamps or go to Nascar races. I look at photography.
GW: Is there a connection between your work in that field with photography?
JC: No, not at all. I’m a theorist. If I was an observer, then yes, I would be taking photos of the sky. But as a theorist, I make a bunch of supercomputers run my programmes.
GW: When did you become interested in photography? What inspired you to start taking pictures? What inspired you to start blogging about it?
JC: My interest started very late in my life. Back in 1999, I spent a few months in Frankfurt, and I picked up a little camera and started taking photos. I got hooked when I realized I was able to take photos that I actually liked. The blogging is a bit unrelated actually, since initially, it was supposed to be a blog about stuff that interested me. But at some stage, maybe half a year after I had started it, I came across the Duesseldorf School people, and I got very interested in what they were doing. So I added the links to the blog, and since I got more and more drawn to photography, the blog quickly morphed into what it is now.
GW: The themes in your work, specifically the work in the ‘projects’section of your site, are very current relating to our political and social environment. You’re aesthetic is subtle and sophisticated. On your blog, you give equal time and space to photographers of all kinds. Are your interests really that broad or do you feel it’s your duty to connect your readers with work they might be interested in?
JC: Predicting the future is probably the best way to make a complete fool of yourself. So I’m going to refrain from any such predictions. But I think that there currently is a trend emerging, which hopefully will not disappear at some stage. Photographers and people interested in photography are now being able to connect to an extent that was simply not possible before. You have to realize that someone like Alec sharing his thoughts and ideas that freely and directly is something that is new.
It remains to be seen whether this will result in an expansion of the number of people who shape photography history. I do hope that there will be more people and more places that shape photography history, and I think that’s already — albeit very slowly — happening. However, I think the subjectivity, that according to Martin Parr is a big part of photography history, will not disappear. BUT I think the overall field will become wider, and it will be harder for photographers to just get forgotten — making photography archives available online will save a lot of good work from photography oblivion, and hopefully, a lot of underrated or forgotten photographers will be rediscovered (or actually discovered for the first time).
In a sense, reminding people of how subjective the history of photography to some extent isn’t quite fair. People like Steiglitz, Steichen or Szarkowski were active at times when photography had a completely different status. So, yes, one could be unhappy about what they decided to show (and what to ignore), but while being subjective they nevertheless pushed photography forward and made it more widely accepted.
I haven’t always been in love with Kate Bingaman, but man, oh man am I in love with her now.. When I saw the Ultra show at the Jen Bekman Gallery a few months ago, I spent a few minutes soaking up Bingaman’s installation there, a then/now comparison of products at the time of their purchase and where they ended up a few months later. It was interesting but then I moved on. It wasn’t exactly a heavily intellectual piece.
Man. So I don’t even know where to begin with this. I just found her flickr stream and man, that little installation at Jen Bekman isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. That was like… I mean, that’s just a drop in the bucket of the seemingly bottomless reservoir of creativity that is Kate Bingaman. She is drawing her daily purchases now, each drawing is quirky, funny, interesting. They’re incredible. Really amazing. You can spend hours on her flickr. But, there’s more! Much much, more!
The flickr stream led me to her website, obsessiveconsumption.com, which is like her hub. It of course, has her work arhchived and organized for perusal. It also features a blog. And also, years of bank statements redrawn by her distinctive hand, daily drawings, so much stuff.
Her photography on consumption-related themes is engaging as well, and, of course, she has fully stocked store selling her zine (monthly!), buttons, hankies, drawings, I mean everything you could imagine. Really, all I can think to say is that the whole thing is really fucking rad.