I'm Not Sure How I Feel About This.

All Images © Joel Sternfeld

A couple of my all time favorite and most inspirational photographers have published or are about to publish books straying far from their roots as large format film shooters.  The above images are from Joel Sternfeld’s iDubai.  When I first heard that Sternfeld was doing a book project on Dubai, I was super excited.  Of course I was picturing American Prospects in Dubai.  Amazing.  When I saw some of the spreads on the Steidl website, after learning the book was shot entirely with Sternfeld’s iPhone, I have to say….I was less excited.  I’m not criticizing the man for trying something new.  I mean, I get it.  The iPhone is cool. (I’m a Blackberry girl myself, but I admit it’s cool.)  It’s got a great camera for a cell phone, and I also see why it makes sense for a body of work shot in Dubai.  I’ve never been, would like to go, and have watched many a travel show about the place.  Dubai has become a symbol for all things progressive and futuristic, realistic or not, regarding Arabic culture, and what is more ‘future’ than the iPhone (hello, FaceTime)?  My issue is not with the medium, but the images.  Let me say that I can only aspire to do in my life with photography what Joel Sternfeld has done in his.  I treasure the books of his that I own and often look to them for inspiration.  In my opinion, there are few people in the world that do what he does as well as him.  But when I look at iDubai, I see pictures that a lot of people could take.

Now Richard Misrach’s Destroy This Memory is about to come out, and when I looked at the preview images on the Aperture site, I thought to myself, “Huh….those look….different.”  I read on to learn that the book is entirely comprised of images Misrach shot with his “4 MP pocket camera”.  I think it’s lovely that all artist’s royalties for the book are going to charity, and again, I get it.  Who doesn’t have a point and shoot in their pocket to shoot alongside their more serious camera?  Richard Misrach can almost do no wrong in my book.  I have a signed Desert Cantos book and poster from a lecture I attended in Houston when I was in high school.  High school!  I own almost every Misrach book there is to own (including On The Beach).  I have nothing but gratitude and respect for his work, and his photography I can truthfully say has changed my life.  I’m curious to see Destroy This Memory and am not immediately writing it off because of the medium.  I just want to see the same level of imagery from all of these contemporary masters of photography that I’ve grown to love, admire, and frankly expect.

These are just things that make me go Hmmm.  That’s all.

UPDATE: Review of Destroy This Memory on Conscientious is an interesting take on dwelling on tragedy rather than moving forward.  Doesn’t speak to the technical aspects of the imagery so much, but I hear what he’s saying…to me, it’s like to producing book after book or tv show after tv show about 9/11.  While history needs to be recorded and preserved, we also should remember to record progress because the present and future will eventually become a part of history as well.

6 comments to I’m Not Sure How I Feel About This.

  • You might want to check out David Bailey’s Pictures That Mark Can Do. It’s a book of Bailey’s snapshots.

    http://www.steidlville.com/books/493-Pictures-that-Mark-Can-Do.html

  • Sternfeld is one of my heroes; I’m acquiring his books as fast as I can find and afford them. But I had exactly the same reaction to iDubai as you did: disappointment. I think I might even have used your exact phrase: images that anyone [with an iPhone] could have taken.

    In a sense it’s unfair to the man to expect him always to do “Sternfeld”, as we’ve know him, in every body of work. That would make him a victim of his own success, and he’s earned the right to branch out. But iDubai just simply lacks the essential “Sternfeld-ness” that I so admire: his ability to discover the quirky, the beautiful, the ironic among the banal—all rendered in rich, lush large-format splendor. So with reluctance, iDubai was purged from my Amazon cart.

    Saw the Misrach book too. I confess I’m not very familiar with his work—a deficiency this post has prompted me to remedy.

    Good one Emily.

  • have to agree, there is no reason to expect a person to take the same style or theme of photograph constantly, there is not potential for growth there (even in you are an icon) and can lead to complacency. the problem is the quality of images presented, it just isn’t there and if they did not have the name and history they do they probably would not have gotten these published without using blurb. I just have to think there are a lot of unpublished photographers out there that could have made a better use of that paper.

    @michael: if you haven’t seen an actual print of Misrach’s “on the beach”, you really need to. They are giant wall-sized prints that are almost heartbreaking in their beauty. the book is great but does not do the images justice.

  • Edie Tobias

    For the purists (like you Emily) this shift into different mediums will be difficult to embrace. I understand why. I love great photography. I mean really love it. Admire it. Respect it. I know a great photographer who just had a book published of his iPhone images. They are gorgeous. It astounds me. Like you, I was a die hard Blackberry girl. And then I did it. Yes, I finally made the move to an iPhone. Like many before me, I started to play with the camera and the cool apps available. I have to be honest, and say how much I love it. I have taken some lovely shots with it. A photographer who I idolize has told me that he loves these new shots of mine. Go figure. I just read that there is an iPhone film festival. Yes, for videos shot on the iPhone. Crazy.

  • Mike Owen

    I did the opposite. I had an iPhone first and then switched to a Blackberry and haven’t looked back since.

    I was disappointed when I heard he shot this with his phone also. I have never understood why a photographer would not choose the highest quality camera possible for a project like this? If I want to see iPhone photos from Dubai I can browse the thousands on Flickr.

  • Man, I almost posted about this myself last week. I think it’s utter crap that those who’ve “made it,” starting with Wall have begun to release crappy point & shoot series / pieces just because they can. If anyone else tried to push such low-quality images, it wouldn’t fly. It seems to be resting on one’s laurels to me.