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Assignment

Anachronisms

This assignment ran from Jan 3 to Jan 24, 2017.

My day job is piano player. For a couple of decades now I’ve made commercial albums and spread that litter across the world, over which I’ve tread time and again, putting the tour bus in reverse and backing over it repeatedly until some people can sing a few lines of my songs. Meanwhile I’ve carried my camera along the way, pausing to print my black-and-white images in my dark room, and more recently in a light room, littering my friends’ and family’s hallways, drawers, and closets with prints. I am inspired by photography of all kinds, even ones with colors in them. Spending time with you and your photos over this month is my idea of a good time and I’m honored to be your guest editor this month. Anyway. Enough about me—let’s get to the assignment I’ve cooked up for you.

Anachronisms 

Let’s photograph those! I’m a big fan of them.

Anachronism is a word of Greek origin, meaning “against time” (not to be confused with an acronym—an abbreviation turned into words, like NASA). As an example, let’s imagine a photo of a movie actor playing Napoleon, who’s texting between breaks in costume on his iPhone. That has classic anachronistic absurdity. An absurdity such as an anachronism can help illuminate who we’ve become, what has changed, and what has remained the same.

As a songwriter, I’m given to see art in terms of its story, and I think an anachronistic photo gives us a lot of potential for a story. The element of novelty might well be the point, or it might only be the tip of the emotional iceberg that draws us in. As far as I’m concerned, photography itself could be said to be “against time.” It might defy time, or distort time, but It doesn’t actually freeze it, because our perceptions are ever evolving and we won’t see a photo the same way as we age. Playing with time through an anachronism has potential to exaggerate how the viewer feels about change, in the world and in themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with. I say make ‘em silly if you like. Make ‘em novel, sad, or even frightening. But let’s not forget the possibility that we might, even by accident, tell a story.

Ready, set … GO!

Curated by:

Ben Folds
Musician & Photographer
Assignment Status
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Published Feb 1, 2017.
Thank you for your contributions!

Evolving with the Assignment

Posted jan 14, 2017

I am evolving as I make my way through thousands of submissions. I began to realize how abstract and difficult the assignment was as I made my way through the first few hundred. In turn, that made me appreciate when someone submitted an amazing photograph that was barely an anachronism but one that made me feel something about time. It also made me appreciate when a photograph was “almost”—the shooting was good, the concept was solid, but it was presented in a way that could use an honest critique. Or the photographer just needed to shoot a better photograph and explain less.  
I've made commercial albums going on three decades now and have gotten my share of cruel and useless criticism, cruel constructive criticism, people who have misunderstood, teachers who’ve moved the goalposts, and so on. What's important to me is that it's fun, that we all learn something—including me! And I can tell you I am already learning tons. I want to connect with a “heart” when I like an image, comment when I feel compelled, and lend advice when I feel it would be helpful. In turn, I'm very happy to get the same from those who agree and those who don't. This is a really impressive forum of pretty damn civilized people. It's inspiring.  

If it were an assignment that had solid parameters, it would be easier to submit and far easier to curate and comment. For instance, if it were understood that, to be “hearted,” an image MUST fall into the strict constraints of an anachronism (that is a difficult thing to define beyond its definition, "against time"), that it must have tonal fidelity and masterful composition, well … There wouldn't be many to heart, and I feel I should heart when I'm moved. I hope I'm not too random. I am working on that!

I'm an amateur photographer. That said, I have a few areas in which I've spent as much time as most any professional photographer, and that's mostly in the darkroom—more time than I've ever spent in a studio over the last 30 years. I perhaps overvalue the tones, cropping, and presentation. That's my perspective. As a hobbyist with no deadlines, I'm allowed to remain in the anachronism that is the darkroom. Professionals are on deadlines and don't have the luxury of printing old school, which most I've spoken to lament. In my job, the deadlines decide the medium too, and I've gotten on board with making records digitally as well as on tape. It all depends on time. But the concepts are the same: message, feeling, delivery.
I also came to learn after years in that darkroom that it's necessary to ask yourself if an image is worth even printing before embarking on the work required to get the dried print in your hand. It's a lot of time. So you become hard on yourself and your images before mixing chemicals and making a day of contact sheets and test prints.  
I try to be as open to a “lo-fi” camera phone shot, but in opening my mind to that extent, I tend also to be more open to a well-executed image that only partially qualifies as anachronism—or even as a good idea! I'm viewing image number 2,000 differently from how I viewed number two. But I'll be going back through them again at the end of the process. Oh, what's a curator to do!
Mainly, I'm having fun. I love engaging with you all. I'm humbled by how many great photographers and perspectives there are, and I'm trying to be as available as possible to have a dialogue. Do excuse me if I don't get back to you, or if I pass your photo ... or say something ridiculous.  
In the end, when I go over my list of favorites, to narrow down the submissions I will be looking for something old/something new in the photograph that in some way makes me reflect on the passing of time. I will be considering the execution of the photo and its impact in terms of fidelity and tone. (Since it came to light that Robert Capa was the author of a quote I cited, I am reminded that some of his most famous images were very “lo-fi,” as they were shot in darkness in water with bullets flying!) I'll also be learning from you all who've been on this site for much longer. Thank you for your input.  
A few of you have rightly suggested I post an anachronism myself. That highlights to me how difficult the submission is, and you're right! That's fair!  I'll find SOMETHING—I must have one somewhere! I will post before this assignment is over. Beat it up good ‘n’ proper.

Mostly … thank you, thank you, thank you!
Back to viewing!

Ben Folds

Against Time

Posted jan 9, 2017

Hello, all!

I’m having a great time going through these images. It’s a tough assignment, anachronisms. It’s not like "Let’s go photograph dogs," when it’s clear what counts as a dog or not. Anachronism means "against time." That’s quite abstract. Photography itself is against time in many ways. I’m not getting hung up on whether a photograph qualifies as anachronism at this point. It’s about whether the photograph speaks to the passing of time and era. It’s about the feeling that you get from the image.
Here is what I’m seeing so far. If your photograph fits into one of these categories, that’s fine! There’s always another angle on a theme.

A Person as Anachronism
Some have cast an elderly person in the role of anachronism, and when that subject is given dignity of character, soul, and personality, this sort of image can be very effective. When it says something about their life and their place in time, it tells a story, and we’re drawn in. When it feels like the photograph is made at the expense of the person, it’s not quite as compelling. That said, the next photo I open will probably do just that and be brilliant. That’s art for you.  

Old Technology Alongside New Technology
This is a theme and certainly worth exploring. It’s a fairly well traveled road, and so it’s worth our while to push as hard as possible to bring new light to that concept, to separate from the pack—to execute that idea so well that it sucks you in.  

Staged Array of Objects to Tell a Story
I don’t see why a staged photo shouldn’t be encouraged. I’ve seen a few really great ones full of details of the past and present used with irony and nostalgia. It just has to be done well, and above all, it has to tell a story and share a feeling.

Monks and Phones
A concept that I’m finding difficult to tackle is that of the person in religious dress using modern technology, but not because of political correctness. It’s because, first, these subjects are modern people living in modern times who wear what has been worn sometimes for centuries and probably for centuries to come. But it’s not as if they were born in another time. If there’s no sense of who the human being is, then they can easily take on the role of prop. I’m not preaching. I’m just suggesting that this is possibly a less compelling photograph; however, if dehumanizing the subject helps to make a point, then go for it! I’ve seen a few examples of old garb, new gadget images that have worked well for reasons deeply imbedded in the photograph. It’s just a crowded lane, so it’s harder work to navigate.

The Pure and Naive Image
Some of my favorite images in this assignment have been snapshots—no adjusting, no cropping, no bracketing or pondering. See, feel, shoot. The beauty is that it’s completely about an idea and a feeling, which, as we get more technically involved, should remain that to which we aspire. [Famed photographer] Henri Cartier-Bresson said of some images he was shown that were made my monkeys given Polaroid cameras, “Not bad! Not bad at all!” An image’s purity and naivety certainly don’t make it superior; I just like to remember it’s an option sometimes, capable of duking it out with the best of photos. 

Conversion to Black and White
This topic is relevant to a lot of these anachronistic images. Conversion to black and white is a choice, and a lot of you have made this one, often to highlight the feel of a bygone era. But if you’re going to take a swing at that, I suggest you learn as much as you can about curves, contrast, and how to use the color sliders in your program to give a monochromatic image the right message. A digital color photograph that’s simply desaturated can come across as … well, a picture with the color drained out of it. There’s a really fun world of gray that’s worth exploring—a lost art. One day, immerse yourself in the photography of the mid-20th century. Read a bit about the negative and the darkroom process. You won’t regret it.  

A Couple of Quotes From Badass Photographers

“If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” - Robert Capa
That’s a bit of advice that I’ve found helpful, which I think pertains to this particular assignment. 

“Photographers are more afraid of subjects than subjects are of photographers.”
That’s something another famous photographer pointed out, which might be good to keep in mind because it reminds us to be brave and open when we photograph. There’s a famous photographer to credit for this quote, but I can’t recall who! Chime in if you know.

To Crop or Not  
Some of your photos have been cropped, and I draw attention to it because in an anachronistic photo, context is everything. I often find myself wondering if what’s outside the cropped frame wouldn’t tell us more about the environment. For instance, there are a few photographs of old cars that have been cropped, which might lead us to assume the photo was made back in the day. Sometimes it’s OK to have a clunkier composition if it says something about the clunky nature of time. Other times the crop is what makes it work. I suggested a crop to one photographer who was kind enough to try. It didn’t improve it, so oh well! It was a fine photo either way.  

I hope I didn’t preach too much. I just find it all fun. I’m learning and seeing a lot of photography that I wish were mine! Nice work!

-

Ben

Ben Folds

Ben Folds

Musician & Photographer
Ben Folds is widely regarded as one of the major music influencers of our generation. He’s spent over a decade sharing the stage with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras – from Sydney, Australia to the Kennedy Center, performing his pop hits and his critically acclaimed concerto for Piano and Orchestra. In addition to his self-described love of performing and making music “for humans,” Folds is also an avid photographer, and is a member of the distinguished Sony Artisans of Imagery. Folds is also an advocate for music education and music therapy as a member of Artist Committee of the Americans For The Arts, and he serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Nashville Symphony.