I’ve been noodling around with cameras since I was in my teens. The mechanics of photography—all that aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, ISO business—have been second nature to me for years; I rarely think about them anymore.
But in 2006 I realized I was almost entirely ignorant about the medium itself. I’m talking about photography as history and culture and art. I was familiar with the names of a few of the photographic big hats—Ansel Adams, Cartier-Bresson, August Sander—and I could recognize some of their more well-known images, but I had no understanding at all of what had been done in photography, or who had done it, or what they were thinking when they did it.
I was the Jon Snow of photographic culture. I knew nothing.
Homer Page? Never heard of him. Ralph Meatyard? No idea. Mike Brodie, Ara Güler? Hadn’t a clue. Tina Barney, Tony Ray Jones, Lewis Baltz? All cyphers. Guy Bourdin, Helen Levitt, Anders Petersen, O. Winston Link, Milt Rogovin? Meant nothing at all to me.
So I set out to correct that. I decided to educate myself. I’d pick a photographer who had, for one reason or another, caught my attention and do some research on them. I took a very casual and catholic approach to selecting the photographers. Street photographers, portrait photographers, fine arts photographers, fashion photographers, sports photographers—there was something to learn from all of them. I looked at the usual dead white guy photographers, at little-known contemporary photographers, at cult photographers, at niche photographers, at photographic curiosities. I ran through the alphabet, from Berenice Abbot to Guillaume Zuili.
I also decided to share what I’d learned (or thought I’d learned) with the members of an international Flickr group called Utata. This was (and to some extent, still is) a collective of smart, creative, funny, curious people who enjoyed photography and discussion in equal measure. I’d write a short essay on the photographer, include some examples of the photographer’s work, and we’d chat about it. Or debate it. Or argue about it.
It was fun. Everything about it was fun—the research, the discussion. At first, I did them every week and published them on Sunday (hence the name). The salons, I admit, weren’t always well-written. That’s especially true of the earliest ones. And there have been a few embarrassing mistakes in research along the way. Some of the more controversial salons led to a harsh arguments. But still, it was fun. At first.
As the discussions became more informed and intelligent, I felt the need to spend more time doing research. The essays became longer, and included more examples of the photographer’s work. The extra research meant I could no longer keep up the once-a-week schedule. I began doing them every other week.
After a few years of this, it became a chore. A pleasant chore, for the most part, but still a chore. I stopped doing them every other week and began publishing the Sunday Salon at irregular intervals. A month might pass between salons. Maybe five or six weeks.
And then I stopped.
I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I continued to read about photographers and think about their work, but the idea of writing an essay about them…well, it was simply too much unpaid labor. The last Sunday Salon–on Bruce Gilden–was published in July of 2017.
Half a decade has gone by. I discovered that at some point a change in Flickr’s API had essentially gutted the Sunday Salons; they were no longer available online. Nobody could see them. At first, I didn’t really care. The salons were a personal project, after all, and I’d accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. If they were gone, they were gone.
Then it was pointed out to me that there were 170-some salons. For some reason, that number affected me. That’s a lot of work. And some folks enjoyed reading them. So maybe it would be worth the effort to resurrect them.
And what the hell, that’s what I did.
I may even contribute new salons on a sporadic basis.