Shoot It, Blog It, Share It

A new generation of image-maker is entering the online conversation and exposing the individual creative process to a whole new audience.



In this age where anyone with a camera phone is a photographer and anyone with an Internet connection is a publisher, many professional photographers are understandably worried about the changes happening all around them.

But there are a number of professional photographers who have embraced this new democratized landscape. Chase Jarvis, for one, has been waging a personal war against this fear of change. "There's just such a negative vibe out there, I just don't understand it," he says, talking about what he calls the "old guard's" futile attempts to preserve "professional photography" as some kind of hallowed ground. "I'd rather just be an open book."

Or an open page, more specifically, an open Web page. Because Jarvis, like a wave of fellow photographers, now publishes a blog. is linked to Jarvis' main Web page, but it is not a promotional tool. It was designed as a place to quickly disseminate information to a wide audience, a place for discussion and sharing, and a place to foster relationships.

"Photography is like this black box; it's a total mystery," he explains. But all that will go the way of disc film if Jarvis has anything to say about it. "Giving unconditionally is the new mantra," he insists. "At least that's what I'm hoping for."

Jarvis began his blog as a way to share answers to questions he encountered again and again in e-mails from aspiring shooters. The space also contains links to interesting projects by photographers and other illuminati, reviews of photo equipment, and insightful analyses of breaking photo news.

While Jarvis tends toward the grandiose when explaining his blog -- "the new media needs new ideas and new heroes!" - Minneapolis-based photographer Alec Soth took to the medium for more personal reasons.

"I spend the bulk of my time dealing with office work ... I'm not hanging out in smoky lofts debating aesthetics," the Magnum photographer recently told Joerg Colberg, author of the Conscientious blog. "The blog has become my virtual smoky loft."

Soth's blog,, highlights photographers he feels his readers should be acquainted with, and hosts a thriving banter on philosophical topics such as the locus of inspiration and the place of artists in society. It also happens to be incredibly popular. Almost every other photographer/blogger has linked to it or quoted it once -- and it has been known to come up in real-world conversations as well.

Both Soth and Jarvis keep their blogs free of their own work, preferring to send people to their carefully edited Web sites. But although Soth can't imagine doing it himself, he has great respect for another blogging paradigm: the blog as personal essay/portfolio with interactive reader feedback in the comments.

Philadelphia-based photographer Zoe Strauss is one of the leading examples of this type of photoblogger, who often embrace the same open-door policy Jarvis preaches for the industry in general and extend it to the individual process of creation. Strauss often posts several versions of a shot and describes her thought process in choosing among them.

Amy Elkins' blog, which consists almost entirely of her own work, is another good example of this strain. Elkins started before her main Web site because it was fast and easy to set up. There she used the blog format to develop her "Beyond This Place -- 269 Intervals" series, a set of daily self-portraits to chronicle the final 269 days of her father's incarceration, accompanied by snippets from their long-distance communications.

"At that point, the blog ... went from merely being a way to present work to being a vehicle to share a highly personal project in a way that others could relate to," Elkins explains.

Elkins didn't initially consider the blog part of her professional photography career -- especially considering how personal it is -- but it has led to several jobs. Despite the fact that she describes the work she posts as "sloppy and snapshotty at times," she is working on a Nikon D80 ad campaign in part because of it.

"One thing I'm constantly learning, as my career is just starting out, is that when you make personal work that is sincere, people respond to it," she explains.

William Grenier also sees his blog at as a kind of "public diary." He began posting six weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown of New Orleans as a way to vent his frustration and because he liked the ease with which a blog could integrate words and images. He's gotten lots of positive responses as well, such as from J. Paul Getty photography curator Weston Naef.

But just as photographers are embracing the common joys of the blogosphere, they are also feeling the sting of its special brand of burn. Soth, for instance, has adopted a kindly-remarks-only policy since his post criticizing photographer/sculptor Vik Muniz was picked up in a Washington Post article.

"Suddenly the audience was quite large," he says of his blog. "When the Washington Post quoted my snippy remarks, that was when I learned the blog wasn't just a little diary for me and a few friends."

So how do you bring transparency to photography without trapping yourself in a glass house? How do you strip away the pretenses without being left in your metaphorical underwear? And how does a photographer find time to fill the ever-widening beaks of both a career and a blog crying to be fed?

No one has the answers yet. But we get closer to them every time a new post goes up. For this new breed of photographers, blogs are the ideal forum for tackling these difficult questions -- despite the fact they are also the catalyst for them.

--Miki Johnson can be found musing about photography in all its forms at American Photo's own State of the Art blog, where this story was cross-posted. Feel free to leave your comments there.