Goodbye Disphotic

SMS Bayern sinking after being scuttled by her crew
Scapa Flow, 21 June 1919

The time has come for me to order full stop to Disphotic’s engines and leave it to drift down into the internet’s abyssal depths, to rest with the countless other abandoned hulks. In plainer speak, I’m giving up regularly writing this blog, and there are three main reasons why.

Disphotic called for a very particular type of writing, a sort of didactic, short form which isn’t the only type of I prose want to explore and experiment with, and writing has always for me been something of an experiment, however evidenced that might be in the rather stymied final form of what was published here. Writing was once far more of a balancing act for me, a perilous tightrope walk along a line of thinking or argument. As this analogy implies it was something of a game, and having set the rules and now got rather too used to them I now find myself wanting other scenarios and the challenges they might bring. Increasingly when I sit down to write I find my thoughts meandering over more and more pages and subjects, regularly breaking the once inviolable word length barriers and topic areas I had set for myself when writing for Disphotic. Put simply I feel dissatisfied and constrained with this blog and I want to do other things. I can only hope that this dissatisfaction perhaps reflects a maturation and a growing interest in ideas that cannot be easily expressed in one thousand words or less, not simply self-indulgence and engorgement on my part (in case you plan to answer that, no need). I will continue to write in other forms and places in the future, as well as working on a proposal for doctoral study. Disphotic’s index will also continue to be updated with new pieces of writing as they appear elsewhere, and I will also be sporadically blogging on educational matters here. So, the end of Disphotic is not the end of my writing, rather the start of a different direction for it.

The decision to stop writing this blog however is also about much more than style. This site has taken an enormous amount of time and energy to produce, not only to write the posts and maintain the blog, but also to formulate the ideas, to read and look, and follow intellectual rabbit holes downwards through sometimes labyrinthine routes to their termination (more often than not at dead ends). To say that Disphotic required a great deal of energy is not at all to say that I lay any great claim to the originality or insight of what I have posted here, just that what it demanded of me were resources I can increasingly see being better put to use elsewhere. I want to focus more of my energies on my own practice for example, which after all was the very reason I started to write Disphotic, as a way to tease out questions and illuminate dark spots in my own work. As my projects become bigger and more complex, particularly in terms of the research that underlies them, I feel I need more and more of my resources reserved for these. Equally teaching is an ever-bigger part of my life, and in contrast to writing here I enjoy the fact those conversations are not so one directional and didactic, and that the results of them are much quicker and clearer to see.

This leads on to the third reason and the most significant, that my quitting Disphotic is also the result of a mounting frustration with the photography world which this blog grew to become an engagement with. That frustration takes many forms. For one I am frustrated by the narrow, inward looking horizons of our field. Photography has its limits as a medium, technically and intellectually, but even those meagre boundaries rarely seem to be pushed very hard against by those within it (more often indeed the challengers seem to come from without). I have, through this blog, come to know a great many writers, photographers, and curators who are not so complacent, who feel for and test these edges, but they are still too few, and the field as a whole remains tediously self-satisfied and provincial. To some extent this is reflected in another frustration of mine. While being utterly areligious I’ve always tried with this blog to live up to the Quaker credo of speaking truth to power, by highlighting whenever I can what I see as the problems and inadequacies with our field, and those who benefit from them. There are a great many things which obstruct photography’s ability to live up to the tenets that are often parroted by those within it. For all the grand talk of photography’s democracy, equality and possibility, our field is one which in reality is conditioned by systemic inequality, nepotism, corporate influence, prejudice, opportunism, protectionism, codes of silence, dirty money, and sometimes outright exploitation.

Trying to draw attention to some of these things over the years has had some detectable professional implications for me as a photographer (a price I pay without much regret) but it has met with little tangible response in return. Again through my writing I have come to know others who, having learnt the inner rules of our profession, refuse to play the games that are expected of them. Sadly they are few. I have often wondered that this inability to galvanise some change reflects a failure of my own writing, it’s inability to invoke the sort of action I had hoped to see in response to these things. Perhaps though I just have allowed myself to do what I have so often been critical of photographers for doing; that is grossly over-estimating the power of pictures, or words, to motivate change. Perhaps I need to continue to grapple with these problems but find wholly different ways of doing it. Responsibility must also lie ultimately however with the photography community at large. The French diplomat Joseph de Maistre, in most respects an eminently dislikeable figure, was possibly on to something when he observed that people get the government they deserve. Perhaps that observation goes for professionals also. While they might condemn some of these things in private most photography professionals it seems are quite happy to remain silent in public, to ignore what they know is wrong presumably in the hope that if they keep quiet some small crumbs scattered from these wrongdoings will eventually trickle down to benefit them.

Ours is a stressful, difficult profession to get along in and I understand the reasons that many are unwilling to speak out. But I am also tired of being, along with a relatively small group of others, a self-appointed lightning rod. It has been an interesting journey developing my thoughts on photography and many other things besides in an increasingly public forum, and it has been amazing thing to see the audience for a blog which was always intended to be very personal grow several thousand regular readers. I need to draw an end to this now before the sense of having had too much of a good thing becomes too strong and I come to resent and regret something which up until now fills me mostly with positive feelings. For conversations, commissions, commiserations, etc I can as ever be contacted here and new projects will be announced here. But without further ado, let us set the charges, man the lifeboats, and abandon ship.

10 thoughts on “Goodbye Disphotic

  1. Lewis, I’ve enjoyed reading Disphotic so I’m sorry to hear you are stopping. I understand your reasons though, and wish you well for the future. The academic treadmill can suck you in just as much as the need to make a living as a photographer: it’s all about which compromises you can live with.

  2. I will miss this blog that I have read infrequently but always with interest as you have touched on subjects that I have been looking at for some time. Good luck with the future. Onwards and upwards to a bright future is my motto, just don’t let the teaching suck you dry. Keep the creative spark that is what makes us human.

  3. Sad to see this end, Lewis. It’s been must reading for me, and even if I wasn’t ever engaging directly with your thoughtful pieces via comments, I was certainly reading, digesting, and considering them.

    Thanks for all the considerable hard work that must have gone into this!

    Best,

    Tom

  4. Thank you Lewis. I always looked forward to the perspective you offered on the blog, and will continue to follow your work in new iterations. Onward!

  5. Hello Lewis,

    Thank you for your efforts with the site. I’ve enjoyed the essays, and the ideas they provoked, promoted, and discarded.

    There are times when I feel that critical commentary on photography is like a non-profit based on volunteer help. The one thing those organizations have in common is that they are like roller coasters, with lots of energy, achieving peaks of the mission, then as volunteers burn out the cars big the drops, rebuild and hopefully rebound to the next peak.

    Photography is like that to me. It’s a field that doesn’t treat its own very well, and the history of the medium is one of boom and bust, and so efforts like yours represent to me the peaks, and I hate to see you go. I’ve no doubt that wherever you place your efforts, it will be rewarded.

    Thanks!

  6. Good luck in all you do. I’ve had the fortune to read your entries from the beginning and watch your voice grow. It will be missed.

    I don’t know that any of the issues you speak of when voicing your displeasure with the “industry” were not always there, but the difficulties of building a sustainable and vibrant place for thoughtful inquiry on issues facing our field have never been easy and are now only that much more perniciously difficult.

    We all work in darkness. A few make sparks along the way. Sometimes small fires erupt. Others may see that glow. It helps us know where we are, where we’ve been and what others are doing. It helps us in our own journeys.

    Thanks for your illuminating work.

  7. Dear Lewis,
    Disphotic is an enormous achievement, a labour of love as anyone who writes a blog is aware. We are lucky to be left with the index to the many thousands of thought-provoking words you have written…it means we can swim down to the wreck every now and then to turn over a few shells amongst which we will find a number of gold bars, and electric eels and groupers, that you have left us.
    A huge thank you!
    Looking forward to the fruits of your time spent on your equally provocative photography!

  8. Lewis: wishing you the best as you hit reset. Congratulations on what you’ve accomplished, And when it comes to the “photography world,” remember that there are many of them. Wishing you the best as you clear your own path through them.

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