If I ever felt compelled to publish a daily blog, it would likely be nothing more than endless bellyaching about whatever annoys me. The fact I constantly suffer thousands of such vexations means I’d always have a fresh and reliable well of inspiration from which to draw.
Since my current ambition (or lack thereof) results in a slovenly monthly publication schedule, I rarely resort to excessive grousing. But this month, sensing I might have exhausted my readers with a surplus of magazine related articles, I decided I could use a new topic. So I plunged my net into the well of negative inspiration to scoop out some random annoyance du jour. A single dip was all I required to extract a lumpy and pungent peeve lying heavy at the bottom of the net. I recognized it instantly as society’s current and increasingly irritating obsession with declaring someone a G.O.A.T. — Greatest Of All Time. Never mind that the very acronym annoys me, but 9 times out of 10, the so-called GOAT is either still active or recently retired — indicative that we humans believe “all time” = “the time during which we, ourselves, have lived.”
But as I bellied up to the laptop to begin airing my grievances over the current GOAT craze, I realized it was really nothing more than an extension of another, broader, more established quirk of human behaviour — the notion of favourites, and society’s belief that anyone can and should have a favourite this, that, or another thing.
The whole favourite this and favourite that concept has always had a whiff of Shrödinger’s Cat to me — probably because, much like measuring particle states in quantum physics, it’s an answer that’s applicable only to the moment at which one’s forced to declare it.
Personally, I don’t really have a favourite anything. Yet when pressed to declare one, I almost always have a ready answer. The problem is that my answer — perhaps accurate in the moment — will be entirely erroneous 10 minutes from now.
As a test, I decided to try something easy, like declaring my favourite photograph. The first image to pop into my head was a blurry, grainy 1966 photo of a stripper on stage in Shingawa-ku that appeared in Daido Moriyama’s Japan: A Photo Theatre book (offsite link). And for the next minute or so, I was quite comfortable with my choice — until my mind wandered to Shomei Tomatsu’s 1969 photo of a student protest in Shinjuku (offsite link), which never fails to capture my eye for a rather prolonged period each and every time I gaze upon it. But after thinking more about Tomatsu’s work, I shifted instead to that bizarre photo of a jet (or missile or whatever it is) emerging from a giant splotch of grain in his 1960 photo from Iwakuni (offsite link). How long I’ve wished to one day take a photo so compelling, yet so vague! That photo has been a carrot on a stick — taunting me for decades. Having concluded, through this exercise, that ambiguity must be the most compelling characteristic of my favourite photograph, I instead found myself considering Takuma Nakahira’s For a Language to Come and many of the truly inscrutable photos contained within — each of which make me feel totally inadequate behind a camera. But are any of these my favourite photo, or is it simply my favourite photo book? And is it really even my favourite photo book? Surely that would be Daido Moriyama’s Farewell Photography, except when it’s Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens or maybe Robert Frank’s The Americans, which contains the Elevator Girl shot (offsite link), which I’ve declared many times previously to be my favourite photograph — an honour I’ve also bestowed upon a couple of different Garry Winogrand snaps, plus several from Josef Koudelka. But then I remembered W. Eugene Smith’s Tomoko Uemura in her Bath (offsite link) which I’ve long considered to be the perfect photo — a seamless amalgamation of exquisite photographic technique and exploitative political activism. I’ve often stated that if I took a photo even one-tenth as good, I’d die a satisfied man. But does that make it my favourite? I’m sure I’ve claimed it as such. But I’ve also claimed the same from photos by Frantisek Drtikol, Bill Brandt, Lee Friedlander and Yutaka Takanashi. But if any of those answers are accurate, then why do I have all these Ed Van Der Elsken, Diane Arbus, Elliott Erwitt and Anders Petersen books? Trying to declare a ‘favourite photograph’ is a journey without end.
Care to know my favourite album? Be prepared for a romp through the annals of classical, jazz, rock, antiquity, pop, funk, the avant-garde, prog, noisescapes and drones. What about my favourite movie? Architect? Food?
The problem with declaring a favourite anything is that, by definition, it becomes a defining choice that excludes all others. How do you know something more preferable won’t exist tomorrow that doesn’t exist today? How do you know it doesn’t already exist, but you just haven’t experienced it yet? How do you know your own experiences and growth won’t alter your perspective? Or even just a shift in your mood?
I’d like to suggest we all start using the term ‘inclinations’ rather than ‘favourites’, but after 15 years of writing this blog, I’ve learned I have no sway whatsoever over popular culture. So I’ll continue to be annoyed when asked the “what’s your favourite” question, but will still pony up an answer because, at that precise moment, I will have a favourite. But ask me tomorrow, and I’ll surely give you an entirely different response.
Fortunately, while I’m never sure of my favourite anything, there is one thing I am sure of: the fact ULTRAsomething might very well be the G.O.A.T. of fatuous photography blogs.
©2023, grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: I’d apologize to all my younger readers for captioning a couple of photos with such ancient cultural references, but I don’t think I have any younger readers. So most of you will probably be aware of Gil Scott-Heron’s song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd’s old Conehead characters from SNL. The Revolution Will Not Be Sanitized was shot on an iPhone 12 after the mirror locked up in my Olympus OM-2n, forcing the phone into emergency service. France was shot with a Ricoh GR III.
More related to weather terminology than anachronistic pop culture is Purple AQI, which was shot with an OM Digital OM-1, fronted with an OM Digital 40-150 f/4 lens.
Spring has sprung; at least according to that antiquated notion that the equinox brings about a change in the weather. So to remind my future summer-basking self what’s right around the corner in Vancouver, I present Winter 1, which came courtesy of an Olympus Pen FT with a Zuiko 38 mm f/2.8 pancake lens, shot on Tri-X at ISO 400, and stand developed. And yes, there was originally a “Winter 2,” but I decided it was too gloomy to sit amongst the lighter photos included with this month’s essay.
To v. Fro employed an Olympus OM-2n, Zuiko 28 mm f/3.5 lens, Kentmere 400, and a nice bath of HC-110 Dilution E.
This post also contains several links to offsite photos. Since I won’t publish images for which I don’t own the copyright, I must resort to offsite links when discussing other photographers. I suspect, this being the internet, that many of these links will eventually go dead — forcing any interested readers to go searching for the books and photos discussed in the article. However, I’m confident that disinterested readers will be in the vast majority, and will thus never notice the inevitable link erosion.
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