Hit Albums/Hit Singles
The other evening, Paula mentioned that she’d read about how iTunes and similar music download services selling individual tracks were pushing the world of popular music away from the ‘album model’, where the recording artist puts together a cohesive set of songs intended to be listened to as a whole, rather than just a collection of individual tracks.
It reminded me of my thinking while I was working to assemble my SoFoBoMo book, and thinking hard about the differences in process between making individual photographs, and the process of assembling a larger cohesive body of photographs.
One of the differences, I think, is the possible depth and discernment. To borrow a concept from the world of statistics, it’s all about signal and noise level. That is, if we’re limited to a small number of samples, the signal is sometimes buried in noise and can’t be picked out. But as we increase the number of measurements/samples/photographs, the statistics start to work in our favor. Effectively, the multiple samples allow us to average out the noise, and we end up with even fairly small signals standing out.
In thinking about it I’m concluding that I’m increasingly interested in those signals which tend to get buried in noise – the ones we need to work a bit to pick out from the din. The fact that a signal is smaller in magnitude than our measurement noise doesn’t make the signal insignificant. It just makes it hard to discern, and as a result it’s unlikely to be something that is understood in a commonplace way.
So I’m looking at what things make it easier for me to pick up on those faint signals. Making lots of photographs and looking at them closely, working them into prints and collating the prints into larger portfolios or books – that’s one way for me to pick up on those faint signals.
Of course, the audience for such work might be limited to just me. As a society, we seem to be moving away from having the attention span needed to appreciate the work (and here I don’t mean appreciate in the sense that someone thinks it’s good, but more in the sense that someone else will have the patience to follow along and view the entire thing with enough attention to let the signal emerge from the noise for them as it did for me).
All this makes me wonder how many photo books I’ve looked at and dismissed as boring, when if I’d taken the time to sit down with the book and really attend, I might have seen the signal emerge from the noise floor. I’m betting it’s quite a few.
That’s not a particularly comforting thought. It would seem that such work is probably largely for the benefit of the artist, and if someone else ‘gets’ it, that’s an unexpected event.