Interview with Bryan Formhals

An interview with Bryan Formhals, photographer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. He administrates and/or is involved in various Flickr! groups such as HCSPPhotographsOnTheBrain,  he is also co-founder and editor of on-line  magazines/galleries LaPuraVida and Street Reverb.

All photographs by Bryan Formhals

– How would you define yourself ? a curator ? an editor ? a publisher ? an ecosystem animator ? an incubator ?

I’m a photographer and editor.  Although ecosystem animator has a nice ring to it.

– What is your typical routine when you search the web ? What triggers your curiosity to dig into someone else work and website ?

I don’t really search the web.  Information comes to me through my RSS feeds, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.  All of which I check multiple times a day. I don’t think that’s really necessary to stay in the loop though. I just happen to have a bit of an addiction to information.

What triggers my curiosity is in general one or two photos, or a recommendation from someone I respect.  When I’m looking at the work I tend to look for consistency. There are lots of photographers that might have a few nice photographs but not many can consistently make strong work, or put together strong projects.

– How is La Pura Vida working on a regular basis ? How many people are behind LPV and how do you split the tasks ? Do you get many submissions ?

I do most of the day to day stuff with LPV, like running the Twitter/FB/Tumblr accounts. The features on the blog are generally produced by me as well. James Turnley is also an editor and he’s put together some rather interesting features.

When we did the monthly shows, there would be a guest editor, but we stopped with that format in the fall.

I also reach out to people who run interesting Flickr groups, like Simon Kossoff for example. My goal is to continue to make it more of a collaborative platform but that’s challenging because people are really busy and I tend to be a bit of a control freak at times.

We do get a few email submissions but probably not as many as people might think. When we run a show we’ll get lots of them in the Flickr pool. We’ll probably be experimenting with using that to take submissions for shorter features developed around specific topics or ideas.  I’m generally impressed with the quality of the submissions.

– Do you have in mind some (non-already existing) innovative model of curating or publishing that the future web could provide ? And if so what could you see as potential limitations (either technical, financial  or others) ?

I don’t have an innovative model in mind. I tend to be pretty open about my ideas and think that the proof is really in what you do. Executing is incredibly challenging.

Right now there’s lots of new ideas developing around crowdfunding with platforms like Kickstarter and I’m not sure that will be the solution for everyone.

There are also a few online magazines that are turning the corner and might provide a model, such as Fraction Magazine and 1000 Words. It’ll depend on developing a large enough audience to be attractive to sponsors. It’ll also require partnerships and collaborations with other organizations as well.

I don’t think a purely fine art of documentary online magazine will ever be anything other than a constant struggle to remain sustainable but who knows.

There are lots of sites now selling fine art prints and such as well but I’m skeptical that this is sustainable solution for most magazines/sites.

The limitations from a technical perspective right now is presentation. Nobody will declare the web as the optimal platform for viewing photography. The formats people use for presenting work tend to be rather uniform, and I doubt most anyone will say that there’s really an equal comparison to seeing photographs on the web as opposed to on paper.

However, that will likely change as screen technology improves. I think it’s rather foolish to think that technology won’t continue to evolve and improve.

– You seem to be interested in Street Photography first and foremost. Is it correct ? and if so why ?

I’m often associated with SP because of HCSP and such but in general my interests are more eclectic.  I’m a big supporter of street photography and straight photography but in terms of what I look at regularly, it’s probably not as prevalent as people might think.

That said, I do think it’s interesting from a philosophical approach, and think there’s some really strong work being produced right now.

– Still on SP I’ve read a couple of times that you are concerned about street-photographers lacking some sort of “articulation” in their work – which I find interesting and I understand it as “purposeless”. On the other end of the spectrum though there have been attempts of more thoughtful “street photography” which are highly conceptual (such as Lorca-DiCorcia “Heads” series) and are often dismissed by the aficionados. Could you elaborate on that “articulation” idea with regards to SP ?

In general, I don’t think many street photographers articulate their philosophy very well, at least not in writing. There’s a tendency to romanticize the spontaneous nature of just going out into the street and not knowing what will happen or what you’ll see.

You’ll see the same old references to observing how we live in public and those sorts of things. That’s all great, and I’m glad people are out doing it. Having a historical record is interesting but from an artistic perspective I’m interested in a photographer’s internal motivations as well.

I think most street photographers who have been doing it for years have ended up creating a personal philosophy that goes beyond photography. It’s embedded into their day to day life, and the way they view the world.

I’d like to see more of that articulated by street photographers.

The conceptional end of the spectrum doesn’t really interest me all that much (I do like Lorca-DiCorcia), but then again, as one of my friends likes to say, it’s all conceptional, and I kind of agree with that.

– The story about Vivian Maier has some interesting facets, one being that it owes a lot to the internet, especially for the initial kick-off (the initial HCSP post from Maloof). But at the same time one can feel that there is a limitation to what the internet could do further, that the traditional media finally take the lead and that on the end of the day the success (or not) of the endeavor relies mostly on a single man’s acts. What does this story inspire you, specifically with regards to the role of internet ? Isn’t there something frustrating ?

The story shows that you can quickly assemble an audience for a body of work through the internet. The Maier situation is unique because it taps into the romanticism of finding an unknown genius.  That doesn’t really happen that often so when it does there’s a good chance it’ll reach a mass audience.

I tend to think we would have all heard of about Vivian Maier with or without the internet. I think it’s interesting that Maloof essentially turned to the crowd for help though, and specifically Flickr.  That allowed him to move quickly with what he was doing and find the appropriate help.

I don’t think there’s really anything frustrating about the story. Anytime something like this reaches a critical mass it’s going to attract a certain amount of negativity and controversy. Some of that maybe valid, but for the most part you end up with self-absorbed people trying to somehow personally benefit from the story.  You see this played out every single day on the internet.

– There are loads of photo communities on the internet, but on the other side I feel there is relatively few collaborative work (I mean collaborative work fueled by internet means) whereas the possibilities seem big. As a simple example there is no book (as far as I know) made out of the HCSP collection… Any thoughts ?

I think there’s lots of collaborations going through the internet, collectives, group blogs, group shows, etc.

There certainly could be more but creative collaborations are challenging, especially if money becomes involved.

In terms of an HCSP book, that’s just a logistical nightmare that nobody really wants to tackle primarily because they’re too busy with other projects.

I guess it tends to come down to people’s objectives. I think most just want to share and look at photographs, and have no ambitions beyond that.

I do think the most interesting photo communities that evolve in the next couple of years will figure out interesting ways to collaborate both on and offline.

– Are all your effort of curating directed towards the internet, or do you (or would you like to) set up “tangible” shows ?

I’m not really interested in doing tangible shows. I’ve done a couple very small ones already but I’m much more interested in the web, as well as print magazines and books.

The art game rat race just doesn’t interest me all that much.  I’m more of a media and web junkie and really want to see what can be done online, and with print in the future.

We’re doing a bit of re-branding with LPV which will hopefully solidify us as a magazine and not a gallery or what have you.

– Do you shoot often ? What do you like to shoot ?

I don’t shoot often in the winter, but when it’s warm out I go out a few times a week, and tend to just roam around certain neighborhoods.  I very much embrace Eggleston’s democratic approach, but tend to shoot a mixture of urban landscapes and candid street work.

I can’t say that I’m overly ambitious with my own photography but of all the photography related stuff that I do, roaming around with a camera with no destination is my favorite activity by far.

Now, if I could just be more articulate about my approach and inner motivations…..