January 19, 2008

State Of The BAG

Because it’s been four years since this site trained its focus to analyze political imagery (during the ’04 presidential election) and also because I’ve been doing an awful lot of experimenting over the past month or two in both approach and format, it seemed like a good time to check in, especially to clarify the picture for those of you who have been into (and maybe wondering about) The BAG.

Essentially, there are three points to make about where the site is now.

First, you will probably notice that The BAG has been far less consistent lately in deconstructing pictures than it has been in commenting about their circumstances.  Without belaboring the reasons, I felt that I needed to explore other ways to approach visual politics beyond the “traditional” approach of drawing out their details.  At this point, however, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that BNN’s traditional brand of deconstruction is what makes the site unique, makes most of you want to be here, and what offers the most worthwhile contribution to the political narrative.  So that — going forward (or, going backwards, perhaps) — is how it is going to be.

Second, I realize that some people have questions about The BAG’s dual mission — involving the analysis of news imagery as well as the showcasing of original photojournalism.  In this “experimentation period,” I’ve also been playing around quite a bit with that mix.  If anything, in fact, I’ve stepped up the amount or original content, as you saw, for example, with the Alan Chin series from New Hampshire.

What I’m quite clear about is that I’m dedicated to both.  I remain committed to publishing social and political imagery, raising the funds to maintain a group of highly respected contributers, finding a way to grow those relationships, and chipping away at the media filter in order to help bring social and political imagery (and the creators of that imagery) into the ‘sphere, and into direct contact with a concerned audience.

Strategically though, my conclusion — and something else I’ve learned out of this stretch of experimentation –  is that The BAG is not, and should not be simply a photo gallery.  Instead, consistent with the site’s methodology, original content should be as much as a source for excavation and interpretation as the other images we look at.

Third, I have been experimenting with, and thinking very hard about “the pacing” of the content.  Since early on, there has been a strong school of thought that The BAG should only offer one post (or, more specifically, one image) per day.  The concept behind this idea was that The BAG, above all else, should function as a seminar or discussion forum, and that any more material inhibited the ability to really look, really think, and really discuss.

Given my “up tempo” metabolism, however, as well as some other considerations, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I’m much more comfortable posting more than less.  That said, I remain deeply invested in The BAG as a home not just for comment, but for discussion.  So here’s my plan:  I have increased the number of posts on the home page so that any given post will be readily accessible for at least 5 to 7 days.  Also, for any day in which I post up to three times, there will be other days that week in which I post twice or once.  And within that mix, I will continue to seek out images that lend themselves especially to discussion.  I will continue to ask questions that I don’t try and answer myself.  And, I will keep up a regular number of “Your Turns.”

I’d like to mention something else.  I’ve been keenly aware, over the last month or so, how much my deviating from the traditional approach and format has not only inhibited discussion, but probably also caused a few loyal readers to move on.  For that, I sincerely apologize.  As I touched on above, however, a project like this cannot grow and deepen — especially one with as evolving a form and method — without really pushing and playing with it.

What I can say, however, is that from this point out — beyond the uptick in pace, and with more of a mixture of longer and shorter takes — you should find The BAG as consistent in its approach and as receptive to conversation as it always was.

And, just to mention one thing in development….  The BAG has been working on a concept to offer real-time discussions by way of blog-friendly chat software.  The idea is to offer a “salon,” looking at posted pictures along with invited guests — including experts in visual culture, as well as accomplished photojournalists — perhaps every second or third weekend for 90 minutes or so.  At this point, there are still some technical issue to work out, but I hope to have more to tell you soon.

So, that’s the report.  Again, if it seems like The BAG has been all over the map, that’s true.  At this point, however, it’s time to set it back down again, firmer and sturdier, with a clearer sense of what worked all along.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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