Saturday, January 31, 2015

Adobe Labs, and our (Lean) Release of PaintCan

So Holger Winnemoeller, a scientist who (among other things) invents features and filters in Photoshop, came up with this remarkable technology that was more interactive than a filter, he worked on it on his own, invented to suit his personal passions, and created "PaintCan." My project at Adobe (among other things) is to create a pathway by which we could rapidly get experimental products directly from Adobe scientists, and into the hands of real people to learn more about them. It's always a classic "lean" trade-off--the more features you add, the longer it takes to create. The wider the release, the more users, and the more Adobe needs to be part of the process, which is antithetical to rapid iteration of an experiment.

Over the past couple days since PaintCan was made available (on iPads only, in the US only) we've been deluged with requests for access—not only on iPhone and Android, but in nations globally.

It is what we in the business casually refer to as "a good problem to have." We released a different cool app late last year, "Twixt" and voices were not raised that we needed to be international; no one sent us hate mail that we "just had to be on an Android". I'm sorta glad we didn't spend six more months of work on it. And here we are: this time with a "good problem," but that belittles the sincere pains it creates. 

Holger, and the rest of us, are excited to continue working, to get our app in everyone's hands, on every device. Market enthusiasm fuels our efforts, not a corporate agenda. But i need to be honest: none of these things will happen in the short term. Holger was able to conceive, build and release PaintCan in a few months. Our work is not only to make cool new products, but to explore the ways a large, successful company like Adobe can make new products. You'll notice we have no budget for marketing. PaintCan gets virtually no promotion, other than what Holger and I do. It's word of mouth. That's the way we wanted it. In fact, we insisted.

I'm sorry people can't use PaintCan in Toronto and the Netherlands… but we're thinking of you, and with luck, you'll have it in your hands soon enough.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Book on Group f.64!

Alinder, Mary Street (Author)
Nov 2014. 400 p. Bloomsbury, hardcover, $35. (9781620405550). 770.92.

The zealot California photographers who fought the good fight in the depths of the Great Depression, no less, to establish photography as an art form—including such masters as Ansel Adams, Imogen
Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston, cleverly called themselves Group f.64. Because f.64, an extremely small lens aperture, or f-stop, produces a “sharply focused, finely detailed” image, the group’s name boldly proclaimed their avid opposition to the then prevailing style of “pictorialism,” in which soft focus was used to imitate the allegedly finer art of painting. These brash Westerners were also challenging the reign of New Yorker Alfred Stieglitz over the nascent art of photography.Alinder pulls together a treasury of assiduously assembled facts and her own personal memories, especially of Adams, for whom she worked as chief assistant, later becoming his biographer. Alinder is particularly revelatory in her coverage of tough and wily Cunningham, the lesser-known but no less intriguing trailblazers Willard Van Dyke, Sonya Noskowiak, and Consuelo Kanaga, and the bold museum directors and collectors who supported the group. As she chronicles the photographers’ friendships, tempestuous love lives, epic parties, scrambles to survive, passionate manifestos, heated public debates, social and environmental concerns, and hard-won exhibitions, Alinder achieves an f.64 degree of crisp and commanding detail in this landmark group portrait of the visionary photographers who succeeded in “forever changing our way of seeing.”

— Donna Seaman

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Defining Modernism: Group f.64

On a pivotal evening at the 683 Brockhurst Gallery in Oakland, California, in 1932, seven West coast photographers –Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston—declared themselves Group f.64. Consciously celebrating the camera itself, these artists derived their name from the smallest aperture available on a large format camera lens. A lens setting at f.64 provided a precise image with the greatest range of sharp focus from foreground to background. Through its name and a landmark exhibition that same year, Group f.64 proclaimed the independent ambitions and aesthetics that helped define modernist photography.

Self-Portrait, Alma Lavenson, 1932
By embracing the unique properties of their medium, Group f.64 broke from the sentimental ideals and painterly techniques of the prevailing Pictorialist tradition. Instead, they advocated the potential of photography to render an objective realism that illuminated the essence of pure form. Members of Group f.64 concentrated on the ordinary object seen in extraordinary ways. They isolated objects from context and directed their attention to details and design, employing close-ups, cropping, flattening, and ambiguities of size and scale. Their work frequently embodied a passionate and spiritual search for what Edward Weston called “the life force within the form” (Rosenblum, p.36).

Group f.64 photographers—nearly one-half of whom were women—shared utopian aspirations and radical methods, but their work also encompassed contradictory incentives and conflicting goals. Largly self-taught, they produced portraits, landscapes, and nudes in geometric and organic forms. Their work was employed in art photography, news reportage, advertising, and for documentary purposes. Some defined themselves as artists; others did not. They called attention to the photographer’s subjective vision while asserting the impersonal detachment of the camera apparatus. Many were passionately committed to social reform; others saw social relevance in the aesthetic image itself. Though they insisted on “pure vision” their notion of pure photography allowed for a wide range of technical approaches, including both manipulated and non-manipulated images.

The work of Group f.64 emerged from avant-garde currents that had existed for at least two decades in the United States and longer in Europe. The modernist movement on both sides o the Atlantic drew much of its vigor from the industrial transformation of the urban environment. The machine became central to a faith in a new age where technology promised a better life for the average citizen. Its geometric forms became a favored subject of Precisionist painters and photographers alike. Industrial subjects, shapes, and surfaces are prominent in the work of Edward Weston, Edwards, Lavenson, and Noskowiak, while Adams and many of these same artists were drawn to the geometric and cubist shapes of New Mexican pueblo architecture.

Group f.64 was built upon a loose and already established association of friends that included professional, romantic and filial relationships. Several artists benefited from exhibitions at the photography gallery run by Williard Van Dyke and Mary Jeanette Edwards at 683 Brockhurst Street in Oakland. Especially important, too, was the patronage of Lloyd Rollins, director of the M. H. de Young Memorial Musueum in San Francisco, where the group’s inaugural exhibition opened on November 15, 1932. This seminal exhibition also included invited associates Preson Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, and Alma Lavenson.

--Kerry Oliver-Smith
Curator of Contemporary Art, Harn Museum of Art

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Next 20 Years

I'm a little depressed. It’s hard for me not to be emotionally swayed by two disparate visions about the future. The first describes a time in, say, 20 years, where computers have become so complex they are effectively conscious. 
The growth of tech power is logarithmic and we are profoundly under prepared for what log changes feel like. When I put on this hat I think: Schools are not preparing our kids for the future. This is a future of electric vehicles, of quantum computing, personalized medicine, surveillance and drones…
Then there is this other conversation. The dystopic one. The planet is changing quickly. Global warming. Water and food scarcity. Impending droughts. Civil breakdown. 
In the next 20 years it’s posited that civilization as we know it will collapse. Or perhaps just western civilization. (Whew.) When I put on this hat I also think: schools are not preparing our kids for the future. This is a future of survivalism and minimalism, distributed power and control, and other depressing shit.

So what is proper preparation? Do we make our kids learn to program computers and macroeconomics? or do we teach them guns, farming and how to build mechanical engines?

Are the issues of the day things like income disparity, grade school bullying, human enslavement, non-GMO organic foods? Or is it tool late to worry about such trivialities of civilization and instead we should we cash out of our 401Ks and buy gold bullion and water and underground facilities in Montana?

Twenty years isn’t very long. My kids will be pretty grown – it will be largely their problem to address, but I’ll still have my home loan to pay off and retirement to negotiate. And whatever will happen it’s going to happen during the next twenty years, not all of a sudden in 20 years. 

So here's what i've come to: the two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. The first “future” is about tools; the second “future” is about what we need to apply these tools to. People have been predicting the end of the world for quite some time. They’re usually wrong (but occasionally right). Perhaps the only really wrong attitude is one that says “it can’t happen here. It won’t happen to me. Everything is status quo.” I’ve also found that any time I stress about some future outcome, it’s usually neither as good nor as bad as I can imagine. The reality is always more in the middle.

Even though this is the most peaceful and safe time in human history, yes, things are also bad. The environment is changing quickly. And luckily technology is changing just as quickly – maybe moreso. What i want for my kids:  to have the wisdom to remain calm with an uncertain future, the nimbleness and persistence to try and fail and try again, and the creativity to think of things we cannot even imagine as they address these gargantuan global and societal issues. The tech will be there to support them.

Kids: go do your homework.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Photographs Available:

Monterey, 2009
I’ve been continuously shooting photographs since the late 1970s, and if you know me, you’re likely in my photographs. For the holidays this year I’ve decided to try something, not quite a business; I think of it as a service.

SF, 2013
I’m around images all the time, and I talk about photography and its future as part of my job. And I’ve recently become aware of something that maybe everyone knows, but I didn’t: there’s a substantive difference between a photographic image, and a photograph. The image, owned by the artist, is the lingua franca of the web. As artists and business struggle to maintain ownership and control of an image and how it is used and where it is seen… it was easy for me to forget about photographs. The holdable, touchable, physical object. To see it set apart, to allow it to age—either slowly or quickly—but that it’s somewhat alive. Each physical print has a history. Each is imbued with meaning outside the iconic image it displays. It has scale in a way the digital representation does not. It has scarcity. It is special. I like images, but I love photographs.

Skywalker Ranch, 1987
So I decided to print a few of my images and make them available to people who might want them. It may be you in the photo. It may be a place you’ve been or time we shared, or it might just be something beautiful. For whatever reason, for a very short time, I’m going to make any of these images available to purchase.

I’m going to make three and exactly three prints of anything I print, and I will never print any more. I think of them this way: one for you, one for me, and one more, just in case. The size will be determined by the photo itself. Some will be small—around 5x7, others will be around 8x10. The image determines this. All are mounted identically to 16x20. Regardless of size, the pricing is as follows:
>The first print, the one for you, is $100. I want it to be affordable and accessible. That’s about my cost to get it printed archivally, on cool paper, and get it mounted simply but professionally. It would be suitable for framing, or just a nice way to have it around. It’s signed and personal. Happy holidays! 
> The second print, the extra one, is $1,000. 
>The third print, my print, really isn’t for sale. I love having them printed and if you like it enough to buy it, then I want it up as well.
And that’s it. There are only three. Once these are gone, you're out of luck. If you want one badly enough, i can introduce you to the owners of the prints. Personally, to get mine, it's gonna be expensive. So don’t let it come to that. Get the first one. I won’t print any more. I take this seriously.

So browse through my portfolios, and contact me privately if you’ve seen something you’d like or if you have any questions.

A current-ish portfolio site:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Hero’s Journey & Product Development

I just read this discussion of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey--and it led me to the following hypothesis:

The difference between products created at big companies and startups is in the soul of the product itself – that there is a marked difference between a product that has come to life from a person with a job to create a product, with a goal to have something by next September, invented to fulfill a need that has been carefully researched– and a product invented through the often irrational passion and reckless abandon of an individual who must make this thing because it demands to be invented. Rilke described writing poetry as something that was done because it couldn’t not be done – to create from within, from internal grumblings, late nights staring into the dark, irrational desires and glimpses of things not there; if not irrespective of external forces at least not driven by them. If we want to create great things we need to recognize the disadvantage we begin with when the products come from too much rationality, too much “job” and not enough “dream.”

Making a product is a hero’s journey, of following a calling, of not being ready, of confronting obstacles and demons to accomplish a goal. The more it is a daily routine, a scheduled evolution, an obligation to complete, the more difficult it will be to succeed. And if the product development is anything LESS than a hero’s journey, I suggest it is unlikely to succeed.


Monday, August 05, 2013

Disruptions and "Confirmation Bias"

by Heath Hinegardner
Confirmation bias is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs.  Organizations display this bias when they gather information selectively or when they interpret it in a biased way.

When large industry leaders explore new product development and assess their capacity to be disrupted by smaller companies, they will tend to find evidence that supports their sense that they are inviolate leaders largely unaffected by the pesky behaviors of start-ups. Conversely, startups have an equal and opposite bias – irrationally suggesting they have an opportunity to disrupt an industry leader, that the leader is “on its way down” and supporting ongoing investment in their effort.

When businesses are disrupted, it is often cited that they missed the writing on the wall because they were getting data from their existing customer base. I’m suggesting that even if the right audience was sampled, the problem is exacerbated by confirmation bias.

Both the disruptor and the disrupted suffer from the same sort of bias, but with different results. For the startup, the bias drives their hopeful innovation and fund raising efforts. It propels their momentum and, I suggest, it improves the chances for success. For the industry leader, on the other hand, it leads to complacency for acting defensively; it supports the status quo in terms of product development, innovation, and viability of established processes and benchmarks.

Every time I hear of an industry leader point to data that supports their belief that their users love them, that down turns or flattening of some trends are okay, or that competitors are woefully inconsequential, a little voice tells me to be cautious, or better--contrarian. I think that market leaders should instead expect to be disrupted and look for any signs, however early, that the game is afoot. Those who have drunk (and perhaps mixed up) the Kool-Aid might hypothesize the end is closer than it might actually be, simply to be appropriately wary and a little more defensive. I think it was Andy Grove who once famously quipped “only the paranoid survive."

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Pushing through the Obvious

When I take a photograph or have an idea... it generally starts rather cliched. It's a little obvious. My first photos of Paris or Mt. Rushmore or North Beach are practically postcards. Pretty. Pretty unimaginative. Seems true with other things -- product ideas, music. And not just things i create, but things i am attracted to and enjoy.

(Andre Kertsz, 1929)
But where it gets good is when i tire of the obvious. How many photos of Coit Tower can you have? Is it possible to capture something about Mt. Rushmore that isn't THE CLASSIC image of that thing? I think that one key element of creativity is getting that cliche-phase out of your system. You have to get bored with where you began, where everyone begins, and move past, After weeks or I suppose years, the products created are nuanced and rich. The work is to get to that place relatively quickly. Some people can reject the obvious with no effort. But in many cases it's more like getting it out of your system. And not resting, not being "done" when that first image or idea rolls out. In every case, the discipline i feel is about allowing myself (or forcing myself) to exhaust all the cliches, laboriously... until i simply cannot stomach another one. Out of that boredom and frustration the first really good products emerge. I love it when that happens.