P1xels

The global salon for iphonic art and iphone photography.

Curation

It’s a great day that starts with a Hipstamatic shot of a gum-wrapper tree. I wish I could find the Hipstamatic shot of a pot of boiling water I received around the same time.

P1xels is the only curated iphonic art site on the web. In the very early days of the site, I probably published three-quarters of the images that came in. Today, the number is probably around one-quarter of the submissions. I can’t offer a reason for why that is so. At least a reason that would make sense to both you and me.

From the beginning, I have believed that we are working in a new medium and to gain entry into the art world, we must produce work of a caliber that will stand by timeless and classic works of today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

That means hard work and, here at P1xels, the pain of rejection. That means creating work that will stand up to say, Andy Warhol or Matisse or, if you consider yourself a “mobile photographer,” Cindy Sherman or Henri Cartier-Bresson or Alfred Stieglitz. My son runs a hip-hop label and tells his artists, “You are competing with Jay-Z, not the rapper down the street.” This applies to iphonic art as well.

People sometimes write to me to inquire if the PixelEx App is working properly: they have sent in a number of pictures and none have been published. I must write back and explain that P1xels is a highly curated site and that I am passing on their work. Believe me, I always hope there is at least one passable picture in a batch from a newcomer to the site. Some people take exception to this and never submit another picture, content to collect flattering comments on Flicker, Facebook, or other sites. Others push forward, developing their skills and their vision and their craft and begin producing work of P1xels caliber.

Neil Diamond used to write a song every day and then walk around the Brill Building in New York City trying to sell it to a publisher. He struck out over and over and over, all the while learning his craft. He did not give up. He mastered his craft and eventually sold a song and then became … Neil Diamond.

Curation is a very subjective process and I am not perfect. I have learned a great deal since the launch of the site, one very important thing being that, if I am curating from a place of scarcity or fear, I invariably begin posting pictures that should not be posted. (As I edit this page on August 9, 2012, it occurs to me that I have not had to “curate from scarcity” in a very long time!).

Another thing I notice is the frequency with which people post images. No one, and I mean no one, can create a great picture every day. I’ve seen many try, including myself, and what happens, invariably, is that all the work begins to suffer. I first noticed this happening two years ago. When someone starts sending in a picture or two or three every day, I start tuning that artist out: I have never seen someone be able to sustain an output of excellence working at that rate. It’s like David Bowie’s albums “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down,” in the late 80′s … it’s still David Bowie, but they are pathetic when compared to “Hunky Dory.”

As Ansel Adams once remarked: “If you get twelve great pictures a year, that’s a good crop.”

So P1xels isn’t for everyone, obviously.

I have never regretted not publishing a picture: I take no pleasure in not publishing a picture, although I have been accused of that; I have many a time regretted publishing a picture when five minutes or five hours later I realize it was a mistake. But un-publishing a picture is always fraught with negativity and hurt feelings, so a mistakenly published image must remain in the timeline.

I liken the flow of incoming images to a stream, sometimes whitewater rapids. Every day the flow is different. I have seen mornings where not one picture was publishable, and, one time, anyway, that fifteen straight pictures were amazing. I remember that morning as clearly as I remember losing my virginity (before most you were born).

The artists on P1xels not only set the bar, which I merely uphold, but continually raise the bar, as well. What would have been exciting six months ago, might seem rather bland now – this usually has to do with the apping. A great picture, apped appropriately—either a little or a lot, it doesn’t matter—does not age. Usually it’s the not so great pictures apped very well that begin to show their age, or just don’t seem so exciting six months later. You know, like the gated reverb sound on drums that you hear on every song in the eighties.

A true artist matches the apping to the image. In this case, I think one of the Dali filters would have worked better. So this picture was rejected. Sometimes bad taste is just not enough to make the cut at P1xels. And sometimes it is.

I have written extensively about the kinds of things I do not like: heavy or wide frames, people shot from behind, shadow-shots, most Hipstamatic shots, mirrored shots, oh the list goes on … and exceptions to every so-called rule, of course.

Of late I have been tightening the curation on P1xels once again. We are entering a new era in the movement.

Hipstamatic re-apped perfectly: the soulful combination of image and appropriate apping by Reservoir Sally and Hud Boondock. This is art.

I did try an experiment with guest curators for specific categories last year. It didn’t work. Some artists stopped submitting work after some of their pieces were rejected by volunteer curators they did not “respect.” Even though the experiment was a failure, I know one thing for certain: my volunteer curators found out that curation is mostly a thankless and difficult job, if done in the proper spirit, which is artistic and aesthetic principles over personalities. They took their jobs very seriously, I can attest to that, and I thought they all did a great job, despite what anybody else thought.

With the next version of the site, artists will have much more control over their images, and the ability to create galleries of their own work and others, along with other features. The front end of the site will always be curated, of course.

This is what sets P1xels apart.

I welcome feedback, as always. I want to thank everybody for your willingness to help out with suggestions and comments. It is truly appreciated.

17 Comments

  1. Hey, Knox, I just re-read your curation comments. I want to say that I do appreciate the scrutiny that you apply to selection. Often, I look closely at a pic that was rejected and see lessons in that… I begin to see WHY it was rejected. I also greatly appreciate the constructive criticism I’ve received from you. You’ve helped me elevate my game.

    And to your note about curation being a difficult and often thankless job… I recently judged my first annual photo competition for a local camera club in Indiana. I assessed over 600 images in a variety of categories — it took nearly 9 hours! The first rounds were less challenging. It was relatively easy to see what wasn’t going to work right from the beginning. But, as the numbers of images dwindled, and the “rejects” were weeded out, the real work began. My God, it was one of the most painful AND rewarding experiences of my life as a photographer. I learned so much from the experience, not the least of which is a greater appreciation for the curators and judges that attend to all the galleries and competitions. My hat’s off to you for the work you do! –Rad

  2. I loved reading this article Knox and indeed your job is thankless in many ways, but you are wonderful at. I have a lot of respect for you and your vision and always get excited when my work is published. I never take it as rejection when a piece is not, I know I have to work harder or take a different approach. As mainly a self portrait artist I tend to experiment with many different styles and know not everybody will feel what I was trying to convey through that particular image.

    Again thank you for all the hard work you put into building this site and this community. I’m proud and honored to be a part of it and greatly appreciate your continued work in helping the iPhonic Art Movement grow in a positive direction!

    Best,
    Lanie

  3. Hi Knox,
    I remember when I first started with iphoneography, it was at the launch of the Hipstamatic app and my new iphone! It got me all excited – I was snapping with that and only that as I saw a fast way to achieve on my iphone what I love to produce with my Holga camera! The obsession into instant versions of my Holga captures!
    Then I learned about your amazing initiatives and you told me that you didn’t like Hipstamatic! :)

    I want to thank you Knox, because that comment pushed me to push myself. I remember your words almost every time I start to look at something through the eyes of the iphone. I hear your words in my head and it continues to push me to think differently, to experiment more, to blur the lines between photography and art.
    I had never looked at it so much like that but you had the foresight!

    As you say, this world is thank-less most of the time, but we do it because we love it, not for notoriety, that is the cherry on top but we have that big bowl of ice cream that we indulge ourselves in every time we capture.

    When we do get the cherry on top, like with your curating skills and foresight, it really is just that: a big thank you for our efforts :)

    So thank you for all of yours, unending as they are, I am honoured to be part of the Pixels community, past exhibition and hopefully more to come!
    All the best,
    Gabrielle

  4. Thank you Knox for sharing in this article. One of the best sites I have seen for iphonegraphers. This can be a very ‘thankless’ job so THANK YOU for all the work you are doing for the site and I am glad to be a part of the Pixels community!

  5. Hi Knox,
    for me is an honor to have some of my pictures curated and posted (an more if they are selected as the pic of the day). When I started sending them I though that my work was great and guess what It wasn’t at all, until my first photo was posted, then I realize that I have to work harder every day, every picture, every detail to make them better and better.. yup it’s fun to share iphonenography in many websites, and be the “popular one” with a lot of “likes”… but to be selected in a curated website like yours it’s a different thing, a different feeling,..

    I always wanted to know what goes through the mind of a curator, and as you said is not an easy job. like for me will be difficult to select which one is better than the other, what makes it better that the other, and I believe is not something about taste.

    Thanks for the great work you are doing, making enthusiastic iphonegraphers like me to be part of a great community, to guide me in a way and lead the Iphonic Art movement.

    thanks a lot!

    • Aldo – thanks for the nice note. It has been a pleasure to watch you grow and evolve as an artist. I didn’t really discuss the curation process because it is so intangible. I can tell you that there are a number of things that are automatic mark-downs for a picture, as well as automatic game-ejection – I’ve written extensively about them elsewhere on the site.

      What makes a picture good or great is almost a purely visceral reaction. Image, apping, tone, composition, texture, color all combining in some magical, alchemical way. The hard part comes when I have to write about a piece for either the daily pic or the second look feature and attempt to explain why it hits me the way it does. That’s the intellectual part and I feel I don’t really have the vocabulary to discuss art well.

      I am not exaggerating at all when I say you artists set the bar and I merely uphold it. I’m just crazy and stubborn enough to do it in this community of ours that is so new and rapidly developing. I am certain that, in time, some other well-curated sites will emerge.

  6. Knox, I think you run a great site here. I agree with Cindy’s comments. I’ve submitted work here that hasn’t been posted and I just figure the image didn’t speak to the curator or met the caliber the site is looking for. If I submit a piece and it doesn’t get posted, it just make me want to work harder to be more creative in my ideas and processing techniques to create images that interest and/or move people. The images here are so strong and amazing. It’s always an honor to have work published here.

  7. I just had My first solo Photo exhibit and I handed out copies of my photos on your site and the comments you have left under them. I even framed several of them and hung them. You were a huge part of my first solo show. I only wish you were there.

    Thank you so much

    Paul Toussaint

  8. WOW,, I just read the comment under my photo “Rose”. I am blown away! You have no idea how excited and good that makes me feel. I think that is about THE best thing I have ever read during my 25+ years of doing photography

    A huge thank you,
    best,
    Paul

  9. I always love these “behind the scenes” or “inside the mind of Knox Bronson” pieces. Among other things, the curation here is what makes P1xels unique. By reserving publication to the best of the best, this site has become the gold standard of iphoneography. Thanks to you, Knox, and to all the other curators who volunteer your precious time and energy to make this a wonderful community and one that I am happy and grateful to be a part of! If there is anything I can do, please ask. I work for myself and my boss is a pushover:)

  10. I’m very pleased to see the inclusion of Jazz Owls in this piece. The collaborations of Hud and Sally are legendary, their fans are legion, their work and endless stream of inspiration. Thank you for once again sharing the remarkable swingin’ joy that is Jazz Owls.

    • Indeed. Hud and Sally are the J.D. Salinger and Greta Garbo of the iphoneographic world, the Lennon-McCartney of the global underground vortex that is iphoneography.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to let us in on a small part of “the world of Knox”. It is very refreshing that you are so willing to keep the lines of communication open as you are.

    I like the (limited) use of examples in the article. Reminds me a bit a a book published way back in the earlier days of the internet called: Websites That Suck….

  12. Excellent, informative article, Knox. Well done – and thank you! E

  13. I don’t know if it’s possible Knox but it might be an idea to consider sending automated replies when submissions are received. Something just saying it’s in and will go through the curation process and that no further communication will be sent whether it is accepted or not. That would cut down on the emails querying the app I think

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