White Boy Whining

Posted in Age by LBM on January 5, 2012

Orson Wells by Eve Arnold. 1966

A number of people have privately emailed me with concerns about all of the age talk on the blog lately. Am I depressed? Am I going to give up photography and buy a Ferrarri? The answer is no and no. I’m still happy with the minivan and I can’t remember being more comfortable with my age (mature and still regularly beating the 25 year-olds in ping-pong).

But yesterday I got a different email from a friend who works with Magnum:

“I just saw your and Martin’s equally depressing posts about being old.  They reminded me of one of my favorite Guerilla Girls interventions – the list of advantages of being a woman artist (specifically number 4:  “Knowing your career might pick up after you’re 80.”). So, you know, there might be a little White Boy Whining in all this.”

Knowing that I’m just stirring the pot, I’ve been able to brush off the criticism of my age posts. But this comment stung. Part of the reason it bothered me is that I’m vulnerable to similar accusations in other areas of my life.

At Little Brown Mushroom, for example, I publish a men’s magazine. I’ve defended this by pointing out that the magazine is actually about men and pokes fun at their longing. But the other day I received a copy of Jacques Magazine and was embarrassed to realize that whomever sent it probably did so because they thought it was similar to Lonely Boy Magazine.

And then there is Magnum. With today’s passing of Eve Arnold, we are now left with five living female photographers in the organization. It is beyond embarrassing.

So enough of my White Boy Whining. I’m happy to be 42. And I’m lucky as hell to have incredibly supportive women in my life. Beyond my wife (the most supportive and understanding person alive) I’m also lucky to have a fantastic studio manager, Carrie Thompson. The fact that Carrie manages to produce excellent photography while running my studio and supporting a child is mind-boggling.

So enough of the whining! Let me instead give thanks to women like Eve Arnold who manage to make great work when the odds, not to mention the culture, are so heavily stacked against them.


29 Responses

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  1. Bob Black said, on January 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    All I will say is: WELCOME BACK ALEC!….about time already (said with love)…

    and Right On about acknowledging Eve, not only a great photographer (regardless of gender obviously) but a fine, dedicated and inspired human being! A titan, and not just because she was a Magnum photographer….the world is a poorer place….

    by the way, once (no, twice) gotten into ‘disagreements’ about the whole lacunae at Magnum when it comes to Women members (and a friendship was actually born of this same argument), which is frankly an embarrassment, but have written enough about that previously, so my hope is that eventually many of the Eve Arnolds out there will eventually even the keel of your mothership in ny/paris/london…it can only getter better 🙂

    and, alas, a finer one now that you’ve gotten off the age bullshit…..

    and i’ve never thought of you (least of all) as a whiner..white guy, shit yea, family guy, hell yea…but it nice to move on


    • LBM said, on January 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks Bob.

      In regards to Magnum, it is important that those in the organization encourage women to apply. Since I’ve been in Magnum, I’ve been really frustrated by the lack of applications. But I understand that women don’t feel welcome. So we need to do a better job of expressing our desire (which I can assure you is considerable) to have more diversity.

      I am eager to also have more women engage with this blog. In preparing for this post, I tried to find statistics on male vs. female readers of the blog. I couldn’t find any. But I did get a list of the 5 most active commenters:

      1 bob black
      2 Tom
      3 Charles Spring
      4 john gossage
      5 al saulso

      Since this post went online a couple of hours ago, I’ve had two comments from men and two wonderful emails from women. I need to figure out a way to make LBM a more welcoming place for women.

      • CQ said, on January 6, 2012 at 12:14 am

        I imagine the inclusion of gender-based posts will likely increase your female audience. You have plenty of angles including what you’ve already alluded to about the patriarchy of Photography (ex. Magnum’s dearth of women). You could also discuss something more theoretical like our culture’s proclivity to look at, gaze upon, and capture women with our eyes as well as on still and moving film. How do female photographers interrupt, re-appropriate or support this tendency?

  2. Ruby said, on January 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Just to set the record straight, I am 24 and lose to you in ping-pong. Does that make you feel better or worse? Or does that just make me feel worse?

    I think my solution is ping-pong shorts.

  3. Bob Black said, on January 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Hi-ho alec 🙂

    I hear ya :)…am I really that active? …my new year’s resolution was to write less on blogs and finish 2 books (one pics and one, a children’s book with Marina)…but, damn, i’ll take the company of tom and charles and mr. gossage :)))…i don’t know al saulso, but drinks if he comes to T-dot….

    it’s funny, my wife digs your work (and finds the blog smart, funny and sometimes overly-male too ;)) and i don’t know what to advise…when i suggested she write from time to time at various places (lbm, burn, eyemazing etc), her quip is this: ‘bob, i’d rather do the work than the web’…meaning, maybe women (at least my wife) are infinitely more practical, or results oriented ;))….funny thing Alec is that in real life, I find most of the photographers I spend time with (friends, colleagues) or time mentoring (young photographers, still in their peak ;)) who are the most interesting, challenging and the least caught-up in the apex-alpha concurs to be women…maybe that is part of the explanation….the web seems much more like masterbatory soliloquies (lord knows that is how i would describe most of the stupid stuff i’ve written) than real, engaged conversations (lbm excluded, of course)….man more prone to circle-jerks, women to other venues….oddly, blogs seem more ‘male’ because they seem more like solitary howling (my post here twit) rather than intimate and engaged discussion….and not to riff on the cliches of gender, but maybe that’s part of the thing…almost all blogs i know of seem male dominated…and in our real life (of galleries and picture snapping and friends), it is not that lopsided…what to do?….have a party at Big Al’s (if spring, we’ll drive)…i don’t know any other solution…

    as for Magnum….yes. I once suggested (rather obnoxiously, but I blame the wine) that i’d never want to be part of an organization that was so lopsided, ;)), but many that’s part of the problem alec: applications….the gallery world is not so lopsided, but it does often seem that the ‘doc’ world of big name collectives and published books (outside of japan) is…maybe Magnum needs more to recruit and mentor and seek out, rather than the annual application/cowboy rodeo (the process itself strikes me as VERY alpha male to begin with, doesn’t it??)…maybe you guys expand into the art world, or actively seek, rather than have this mythical annual submission…which simply reinforces (to me and many) that as much as Magnum has changed, at the hear lay that need to ‘prove’ first, and prove to a bunch of men….look at what similar groups have done, VII, Eva, Vu, Noor etc….percentages are better….anyway, i don;’t know, i’m just an outsider and as i’ve said before to close friends at Magnum, it’s not my place to say what to do, for sure…but I think with such a great group with such a tremendous historical importance, maybe y’all need to re-think the WAY you ‘find’ members…..the argument ‘we get the best’ just isn’t true…….good galleries sometimes seek out the artists they want, just as publishers and just as companies…maybe a change in the way the organizations thinks about how members are taken in is as important……convincing more women to apply is not going to end with more women applicants…..i know you get that….i know because i know that great person spanning time with you these many many years has taught you well, just as that great person who i have spent my life with these many years has taught me too ;)))…

    be good old man :))…ps. show at Everson was great!…sorry we couldn’t make the opening, but got down 3 weeks later :)))


  4. Bob Black said, on January 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    in other words, if a gallery wants an artist, if a publisher wants a writer/photographer, they take work with that person, review their work, dialog (or not) with them individually….it isn’t a stamped of competition: it is the individual artist/writer and their work: if it works or is a match, done…whenever I applied (or my wife) for gallery representation, I (nor she) thought of it as competing with a stable (or others) but rather did my/our work fit….same with publishers….if the way ‘into’ magnum begins with a salmon race upstream to spawn, you will, a priori, discourage some of the best/most interesting candidates…who needs that nonsense?…who is more well read, more aware of what is being done in the photo world that Alec Soth…i mean, it is gorgeous and inspired, how broad your interest and awareness (just like Martin) and so, it seems to me, y’all don’t need this ‘send us your portfolio and we’ll pick the best among the bunch’ nonsense…go out there and find women photographers whose work inspires and talk to them, encourage them….doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your application process (galleries and publishers still have these kinds of things) but just don’t limit yourself to the way you grow as a group…since Magnum believes in not limiting itself, or so the billboard says ;)))….as i always say when i bring this up with david, i mean this with the biggest respect and admiration for the group and for the members….ok, must run…:)

    • LBM said, on January 7, 2012 at 9:04 am

      Thanks Bob, many of us actively go out looking for photographers. Over the years I’ve strongly encouraged a half dozen people to apply…only one was male (he applied but didn’t get in). For one reason or another, all but one of the women refrained from applying (the one who did is now a member). Women are understandably reluctant about going through the arduous membership process when the vast majority of members are men. It is a self-fulfilling loop that isn’t easy to break.

  5. Trapac said, on January 6, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve lurked for a long time, but this post has me outing myself! I’m in my final year of a Photography degree having spent half of that time wondering if leaving another career to do this was a very smart move after all because I’m a) female, b) two years older than you and c) I keep hearing how the financial bottom has dropped out of photography and it’s not the time to be setting off on a career in it whatever your age or gender. The thing for me is that I’m obsessed – I only want to make images, but I have so much learning/reading/photography still to do/make, that I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up, and I doubt that will ever change. The reason that I’ve taken such a risk is because I can’t imagine doing anything else – it’s a kind of insanity I guess. The thing that frustrates me the most right now is that there’s a widespread assumption that all new graduates (read: fresh new talent) are aged between 21 and 30 in the terms and conditions for so may grants/competitions and innovation funds. That said I haven’t graduated yet, and I have a lot of work to do before I have a high quality, consistent, coherent body of work to even consider applying to any kind of funding – age irrelevant – but it all just makes me more determined to make this work.

    I’m just finishing off the construction of a dissertation called ‘Where are all the women street photographers’ – it’s a complex issue of course, but my starter for ten has to be how big the pool of women photographers is and in which domains/genres they are most likely to be practising? In the spirit of the 6,000 words I’m allowed I’ve had to look past this and have decided to focus my attention to street photography (which I’m useless at but fascinated by) and have recently looked at the women photographers that have received a mention/had their images shown in some key post 1990’s street photography texts – it was 25, beginning with Alice Austen in the mid-late 1800’s. An average of 11.5% …and that’s before you get to stripping the numbers back to look at whose practice actually fits the prevalent ‘contemporary’ definition of ‘street photography’.

    There’s a long way to go, but women photographers themeselves have to help make this happen. It’s not ALL down to ‘everyone else’ any more than it’s universally ‘the fault of men’.

    By the way: I’m assuming you know about Firecracker?

    Oh and Bob Black – you have some really interesting ideas, I’m going to go off and chew over those for a bit. Thanks.

    • LBM said, on January 7, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Tracy – thanks so much for your fantastic comments. My posts on age were about odds. But here’s the thing…the odds are always stacked against you. Artmaking is about exceptions. I recently read this by Nick Hornby:

      “One of the things that did me no good at all in the formative years of my career was prescriptive advice from established writers, even though I craved it at the time. You know the sort of thing: “Write a minimum of 15 drafts.” “A good book takes five years to produce.” “Learn Ulysses off by heart.” “Make sure you can identify trees.” “Read your book out loud to your cat.” I cannot tell an oak from another tree, the name of which I cannot even dredge up for illustrative purposes, and yet I got by, somehow. Walk into a bookshop and you wil see work by writers who produce a book every three months, writers who don’t own a TV, writers with five children, writers who produce a book every twenty-five years, writers who never write sober, writers ho have at least one eye on the film rights, writers who never think about money, writers who, in your opinion, can’t write at all. It doesn’t matter: they go the work done, and there they are, up on the shelves.”

      That’s the thing…history decides on it’s own. Statistically, it will probably pick more young work than old…but there is nothing to be done about that other than to keep doing the work. Most people, when facing the odds, will quit. I congratulate you for keeping on despite the odds.

      Thanks for the link to Firecracker. I didn’t know about it. Seems similar to the Humble Arts Women in Photography:

      • Tracy Packer said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:00 am

        Thanks for the encouragement and the great Nick Hornby quote – the odds might be against me, but thats more of a motivation than it will ever be a deterrent for me. Im sure as hell not stopping now!

        Thanks also for the Humble Arts link – I hadnt found that one so am very pleased to bookmark it. In a very limited defence of Magnum, Firecracker is the brainchild of Fiona Rogers, who is the Cultural and Educational Manager at Magnum Photos, London. 🙂

    • LBM said, on January 9, 2012 at 7:31 am

      Fiona emailed me the other day after posting this and reminded me what a knucklehead I am.

  6. Alex s. said, on January 6, 2012 at 5:26 am

    About Magnum, why don’t you guys vote Bieke Depoorter in?
    I know Magnum is keeping their eyes on here, maybe now is
    the time? (I don’t know how the process of voting someone in
    goes so this is just a suggestion)

  7. Stefan Vanthuyne said, on January 6, 2012 at 6:05 am

    As for women in Magnum. Hold on for a bit and who knows, you just might have one hell of a new colleague. She’s still very young, but she won the Hp Magnum expression award in 2009.

    And this is already a classic image by her:

    So yeah, talking about fellow-countrygirl Bieke Depoorter. (

  8. Michael Ast said, on January 6, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Oh, this is a nice note to wake up to . . . I’ll be honest, even though I’m only 35, your recent age talk has had me contemplating my existence, photographically and beyond. I actually even took Adams’ word and spent some time with wood. Mainly just sawing it and staring at it deteriorate in my chiminea. I even hit some transcendance looking at its gorgeous embers. Made a photo of it. A highly successful photo, if I may flatter myself. I started getting really sad for all the imagery I have created, knowing it longs for the outside world to observe it. I have done some solo shows, some group shows, won some awards . . . but I pale in comparison to some of my peers. And I blame it largely on self-esteem, which in return defeats ambition. But, I’ll agree with the Guerilla Girls #4 . . . I think of Frank Black singing about the old man who replied to a speculative inquierer, “No, my child, this is not my desire . . . I’m digging for fire.” And thought of Neil Young, mining deeper (in his own words) with every new guitar solo . . . that is my duty. It is a duty because I do not want to hit the death bed with personal regrets. I have spent much time with the words of poets and in the process have gotten in touch with that THING they call the “Soul”. In the end, we make pictures because of a voice inside us . . . . yeah, sure, we aim to give voice to the people and things we photograph, but ultimately it is a selfish endeavor, and a pious one at that.

    I’ll be going strong at 80, just as the girls say. I’ll self-publish, according to my New Year’s resolution this year. I’ll design that website . . . here I come world. This young man has an old soul and I am eternally thankful for it.

    Cheers Alec! Glad you came around. And that you helped me take a little mindful journey and made me come full circle.


  9. Fred said, on January 6, 2012 at 9:24 am

    More Ladies here…:
    Enjoy! and thank you for all these insights into photographers’ soul, whether male or female.

  10. Charles said, on January 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Dear Mr Alec Soth,

    I am “surprised” and “mortified” to discover that my insightful “commentary” to this “blog” has merited such a high “ranking” of activity among the readers who bother to write in. I hold no interest in being grouped with a “bob” or a “Tom”, much less a “john” or an “al”. I will therefore now begin an indeterminate “hiatus” in which I hope to find an outlet where my “sincere” musings can stand alone and “intact”. But before I “vanish”, two final “thoughts” to share with you and yours:

    -While I’m away, in appreciation, I will tell all of my female “acquaintances” about this blog, to read it and to leave comments as often as possible. Hopefully, one will breaking into that “Top 5” boy’s club.

    -Thank you enormously for the link to Jacques Magazine. And please cancel my life subscription to Lonely Boy. No need for both.

    Mr Charles Spring

  11. Man said, on January 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    “we are now left with five living female photographers in the organization. It is beyond embarrassing…and I’m lucky as hell to have incredibly supportive women in my life.”

    These days you can never have enough pandering to the poor unfortunate women. Time was when women felt excluded from the upper reaches of the art world. That time is long past. And yet, the over correction appears to know no bounds. Shows organized around the exclusive participation of women are routine. Never were there shows so organized for men. Feminist ideology runs so deep in our culture that even when arts organizations are run overwhelmingly by women Alex Soth needs to be seen as down with the cause. Pathetic.

  12. Amy said, on January 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Personally, I find the name Magnum somewhat self-selecting. If it were called Yaz or Seasonique, I think more ladies would call the membership hotline.

  13. Moira said, on January 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Alec –
    I don’t subscribe to many blogs, but I do yours because you are not afraid to show your vulnerability. It is rare for an artist and blogger, male or female, to not default to navel gazing, masterbatory soliloquies, or endless posts that start with “I love so and so’s work” (lord knows I’ve written that…as Bob would say). But also, to Bob’s point of blogs he knows being male dominated, I was just feeling sorry for any man trying to make it in the world of design bloggers as I looked at the guest speakers at the Alt Design Summit here…

    Maybe Magnum is still a boy’s club. It’s from the 20th when society moved in straight lines ( or up or down in a hierarchical/military structure). Webs, weaving, networking, moving is cycles, subtleties in tone (necessary for communicating by email and not pissing people off) are how we operate now. Women are going to do just fine in this century. It’s an exciting time to watch the (gender) worlds collide. Thank you for doing just that here. It will be my pleasure to put my female 2 cents in at LBM to help you maintain a balance : )

    • LBM said, on January 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      As the above logo proves, I don’t think you need to worry about this man being a part of the Alt Design Summit.

      Your comments about Magnum’s hierarchical structure functioning in the current world of communications are dead-on.

  14. Peter Haakon Thompson said, on January 8, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Regardless of my age I think I can kick your ass in ping pong.

    • LBM said, on January 9, 2012 at 12:05 am

      Yeah, I’ve heard your good, Thompson.

  15. annavanlenten said, on January 10, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I love your old age posts! As Bette Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” So be tough, post the laments, age with a howl and a growl and a laugh, be it rueful or not. Anyone who can’t admit that getting old is hard is in denial. That said, would any of us really want to be 21 again–good looking, strong, but totally effing ignorant, especially about ourselves? No. So celebrate old age, lament old age–just as you’re doing. Love the blog — and the tangent about women and Magnum.

  16. Arnold Zann said, on January 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

    For me, if your work and passion keep growing age has nothing to do with it.

  17. Davin Ellicson said, on February 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Martine, Susan, Lise, Alessandra and Olivia.

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