Colberg related that he and Adams had joked earlier in the evening about doing a "good cop/bad cop" routine (which, given their respective online personas, is one of those things that's funny because there's a grain of truth to it); instead, they talked about the intersection of photography and the internet from two different but related perpectives. Adams spoke mainly to and about photographers as producers, lauding the internet's myriad opportunities for publishing, connecting and collaborating, and advising photographers in the audience to "think about digital first -- start with the internet" when thinking about showing work and finding and engaging an audience. Colberg, focusing more on the image-consumer side of the equation, brought up the particular challenges of effective image search; the problem of the typical blog format encouraging the idea that the new matters more than the old (what Seth Godin describes as the "drive-by culture" problem); and the cluster of ethical and legal issues around attribution and copyright, some unique to the internet, others merely exacerbated by it. Both talked about problems of effectively archiving the billions of images on the web and creating and maintaining connections between related content in those archives, as well as the need for increased visual literacy among the population at large, in order, as Colberg put it, "to surive the onslaught of images online."
Despite all the talk of challenges and problems, the tone of the evening was upbeat and enthusiastic. Adams is passionate about the internet's ability to dissolve physical boundaries, enable easy discovery of new work, and foster partnerships between artists in far-flung places. He's undertaken several crowdsourced projects in the past few years, the latest of which, the digital projection Looking at the Land, is on view in RISD's Chace Center lobby through January 13 to complement the Museum's America in View exhibition. Adams selected the 88 photos for "Looking at the Land" from the nearly 6000 he received in response to a public call he put out to photographers earlier this year.
It's worth pointing out that neither Adams nor Colberg attained their influence by way of high-visibility curatorial gigs with museums or galleries. Colberg (who holds a PhD in astrophysics) notes that when he became interested in contemporary fine art photography 10+ years ago, there was "no place to go online" to learn about it, so he started writing himself, on his personal blog, about what he was learning elsewhere. Adams, too, started out posting photos he was personally interested in, and has only recently come to realize that the archive of Flak Photo posts has become an archive of contemporary photography. At the end of the night, an audience member asked a question about Adams' and Colberg's backgrounds, their judgements about what to post, and transparency, and they both reiterated that they never claimed to be any kind of authority, and don't claim to be objective today -- they continue to post and write about what interests them. If security hadn't been flashing the house lights and advancing toward the stage in an effort to clear us all out so they could close the building for the night, I suspect Adams and Colberg may have added that this is just one more of the many opportunities the internet presents us: anyone with access to it can have a voice there, a chance to connect with an audience; and those with passion, dedication, and a bit of digital literacy can help write part of the story of the world around us today.
UPDATE: Adams selected 88 photos for "Looking at the Land" and not 100 as previously noted.
The author apologizes for the lousy phone cam photos.