The sea of images
I'm trying to rationalise what many photographers see as a 'threat' - to their trade or the worthiness of their art. How the influx of images (or, I think more to the point, influx of photographers) challenges those at the top of the heap. It seems to scare most people into reevaluating their ideas about quality. As if an increase of banal photographs and, an increase in banality with it, has re-situated thoughtful work. Is it that, now more people are 'entering the arena', so to speak, 'quality' simply has to be pushed further out of their reach? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature...&v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (note his final comments on elitism).
I'm not convinced that 'those seen as a threat' are reaching for much in the first place or ever will. It takes a very specific type of individual to explore photography deeply and an even more specific person to say something with photography. Accessibility doesn't change the individual. Although there are more images, I truly believe the same fraction - as all photographs produced historically - are of a quality we recognise. The fraction of 'images of interest' we recognise depends on our sensitivities as human beings and our cultural perception.* Since Francis Hodgson is clearly in the Barthes sphere of thinking - the studium has expanded, but the punctum will stay the same, so long as the individual human being does.*
*I think what is perceived as a 'threat' might be a lack of trust in our own judgement of quality, or the judgment of the elite - our framework for understanding 'quality' in photography is precarious, so a sudden rush of images presents a great challenge in cataloguing and classification, when there's no concrete system in place. But it's an irrational fear, driven by the anxiety to need to comprehend, quicker than the information reaches us. I feel as though there is a desperation amongst historians and critics - evident in the linked Francis Hodgson video - to share this burden with photographers, to force us to step up our game, so they don't have to. In essence, they are saying; "make your work better, quickly, so we can more readily discard the constant and ambiguous stream of phone pictures that we can't make sense of." In short, it's their problem. I'm not saying it should be ignored by photographers, but that it shouldn't be a motivator.
*Since our understanding of 'what matters' and quality is defined - in large part - historically and subjectively.
Help me make sense of this?
You do realize that this "too many photographers, too many pictures" stuff has been going on since dry plates were introduced, right? Seriously, I've found photographers writing about it with dry plates, the Brownie, roll films, 35mm, 35mm with auto exposure and motor drive, point & shoots, digital cameras, cell phones, and on down the line. So over 100 years of crying and moaning about the same thing. Big deal. There are always clients on the margin who say, "Oh, my brother has a camera, I'll have him do the photographs." OK, fine. Next customer, please.
This stuff always comes up because the photographer hasn't realized he's supposed to be running a business. This means defining your target market, your product, and your message to that market. You want fame, fortune, and glory? Do some research, make a plan, and execute that plan. There are many things that are commodities, and photography is one of them. This doesn't mean that the market is closed, it just means that you have differentiate yourself to your customers. Your customer isn't someone who's sibling or friend owns a camera. Your customer is someone whose sibling or friend owns a camera, and that customer comes to you for what you do so well.
Ever look at some pro's photographs and think, "I can do that. Seriously, I can." The difference is that the other person made a plan and stuck with it. Whether it has been in art or business, you need to map out what you want to do.
I think batwister has a huge and very important point here. We are at a very critical point in our 'culture' in which nearly EVERYONE is choosing convenience over quality (look at our mode of communication - 'texting' etc), cell phones, instagram, etc etc. We value our superficial semantic environment and presumed 'status' over true experience. But really it's 'quality' (an interesting discussion of the term in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' that I urge others to read!) that matters. Quality of experience. Why look at something nonplussing instead of something mindblowing - something that changes your life??
I also think that we have become somehow blind to finesse - by taking everything in - in the form of small jpeg files, we somehow destroy our ability to see anything NOT in this format. I have a friend who does some particularly FINE oil painting in the hyperrealist tradition and overheard a woman, while looking at one of her paintings, ask her friend 'which photoshop filter she used to create it'. So - it seems to me there's an entirely new vocabulary and semantic economy that has been created as a result of individual experiences on the internet being the sole court held for purposes of evaluation. And I don't like it. The problem that it creates in our own medium is EXACTLY parallel with the problems it's creating in our own society (being that it's creating a society of idiots). The degree to which this happens to our medium is a matter of how passive we are about it.
Go to the galleries. Or especially the 'art fairs'. You can really start to see the results of this erosion. I've been meaning to write something 'proper' on the problem for some time. I'll try to share if I do. thanks for the original post and for the link to the discussion. I think this really matters. And I don't agree that it's the same problem we've had since the birth of photography. At all.
I think there's an exactly PARALLEL discussion here - although it's a discussion about 'high end' audio - which i have ALWAYS equated with photography, personally. Part of the argument made is that the nature of the listening devices based on mp3s is destroying our very CAPACITY to listen. Likewise in photography.
When ever I'm out in public taking photos and I see hoards of people taking pictures with iPhones and digicams it makes me try even harder when shooting on film.
Originally Posted by batwister
I know that there are a thousand "idiots" out there, shooting willy-nilly with their digicams, making millions of ho-hum picutres, 90% of which will be deleted before the day is done. I want my pictures to be better than that.
I have told the story before about the day when I shot the picture of the tall ship, Niagara, while standing next to a guy who was "machine gunning" with an expensive digital setup when all I had was my little, old Yashicamat loaded with Tri-X. I have sold that picture three times and won first prize with that photo. ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/randystankey/5877475532 ) I wonder if that guy even still has the pictures he shot that day. He probably deleted 90% of them.
I don't think my picture of that boat is the Great American Photograph, nor do I claim to be the next Ansel Adams. Maybe you think my pictures are junk. That's not my point.
I know that I have to swim a little faster to stay ahead of all the other fish in the sea and when I see more people snapping digitals I know I have to swim even faster.
i used to have discussions with friends in college about this sort of thing.
but it wasn't with photography, it was about food. you see, they had a colony of
sea monkeys. they had the little magnifying tank and lots of these little scepter and orb holding
throwned and robed critters. they were swimming and swimming and loving life in their
tiny kingdom. there was a lot of floom as well ( .. you know the fancy name for fish poop on the tank floor ) ...
SO what happened was you fed the royal fish and they had to eat the floom to get to the food ...
we live in a world of processed food, that is sprayed with nutrients on a conveyor belt.
there IS good photography out there, but its the miniscule piece of fish food in a bed of floom.
how do you make photographs, not floom? i don't think the fellow you linked to is far off
the trick is to make things that do not need to be sprayed with nutrients.
Bat, the link was probing, and bottom line, make something that matters...
Which photographs matter? And does everyone have an equal vote?
There are no easy answers to these questions. At one level, the photographs that matter are those that a lot of people think matter. In other words, if a million people think that a particular photograph matters, then it's probably a more important photograph than one that only a dozen people think matters. But this over-simplifies because it assumes that everyone has an equal vote and that there is an unambiguous and quantifiable hierarchy of 'what matters'.
The problem is that 'what matters' is subjective. A community of peers may well have a clear consensus about 'what matters' but they can't expect other communities to agree with them. For example one community of photographers may believe that "Pepper #30" (Edward Weston) is an example what really matters, but a different photographic community may well say that "The Falling Man" (Richard Drew) matters more and that Weston's work is just a historical footnote.
I think that this is where the difficulties lie for people worried by the "sea of images" you refer to. When what matters to you is being swamped by stuff that doesn't matter to you, then you can't help but feel threatened. And it gets even more threatening when your livelihood depends upon other people agreeing with you about 'what matters'. People react in all sorts of ways when they feel threatened.
Since there is nothing that can be done there is no point in spending in gray matter on what to do. Another way of looking at it is all these folks rush out and buy expensive new gear and realize it is "too complicated" so they out it up for sale and sometimes we can find "steals" on a piece of gear...
In all aspects of life we are being force fed junk along with the "good stuff." The ability to discern the wheat from the chaff lives between your ears. Everyone's opinion does matter contrary to what the video espouses. The sheer number of people and the easy exposure to them is diluting "quality." Do you really want the great unwashed deciding your worth?