Can Someone Please Explain…

12 Feb
The House on Grass Island, one of many images featured in my new ebook.  Get it now!

The House on Grass Island, one of many images featured in my new ebook. Get it now!

…what is up with all of the negative attacks on photographers/photography lately?

(Spoiler alert…Devil’s advocate time!)

Right around the time Peter Lik is reported to have sold that expensive slot canyon shot, I also saw at least two articles about how photography isn’t art, and another purporting the term artist isn’t applicable now. We are all “creative entrepreneurs”.

Now, within the last few weeks, I see a rash of photographers attacking the work of their peers.

I guess my question is, “To what end?”

Really, please, explain it to me.

My perspective on photography as a whole is this: it is a medium to express yourself, therefore it is art. The articles I read specifically compared it to painting, suggesting the camera does the work, therefore it is not art.

By that logic, doesn’t the paintbrush do the work?

The tool is just that. A tool to be used in bringing your vision to life. Photo shoots usually require planning, scouting if ‘on location’ and vision. It may not always go to plan, but vision is part of the process.

Most prints require some work – the amount to be determined by the artist. If you stop at simple dodge and burn in a dark room, so be it. If you create a surreal landscape in Photoshop, good for you. Photography is an opportunity to express yourself, your feelings and your perspective. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t lie to people about your process (such as claiming its straight out of camera). You shouldn’t have to defend your choices.

No matter what level of manipulation or editing or non editing you chose, without a human involved in the process, there is no photo. In my mind, that human element makes it art.

So why are we belittling the medium and the photographers involved in it?

I’m going to lump my thoughts on attacking our peers and label together.

First, the title of “creative entrepreneur” vs artist. The argument made is that the term artist implies struggle and experience with no regard for money.

In response, I’d like to mention The Last Supper, commissioned by Davinci’s patron, Sforza.

The statue of David was a commissioned piece, purchased by the Opera del Duomo from Michelangelo, one of the best paid artists at the time.

Ansel Adam’s history included a private gallery, commercial work, books, etc…all of which he made money on.

Three masters of their respective fields, all making money off their art?? Obviously, there are infinite examples of artists getting paid for their work. They should. They have dedicated their time to learning and/or practicing something, and are able to fill a demand for that thing…so why the recent trend to try shaming photographers for making a living with their art?

From a personal standpoint, I don’t care if you label me artist or entrepreneur. Labels and attacks on another’s work only serve to reflect poorly on the people doing the shaming. If its not constructive or thoughtful feedback, it won’t affect my choices with my art.

Now, let’s touch on a recent trend of bashing current photo trends, specifically in landscape photography. Their complaints seem to be that conformity is bad for photography as a whole. Specifically, I’ve seen people up in arms about the uniform look of the front page of 500px (who, by the way, is probably loving all the press on these recent debates) and the superficial nature of social media interactions.

My thoughts on this are sprawling…bear with me here.

In regards to conformity, why are we critical of an artist looking to cater to public response. Be it for personal accolades or for business marketing, the person behind the camera is recognizing the current trends in photography and creating marketable images for the moods of the public. Now, I can only speak for my own work, but I can tell you that while I make my art for me within the limits of editing that I am comfortable with, I also like being able to pay my bills with income from my art.

Trends come and go (HDR, anyone?) and people’s styles will always evolve to match them or they risk being irrelevant. Only a few hold outs to a particular style ever end up thriving long term. I don’t blame people for wanting to continue to be able to put food on their tables.

Besides…the idea of trends isn’t unique to ‘now’ or to photography. The era of Impressionism? Surrealism?  Shall I go on?

In regards to the superficial nature of social media interactions…duh. We have had a huge cultural shift over the last few years. The newer generations are being raised in sensory overloaded, short attention span inducing, technology laden environments. We are also living in an era where any perceived slight could result in a lawsuit. Between those two things (among other factors), it seems obvious that social media is a platform for superficial interaction.

That being said, I do think you get out of it as much as you’re willing to put in. You can get meaningful feedback, but you need to embrace a personal online culture of such. Start feedback swaps. Ask for tips. Etc.  For better or worse, social media is now “part of the job” and viewing it as such does help to keep it in perspective and keep your emotional investment at a reasonable level.

I can absolutely empathize with how frustrating it can be to work a competitive environment, or to see a photo you poured your heart into go unnoticed. It happens to all of us. Self doubt definitely comes into play when you rely on the fickle hearts and minds of the public to make a living. In my opinion, the way to combat this isn’t by attacking others, but rather, by embracing the joy you get from making art in the first place. Don’t do things you feel compromise your integrity.  If you’re unhappy with the current trends, don’t participate in them. If social media is dull, find meaningful interaction elsewhere. Respect other’s opinions and more importantly, recognize that while their art doesn’t speak to you, it is still something they labored over. If you want to work to change the current trends, do it…by creating something the people didn’t know they needed until you provided it.

I’m going to leave you with some perspective about playing nice….

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

You can’t control most things in life, but you can control how you react. Choose wisely.

So…….that’s what I think.  I normally don’t put up things like this knowing they may get people fired up, but I felt it needed to be said.  Negativity begets more negativity, and I’d rather have an environment of understanding, tolerance and mutual goals to improve our craft to reach our personal goals.

 Feel free to put your opinion in the comments.

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49 Responses to “Can Someone Please Explain…”

  1. bullroarin February 12, 2015 at 10:13 pm #

    I’m with you.
    People usually whine about things they don’t understand…we just have to be patient until they grow up!

  2. Nelson February 12, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    I am also with you on that … about the negative comments that surfaced on the Internet about Lik, one question I read was Is the money put by the buyer was buying the photo or the brand. I think photography is like painting when you buy something from a well known artist, you do buy the brand first and the piece of art second

    • seeingspotsphoto February 13, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      Of course! And honestly, on both sides of that transaction…it’s the buyers money to spend as they see fit, and in regards to Lik, I doubt he cares about the haters….he is probably sitting in a bathtub full of money being waited on by his butler as we speak. haha

      And..if it was just a marketing stunt as some people claim, well…it worked. Photography as a whole has benefited from the spotlight put on him and the perception of value that he created.

  3. TPJ February 12, 2015 at 11:54 pm #

    Very thoughtful and well written. Thanks you for defending what we do.

    • TPJ February 12, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

      See above typo, we need a spokesperson!!!

      • seeingspotsphoto February 13, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

        lol Just trying to be reasonable. I don’t care for the idea of putting down someone else’s art. Constructive criticism is one thing, but this stuff I have seen lately is a whole new ball game.

  4. bigsurkate February 13, 2015 at 12:24 am #

    Some photos are meant to be B&W. Nice one.

  5. Justin Avery February 13, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    If photography was not art then why is there a genre called Fine Art Photography? One of the definitions of art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination”. This applies to painting, sculpting, dancing, music, and other things so why should photography be left out? Sure, anyone can pick up a camera and press the shutter. But then again anyone can pick up a paintbrush and start painting. I believe it is not the medium that you choose to express yourself but the creativity that you bring to your work. Photographic art isn’t just about pointing the camera and shooting but involves many different aspects that some don’t understand. And after the shutter has been pressed there’s time that is taken in the digital/physical darkroom to create your vision.

    Lets take a different look at things. If you take a great photo and create a painting out of it, does the photo have any less impact than the painting? The painting may take longer to create, but does the length of time it takes to create a piece of art really impact the effect it has on the viewer? If Peter Lik’s work were to be painted by a well known artist would it sell for more? Or better yet, would people have less of a problem with the price it was sold at?

    I believe that anything that is created that can draw you in and keep your attention due to the content that you enjoy to view time and time again due to its artistic creativity is considered art regardless of the medium in which it was made; painting or photography. Not all photos are art but all art created with the camera is a photo. If people refuse to look at photographic art for what it is then they are denying that it is art because of personal issues. To me photographic art provides an entertainment value. I enjoy viewing it and I enjoy creating it. Well, there’s some of my thoughts on the subject anyways.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

      I agree with you 100%! It’s just as valid an art form as any of the others, and for me personally, generally brings more enjoyment than paintings or statues. I could (and have) looked at Ansel Adams prints for hours. I recently went to see the Sebastiao Salgado Genesis collection and was very moved by the prints.

      • Justin Avery February 18, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

        Funny thing, if you type in “photography definition” into Google it comes back with “the art or practice of taking and processing photographs.” which therefore proves that photography is a form of art!

      • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

        haha If it’s on the Googles, it must be true!

  6. Anna Hergert February 13, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    Shannon, very well written and so timely. With your permission I would like to link to your post on http://moosejawcameraclub.com
    Thank you for expressing what so many of us are struggling to put into words.

  7. Lili February 13, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    This is a really great post! So well written and so well-needed. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 13, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      I’m glad it resonates with you, Lili. 🙂 I just don’t get all of the negative energy stuff!

  8. the Persephone Perspective February 13, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    Bravo!! Love the paintbrush analogy, because after all, the camera really IS just the instrument wielded by an artist.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      Right?? I mean, no matter what you label it, to imply that the camera is the only element that goes into a photo completely discredits all of the time, effort and emotion that the artist poured into the shot. It’s a damn shame to see that happen. Creativity and expression should be embraced, not discouraged!

  9. edithlevyphotography February 13, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    Well said Shannon (and written)!

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      Thank you! Also, I’m sending you an email tonight…keep your eyes peeled! 🙂

  10. David Pasillas February 13, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    Reblogged this on iPhone Photographer | David Pasillas and commented:
    So Shannon and I have been discussing things that have come up in the landscape photography community recently. I think she wrote a great piece, and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already. I also recommend reading Sarah Marino’s article on the current state of affairs, naturephotoguides.com/blog/photo-consumption-conformity

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

      You see what happens when I get all riled up about something?? lol

  11. Hanne T. Fisker February 14, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    The world is full of opinions, when it comes down to it, no matter what the question is. There is a line saying no matter the question, love is the answer. To me it’s as simple as the love of what we do. If love is involved, it is art. On a another note, perhaps it doesn’t matter what we call it, it’s the essence of the work for the one that expresses it that matters, not what label the surrounding world puts on it.
    p.s. thank you for popping by my blog and leave the lovely comment on my exhibition!

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 11:23 pm #

      Agreed! For me personally, the label doesn’t matter but respecting the work that the person who created the image put into things definitely matters! And loving what you do is such an important part of putting anything you labor over out into the world. 🙂

      You’re very welcome. I love connecting with new people and seeing their work!

      • Hanne T. Fisker February 19, 2015 at 9:52 am #

        Genuine respect matters indeed.

  12. Brian Hoffman February 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    If you put yourself out there by posting almost anything, you’re going to attract people with weak personalities who think they can make themselves better than you by putting you down. Best just to ignore them.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

      The bully mentality! I agree, the reason behind an opinion makes all of the difference. If the criticisms people have are an attempt to help someone improve or problem solve, that’s one thing. But as you said, just to make themselves and their work seem better is a shady reason to put their opinions out there.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinions, I just think that photographers are also entitled to respect.

  13. perfectlight February 15, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    as i photographer, i’m on your side but i also won’t bother anymore. when i was in college (studying photography) we had a huge debate for weeks about photography being a form of art or not. of course, we were encouraged to bring arguments pro or cons for that matter. it was then that i learned that the guys from magnum are fighting the battle for years and years and are doing a great job. don’t get me wrong, i do consider photography as a form of art just not bother to bring it up in an argument or discussion. why? because it is all about perception. it is not about law. if one sees the photography as an art, then it is an art doesn’t matter if legally is labeled art or not.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

      I suspect you are right…the “label/classification” war will rage eternal. I personally don’t care so much how photography is labeled…but I do care to recognize the effort, skill and emotion that goes into a final product. It represents so much more than just the push of a button and I think more people on both sides of the “art” debate should respect that, regardless of how they choose to classify the images!

  14. Throne Of Thorns February 16, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

    These attacks are the same that me and other similar artists took when we began into hdr and digital manipulation, and for me its the product of frustrated people…in my opinion is ”create or shut up”’. By the way awesome photo.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 18, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

      lol “Create or shut up” is a very succinct and effective response. And I agree 100%….HDR went through the same thing recently, where it became a “heated topic” among the photography crowd, I think because so many people embraced it so quickly.

      (And thank you!)

  15. Julia Manuel February 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Hear hear! I fully agree.

  16. Michael Glover February 20, 2015 at 3:54 am #

    I totally agree with you. Everybody is going to have their opinion on photography as an art form. We may not be able to change people’s thinking but we can at least open their eyes hopefully. Photography is and always will be my creative outlet. I have never thought photography wasn’t art. It is a way to express emotion. Thanks for this very great post!

    • seeingspotsphoto February 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts! Agreed, its definitely my go to creative outlet…I dabble in music (I’m pretty terrible, but I try), painting (same as music), and writing, but none of them bring me the satisfaction and peace that photos do!

  17. snowfaller February 26, 2015 at 12:58 am #

    As a pure amateur (meaning I do it because I love it), I was surprised that an experienced photog such as yourself liked a couple of my recent posts. First, thanks very much!

    Then I came here and saw this post: You’re spot on. Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve gone from full developing B&W to goofy low-res camera phones. (LOL @ “HDR anyone?”.) It’s all about the art. Some will like it, others (maybe most) won’t. But there’s no reason to slag off a photographer (amateur or professional), or any other artist for that matter, simply because they’re doing what they love. And if they can make money off of it, that much the better!

    • seeingspotsphoto February 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

      Of course I like what you’re up to…your page is full of experimental stuff, and I respect people willing to try new things and play with art to come up with images that work for them. 🙂

      I’m glad this post resonates with you. I generally am pretty laid back about things, but…well, I just got tired of people not playing nice. Lol

  18. jhoudephotography February 26, 2015 at 1:04 am #

    Very well said, I am totally with you.

  19. tabularasa88 February 26, 2015 at 5:02 am #

    The discussion becomes a lot more honest if we as photographers admit that not all photography is art.
    Perhaps the medium is unique in that there is so much of it, as almost everyone now has at least a pretty decent camera on their phones at their disposal. Digital cameras in general allow us to take an almost unlimited number of pictures essentially for free. This glut of photos in the last decade or so has numbed many to photography, especially since much of it is of the “snapshot” variety: pictures of food, pets, friends, etc.
    On the other hand, technology has raised the quality of the average photograph. My parents’ (and others’) old photo albums were a mess of dark, blurry and oddly-colored photos. An average iPhone user today (to say nothing of someone shooting with a DSLR with access to Lightroom) consistently produces better shots.
    In short, there’s ever more of ever improving photography out there, watering down what it means to be a photographer. Are we all artists? Yes, in that “every kid gets a trophy” sort of way. Ultimately, the negative attacks on photography come from a society which has developed a high tolerance for the medium’s charms.

    • seeingspotsphoto February 26, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

      Hmm…you do bring up thoughtful perspective. I do agree that every photo is not art, because in the mind of the person creating in the image, it was not ever meant to be art. That, to me, would be like saying every one who paints is an artist. I doubt most people who paint the lines on a road would say they are artists. I doubt a person using a can of spray paint to, say, touch up some piece of metal would say they are creating art. But, Banksy -a person who uses spray paint to convey something-is generally considered an artist.

      I think its not so much the medium, as the intent and perspective of the person creating the image. And that is where my frustration lies, I guess. If someone is creating strictly to create and express, who am I to judge another person’s intent, perspective and the worthiness of their form of expression? And why is putting their efforts down accepted? Personally, I shine in an environment of positive reinforcement. If its not a matter of commerce, or an employee/employer relationship with goals and expectations, then why tell someone they are wrong or inferior?

      Obviously, I also think art and commerce can overlap. In that case, there are expectations, real life failures, etc…. But in that case it is between the parties involved to find common artistic ground.

      I do agree that the concept of participation ribbons doesn’t prepare people for real life failures… However, I do like the idea of a world filled with encouragement and teaching people to understand that measures of success vary from situation to situation, and require effort to attain.

      In an educational environment, I also agree with goals and critiques..because in that case, the student has agreed they want to grow or shape their art.

      I just don’t know I agree with the idea of publicly shaming other people who have put their art out there for no solid reason.

      I hadn’t thought of the numbing effect that the glut of photos had had on society though….that is a very good point.

      Thanks for taking a moment to give your thoughts. I love these sort of discussions. 🙂

      • tabularasa88 February 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

        Agreed. And again, I wasn’t arguing that photography is or can be art, just trying to explain the reasons for the recent negativity from critics.

      • seeingspotsphoto February 26, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

        Lol I know. And as I said, I definitely appreciate your comments. Made me think, which is never a bad thing. 🙂

        I suspect you are correct about the root of the negativity…at least, for a lot of people. Nothing with us humans is ever truly black and white.

  20. kathryningrid March 3, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    Love this. I’m pretty much on the same page with you throughout. Art vs. not-art is a failed, unanswerable topic! For me, it comes down to P.O.V.: if I can pull anyone into an even slightly different world or a conversation or even mere thought about it by expressing how *I* see or experience something, *that’s* what tends to make it worthy of the title Art more than mere documentation, and I don’t much care for trying to suss out what’s High or Low art anymore. As for people being so pompous or self-absorbed as to think they have the right to categorize and (especially) denigrate others on the basis of they own definitions of art and artists, that’s just another excuse for insecure people to bully others. Haters gonna hate, and all that. I have thousands of better things to do with my time than listen to such small-mindedness.

    Carry on with what you do so well!

    Cheers,
    Kathryn

    • seeingspotsphoto March 3, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

      “Haters gonna hate” is pretty much what I kept thinking in my head when I was typing that out. lol I mean, obviously I respect that other people have an opinion about art…that’s kind of the thing about art, with it being so subjective and all. I’m just not down with the bullying, as you said.

      To put another popular quote out there…”Can’t we all just get along?” Or “agree to disagree”….or “kumbaya”, or something.

      • kathryningrid March 3, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

        Now I *know* I came to the right place! (Kumbaya back atcha! LOL) And I just noticed that, while spell-check and other auto-check computer functions are happy to constantly throw ridiculously wrong Corrections at me all the time, they fail equally consistently to catch dumb usage typos like “they own definitions”—apparently online grammar, too, is an art form not appreciated equally by all. 😉

      • seeingspotsphoto March 3, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

        Pffft, I hear that I use too many ellipses, so who an I to judge. lol

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