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.