Having an idle moment or three I found myself browsing the “Photography” tag on WordPress, as is my wont (occasionally). Don’t really know why as all too often I come away from this little exercise feeling somewhat disheartened, having totally failed to find anything that fires my imagination or stimulates my interest.
That’s not a criticism of the content as such; more of an observation on its relevance to my own particular tastes and predilections.
This most recent little browsing session seemed to be going in the same direction and I was about to give up on it when it occurred to me that two of the posts I’d clicked through to had somehow lodged themselves in the murky depths of my mind and were sort of kicking the inside of said mind as though trying to attract attention.
“Wot’s going on ’ere then?” sez I to meself. So I pause to reflect. Well, for starters they seemed to share a couple of things in common. Neither were original content but reposts from elsewhere without anything relevant to the original post being added. But beyond that I realised that the original posts that they referenced had sparked a glimmer of interest in the old brainbox. For, in some manner, they touched upon one of my former fave soapbox topics… “Photography as Art”.
Time for a revisit then to find out what this little niggle’s all about.
The first appeared to be some sort of aggregator blog… a type of blog that I generally ignore for they simply seem to scrape content from elsewhere without adding anything useful or interesting whatsoever. But, on this occasion following my nose, I found myself at the website of some guy named Keith Cooper who appears to be a UK-based commercial photographer.
Pretty sensible down-to-earth sort of chap he seems to be too. And I became quite absorbed by the article in question (“Keith Cooper and black and white photography”) even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Seems he was “interviewed for an article in a special black and white photography ‘bookazine’ from Digital Photographer magazine” and this present article is a repeat of the questions and answers. (Um… what the hell’s a “bookazine”?)
However, the fun begins when I click through from there to another article on his website, the inclusion of the link being prompted by his being asked “How do you come up with your concepts?”
Rather deliciously he replies…
Ah, concepts… This is the sort of stuff you need when doing a photography degree, having exhibitions and dealing with art directors.
As someone whose academic career (both studying and teaching) didn’t encompass much of the arts, I’ve always had difficulty with such things as artist’s statements. To me, most of them are nonsense and if I suspect the ‘artist’ actually believes them, a matter of concern…
Predictably I just have to click through to his “Artist’s Statement”.
All of which is superb. But this is truly delightful:
Artist’s statements are frequently pretentious tosh written to fit in with the needs of galleries or final year projects. You can usually spot remnants of this nonsense in photographer’s promotional materials when they are not long out of college. This is a passing phase. More worrying is when it turns up later in life – frequently associated with ‘projects’ which as most working photographers know is a euphemism for lack of paying work.
I always find an ‘Artist’s Statement’ slightly suspicious — even more so if I think the person that wrote it really believes it.
I think I rather like this Keith Cooper bloke. Clearly a man after me own heart!
Now we come to the second of those photography-tagged items. This apparently was a repost from another blog using some “reshare” gizmo named Amplify. I don’t really object to such ways of spreading content around the Web. Indeed I periodically do similar things myself, like for example “tweeting” links to interesting articles and suchlike. (Well, I think they’re interesting anyway!) And even using the “reblog” feature here on WordPress itself… once I’d finally discovered it!
But when it comes to reposting lumps of blog content from elsewhere then I think its kinda nice if one doesn’t just repost it but at the very least adds an additional sentence or two, if only to enrich the content. Along the lines of “adding value” sorta thing.
That aside though, I dutifully click through to the original article “Top Ten Ways to Separate the Cameraists from the Photographers”… and rather wish I hadn’t.
Y’see, there’s me thinking this is likely going to be one of those humourous tongue-in-cheek type articles the like of which I have a weakness for including in the “quite so…” section of my sidebar links but, on reading the thing through, I begin to suspect the guy’s actually serious!
A suspicion mightily reinforced by the very last item in his list… “Camerists “capture” images. Photographers make photographs that tell stories.” To which he appends the following…
Yup stories. It’s kind of an abstract concept of a static image telling a whole story, but think about it and it kind of changes your view of photography.
Oh dear. Oh dearie me. Oh dearie dearie me.
The truth is of course that every photograph tells a story regardless of whether or not that’s the intention. It may not be exactly the type of story that this guy means or that other folk are expecting/looking for, but its a story nevertheless.
Joe Bloggs down at the local boozer with his chums brandishes his point’n’shoot (or even mobile phone) and snaps a pic of his mates… its crooked, its out of focus, the exposure’s all wrong, and maybe there’s even a bit of red-eye crept in there somewhere.
There’s one of his mates making a silly face at the lens, another throwing up into his beer glass, a third about to collapse on the floor in a drunken stupor. You know the sort of thing. And Joe didn’t snap the scene to tell the story of how he and his mates were enjoying themselves, or as a comment on the role of lager louts in 21st century Brit society, but simply cos he thought it was fun… and could embarrass them with it later on.
Or there’s Mrs Tourist, working her way around the city and snapping stuff at random so she can show friends and family back home. No thought for the technicalities or the “artistic merit” of the shot. Just bog-standard touristy-type stuff. Again, you know the sort of thing.
Or there’s Mr Familyman, pics of his family on holiday, or at home, or of the family pet, or other random stuff.
The list is virtually endless. And all those images, every single one of them, tells a story of some sort. Even if that story be as simple as “this is something that caught the eye of the person behind the viewfinder”. That, in itself, is a story. And a complete, whole story. You can read as much, or as little, into it as you like.
If the guy means that “real” photographers always take photographs with the intent of telling a specific story then, er, a dose of the real world would not come amiss I guess. This is just too much like the inane chasing after “meaning” or “messages” or “significance” in pics. A curious phenomenon that I try to avoid as much as possible.
Yes, sometimes an image (or series of images) will have a socially significant or news-worthy story to tell (this being of course the rationale behind photodocumentary) but it doesn’t necessarily follow that every image should fit that bill. And the fact that some, if not indeed the majority, of images don’t overtly “tell a story” doesn’t disqualify them as photographs, or the person that takes them as photographer.
And as for that nonsense about “Camerists ‘capture’ images whilst photographers ‘make’ photographs”. What a load of old cobblers. If one wants to be picky about semantics and so forth there’s a really strong argument to be had in favour of “capturing an image” being precisely what a photographer does. The thing a photographer certainly doesn’t do is “make” a photograph… the camera does that. All the photographer does in this manufacturing process, at the precise point of manufacture, is to press the button!
And let’s not get into that whole bit about composition, settings and so forth. All that amounts to is providing instructions to the machine on how it should make the image. The actual making of the image is all down to the machine, i.e., the camera.
Far as I’m concerned a photographer is a person wot takes photographs. Or, if we really want to be all arty, “captures the light” (heh heh). Period. There may be different types of photographer, but hey, that’s all grist to the photographic mill.
By now, as you may have guessed, I was beginning to get a bit irritated. So I worked my way back upwards through this guy’s list to see if there was anything else that sort of jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. Cos I’m a bit of a masochist like that. And I had nothing better to do at the time. And who knows, I might even manage to cobble together enough material for a blog post of my own. Which I did. Self-evidently.
Next up is this… “Photographers constantly seek peer feedback and study other photographers [sic] work.”
Well, I could prob’ly be tempted into agreeing with the second part of this (about studying other photographers’ work) but as for the first bit? Bunkum! Most of the photographers I know (and the majority of them are either pro or at the very least semi-pro) are far more concerned with doing their own thing (that very often is the same as earning their living) or developing their own style or whatever than they are with getting “peer feedback”. Which really only equates to getting someone else’s opinion on one’s efforts. Why would you want to do that anyway? Because you don’t have sufficient confidence in your own abilities or “vision”? Or what?
Are you saying that their opinion is so much better, so much more valid, than yours? Yes, there’s definitely a case to be made for seeking such feedback in certain specific (usually either commercial or competitive) situations but, on the whole, it’s just a nonsense.
Such “peer feedback” may be ok in the early days of one’s dabbling with photography (it could even legitimately be described as part of the initial learning process) but, having gone beyond those early days, why bother?
Which reminds me, I still have a post brewing about the whole business of “critique”… that coincidentally was prompted by a post I read elsewhere. So I’ll say no more on this topic at the mo’.
Then, a bit further up, we have this little gem… “Cameraists are oblivious to the fact that they may be interfering with a pro photographer trying to do their job. Photographers wouldn’t dream of getting in a pros [sic] way or interrupting a shoot.”
What a load of crap! This guy needs to mix it with a bunch of hardened photojournos for a while on some nitty-gritty stuff like covering protests and demonstrations, like wot I do. Or riots even.
Then he’d pretty soon learn that frequently you can’t get a clear shot cos there’s too many other damned professional togs blocking the view.
Either that or squeeze your way in and hence block the view of a load of other togs trying for the same shot.
Truth is, in those situations everyone’s after the “money shot” and when it comes to earning a living at this photography lark that’s what it’s all about. Or is this guy saying that folk wot earn a living at photography but not doing the sort of photography that he may do aren’t really photographers at all? Hmm. Curious.
So yes, in some circumstances maybe the “getting in the way” point is valid, but it’s certainly not something that’s so widespread that it can (or should) be used as a generalisation in such manner.
Moreover, having finally come to the conclusion that this guy probably is serious, I find I despise the entire approach as it reminds me far too much of the whole arty elitist type attitude… pretentious, precious, and full of shite. In fact, as a fitting summation I’m minded to reblog a pic I first blogged not so very long ago…