One of the most difficult topics to discuss about photography and many other art forms is creativity. Creativity is an intangible that often isn’t recognized until it’s seen and often unappreciated until an artist has passed. This is one of the many reasons creativity isn’t discussed as much as gear. The tangible is always easier to grasp and has finite boundaries of understanding, where as creativity is amorphous and tough to pin down due to its variability from person to person. Complicating this in the world of photography is the lowering of barriers to make photography easy and accessible to everyone. While this is great for most it really ruffles the feathers of long time photographers and in some aspects rightly so. Creativity is often lost on those obsessing on gear stats, subject location, exposure settings, machine gunning photo after photo and comments/likes. Rightly or wrongly it’s tough to hear and see cranky old photographers complain about how it IS versus how it USED TO BE. Case in point this recent article, Humanity takes millions of photos every day. Why are most so forgettable?
Slow vs Internet Speed
If you come across a film photographer these days you’ll never hear a complaint about the process being slow. Film photographers, those that are remaining, love the slow process as it’s methodical, allows for contemplation & thought before executing a photograph. Digital photographers that use DSLRs and mobile devices by contrast shoot and share at lightning speed. Given that the methodologies of these two camps are so different it’s no surprise there is often philosophical friction.
Story Telling & Narcissism
While these two camps operate so differently is it really realistic that one camp should expect the other to think the way the other does?
Good pictures that tell a story, he said (Larry Towell, a member of Magnum Photos), are always about other people. But when “everybody with a phone thinks they’re a photographer,” the result is “the autobiographical and the narcissistic.”
Mr. Towell’s grandparents used to have their picture taken once a year, and they had to dress up and go into town to have it done. He cherishes those photographs today. They are a record of what was. But he fears that his granddaughters won’t have any memorable photographs of their own children: They will be lost in the technological deluge.
“People aren’t photographing for history any more. It’s for immediate gratification. If you’re photographing to share an image, you’re not photographing to keep it.”
This is the part of the Humanity takes millions… article that baffles me. I straddle both sides on this one. I have thousands of photos on my iPhone. They’re a great way to document a moment and share it with others via online tools that didn’t exist years ago. In fact I tell stories with these photos more frequently than I do with photos from my DSLR (ex. 4 months of triptychs on Instagram). The upside is great new tools (iPhones, mobile apps for editing and social media web sites) allow me to communicate in ways unimaginable years ago. The downside which I hear, read about and often struggle with is not living in the moment and living behind an iPhone and DSLR. And true people don’t print photos like they used to, but its not the only way to share a photo now either.
One of the more interesting things I’ve observed since I’ve begun sharing DSLR images and mobile images online is that the images that garner the most attention are the those that reflect the life experience of the photographer whether they’re behind the scenes photos of a shoot or sharing spontaneous moments of one’s life. And yes the majority of these types of images are now taken with mobile devices to create a new form of story telling. That being said I still love taking more time with my DSLR to capture images that also tell a story.
Judge Hissy Fit
Should any of us be alarmed that that 3 judges decided to abstain from making any awards in a recent photo contest? I find it interesting, but its certainly not going to change my outlook on my photography. Contests are great for bragging rights, but they don’t really help you improve as a photographer. Not to take anything away from anyone who has won a contest, but having been a judge on multi-judge panel I can tell you that no 3 people like the same things and as a result winners are often compromises. As a result that means the best images aren’t always the ones that win.
So what went wrong at the 2013 Banff Mountain Photography Competition? Did photographers not read the rules and ignore the “photo essay” emphasis? Did photographers rely on photoshop too much? Were there photos truly uninspired or unedited? Did the judges have an unrealistic expectation and unbending view of photography? I’m sure it was all of the above to some degree. Still if I were an entrant I’d look at the contest in a much more skeptical light. At $10 an entry I’m sure they made a pretty penny from all the entries and it’s convenient that their $3000 grand prize won’t be awarded. Frankly if the organizers can’t guide their judges to follow their own rules it tarnishes their contest and erodes the trust of photographers who take part. In reviewing their rules there isn’t anything said about entries being non-refundable and given no award was granted I wonder if anyone will start demanding a refund. Either way it’s unfortunate that the judges decided to railroad the competition to make a statement versus awarding the best of the entries even if they didn’t think they were the best that could have been.
Here lies some grounding news… for most photographers just starting out you do suck. If you’re pretty good now at photography at one point you sucked and you just suck a little less. If you’re great at photography now you sucked a lot and still suck from time to time, but you stuck with it to be great. If you’re a master photographer you suck at times just less than most, but you know what not to show. All photographers have one thing in common, at one point you sucked. Case and point This is Why Your Pictures Suck. by Ibarionex Perello
How do you suck less? Practice, devotion, tenacity and not biting on the fact that some judge, expert or critic is always right. Find things that inspire you, as inspiration is a catalyst to developing your unique creative outlook. Don’t fret over originality as Originality Is A Matter of Perspective. Get inspired, get comfortable in your own skin and find yourself. It may take a lifetime, but the creative journey will be worth it.
Fantasy vs Reality… Oh the Irony
The flip-side of the coin is just as amusing as mobile photographers also have their gripes. Video, it’s tarnishing the magic of still photography by making things too real! When I read Instagram Video and the Death of Fantasy it gave me a chuckle because it crystalized the fact that no camp of photography is ever truly happy. I’d argue that if anything is keeping photography mediocre it’s photographers inability to focus on their work and spending too much time complaining. *Looking at the time* Oh my how much time did I spend writing this?!