How we can do better

Ah. Weird times and dark days. The photographic social media world appears to be alive with strong comment and criticism - some of which is at my own instigation.

There’s a passion that seems on the one hand to be worthy and yet on the other channelled into tearing down others. I have made my views very clear about staging in the past and (perhaps inadvisedly most recently on the recent SPNC instruction). Fair play to those who stand by their beliefs that a little harmless staging under the auspices of an instruction is fine and will broadens minds and encourage experimentation. There’s a no win situation for all there because people have very entrenched views on the topic.

The recent Urban Picnic competition also appears to have drawn a little flack about the lack of originality in the submissions. No one thankfully has complained about the winner - Observe’s own Ilya Shtutsa whose original, free shooting style belies his incredible knack for intricate and subtle layering and composition.

The main complaint by one quarter is the lack of emotion and originality in the submission. Of that I’m probably one of the main culprits with my photo booth image. A clear example of style over substance and an image that can probably evoke no more than a wry smile. Nice colours and a handy juxta of people’s positions though.

I’m not sure how people can strike out successfully on their own without putting in the hours first. At the risk of becoming repetitive, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to candid photography. It’s been done and done by masters. They created it for god’s sake. We tread in the footsteps of giants and few if any will be able to equal what they have done. What is concerning and frustrating is the certain knowledge that comparisons will always be made. We will always be judged against the highest bars possible - Gilden, Parr, Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Winogrand and and and…….the list goes on.

Personally I’m happy to keep plugging away. I like the idea that I am trying to clamber onto my heroes’ shoulders. I think that if I ever find myself making good images it will be because of them. The quest for originality has led to a bastardisation of the genre. Admired by some, reviled by others for the blurring of the lines between originality and outright deceit. It’s now hard to know whether an image is either a work of genius in its creation or a work of genius in its construction and directed positioning of characters and use of software based composites.

Yesterday I wandered into the wheat field adjoining our house. It was staggeringly beautiful. I celebrated that with a roll of exposures and yet throughout, I had the occasional voice niggling at me with the admonishment that “this wasn’t street” but I ignored it on the basis that I was simply pressing a shutter button and trying something fresh and new (at least for me). When I get the rolls processed I will probably like the shots in the same way as when looking at holiday snaps for the first time and feel the pleasant pang of the time and place of their taking. The question is whether I have the courage to show them to anyone online. A silly concern? It shouldn’t be but it is. Just for fun and just for me is a slogan that I would have branded onto my frontal lobes if I could. I hope it’s one of those affirmations that, one day will become a permanent fixture in my thinking. However, despite best efforts, it subsides and the online curse of popularity rises up and queers my thinking and, most importantly, informs my shooting. A bad thing I think.

There will be comments along the lines of “go with what you feel is right” “Be yourself”, “shoot what you’re drawn to”. But am I alone in feeling that the lack of a nurturing wider community undermines that? Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredible resource. But like all communities formed of people, it’s deeply flawed. Filled with clashing personalities and views. Mini wars spring up and factions are formed. Those caught in the middle of the Venn diagram of personalities are, by turn drawn one way and then the other.

Now it would be a complete nonsense for me to suggest that a community it should be a tie dyed utopia of online hugging and love ins. I’ve even complained about exactly that being one of the flaws of Flickr and the Facebook like button. Nevertheless I find it hard to reach and equilibrium in myself and consequently my photography. Historically I have been an insecure person and have been unsure of my footing in many aspects of my life. What masochistic lunacy pushed me toward such a subjective and unstable passion? I couldn’t have picked something more designed to drive me insane with paranoia and uncertainty. And yet……

For the first time in the four years of my committed photography, I’m starting to hold things back for myself. Shown to some trusted friends those images will be kept in electric and physical storage until the day when I feel that they, and those that follow them into the “Maybe Some Day” folder, might form themselves into something worth displaying. I’ve often wondered what my legacy might be and, aside from my twin careers, what my daughter will be able to tell my grandchildren. Maybe she will reach up to a shelf and pull down a maquette of prints formed of those images and sit with them and show them what their grandfather did. And did well.

I figure that’s good enough.

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