The Million Dollar Question That Eric Should have asked

Eric Kim recently discussed the question of whether we “need” or “want” to take photographs on his blog. Due respect but I think that’s the wrong issue. The issue is ”why?” do we [want/need to] take photographs. The motive is the key rather than the mechanics of the process of walking out of the door. That’s simply a question of semantics.

Over the last year or so I’ve railed against the popularity circus that the internet is in relation to all art forms but more importantly for photography. I’m also acutely aware that I have made several turns throughout these posts which may well reflect the turbulent nature of my attitude and the daily change in mood when it comes to this game.

My reason for being on Facebook is to keep in touch with other photographers and keep an eye on developments in the photography world. In the last twenty four hours in particular I’ve come to the dazzling realisation that it’s all pointless unless you know the answer to that question - Why?.

Those who constantly upload images to Facebook seem to want recognition and popularity – to share their ongoing work with the larger community. It can’t be for critique because no one ever says anything critical about publicly posted work (at least I have never seen a comment along the lines of “poor framing mate - not a keeper I’m afraid”). Some already have solid reputations and are talented photographers; many are very nice people. Some I don’t know at all but have blindly accepted friend requests (or they have accepted mine based on our mutual interest). Others have a following based almost solely on their friend base and the constant drip.. drip… drip of images. Like Chinese water torture, eventually some viewers will unconsciously accept defeat and see that person as talented and worth following because he or she is so visible and popular that there must be something to it.

That’s a world that I would choose not to live in. But what is the alternative? Deactivate FB? Unfollow those with photographic Tourette’s? The latter is probably the best option but that would seriously deplete the number of posts one would see due to the sheer volume of numbers. Why do they shoot? Yeah it’s fun. But how would that person (let’s call him Mike) feel if he couldn’t share those images and be rewarded with the likes and stars that he had in his mind when he uploaded the shots? Like a dog expecting a treat, Mike performs to order. His motive is not the action in itself but the knowledge that he will get his tasty “like chew” once it’s all done and visible to the thousand followers he has acquired through days of clicking on the endless stream of FB suggested friends.

I don’t know why I make photographs any more. It’s become clouded and skewed. I want to say that it’s for myself - but I would be lying. I tend not to share images on FB and I now only upload images to Flickr marked for the eyes of a dozen or so people. Yet still I have that tasty chew in the back of my mind. And why? Because it’s the ever present motivation that social media has rammed down our throats as being the means by which we assess success.

I envy those who can ignore that and whose motivation is based solely on the selfish (in the true sense of the word) desire to make a photograph simply for the pleasure of doing so. This Winogrand-esque state of mind surely must be the mental and emotional holy grail of photography for anyone with half a brain cell. Living in a perfect vacuum of oblivion within which to do that which I choose to (until recently) must be heaven.

This will hardly be news for some. For me it’s been a roller coaster ride of emotions surging from despair to elation. I recently revelled in the two weeks shooting on holiday and posted about it. Smug? Yep it was. I had a Mike - like compulsion to share the fact that I was enjoying shooting and trying new things and subjects etc. Turning that hubristic corner led me straight into a brick wall when I discovered that there had been a problem with the scanning of all twenty four rolls. I was floored, gutted like a carp. But why should that have been the case? I didn’t make those images to share with the world did I? I’ve just smugly announced my metamorphosis into “serene shooter”. It seems that somewhere behind my enjoyment of the process was the lingering gremlin of the “like/fave chew” sitting in a dark recess of my mind. My reaction to the loss of the images should have been less intense. Annoying? Yes. Worth being pissed off? Definitely. But mouth frothingly furious? No. I should have been able to revel in the cloudy dark scans and say “Hah! Nailed that one. Good for me. Well done Jas! Scanning cock up be damned.”

But no. I was distraught. Hardly the end of the world (as many have reminded me), but my reaction was the clue to the “Why?”. It clearly is not all about shooting for me. There is the need to be Mike.

For this man, it really ought to be stopped somehow. Is that even possible in this world where ability counts for a tiny proportion of the means to gaining popularity? How do we know if we are any good given the sycophantic nature of our interaction with others. I don’t know. I’d like to think so and for those of you who feel compelled to comment you may have some of the answers. Spill them do. But be aware that this solitary compulsion is unique to each of us in a way. We all have to find out the answers to “Why?” for ourselves by whatever means we can. Mike probably won’t care anymore because he’s gorged himself on chews.

I’m going to take action. I haven’t decided what yet but it will no doubt involve some detachment from the circus that is crack like in its addictive qualities. I need to get the monkey off my back. Is there a rehab centre for confused photographers? If so let me know and I’ll meet you at the reception.

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