I came across this interesting article by Michael Sweet on the Huffington Post the other day regarding the current “street photography” culture. He talks about how banal much of the photography is, and why all this bad photography exists. It’s very good. It got me thinking about the internet photo community in general so I thought I would add some comments.
While in the States a few months ago I came across some prowling the streets, cameras strapped to hand with their pro-sniper straps, somewhat reminiscent of hunters (I actually came across a website that called itself Street Hunter..). Their appearance as well as subject interaction looked different from footage I have seen of greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand in action on the streets for example. As an aside, in appearance Gary Winogrand looked to me a bit more a like a nice old fisherman whereas these guys were a bit more like some special forces tactical unit in appearance.
Just because you can does it mean that you should?
Digital technology has made it possible to effortlessly take a photo that is perfect, at least in the technical sense of exposure and focus, and with a couple clicks in photoshop and boom, you have a photo that is nowadays commonly called “dope,” or “sick”. A couple more clicks and it can be online in a multitude of places ready for the reassuring clicks of approval from multitudes of friends and followers. It’s easier than ever to get the gear, a website, upload it, and join the millions of others doing the exact same thing.
1.8 billion per year and growing- for what?
The accessibility of photography both in a technical as well as economic sense has led to unprecedented popularity. True, Kodak revolutionized photography a century ago by bringing cheap mass produced cameras to the average person, but hardly anyone saw the resulting photos. The sheer volume of photographs ever accumulating online today is mind boggling. The amount of photos shared online has apparently tripled just between 2013 and 2014 from 500 million to 1.8 billion according to one report. Currently according to Flickr 8,600,000 photos are uploaded everyday! Is it information overload? Maybe we are coming full circle since most of these photos today are not really seen either. Even Flickr for example is selecting photographs to showcase on their own site based on “interestingness” algorithms.
What is “good” or “art”- maybe best to leave that up to the algorithm?
Maybe in the future megapixels and memory will be such that we can just video with our camera and then an algorithm will help us select a number of the best shots from that day’s “photoshoot”. We could even just attach it to our head and leave it on all day and night and let the computer due the work automatically overnight and when we wake up in the morning the photos will already be posted and some even will have received some likes and clicks from other computers based on algorithms and hopefully already selected by algorithms to showcase.. If there isn’t a scifi book about it already there should be.
What is “art”, “fine art”, and “good” or a “beautiful” photograph is a prickly subject(ive) of course (made all the more difficult by our own inability to define these terms). I’ll best stay away from this but if you get a chance I recommend the John Berger film on Youtube, Ways of Seeing for some interesting discussion about this.
Conformity of cliches
When I look at photo sites I see many photographs that are almost indistinguishable between different photographers. It’s almost as if they could be computer generated algorithms. There’s the obligatory dock running out into the lake, the sparkly sunset with the tree, the long exposure creek or waterfall, and other cliches. I wonder if they went to the same photography school.
What is real?
In Zen Buddhism there is a term Buddha Nature. It is in all things but most people cannot see it until they are able to understand themselves. A zen monk who lived in the 14th century called Bassui said, seeing ones own nature is buddhahood. I will call this nature truth. I think real photographs capture truth. Why am I wandering around taking pictures? It is not simply because I like a pretty picture that looks like it belongs in a calendar. And anyway if that is all I wanted there are billions of “pretty” pictures online so that I don’t need to go out and make my own. I think it is because I am searching for answers to bigger questions about this world as well as about myself.
Well, ok, now with all that said, I can say for me it is my goal to take “real” photographs and continuously improve my eye and my technique. But above all I will enjoy myself.
With that I will leave you with a photo of an empty cat food dish and a shadow I found in Chiba. Is it really empty?? Haha!
Do not be misled! Look directly! What is this? – Bassui