Soap Box time

Has it really been over a week since I posted to the blog?  Clearly my creative juices have been less forthcoming in this unaccustomed heat.  I suspect many will be confused as to why we are complaining about temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s but the reality for us in the UK is usually much cooler, much wetter and far less humid.  We are also a nation obsessed with the weather it seems to me at times.  My family will talk all through the main evening news but go silent for the weather forecast!

The high humidity and unusual heat have kept me at home far more than is normal. I am having to force myself out some days in order to shoot my 365 image somewhere other than within a fifteen feet radius of my house.  I’m still managing a good variety of images though and have found some interesting little compositions whilst out on errands but I’ve not had a good walk up on the moors for several months now.

© Dave Whenham

One thing I have been doing is looking at a lot of images via my computer screen.  I am General Secretary for the PPC, a postal and online photographic club, and we are in the midst of our annual competition at the moment and I’m sorting out the award winners along with those selected for our annual exhibition. That means up to 600 images have gone past my eyeballs in the last few weeks relating to the club alone.  Then there is social media, I’m not a big user but do dabble a little plus of course I visit Flickr pretty much daily.

What I’ve been noticing, especially amongst club competition entries (ours and other clubs) is a degree of homogeneity with members consciously or otherwise adopting a style or approach that they think will find favour with club judges.  Then there is the seemingly endless stream of social media posts which are also tending towards that feeling of “sameness”.  I don’t think I want to see another shot of someone’s silhouette as they sit atop a rocky outcrop apparently admiring a sunset.  The cynic in me doubts they are watching the sunset but are probably checking Instagram or Facebook (other social media outlets are available).

Of the billions of images posted online every week I would guess that the largest proportion are posted by people who would not class themselves as “photographers” per-se despite the oft-heard platitude that “everyone’s a photographer now.”  To me a photographer is either someone who earns their living from photography or an enthusiastic amateur for whom photography is more than a way of interacting socially. The definition of both could probably take up reams of A4 so I will leave it there, but to my mind snapping dozens of selfies every day does not  classify someone as a photographer by itself even though they will produce the occasional image with particular photographic merit.  

Perhaps we need a new term for this obsessive daily documentation (ODD?) of even the most mundane aspects of our life. Another square picture of an alcoholic drink anyone?

© Dave Whenham

Then there is the amount of effort required. It is said that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters one will eventually tap out an ode worthy of Shakespeare.  Using this analogy, if, as I’ve seen posited,  you have over 2 billion digital images posted every day (730 billion over a year is as near to infinity as makes no difference) then there are bound to be some good images amongst them. The key for me is intent and repeatability.  Perhaps intent and repeatability are key components of the definition of a “photographer” which I am carefully shying away from proposing?

But, to define photography as an activity that “everyone” now does every day does perhaps demean somewhat the efforts of those for whom photography is more than just part of the routine whether they are paid for it or not.  The sheer number of images produced every day and the homogeneous tendencies amongst them might imply that the democratisation of photography has killed creativity and by definition suggest that original photographic artistic vision is moribund.  I however don’t think it is. I think it is still alive and well but unless you know where to look it is buried under an absolute avalanche of online imagery.  As John Krupp* commented in the context of a body of creative work rather than a single “lucky shot”:

“… I’m reminded that creativity and original thinking is alive and well, and has little to do with format. But coming up with that dozen+ takes real work, and the internet does not like to pay for real work.”

I saw recently a very high profile filmmaker lament the passing of the print.  His thesis appears to be that we used to print work and look at it whereas now we shoot with our smartphones and never look at it again after that initial moment of taking it.  I wonder if he acknowledges that we had no other option but to print if we wanted to view our photographs?  However, I think his thesis is flawed not least because I’ve yet to see anyone produce empirical evidence to support these claims – for the past or the present.  But were prints really viewed that assiduously?  Or did we get the packet back from the chemist, flick through them and then consign them to the back of a drawer still in the chemists envelope?  I doubt that habits have changed that much even if the technology has. What has changed I suspect, and changed more dramatically than many of us could have conceived, is the number of images being created every day. To complete the analogy these are then  consigned to that virtual drawer but in volumes we could not have conceived of twenty years ago

© Dave Whenham
One from my “365”, so a mundane, every day digital image perhaps – but this has been printed and exhibited thus avoiding the back of my digital drawer

Good, creative and innovative photography is still about, we just have to work harder to find it and in this internet age no one seems to want to put the effort in and so search engine algorithms churn out references to similar looking images that it thinks people might like to see – perhaps homogeneity is being driven more by search engine algorithms which in turn influences how individuals interact with the camera they always have with them?




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