November 12th, 2020
Apart from occasional trips with friends or workshops photography is usually a lonely experience. Whether you are a landscape or studio photographer, like some kind of new gold miners we tend to keep ourselves to ourselves and explore and discover new spots and approaches alone. We enjoy it quiet, we like to focus and not to be distracted. We do not like to be rushed by anybody. Ours are long hours of congenial solitude spend on meticulous framing of a scene and later on post-processing, either in darkroom or in front of the computer. We are the poets of light and our photography hours are positively secluded.
Yet, however much we tend to keep any disturbances to our being engrossed in finding the best shot at bay, we also seek attention – not to ourselves but to the outcome of our photographic raptures – the photographs we decide are good enough to be presented. This is where we come out and make ourselves known and where the tables are turned for us.
Artists want their work to be recognised. We like it when it is bought, hanged on a good spot and appreciated. No need for Mona Lisa crowds and protection level – a few insightful comments will cut it just fine for us.
Yet, printing, framing and hanging the images is only the beginning of the second part of our photographic journey. It is, in fact sort of a threshold between our undisturbed life within which our creations are made and the world at large where they might be valued (or not, as the case may be).
By unveiling our creations to the harsh elements of peoples’ opinions we expose both our images and ourselves to whatever the audience may think of what we brought to the table. Many artist are afraid of facing critique from people who do not know them at all, and are afraid of open evaluation of their work, often done by less-than-experienced onlookers.
Will my work move anybody? Will they like it? Will they buy it? Or will they just go by and pay no attention to it? Those questions dwell on our minds. Many of us are successful and sell images and have their workshops always full. For others old shoulder is something they know more than enough.
Over the past few years websites where we can post and try to sell our work in different formats have mushroomed. Galleries are keeping relatively well too. Facebook and Instagram are full of ‘visit my website’ and ‘buy my pictures’ texts links. Much as we tend to say we shoot for ourselves we do like to have our best creations noticed and acknowledged. However hard this may turn out for us, we do like putting our work and ideas to a test.
Photographers do not usually spend money – if they have any left after they bought the latest lens – on other photographers’ work. We do not support one another this way, do we?
I mentioned this before but it might perhaps be worth mentioning again: my background is literature. Despite obvious and vast differences, there are many an analogy between the two arts. A writer will buy a book by another but not to merely read it. The copy will be a base for merciless scrutiny and unsparing criticism which will as often as not be offered in an unstinting fashion.
It is not all half as bad as it sounds though.
Photography discourse, similarly to discourses in other forms of art, is incredibly important to our development. Photographers, photography critics and those who giving their opinion can pronounce no more than ‘I just like it’ or ‘I just don’t like it’ – all should be involved in it. You might not agree with me but let me just state that I believe such open discourse between all who want to take part constitutes an essential part to the development of our work. There is never enough of open dialogue yet, sadly, there is so little of it.
It might be just me of course but as the years go by and I return to my earlier work I often notice that it should have been done differently. It is plain to see that I failed to recognise some aspects of it which are now so transparent that I almost feel ashamed of my not having been able to recognise them. All the mistakes lay bare in front of me and all other options are clear. Not only have I changed as a person over the years but also my post-production abilities grew, not to mention my being able to scrutinise and question my work a lot better than I could when I was younger.
This is the moment when a though kicks in – if back then someone would have pointed those different approached to me would that be of any help? Would I pay heed and try out the suggestions or would I not be able to recognise any merit in it? I’ve always liked to listen and chew on things so perhaps I would have taken the advice into consideration, even if I finally went my own way, which I am sure as hell I would.
The apparent lack of meaningful critical discourse is what triggered me to set up LEMAG in the first place. The same goes for our ‘Talking Pictures’ series on YouTube where I discuss my approach and understanding of some of the images that both LEMAG readers and I find inspirational or – which happens a lot less – even slightly controversial. As we are also commenting LEMAG Talks this month I believe all this has the potential to create a solid platform on which such discourse can happen, a modern-style agora for all who care to look into and ponder over photographs and offer their own opinions. A group of people openly sharing their ideas is a lot better than a fleeting like on social media. In spite of all our differences in thinking and approach it brings us together and opens our solitary experiences to others. This has always been one of the tenets on which I build LEMAG. Do chime in then, we are open!
I have decided for this blog to select my image from Shoeburyness, a town in southeast Essex, England, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. Many a photographer shoots there and I believe this image, thanks to the rendering of the scene, has a good potential to trigger a meaningful discussion.