Recently, I came across a comment posted on r/photography which was in reply to someone else's post about the loss of approximately six years worth of work due to a flood in their hometown. The reply essentially told the OP to get over it - that they had ‘done’ photography for twelve years and given up due to its 'oversaturation'. Apparently, photography had become ‘hollow’ and ‘insubstantial’ - being “all surface, appearance, cosmetic and frail”. They went on to state that easy access to photographic gear and social media meant that photography had become derivative and without purpose.
- Then came the famous one-liner;
“Everyones a Photographer now”
This is an issue which I want to address, having seen it and faced it plenty of times before.
Ok, I get it. The vast majority of people now have phones/cameras and social media accounts. They take pictures of things that they have deemed worthy of their time - or things which they want to attribute to their online personas (much like the sharing of memories between acquaintances, or bragging about how great ones life is - if you want to be really cynical about it)...
Unfortunately, photography is an extension of this behaviour - more so today (I’ll give them that, whoever they may be) - than ever before. BUT, and here’s where it gets real deep; photography has always been highly consumeristic. From obsessively capturing shots of broken societies torn apart by aimless conflict, cover mounted images of dead children washed up on a not so far-off shoreline like un-recycled plastic bottles with kit costing thousands, to breezy holiday snapshots, quaint family portraits and endless f*****g pictures of someones dinner taken on a phone or a compact - the camera is unbiased and omnipresent, ready for every occassion and triggered by a human hand, as it has been since the beginning.
Aside from being somewhat blunt, my point here is that the entire role of photography is the capturing of the image (be it emotionally provocative, morally challenging or just plain mundane), with the intention to then sell it to the highest bidder (with undisclosed intentions) or to own forevermore as a token of ones existence. It's a very lucrative business.
For those either working in or getting into the field, there is always going to be that new piece of gear, that person who is lauded as ‘the best’ and that publication filled with tips and techniques, the ‘unattainable’ shot of [insert current exotic location] and the opinions of others, cherry picked from a long list of contributors that never quite make the cut. This is the way it works in an industry - from fishing, cars, fashion to art, music and photography, BUT... one always has the choice as to whether or not to embrace it or ignore it.
Yes, it is harder for one to maintain a high profile in the modern age. But, it is equally difficult to break through this endless stream of ‘content’ for someone who places value in their work. One must face droves of sycophants who aim to steal any original idea that presents itself to them. One must endlessly compete with narcissists who have ‘done it all before’. One must always be ready with the blade, should the fattened goose ever expose its throat, for this is the world that the system has created for us - you either sink or you swim; or you can simply do something because you love it.
On a personal basis, photography has given me the ability to operate without giving a shit about what others do or say. You will always have those who adopt something new, get in the way and then move on to the next thing - but if you truly love what you do then you’ll either find a way to deal with this issue or point blank ignore them. Why waste your time and effort worrying about other people when you can push forward, learn new things and embrace fresh challenges as they arise?
I get that people want to feel special, to feel that they actually have worth in the world and that their efforts are paying off. I feel the same way all the time. But to give up on something because others are doing it? That’s just stupid. I know that creatives face a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs - again, I feel this way all the time, but I face the challenge. I’d much rather live an emotionally ‘dynamic’ creative lifestyle than one where I go to work, come home, eat, sleep and do it all again tomorrow. I want to appreciate my time in this world, to create a legacy which I can look back on in later years. I want to succeed, to fail, to learn and to progress. Not wither away slowly while creating profit for some faceless director hidden away on the top floor of an office building somewhere.
To round this up, I’ll leave you with my parting shot;
For every arrogant older photographer spouting forth the ‘things were better’ rhetoric and for every narcissist whom uses their profession as a mask for their insecurities there are a thousand students asking ‘what [insert piece of gear here] should I buy?’ or ‘here’s a picture of my [insert generic object of affected worth here], what do you all think?’ - You can’t win.
With this being said, how can the average person stick out from the crowd? The answer is simple; learn to manipulate the psyche of those around you and repeat the process over and over again on a wider and wider scale. Forcibly put your material under their noses until they eventually take a bite (otherwise known as ‘marketing’).
- Either that, or you get stuck in and do something for the love of it.