Though I’m old enough to remember when photos were viewed only in physical family albums, a slide show carousel in a makeshift home cinema, or art galleries and exhibitions, for most of my life I’ve been heartily immersed in the wonders of the internet.
The connectivity of the world wide web, email, and all its associated infrastructure has meant we can enjoy relationships with like minded souls across the breadth of the world in ways never before possible.
It’s a modern miracle.
But when it comes to photography, I’m starting to feel the internet has rather ruined us.
Or at least our perception of what makes a great photograph, and what doesn’t, and therefore how to try to judge and improve our own work – the photographs we choose to make, which we decide to keep, and which we share.
I believe there are two factors, both inextricably linked.
First, due initially to digital cameras, then these being incorporated into our phones, anyone with a phone these days also has a pocket camera.
So today, everyone’s a photographer.
Second, the availability of the internet to so many of us, at speeds that make it incredibly easy to share our photographs in a matter of moments, whether it’s via email, or any number of blogs or social sharing sites and apps.
So today, everyone’s a publisher also.
On the surface, the benefits of this double democratisation of making and sharing our photographs is hard to argue against. It’s one of the great privileges of the free societies most of us here live in.
But on the flip side, there are now very few filters or barriers between what anyone and everyone chooses to take a picture of, and what they then share with the world.
Just because someone makes a photograph, it doesn’t mean it was worth making. Even in their own eyes.
Similarly, just because someone has published an image to the world, it doesn’t mean it was worth sharing.
This act itself proves nothing more than someone’s competence at tapping a couple of icons on their smartphone in the correct sequence. A monkey could be trained to do it. A savvy cat could probably figure it out for itself.
The end result is we’re now all adrift in an incomprehensibly vast ocean of imagery, trying desperately to swim, but steadily going under.
And most of it is not worth a second look, or indeed even a first look.
Combined with this, because virtually anyone is free to share their own photographs through their own chosen channels online, there’s no-one casting a critical eye, no-one curating or editing what’s best for wider viewing. That’s up to us as individual viewers.
So what do we do about it? How do we even begin to decide where and what to view of other people’s photographs?
And how do we ensure the standard of our own work doesn’t further dilute the already over saturated rivers of publicly shared images?
Here’s a few things I’m trying.
I set out my intentions a few weeks back about reading more photography books and looking less online.
I’m currently reading The Unaltering Eye – Photographs from the National Gallery of Art, to further my education of some of the past masters of photography, and recently finished the excellent American Photographs by Walker Evans.
At least the images in books like these have reached me filtered through many decades of critical eyes who have chosen the very best work of the photographers featured – themselves some of the greatest ever to have picked up a camera.
Something else I’m doing in conjunction which is reaping great dividends, is lingering longer.
Online I might swipe through dozens of images in a minute. With these photography books I’m deliberately letting my gaze explore each photograph for a minute or more.
To give it a chance to wend its way into my subconscious, deeply beyond that mere superficial glance so many photographs are offered.
As I spoke about recently, I’ve pretty much abandoned social media.
Google+, Twitter and Instagram I’ve deleted. Flickr I keep for many reasons (few of them social!), then I have WordPress of course.
Cutting down on a number of these sites has also helped move away from the addictive, twitchy behaviour they encourage, turning us into edgy paranoid androids, constantly checking, swiping, refreshing, chasing the next “like”, view or hit…
It’s the opposite of that leisurely lingering I mentioned above, which seems so much easier with a static book anyway.
We’ll see what the next few weeks bring and how I feel these changes are helping me regain an appreciation of genuinely inspiring and educational photography, and how it impacts my own photographs.
How about you? How do you judge for yourself what’s any good as a photograph and what to aspire to? How much time do you spend seeking inspiring photography online? How much time do you spend reading photography books of the past masters?
We’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective below. (Remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.