By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION OF MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY IS A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD. On one side of the blade, we have effectively eliminated the time-consuming trial-and-error that frustrated generations of shooters. Pictures come practically at our whim, and the instantaneous ability to correct images in the moment results in a learning curve shortened by years. We can potentially get better and know more faster and faster.
That’s the good part.
On the rustier side of the sword, there is the potential for us to crank out photos so quickly that we take less and less time to evaluate them individually. The subtle changes in quality that are contained in a burst of twenty quick shots are lost to us, along with whatever lessons they may impart. We make a general, slapdash call as to what the so-called “keepers” in a batch are, and rush them into the public arena for instantaneous approval. This sprint toward the highest count of “likes” and “views” usually means that we are putting many pictures out there that are not ready for prime time, simply because, technically, we can.
Social media offers very little in the way of qualitative feedback on what we’ve done right or wrong with a picture. Only our own objective editorial judgement can truly provide that. But we are abdicating that role in our all too human desire for approval, even though online clicks are not so much “approval” as reflexive twitching. Most of us won’t have the luxury of working for hate-crazed photo editors or presenting our work in truly competitive environments, and that puts the responsibility squarely on us. If we don’t act as our own best critics, taking the time and deliberation necessary to evaluate where we’re growing and where we’re stunted, then who is to blame for our failure as artists? Our pals on Facebook?
One great thing about the film era: it forced us to proceed at a more deliberative pace. We were producing photographs slow enough to allow us to make real judgements about them as they emerged. Now we are more like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory. We strive to stay ahead of the merciless assembly line, rather than see if chocolate 5,556 is actually better, or worse, than 5,557.
If you believe, as I do, that more lessons are learned from the pictures that fail, then you must slow down long enough to make sure those lessons are not lost in a meaningless blur.