By MICHAEL PERKINS
ANYONE WHO TAKES PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE LOVED already has a headful of problems, none of which can be adequately dealt with in this space. Social media has, inarguably, made many of us slaves to the Dreaded Like Monster, that faceless, shapeless judgy universe of people who render some kind of…what, verdict? on one’s humble images merely by twitching their thumbs. I’m already on record in these pages as saying that the need for such faux validation can make a slave out of an artist, and promote the very worst (or at least the most mediocre) in photography. With all that in mind, however, we are, still, human, and the online embrace or rejection of a given photo can sometimes make us wonder about our choices. Was the picture that good? That bad? And who, really, is the arbiter of those terms?
You can’t help it: you sometimes fall in love with one of your pictures, even though, in a public forum, you can’t seem to give it away, much less make people fall in love with it. Really, though, how can it be otherwise? No one knows your instincts or intentions better than you do, let alone appreciate what technically went into the making of your work. That said, no one besides yourself can measure exactly how near or far from the mark your final effort has turned out. Of course, the argument is often made that we, as artists, are too close to the process, that, having sweated over a picture from start to finish, we can’t possibly be objective……an argument to which my reply might prove unfit for a family newspaper.
What are we saying? That the invisible mob, with a flick of its wrist and a stab of its “like” button knows more about your work than you do? Ridiculous. Now this is not to say that some people aren’t seriously flawed in their evaluation of their own stuff…with both a tendency to be too generous, and too critical. A truly balanced talent for self-editing is like a well-toned muscle: it only comes with uncompromising work and time. But there will always be those images that you feel you nailed, or at least came damned close on, but which do not connect with anyone but you. The temptation will be to react like a promoter trying to bring a product to market, which means regarding certain pictures as “failures”. However, this is a trap. Photography for the masses should be governed by popular taste if you’re doing product shots of cheese in order to up the sales of the Dairy Council. But when it’s a tool for selling your ideas, you can’t succumb to the temptation to make everything about gorgeous flowers and cute kitties. Creativity is not a commodity.
Full disclosure: the image seen here is one of my least “liked” images, if you’re measuring by the regular approval yardsticks of social media. I have many such photographs, pictures which are just plain invisible to others but, for a number of reasons, favorites with me. Given my intention for this photo, I can’t really apologize for it, since I don’t know any other honest way I could have made it, based on what I was going after. Notice, in that previous sentence, all the personal pronouns: if the picture doesn’t work for me, there is no way it can connect to anyone else. Art may sometimes be an inefficient delivery system for one’s visions, but it is never, ever served by a lie. Doing pictures so that they will please an audience is essentially fraudulent, and is really the only way your photographs can “fail”. If you believe an idea, chances are better that you will find someone who genuinely gets what you were after. Ignore those who echo the empty maxim that you have to “give the people what they want”. Figure out what you want, and either wait for others to follow, or get comfortable with standing alone. You’ll find that alone and honest is less lonely in the long run.