By MICHAEL PERKINS
MY MOTHER WARNED ME FOR MY ENTIRE BOYHOOD THAT, IF I LIVED MY LIFE TO PLEASE OR GARNER THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS, I would spend it “following a little red wagon”. Now, I can’t paint my generation as being populated by the last of the rugged individualists (after all, we have to live down that whole “flower child” business), but, when it comes to current social networking, it seems like that little wagon is indeed speeding along at light speed, with the rest of us slavishly tailgating it in desperate search of one crucial word:
Let me state categorically that I view sites like Instagram with an equal measure of hope and dread, since history has yet to rule on whether its billions of filter-soaked snaps advance photography or mire it in mediocrity. That said, I am certain of one two-part truth:
1. Photography is essential to social networking, and
2. Social networking is not essential to photography.
Simply stated, the hungry maw of social media needs an endless resource of fresh meat, with photos as vital a component as text. To keep this torrent of images rolling in, it bestows little training treats on the millions to motivate them to submit their works and keep the machinery oiled. This is what likes, retweets, and faves have become. A gold star on your spelling paper. A little extra beef on your mess kit tray. Good boy, Fido, here’s your “like”.
But here’s the thing. You cannot grow your personal art if you are bending the arc of it purely toward the goal of popular approval. Art is not about getting “likes”. On the contrary, it’s frequently about garnering “hates”, deaf ears, blind eyes, misunderstanding, antipathy, even shunning or banishment. Art needs to make people uncomfortable, to confound and distress. And, just as it is in leaving our personal comfort zones that we stretch as photographers, we need our audiences to leave theirs. Guess what: they will not do that willingly or happily.
History provides easy evidence of this: cough up the names of your ten favorite “legendary” photographers and chances are that most of them were marginalized, despised, or otherwise shunted away during their best years. There is a reason for this.
“Likes” are seductive, but they are merely quantitative, not qualitative. The raw number of people who numbly click “like” on a photo tells you nothing of what they felt was right, or elegant, or beautiful, or awful in an image. Such little emotional check-offs may stoke our need to be seated at the cool kids’ table, but they do zilch to make us better shooters.
To be a great photographer, you cannot afford the luxury of whether anyone else “gets” what you do. Let’s stop settling for photo sites as popularity contests.
They need you. You do not need them.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
SOMETHING THAT LIVES IN THE NETHER WORLD BETWEEN A DIARY AND A PHILOSOPHIC SCREED, at the intersection of passion and obsession. That’s the no-man’s-land I aimed this blog at 100 posts ago, today. From Day One, The Normal Eye was, and remains, an attempt to get beyond the mere technical doing of a photograph and scratch away at the ticket of techtalk to reveal why I was trying to capture a given idea inside a box.
There are, and have ever been, far better teachers on a purely technical level than I can ever hope to be. And, let’s face it, knowing just the metadata on a shot is no guarantee that something magical will happen, just as high-end cameras don’t guarantee high-concept images. No, the only thing I’m expert at, in any way, is judging my own intentions, in hungering after a visualization of what I feel in my bones.
All of you patient ones out there already know me, because your dad or your corny uncle or your nerdly, bookish kid is just like me. I am “that guy”. I have always been that guy. The guy who pipes up, in completely unrelated conversations, with the observation that “it’s so cool what the light is doing right now”. The guy who comes back from a family gathering with, strangely, no pictures of the family whatever, but a killer shot of what everyone concurs is a colorful shmear of…something. The guy who is so busy looking for “the moment” that he forgets to be in the moment.
Guilty, guilty, guilty, and, ouch, guilty.
Funny thing is (and this is the mainspring that drives The Normal Eye), I’m almost as excited about where I’ll fail next than where I’ll succeed. If less than half of the pictures out of a new batch doesn’t make me groan, what the hell was I thinking?, then I’m not working hard enough, and certainly not reaching far enough. Nothing artistically good comes from a place of safety, and repeating your past choices doesn’t repeat your past successes.
Those of you who have done me the great honor of reading and following this mess have my undying gratitude. And as for those who have taken the extra time to comment as well, thanks for becoming the most vital link in the chain. Bloggers may be doomed to forever shout off the edge of a cliff, but it’s a real Robinson Crusoe moment when some man (or woman) Friday actually shouts back. Thank you, one and all.
As far as there are clearly stated goals for any enterprise such as this (except to keep on going), I can faithfully pledge to keep the process as honest as possible, and to let my inner child, the brat who first picked up a camera, to shout down the rational adult, who unlike the kid, occasionally forgets that this is all supposed to be about discovery, and wonder. If I lose track of that, the whole game is up. I also hope to act as a better conduit to the best work going on in photography today, in these pages and through my Twitter feed @mpnormaleye. The great news: the golden age of photography is happening here, now. Everything that has gone before, while amazing, is mere prologue to what is on the way.
That is pretty damned exciting.
So thanks for where this has taken us so far, and please sign up for another hitch. I can’t promise I’ll dazzle you. But I do promise I’ll be dazzled.
After all, it’s so cool what the light is doing, right now.
Where’s my box?
follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @mpnormaleye.