I haven't really been reading Ming Thein since he partnered up with Robin Wong, but I chanced to stop by and came across a recent photo essay he's put up: Forest in the City.
It struck me, looking through the pictures, that I am feeling a trend. Many of the photos Thein shares with us have that strong graphical quality and sensation of great sharpness upon which is reputation is built. But scroll down. It falls apart in to "here, have some random piles of leaves" shots. I'm sure he'd have some song and dance about how if I could just see the megapixels it would be an immersive experience or whatever, but the fact remains that he just shoved the camera out there and mashed the shutter. It's a random pile of leaves.
Next up, KAGE Collective which is some very self-serious bunch of Street Photographers. It's not all random snaps, by any means. But there's a lot of material on that web site that seems to be just "I waved the camera around and pressed the button a few times" shots.
This is different from photographs I don't like. There are plenty of mannered, carefully made, pictures that I hate. There are quite a few random snaps that I like. The point is that these photographers are putting out there as Their Work pictures which appear to have been made without the slightest thought or effort at all, by someone who's simply stopped caring.
I spend little time in the "critique" section of forums, but it has been, I think, more than a year since I have seen anyone trying to offer a truly critical response. It's all "I like #5 the best" and "nice shot" with the occasional "overexposed" and "doesn't work for me."
In the same areas, we see a little bit of those careless random snaps creeping in, especially from established forum members. If they're established enough, they can get a flurry of "nice shot" from, as near as I can tell, literally anything they throw up there.
It feels to me as if, a few years ago, we had a lot of relative newcomers to photography charging around trying to figure it out and being enthused (this part is not in doubt). Interest is absolutely flagging across the board (again, not in doubt), indicated by falling camera sales and falling web site traffic. The result, and this is where it starts being my theory, is that we have a pretty large collection of people who hanging around, having never really figured it out, and who have all unknowing ceased to care all that much.
At this point there's a large group of people who haven't put their DSLR down yet, and are just going through the motions of picture taking, of talking about pictures, of consuming media related to photography. But they don't really care much any more, and they're not even looking at the pictures of reading the media any more. They're glancing, skimming, and typing in the same responses they've been typing in for years.
You can put almost literally any shitty photos on the front page of Luminous Landscape, or Ming Thein's web site, or Kage Collective, or any number of other sites where Photographers We Officially Respect have long hung their work, and there will be a contingent who will assume they're good, and who will defend them without really having examined these things critically or even visually.
It has always been so, to be sure. There have always been camera owners who simply don't look at pictures. This era seems to have more of them, there seems to be a trend toward phoning it in, because you can get pretty much the same ego strokes as when you worked at it.
It's kind of gumming up the works at the moment.