Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Legacy? No.

A pretty common theme I see here and there among photographers is that they're shooting to create a legacy, to leave something behind to be remembered for.

I suspect this is yet another terrible thing we can ascribe, largely, to Ansel Adams. His writings go on obsessively about archival processing, and making sure that your negatives and prints will last for decades or centuries. I think this has evolved into a sort of undercurrent, in photography, that photographs should be permanent objects. Your pictures will be, if you are good and live a blameless life, granted eternal life and you will live on forever.

This is idiotic on several fronts.

First and foremost it's not going to happen. Nobody cares all that much about your photos. There are a billion photographers on the planet today, in 100 years the general population might remember one or two. Art history nerds might remember ten or twenty. Maybe even a hundred. The odds are profoundly against you. Also, if you're concerned about a legacy the probability goes up, to 1.0, that you will not be amongst the favored few (see the sequel for why).

Secondly, if you're shooting for a legacy, you're not shooting because you must. You're not shooting because you have something to say that has to get out. Great artists, even good artists, even terrible artists, don't make art for a legacy. Spend a few minutes with google, dig up some interviews with artists, dig up some "we asked 10 artists why they do the thing they do" pieces. There's tons of them out there. I defy you to find a single artist who says they're doing it to create a legacy.

If you're not shooting because you have something to say, then you definitely won't be remembered by anyone in 100 years. Because you had nothing to say.

You can argue, and I have seen it done, that well the legacy is really just for friends and family. These people will remember you anyways, you don't need to leave behind a bunch of prints that they will hang out of habit or because they feel they really ought to, until a new spouse makes them take the prints down and put up something else, and then the prints languish in a storage unit until they get wet and then they get thrown out.

Be remembered for being amusing, for telling great jokes, for being the best uncle ever, for your amazing pies. Don't be remembered as the guy who foisted a bunch of boring photographs off on succeeding generations.

Shoot because you must. Shoot because you lust to create. Shoot because you love cameras. Shoot because it gives you something to do with your hands. Shoot because you're shy and the camera gives you something to hide behind. Shoot for any reason except to create a legacy.

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