Monday, September 14, 2015

The Influencers, and the Harm They Do

I complain a lot about the "influencers", the people who (basically) do gear reviews for a living. You know them. They have some sort of online presence, which has gear reviews. Often it has other content. All of them seem to have pretensions of being an Artist. They talk about Their Work, they allude, usually in vague terms, to shows they're having, or perhaps participating in, or perhaps have a print in. They're usually contemplating multiple projects for expressing their artistry.

But always, they come back to the gear reviews. Sometimes they wring their hands and bemoan the fact that the gear reviews are what draw the viewers, and generate the revenue, when what the really want to do is talk about "the images".

Whether or not this one or that one truly has the soul of an artist, trapped in a gear reviewer's body, is immaterial. The reality is that the chattering about Art and The Work and The Images is a mechanism which lends a little cachet to the reviewer, boosts his credibility, makes him appear serious. In fact, he is a guy who carries water for the manufacturers. The gear reviews, while generally honest, are largely irrelevant to anyone who is serious about Art, about The Images. The gear reviews are often irrelevant to working professionals as well. Pretty much every camera is superb. Every lens is excellent. It doesn't really matter what you want to do, just grab a camera and go. It'll be fine. If you're working on a schedule, grab two cameras in case one breaks.

So we have these guys writing masturbatory posts about chromatic aberration and resolution across the frame and whatnot. Shit all the gearheads searching for the One Big Answer love to read about.

These guys are, basically, part of the marketing wing of one or more makers of camera gear. No, they don't get paid as such. The more influential ones get trips paid for, but most of them get access. The ability to write about gear ahead of its general availability, without having to buy it, is ginormous. It's literally the engine that drives the revenue. Without it, these guys would have to simply close up shop.

So what about the damage?

The problem is that these guys position themselves as the top tier of photographers, rather than as bought-and-paid-for mouthpieces. All those folks looking for answers see these guys, and aspire to be them. But what do these guys actually do as photographers?

They take lots of photos. They photoshop heavily, as a general rule. They cull vigorously, sometimes bragging about their low hit rate . Then they post the results, which are generally very "bubble-good," in galleries. Occasionally, not as often as they hint, they sell a print or two. They sometimes have a book project or two in the works, much more rarely, printed.

Pick one and look at a gallery or two. It's just a jumble of stuff. Sometimes it's organized by trip, or date, or subject matter. There's no coherent portfolio. There's no point of view. There's no vision. There's no idea. It's a bunch of really sharp pictures from Prague or bugs or park benches or something.

They leave half of the work un-done.

Your average amateur photographer works away at photography for a while, and eventually starts grinding out bubble-good stuff. Things that he and his camera club agree are good. Now what? Checking out the various influential photographers in the world, the amateur gets the idea that he ought to be selling prints, maybe doing a book. Just take a bundle of your Best Images and make a book. Or throw up a smugmug site and start selling prints. Or maybe get in to shooting weddings?

Your average photographer simply has no idea, because nobody's told him, that there's more to a portfolio than a jumble of your Best Images. Nobody's ever told him that there's such a thing as a point of view, an idea, a vision. The closest we get is the half-assery of the "personal style".

This is the damage the influencing class does. They lie about their role, pretending they are Artists rather than marketing drones, and thereby misrepresent what Artists and serious photographers can do, might do. They present, because they are lazy, the idea that the end of the game is a jumble of boring (but very sharp!) pictures on a web site somewhere.

There is more to it. Start from the idea, the point of view. Shoot from that position. You will find that your pictures change, instantly. They're weightier, you'll like them better. They mean something.

Then do something with the pictures. Print them and hang them. Make a book. Print them and burn them. Print them and give them away to your friends, to strangers. Stick them on the walls of your local bank. Whatever. But have a plan to do something, to finish the work, and then do that.

This applies equally well to people who aspire to be professional. Any fool can make bubble-good photographs, and lots of them do. What you are selling, ultimately, is your point of view, your ability to formulate and express an idea. If you're just going to grind out the same old crap, bad news, there are stock photography web sites out there. A professional, in this era, has to sell a point of view and the ability to turn the customer's ideas into something distinctive, something that communicates. It's all the same stuff.

1 comment:

  1. I love it when you are in attack mode Andrew. Haven't seen many blogs around which actually, and rightly, criticize all the mumbo jumbo with no perceivable quality in photos to back it up except for sharpness. I think what depresses me the most is that all these bubble-famous internetters (or is it internuts?) produce so bloody boring and irrelevant images and "projects". This is the most destructive aspect of their fame and the adoration they receive from all the photo geeks. It contributes to lowering the standards of good photography. Thankfully they don't get many photo books published. The really great and inspirational photographers are much too busy to dabble in workshops, tutorials, gear reviews or whatever.

    Go Andrew /Mattias