Ming Thein has another think piece up, and as happens from time to time I have a response.
Mr. Thein's problem here is that he's unable to separate wheat from chaff. He asks if the Great Photographers of yore would be well known today, and he asks if this generation will even have any great photographers. He recognizes, as do we all, that there are a lot of pictures being made and that most of them are weightless fluff. Chaff. His concern, which is not completely unfounded, is that with this quantity of chaff, perhaps the wheat will be lost forever.
In fact it's not clear that he fully realizes that there is wheat in there. Obviously he thinks his work is special and deserves recognition, don't we all? But it is not clear to me that he recognizes the more general truth that there still is wheat among the chaff, and what, exactly, would distinguish that wheat from the chaff.
There is wheat.
And to some extent, it will be surfaced, criticized, pushed out there, and remembered. Not all of it, maybe not even most of it. It's probably unknowable how much will be "lost" in this sense, but rest assured that we'll be granted more excellent work than we can consume. The critics and curators are always at work, digging and remarking, and pushing. I try to do my bit down here in the lower sub-levels of the mine, pushing the slightly richer ore upwards a few feet, and the poor ore down.
Most of the chaff is easy to identify, and vanishes without any help at all. Only a very small percentage of total photographic output is shown to us with some hope of longevity. We have people like Lewis Bush and Ming Thein who really haven't much of anything to say, but who are working hard and are hopeful. With respect, my judgement is that this is poor ore, to be buried slightly deeper. My judgement is not final, I am but one very minor voice.
Others who do have things to say, who can pull together truly meaningful bodies of work (e.g. Mssrs. Carnet and Kravik) I push upwards. I have by no means guaranteed anyone's success, I am but one very minor voice. Still, the process cannot help but work. While I do not scour the net for hours each day, I do try to take a serious look at some random body of work every few days or so. Other people like me do as well.
People who speak coherently, with earnest intent and some notion of what they are about, will read one another (even if only to disagree). Names and portfolios get passed around, consensus gels, names are repeated. Where do you think I get these names and portfolios to look at, after all?
I can't tell you what form the final result will take, we're in a time of flux. But surely the inevitable loose consensus around this name or that will produce some lasting result. The Vivian Maier story gives us, perhaps, a hint. While she was working long ago, her fame is largely a product of the digital age, and that consensus building.
Certainly we'll wind up with lots and lots of disposable kickstarted blurb books of naked girls as well, but they will be disposed of. The consensus will gel around some duds, many duds, as well, surely. So it has always been, But at the end of the pipeline, a manageable train of names and bodies of work appear, a manageable train that history can then usefully judge. Many of them will, in 50 years, be consigned to the dustbin.
Perhaps, I can hope, Mssrs. Carnet and Kravik will make it through the gauntlet. Perhaps, I can hope, someone with a larger voice than mine will slum it on my blog for an afternoon, loudly mocking me from her chair, and will stumble across some of the artists I happened to like and think to herself that putz is actually right about this one and the name and portfolio get passed on.
The point is, though, that serious people (you may include me in that list or not, as you see fit) are actively looking. They will find. They will do what is needful to surface what they find, and we, all of society, will enjoy the fruits of their labor.
It's all gonna work out OK.