Sunday, December 15, 2019

Finishing It

A theme I don't think I have expounded on for a while now is this: many photographers, I venture to suggest most, would benefit from picking an end goal, and making a concerted effort to achieve it.

I have, over the years, received a lot of flak for not taking very many pictures, or not sharing enough of them, or whatever. If one dropped in to this blog unaware, one might be forgiven for supposing that all Andrew does is bloviate about pictures without actually taking any. And, certainly, people have done just that.

Not to over-toot my own horn, but I finish more shit in a year than virtually any photographer out there. While it is true that I am not wandering around shooting all day every day, and posting my half-assed bullshit pictures for "comments and critique" in various online places, I do start, finish, print, and distribute 2-3 publications every year, each one with anywhere from 10 to 30 pictures.

Now, certainly there are working professionals out there hitting assignments regularly and delivering portfolios of pictures to clients, which is great. Mostly those guys are too busy to bitch about some random blogger, or to pass judgement on randos for shooting too much, or not enough, or the wrong pictures. They're also pretty rare in the people-online-complaining community.

Consider, for instance, someone like Ming Thein. While he certainly has a large and vocal fan base, what does he actually do with most of his pictures? Mostly he posts them on his blog, with an essay about how great they are. That's it. And, frankly, he's a lot more focused on an end-goal than most of his fans, who don't even do that. You could argue that his blog is a legitimate result, and while I don't think much of it, I would have to accept that. I never said you have to make something that I like, or even something good.

If you shoot a jillion pictures, pull them all in to Lightroom, and then "curate" the hell out of them before "processing" a bunch, and then you post your favorite one somewhere for critique... what the hell are you? What are you expecting to get out of this? What do you hope to achieve, and why are you doing this? I do not think it's unreasonable, if someone styles themself a creative, to wonder what exactly they are creating.

Answers to these questions are all optional, of course. Everyone is welcome to pursue their joy in whatever way they like, and perhaps you just enjoy mashing the button on your camera, or moving sliders in Lightroom, or whatever. If that's your jam, that's great, but it's not something that makes any sense to me, and I don't really see any way to imagine this process as having a conclusion, a point at which you're done, a point at which you have accomplished something you can point to and say "I did that."

Without some sort of result, a creation which one can point it, I have a difficult time seeing this as creative. I think in many cases it's some sort of notional precursor, practice, a learning and improving process, leading to creative action which never seems to actually take place.

How do you know when it's done? When you're finished with it. When you quit working on it. Ideally, you stick it out there somehow or another, but that's just a feeling I have. You could put it in a box in a closet too. The point is, though, that if someone did see it and say "You know what you ought to do.." you don't do that. You don't do anything. Because it's done.

If you haven't finished anything in a while, you may take this as a goad to go pick something up and do the tedious bit where you wrap it up. Go on, you can handle it.


  1. It seems to me, FWIW, that it's not really worth spending so much time "punching down" (as they say in comedy circles) rather than "punching up"... Who cares about these hordes of bottom-feeding hobbyists, and why they're doomed to wander forever in their particular circle of hell? There are enough first-rate photographers out there (who do set themselves goals, have coherent aims and genuine talent, finish their projects, and don't care over much about gear) to spend the rest of one's life thinking about them, learning from them, and yes, pointing out why not everything they do is up to scratch!

    If you prefer to stick to relative unknowns then I, for one, would be far more interested in your views on, say, the hundreds of juried porfolios on Photo-Eye, for example (many of which are admirable, some of which are execrable), rather than your latest fulminations about the likes of bloody Ming Thein (who is nobody -- NOBODY!! -- in the broader picture)...


    1. As a side note, I should point out that my rancorous writings on Mr. Thein remain the most read posts, and continue to draw furious comments. Which I must confess is something of a delight, but is very puzzling to me.

      On point, though, you crossed my mind as I was writing, as someone who quite certainly does not need any nudging to finish things. I considered it possible, though, that other readers might benefit from a little push.

      And, as usual, I chose to frame it as "don't be like this dolt <long boring essay on dolt> , be like me!"

  2. Am I a worthless simpleton for adoring both Ming and you? Yes, I am. Well, all the photography is dead to me now, but I still cherish the essays.

    1. You are cursed for seven generations, unclean!

      (you're more likely to irritate me by agreeing with me than by disagreeing, to be honest. I can't abide sycophants, and I find dissent interesting and valuable)