“To that I say Photography has always been an unwelcome bedfellow to Art, which is for most of the world irrelevant, and Photography has been, and remains, relevant. So, if it’s over then the issue has to be looked at as either a precursor to the demise of Art’s sanctity, or the liberation of Photography from the threadbare criteria that Art History has imposed.” – Philip-Lorca diCorcia
After a nice walk around Greenpoint, I bought a cheap bottle of wine to mourn the death of photography. I’m not really sad but death is scary, and alcohol makes the scary go away at times. I read all of these short essays and arrived at two conclusions:
- Some of the essays were written by individuals that are clearly more educated than I.
- Geoffrey Dyer and Phillip-Lorca diCorcia speak a language I can understand.
Given these conclusions, I think it’d be best if I attempted to address option number 2. Last week Paul Graham’s essay was a spark that caught on amongst photographers and photography enthusiasts. I’m always interested to see how these mini-memes travel around the web, especially in the tight living quarters that photography inhabits. I always try to make connections between these memes to see if a bigger idea is swirling around. I don’t have clear evidence, only hunches, hearsay and speculation, but my intuition is pointing in a certain direction.
When I look in that direction I see that photographers who appreciate, are obsessed with, and passionate about ‘straight photography’ are realizing there’s something happening on the web. Sure, you can attempt to get involved in the larger fine art conversation, and make the case for ‘photography’ but why waste the energy? Especially when you can connect with your audience directly through the web? What’s more important? Fine art legitimacy or connecting with people who find value in your work and appreciate it?
This is a game that has been played out already in the music industry and more and more in the film industry. You can spend your time, effort and money to buy a chance at making a splash or you can grind it out and build your audience individual by individual. It’s certainly a gamble. But I wonder what the ultimate rewards are. Even if you make a splash, get a big gallery show, sell some prints and receive validation, the machinery will ask, what’s next? More than likely a huge amount of pressure coming up with something to maintain your status. Because that’s what the machinery demands. If you can’t supply it, there are plenty of eager photographers nipping at your heals.
I don’t have any problems with taking this path, I just question whether when it’s achieved if it’s as fulfilling as people suspect. So what about the alternative? How do you sustain yourself by building support through the web? I’m not sure. If I had a secret ingredient I’d write a book and charge everyone for it, since the “how to make money online” industry seems be where it’s at. What I do know is that building connections with people that appreciate your work is rewarding. Participating is rewarding. Shooting the shit is rewarding. Collaborating is rewarding. Speculating on the future is rewarding. Self-publishing your work is rewarding. The game is rewarding.
“If people have spoken of photography being “over” they tend to use the word in the way that Joseph Keiley (one of Stieglitz’s spokesmen) did in a 1906 issue of Camera Work when he said “the real battle for the recognition of pictorial photography is over.” This seems apposite in that the history of photography is the history of victories won and goals achieved. If photography is over it may be because of the thoroughness of its victories; like some warlord or general habituated to a life of battle there are no more wars to be fought.” – Geoff Dyer
Being a bit of a digital utopian, I can’t help but be optimistic despite my pessimistic disposition. Photographers are winning the war. The fact that someone like me could write a post like this and even reach ten people who might care and agree is testament to the power that can be harnessed through the web. Every day I chat with photographers who are doing things, organizing shows, editing Flickr groups, developing ideas for magazines, showing new work in embryonic stages, connecting with new photographers, and on and on.
I’ve been working on an LPV feature with a photographer whose been photographing for 30+ years. He discovered Flickr a year or so ago and has been showing work from the archives as well as new work. Since he’s jumped online, he’s been re-invigorated. Photography has always been alive with him, but this new outlet has sparked something within him. And it’s not about gallery shows or widespread recognition, for him it’s about the “camaraderie and energy you get photographing with like-minded souls.”
la fotografía es la vida, la vida es un juego