The Hermit Photographer


©Missy Prince

I have a friend whose making a radical change with his life. He’s leaving the city because technology and the internet are driving him crazy. He feels if he doesn’t leave now he’ll end up having a complete mental breakdown.

Because I respect his wishes and the new direction he’s taking his life and work, I can only refer to him as ‘Emerson’ from this point forward.

I met Emerson a few years ago on Flickr when I saw him commenting frequently on a friends stream. I checked his work out and liked it so I started following him. He was a few years older than me but we shared the same sensibility. He was a cubicle dweller and made a decent living but you could tell it wasn’t what he really wanted to do.

Over the years his work consistently improved. He’s been working on one main project and then a smaller side project but both are really good and he’s built a decent following. His work has showed up on blogs every now and again but they’ve tended to be smaller. He hasn’t busted through to bigger blogs yet.

He’s savvy when it comes to social networking. He’s the one who introduced me to Tumblr a few years back when he moved his blog there. He’s never been very vocal and tends to just show his photographs but every now and again he’ll do some writing about his work and it tends to be really interesting. He’s been hoarding photography books for years, so his collection is impressive.

There have been times when he’d disappear online for a few weeks, leaving me wondering if he’d ever come back but then I’d get an IM from him late at night. After that there’d usually be a flurry of activity on his Flickr and blog. I could sense he was getting a bit fed up with the internet but I didn’t think much of it. We all get fed up with it from time to time. We’re receiving messages and links from so many people every day, how is it possible to really give any one person much thought? Sounds cold, but that’s the reality.

He was coy about his work life and finances but I knew he had a decent camera collection that included a Leica M7 and Rolleiflex, so I figured he was doing pretty good for himself. He made vague references to girlfriends and nights out with friends so I knew he had a social life too. He definitely drank while interneting but was good about keeping most things private.

Some nights he’d get on a roll though. His rants would often be funny but as the whisky flowed, so did the bitterness and anger. I’d often tell him that he needed to stay away from the internet and more specifically photoland.


©Anna Shelton

Google+ Was the Final Straw

About a month ago Emerson stopped posting to Flickr and Tumblr. In the few times we chatted I realized something was up. He told me was going to quit his job.

“To do what,” I asked

“Nothing,” he replied.

“What about money,” I asked.

“I’ve saved up,” he said. “Investing is another one of my hobbies.”

“Well, that makes things easier,”‘ I said. “I’d travel around the world.”

“That’s for the future,” he replied.

I didn’t hear from him again until last week. I figured he’d run away already and was too busy to give him much thought. Then he pinged me on Gchat.

“That’s it. Screw the internet. What is this Google+ shit? I’m done. Fuck all this social media shit and everyone who talks about it. It’s all boring. It’s all noise. Nobody writes anything interesting. They’re all drones churning out “content” for fascist overlords.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” I replied. “Just the world we live in these days.”

“The internet is destroying my creativity, ” he replied. “I can’t finish my projects. I can’t think. I have no attention span. Every time I check Twitter and Facebook I want to reach through the screen and punch people. It’s not healthy. This is no way to live. Have you read that book by Jaron Lanier?”

“No, not yet,” I said. “I’m too stupid to realize I need to read all the books about how the Internet is making me stupid.”

“The internet is making photography stupid,” he replied. “That much I know, which is why I’m done with it.”

“So what are you going to do,” I asked.

“I bought a piece of land in a remote part of the country,” he replied enthusiastically. “I can’t tell you where, sorry. I’m going to become a minimalist. I’ll make photographs. Grow vegetables. Build a darkroom, and just live.”

“The hermit photographer,” I said.

“Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way,” he replied. “I need to work on the ideas, on the philosophy. Photographers need to get away from hyper-connectivity, and all this internet shit. It’s making the work all look the same . All these anxiety ridden photographers hustling for attention. Tweeting frivolously, talking about their shows, or what stupid blog they’ve appeared in. Oh, you have a Blurb book! You’re an amazing visionary! Destined for immortality. The whole thing is whacked. Never before in the history of humanity have so many people been so delusional about their creative talents.”

“Yeah, it’s probably time you got away from civilization,” I replied. “Drastically changing the way you live will probably have an interesting influence on your photography.”

“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “Photographers get too caught up in their routines and mental patterns. Everything becomes planned, almost scientific. Chance, luck, fate, messing with it all. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to mess with your reality, mess with your own brain to really make something unique.”

“Can I visit,” I asked.

“Yeah, man,” he replied. “I want it to be a destination, a place where photographers come and hang out. I’ll set up a room for showing work. It’ll be a gallery in the woods. With fresh vegetables and natural scenery.

“How are you going to get the word out,” I asked. “Thought the point was to run away and leave it all behind.”

“You’re my pointman,” he said.

“I’m not sure I want the job,” I retorted.

“I’m leaving all my work to you,” he said. “When I die, it’s in your hands.”

To be continued….

  • from australia

    i like this person
    i want to visit soon.

  • 1N-C0N-Nu

    amen!

  • The wood

    “The Hermit Photographer

    Ok, I guess I can publicly reveal that Emerson, The Hermit Photographer
    is fictional. I needed to create new voice and character to channel some
    of ideas, and basically just to rant a bit. It was amusing to watch the
    reaction though. I was toying with the idea of creating a Tumblr but
    writing in the voice for a prolonged period could be hazardous.”

    Always had a feeling this was Bryan F. talking about Bryan F. Kind of made sense since he wanted to be a screenwriter(?) in Hollywood at some point.

  • Gblack

    Personally, this guy is my hero.

    Like many other guys like himself in the past who have searched for their version of peace and growth.  No it’s not original.  But there are only so many ways a human being can achieve what he’s after.  Some go out to sea,  some climb mountains, some go for a long walk,  some jump out of planes and yes some jump off the Golden Gate.  But many have gone the direction of seeking nature and quiet with success.  I respect the commitment to grow.

    For all the critics below.  I find it ironic that a major artistic influence like Alec Soth can do an entire book and subsequent movie and speaking engagements on the whole idea of “getting away” and being ”off the grid” so to speak and it’s widely accepted by the artistic community as excellent.  Now someone wants to actually do it and you guys all blast them.

  • Ted Vet

    Do any of you remember opening a photo album with your friends and family and thumbing through and reliving the memories on  a Sunday afternoon?

  • http://twitter.com/thesignified Ed Firmage

    “The hermits hut is a theme which needs no variations, for at the simplest mention of it, “phenomenological reverberation” obliterates all mediocre resonances. The hermit’s hut is an engraving that would suffer from any exaggeration of picturesqueness. Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb “to inhabit.” The hut immediately becomes centralized solitude, for in the land of legend, there exists no adjoining hut. … The image leads us on towards extreme solitude. The hermit is alone before god. His hut, therefore, is just the opposite of the monastery. And there radiates about this centralized solitude a universe of meditation and payer, a universe outside the universe.” – Gaston Bachelard from The Poetics of Space

  • http://www.barefoot-studio.net Matt

    Some of the comments here show exactly what I expect he feels the need to get away from.  Why is it that we feel the need to be nasty and vindictive to people that are different from ourselves?  That is part of what’s wrong with society as a whole today, what
    happened to understanding and encouragement? Or at very least acceptance of someone else’s point of view?

    Like all things there are good & bad aspects, social media has allowed many people to show there plight and raise awareness, but also it can be highly addictive, time consuming and allow people to talk utter rubbish for the sake of talking, (for example I’m writing this, instead of
    getting on with something else!)

    I for one wish Emerson well, I hope they find what they are looking for and that things look a lot better from the new perspective. 
    Life moves on we all want changes, hopefully we can make the ones that make us more fulfilled.

  • Ablaszczyszyn

    The photos are poor. The ability to embrace technology is lost. Go to to your hole and pretend you’re above it all

  • Frankie Sinclair

    Back in the mid 16th Century when everyone sang or told stories or made up poems or preached or gossiped, Shakespeare probably got tired of the lot of them…

  • Frankie Sinclair

    Lovely article Bryan, like the story style. I panicked in the middle when I saw the subtitle, thinking it was the end of the post : )

    I think it’s very important to be still and quiet and empty sometimes. And there is something addictive about social networking which can get in the way of that.

    But then there’s lots of addictive social stuff that’s just as bad – stuff that was there before the internet. Drinking and partying for example.

    Social networking is actually very clever at allowing you to link up with people who match your niche best. You have to steer it. You don’t just jump on and let it run wild.

    In terms of quality and being delusional about creative talents… I’m not sure that all people want is to be famous or that they all think they’re marvellous. I think a lot of people just want to be free to be creative and have fun and not have to do boring office jobs or waiting in restaurant jobs or whatever. And they see that fame, notoriety or even being known by a reasonable number of people allows some people to make a living from being creative and having fun. So they struggle to become known.

    LIFE is bloody competitive. It’s fierce and bloody when it comes down to it. If everyone moved to the countryside they’ve be fighting over land and water. That’s what millions of people are busy doing all over the world right now. In a way it seems like your guy is complaining about competition and stress. But he’s actually won and now he’s tired is all. He’s got enough money through investing (um about those fascist overlords…) so he doesn’t have to work now. That’s fine but dissing the whole social networking thing just seems a reflection of him being knackered and a bit on a bit of a see saw downer. It sounds rather bi-polar.

  • Anonymous

    Why does Emerson need to be ‘original’ I don’t get it. What is the alternative?

  • Someone

    such people need to take some time off….from work  from people …its appears that he has become depressed with the lifestyle he’s having…he just needs a break ..!

  • anon

    He sounds mentally ill to start off with. Before he even discovered what the internet was. He was not well from the get-go.

  • blahblahblah

    ummm just delete all your social network acc. and boom your done. Nobody gonna kill you if you delete them, you’re just too chicken shit to do it. There is absolutely no need to be a drama queen and ruining “another” perception of an artist which was  already perceived freak-ish enough

  • http://troyholden.com Troy Holden

    “I need to work on the ideas, on the philosophy.”

    I took a break from the internet several months ago to do just that. Stopped posting to Flickr/500px/Google+. Killed my RSS reader. Heavily curated a private Twitter list as a single stream of relevant information and conversation.

    Removing all that noise made the signal I was looking for much stronger.

    Once my “housekeeping” was completed, I had much more time to look at photography offline: Used photo books. Documentary DVDs.  Out of print photo books at the library. Local photo galleries. Meeting 2-3 friends and bullshitting about photography over 4-5 pints of beer. Walking the streets with another photographer comparing field notes as we make photos. Starting a long-term photography project. Sharing “contact sheets” and learning how to self-edit.

    I have learned more about photography in the past 3 months offline than I have in the past 3 years online. And I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface there.

    Thanks for sharing this. I’d love to see this fellow’s photos somehow.

  • Nick Turpin

    I Absolutely understand and agree with this sentiment, the work has become secondary and as he says “Never before in the history of humanity have so many people been so delusional about their creative talents” there is no selection or quality anymore….it’s all become a background noise of mediocrity. The internet elevates total idiots to positions of respected commentator with absolutely no foundation in the real world.

    And the problem is it’s difficult to walk away from it all without leaving physically as Emerson has decided to do.

    The fact is that photography is actually not that important, it really isn’t that significant in the scheme of things, go and play hide and seek with your kids, go and grow some tomatoes in a bag on your balcony, go and say hi to a stranger.

  • Heidi

    I am proud of you Emerson. Wish I could come and hang out.

  • Respectful

    I think his opinion is largely based on his generation. If you’re from a time where you spent most of your childhood outside til the streetlights went out, and you only had one phone in the house, used to call relatives or tell a friend you were coming over, then yeah, this social media craze is unnatural and disturbing to you, YET, if you’re in my generation, this is normal, and exciting, and your photography and art won’t suffer from it, because you’re used to it. The same can be said from when rock and roll as we know it today entered the picture. Other generations didn’t get it, accept it, or like it, but the current generation thrived in it and made it evolve. His take isn’t unreasonable when you think about it. Personally I think to be a good photographer you have to get out in the middle of it and capture the world as it is, but I also may be immune to the internet’s addictive evil cause I’m growing up in it, so who knows. But I’d think being a hermit and photographing where you live could only produce so much fresh work compared to living in a thriving city. If you wanted to go off the grid and focus on photography, big cities might be the place to be!

  • http://takeoutphoto.blogspot.com takeoutphoto

    Great post! I agree that there are just too many networking sites. However, no one is making us sign up for them. You can link out without going all Unabomber. I loved the hilarious moment at the end when he talks about wanting his hermit hut to “be a destination.” I think that what Emerson craves is real 3D experience. Too much 2D internet life is making him a sad puppy.

  • Roberta Murray

    I totally get it. Sometimes I think the Internet is just one big high school popularity contest, and it’s less about talent and dedication, more about who can shout the loudest. I think it does have a watered down effect on photography and art. If I had the money I’d be tempted to do the same thing.

  • Roberta Murray

    I totally get it. Sometimes I think the Internet is just one big high school popularity contest, and it’s less about talent and dedication, more about who can shout the loudest. I think it does have a watered down effect on photography and art. If I had the money I’d be tempted to do the same thing.

  • Roberta Murray

    I totally get it. Sometimes I think the Internet is just one big high school popularity contest, and it’s less about talent and dedication, more about who can shout the loudest. I think it does have a watered down effect on photography and art. If I had the money I’d be tempted to do the same thing.

  • Roberta Murray

    I totally get it. Sometimes I think the Internet is just one big high school popularity contest, and it’s less about talent and dedication, more about who can shout the loudest. I think it does have a watered down effect on photography and art. If I had the money I’d be tempted to do the same thing.

  • Whatever

    What most of the people who commented don’t get is that he is not whining, he is just fed up. Not with photography, but with this piece of shit society. And he can’t stand the noise anymore. Like many of us can’t. It’s not about a craft, it’s about how we interact and how we live. It’s becoming too fast. All is routine. Take a look around. Take a look at yourself. When was the last time you just slowed down? And lived for a few moments?

  • Whatever

    What most of the people who commented don’t get is that he is not whining, he is just fed up. Not with photography, but with this piece of shit society. And he can’t stand the noise anymore. Like many of us can’t. It’s not about a craft, it’s about how we interact and how we live. It’s becoming too fast. All is routine. Take a look around. Take a look at yourself. When was the last time you just slowed down? And lived for a few moments?

  • http://twitter.com/zozostudio zozo Studio

    Sounds like the rantings of another crazy artist in a downward spiral thinking he’s never good enough.  He’s filled with jealousy and envy of other photographers moving up the ladder while he is too bitter to get ahead himself.   Happens to the best of us, especially if you think talent and hard work should be an auto-win.  It isn’t.  But that’s my opinion of course, based on my own feelings.  the conflict is internal.

  • http://twitter.com/zozostudio zozo Studio

    Sounds like the rantings of another crazy artist in a downward spiral thinking he’s never good enough.  He’s filled with jealousy and envy of other photographers moving up the ladder while he is too bitter to get ahead himself.   Happens to the best of us, especially if you think talent and hard work should be an auto-win.  It isn’t.  But that’s my opinion of course, based on my own feelings.  the conflict is internal.

  • sausage fingers

    good pr stunt!

  • Luis Villegas

    Wow, I am puzzled by Don’s, which is someone I truly respect and admire. We don’t know the background of what is going through this person’s head, sure he said he is tired of all the media madness and all this G+ and Twitter vrs Facebook and stuff, but we don’t know if this is a long time treasured dream of his, or something else happened,  he may have taken a deep look to what he wanted out of his life and was brave enough to say: This isn’t what I want and I will change or something along those lines so I don’t think that saying “he is immature” and everything else Don’s suggested is nice or respectful, you would think he would know better at his age that many times men have our own reasons and sorrows that the world knows nothing about.
    I hope he finds what he is looking for and that he can have his inner peace, sometimes you have to step away to see the whole picture more clearly.

  • http://profiles.google.com/don.giannatti Don Giannatti

    So an inability to control his own destiny, his own environment, and his own technology has driven him to leave it all behind.

    OK. I guess that is cool, or whatever. Point is that photography, G+, the interwebs and such are NOT the problem. The problem is within this guy’s own head. Being in control seems to be very hard.

    I find that the little on/off switch puts me in control. Just like clicking the shutter, I control my environment.

    Sounds way angst ridden, terribly immature, and absolutely perfect for the times we live in.

    It is everyone else’s fault that his work suffers. It is society/intrnets/social media/schedules/dick cheney… or whatever.

    Too bad he lets himself be pawned by the normal workings of life. I would wish him well if I thought it would do any good.

    But alas, I think his wellness is something he should be working on himself. Melodramatic much?
    (What ever happened to MEN? So sad, sorry, whiny and pissey… sheesh.)

  • http://www.petermccollough.com/blog Peter Earl McCollough

    “I have a great fear of repeating myself. I try very consciously not to do it, to move, to use different cameras, make a totally different film. So it was good to give up one thing and move on to something else, and i don’t think it matters that much to be successful at it. I’d even try to raise sheep. Actually, I was very happy digging ditches. There’s a lot of water coming down the hill behind the house, and I never had such a good time as digging those ditches. I was totally satisfied. I will go up there tomorrow and dig some more….

    Maybe for me going so far away from New York and its people (vibrations) is to find again a purpose that I will believe in. And then I will work hard to forget and lost that purpose. And then maybe I’ll do something really good.”   -Robert Frank,  From an interview with Sean Kernan titled, ”Uneasy Words While Waiting” 

  • http://www.petermccollough.com/blog Peter Earl McCollough

    Thanks for this story. I wholeheartedly agree with this man’s decisions. It’s inspiring to hear people carrying through with such ideas as I intend to do the same for myself someday.

  • http://www.petermccollough.com/blog Peter Earl McCollough

    I would argue that what he’s doing isn’t a tired or non-unique idea already exhausted by those who came before us. It’s a chapter that many artists need and don’t actually commit to. I would say honest and authentic acts such as his are more important acts in pursuit of being original. Isn’t originality more often than not a complete mistake? And how do we reach a place in our lives in which we feel focused and free enough to make honest mistakes? By cutting out the noise – and apparently for him, the noise was particularly loud.

  • http://www.petermccollough.com Peter Earl McCollough

    I don’t think moving to the woods in pursuit of peace is intended to be an act of originality, it sounds like something he needs to do in order to find whatever he’s actually looking for. Doing what he did takes an immense amount of passion and dedication to the craft, and I think that is exactly what is lacking in most photographers. Sometimes you have to take drastic actions in order to break through.

  • James.

    He could have just sold his computer and phone. I get the idea but it’s not exactly original and just seems a little melodramatic to me. 

  • James.

    He could have just sold his computer and phone. I get the idea but it’s not exactly original and just seems a little melodramatic to me. 

  • Blake

    The idea of the artist getting fed up with society and going off to follow his muse in the woods, or as an expat, or perhaps the Hamptons, is a bit tired. I’m not saying an artist can’t be productive that way. Cutting off internet access, e.g., can be very healthy. But I don’t see his case as very unique. Isn’t that what Pollock did, or Man Ray, or Sommer? I had very similar feelings in the mid2000s and so I gave up city life for the boonies. That’s right about when I became more active online. The internet allows one to be connected to what’s happening even in the middle of nowhere. Sure it can be a negative force when overdosed or misapplied. Everything in moderation.  

    Anyway, good luck to him. Sounds more like a Thoreau than an Emerson. Also, Jaron Lanier not Jason.

  • Bryan Jones

    Wow… Color me intrigued and I understand where “Emerson” is coming from.  Yet at the same time completely respect his decisions, withdrawing completely would have me completely isolated in a bad way…  I very much look forward to where this is going and to see perhaps through you where his work takes him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/edwinfirmage Edwin Firmage

    Ironic that this is a blog post, but I’m glad I’m able to read it. A cynical but honest view on the state of photography. While I agree with him, it is, in a sense, the alter ego of the idea of the democratic forest. But it is not William Eggleston and his philosophy of photography but rather everyone’s ideas of photography all converging to be a sort of democratic monoculture. Dissemination of ideas and images on the internet certainly does kill some of the magic, and the sense of true creativity. 

  • micael martel

    I don’t know who that guy is, but he have an interesting point of view and honestly, he may understand photography a lot more than any of us. I mean, it’s true, people have come to a point where they don’t even care about photography, they care about their popularity rate. What I see in his action is integrity, for his work and for his convictions about photography and art. I’m working in a photography store and everyday, I see so many bad photographers and wannabe’s who just don’t understand squat about photography, they don’t even have a purpose. They do it because it’s cool, and accessible. The amount of bad stuff is almost discouraging. Emerson seem to have find a way to make his art better, and that is admirable. I would love to see his stuff, but if it’s not ours to see, then that’s  ok.