I love taking pictures. I’m fortunate to be able to squeeze enough life out of my finances to barely inch past disaster in order to continue to do so. But it’s very hard, and demands true devotion without compromise. I can handle it, and no matter how impossible, it’s something that is there to be conquered and I will try to remain undaunted by the sheer impossibilities presented by the world of dollars and sense each day. There are, however, a few things that I’m finding difficult to overcome and understand in the world of photography that I find myself having to negotiate, and here I’ll state my feelings.
The images in this post are visible on the streets we walk each day. They represent truth and humanity, and are presented in a somewhat stylized manner, and hopefully, they are done with compassion as well. They are images of people that are part of street life but who are almost never represented by photography organizations or competitions or publications. I ask this question: how can you leave such essentials out of the business of street photography? How can you contemplate reality and include only snarky, trendy stylized representations of life on the street? This is not Happy pictures versus Sad pictures…..this is reality. Where is it? Was it Cartier-Bresson that talked about smelling the streets from a street photograph? These are meaningless sentiments these days. Why do publications shy away from photos that have meaning, depth and punch in favor of images that lack these things, but are safe viewing that showcase a clever and trendy sense of snark that reveals very little beyond the surface gloss. My street animals are sometimes those of homeless people or people on the fringes. These images are every bit as important as those representing their wealthier counterparts, but they have been overlooked and passed over in some surprising ways.
One of these images has been outright copied recently and of course, I understand the risk I take when I post my images to Instagram and elsewhere. But when the copycat gets much more press than I do, where does that leave me?
I’m very disappointed by photography publications generally. I see pictures that are competent and technically great. I see work that’s definitely highly skilled and worthy of respect, but it’s not necessarily emotionally powerful in the sense that it has found a means by which to make a social statement. Should all street photography attempt to speak socially? Of course not! It should be whatever the photographer wants it to be, whether it’s flip and sarcastic or heavy and sentimental. I think, however, that all sides of the genre deserve respect….including the grit, the dirt and the hard to look at. Because it’s Street Photography, right? Not some pretense intended to appeal to a millennial mindset. Everything and everybody belongs in Street Photography, not just the pretty girls, the fancy camera work and the quirky humor. All of it, because it’s the world we live in. Photographers who do not wish to tackle all of it are graciously and respectfully excused, provided that they respect and give credit to the images produced by those of us who do choose to present our views of these realities.
I am more than tired of hearing stories of major plagiarism. I’m tired of posting pictures of cats in a particular style, and then seeing it copied by another photographer who gets more press and/or attention than I do. It happens a lot, and if course it’s not just me. It’s a serious problem for many of us, and I’ve blocked people on Instagram for it. Of course, they can continue to see my images online despite being blocked, and I find that the copying continues. Shamelessly, and inexplicably. Original ideas should inspire, but outright theft of composition and duplication of a photo series or content is a sign of a weak photographer. Unfortunately, major organizations are routinely duped and the problem arises on a grand scale and is a serious embarrassment for those that have been fooled.
It’s such a bitch, getting this party started. Devotion and love of the process keep me going, but navigating the fraudulent waters of social media sites like Instagram leaves me cold. There are so many ways to game the system that it hardly counts. Likes and followers, and all of the gaming and optimization and trickery that meshes with the Instagram algorithm has absolutely NOTHING to do with photography as an art form.
Contests are bullshit. They are money making ventures that hold very little meaning. They serve to defeat artistry in many cases and are a true waste of money. Sometimes they work, but mostly it’s a way to promote safety in numbers. And lists of photographers? Fuck the list, folks. I’ve been on one, and it was nice, but been left off plenty that I think I should’ve been on. They are nothing but discouraging and serve no purpose.
We are in a world deluged with images of every kind. Making an individual statement in this world becomes harder and harder to do with each passing day. DSW and Foot Locker and CVS and Starbucks have taken Manhattan and like-minded individuals are running the show elsewhere as well. Keep it original, be inspired, work your ass off and find your voice. Don’t let other people’s standards dictate your practices. Current standards in politics are nothing but emerging disasters and so are those in the world of artistic endeavor. Be original and stand up for yourself and others who do the same and stop this mindless following behavior. Try to look for depth and meaning….it’s not about the “#great shot”. It’s got to be about more. Strong voices are needed, and a fearless attitude about whatever it is that motivates. Never let what’s being promoted or placed in the popular view make you think it’s great or worthy or meaningful. It’s just that….popular. And there’s still a difference between popularity and originality and excellence. Do it your way and don’t let yourself be discouraged.