Musings on Photography

What’s the point?

Posted in Blogroll by Paul Butzi on June 1, 2008

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Joe Reifer wrote an interesting post on his blog recently, well worth reading. Joe covers a lot of ground in there, ranging from how bad TV is (and comparing writing on the web unfavorably to TV), blogging to make money, selling stuff, and blogging to get validation.

There’s a lot of stuff Joe’s written in there that I disagree with pretty strongly. But I still think it’s an excellent read, because I think he brings up a good set of questions – why blog about photography? Why read blogs about photography? What is the blogger getting out of it, and what are the readers getting out of it?

If there’s something I agree with in Joe’s post, it’s the overall “Shut up and play yer guitar” flavor of it. There’s blogging about photography, and reading blogs about photography – and then there’s actually picking up the camera and making photographs.

If we might pick one line to summarize Joe’s argument, I’d pick this one:

Did you think a bunch of bored office workers pontificating about what lens to buy was going to help your photography?

And, I have to agree with this. I know that dpreview.com is out there, along with a bunch of equipment obsessive blogs that gush enthusiastically about the frame rate of the new Canon DSLR, or whatever. But here’s an astonishing thing I’ve discovered – unless I specifically direct my browser to go there, I never see it. Likewise the bloggers whose writing is meritricious blather – I don’t have to read it.

And so while I agree that Sturgeon’s Law (“99% of everything is crap”) applies to the internet in spades, one of the amazing things is that by and large you aren’t forced to deal with the dross just to get to the pure metal. If you want to obsess about the viewfinder relief or the shutter button release pressure of the latest crop of digital camera, go ahead. What you read is up to you. But there are more kinds of photography blogs than the equipment obsessed variety.

There are, for instance, blogs that obsess about the output of whatever artist has hit it big, or whatever artist is about to hit it big, or whatever. There are a slew of these – most of them full of deep, insightful writing about a bunch of stuff that I frankly find boring. But that’s ok. My browser and RSS reader don’t show me those blogs, because unless I follow an enticing link, I never feel a need to direct them to. Those blogs have a big following. Clearly the readers are getting something, and the writers are getting something as well. And that’s fine.

What I tend to follow are the blogs that are about some artist (usually a photographer, but not always) describing their day to day experience. Most are written by people who aren’t professional writers, but I don’t care. I’m not looking for great writing, I’m looking for sharing. For whatever reason, I’m interested in blogs that cover the day to day trials and successes of Actually Making Art. I’m interested in blogs written by people who are willing to share their disappointments and struggles, their confusions and emerging understanding right along with their successes and stuff they’ve finally figured out.

So here’s one part of Joe’s post that just doesn’t ring true for me:

What many of us are really selling is artistic validation. If a photograph falls in the woods, and there’s nobody there to see it, does it make a sound? The answer to the great zen koan of why we make websites and blogs and post photos online is simply that we want people to say that they like our photos. This isn’t a great revelation, but I feel like nobody wants to say it out loud. Getting a pat on the back for something you created feels good. The Internet gives us a way to get that pat on the back. Some of us need it more than others.

This doesn’t ring true for me, despite the fact that I agree that a lot of folks are putting up websites because they’re trying to get validation. Validation isn’t the only reason for writing a blog, and although it’s probably true that most bloggers are at least in part motivated by validation, it’s also true that a lot of blogging gets done out of nothing more than a desire to participate in sharing.

I enjoyed SoFoBoMo. I enjoyed making the photos, and I enjoyed putting together the book. I enjoyed getting the validation of a few people sending me positive comments about the book. I am still enjoying the sense of having accomplished something.

But a great deal of what I’ve enjoyed, honestly, is both reading the blogs of some of the participants, watching them struggle with the same issues and doubts, and seeing so many of us actually crank out a book. That sharing is continuing, it seems, as a bunch of us struggle through the thicket of issues with actually getting a book printed via POD. I was tremendously encouraged when I read (on Colin Jago’s Photostream):

No, no, not that sort of podcast. But POD-cast. There is a lot of it about because all these people have all these nearly books. The great thing is that this concentrated rush of POD-ing means that a lot of really useful information is getting shared. We are all standing on our own shoulders.

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but I think this sharing aspect is key.

6 Responses

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  1. ron said, on June 1, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Although it’s hard to tell whether Reifer would disagree, I would insert after “we want people to say that they like our photos” the phrase “and that’s OK”. Is there something about the internet that makes such a fundamental human need somehow intolerable?

    I’d say a more interesting exercise for the reader than that he proposes at its start is to substitute “ordinary people” for “the internet” throughout his article. As in life, there are people to listen to, people to ignore, and most of them aren’t as talented as the writers in the New Yorker.

  2. Joe Reifer said, on June 1, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Ron – There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a pat on the back. I enjoy one myself sometimes. However, online communities and blogs can facilitate a disingenuous trolling for kudos that is somewhat disgusting. This behavior seems rampant on sites like Flickr.

    Paul – You’re right, I need to delete a bunch of crap from my feedreader. The questions you’ve distilled from my post are proving to be difficult for me to answer right now. Hearing a variety of opinions is a helpful part of the digging process.

  3. [...] Paul Butzi of Musings weighs in on Excursion 2. [...]

  4. gordonmcgregor said, on June 2, 2008 at 5:44 am

    I wonder reading this if that need for or interest in sharing isn’t just another form of a search for validation.

    Not maybe an attaboy for a good picture, but knowing that someone else is struggling with the same things you are. That you aren’t alone. That it is as difficult or confused for everyone else.

    Nothing wrong with that of course.

    The stuff I find the most interesting is the interviews or discussions that give insight into how someone else sees the world or comes up with their photo ideas. The process, the struggle. All that stuff.

  5. Martin Doonan said, on June 2, 2008 at 6:36 am

    We all like to belong, human nature. If there is no one locally with whom to share, the blogsphere is a good place to hang out.
    Like Mark Hobson (the Landscapist) I share the frustration that there isn’t more commenting and discussion sometimes. maybe that’s also about validation but it nice to share opinions, too.
    Sometimes I just like to get thoughts off my chest, putting them on a blog is like telling someone about it. Much better than just writing a private diary.

  6. dalton said, on June 2, 2008 at 9:52 am

    I’ll chime in and just say that I do like the validation I get from having a blog. People visit my site and say something nice about my photographs, and it’s a better feeling than just printing them and putting them in a shoebox.

    That’s not why I maintain the site, though. I agree with Gordon—I don’t have a very large network of people to talk to in person about photography and creative struggles, and so I’ve turned to the Internet. I’ve found sites like this one where people talk about their work and it’s been helpful to me. And in kind, I like to think that the kind of writing I do about photography on my blog (struggling with creative problems, sometimes dealing with technical issues) has helped a few people. I have also found that writing about my problems has helped me work through them myself, and I have gotten great feedback from readers who have gone through similar issues.


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