What’s the point?
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.