After my recent travels I felt a bit over saturated so that I needed to take a couple of weeks of from all the buzz, work, blogging etc. I have been more or less traveling since mid of June and have produced several thousand frames, so that I dearly needed a break.
So what have I been up to the last few weeks since mid of August? I spent some time rethinking my photography and the photography industry. Recently, there has been quite some buzz whether photography is dead, or the DSLR is dead, or whether every photographer has to become a videographer, whether there is space for full-time professional photography etc. I find these discussions very tiring. It is not too hard to imagine that, in fact, the easy access to top notch imaging technology at ridiculously low price levels will allow more people to enter the market. Is this good or bad? I think most of the discussions are subject to a simple fallacy: the idea that the tool is creating the result. Just because I have a top notch pan I am not going to be a great cook. Sure, it might increase my level to a certain extent but it will make my lack of cooking talent even more obvious – I cannot hide behind the lack of the right tools. Photography has been recently very gear-driven due to the huge amounts of review blogs and videos. I think these sites are very valuable when it comes to buying gear, however I also feel that they turned photography into being dependent on the latest gear. Great shots suddenly are not looking so great anymore because they were taken with yesterday’s camera model. This is great for the market but bad for photography. Also merit and talent as the ultimate measures are relegated to be substituted gear.
Many of my colleagues have been complaining about this for a while now. The noise, the buzz, the restlessness, the ever faster pace: it sucks out creativity. Photography (as many other things) is a contemplative, slow, and meditative process. Every attempt of force can easily destroy the brittle equilibrium of creativity and product. Then there are all these categories: street photography, portraiture, fashion, editorial, fine art etc. Again these categories are great from a market(ing) point of view. I remember one of the ’22 immutable laws of marketing’ roughly saying that you need to define a niche in which you are number 1. While this is (unfortunately?) probably true, it lead to an extensive fragmentation of the categories of photography.
So what is style then? Does it need to be within a category to be substantial? Are cross-categorial approaches instantaneously futile and self-destructive suggesting some form of indecisiveness? Likes and votes as measures are a bad proxy and substitute. They measure popularity (which is often fleeting) and not creativity or deeper impact. I can easily see how these questions can make it hard to find an identity. Photography has to be everyone’s private journey and discovery, yet it becomes harder and harder to keep it private and free from aggressive outside influence.
A related thing that I have been observing recently is that many of the more popular blogs are ‘sponsored’ by some camera manufacturer (nothing wrong with that!). Suddenly honest advice from before becomes a marketing pitch – or at least we are not sure anymore whether it does or not. The transition is very smooth and because we might have been intrigued by the style and ability of a photographer it often leads us to identify their (sponsored) gear with their ability. Quite some of the key players (with impressive examples such as Leica) have been very successfully tapping their brand value, other such as Hasselblad (with their Lunar/Sony Nex-7 rebranding), well… let’s say they were much less successful.
If I would be starting from zero without any prior knowledge, I have to admit that I would probably feel pretty lost. Many of the specifics of my (ever-changing) workflow have been honed over years and arose from quite some substantial investment into the (useful and superfluous) gear. Today many systems feel like compromises to me and I am not sure whether some of these systems are not specifically defined as a compromise to force you to upgrade. Then gear is supposed to fit a specific style: experimenting with style means experimenting with gear. I think my only message in this respect is to free yourself from these outside-induced requirements and rather develop your style as a consequence of the gear that you actually have – after all creativity arises from limitations.
So long – TSJ.