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Redefining the language of photography – can we please?

July 20, 2019

Everything is just awesome these days isn’t it? It’s all so amazing, spectacular, STUNNING. Boy, we do live in extraordinary times. Hang on, sorry, my mistake, I was just completely taken in by endless marketing guff.

I have watched the world getting fatter because apparently, despite appearances your arse doesn’t look big in that. And the same applies to photographs, such that if you are a newbie coming into the market, and your ambitions are to ‘make it’, you might just believe that the free piece you gave to that website/blog/forum/platform (delete as appropriate) is truly magnificent work, because the ‘community management’ person tweeted to the world that it is. And because someone who apparently is in the ‘business’ says its remarkable (my plan is to get as many superlatives into this article as possible), then we are supposed to just accept their word for it.

I occasionally take screenshots of my favourite ‘gospels according to someone who doesn’t know’. I could fill a few magazines with a bare smattering. So why do we allow all this hyped up ignorance and never question it? Well, because photography, like all visual arts is about taste, and most people rely upon others to tell them what theirs should be. Many people don’t actually know, and in this world of memes (Warhol was right when he said everyone would have their fifteen minutes of fame), nobody looks at anything long enough to form their own opinion – its just easier to believe and move on.

There has never been so much compelling, thoughtful, elevating photography. And if you look hard enough and wade through… you can find it. But you have a choice; because xyz says its ‘fantastic’, do we question it or not? We should, because we all have a duty in this industry to challenge everything we read and see (including much of the rubbish I write) because we are all responsible for its integrity, values and legacy. I wonder how we might in time reflect on so much of what is punted out there now and review it in a different light – I wonder if in time if we might feel hoodwinked. And if we do, then that’s our fault.

I can’t help but feel that social media is to photography what the X Factor is to music – a conduit that mixes and mangles until we are left with the boy group who had the best hair. The best hair will undoubtedly sell of course, but its just hair. In my vain attempt to appear erudite and caring, my personal social media stream is a depressing landslide of humanitarian disasters and often pretentious photography. And I know that somewhere in there, hidden under a morass of disappointment is some absolute brilliance, something engaging and worth spending more than a little time over. But I don’t have the energy, there are just too many oysters and not enough pearls. So I close my browser window and do something else instead. This is my personal tragedy and you may or may not share it, but in a time where there has never been so much breath-taking photography, I have never looked at so little.

What a terrible flaw in the system – albeit the central philosophy of the capitalists remit – flood people and turn them ‘unthinking’. I am a fan, I had my first camera at 13, I am a fan – and you are turning me off. Please don’t ruin this for me because you are riding someone else’s bandwagon but you haven’t learned to drive yet. There seems to be just one gear available now, the superlative gear, and everyone is full throttle. I am far less inclined to click a twitter link if someone tells me it’s ‘stunning’.

If I walk for about fifteen minutes from my apartment, through the Tuileries Gardens and across the Seine, I arrive in Saint Germain des Prés, the arrondissement of Hemmingway and Wilde, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, the father of existentialism. Sartre believed that the individual's starting point is characterised by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. I feel this every day, almost without fail.

After my perambulatory musings I stop for a coffee at Les Deux Magots, from where I can see La Hune, the bookshop of my dreams. I go as often as I can because its photography section is as good a place as any to waste the rest of your entire life. It is a place where that disorientating absurdity of the present is cast aside and replaced by something solid, something that grew into itself rightly and justly over time. It’s not a place where everything that is right is just thrown away for the expediency of now.

It’s not as though change isn’t absolutely the driving force behind so much good, I would be bored senseless without it. Its simply that this change we see is so often un-debated and unconsidered; it wasn’t born out of a thousand whimsical coffees from which a truth became clear – we just don’t have the time for that now. We don’t have the time to ask if it really is stunning, and let’s be honest, we don’t even know anymore.

 

Thank you to Martin Middlebrook for this post

 

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