When Google+ was new and shiny and everyone was excited to be on, I was curating a photography theme for a while. It was called “Fall Friday”, and you won’t guess it: it was about fall photos. I wanted to make a little bit of a difference and not just re-share photos that I liked, but also tried to say something meaningful and positive about them. (ie. why I liked the photos that I picked, beyond “it’s pretty”.)
So for a couple of Fridays I sat there and browsed the #fallfriday hashtag, annoyed that the “clever” G+ algorithms didn’t filter out any re-shares, and collected links to photos that had potential to be featured/reshared throughout the day, together with some notes. Yes, I was serious! And while I don’t recall what exactly I did (maybe a top three or something?), I do remember that it began to suck, rather quickly. I stepped down as a curator of the theme. And here’s why.
The majority of photos were, please forgive me, mundane. Pretty, beautiful, nice to look at – but for heaven’s sake, what’s there to say about colorful trees in a forest, about the colors of fall, about the solitary tree and its leaves turning color and falling in a field? Morning light, fog, and all that? “Nice shot!” – that’s right. And that’s about it, most of the time.
And don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with nice and beautiful photos. I like to make nice and beautiful photos. We get hammered with all the crap that is happening in the world every day, the bad news – we need more beautiful things to counter that. But very, very often, there’s just nothing worth talking about in these pretty photos.
And I think that’s a core problem of all attempts to provide meaningful photo critique. You start a page, a community, a forum for photo critique, and then “the internet” happens: a never ending stream of “pretty” photos gets unleashed.
With digital photography, the number of those photos has exploded. Everyone can make pretty photos now. And not just that, almost everything can be done, by anyone. Photo sharing sites and social media feeds are filled with black & white long exposures, made by hordes/herds of Michael Kenna clones (and I bet 80% of them haven’t even heard of him). Or how about gritty looking, HDR-like portraits of old people, in “Dragan” style? Flowers with shallow depth of field and textures, maybe? And so on, and so on.
Everything that looks new and fresh and “cool” is almost immediately reverse-engineered, explained in online tutorials, sold in workshops and as a result imitated so much that in no time, it becomes mundane. A style isn’t applied because it furthers the expression of an image, but instead, images are made as an excuse to showcase a certain style, look, or technique. A photographer can probably make far more money by selling his knowledge in online classes and books to amateurs who wish to learn how to reproduce that look. Yes, photography should be fun, but how does that make anyone happy, beyond satisfying an initial curiosity?
I think most of my photos don’t go beyond pretty and mundane, either. I go out with the camera and have a certain idea in my head of what I want my images to look like. Like dunes in high-contrast black & white renditions. :-P True vision and creativity is rare. Maybe I have one or the other “winner” every now and then – just like everybody else. A photo that is worth looking at, and intrigues us, again and again. It rarely happens. (and with the personal and emotional connection that we have to our own work, it’s pretty much impossible to judge and evaluate our own photos like that, anyway.)
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to provide meaningful critique that goes beyond some technicalities. Because there’s nothing else to talk about.