In my last post on Modern Photography, I mentioned how a recent conversation with a couple of friends had turned into a deep discussion on the pros and cons of modern photography. We had discussed the quality of newer cameras and the different ways in which those cameras affected our photography.
Our conversation also drifted into a less technical but arguably more important aspect of modern photography. How we currently view ourselves and our photography. We were all photographers long before the interconnectedness of the net and we discussed how Twitter, Facebook, and the immediacy of social media has changed the way we view our own photography. Like any proper coin or story, there are always two sides.
So how has modern photography benefitted the photographer? In a word, inspiration. Never before have we had such an amazing amount of access to such a variety of imagery. Not too long ago, simply perusing the work of other photographers required a visit to a gallery or the purchase of their Monographs. You could explore a genre of photography by purchasing a magazine, but viewing different ideas, styles, and genres required to you spend a small fortune on multiple periodicals. Today the press of a button or the click of a mouse provides us with a staggering amount and variety of photographs. We can investigate alternate styles, explore the work of our idols, or discover new techniques. This ready access to imagery can serve as a never-ending source of inspiration, motivation, and education.
With all that positive, where’s the bad? Well, viewed through a different lens, that source of inspiration can also be deflating, leaving us with a sense of inadequacy. We now see so much photography that it becomes hard not to compare ourselves with everybody. We think my work isn’t as good as theirs. They are so lucky they get to travel. I’ll never get to that place. Its all been done before, why bother? These thoughts can be seriously detrimental to our work. There’s also the phenomenon of likes and shares. That recent post to Instagram wasn’t nearly as popular as you imagined it would be. You’re crushed.
It’s easy to fall into these traps. It’s also completely counterproductive. I think at times like these it’s important to ask yourself, why do you photograph in the first place. Certainly, it’s not to gain likes on Instagram. It’s more likely to feed your soul. To escape life’s busier moments for a while. To immerse yourself so deeply in concentration that the rest of the world simply melts away. Or perhaps its to show others something you feel passionately about.
However long your list of reasons may be, I am sure that receiving praise from others is pretty close to the bottom. Or at least it should be. When we measure the success of our photography by the notice or approval of others, we are sure to fail. I’ve seen some of the greatest photographs garner 15 likes on Instagrams, while ho-hum images see tens of thousands. The amount of likes on Instagram has no bearing on the quality of the image.
Instead, we should measure our “success” by the quality of our experience. The final image is just one small part of that overall experience. Of course, we all want to make great images. Ones which people can connect with and enjoy. But the reactions of others shouldn’t be our only measure. Remember that feeling you had when you first fell in love with photography? That feeling of pure joy. The feeling of losing yourself in the art. The sense of accomplishment or the awareness of a deeper understanding. Whatever it may have been, THAT is the reason we photograph. THAT experience is what we should be chasing. Achieving THAT feeling over and over again should be the measure of our success.