December 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
December 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Recently, the always excellent Zack Arias skewered lazy “how-to” photography bloggers and the mind-numbing “inspiration” browsing that feeds them:
If you have to add ‘put images on a web site’ as a top 10 list of things to do then who in the hell is your target audience? Infants? And I’m not talking metaphorical infants. Order business cards? Note to bloggers… if you have to state the bare bones minimum obvious… don’t bother.
Edutainment: the anti-learning
The problem is that these lists work. I click on them all the time, and it’s not just me. In their guide on photoblogging, Photoshelter confirmed that:
of the content we create for the PhotoShelter blog, our “list” articles are the ones that receive the most links, tweets, forwards and views.
A quick-fix mentality seems to dominate online learning in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional studio or workshop learning environments. Like the sex tips plastered on the front of men’s magazines, the preference is for clever tricks rather than substantive, hard-earned skill.
The popularity of these posts seems to confirm what I have naively tried to ignore. Most of us trolling these sites to aren’t visiting them to learn, we’re visiting them sites put off learning. Leading webviews go to top-10 lists, rumour pages, gear reviews and bts videos. Long-form essay writing on craft is practically non-existent (Luminous Landscape is a wonderful exception) and galleries featuring original work tend to fall much lower in the rankings. Like baby-einstein for creatives, it’s edutainment - ways to keep the mind occupied while we avoid doing the hard work of creating things.
Most of all, what is lost, seems to be blank canvas creativity – leaving your mind empty and your eyes open. There is indeed value in being inspired by others, and the internet is great for that. What has been lost though is the value of staring at a blank canvas and needing to create something from nothing. In the end, all compelling art comes from a spark of original creation, even if it borrows from other traditions and artists, and you can’t learn that from a vimeo tutorial. Every minute that someone spends trolling the web for ‘useful’ tips and tricks, they’re not out there with their eye in a viewfinder experimenting with light.
Perhaps no other medium I’ve come across is so open to “blank canvas” creativity, than digital photography and videography. Creation is easy. Unlike the painter who must acquire a degree of skill even to begin expressing themselves on the canvas, a photographer or videographer can go out and freely capture images of technically exacting standards. While the results will be inconsistent, there is no cost to experimentation and results are instantly available for review. You can wander around with a macro lens and crawl around on hands and knees defocusing flowers into abstract bliss. You can harangue a few people into posing against an alley way wall while you ask them to talk about their lives. Heck, Shinchi Maruyama is fine just throwing handfuls of water in the air.
The ease of creating digital images is both a boon and a curse. While it enables unparalleled creative exploration, there is often an assumption that photography is a technical pursuit rather than what it truly is – painting with light. And like any other form of painting, getting good is a question of refining technique, and discovering a personal style. It is ironic that so many of the “top 10″ lists that distract us from developing our craft, stress the need for successful photographers and videographers to forge a unique vision in their work. There is no other way to do that than going out and taking photos day after day. Discere faciendo - learning by doing.
There is clearly tremendous substance and value in the vibrant online culture that has developed around creative enterprises like photography and videography. So how do you reconcile this with the the shallowness of much of the online content? Having thought about it a little bit, it seem that intention is at the heart of the matter.
Do you engage in this community with vision and intention, or as a passive consumer? It seems to me that it is the intention that we bring to these spaces that defines them. Too often we troll the web looking for solutions to problems we didn’t know we had, rather than using it as a tool to move forward in the creative process. Underneath this tendency is a fear of staring into the abyss of a blank canvas. A fear that what we have to say isn’t that interesting. There is a desperate hope that if you can just keep enough tricks in your hat, or get good enough equipment, that noone will see you for the fraud you are.
If you have any thoughts on this blog post, please post your comments below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.