For a few months, I’ve had a real bee in my bonnet concerning the voices of photography. When I first started shooting digitally in 2002, most of what I was doing was trial and error. I didn’t have any mentors that I was learning from, so any voice of experience that I searched for either came from a web search for a specific issue I was having, or from buying a book at the local bookstores. Nothing wrong with those paths, and those paths served me well.
A few years later, several of us at the office were all shooting Canon gear, and for the last three years or so, we’ve been critiquing each others’ work, and helping each other as we’ve bumped into particular issues. One guy’s a gearhead, another is a Lightroom guy, another is a Photoshop experimenter… we all bring something different to the table, which has tremendous value. Most of us are selling our art locally, and are displaying in galleries and shows throughout our region, so we’re not exactly living in a bubble, mutually fawning over each others’ work. IDIC. In other words, if all all you hear/see/do is what just one gaggle says you should, then you end up with a real opportunity to shut out other voices.
A few months ago, I started getting the podcasts of a photographer who was offering his services to review your portfolio via his podcast. In fairness of full disclosure, I didn’t submit anything — I don’t have the cojones to do that at this stage of my game. While I’m sure there’s value in that kind of critique, I’m finding a great deal of constructive criticism with our little photo group, and that’s kept me plenty busy with my imagery.
When I listened to the podcasting photographer, my first sense was that he was pretty harsh toward the submitters’ portfolios. Now, that’s probably realistic in the big, bad real world of photography, but when he and his wife began cracking jokes at the expense of the images — to the point of using some of them as running gags while critiquing other folks’ work — well, my respect for this guy dropped off the map.
Where I come from — and this photographer is based only 150mi or so from where I was raised — you don’t poke fun of folks’ hearts when they’ve laid them bare out there for everyone to see. To quote the first Spiderman film, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There’s wisdom there. If you’re gonna lay yourself out as an expert in any field, there’s no requirement that you help another living soul. But when you ask them to come with their work in hand, there’s a certain amount of decorum expected as you deal with those invited folks’ “children.” That kind of treatment of invited folks led me to believe that this was a voice in my head I could do without.
And now to a separate topic, which I’ll tie together at the end.
For quite some time, there’s been a real bone of contention between the established wedding photographers (which I’m not) and the newly minted, freshly camera-bearing wedding photographers (which I’m also not — my doctor has enough issue with my blood pressure without adding the stress of event and portrait photography!). The new ones aren’t charging what the established ones think they should, and the old-timers are saying that’s eroding the price for the field, and therefore destroying photography as we know it. Or something like that. The new folks, of course, don’t have twenty years of experience against which they can justify higher rates, and frankly, the new folks’ work and products may not be the caliber of the old-timers… sometimes. Or it could be just as good or better, but in reality, it’s really up to the purchaser to make that call. You certainly can’t decide that based solely on the price charged. If the old-timer has a better portfolio, that should be pretty obvious, and then it’s a value proposition — is there enough difference *to me* as the consumer to justify the difference in cost?
If an old-timer has shot gazillions of weddings for the rich and famous in all the lavishness of those environments, that’s great. However, when Bobby and Bobbi Sue graduate high school or college and get married right before he ships to Afghanistan, they aren’t looking for a $2500-to-$10,000 photographer or package. Some newly minted wedding photographer may be exactly what’s needed. Frankly, with the economy what it is, it could be that you can even get an old-timer for a bargain rate.
That brings me to this weekend, and some photographic steam which has come to a head via Twitter.
I think of Twitter as a giant party room, with bazillions of conversations going on at the same time. It’s pretty easy to find a conversation that sounds interesting, featuring someone leading the conversational thread with apparent authority and confidence. At times though, I find that some of those folks that are deemed experts — by popular consensus (Twitter follower count) or self-proclaimation (oversaturated self-promotion) — in actuality have no more or less authority than anyone else out there. But at times, they act like thugs on the street, leveraging their empires against quieter, dissonant voices.
This weekend, another photographer started tweeting about his consultancy for a wedding photography house to combat another house that was way undercutting his client’s prices. Now, this guy’d been on the border with me. He’s attracted a pretty strong numerical following on Twitter, perhaps for his podcasts and website, but probably more likely for the frequent giveaways of photographic items he promotes through Twitter. I’d been getting pretty alienated by some of the views he held, but this weekend sealed the deal for me. He made comments that indicated all $500 photography is bad, and engaged in a slappy-fight in the Twitterverse with someone else on Twitter, making points steeped in lunacy, and I knew I had discovered yet another voice I could remove from my head.
I watched Superman II this weekend, and I think there’s some applicability here. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where the villains from the Phantom Zone begin blowing hard to quell the home-spun resistance from the people in the streets of Metropolis after they believe Superman has been killed. The tie? If you’re enough of a blowhard, you really can try to quieten the masses with your apparent strength.
So, there may be too many voices in my head, but there are two fewer today than there were.