How good (or bad) are we at photography, and what's the best way to cast that evaluation? Something I KNOW every one of us has thought about, gotten upset about, doubted ourselves about, doubted someone else about, and the list goes on and on.
But before you read this piece that came to me over my morning coffee 30 minutes ago, here's the other folks (including a handful of new ones) that I do this here thing with every month.
In the roughly ~12 years since I first picked up a camera, I can honestly say that I've only captured a handful of GREAT photos. Most of which probably seem great to me for reasons other than just what's in the picture. Anytime we start to feel like we're getting pretty good at this whole photography thing, 5 minutes on a website like 500px or even Instagram can quickly provide you with a reality check of some things we could probably improve upon. On the flip side of that, it can get pretty frustrating when you see the most generic fucking ocean photo off the Santa Monica Pier you've ever seen that after 5 minutes has 300+ "likes" and countless comments about how "beautiful" it is. Meanwhile your truly captivating (and rarely experienced) sunrise photo of a prestine volcanic lake that took days of hiking and a night or two of camping in 20 degree weather is struggling to hit 50 (usually more like 20) after months of being posted. Example:
I have intentionally blurred out the name of the photographer here who actually happens to be a fairly good friend of mine and who also happens to be an amazing photographer and who would probably be pissed to see me say that this photo is generic and thoughtless, but hey, it's true. The question in point here is, "Do we judge ourselves based on scenarios like this?". Of course we could get all scientific about it with some simple math (admittedly, I have) and figure out the average ratio of "likes" I get to how many followers I have and say on average I am getting 20% of my followers attention where as this artist is only getting 5% of her followers attention, blah, blah. There's actually an app that will do that for you (It's called CrowdFire), haha.
I'll be the first to say it, this is fucking stupid, right? Did I not put the right hashtags, did my photo just suck but for some weird reason I thought it was good, am I not reaching the right audience? The answer here is that the work isn't most important here, social media IS the ART. This ISN'T ALWAYS true and there are always exceptions but the world we live in doesn't give a shit about quality work, only the game surrounding the work, the path in which your work takes to get to its audience. Should I try to be less of a photographer but an expert at the art of playing social media in order to get the right amount of "likes" to give me the validation I need to think my photo is good? Probably not. I've been lucky enough to have my photos re-shared on accounts that have the audience my photos are seeking where they have gotten thousands of likes while only getting 15 on my own account and for better or worse, I have thought about it enough to realize that there is a formula for "likes" and maybe one day I'll care enough to actually apply that formula or I'll just stop using social media as the bar for my own personal validation.
In conclusion, I make photos for me, to document my experiences so I can be taken back to those moments at a later time. They are memories that sometimes I even get to hold or hang on my wall mostly due to experimental printmaking that I learned after being inspired by the great Bonny Lhotka and having expanded this into a tangible experience is something only a small percentage of modern photographers do. Sure, when we put our work out there and it's something that is important to us, we want people to like it because it's human nature to seek validation from our peers and loved ones.
The question remains, is it a healthy practice to compare ourselves to others? I think it is because without doing so, we aren't pushing ourselves to be better. A blind man could look at the photo on the right and immediately recognize the level of thought and work that went into capturing it was far beyond the snapshot on the left.
We have to be realists and put our energy towards things that are constructive for us as artists and sitting around asking a question that you already know the answer to because of "likes" is definitely not constructive.
Oh yeah, I have some photos to share! I went on an amazing 4 day backcountry camping trip all on my own to Santa Rosa Island, a remote island that is part of Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California. It is completely cutoff from civilization, devices, likes, and all the other shit that distracts us from appreciating this beautiful planet we inhabit. You have to pack everything in and everything out, there are no trashcans, no fires, barely any freshwater, and no way off the island other than the boat that dropped you off and said "See you in 4 days". The thing that really blew my mind about this place was how much the weather, light, and atmosphere could change throughout the day and how fast it could change. It also really depended on what part of the island you were on. The wind blew at least 40 mph the entire time. Also evident in the insanely diverse geology and the erosion that it all shows from thousands/millions of years of being exposed to the elements.
Thanks for reading my bullshit about how much bullshit "likes" are. Hope you enjoyed the photos!