I am a hypocrite.
I sell individual prints and post single, unrelated images on Instagram. I do this partly because other people do it and I am not impervious to what other people do. I also post to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook because I am vain and want you to ‘like’ my pictures. So you can see that, after reading what I’ve written below, you will be able to call me a big, fat HYPOCRITE!
I think photographers need to commit to series of images and not splurge the odd ‘good’ shot on to the internet. This produces a never ending stream of second tier photography at best or a bilge of mediocrity at worst.
The most wonderful work comes only from a commitment to a subject or theme. As I argue in this piece it is the long term development of a subject which produces the best, most captivating and informative photography and photographers should do their best to adhere to this standard because we risk undermining our own love and enthusiasm for the medium we have chosen to call our own.
Ever since we’ve been venerating the ‘decisive moment‘ we have developed a fetish for the one-off great shot. We marvel at the ‘punctum’ and the surrealism or the pathos and the dynamic of composition in a frame and, in this way, we all hope to achieve perfection in one sixtieth of a second. But the achievement of this photographic state of nirvana is a con that we’ve both sold ourselves and been sold by the media.
When the pictures by great photojournalists of the twentieth century such as Cartier Bresson, Weegee, Winogrand and Capa, became famous we commenced on a path towards the ‘divine truth of the individual shot’ but those photographers were not looking for the one great image when they shot what went on to become epoch defining photographs. These photographers were working on assignments and building up great numbers of images destined for newspapers and magazines whose purpose in publishing these pictures was to tell a story. A few of those images became iconic and we (those who are inspired by these shots) were bamboozled into believing that these great images’ true value was in their singularity. But many of those images were never meant to have been taken out of the context in which they were shot.
Indeed the legendary picture agency Magnum was set up by HCB, Robert Capa and George Rodger to mange their image rights in the dawning age of narrative picture gathering.
Many of Cartier Bresson’s most famous pictures were the product of news assignments or long personal journeys – this could not be further from the fantasy of photographers hanging around the street looking for the odd shot. There were photographers like Doisneau who famously staked out street corners in the hope of snapping something interesting and there may be many photographers who are looking to channel the spirit of Doisneau or Brassai or Meyerowitz but I suspect that many of us have been duped into the idea that great images happen at random – the myth of the photographer who always carries a camera is the dominant creative impetus in environmental or ‘street’ photography.
In the new digital era (which will last a lot longer than the age of film) we consume photography – one disparate shot after another. We ‘like’ each others photos on a singular basis without demanding a deeper or broader intellectual context almost as if we are popping Maltesers one after an other into our mouths. Ultimately this is unsatisfying and we will move on to other media leaving photography all the poorer for our departure.
I would like you to consider this; photography (especially in the digital era) is a medium by which we can tell a story through the making of still images and the careful editing of them. We are lucky to be alive at this time when the means to make and disseminate images is so cheap and easy. For the first time in history it is only the time and effort required to produce a compelling narrative photo story which is required. Editing and publishing is now effectively free.
We should break with our single shot fetish and embrace the deeper, more satisfying commitment that a photographer must make to the long form series of photographs which tell a story – a series of pictures which have a momentum of their own borne out by the power of the subject matter they portray.
Instagram is great but it renders single images instantly forgettable by the nature of its structure and the way we interface with it. I suggest we slow down and be more considered in both the way we show our work and the way we consume it. I’ll still use Instagram for those one off shots from time to time because its hard to be pure in a digitally toxic world!
But I will remind myself that the best pictures are the ones that bubble up out of the primordial soup of effort and commitment Why should I burden you, the viewer, with anything that is second best?
Alex, London 5/6/15
See below for some famous pictures all of which have been extracted by the media from their original context.