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Instagram, Facebook and Twitter Are Bad For Photography

Robert Frank, Valencia
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.

One of the famous images and instantly recognisable images from Cartier Bresson’s study of Russia.
One of the most famous images of all time – Robert Capa’s image of a fallen soldier taken during the Spanish Civil War.
One of Robert Frank’s most famous images from his book ‘Valencia’.
1993-5016_44S_65_14A 002
‘Blackpool’ by Tony Ray Jones. This shot was included in A Day Off which was published by Thames and Hudson inn 1974.

 

PSYCH PHOTO #11 – MARK WINSLAND

#11 in a series on the role of psychology in photography.

Mark Winsland is a Big Issue seller who I’ve seen around North Kensington a few times.

It was a hot day and as I was walking along Golborne Road I saw Mark with his wheelie suitcase in one hand (in which he carries his Big Issues and his personal possessions – he never knows where he is staying from night to night) and recently purchased cold bottle of Frijj milkshake in the other.  

I asked him if he would mind if I made a portrait of him. He seemed bemused by the question and asked me if I’d give him some money – I said I would. He came to the studio and we chatted about his life as I shot the pictures.

I gave him some money as he left – I’m sure he had no idea why I wanted to take some pictures of him. When I was tidying up I found that he’d left his unopened ‘Frijj’ on the table. I still feel guilty about this.

In regarding a portrait of a person who has had less luck than most and whose day is filled with a struggle to survive we are perhaps conscious of looking at ourselves through a very dark glass – there but for the grace of god etc… Again our experience of such a portrait (would you have known who the sitter was if I hadn’t told you – probably not) is one of projection, i.e. we project our own fears and compare our reaction to the image with our conscious preconceptions and our unconscious conditioning.

Portrait of Mark Winsland, 2014 by Alex Schneideman

FULL SIZE PORTRAIT HERE

Please click on ‘best seen in full’ (bottom left) to view correctly.

PSYCH PHOTO #8 – KALEED SAAOUDY

#8 in a series on the role of psychology in photography.

KALEED SAAOUDY – Kaleed runs the ‘4+1’ cafe on the corner of Golborne Road and Portobello. He is Moroccan by birth but has lived (and raised children in Norway) – a true cosmopolitan.

1_L1020186_schneideman

 

Kaleed is one of the most generous and personable people I have met for a long time. He is someone I consider to be a ‘citizen of the world’. Someone for whom race, religion and country have little meaning.

There is a sadness in this image too. Its source is unknown to me. The portrait reminds me of a kindly eagle. Kaleed is wary of the camera but his wariness exposes other facets of his character.

These facets maybe made manifest by invoking subconscious reactions. Having a camera pointed at you from close range makes many people feel uncomfortable. Why is this? And what does this say about the subconscious? 

The process of making a portrait seems to be very fluid and perhaps never finished.

FULL SIZE PORTRAIT HERE

Please click on ‘best seen in full’ (bottom left) to view correctly.

PSYCH PHOTO #8 – KALEED SAAOUDY

#8 in a series on the role of psychology in photography.

KALEED SAAOUDY – Kaleed runs the ‘4+1’ cafe on the corner of Golborne Road and Portobello. He is Moroccan by birth but has lived (and raised children in Norway) – a true cosmopolitan.

1_L1020186_schneideman

 

Kaleed is one of the most generous and personable people I have met for a long time. He is someone I consider to be a ‘citizen of the world’. Someone for whom race, religion and country have little meaning.

There is a sadness in this image too. Its source is unknown to me. The portrait reminds me of a kindly eagle. Kaleed is wary of the camera but his wariness exposes other facets of his character.

These facets maybe made manifest by invoking subconscious reactions. Having a camera pointed at you from close range makes many people feel uncomfortable. Why is this? And what does this say about the subconscious? 

 To be continued

The process of making a portrait seems to be very fluid and perhaps never finished.

FULL SIZE PORTRAIT HERE

As the series continues I will expand on this psychological theory of portraiture and how we, the viewers, engage with it.

Please click on ‘best seen in full’ (bottom left) to view correctly.

THESE PEOPLE #8 – ZIA LAZAR

Zia Lazar – Zia is a Christian Iraqi hairdresser who has lived in London for decades. He lives with and cares for his ninety year old mother and works in a salon called ‘Dorotea’s’ in Portobello Road.

When I visit Zia for a haircut we talk about barbequeing. He has a group of friends who spend much of the year discussing, preparing and cooking barbeques. The amount of meat these guys eat is legendary. Iraqis, it turns out, are champion barbequers.
I chose this portrait partly because it reflects the rather superficial impression I have of Zia – his pride. But I suspect he is also a highly sensitive man and I like this picture because I can see both these qualities in him here.

My selection of this portrait of Zia is influenced by my knowledge of him. In some way it meets my expectation of a portrait of someone I know but you probably do not know him. I wonder what chasm of experience there is between mine and yours as we both stare at the same picture of another human face.
My thesis is that all photography (and art) is less about the absorption of a fixed set of parameters to which the human mind responds passively. Rather, our appreciation of art is about applying ones subconscious to external stimuli. Somewhere in the mess of neurons and grey slime we call our brains images are processed and seized upon by all aspects of our personalities to produce a response.
Through our personal and shared experiences and mental development we impose ourselves on art and not the other way round. In other words it is each and everyone of us who is responsible for the masterworks we attribute to the genius of others.

The process of making a portrait seems to be very fluid and perhaps never finished.

PORTRAIT OF ZIA LAZAR

To be continued…