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THE ETHOS – ONLY FOR REALLY HARDCORE PHOTOGRAPHERS

Taking pictures is now an everyday part of millions of peoples lives because the accessibility to the means of doing so has never been more widespread and advanced. I have an 8MP camera in my mobile phone which I have with or near me twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year. What was once only recently the preserve of the rich or the professional is now virtually costless and so every day billions of images are made all over the world. And yet for all of this availability and affordability only an infinitesimally tiny percentage of those photographs are actually any good.

How bizarre, one would think that the same probability that might see a Chimpanzee typing the works of Shakespeare would result in at least a weekly gallery of momentous work. But no, you see several factors conspire to keep it rare; one, it is now so easy and cheap to make a photograph that people simply don’t even try to get it right.

Indeed such ‘rightness’ has become irrelevant in the minds of the snappers who desire only disposable moments to regard once and then delete, two, this scenario also engenders further creative laziness as the premise of ‘if I take lots (because I can), one of them is bound to be better than the rest’ is employed by those who at least attempt to raise the stakes to satisfy the basic conventions of pictorial quality, three, we live in a world where actual failure is no longer part of the creative process and therefore we are too accustomed to accepting mediocrity as success and as such we self satisfy far too easily and four, and most importantly by far, because the extraordinary complexity of choices that are made when the shutter is fired mean that in reality taking what would be deigned to be a great picture is inordinately difficult.

In fact it either requires a conspiracy of fluke or the mind of a genius. And thank God for that!

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To my mind, not that of such a genius, the final factor which blights success is that even those who consider themselves very serious practitioners in the photographic field have become distracted by the mastery of technique and the formality of the art and have all but entirely forgotten that the pre-eminent force in its practice is an intellectual one. People take photographs without thinking about them and this makes them at best incomplete and at worse trite. It also strips them of their importance, and if you care, then making such a minuscule fraction of time and space permanent is about making very important choices and to do so entirely subconsciously is a wasteful gamble.

You may already be screaming ‘pretentious twaddle, with the whiff of elitism’ by now, but I’m sure if you conjure an image of what you consider the ‘best’ photo you have ever seen and ask why it is so, you will recognise one and likely more of the following attributes; beauty, horror, harmony, uniqueness and the profound ability to communicate these or other feelings to you personally and instantaneously. The photographer will have identified something in the frame, responded to it in a wholly unique way and then reflected this in the image in such a way that it is obvious to the viewer. They will have given you a startling insight and done so in just a fraction of one second of all time. To accomplish this they will have made an incalculable number of choices, not therefore the fruit of accident but the labour of a conscious mind. To master such complexity you need to think about it and you need to be punished by it.

Because perfection is what we are all after isn’t it. Not the kind that will make our family go ‘Oooh !’, or maybe even sway a respected bevy of competition judges, the kind that we who struggle and strive to continually hone our skills and abilities in this field ache for, that kind of idealised perfection that is so evidently unattainable. Because it is only we, the photographer who can have seen that matrix of choices and therefore perhaps only we who can identify those we failed to master en route to that exposure. Call me hardcore, but I have not a single image of my own on my walls. Because I cannot like a single one of them, cannot live with their inadequacies. I see them only as markers of an extremely slow and painful course of progress towards that impossible ideal which I fantasise and day-dream of and always will. Call me obnoxious hardcore, but I think that if you do have your own pictures on your walls then your satisfaction constitutes a hindrance to that progress.

So do I like/enjoy making pictures? Do I find it rewarding? Of course not. It's a task which causes me massive frustration, intense, repeated and prolonged disappointment, it can honestly manifest some form of insanity in me, and the exhausting self-depreciation and dissatisfaction can reach levels which promote real depression.

Sadly the generous flattery of others who do like my pictures is scant antidote as I know they cannot see what I missed and therefore their judgement however heartfelt is not enough.

Why do I bother then? Why don’t I give up and make jam? Because it would have to be perfect jam and for me this would be even more difficult as I have a sticky stuff phobia.

 

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