Brexit, Trump and modern photography.
So, against all reasonable predictions we are leaving the EU, and Trump is entering the White House. I’m almost tempted to say, ‘I told you so’. But of course I didn’t. I didn’t say it, but I feared it might well happen in exactly the way it, in the end, turned out. Now that’s an easy thing to say after the event, but my experiences with photographers have telegraphed the scenario very accurately.
On the news this morning (as I write) a BBC business editor started a sentence with the words, ‘Well, the experts predict ….’, to which a colleague (from the BBC) openly snorted her derision.
Experts? Experts? We don’t listen to experts anymore. They’re the ones who always get it wrong.
Actually, you could argue that the experts are the last people standing who expect other people to make rational choices based upon the facts.
Facts? Facts? Don’t you know that we live in a post-factual world?
These days, it seems that possession of information and a basic ability to reason logically are impediments to success.
It would be wrong to label every UK voter who voted Leave as a racist (although perhaps every racist may have voted leave). It would be wrong to label every American Trump voter as belonging to a basket of deplorables (although, again, maybe all those in the basket may have voted for him).
People vote for complex reasons, but there does seem to be a strong anti-intellectual, anti-expert feeling at large in the world today.
Personally, in this country I blame Thatcher and her attacks on the teaching profession in the early 1980’s. The children on the ‘80’s are the over entitled parents of today. You can’t tell them what to do, you know? No, really, you can’t. If the establishment points out the economic folly of a course of action, ‘Thatcher’s children’ will do the exact opposite. Partly because they don’t think it will hurt them personally (and the destruction of any sense of community was one of Thatcher’s major victories), but also because they simply want to stick the boot in and show the Westminster elite that they can’t be told what to do.
But what has this got to do with photography?
Well, we live in a photographic world where producing quality images is easier than ever before. That is a fact, no matter how unpalatable it is to those who believe that they are actually better than Ansel Adams or David Bailey. What used to take a huge amount of skill is now sorted out by the computing power of the camera.
But like Trump or Farage supporters, instead of using the technology to free up time to learn about why a photograph is great, or to understand the semiotics within great images, many current photographers simply mock and sneer, count their pixels, and admire their long lenses.
Instead of wanting to learn more, education is seen as some sort of barrier to ‘creativity’. Why do a degree, when you have Youtube to copy. Why attempt to understand when you can simply ape. I recently saw a one day course advertised where it was claimed you could learn to shoot like Helmut Newton. Really? And what academic and pedagogic genius was offering this service. Someone who proudly studied at the ‘university of life’.
Ah, well, you don’t actually need qualifications to be a professional, do you?
If not qualifications, then perhaps a healthy client book of people wishing to pay for your services. That would at least make photography a job. Some people’s websites are crammed full of inspiring images with clear and identifiable commercial content. Others are simply aspirational personal portfolios. They might be great, but don’t kid yourself, not even in this post factual world. Unless these images are generating income, or have generated income, then you are deluding yourself if you think this is anything more than a hobby.
It doesn’t matter how many hits you get on your site. It doesn’t matter how many ‘likes’ you get on facebook, or how many followers you have.
And don’t be amazed or ‘super’ shocked by current events in the wider world because you’re part of that world.
While I actually think that anyone who uses the word ‘super’ other than referring to the man of steel has the vocabulary of a child and this alone should stop them having an opinion, that makes me part of the problem. For a very long time, those with an education or the dominant cultural capital have been convinced of the superiority of their position and this has left them be blind-sided by those who wish to exploit the lack of those qualities in others.
In the real world, that has led to a series of events that have stunned the establishment. In photography, it’s led to a state of whinging that people will work for nothing and no-one appreciates the time and investment that goes into buying the sort of kit that – well, the sort of kit that more or less does the work for you.
So, whether or not you are ‘super shocked’ at Brexit, or ‘super depressed’ that people don’t want to pay you for your hobby, perhaps it’s time to wake up. If you disagree with someone’s argument, then engage with them rather than sneer at them. If your photography isn’t getting the financial regard you feel it deserves, then stop playing around on social media, stop testing, stop gazing at website statistics and actually go out and sell some images and get some paying jobs. Don’t know how? Perhaps Youtube wasn’t the best teacher after all!