Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Robert Adams and me

Robert Adams gained prominence with his pictures that depicted how natural landscapes are transformed as civilization encroaches upon them. As a lover of the inherent beauty of the natural landscape his photographs strongly hint at the dismay he must have felt as he saw it being defaced by ever advancing human activity. 

You can have a look at some of his photography here: Robert Adams The Place We Live
It is not only his pictures that captured my attention; his musings also make for some thought-provoking study. He was at some point a teacher of English, and I think this as well as his artistic consciousness, contribute greatly to his eloquence.
Part of the difficulty in trying to be both an artist and a businessperson is this: You make a picture because you have seen something beyond price; then you are to turn and assign to your record of it a cash value. If the selling is not necessarily a contradiction of the truth in the picture, it is so close to being a contradiction—and the truth is always in shades of gray--that you are worn down by the threat.
 With the introduction of the revised pricing structure at Dreamstime, I have been reading with interest all the different opinions on the forum here and elsewhere. It seems to me that mostly the reactions are divided along partisan lines, those that seem to think that DT can never do any wrong and those who, no matter what, will always consider their work to be under-priced. I hasten to say that personally, I have not taken the time to either analyse the new pricing structure in detail or form an opinion on the matter. I am such a small fish in this ocean of microstock and my earnings here are so puny that I doubt it would affect me either way. Besides which, microstock photography is not the reason I picked up the camera in the first place. No matter.

The quote above from Robert Adams struck me as fairly relevant to all the never-ending brouhaha between agencies and contributors regarding pricings and commissions.

Yuri Arcurs has announced the creation of his own site to sell his stock photography. He is a rare bird in the domain of microstock that has achieved an enviable level of success. He has managed to find a commodity for which there is a demand and has successfully exploited it. Obviously, he feels that the price others put on his pictures is not appropriate and hence has decided to take the step to cut out the middle-man. There is always some discussion on whether he can be considered an artist or not, but he probably doesn’t care about what people may think. If his primary motivation at the moment is to skip merrily to the bank laughing his head off, then indeed why should he? As long as he feels his work is getting a fair price. 

As photographers, we would all like to think of ourselves as artists - and business persons to boot. I don’t know if there exists a dichotomy in that. Obviously that depends on our personal definitions of art and what we believe the purpose of art is. If art is indeed “truth” then can truth have a price? Does pure art exist for its own sake or should art be created to communicate a message? Or is the purpose of art simply to entertain? Is it a commodity to be traded? The answers to these questions may help with dealing with what Mr Adams qualifies as “the threat”.

One thing is absolutely clear, I have neither the patience nor the brain power to be an effective philosopher., so I should refrain from commenting on whether an effective artist can indeed be an effective business person or vice versa. At the moment, I am neither and so am inclined to be fairly fatalistic about the going-on in the stock world.

Maybe the solution to deal with the question posed by Mr Adams is to simply decide what is more important on a personal level, the cash value or the “something beyond price”?

Me, I’m too lazy to think about it so I have rarely let it become a threat that would wear me down.  
Your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other peoples pictures too - photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny but that carry with them a reminder of community.
To me this one thought carries within it two notions. One, that everyone has been influenced to some degree or another by what people have done before. And two, no matter what, nothing or no one exists in isolation, but rather is part of something larger than itself. 

One of the most frequent advices given to any one first embarking on any endeavour is to look at and learn from what has been done before. Photographers are forever recommended that they study pictures and paintings by other to learn about composition and technique. A genius is only a genius because he/she stands on the shoulders of other greats that have already done part of the work.

It is obvious, that especially as photographers we cannot live in isolation. We are dependent on what exists around us to produce our work. Whether it is nature, product, portrait, street or news photography we are obliged to interact with the world at large and be part of a community. For better or for worse, we have absolutely no choice if we wish to pursue our “passion”. 
At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect--a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known. 
And as photographers, our interaction with the world defines us and in turn colours the perceptions others hold about us. What we choose to photograph and how we do it in terms of composition and technique provides a glimpse into our mind and being. Our pictures indeed become part of our life experience, of who we are and our résumé. They are the part that is most visible to the world and which allows others to (for good or for bad) define or label us.  
No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film.
Or rather a few memory cards with some available storage space. Enough said.

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