Beware the Pedant! Photosplaining Explained…

I have written about the curse of the pedant in photography before but a recent experience of pedant behaviour has led me to return to this subject once more. My belief is that photography should have no rules and that the photographer should adopt a position of open-minded questioning. Strong in belief but willing to enter into a mutually respectful conversation at the drop of a SD card.

I am sure that I am not alone in this belief but it is clear that others have decided that photography needs defending against such free thinking anarchy as they see it. Most of us are aware, women more than men I fear, of the practice of ‘Mansplaining’ a pejorative term meaning to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner. Recent events have lead me to believe that the photography pedant may have created their own version that I am going to name ‘Photosplaining’.

Photosplaining is not restricted to women, as I recently discovered, but incapsulates both sexes in its practice, and all ages.

The photo pedant is a master of Photosplaining, basing all opinions on personal experience entrenched in the past. These opinions are then applied to others with an appropriate black and white approach to all matters. There are no mid-tones to be found, no space for dodging or burning, interpretation or discussion. Agreement or supplication is required for the photo pedant to desist.

The photo pedant is stuck in the theory and dogma of what they know, they do not want to be challenged. They do not feel that they should or could be challenged, their knowledge is so great. They are are often dismissive of the smartphone to create photographs, of social media (except Facebook for some reason), of contemporary art practice, and of moving image created with the very cameras they hold in their hands. They are old school, but not in a good way.

You may have come across one or two, you may even know a few, or know where they are most easily found. If this is the case may I suggest that you challenge their beliefs, question their intentions and confound their expectations of what photography is and can be! Whatever you do, ensure that you do not give-in to the photo pedant!

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).

Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/

© Grant Scott 2021

3 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this. I recently put a photograph onto a forum and questioned the prevelance of hdr and drama skies. I was also foolish to praise the quality of my phones camera.
    The vitriol and dismissive abuse was considerable.
    But can your phone do this? – High definition Scottish landscape with long exposure water effect and hdr sky.
    Oh dear, another cliche landscape photo , dare I say it, well crafted cr*p.
    But, I guess, the guy had a considerable investment to protect.

      1. It is a problem, criticism, I used to teach at UNIGLOS, in that environment you encourage and expect criticism all be it painful its part of the deal. Toe acknowledge your ‘modest’ talent is difficult. These days to pay for someone to tell you is even more so.

        As I have now retired I and surrounded by so many aspiring creatives; well maybe not SO creative.
        I keep quiet, buttoned up and allow them to bathe in ‘likes’ and praise. But when faced with some of the excellent juried and profesional works a healthy dose of ‘imposter syndrome’ for the amateur would not go amiss.
        The sad thing is that so many do not see how bad they are and could not spot a cliche’ if they made one.
        The other sad thing is that they don’t see how good some of the images are if placed in the correct context.

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