I am not by nature a grumpy guy, I have a deep voice that has been described as ‘gruff’ but despite this I am by nature a realistic optimist whose glass is always half-full. I have many friends who are photographers or who are engaged with the medium some of whom are optimistic about the present and future of the medium, however, many are not. As a result our conversations veer from believing that the world is ending to proclaiming the dawn of a new age. Some find a balance between these two positions. That is what I try to do.
However, talking photography has limited interest in my experience. I am far more interested in my friends lives and interests outside of their profession. Just as I am interested in the lives of my friends who have nothing to do with photography. In short I don’t only want to talk with photographers or about photography.
And yet the social media platform Threads is currently filled with people calling out to connect with fellow photographers to network, share work with and support. That’s fine and a sense of community is a basic human need, however this desire to only bond with those similar to you suggests a misunderstanding of photography’s possibilities in my opinion. In a world where everyone is an expert no matter how limited their knowledge and experience, in which praise and validation can become prerequisites of sharing images online. Only listening to fellow travellers can be a mistake.
Only connecting with a photographically like minded group of online ‘friends’ or followers can promote a homogenised and safe approach to image making. A repetition of pictures created to please. A repetition of what gains ‘likes’. It is not healthy for any creative to fall into this trap and certainly not a photographer.
I can understand this need to make friends with fellow practitioners, amongst hobbyists who collect stamps or build model aeroplanes. People who support a particular sports team or follow one pop star, but photography requires an open embrace of the world. It is not and should not be narrow focused.
This need for connection with fellow photographers or as many describe themselves ‘artists’ or ‘creatives’ seems to be based on a misunderstanding of photography. I even saw one state that they wanted to connect with photographers as they would “speak the same language.” I wonder what that language is! I certainly have no idea despite forty years of engagement with the medium.
I think what I am observing is the result of the democratisation of photography outside of the idea of professional photography and photographers. Outside of the idea of making money from a photographic practice. This is the hobbyist on steroids, hyped up on their own excitement in the ability to share work. Wanting to receive praise by hiding behind a facade of I want to look at your work, when really what they want to say is look at me! Look at me! I know this sense of community once existed on Flickr and perhaps the people my feed is being filled with are refugees from that world.
Whatever the answer may be I can only see such an over excited approach being short lived. Such high energy is hard to live with for very long. It is also hard to maintain. Balance has to be the principle, aim in our relationship with photography and photographers, just as it should be in all our relationships. That means understanding that a photographer is just a friend who owns a camera.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Under-Graduate and Post-Graduate 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). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
Scott’s next book is Inside Vogue House: One building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is on sale February 2024.
© Grant Scott 2023