So What’s Your Point?

For those who know me well, know that I am a huge fan of Prince. Especially in high school and university, I couldn’t get enough. I’d listen to his music continuously, travelling in the car, on a plane, and studying. His music got me through exams, celebrations, and heart break. Back in the infancy of the Internet, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab at my university reading and posting on the bulletin boards about “TAFKAP” or O(+> on (if my memory serves me) “Gopherspace”. It would be very much like a sub on Reddit in today’s Internet landscape; minus the pictures.

What does this have to do with photography?

My interest in Prince led me to purchase the biography “Slave to the Rhythm”. It was finally a window into his secretive life.

Photography…remember?

Okay, okay. The book was published in 1997, which means I probably bought and read it that year. With all of the moving, I’m not sure what has happened to the book, and I read it only once.

But after 23 years, there is still a piece of it that still lives in my head. The very short version (all that I remember) looks like this:

He was at his club in Miami and a fan/patron approached him and said, “I really like your new album.”

Prince’s response: “What’s your point?” and walked away.

That hit me like a tonne of bricks. I started laughing, thinking, “What a Prince thing to say.” But as time wore on, I became conflicted.

I started to question my fandom to Prince, I became a little angry. Here’s a fan that bought Prince’s album and drinking at his club and this is how he treats him. What a donkey.

But then I started to think… “As an artist, at the end of the day, Prince is making his music for himself and really doesn’t care what outsiders think of his work.” Sure he still comes off as a donkey, and could have been a little nicer, but I had huge respect for a person who genuinely didn’t care what others thought of him.

Okay, so he’s an egotistical donkey. I’m still waiting for how this has anything to do with photography.

Well, I still think about it to this day, what he meant when he said “What’s your point?”

I’ll start this section by saying I’m guilty as much as the next person in this matter and that one of the reasons I’m writing this is to help myself to become better.

The third thing I came up with was: Maybe it was in an attempt to start a real dialect about his music. There are some parallels between photography and music: How many times have you heard a song on the radio or TV and said something on the lines of, “Oh, I like this song. Turn it up!” There’s a good chance it’s happened at least a couple of times. Why do you like it? What is it about that song that makes you feel that way? Is it the rhythm? The bass line? The change in key half way through? The tempo changes? The lyrics? If it’s the lyrics, what is it about the lyrics?

Now go look at your Instagram feed or Facebook timeline and scroll through the comments. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

What did you find?

  • Gorgeous
  • Stunning
  • Beautiful
  • Amazing
  • Nice shot
  • All of the above?

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that these people, many who you have never met in your lives, have taken the time in their day to type a reaction to one of your works is pretty remarkable. But with all due respect, what is their point?

Why do they think it’s “Stunning!”? Is it the colours? The texture? The expression on the boy’s face? Is it the deep thought that went into framing the photo the way it was? Or do you appreciate the effort it took for the photographer to get to the location that they did?

Let’s try to get some more dialogue into photography. Let’s try to give more meaning to the photograph. Open up, talk to the photographer. Ask questions, point out what specifically it is that you like about the photo. Don’t be afraid to say something on the lines of “I think there’s too much sky.”

Part of it is Instagram and Facebook, but it’s only a small part. They do make it easy to scroll through hundreds of photos and let you double tap a photo to show that you like it only to continue to scroll through hundreds more, completely forgetting about the photo you just “liked”.

More dialogue needs to start happening. As I said at the beginning, I’m just as guilty. I need to do a better job of saying why I like certain photos. After all, you don’t walk into the Musée d’Orsay, look at Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” and say “Amazing” and then simply walk over to Jean-François Millet’s “Des glaneuses” and say “Stunning!” and walk away. You tend to stay for a while and study them.

Which will lead us into the next issue:

Galleries and Exhibitions

What’s it going to be?

There’s been something on my mind for quite some time. I think it is something that a lot of people need to stop and give a long hard thought about.

I, like many of you, wander around the vast space that is the World Wide Web looking at images that many of you have photographed. I also read the same articles and blogs as you. There’s a chance that I’ve even read yours. I also read a lot of the comments to many of the articles. It’s always interesting to me to see the debate that most articles stir up, usually accidentally.

There’s one topic that isn’t much of a debate, but I’ve noticed a trend that contradicts what many people either think, and definitely say.

Background

Over the last little while, the big mirrorless versus digital single-lens reflex camera debate. Which one was better? Will mirrorless ever replace DSLRs? Are DSLRs dead? Is the mirrorless camera a trend? Surely you’ve seen them, heard about them, and maybe even threw your views into the fray.

As funny as it may sound to you now, for those of us of a certain age, these were pretty much the same questions being bantered around about 20 years ago when the digital camera entered the market and prices started to drop within reach of the avid amateur.

This post isn’t about this argument. I want to bring in the smartphone into the conversation today. There’s no denying the fact that the photographic abilities of today’s smartphone have come a long, long way. I look back at my first device that had a camera-my Sony Clié NR-70- and thought that the photos were good enough for my trip to Mexico instead of bringing a camera. (Unfortunately, I have no idea where it or the photos are now.) Upon my arrival to Korea in 2003, I didn’t see the need for a cellphone. I went my entire first year without a cellphone, instead using that money to buy my first camera, a Nikon F-65.

My second year here, I started to see a need for a phone and bought a second hand one. It was the Samsung V-200. I still have a few files saved from the camera on that phone. At the time, they were good enough for grabbing the spontaneous shot while you were out with friends or that first in-match 180,

My first league match 180. I was so happy.

or a surprise fog over the mountains behind the Olympic Bridge.

Horrible quality by today’s standards for a cellphone. Horrible composition by any standards.

The Gap is Getting Smaller

Today’s smartphones’ cameras and image quality are very good. Can they do the same as a mirrorless or DSLR? As of the date of this post, not yet. Will they ever? Only time will tell. But that gap is much smaller today than it was in 2004 when those photos were taken and Nikon’s 6 megapixel D50 was still a year away from being released.

That gap is so small that I know first hand that National Geographic magazine has published photos taken with phones in their stories. My jaw hit the floor when I was told this bit of information. One of the photographers that I talked to even went so far to say that most of the photos he takes are now done with his phones instead of his camera.

What are you really trying to say?

Photographers are a strange bunch.

Let’s try to figure it out, shall we?

On one side you have: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

On the other side, that same person (not you, but others) will turn around and rip into someone for not having a pro-level DSLR camera to shoot with.

So what is it? The camera doesn’t matter, or it does?

Another hot topic that gets a lot of people’s blood boiling for some reason is when someone writes an article or post about that one non-photographer person who compliments a photo with the comment on the lines of, “Wow, that’s a great photo, you must have an expensive camera.”

I will guarantee that one of the adjoining comments will be, “Wow that was a great meal you must have an expensive stove.” followed by “Wow, that’s a great painting, you must have expensive brushes.” (Which actually falls in a little bit of their own ignorance as much like the camera, the better quality brush, paint and media, the better quality…well you get the idea, but we’ll save that one for a later post.)

For those keeping score, they get upset when someone judges a photo based on the camera, saying that the camera is only a tool, but they get upset when they compliment the fine tool that they have, and they get upset when someone else’s tool doesn’t match the price of their tool.

But that’s not all

This is the thing that confuses me the most…

If the camera is just a tool, and it doesn’t matter what tool or camera you have, why do many people feel the need to post a photo and writing “I shot this with my phone.”

What game are you playing?

It often feels like when someone posts a photo with “I shot this on my phone,” they are doing one of 4 things.

  1. Apologizing;
  2. Showing off, or;
  3. Building an excuse;
  4. Hiding.

At first, when I first started reading this, if felt like it was the photographer’s way of saying sorry for the poor image quality, or it was a shot that needed a telephoto lens but was greatly restricted by the ultra wide angle of the typical phone camera.

Then it dawned on me that some of these photos really didn’t have much wrong about it, and it almost started to feel like some people were writing it to say, “Hey look how good I am. I got this photo with my phone and it’s a lot better than the photo you got with your $4000 camera/lens combination.

Then it got to the point where photographers would use it on a photo that they were proud of and think is a strong photo in composition, light, colour, and interest. But when another person not nearly as enthusiastic about it would comment that something needed to be corrected or changed, it becomes a way of saying “I could have done better if I had my ‘real’ camera.”

Then it turned into a way of saying “Please don’t post any negative comments about any aspect of the photo, my fragile ego can’t handle it.”

The Obsession

There is an obsession with camera gear. I get it. I’m also curious as to how the newest lens or camera can help me. (I’d love to have that new instant wood camera with the bellows in my hands just to play and experiment.) But if gear doesn’t matter: “The best camera is the one you have with you,” then why is it so important to tell other people that you shot it on a phone?

Just Enjoy

At the end of the day, I feel a lot of photographers both the creator of the photograph and the audience of said photograph, need to get past the gear and just appreciate the photograph for what it is… a photograph.