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.
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?
- 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: