The new paranoia – a short essay on assholism
There’s a new paranoia infesting the minds of a certain trend of street photographers: that every street photograph is a puzzle where multiple layers of interest must come together in harmony, hence turning street photography into a puzzle.
A good street photograph has to have something minimal to decode, that makes it interesting. Nevertheless, this certain trend is once more falling into that dangerous zone where “”if it doesn’t have 91654 layers of interest, it’s shit”.
I have been following silently this trend for sociological reasons and my findings lead to the inevitable conclusions:
1 – There are 5 or 6 photographers of the new generation who achieve this high level of photography.
2 – There are those who criticize the shit out of those who don’t, but when you come across their body of work, it’s unbelievably bad.
A few weeks back I read this article by a Portuguese photographer who, in the line of the old pros, stated a bitter elegy on how digital ruined photography. Then I see his portfolio and it blew my mind how the hell can someone shoot such a huge amount of shit. My latest irritation came from a photographer’s comment on a photo. The photo portrayed a woman with high class shopping bags going one way and another one with cheap plastic bags going the other. It was interesting and it showed two sides of life. Then a guy comes in and comments (paraphrase) “I’ve done many shots of this, find your own style. Sorry.” Thus, the photo was tagged as invalid as a street genre example.
What the fuck? So were you, who are in your 30s, who invented the social comparison street photos? I’ll be damned.
What is this need that some people have to lower and shit on others photos in order to become noticed? Pathetic.
Let’s talk about layers and street photography.
First, thank you Nick for the heads up, it’s appreciated!
This photo, Stick, by the brilliant Nick Turpin http://www.nickturpin.com/work (one of my heroes)
has obviously two layers of interest. The woman’s stick is perfectly harmonized with the white stripe behind her. This is good street photography and hard work.
This other Turpin’s photo, Untitled
has one layer of interest and it’s absolutely delicious.
As in good poetry, a certain opacity is welcomed to force the viewer to understand the meaning of what is being narrated. I have written several essays and analysis on the opacity on poetry and I find that a decoding process of the poetic subject’s expression leads to higher levels of pleasure and knowledge.
I’ll give you an example. (which can also serve as basis to why I think hip-hop is corny as shit, but that’s off-topic)
1 – “You are my baby love
you are the light that shines above“. >> No metatext, no decoding needed to the viewer, no metalinguistic efforts.
2 – “As water, you fall upon me in shades of green.” >> If you don’t know the psycho-linguistic symbolism involved in linguistic signs and the genetics of the philologist relation between seme and expression, you will fail to understand most of the good poetry. This also differentiates typical teenage poetry from an adult’s expression of human relations and one’s liaison with the several aspects of how we understand the world.
Following that line of thought, which is my own, I could very well remind some people (with a slap on their faces) that Street photography with several layers of interest is brilliant, but, in a few ways forcing it will make you go so conceptual you may distort the reality of what should be portrayed.
So, if what you love is documenting human behavior, shooting street does not require you to obligatory invalidate your work just because you didn’t capture something brilliantly unique where a multitude of layers come together. Documenting and conceptualizing can be in harmony in a perfect marriage. If you want that in your work, is awesome, I want it too.
Nevertheless, once you begin regarding the conceptualization of street photography as the main and sole purpose of what you see in other people’s work, you risk being more than a street photographer: you may become an annoying asshole, and you should check your body of work before being arrogant upon others.
Digital ruined the photography world. Wrong. The internet is just able to show you more crap, but it’s positive that more and more people are shooting. And there are so many gems out there, waiting to be seen. Such as in teenage writings, it’s good they write so much, even if it’s crap to a more demanding audience, it’s always good that they are expressing themselves and evolving. Most new photographers will evolve, most will quit, who cares? I take pleasure in seeing a good photograph amid 10 shitty ones.
Street photography must show a multitude of layers. It’s brilliant when it does, but the genre is so much more than that.
So much more.
So go on and shoot. Shoot shoot shoot! And as Nick says “Edit edit edit”. Then go and shoot again. 😉
PS – English is my third language, so I will not go on in a hypercorrective mannerism frenzy.