Who reads poetry anyway? Only other poets.
(Blake Andrews, during an interview with Bryan Formhals)
It is a strange place to be, this one where I am now. My passion and love for photographs (taking them, editing and discussing and commenting) is something in between two sides that I see.
On one side there are all those photographs that most people would judge beautiful, the kind of photographs that appear on glossy magazines, large exhibitions and contests of relevance; think Avedon, McCurry, Leibovitz and the winners of awards like Wildlife Photographer.
Also here another very large group of photographs; someone could say this is blasphemy, but I would put in here also the various shots that make the homepage of Flickr, 500px and Petapixel, i.e. those technically perfect shots of surreal landscapes (blurry skies, ancient ruins, colours like you never see for real, silky smooth water) or beatiful young women with maybe wings on their back, or caressing a swan, swimming in a sea of petals, or some other silly thing.
These are, in other words, the photographs that are easy to enjoy, filled to the brim of fake-happiness, and that would get the approval of my mum.
The other side is where you find most "fine-art" and documentary photography; think prison photography, reportages of drug-addicts with neglected little daughter, terminally ill fathers, war stories obviously, blood and grit and despair.
These are the photographs that need to be studied to be enjoyed, or maybe they cannot possibly be enjoyed for what they are and all they do is to provoke some visceral reaction and that's their end game; this is stuff that my mum would just cast them away mumbling something like "what is this shit".
These are the two sides I see, and I find myself in the middle.
Because the way I am, I'm naturally inclined to stay the fuck away from benevolence and projecting empty promises of unreal worlds; I have zero interest in using exceptional specimens of human bodies or otherwise "famous" people as the protagonists of my photographs. I don't care about them, and I don't care what other people, the public or the judges of a contest for example, may prefer; I shoot for myself only, and maybe a little for my family and friends. I try to stay truthful to what I am, not pursuing fame or attention or economic wealth. So that's me getting some distance from side #1.
At the same time, I also see the impossibility of being on that other side, where photographs can be good even if they are bad, just because there is a label of social committment or pseudo-artistic bullshit meaning attached to them. I see a lot of hypocrisy in this type of photography, and this was voiced pretty clearly in a great post by Patrick Laroque earlier this month (read also the comment by Rob Boyer).
What Patrick and Rob say is that people who are this much into photography, they should be straightforward and say it out loud that they are primarily photographers, and the reason why they go to war zones or slums or other places where normal people would not go, is just because they know they can get emotionally-charged photographs, photographs that will appear on newspapers, stuff that will be different from anything else the world has seen before. Making the world a better place? Yeah, maybe... but I think you should really be a doctor if you truly want to help.
Read this great article by Lynsey D'Addario, an action-photographer-goddess (soon to be featured in a movie with none other than the Mockingjay, i.e. Jennifer Lawrence -- the most appropriate actress for this part). What I see is that photographers like Lynsey are thrill-seeking people, adventurers in the broadest sense, that go places and do stuff that others don't. I actually respect people that are honest with their intentions like Lynsey, primarily because they shoot good photographs and that's what they care -- and that's what I care, so we're even. But most photographers see a way to reposition themselves, avoding being called jerks because they go to these dangerous places only to take stupid photographs they can label themselves not as the 'crazy ones' but as the new evangelists, shedding light on the most distressing stories this world is full of; to be portayed as they are inherently better than us and they want to teach us some moral but I can see it's all fake, just a post-it note attached to your photographs retrospectively, to somehow justify the silliness of it all (being away from your family that may need you more than your photographs for example), to hide the profound egoism that is the mark of success in the modern world.
In this camp however there is the idea that people should add a heavy patina of good-will and moral teachings to their photographs otherwise they have no merit. And this leads to the absurdity of seeing bad photographs in the spotlight and plauded just because they have social meaning.
And so here I am, somewhere in the middle, doing photographs that I like, my wife likes, my mum not so much unless I do something really easy like shooting a marina at dusk. My photographs show no other committment except being true to my family and who I am; I take photographs because I enjoy the act of creating images out of nothing.
Lucky for me, Susan Sontag gives me hope:
Photographic seeing meant an aptitude for discovering beauty in what everybody sees but neglects as too ordinary. [...] The proper moment is when one can see thngs in a fresh way While most people taking photographs are only seconding received notions of the beautiful, ambitious professionals usually think they are challenging them. According to heroic modernists like Weston, the photographer's venture is elitist, prophetic, subversive, revelatory.
If there is another side to be part of, maybe it's the one where the late Saul Leiter happens to be, together with Jay Meisel and Patrick Laroque. I wonder if there's any space left; must be pretty tight, squeezed between those two larger sides.