Back in August, I wrote a blog post titled “A big, what is the meaning of life, kind of question.” I was intrigued when a friend wrote me back with his answers to the questions that I had posed (and then answered.) Some of his answers were so specific to his life and work that, though they were interesting to me, I am not sure the points he raised would be of interest to anyone else. He did raise one point that is almost universal for photographers, which became the seed of another blog post.
The blog post that he was responding to is at: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/08/24/a-big-what-is-the-meaning-of-life-kind-of-a-question/ In that, I suggested photographers ask themselves exactly what is it that they hate and love about photography, encouraging them to break the answers down to the most basic parts.
My correspondent wrote me:
WHAT I LIKE AND DISLIKE ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY:
(Drawn from the questions of David Wells’ August 24th blog)
“Whereas I like the challenge and satisfaction of working on my own, I am put off by how much of photography is a totally individual experience, from making the image to post-production to printing. “
Knowing Lowell, my correspondent, his answer made perfect sense. Still I was struck by the obviousness of that statement and the importance. One reaction might be to say just, “to each his own.” But if you think about it further, the question of how much or how little human interaction a given photographer has/needs is both very personal and also very telling. I imagine that it shows in their work, their marketing, their philosophy, etc.
His answer would certainly not have been my answer. If you remember, I approached the question of human interaction in photography very differently, when I wrote:
“I am not the most social person on the planet so the social side of the trade leaves me cold.”
“I am not good at “selling/promoting” myself, nor do I even like to try. I would never move to New York City to try to “make it” because the networking skills required are beyond me.”
“I like photographing people as much as the next guy, but I am not that interested in people.”
Lowell’s answer reminded me of something I have heard from and seen in action with many other photographers. The human interaction in photography is something many photographers thrive upon but few discuss. In thinking about this, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. But as they get serious about their photography, every photographer should ask themselves “do you want to be isolated or interacting when doing your photography?”
In all my classes and lectures, I try to raise a similarly pivotal question for photographers. I pose it as something of a riddle to my audiences, asking them:
“Besides professional photography, what other pursuit beginning with the letter ‘p’ is something that many people consider very personal, is done for money, done on command, and done for strangers?
In my presentations, the answer is prostitution. After all, commercial photography involves taking that precious thing that we all love and using it to make others happy. We frequently do this for strangers, on command for money. The point of the joke is that the commercial photography is a business and the way you succeed in any business is providing a product or service that the paying customer wants. In my blogs on Monday, August 24th, 2009 and Monday, March 2nd, 2009 I explore this in much greater detail.
I use that “riddle” because I hope people will leave my presentations/ classes with a new point of view on photography, especially in terms of the question of “doing it for money, for strangers.” If I drive a few people out of the business, away from “prostituting” themselves, it is probably for the better. If they decide to further pursue commercial work, I hope my little riddle makes them work more seriously.
In future presentations, I need to work up an equally catchy riddle about photographer’s need for or lack of interest in human interaction in the various practices of photography. Like so many things there is not a right or wrong answer, but I would argue that the more successful photographers are the ones who consider this question fully before diving into what can be an isolating profession.