If you are in a crowded room, and yell out “Mike!” a handful of people will turn around, and most of them will be named Mike.
If you are in a crowded room and yell out “Asshole!” everyone will turn around. None of them will be named Asshole.
The point is this: It is easy to get attention, but much harder to sustain it.
Photographs are the same way. They can scream or they can speak softly. They can overtly preen and posture, trying their hardest to get your attention, or they can be discreet and subtle, and slowly win you over without you even realizing it. They can repeat a well-known highly palatable joke to predictable laughter, or they can be original, possibly confusing or offending most of their audience, but endearing themselves to the rest.
Upon closer inspection the loud photo is often revealed to be exactly and only that: loud. Once you turn down the volume, you realize the photo is saying the same thing that’s been said before, though perhaps not as eloquently. The photo tells you little about the artist who took it. Worse than that actually is that the photo doesn’t tell you anything at all. It was so focused on getting attention that it neglected to prepare for any conversation afterward. It is left stuttering and stammering, not knowing what to do next.
The screamers are rewarded, at least in the short term. In the current electronic age of mass photo consumption, a loud photo can easily drown the voice of several quiet photos. For some photographers, the success metric for a given photo starts and stops with how well it is received and by how many.
A shouting match soon breaks out among the photographs. So desperate in this nuclear arms race for attention, photographers do things that, without peer pressure, they would never ever do. They push the bounds of good taste. They play it safe and take no risks. They invent, digitally misrepresenting the scene to a staggering degree to fit in with a watered-down group aesthetic. Most of all they copy. Freely, liberally, and without shame they copy.
I am going to let you in on a secret: I, too, used to be a screamer. My voice became hoarse.
I have since stopped singing for an audience. Instead I try to produce photos that are meaningful to me, though many will be tone-deaf, out of key, and hard to hear at first.
For those who are willing to stop and listen and strike up a conversation, my photos will at least have something to say. Granted, it might be a crude joke about assholes in a crowded room, but that’s still something, isn’t it?
If you would like to learn more about how your photographs can sing rather than scream, consider buying my Beyond the Grand Landscape through the Dreamscapes store.