Ruminations - Part 7: Looking Through The Portal

David Taylor on tundra I’m trying a new, long form, blogging style in this post. I’ll be revisiting it often. I’m going to use it as a mental dump, a place to share some inner thoughts and discoveries. Although the topics that I’ll discuss here may not be purely or strictly ‘photographic’, they are deeper parts of me than I haven’t shared with the general public before. They do make me who I am today, as well as guide how I act in the future. Perhaps you will find some common ground with them, or something will resonate with you. If so, I hope you’ll chime in and leave a comment. 

Perhaps it is all TMI for you. That’s fine, I’ll have plenty of other blog posts with pictures of Alaska, tips, tricks, travel factoids, etc. that I think you’ll find fascinating. 
To each their own. 
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Prepare for a bit of a rant. Well, perhaps more than a 'bit'...
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Jena and I are sitting down to watch one of my favorite 'cult-classics' from the 90's - Stargate.

Yeah, I'm a geek. Deal with it.

In case you haven't seen it, the movie is about a team of explorers (military commandos & one scientist) that are the first to use an ancient device (unearthed in Egypt). This device is actually a portal that leads them to another planet, across the known universe.

The concept got me thinking about photography. It got me thinking about it after I started downloading the movie from iTunes.

I was where I do all my best thinking.

On the toilet. Another portal, of sorts.

Photography has become my passport to unfamiliar ground.

- Art Wolfe

I think this is true for many of us. Photography is a portal that grants us passage to locations we otherwise may not have visited. At least as frequently, or for the same duration.

Photography gives us cause, it gives me reason.

So many things that I have seen, I have witnessed because photography has taught me to see. From the macro to the grand, from shimmering jellyfish below to the aurora above - I have seen things because I am a photographer. How many times have you heard someone say, "You are so fortunate to have seen that!"

Photography gives me sight.

This portal is a privilege. Our perspective is a fortunate one to hold. One that so many are privy to, solely through our photographs. They never get to experience the wonders we see.

The thing about portals, is that they work both ways.

I have become increasingly aware of a disturbing trend in our community. Like most, we have a few rotten apples. Some that, despite their claims, have fallen very far from the tree - the core principals our medium was founded upon.

Sharing. Beauty. Respect.

Apparently, some people have forgotten these words do not solely apply to our art, but also to our behavior, especially in the public eye. This includes interaction with the general population, and with other photographers. It has become a trend lately, amongst an (unfortunately vocal) minority to act out in ways that can only damage our communities appearance. High horses have been mounted, sat upon, and ridden brazenly into battle. Both online and sometimes in the 'real world'. Over the years, I have heard stories of photographers shouting at vacationers to get out of their shot, or setting up directly in front of another photographer who was there first, then having the gall to respond to that photographer's polite request for the ability to take their shot with, "Don't you know who I am?"

This ridiculously arrogant behavior sickens me. "Don't you know who I am?" - Well, now everyone around you does, and now they also associate your conceited image with the rest of the photographic community. The only good thing about this situation is that there is a relatively limited group that experiences this behavior - namely the ones present at the time.

Unfortunately, this practice is spilling over (in spades) into the online world. Now, through the 'relative safety' (aka, 'cowardice') of your computer/mobile device, you can conveniently, frequently, and presumptuously spew your pompous, self-righteous arrogance all over the world. (Yeah, I hit the thesaurus option for that one)

Say you have 1/2 million (or more...) followers, scattered throughout your social media supply chain. One misplaced word, one cross phrase, and you can "single handily do more damage to photography" than Trey Ratcliff and HDR*

*That's called sarcasm. Trey Ratcliff, through his use of HDR, and his incredibly sharing nature has done more good for photography - as an art - than likely anyone in the present day. So, don't send hate mail my way. Or do, I don't care.

That is the trend I see happening far too frequently. Remember, all of you self-appointed gurus, photo geniuses, and pulpit grabbers - just because you have the largest voice, doesn't mean you should use it for every thoughtless gem that pops into your ego-swollen cranium. Spend less time belittling other photographers. You may not agree with your peers (or competitors) on certain issues - be it publishing practices, techniques, talent, or opinions - but you have a responsibility to treat them with respect. Did you read that part?

You have a responsibility to represent all of your fellow photographers with respect and humility.

Consider how your actions appear to the common passerby. Will they be seen as true enlightenment (doubtful), or recognized as an asses attempt to get a cheap laugh at someone else's expense.  How will your actions affect photography, our community, and our industry, as a whole? Mr. Parker, remember what Uncle Ben told you:

With great power, comes great responsibility.

Stop judging other photographer's actions. Start recognizing that god didn't put you on this planet as the defacto, and community-appointed, spokesman for our art and industry. There are many voices that should be heard, and you should be the one encouraging those voices, rather than attempting to cut them short or humiliate. Let other people sort out which camp to set up in, rather than attempting to carpet bomb the other camp with indelicate and ill-conceived rhetoric that is only agreed upon by fellow arrogents & damnsels distressing over trite contrivances. It just looks like whining and grandstanding. Please don't pretend to be the 'hall monitor' or gatekeeper for all that photography - use your pulpit for good, not as a tree-stand to shoot flaming arrows from. Don't whore yourself out to sponsors, then expect to have your equipment (be it computers, camera gear, phones, software, etc.) opinions be considered 'objective' and unbiased.

This, along with (and perhaps, because of) the social media popularity contest that is ongoing, is why internet/social media marketing is so offensive to many of us. People are willing to do whatever it takes to have their voices heard (and reheard...), all under the guise of 'educating', 'teaching', 'mentoring' and supposed passion for the craft. All we see is the over-reaching, nauseating, and thinly-veiled attempt to cash in while your 'stock is hot'. It won't always be thus, and then you'll be left with plenty of time to consider your actions.

This also goes for online community founders, moderators, and members. Your job is not to cut down the activity of fellow members, or members of other (so called, 'competitive') communities. Your job is to foster support and produce/maintain a creative environment, not to stifle it. Negative attitudes do just that, they take all the hard work that you have put in, and distills it all down to one simple truth. What started out as being a fan has twisted you and those you enable into fanatics. Rather than being humble, many have been overtaken by hubris. In the end, your snobbery threatens to tear a much larger rift in a world that began as a shared appreciation for the creation of art. Art becomes artifice, and ultimately, everyone suffers.

Art, as it is, already has enough inherent hurdles for its practitioners to overcome, obstacles to navigate, and flaming hoops to jump through. Don't add your napalm to the situation. Play it cool. Teach, instruct, contribute, give, share, remain open to others. Don't condescend, dump the arrogance, don't purport to being omniscient, don't 'lead' by bad example(s). It certainly doesn't work, nor does it make you more endearing to anyone but the lowest common denominator. It doesn't impress or garner good attention - except by those looking to suck the power teat of the popular. And just so we are clear  - that is never a good thing.

Because, and I can't put it any simpler,

No one likes an asshole.

Don't think I'm talking to you?

Let me clear that up for you.

Photographers, new, old, and otherwise - you are hereby put on notice.

Grow up.

This is not a call to arms to fight social media. Social media has so much greatness to offer. The vast majority of photographers on social media are very positive examples of how to act online. Much can, and should, be learned from them. You know how you can tell them apart? Constant, positive attitudes. They don't disrespect other photographers (at least publicly), their craft, or their products. They know that, despite all their experience and knowledge, they don't know everything - but they are more than willing to share what they do know. With humility and grace. They love photography, and although they may use the internet to market themselves, it is not the 'coal-fired', down-your-throat, "Look at how awesome I am!" marketing juggernaut under the guise of 'love of photography'. You know who you are, and we applaud you.

This is a call to action to support those with photography's (or any art) best interests in mind, rather than the bottom dollar and popularity.

It is past time we all returned to the principals.

Share the beauty of respect.

I hope you'll share this on social media sites that you contribute to. Open it up to discussion. Yes, I am fully aware that I am likely to make some enemies in all of this, but the people that might take offense to my comments are not people I care to associate with anyway. Take a stand for your craft. Chose not to support the offenders. Un-'like', un-'friend', and un-'follow' them. You are simply a stat to them, another pawn in their quest to check-mate the community. You have a choice, you can stand up for the art and our fundamentals, or you can continue to enable them by adding credence to their voice and narcissistic self-eggrandizing tendencies.

This isn't a choice between groups, it's a choice of ideals.

Here are links to Ruminations – Part 1Ruminations – Part 2Ruminations – Part 3Ruminations – Part 4Ruminations – Part 5, and Ruminations - Part 6.