An Endless Stream Of Photography

- - Working

The stream, it’s more like a fire hose really, so whatever you do don’t try and take a drink from it. I found these two posts by Liz Kuball (here) and Robert Wright (here) on the sheer volume and mediocrity of photography on the web quite interesting. Interesting because there’s a side to this business that normally only Photo Editors and Art Buyers are privy to. The volume and desperation of an enormous group of aspiring somewhat professional even sometimes highly professional photographers that those on the hiring side of this equation are exposed to on a daily basis. The mountains of promos, the book drops, the phone calls and the stock. Oh, god the stock, let’s not even get into the stock photography here, because that’s a pile of shit you’ll never get through with a grain scoop. Backhoe maybe, shovel never.

Anyway my point here is that there’s so much going on in this business that’s not worth paying attention to. I’m not even talking about the amateur stuff that’s gone from the shoe box to flickr or on the personal website either, I’m talking about photographers who make money shooting shit.

David Alen Harvey has it right when he says, “all of you are now in a position to show your work in a way i never had nor did anyone in my generation have..the net….right here…right now… this forum…if you go out and do the work, you will be seen by more potential Medici’s than i have seen in my entire career….yes, yes (i can hear the excuses already) there are more of you…true….but in the sea of photographers out there , i still see about the same number of “supertalents” as in years prior…more people taking pictures, but few doing it in a special way….but if you are “special” there are also way way more opportunities…and so so much room for invention….i swear, i have never seen so much room!!!”

You’re seeing what I’ve been looking at since I started in this business. The volume of noise is loud but the signal is the same as it has always been, clean, pure and tranquil.

Listen for the signal.

There Are 39 Comments On This Article.

  1. Seams like there is a lot more of hay stacks and always the same number of needles…

    By the way every photographer I know, me included, thinks he is a needle to be found.

    Maybe it’s only friday 13th and I feel hopeless, but then maybe not.

  2. Welcome the eff back buddy! Sounds like aphotoeditor is getting his groove back…

    chirp.

  3. Yeah, there’s plenty of room for creation, but as soon as something new comes around, it is published to a world-wide audience instantaneously. Within that audience, emulators emerge, diluting the work, creating a trend. Trends come and go at the speed of light, so do photographers. But the real artists are the ones who can re-invent themselves through innovation or by being true to their craft. Being bombarded by imagery of all kind, you are bound to be inspired or influenced in some ways, but you need to make these influences your own. Bottom line, the work always speaks for itself…

  4. I don’t see the difference between going to the news stand and going on the web. Mediocre photography can be found at both, only the volume on the internet is higher. I would agree there is more just bad photography on the internet but there have always been bad photos in magazines. Even by great photographers.

    There is a blog someone emailed to me a week or so ago, it was somewhat interesting because it showed the pictures from Demarchelier’s shoot of Angelina Jolie in some magazine. The blog showed the picture Demarchelier took, followed by a picture taken by a photographer who does senior pictures for high school students. The unknown photographer had the same poses and better photos. In that case, can we call the Demarchelier photos mediocre? He wasn’t the best photographer for that photo shoot. Demarchelier does great work, but this wasn’t the right shoot for him. Jolie looks bored, the photos aren’t technically or compositionally interesting but, it is Demarchelier. The magazine printed mediocre photographs, actually I would say these were just bad. If they weren’t pictures of Jolie by Demarchelier the photos would be laughed at. I’m sure Jolie picked the photographer so the editor gets a pass.

    I say mediocre, you say “I don’t get it”.

    The marketplace judges magazine photography. If the magazine photography is crap people will purchase fewer magazines. Advertisers will pay less for ads and the magazine will close or change. But, who judges the web? Anyone can post, most photographers make poor editors so even if we have a few good photos we won’t put them on our website because we don’t know they are any good. I’ve put my book together tons of times and every time I’m sure it is good, until the next time I open it up and look at it. The web is free to look at and almost free to put up pictures on. Sometimes, getting something for free means having to look harder for the good stuff.

    I also think we all mediocre to someone. I’m sure tons of people who come to my website, I’m don’t do cutting edge, just my little black and white photographs. I’m sure they say mediocre.

    The web has leveled the playing field. Anyone can show their portfolio to anyone who will visit their site. Used to be you had to work to get your portfolio seen, now you just have to have a website. People don’t work as hard at editing as they should. I can’t remember who it was but some famous photographer once said something about the difference between a great photographer was they didn’t show anyone their rejects.

  5. Amen to your comments Rob,

    Photography is now easier…………….technically.

    Having work with visual integrity in now harder to achieve and it’s made me strive to be better photographer.

    -A

  6. Oh… To have to ascertain – photographers speak all time about the trade and photos of other photographers. In Russia precisely same situation, probably it occurs because actually each person (-with photographic eye) can make a good photo, a portrait or a landscape which can buy in magazine or the newspaper.. All of us we are asked by a question – why Platon, why Sholler, why Demarchelier? Why not I am??:)))
    All of us we pursue for illusive magic photos which will enable us to become appreciable.. In Russia for example a trade of the photographer it is illusive approaches the person to lux life, but always it is necessary to remember that in most cases the photographer is serving and technicians, and anything the general (-life) with that it shooting at it is not present.. Excepting names of the present artists certainly to which all this vanity is not peculiar – who has more earned, who has more photographed, who is better..
    Simple photographers (-for example such as), it is ordinary profession, nothing differing from many other things.. And it is exact – much easier many trades which exist..
    Sorry my bad english..

  7. Hey, in the wedding photography segment, people who have a unique/creative edge end up giving away their secrets by selling their Photoshop actions or holding workshops … their emulators come on even faster … of course, they make extra money in the process

  8. …the web has not leveled the playing field…

    this is the major misunderstanding that is floating today.

    the field itself has changed; the relationship of the artist to the audience has changed, and the relationship of the artist to patronage has changed.

    …photography is not easier technically either…

    certain kinds of image making are easier, in other words, what technology wants is easier. But image making is a hard as ever.

  9. Re: Demarchelier’s shoot of Angelina Jolie. On every shoot there are forces at work to make your photo suck: the sun, the talent’s schedule, clothing, hair, makup, location, urgency from the magazine, no budget for extra grip you may need and there are times in a photographers career when they feel superhuman, that they can over come the obstacles with sheer will but it doesn’t work. You have to be vigilant and when you let your guard down shit happens and your photos suck. Then, there are other forces at work that ensure the photos you like the least are published: the talent is unavailable for a reshoot, the article of clothing is an exclusive and must run. Anyway, experience helps you avoid these pitfalls but if you let your guard down…

  10. Rita Martinez

    Lucas Cichon, I say “Bravo!” This is exactly what I was thinking lately. But actually what annoys me the most is how people call the work of others as mediocrity. I mean, it just sounds so protective that the professional photographers talk about. They however, don’t produce the top stuff all the time. And if you dig a little, you can find great photos even on flickr.
    I really want to understand this topic, though. When do you say that photos are great? It seems to me, that more than half of it is just marketing. Just go to flickr and you’ll see that there are people who are really popular. Once they become popular, no matter what shit they post, they always get so much ohs and ahs.
    And the last thing, lately I was in a gallery where a painting by Picasso was shown. The painting was really bad (I’m sorry) and according to the date Picasso was only 14 when he painted that. Even in the Barcelona museum of Picasso, all the guides say that at that point Picasso paintings were not so great. Now, did Picasso himself want to show that particular painting to everyone? Or is it that the painting was hidden in some closet and then was found after his death? In either case, it was painted by great Picasso! So lets hang it and tell “THIS is the art!” Sorry, it’s just marketing.

  11. In response to Robert Wright:

    …the web has not leveled the playing field…

    Alright, I’ll bite. Where else, but on the web, can a photographer spend 30 bucks a year, build a website and get the same or better look as a photographer who has millions of dollars? How he gets people to visit his site is a different issue but the ability to present work in a professional manor is the same.

  12. @12 I think the issue is different, I was having this conversation two nights ago, with regards to emerging photographers, we were discussing a recent success story, a photographer had worked for the Times magazine after having been “discovered” in a show, lots of details, not the point; the point is since then little else had happened, in other words, easy to “get discovered” hard to have ‘a career.’

    the web appears to level the field with respect to how entry level and advanced photographers get work, but to equate them doesn’t make sense. One has a huge amount of experience and the other is just at the beginning.

    The field itself has changed. Jobs are being given to people with little or no experience (once) when in the past a more experienced person would have been used because it was harder to source talent. So an emerging photographer can at least be trusted to reproduce on assignment exactly what is in their portfolio, this is how the risk is mitigated of hiring someone without a lot of experience. A more precise matching. But after that, the editor probably will not, depending on how things go, ask the emerging photographer to extend themselves on something different. They can just cherry pick another look for another story.

    Compare that to how it used to be where the editor would trust in the experience of the photographer to be able to confront a number of stories and come away with something usable because you could not cherry pick. This is how the field has changed. (Rob-does this match what you were seeing?)

    We think because we see emerging photographers being used that the web is responsible for somehow making it level between them and the pro, however, it is not level, the emerg’ works rarely, does not build experience, gets left behind when the trend changes. The pro however is still working.

    I think it is harder now for emerging photographers to get the experience level they need because they get “used” early and there is not enough work to give them a broader experience. I think the percentage of people starting now who will remain in the industry is much lower than the percentage starting out say 10 years ago or 15 years ago. that is how the field has changed. It is not level, it is draconian.

  13. @ Rita: How many failed shoots has Demarchelier had vs. successful? A hand full of good photographs doesn’t make you a good photographer. It’s the percentage of good over bad. Then comes a name and reputation.

    Just because you’ve taken a bad picture and had it published or had a failed shoot and published the results doesn’t suddenly lower you down to the level of people who consistently do bad work.

    As far as determining what’s great and what’s mediocre that’s done by the professionals in whatever market you’re in. Sure, every photograph is loved by someone but there’s a certain level at which they become worthwhile for commercial and editorial applications.

  14. @ Robert: Yeah, I’d have to say I’ve done that to a couple guys. Used them for the “thing” then not really gone back and not because I didn’t think they were good photographers just because like you say, it’s easier to source an exact match to the subject matter and also to lower the risk of a failed or unexpected (for the editor) results on a shoot.

  15. Still pair words, from your permission..;)
    It seems to me that we often forget that time goes, and people vary, including editor of a photo and photographers which is indefatigable behind them follow..:)) it is naive thinks that world names in a photo got a job from the well-known magazines, certainly all this – ” a near circle ” (-as are expressed in Russia).
    Let’s recollect Alex Brodovich with its pupils among whom there was also Richard Avedon, we shall recollect Terry Richardson which the child already was ” small ” in bohemian circles of friends of the father – all this does not need to be forgotten.. The atmosphere in which you grew or communicate – very important component which helps to receive an end result..
    The photographer now should be the “film director” first of all, for all of you the history of a photo of Putin in magazine ” Time ” is known – Platon has made it during that moment when they have started talking to the president about Beatles (here this moment also became the main things in all shooting, what those 15-20 seconds)… That do not speak, but even I modest freelance the photographer from Russia know – very important to have good relations with phot editors of editions! ;))
    Sorry my bad english..

  16. The web does allow anyone to post their work for all to see. Middle and Low Tier clients pay peanuts to amateurs, part-timers, and beginning pros who are happy to get a credit, a free magazine subscription (if they’re lucky), and portfolio pieces to build a book. Top tier photographers and clients are unassailed by this, as far as I can tell. Tip of the pyramid, stuff.

    I agree with Robert (and APE) that “cherry picking” makes it tough for emerging freelancers to get more than a foot in the door without selling their soul for a full time, possibly work for hire, staff job. It seems that it’s more difficult to build relationships with clients in the mid-level because they are so often driven by price rather than image quality and working with a photographer they are familiar with.

    Of course, as a photographer the hurt comes depending on whether you’re an aspiring commercial studio shooter or a fancy free editorial photog. It’s obviously easier to make it on less when your gear fits into a case or two (or less) and you work out of your house or apartment than it is trying to make rent and utilities on a studio space.

    The question of mediocrity and bad imagery will be one that is never won. There are images out there that are just technically horrible, but the end user has the final say. I’ve seen crappy photos (literally, photos of crap) licensed as stock, so I’m not one to judge what’s good or not good. If someone want’s to pay me for a photo of a turd, who am I to argue?

  17. @13 We were talking two different issues. I think we pretty much agree on the the issue you are talking about. I think there is another part of what has happened with the business.

    When photographers were first in the business it used to be, you took your book around long enough and would get job. Some days you might shoot shoes, people, architecture, whatever was needed. Got known for being technically able to deliver what the Ad agencies wanted. Then would develop a style. Now, that crap work is stock.

    Today it appears photographers are expected to have a style out right away. They might have a great book but may not have the technical skills to replicate it so they can be relied upon to deliver. That gets at Rob’s point about the success rate.

    I can just imagine how good everyone was feeling before the Demarchelier/Jolie shoot. How can it go wrong. I’m sure it is exactly as Rob said, everything that could go wrong did. I feel for the PE who I’m sure was hoping for something special.

  18. I’m the Photo Editor of Canadian Sports Magazine… every day a photographer emails me to look at his stuff…. every day I do take a look.

    Maybe it’s just because it’s sports but it all looks the same…

    Sometimes they ask if I need coverage of a particular event so if I find their work professional I ask for the one best shot from the event for our “gallery area”. It’s funny the response I get from this request…. do I want the winner, the top female, a tight shot or what… well what I want is the one best shot… it’s for a “gallery area”… you’d think the photographer would know which one that was.

    Overall rather disappointing what is out there. Not sure I could do better myself although I guess most PE think they could.

    -Rob

    If you’re bored while working like I am you can check out my sports website at http://www.thepicturedesk.ca

  19. Rita Martinez

    To APE. Ok, thanks, you clarified something for me.
    I wonder though if with enough practice and knowledge anyone can eventually be classify as non mediocre. I do believe that given the knowledge, will and practice most of people can be trained to do a lot of things. The knowledge is the critical part here. But what is it? It’s those professionals that you talk about that make everyone conform to the way that they do business. So wouldn’t their judgement prevent those new talents from being viewed as non mediocre?
    The problem is that there is no objective measure in photography. So anyone with louder voice can control what is good and what is not.

  20. Canon Shooter

    Hmmm.. so photo editors really are a bunch of arrogant nincompoops who think they know it all and photographers know nothing. So why are the editors sitting on the other side of the desk in the half-light all day collecting their W-2 salaries and taking crap from the boss while the rest of us enjoy the freedom to be out in the sunlight, traveling where we want and shooting whatever we want ? Who’s smarter than who, eh ?

  21. Perhaps mediocre is what people wants, perhaps the feeling of “I could do that” sells?

    Now when everyone can twist and turn and bend everything in PS my eye long for sincerity and story.

  22. The problem I am experiencing in my field of interest (music) is that there are so many upstarts ( I’m an upstart too — but with principals) that think photography is a glamorous, cool thing and will work for free and give away their work for nothing just for a pat on the head or to be with a band because its cool. (really because they are being used)

    Only after muddying up the very waters that they want to swim in do they realize they have just undercut themselves, diluted the market and done harm to the hard working, creative photographers they wish to emulate.

    The problem also lies with older photographers, in all fields, who have made a career on poor photography, lowest common denominator stuff.

    PE’s, art buyers and photographers themselves all need to set a higher bar to maintain a professional art and save photography from being a work for hire, assembly line, feed the media beast.

    – Jacob

    http://www.33and13.blogspot.com

  23. Ben Ramos

    Photographers more than writers need Hemingway’s “built-in, shock-proof, shit detector”. Perhaps it will soon be available as a Photoshop plug-in.

  24. I guess the introduction of digital photography has, for obvious reasons, triggered the ever growing stream of mediocre photography.

    The internet, as Mike Shipman said before: “…does allow anyone to post their work for all to see.”

    My concern is how it impacts the way we look at photo’s. In the old analog days we used to (because we had to) visit exhibitions, festivals, in order to enjoy great photography. Looking at photos was a far more mindfull experience. Nowadays, because of the enormous amount of and accessibility to photos has made us look in a far more superficial way.

    When you write: “You’re seeing what I’ve been looking at since I started in this business. The volume of noise is loud but the signal is the same as it has always been, clean, pure and tranquil. Listen for the signal.”, I wonder who’s really listening for the signal?

  25. Thanks for the post, it means a great deal to hear something positive about the boom in photography. I fully understand your words, those that stand out of the crowd will continue to stand out no matter the size of the crowd.

  26. hello to all
    Interesting what RW mentioned in his comment, I can see how that would work, esp with the enormous glut of photogs. who would hire an electrician to fix plumbing. further more, I would hope, even if only once or twice, that if working on an assignment, that I was chosen for the compatability of my style. I would not be thrilled to shoot something that was out of my element.
    having said that, JB makes a strong point that PE’s etc, have a resposibility to filter out the garbage. I realise that it’s got to be tough though, wading through endless piles of mediocrity, but hey, thats your job.
    tell you what though, nothing bugs me more than when some cocky douche bag comes strutting into the scene with a new digi, acting like a seasoned veteran, and showing off from the LCD.

  27. I totally posted something about this in my blog, and a photographers rep got on my for being negative so I edited it out. I totally agree- good work will stand out and the talented will thrive if they have patience, consistency and willingness. However it is definitely disheartening to see LAME photographs in advertisements and in magazines. I am talking bad composition, bad lighting and just bad photography. I am 25 and damn willing to stick around. But come on people- hire photographers that can actually shoot.

  28. Blame MTV

    Blame MTV with its mindless reality shows, or Fox. Think about all those hip, young cool “art directors” who think that – well which trend should we look at and jump on.

    How long did these stay

    Flat Boring FL lights – check got that one – (big push from Getty on that trend)

    Tilted horizons – came and went

    Cross-Processing (now it is a plug-in) still bad, still boring

    Depressed not looking at the camera shoulders drooped stand in the middle of the MF frame look. Yee ha, still going strong. Too bad many of the pictures say nothing other than we,, I’m depressed, maybe you should be too.

    The thing is – art directors and photo editors are influenced by trends as much as society is – the bad thing – is because of the trends and sway of ad page buyers, many magazines fall into the copy cat mode.

    Some don’t – Outside has been consistently good and Dan Winter covers kick ass. (Gotta love 4×5 film)

    Geographic has raised the bar again and there is fine work being produced and presented. Steve Winters Snow Leopard story in the current issue is amazing – mostly with remotes/traps and the images will stand the test of time.

    Bad photography after the trend wears down is just bad photography. The key for me has always been to try to stay as true to myself as possible. Sometimes I fail, but I don’t much TV.

  29. i found this entry to be quite inspiring actually. :-) no matter the number of people entering the field, long-lasting success will still only come to people who possess a combo of talent, drive, ambition, motivation, perseverance, business sense, resourcefulness and street smarts – much, much fewer of those folks than those who can point and click. I’m with #26: those who stand out will continue to do so no matter the size of the crowd.

  30. @ to anyone who said “good work will stand out” or something like that.

    Part of what Rob’s post said was there is too much noise and it is almost impossible to filter it all out and find the good work. So, it takes more than just “good work” or even exceptional talent to stand out!!! Not unless a good or great photographer is extremely lucky they need a marketing plan to get noticed. If you don’t have some way to approach and get noticed by PE’s, or art directors the good work will be lost in the sea of noise.

    I have no clue what the average PE, Art Buyers, or Art Directors gets in the way of promos every day. Back 8 or 9 years some magazine (can’t remember but it might have been CA) asked a handful of PE’s, AB’s and AD’s to keep a weeks worth of promos. At the time the overage was over 100 pieces of direct mail a day, mainly postcards. The bulk went to Ad agencies, AD’s and AB’s. That was my market at the time so really didn’t pay attention to the PE’s numbers as much.

    Today, I would think the direct mail is lower and the e-mail is off the charts.

  31. re: #5
    “most photographers make poor editors so even if we have a few good photos we won’t put them on our website because we don’t know they are any good.”

    I think that’s sometimes true, because photographers can have a personal connection to their work that doesn’t necessarily make a good picture. I used to work in the film industry, where I ran across the phrase: “Don’t fall in love with your footage”, which is why in filmmaking there is a cinematographer and director, and then the editor to cut out the mediocrity.

    And regarding the overall theme of this post, there are a ton of websites out there with 500 or more photographers listed for Los Angeles alone, and some shouldn’t be on the site. The quality control of the websites should be much higher. Also, you can currently list yourself as an automotive photographer on Photoserve (not to pick on them, because they are obviously a respected resource) and not show any automotive work in your portfolio/website. Not to shill for our website, but we show 14 photographers in LA, and we hope that by being discriminating, we’ll keep art buyers coming back.

    -Neil

  32. But Lucas that goes without saying that good photographers need a good business plan to stand out. Those photographers ‘discovered’ in the past obviously had more going on then luck when it came to getting noticed and that remains true no matter how noisy it gets. Successful photography goes way beyond taking photographs, however this flood of mediocrity may stem from many photographers being more skilled at getting noticed then creating meaningful photographs.

  33. @#10

    “…there are times in a photographers career when they feel superhuman, that they can over come the obstacles with sheer will but it doesn’t work. You have to be vigilant and when you let your guard down shit happens and your photos suck.”

    Wise words from APE… you know, when I was looking through my old contact sheets this morning, this is what I thought… only you articulated it better in words.