Creative: Content is not Photography

Had an interesting conversation with a colleague at Blurb. She is a full-time writer but has a passion for photography that rivals anyone working today. In fact, she thinks about photography in a far more complex and in depth way than most. She was describing the differences in the work she creates with her mobile phone compared to the work she has begun to create with her father’s old film system. This is not a film vs digital post, at all. I could give a s%$#. This is post about the difference between “content” and “photography.” We’ve been lead to believe, at least in part, that great photography is easy, happens often and is directly attainable by buying the latest generation of whatever camera system you are currently operating. The problem, this is total bullshit.

There are two modern phrases that make my blood boil because I knew that both would lead to the demise of the professional industry as we knew it. The first of these phrases I first heard in 1997. Wait for it….“content provider.” My initial thought was “What the f^%$ does that mean?” followed by “This is not good for photography.” The second phrase, which is still very much in play as well, is “scalable photographer,” which is the bloody dagger that ushered in the idea that your social following is far more important than your skill as a photographer. How is that working out for us photography industry? Yikes.

Brace yourself. My theory is about to land…three…two…one. “Content” is imagery that passes your eyes but never actually connects with your brain because it’s so expected, so normal, so crafted and so common. This is Instagram. “Content” is designed as the empty calorie of photography, providing you a quick hit of dopamine only to be immediately lost in the ether of your overstimulated brain. This is why I can watch someone using IG then approach them and ask what was the single best image they viewed during their latest fix only to have the number one response be “Oh-pregnant pause-I can’t remember.” That’s “content” people.

Now the good stuff. “Photography” is imagery that crosses your eyes and not only connects with your brain, but in fact BURNS itself into your mellon never to be forgotten no matter how hard you try. This work is RARE, incredibly difficult to produce and often takes serious amounts of time, access and the dreaded BUDGET. At the very least it takes understanding, trust and dedication, all things in short supply in the “build your phony following” world of “professional photography.” Have I EVER seen real photography on IG? Of course not. Even for those photogs using IG simply as a portfolio site. Why? Because in the real world nobody would include that number of images in their portfolio, and no matter how good you are, placing your work in the IG environment waters down your offering to such a degree you rapidly become just another grain of sand. Right before I stopped going on IG for the second and final time I began following two of my fav photographers. I did not like what I found. I realized, “I don’t want to know either of you on IG because it is impacting my opinion of your talent and motives.” Gone, done, over.

Just know this. You might make real photography a few times a year, if that. And even doing so you might not make a “life image,” which are those singular moments that define the most refined version of you. I think most photographers could boil down their entire photographic existence to a handful of images. There are exceptions to this but most of the exceptions are in their 60’s and 70’s and are not being replaced.

Sitting here thinking about this I’m reminded of two projects I’ve seen of late. The first is the dreaded #vanlife nonsense on IG, which I discovered shortly before decided to never engage with the platform again. You won’t find anymore more phony or more responsible for an orgy of commercialism. The second being a project about the Berlin Wall I viewed while attending The Society for Photographic Education event in Philadelphia, a project that simply blew my mind with meaning, depth, understanding and delivery. Personally, I’ve decided I have zero time in my life for people, projects, ideas or work that isn’t real. I’m cutting away fat each and everyday. And I feel far better for doing so. I have no right to tell you what to do, or what to think, but just know when it comes to photography…I know what photography is actually is.

Good luck out there.

19 Comments on “Creative: Content is not Photography”

  1. I struggle with Instagram – I used to think I would be able to connect with other like-minded artists.
    That doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I create little photo zines – nothing crazy just practicing how to create something with photographs taken with various systems, and various times of my life. A lot of work is “re-work” if that makes sense.
    I have created at least three zines (for me – since I cant give them away) on film I took when living in Japan.

    It was a tumultuous time for me – loss of job, divorce, alcohol abuse, and then expulsion from Japan (visa violation). What is interesting is when I re-work the photos to make a story, the meanings change for me – the order of the photos changes as well. Imagery that was an open wound is a now an interesting anecdote – or the reference is lost and reimagined like revisionist history.

    Instagram does not provide this for me.
    It is likes – its envy of followers – curated images and lifestyles of people making “better than me”.

    So I retreat into my image printing and cheap zine making – anyone care to get a zine for free I got tons sitting around!?

    1. Hey Aaron,
      I’m going to pull ONE line from your comment, one that sums up the scenario. “Instagram does not provide this for me. It is curated images and lifestyles of people making “better than me.” You are correct. The problem is that life isn’t curated. Real life that is. Real life is ugly, competitive, snarky, troubling, including for all those phony lifestyle people on IG. They just hold it in, hide it, deny it in a rush to gain following. It’s so silly in the grand scheme. I can’t wait for IG to crack and falter, which it will, then we can listen to everyone justifying their jumping ship. You can bet we will get lots and lots of people in lotus telling us why they must leave IG, but oh…hey..there is a NEW network…make sure you subscribe, follow, etc. Makes my neck hurt even thinking about it. Your Zines are the way to go amigo.

    2. Hi there Aaron,
      I agree with Daniel in the sentence that he chose from your comment. It seems than IG is full of people that is doing better than me. That is something that I hate from IG. Not because the might be doing better than me; cheers to them if they are, really glad for people to be happy and successful. I’m not butthurted about people doing great. What i don’t like is the impression that people don’t have shit going on in their lives. They sell us the good and the pretty … Well, I’m sorry but even the most successful people have a shitty day. It happens to all of us.Let’s be honest about our lives, don’t try to sell me smoke and mirrors.
      Anyway, enough of this.

      I’d love to have any free zine you are willing to share. I recently decided that I’m going to start doing small zines for myself too (haven’t started yet, so much going on now) but would love to trade with you. Send me a message if you want, either through my blog or through IG (@theblackbrickdotcom).

      Cheers!

      1. EB,
        IG is about buying and selling. Users selling themselves and followers buying up anything and everything they can. I find the entire thing embarrassing.

        1. I use IG as a sort of way of “Hey I took this or that photo that I like a lot!” or just to keep in touch with some people since I don’t have FB (I’m totally against FB), or just posting a picture of something I did that day with my friends.
          But yeah, a lot of people selling not only products, but a lifestyle curated towards creating trends or gaining audience (I could not give less of a f#&$% about that).
          The thing is that IG or any other social media I suppose, is for you whatever you want to do of it (wishful thinking? Naivety? … Provably). Just trying to keep my faith in the human being.

          1. EB,
            I think it’s all evil. Designed to track, compile, sell and addict. The idea that it is connecting people is BS, and has been since the beginning. And I’ve seen so many photographers become so much lesser artists by spending their time on IG and allowing the app to dictate what they make. It’s not sad, just lame.

      2. Erlantz,

        Awesome I will hit you up on Instagram. Thank you for allowing me to share my work.
        Aaron

        1. Please do!
          I really think sharing in a not digital way would create a real and stronger bonding in the photo community. And I’m guilty as charge of not doing it, let’s try to change that up.

          1. EB,
            I think photogs should share when they have something to say, but otherwise just put the time in until they have something solid. I think we are sharing WAY too much. Nobody makes good work on a daily basis. But yet suddenly everyone is sharing nonstop every single day.

    3. Aaron,
      would love to see one of your zines. I have been making blurb books for years, documenting life and making fund raising books. I only recently started to create more artistic photography and would love to create a zine. I find seeing what other creative people do very inspiring. If you want to connect, my IG account is @saraharley.photos (which I will soon be abandoning as per below)
      Dan,
      I joined IG late in Jan this year, and have to say that I agree with you. I have been very discouraged but haven’t cut the tie yet. This discussion has been good for me to read and will make the break. I am the member of a local photo club, and find a lot of what I have been seeing there is the same thing…a lot of images that could be produced by anyone and everyone and not too much that is truly inspiring.
      Thanks for this discussion, and for inspiring me as I struggle along on my creative path.

      1. Hey Sara,

        Nobody can create great work that often. So much of what I hear about when it comes to things like IG is sculpted, crafted content solely intended to build following. It’s soulless.

      2. Sara,

        I will definitely love to send some of my works to you and will connect on IG before you cut the ties.

        My work isn’t awesome – if anything it is a diary of my thoughts – or thoughts revisited.

        Some of the work is printed through Magcloud, Blurb and some of it I printed at the local office supply store, cut and stapled myself.

        Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some art.

        Aaron

  2. I have come to the conclusion that all online digital representation of photography is just “content”. Photography in print for me engages my mind in a completely different way. It is the difference between watching a movie and reading a book. I went to a recent photography show and it was amazing how little time people spent with each print… flying through the exhibit like thumbing through on their phones.

    1. Joseph,
      Time spent per image is falling every year. In most cases it’s less than ten seconds and people will spend more time reading a caption than looking at the actual piece. A bookstore owner told me he routinely watches people attempting to look at books while also scrolling IG and FB, juggling the book and phone in a strange dance.

  3. Art is dying. Creativity is watered down by all those technologies. All art forms suffers from people doing the same thing over, and over again which results in “content”. That’s not much of a creative process. IG turns out to be among the easiest way to share that kind of shallow inspiration-less “content”. I’m still new to this photography playing field, but I’m not attracted by IG or any kind of online following. I love the idea of publishing, paper format, for myself. In fact, I just finished (almost) editing my first photo book this morning. I only need a quote to add at the beginning and done. I’ll maybe sell one and give away 4 then move on to another project. It’s my first and I loved the creation process.

    1. Mathieu,
      Paper is where the gaps begin. Also remember there is an “online” photography world and then there is the real photography world here on Earth. These two groups don’t know each other. Creating for creating sake, and making books, is a wonderful way to operate.

  4. I deleted the IG app from my phone to force myself to only check it when using my iMac. Taking it off my phone pretty much stopped me from checking it and I don’t miss it.

    @Aaron
    I would love to get a copy of one of your zines. I have no idea where in the world you are (I’m in Europe) but I’d be happy to send you a copy of the zine I created and Daniel kindly write a blog post about. Just contact me via my website by clicking on my name if you are interested.

    1. Paul,
      I was surprised how often I thought of the app after I deleted it. You often times dont’ know how hooked you are until it’s gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *