The online world is mostly fake. A facade if you will. People, brands, organizations, leaders and the rest of our flesh and blood horde pretend to be the most likable version of themselves in an attempt to gain following. When online life became an option, most photographers went all in. Historically, an insecure and egotistical lot, the online world wrapped around the photo world like a warm glove. The kind of glove you find on the ground in a park where nefarious activities take place. Don’t lie, we’ve all seen this glove then felt the death shiver down our spine. Find a happy place. Find a happy place.
As the years tick by, the all out assault on reality takes on a greater intensity. News media realized they didn’t have to broadcast for the entire viewing audience. They realized they could thrive by serving only a tiny sliver of the audience by finding out what that sliver enjoyed then feeding them a nonstop diet of that one dish. Our education system rewrites history to satisfy deranged parents and political parties and our religious figures get caught stuffing the walls of their home with cash.
Social outlets like Instagram provide the narcissist with endless opportunity. Things like inflated ego, lack of empathy, need for attention, repressed insecurities, and nary a boundary that can’t be crossed. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Does this remind you of anyone you know? Thought so. Platforms like Twitter work best for the passive aggressive narcissist. Posting images with understated and self-deprecating captions. Downplaying their incredible travel, “my fourth airport this week,” or posting “Twitter fodder” style content images that ping off the masses. (Photoshopped nature?) Or how about the pathetic bait posts now employed by even seasoned snappers who will do ANYTHING to gain whatever pat on the back they can find. “What are you shooting this weekend?” Good God people. Where does it end?
The internet itself does provide an incredible amount of relevant, pertinent and non-biased data. Anyone with an interest in birds knows this rather well. Add another topic to the mix and you will find copious amounts of straight dirt. There is a wonderful aspect of the net. It’s just when humans direct the lens upon themselves when we get in trouble. Photography is a wonderful thing. The online world of photography is the minefield mentioned about, while the reality based world of photography, here on Earth, can be quite rewarding. Fact vs fiction if you will.
Perhaps what I refer to is pace. When we slow our pace, take our time and create with history in mind we immediately fall from the grasp of the online algorithm. The online world is an insatiable beast. There simply isn’t enough content in the world to fill the pipeline. Let me state this again in case you were trying to multitask, which by the way, is a physiological impossibility but something the online world claims to have mastered. Anyone familiar with the Orphan Works Bill of a few short years ago? If you create for a living and don’t know how close we came to all out thermonuclear destruction, well, now is your chance to play catch up. In short, artists owning their copyright doesn’t work for the global data pipeline. Copyright slows things down and we just can’t have that. And when I say “we,” I mean Google. And others like Google.
Books reflect the pace in which I am referring. The “good” pace if you will. Not perfect, not always the right pace, not the only game in town but a very important piece of the creative puzzle. The people you see in the image above are at a book fair in Paris. There is even a famous Magnum photographer in that image. Look at that crowd. And look at those tables. And most importantly, look at those books. Each one of those books is like a punch to the neck, a kick to the groin, a spray of lemon to the eye. Books don’t happen by accident. Books are expensive. Books, historically, don’t sell. Photography books in particular, again historically, REALLY don’t sell. So why does anyone do them?
They do them because books are a representation of thought. Undiluted, long-form thought, not to mention hunger because few people are asking us to make them. You have to want it. Really want it. Books are emotional AND physical. Books confront. You must touch them, fondle them and turn the pages. Books smell. They age and decay, like us. They yellow and fade and crackle and break when the temperatures and coagulation materials fail. Books are imperfect. But books have a chance at remaining forever. In our minds.
Most likely, every single person reading this site, granted that’s not many people, are haunted by a book or two. Might be fiction or nonfiction. Might be a fairytale or a front line recap. A book taps into our mind and forces us to create the visual. The author plays us, sets the table then gets out of the way. This applies to “wordy” books and it also applies to illustrated books. Books take time and focus and energy and palettes of money and are the antithesis of the online facade. Books take phony out to the woodshed and do terrible things to it. Rightly so.
When you see a book on a table you must realize the number of hands and minds responsible. And you must understand the cost. Does a facade book slip through from time to time? Yep. Luckily, most of the time they are outed and recoil into the ego chamber. The smoke from the chimney of bad books can be seen for miles. When I see an image like the one above I feel relief and happiness. Relief that so many others live for the printed page, but also that so many people continue to make the effort. Creating a book means you can’t spend your days and nights in a perpetual state of self-promotion. You actually have to do the work.
Doing the work takes time and skill. There is failure and financial issues. There are hiccups, hidden fees and hellacious steps that require patience. The book is ballast to our manufactured reality. Walk the stacks at your local library. Stepping over the unhoused, the lonely and those possessed by the book. Proof. Evidence that these bound beauties fulfill something in us. Ironically, we might not be able to put it in words but when we close our eyes the playground of emotion and memory flood back to surround us in ways we can’t escape.