There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.
Letter to Paul Cézanne (16 April 1860),
as published in Paul Cézanne : Letters (1995) edited by John Rewald
As I continue to take more pictures, more consistently, and with a bit more focus1– I find I wander farther afield (both geographically and conceptually) rather than narrowing and, perhaps, perfecting. Or at least improving more rapidly. It seems I follow a path in photography similar to the way I wander in everything else. I don’t really know if this leads to greater or lesser progress. Does taking landscapes influence your street photography? Do macros influence your portraits? Is it all part of a greater whole which shapes how you see the world? I have no idea. I’m hoping for the last one. It seems our society bets heavily on the opposite.
It’s interesting to me to look at how the extrinsic “reward” elements of photography plays out as well. It’s a tricky thing in my opinion. There is this idea of “pure” art for art’s sake versus a kind of “compromised” art for audience. This feels overly polarized to me. Art and audience seem inextricably intertwined. Weighing the value of audience against your own ideas and intent becomes the interesting place for me. It may very well be harder to do that in a time of low-cost likes, favs, and just about anything else you can imagine- all expertly designed to reward certain behaviors/content.2
For example, I consider the image below one of the best photographs I’ve taken. It has been viewed nearly 200 times and has zero “faves” and never saw any action on Explore. Jim likes it. I remain in love with the photograph in spite of the social media feedback.
I also like this photo and feel like it is good work. It has 71 faves and made it to #461 on Explore. It’s also the only one of the six photographs I’ve had make Explore that wasn’t dropped. I don’t consider it a better photograph than the other ones despite all the social feedback to the contrary.
Yet a third example, which has 28 faves and made it to #67 on Explore- much higher than any of the other photos I’ve had in that system.3 I don’t know exactly how I’d rank these photos. I like all three of them. I do know it has little to do with the elements that Flickr makes apparent to me. They do matter some. I do find it interesting. I do, for good or ill, look at that information. I imagine it impacts some of what I do. It’s always harder to say something “sort of” matters. It’s easy to argue that being in Explore can lead to good things for your photography. It brings in new people. You see their photos. They influence you. You make new friends etc. etc. Other possibilities open up. Maybe your photography changes. Maybe. Maybe.
I’ve had three images in Explore in the last two months compared to three in the last nine years and I only know that because I looked. Does this mean my photos are getting much better? Maybe. Are they that much better? Almost certainly not. Does my dramatically increased publishing and interaction on Flickr influence Explore? Maybe. Maybe.
There are certainly many ways to game these systems- both the human aspects and the algorithmic ones. There are tons of posts on how to get your photos “explored” and even more advice on how to build an audience. I’m sure you can buy fav love someplace on the wide world of the Internet in much the same way you can buy Twitter followers.
This is a lot of writing to say very little. My general theme in life is that there’s very little that is black and white despite our best wishes to the contrary and each person tends to have to navigate all the gray based on their own choices and considerations.