The Age of Narcissism

This is, if you haven’t noticed, the age of narcissism. I fail to understand why it is that so many people feel a need to be constantly photographing themselves everywhere they go and everything they do.

I mostly witness this on the streets in New York City. Certainly a number of them are tourists. That’s not an excuse. But it is also just as many people who live here. Everywhere, no exaggeration, there’s someone doing their selfie.

People dress and style themselves for their selfies. Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has perhaps been taken too literally. What do you do with hundreds of selfies? Yes, you share them on social media. And yes, it is with the expectation that it will receives thousands of likes.

Self-portrait with Rauschenberg, The Museum of Modern Art, 2017

I’ve never really liked photos of myself. I prefer to be behind the camera. Not in front of it. However, I do take the occasional self-portrait. That is to say that they are creative.

I ask myself and you, what is the purpose of all these selfies? It was said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Certainly, that is better than a thousand likes.

But now it seems a photo’s worth is in hashtags. Can you manage to get the attention of others in the age of selfies and attention deficient disorder?

Don’t even get me started on all the people who have died attempting to get their perfect selfie. Narcissus has competition. You won’t find me in that demographic.

What We Know

The role of photography in learning and understanding is often not acknowledged. We tend to think of knowledge as something that we acquire through words, reading, school and intellectual pursuits, to name a few of the influences that are more obvious.

We don’t often spend much time attempting to intellectualize the meaning of an image. They constantly appear in our line of vision. The brain processes them rapidly without the need to make sense of them.

What We Know, New York City, August 2019

That is to say that the brain consumes images without “thinking” about them. We don’t need words and language. We “feel” images.

We are also able to “experience” foreign lands and gain a sense for events that we would never be able to comprehend without them. Fifty years ago an astronaut walked on the moon and we have a photo of it.

Many images reach us in a subliminal manner. That can be for better or worse. So photography has an effect on what we “know” and how we see the world.

When was the last time you spent a few minutes looking at a photo? Your comments are welcome.

Maybe Less Really is More

When I’m not shooting I am typically thinking about photography. Though I don’t do both at the same time. They are two entirely different activities.

I wonder what the value of a photograph is? This is a question that I may never have an absolute answer to. But I think it is an important one to consider.

Before the Digital Age, there seemed to be a sense that a photograph could hold an importance that it rarely holds now. The act of taking a photo almost seemed like magic. As if you could record an image that could be of importance to others.

Just Past Noon, New York City, April 2018

Whether the image is one that is personal and includes friends or family, or that it has social, cultural or artistic significance, it could have a meaning when shared with others.

We now live in a world where it appears that everyone has Attention Deficit Disorder to some degree. We flip through photos at such an alarming rate that they begin to lose their value.

In fact we even go so far as to use the word ‘porn’ when talking about photos of food. Photos that are often designed to make us envious of the meal that someone else enjoyed.

So yes, the unavoidable masses of images that we see everyday have an a way of disrupting the photos that we choose to see as art rather than mass market consumption.

I don’t know how we avoid the mass market images. What I do know is that taking the time to really look at photography by photographers who practice it as an art can provide much satisfaction. You may need to seclude yourself in a gallery or private space to really enjoy photography. And yes, sometimes less really is more.

An artist works with what’s available

Some people will say that there’s nothing new under the sun in the world of art. While my view of the state of art is not so bleak, all art is somehow influenced by what came before. Some more than others.

In the music world it’s called sampling. In the world of art it’s called appropriation. Andy Warhol is perhaps the most famous appropriator in the art world.

When it comes to photography and especially street photography, many moan about the inability to achieve the same kind of classic photos that were produced in the past. Some even go so far as to focus on creating only work that looks like the past.

Winogrand Doubles – Brides, New York City, August 2019

It’s as if they could imitate the past and live in another place and time. Rather sad if you ask me. An artist works with what’s available.

I sample the work of artists and photographers in my work. It’s about creating something new from something from the past. You could say it’s a form of recycling.

In the world of philosophy, all philosophy is a dialogue with the ideas from the past. In my multiple exposures I utilize the works of others to create something new and current. As in the photo above where I sample photos by Garry Winogrand.

The Process is the Art

I’ve been doing extensive work on organizing my photo library. I have approximately 200,00 digital files. So it is quite a process! I do this when my creative energy slows down a bit.

I take the time to review my older work and ironically it often reignites my creativity. It helps me to gain some perspective on where my photography is going and where it’s been. It’s an opportunity for me to critique my work.

Recently I’ve heard some photographers being rather critical or frustrated with their work. It is really good to want to be a better photographer! That’s something that I always want from myself.

West 33rd Street, New York City, January 2016

But be careful. Being too self-critical about your photography can be counterproductive. For me, progress has always been slow. It’s really one step at a time. Shoot, review and shoot more. Then all the sudden change becomes evident. Then repeat the process. There is no end to it!

Patience is important. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how much really goes into achieving those results. When we look at the photos of others and wish we could take photos like that.

Art always looks easier than it really is. When you have a passion for photography, the rest follows. Just do it and keep doing it. I don’t always take great photos. You have to move on to the next day of shooting. I have always suggested experimenting, not being afraid to make so- called mistakes and not giving up! The process is the art.

Liking Your Photos

I spend a lot of time looking through my photos trying to decide what I like and what I don’t and what I will share on social media. Maybe I don’t even spend enough time making those decisions because I take so many photos!

When I decide that I like a photo or not, it’s more about how I feel about the photo rather than looking at it with a “critical” eye.

I also spend a lot of time looking at photos by others. Some well known and many who are not well known. I am often in awe of their work. The thing I don’t see are the photos that they reject and what it took for them to arrive at their current work.

Likewise, you don’t see the photos that I reject! I’m not just talking about bad exposures or really missing the shot either though they are certainly a factor. What I like or don’t like today may change in the future. It does happen that way.

The New Stellar, New York City, March 2019

When looking at the work of others, photography can be very deceiving. It often “looks” easy. It can be discouraging if you try too hard to imitate the work of others or if you imagine that everything that they do is perfect.

What’s really great about viewing the work of other photographers is that it often gives license to do things that you might not otherwise do! Have you ever looked at a photo that you really liked and said oh, I did that once and I didn’t think it was a good shot? It has happened to me many times.

So maybe it’s not so much about quantity in photography but quality. The more that you give yourself license to experiment in photography and pursue photography that you are happy with, the better you become.

That is true no matter what level you are at in photography. Perhaps even more so if you are really experienced. Why you ask? Because many photographers once they hit a certain level rest on what has worked for them in the past and don’t continue to evolve their art.

For newer photographers, it’s often a fear of not being accepted. Which is unfortunate. I spent many years in that mode of shooting. The most important thing is that you are pleased with your work and that you recognize the work that you are happy with rather than focusing on the ones you don’t like.

Somewhere between the two you can determine what to focus on and how to achieve that. Perhaps it takes a little courage. But it is worth it. Happy shooting! And yes, it helps if you’re happy when you’re shooting!

Open-mindedness & Creativity

I’ve been shooting for the better part of 50 years and it doesn’t cease to amaze me. I think of myself as always somewhat new to photography. I don’t know if half a century really means that much.

There are many photographers out there that have been shooting for a much shorter amount of time than I have and they are “better” than me. Whatever better means as there are so many criteria to base that on.

Art is always subjective, it’s always in the eye of the beholder, There’s no clear cut decision on that. I think I still have quite a way to go. I can say that I am far from bored with photography. Perhaps I am in fact the opposite of bored. I am enthusiastic about it!

I feel that I have far more to learn and experience ahead of me than what came before. What I can say about shooting for 50 years with a fair amount of certainty is that I do it out of passion and sheer persistence. Maybe I’m the tortoise. Yes, even a late-bloomer.

I hope that the blooming continues for some time to come as it is very exciting to me. I find that I continue to shoot in the same neighborhoods, even the same streets, and I always find something new.

Bail Bonds Row, New York City, August 2017.

Or perhaps like my favorite quote from Marcel Proust, it’s about seeing with new eyes. That is always my biggest challenge to myself. When I stop seeing with new eyes is when I’ll quit.

It is also very exciting and I feel very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my workshops and photo tours. They are at various stages of life and photographic experience as well as nationality.

And they almost always approach photography with an open mind. Looking to learn something new. The desire to learn new things can be very contagious and I become inspired by the new eyes of beginners and the openness of experienced photographers to take on new challenges. The exchange of ideas is very helpful. Closed- mindedness may very well be the biggest threat to creativity.

If photography, in general, and street photography more specifically, aren’t about being open-minded than I’ll quit right now. But that’s not my experience! I believe that it’s important being around people who are like-minded in that respect. I don’t mean that they like everything that you do. But that they are willing to look at it at a deeper level. Beyond the obligatory social media “like”. Having honest feedback is very cool and also rare!