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.

On Being Critical

On occasion people ask me to be critical of their photos. While I can and do critique photos from time to time, I prefer to help others develop their own style.

I like to encourage others to find their own style. To give them the courage to do what they think is right. To take photos that they like. After all, you need to be happy with your photography first.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong way to do it. And it’s possible that I am influenced by my own experience of not really fitting in in any of the photography clubs. Typically boys clubs.

As I have said before, steal from the best and make up the rest. Find those elements that speak to your own sense of what looks good. A big part of photography is developing your vision and having your photos match your vision.

Blue in East Harlem, New York City, August 2017

I took this photo during a street photography workshop and I can only tell you that timing was everything! She turned and I clicked. And yes, the focus is a little soft. Whatever. I still like it and some of my favorite photographers have photos with soft focus.

You might not appreciate that. I look at photography as an art and art is always in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. It is not a science. There isn’t a recipe that will always be successful.

Photography Need Not Be Realistic

Photography is a very young medium in the world of art. Early art was used as both a form of documenting and story telling. In painting there has been a long tradition of creating realistic representations of life. Perhaps they were hoping to represent the present and to preserve the past. To flirt with immortality.

Photography disrupted that tradition by being a more realistic representation of reality. Many artists accused photographers of being too lazy to go to art school! It is clear that artists felt threatened by this new medium.

At about the same point in time artists stopped trying to be so realistic in their representations of life. It opened the doors for more abstract art. Even so, not all photography strives to represent reality in a realistic fashion.

Standing, New York City, June 2019

I also do abstract photography and it is something that gives me great pleasure to create as well as to view the abstract photography of others.

Why limit your vision or feel a need to color in the lines? There are so many different methods to shoot and process your photos and so many possible subjects to focus on. Try something new! You might even like it!

Photography is a Language

Photography is like learning a new language. In the beginning you are constantly aware of grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations and vocabulary.

The mechanics of language is very similar to that of the camera. It takes awhile to learn the diffferent parts of language that allow you to communicate smoothly and effectively. The same is true to become fluent in photography.

Diamond Exchange, New York City, November 2017

A camera is merely a tool. When people ask me what cameras I use my response for a number of years now has been, do you ask a carpenter what hammer she uses? I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a quote from Man Ray in which his response to the same question was “you don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.”

Your ability to get your camera to do what you want it to do is the first step. But even when you become fluent there’s still so much more that can be learned and explored. Like expanding your vocabulary.

If I am not able to believe that my best photos are to come I’ll put my cameras down. And it’s not just about the technical aspects about photography by any means. It is about the constant evolution of style, subject and technique. There IS always something new to learn and do! It is a lifelong pursuit.

Thoughts on Photography in the Digital Age

What are photos worth now? Do they have more value or less value as a sheer result of the volume? Why take photos at all? These are real questions that deserve real thought even if we are unable to come to some kind of solid answers that we can all agree on.

When I took this photo earlier this year, I was very conscious of the fact that for whatever reason, this building won’t be here forever or at least continue to look like this. Sometimes I wonder if the way that I see things now have more to do with my age or if perhaps we are really in the midst of a major change in the way the world is moving?

I don’t take photos with a thought to if they have a monetary worth or not. I shoot as a form of expression. Photos have a way of sparking memory. We look at photos about the way things used to be. Photos are always past. Are history.

1 Allen Street, New York City, May 2019

I took this photo because the colors and light on that day and at that time appealed to me. For the moment, I like this photo. I have no idea if I will continue to like this photo after shooting another 10,000 photos. Perhaps it’s not that important. Photography is an activity for me. It’s not always obvious why I take a photo or if it will become important to my work.

When we choose to shoot certain subjects, we reveal something of who we are and our tastes in things. And of course, those things are subject to change. How often do we stop and look at a photo and decide what it means to us? We see thousands of images everyday. Most of them are not by choice.

Your assignment if you choose to take it, is to stop and take a look at a photo and think about what it means to you. Let’s call it intentional viewing. Happy looking and getting lost in photos.

It’s Everywhere You Go!

Photography in its broadest definition has become important to everyone! It is such a dominant part of our culture and our lives. Creating and consuming images is constant. So how do we differentiate between the different kinds of photography? Are they all equal? Do we even understand the effect that images have on us? Visual literacy is a tricky subject. Especially when there’s barely enough time to understand it all.

I work as a tour guide. On a regular basis I come into contact with tourists taking selfies with major attractions in New York City. It would be difficult to not witness this everywhere in the city. I wonder what the actual value is of these photos? (I will refrain from being judgmental here even if it is annoying.) They are intended as souvenirs.

One Grand Central, New York City, January 2019

The idea that you can choose to remember something by an image or an object. The strange thing is that souvenirs actually have a way of killing memories. They take on new meaning. We no longer have to remember it.

Perhaps the actual act of taking a photo is more important than the photo itself. That and the fleeting moment that it has a life on social media. We designate a moment which we have predetermined to be worthy of remembering. We have scripted our lives in doing this.

Planned vs unplanned photos. My favorite photos that I’ve taken are not planned. They couldn’t have been planned. They are decided only at the moment that they are shot. Sometimes I like them. Others I don’t. It’s always starting from scratch. Starting over with a clean slate. When it comes to street photography you can’t decide beforehand what you’ll shoot. It’s life in motion. By it’s very nature it is unplanned.