A Tale of Two Prints

Digital Photography Sucks

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Enlarger Alignment Laser Module

Fine Art Photography

Knowing What You Want

Miss America and Ansel Adams

Painting versus Photography

Popularity is Overrated

Rare and There

The Art of Printing or Not

The Banality of Ink Jet Prints

Useless Idiot


Useless Idiot – January 20, 2008

You know, I respect Brooks Jensen and his magazine LensWork for doing a great deal to promote photography. I like the fact that he’s not afraid to write about more than camera equipment and Photoshop techniques, and that he actually discusses the creative process and everything that goes along with it. There aren’t a lot of publications that do this, and hats off to Brooks for his willingness to do so. But that aside, more often than not Brooks Jensen is full of crap.

I think he’s spent way too much time trying to make ends meet hawking magazines. He seems way too concerned with making photography appeal to the masses. He’s touched on this a bit in the past, venting about his perception that photography sold as art is generally overpriced. But nowhere was his obsession with appealing to the masses more evident than in his essay, Photography and the Meaning of Life in LensWork #74.

I won’t bore you with the details of the entire article, but he basically rails against photographers that have the gall to pursue photography that has no commercial appeal. Instead he seems to think photographers would be better served by sticking to themes with universal appeal, rather than photography that is personally meaningful. The whole article, along with Brooks’ ridiculous assumptions made me want to retch.

One of his points deals with the fact that some photographers waste time on details that the average viewer would never even notice. He says:

If “civilians” – i.e., folks not trained with a photographer’s eye – can’t see the difference between a platinum and a silver gelatin print, then why, pray tell, are we darkroom mavens sweating bullets over the subtle difference between Zone III and Zone III½? Well, we do so for those individuals who can see the difference – for our peers, for collectors, for mavens, you might say. I suppose there is some solace in that; at least there is someone who appreciates the subtleties in our work. But, what about the general public? Are we to ignore that 99.999% of the population who are not fine art photographers? At what level of elitism have we crossed a line that makes our work meaningless?

What an idiotic thing to say. Just because 99.999% percent of the population doesn’t appreciate the work, that somehow makes it meaningless? That’s insulting to say the least. Do photographers really need to dumb everything down so their work has some appeal to the general public? I suppose that might be the case if your primary goal is to sell generic $20 prints.

But for me I really don’t care if 100% of the public finds my work utterly meaningless as long as I find meaning in it. And I could care less if no one besides me can see the difference between Zone III and Zone III½ in one of my prints. Contrary to what Brooks blindly thinks is a given, I don’t make my photographs for my peers, or collectors, or some maven. And I sure as hell don’t make them for the general public. I make them for me and only me. They’re personal. And when it comes down to it, I don’t really care if someone else likes my work or not, it only matters that I do, and that my work provides personal satisfaction and meaning for me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want people to like my work, or appreciate it, or that I’ll turn down money if someone is willing to pay for a print. But I don’t spend hour after hour taking photographs or suffocating in the darkroom to satisfy Brooks Jensen or some fat cat collector. I spend that time trying to satisfy me, and trying to provide some meaning in my own life. That’s why pursue photography.

So if Brooks Jensen wants to sell thousands of $20 digital prints to the general public, more power to him. Go ahead and do it. Just don’t blindly assume that I want the same thing. Quite frankly my photography is more important than that. And I fully realize that my work may mean nothing to Brooks Jensen or everyone else in the world, but it does to me, and in the end that’s all that matters.