Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 23 2009

More photography whining

Over the past few months, I’ve become dissatisfied with the place photography occupies in my life. For some people, uploading their pictures to Flickr and getting a few “Nice capture!”-like comments has become a kind of daily fix. But the whole exercise feels increasingly Sisyphean these days; what is it all for? Galleries? Books? The latter brings to mind those lonely souls I met in Shinjuku, sitting in small rented rooms, surrounded by expensive prints, waiting for someone to come in and sign the little book by the door. As for books, it’s easy enough to print up something on blurb.com, but what then? What does it mean when there are tens of thousands of such books coming out every month? Granted, I know nothing of marketing or promotion; both are anathemas to me. I don’t want to be A Professional Photographer per se, as that seems to imply wearing fugly vests, fussing around with lights and “shoots”, worrying about clients and what they think and generally ruining any enjoyment I get from making my own pictures because I would be too busy taking pictures for other people all the time.

But coming back to Flickr: if I were to take the gallery/book/whatever route, would that make Flickr extraneous? I’ve always found the usefulness of hard-to-navigate flash-based websites like johndoeimages.com or sallysomeonephotography.net questionable at best; what semblance of professionalism they might once have had has been negated by their ubiquity, and the flickr community has been like a built-in audience. However, over the past couple of years, The Great Unwashed Masses with their Great Unwashed Photographs of their Great Unwashed Spawn and/or Great Perhaps-washed Pets have taken over (he said snobbily as he took a sip of Earl Grey tea, his pinky waving in the air), and the quality in general has suffered since Yahoo acquired the site. Nowhere is this more starkly apparent than in the “Explore” pages, where the truly inspiring shots of yore have been eschewed for the most part in favor of the usual out-of-focus-flower-held-by-child-at-sunset shots that Italian people seem to enjoy so much.

These developments as well as my own have changed the dynamic I’ve felt with the site; it no longer gives me as much of what I want as it used to. Friends of mine have told me, even begged me to start publishing photography books, while warning me that if I put the shots up on flickr, they’d be “exposed” and useless for further publication. But what is the alternative? I honestly don’t know. It is a ridiculous situation, all of this thinking and whining about a subject I don’t particularly enjoy thinking and whining about. Photography should be something one simply enjoys, like movies or food or travel, not something to be dissected and endlessly debated on Internet forums. And yet, here we are.

posted by Poagao at 11:28 am  


  1. Hello there! Long-time reader, some-time commenter.

    Luckily, I don’t experience this angst. For one, I know I’m not a photographer. I originally started taking photos for my blog, and I opened a Flickr account just to have a place to store/share photos online. But in the meantime, Flickr has become more important. Not that I use it to improve my photography-I realize there is no hope for me in that regard–I am not a visual person. But it allows me to record periods of my life, especially travels and food, that I often look back on later.

    Some of these journeys have taken on an epic, mythical quality–our trip to Matsu, my trip to 東北, my Buddhist pilgrimage in India, my early 1990s China travels, etc.

    It can act as a kind of therapy or catharsis. When I am feeling dissatisfied, pensive, unhappy, whatever, those pictures trigger memories that have a calming effect. Anyway, that’s a long ramble that probably makes little to no sense. I shut up now.

    Comment by Prince Roy — November 23, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  2. I suppose people use flickr for different purposes; thanks for reminding me of that aspect; I also sometimes enjoy looking at the old photos, even though many of them make me cringe. I am not going to abandon Flickr (yet); I was just having an angsty moment worthy of a 16-year-old…sorry.

    Comment by Poagao — November 23, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  3. Maybe if you come to Laos for a while, it might shake you out of your complacency, give you a new regard for your craft through a different part of the world. You tend to gravitate to the same kinds of places over and over. That may be the source of your dissatisfaction, which you are transferring to photography in general.

    This is just an overly analytical way of saying: “Welcome you to Laos!”

    Comment by Prince Roy — November 23, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  4. Dear Poagao,
    Feeling dissatisfied about one’s own art is the quintessential mark of an artist! 😛 Joking apart, do you have fun with your photography? I mean not only the act of photographing something, but later sitting down and picking the special ones, processing them, and posting them anywhere (or nowhere)? Try going out without any cameras and see how you feel about it.

    Regarding the specifics that you talked about, I’ve done a bit of everything you mentioned, but with a few twists.

    I post my photos on flickr, but don’t put them up on groups which are made just for getting comments (post 1, comment 3!!!). I get much less feedback, but only from people who I know have enjoyed my work.
    I’ve published a book (with blurb.com), not to make any money, but to have something that was 100% made by me to give my friends.
    I haven’t become a professional photographer, but I do small jobs (at regular rates) for friends and friends of friends, with a catch: I only say yes to the jobs I like or feel curious about – if I’m going to be doing something interesting and getting paid for it, the better! I do also sell some prints, mostly for people who like my work and are interesting in financing me (to buy more gear), as my photos are free for personal use.
    I’ve travelled just for photography, like my trip to the Chernobyl/Pripyat area.

    In the end, what do I get from it? Mostly, meeting new and interesting people.

    Comment by Pedro Moura Pinheiro — November 23, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  5. I know that feeling all too well. And I’m not even close to your level of photography. But in the end you’ll be very to have the photos on flickr for instant enjoyment anywhere. Please keep posting pictures since they’re an inspiration to people like my wife and I who miss Taiwan a lot. Once we watched your pictures for three ours straight. That if anything shows that you have a gift. And if you do publish that blurb book here’s a buyer for sure 🙂

    Comment by Ed — December 14, 2009 @ 1:19 am

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