The Death of The Mainstream

Listening to one of the few photography related podcasts that I like a week or so ago got me thinking about something I already knew but hadn't looked at it from a particular point of view before. The podcast was Lenswork. The topic was regarding the death of the mainstream in this ever increasingly fragmented world. The main point was that your particular art is likely to appeal to an increasingly narrow segment of people. For everyone that happens to gravitate toward or like what you happen to care about making there will be ten that don't. I won't summarize the entire podcast – if you don't listen to the Lenswork podcast you may want to check it out.

I started thinking about this from the opposite end of things. Something I've grappled with for almost a decade. My long struggle with making stuff other people like versus making things I care to make. My disenchantment with the commercial side of photography really stems from this whole conundrum. I went down that road deluded that the world some of my heroes of photography lived in was the same world I lived in. I learned quickly that was absolutely not the case and continues seemingly to move farther and farther away.

Sure, all people that aspire to create some sort of art have lived with that equation for most of human history. It's more a matter of degree. Do you want to sell your "creative services" – be prepared to make things that your particular target audience (market) wants. If that market happens to be mass-market be prepared to make some huge compromises to what you "like" vs what that product needs to be. Is this some how bad? Not in and of itself but it can be depending on how far away that is from what you want and what you care about. I know the vast majority of people out there that love making pictures have no desire or aspiration to sell services to a mass-market or a client that sells to a mass-market. Thinking about this did produce a thought though – a trap in some ways for all photographers that happen to share anything to the wide global population on the internet. Hell – do you share your images any other way? I do but most people don't.

Here's the trap; How much are you trying to find an audience for the images you really care about making vs. making pictures that a larger and larger audience happens to like. Is that the game? Learn how to make pictures that a broader and broader audience will like. Now here's a secret within that particular trap; You will need to react very fast and change what you take pictures of, how you take them, and how you post-process them based on the popular of the moment. What's worse is you are going to have to dumb down anything that take's more than one third of a second of thought. What's even worse is you're going to have to homogenize that so so much it's unrecognizable to anything that really speaks in a significant way to anyone. You need to say something very simple and very clear to a very broad audience of people that mostly have their brains turned off.

Don't read anything into that – we are all part of that mass-market crowd with brain turned off. With a caveat – on most things. Then again we are all very focused and very caring and very particular on a tiny segment of things we care about, think a lot about, etc. Our niche of "stuff". Get it? Do you care about reaching a particular person or audience on something they care deeply about which is most likely going to be a narrow segment of the whole or do you care about reaching the larger and larger segment with something that everyone can deal with, relate to or cares about just a little bit?

Why are you making pictures? Why are you making the pictures of the things you are making them of? Why are you making them to look the way you are? Just questions that are far more difficult in a lot of ways than the how. The how is easy – maybe not one single aspect at any point in time but very definable and usually not a lot of work to figure out any particular how. The why – that can be excruciatingly difficult when you run out of how's to distract yourself with.

I was bored to death yesterday. So much so that I was shooting pictures of anything – everything. I wanted to make some pictures. I love pictures, I really really do. Typically these are just trash. I call them StupidCrap™. I made a close-up with crazy narrow depth of field of some bananas on the counter top. I made a really strange selfie in a complicated metal faucet. I made a crazy angled and cropped view of some black and white chemistry packs laying around. You get the idea. I then started posting some of these declaring it StupidCrap™ Friday. Guess what, a bunch of people "liked" them. I got some new followers, yea!

I knew that was going to happen – I'm not making fun of anyone that liked them. I wasn't playing some sort of sick game of gotta. In many cases I was appealing to the masses or the "masses" part of the hearts and minds that only care deeply or relate emotionally to something completely different. Will anyone actually relate deeply and be moved by my banana bokeh or my faucet selfie? Nope – will never think about it again after the first second of "ooooh purty colors and swirly out of focus stuff". Meaningless.

Just some thoughts for the weekend.

RB

Ps. Something semi-interesting did come of the selfie – if a bunch of peeps on twitter are bored today we're all going to make selfie macro shots in shiny metal things as a game…

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