Photographers should write more. And I don’t mean blog more, I mean writing, actual writing. The type of writing that takes at least an hour or two to complete and then is edited the next day. That type of writing. Once it’s ready, then it should be published on a blog with one or two or ten photographs.
This probably isn’t something that most photographers really want to hear. But I think writing is important.
When I talk to photographers, inevitably the topic of social media will come up. Often, they ask what’s the point? Or does it do anything? My answer is always that it depends. It depends on your objectives and it depends how much effort you put into it. What happens I think is that many photographers get going with Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, a blog and soon realize they don’t have much to say. Their blog might consist of sporadic updates about projects, or a mention about a group show, but that’s about it.
Then they often end up just Tweeting, blogging or Tumbling things that ‘inspire’ them. That’s fine. That’s part of the social media deal, but what happens is that for many that becomes all they do. They end up in this cycle and soon start to question why they’re doing the social media thing in the first place. And they should because what they’re doing probably won’t help them much in the long term.
The missing piece is writing. Not blogging. But writing. Most photographers have a blog. And many photographers have blogs where they just post photographs (I’m guilty of this). For some this might work. It depends on the photographer, and their objective. But the thing to keep in mind is that it’s incredibly easy to post photographs. It doesn’t take much, and tons of people are doing it.
Writing takes effort. It’s hard work. It sucks. I cringe at most the words I write, but at the end of the day I’m ok with it because I know my audience is primarily made up of photographers who aren’t here because of my wonderful prose. It’s about the ideas and opinions. The same holds true for other photographers. I know photographers aren’t primarily writers so I tend to give them a break when I read what they write.
Photographers shouldn’t lose sleep over their prose. Instead, they should focus on communicating their ideas and telling their stories. That’s what I want to read from photographers. I don’t care much about gear, contests, tearsheets or group shows. Sorry, I just don’t. I know everyone should be proud of their accomplishments and should let people know but if that’s all you do on your blog, then I’m not interested. Put that stuff in your newsletters.
Ideas and stories, that’s what I want to read. Photographers are interesting people. They travel frequently, move to different cities on a whim, hang out with interesting people, get lost in unknown places, are interested in science, sociology, psychology, sexuality, pop culture, weird hobbies, they go broke, take impossible chances, assist professional assholes, date crazy photographers, etc. They’re curious. They’re explorers. They live in a world of ideas. They have stories to tell.
But shouldn’t all that be in the photographs? I hope so, but words will still be important. I might be wrong here, but I think we’re moving into an era where words are going to become increasingly more important to understanding photographs, if not absolutely necessary. People don’t trust photographs and we’re inundated with so many on a daily basis that it really becomes difficult to make sense of them. Writing helps us find our bearings.
Words can provide clarity and context. Whether it’s a simple caption, a funny anecdote or backstory. Just think about it for a second. When we see a photograph on the web, we generally look quick and then move on. When words are included, we stay with the photograph just a bit longer. It maybe subtle, but I think it makes a difference. The words keep us with the photograph.
Photographers should write more, and I don’t just mean about photography. I want to read about their daily lives, their motivations, the funny stories, the challenges, the frustrations, the big breaks, the heartaches, the new ideas, the failed projects, their weird new obsessions, etc.
This might be contentious, but when I know a photographer personally, it changes the way I look at their photographs. I feel more connected to their work, even if my inner critic is telling me the work isn’t that great. I don’t know why this is. Maybe this is the same for writers, painters and filmmakers. I’m not sure.
Writing is a good way to build a personal connection with people. Writing is a creative act. Writing will last. If you put the work into it, what you write today will resonate with you the rest of your life, just like your photographs. Can you say the same about your tweets, Tumble’s and Facebook messages, or blog posts about contests?
Photographers should write more. It doesn’t matter if it’s not polished, or if you ramble and rant, just write and then re-write, and then publish, and then get into a habit of doing it over and over again.