OpEd: I Don’t Know Very Much About Photography

©Don Hudson

Growing up I was a sports fanatic.  I played baseball and basketball. During the fall I spent my Sundays glued to the TV for eight hours watching football.  I played video games and created fake sports leagues with fake sports legends. I had to know everything about sports. I studied and memorized statistics.  I listened to everything Chris Berman and Peter Gammons told me.

Being on the field was the real education though.  In a game, you’re constantly forced to make decisions and embrace the consequences.

During my sophomore year in college I became burned out on sports.  One team always wins, one team always loses. There was always next year, there was always the next superstar.  After reading a biography of Jim Morrison, I decided to look into some of the writers that had influenced him – Kerouac, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, William Blake.  Those writers led to other writers, and down the rabbit hole you go.

Art and sports share many similarities amongst their devotees. There is an incessant need to know, to know what went before and what’s happening now. If you can keep up on either, I applaud you.

Since I’ve became interested in photography I constantly need to feed my appetite for new imagery and ideas. Sometimes that need has taken me to the library, and other times I’ve ended up on blogs or in Flickr forums. I’ll go wherever my appetite for new knowledge or information can be satisfied.  But for some reason I can’t read Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin or Barthes right now.  Every time those names come up I get distracted and think about taking a walk.  Maybe in a few years.

©Missy Prince

Every now and then I remember something my photographer friend from Los Angeles said about his girlfriend who graduated from Bard.  “She can’t make pictures.  Everything she looks at bores her.”

Perhaps she knew too much about photography and got bored with it, just like I got bored with sports.  There’s always the next brilliant project and the next hyped star.

I went to the SVA spring show, and asked a photographer I knew what photographs are worth checking out.  He told me to check out the videos instead.  “Photographs are photographs, it’s all kinda been done. I enjoy making them, but I can’t look at them really.”

One of the mantras you hear over and over again on the web is that you need to an expert or a thought leader in your field.  With photography, it’s the cult of connoisseurship.  Why should I pay attention to your blog or magazine? “Because I have great taste.”

I admire people that have deep understanding of the history of photography.  I just don’t think I ever want to be one of them at the moment. These days, I find myself more interested in photographs from someone on Flickr photographing in some random city (Phoenix), than finely executed projects with polished artist statements.  Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy looking at many of those projects and find them interesting, but they don’t provide the same intellectual spark as finding a photographer still searching for their voice while sharing more photographs than they probably should on Flickr.

I suppose it’s kind of like watching a band at the very beginning when they’re still fine tuning their sound.  There’s something about the energy, the creative struggle, and misfires that I enjoy observing.  “But it’s crappy photography!” Oh, we’ve covered this already….

©Marek Wykowski

I don’t know very much about photography.  And I’m content with that right now because the journey is interesting and inspiring.  I want to read Stephen Shore and more Szarkowski.  I like those guys.  I’d prefer to maintain a certain level of ignorance though because that’ll force me to keep seeking and thinking.  Or maybe we never know too much? I’m not sure.

I wouldn’t mind checking out a baseball game either. Even though someone always wins and someone always loses, I think I can appreciate the game for the sake of the game, just like I can appreciate photography for the sake of photography.

“The brain now is full of information, cluttered up, there is no space in it, and one must have space.  Space means energy.  When there is no space, your energy is very limited.  The brain is now so heavily laden with knowledge, with theories, with power, position, so ever lastingly in conflict and cluttered up, that it has no space.  And freedom, complete freedom, is to have that limitless space.  The brain is extroidinarily capable, has infinite capacity, but we have made it small and petty.  When there is that space and emptiness and, therefore immense energy – energy is passion, love and compassion and intelligence – then there is that truth which is most holy, most sacred, that which man has sought from time immemorial.  That truth does not lie in any temple, in any mosque, in any church.  And it has no path to it except through one’s own understanding of oneself, inquiring, studying, learning.  Then there is that which is eternal.” – Krishnamurti

  • http://twitter.com/rugfoot Richard Gray

    Hey nice blog. Funny, I gave up big-time football (EPL as I think you call it) last year. Mainly because photography was taking over. And because I kept falling asleep. Worrying what your photographer said about photos. Still, I guess after a while you get bored of everything. As you say, everything is more fun on the upward part of the learning curve.

  • Nophot0

    “I don’t know very much about photography.  And I’m content with that
    right now because the journey is interesting and inspiring.”

    Fair enough, but then organizations such as PhotoNola shouldn’t be placing you on their reviewer roster.  Photographers are paying $475 registration fees to  be reviewed by someone who doesn’t  ” know very much about photography”?


  • Dan Wakeman

    Pretty accurate description of peoples relationships with music aswell.

    i know almost nothing about photography and i love it.