What photography gives and takes

I very often find myself going back and forth between photography and “the real world” as I call it.

For me, photography is often an escape from reality. It’s something that’s more meaningful than regular everyday things. It’s history in the making. It’s history being made. It’s the act of creating something meaningful. Not for the sake of earning money or to further a career – but simply the act of making something that matters. Sadly though, in these times, nobody values this any more. The world is being flooded with photographs on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and 500px, and nobody really spends time looking at images any more. Most people just glance at them and swipe to the next…

I wish I could just enjoy making photographs for myself. But I don’t anymore. For some reason photography has become something that means more to me. Something that defines me. Something that matters. But at the same time it feels like it’s one of the most pointless things that I’m spending time and energy on.

For the last years I’ve been collecting a lot of photographs that I find to be of OK quality. These have never been published or shown anywhere. They’re just sitting in my image library. I have no idea what to do with them. The only pictures that I’ve actually shown are the photographs that I find to be of lesser quality, or, photographs that doesn’t mean a lot to me – or – photographs that are of people who I love, that I want to share. The last category of photographs are the most valuable to me, but they don’t belong in a project, so sharing them is easy, because it doesn’t require a context. The last category of photographs that I’ve shown are camera review photographs. Just some mediocre photographs to show the technical capabilities of a camera that I’ve been playing with for a while.

Personally I find that the only images that mean anything to me, are the ones of the people who I love.
Other images that are valuable are images of historical quality, for example, at an event in time where something that really mattered and changed the world happened.

“Pretty Pix” doesn’t matter. Smooth bokeh doesn’t matter. Street photographs of some strangers doesn’t matter. I’m starting to find all these genres of photography completely uninteresting and boring. The only photographs that are valuable are my personal photographs – family, friends, travel, etc. The “street photography in some city” is completely pointless and of no value. They’re just strangers in a composition. The same goes for commercial photography, with all the re-touching and editing being applied today. Pretty and soulless pictures of some models looking like they’ve just had an orgasm. Ultra-wide angle interior pictures making small shoe-box sized apartments look spacious and luxurious. And so on and so on…

All of this leads me to a personal conclusion: Photography today isn’t what I consider photography to be (or what it was). Photography today is all marketing and self-promotion. The marketing and self-promotion can be commercial or personal. Thousands of people use photography today to market themselves on Instagram and other services. For what? For likes and comments? Sorry, but likes and comments from complete strangers are lost the day we die. It’s all complete BS and completely worthless and without any depth or real value at all. Still, that’s what people seem to strive for. And I’m personally starting to get fed up with these new trends. The more I see it happening, the less I want to participate in it.

I see more photographers online today trying to sell workshops, straps, soft-release buttons, bags, and all sorts of junk rather than trying to sell or show their work in a good manner. Then you have the photographers who market the cameras and lenses for certain companies. You know – these photographers that only use and value one brand above everything else, and that write the same articles over and over again about the latest and greatest from that specific manufacturer. Then you have the photographers who just tries to write as much as possible about everything, and throw a bunch of ads all over their website to monetize from it.

Where’s the real value in all of this?

I’m starting to think that my adventures with photography, and especially film photography, is a complete waste of time.
It takes so much time and effort, and it never really leads to anything. It takes time away from what matters: Family, friends, career, studying, and just enjoying life. What’s the point of this blog any more?

I have no idea.

  • You have a common problem, Borge. I joined a photo teaching studio in my city, and now I work with a larger group of like-minded adults and students, guided by instructors when we do classes and workshops. It quickly got me away from the social media aspect of image-making.

    The camera-phone and other aspects of digital photography have forced all photographers to evolve, but there are upsides; I have one of the best digital photo printers in the history of the world in my home workspace, along with amazing computers and software. We can do things never before possible, in our spare time.

    I don’t know how to paint or play musical instruments, so I move ahead in this medium.

    Maybe you should teach or get involved in a group.

    • Hello Paul. Thanks for your comment.

      Teaching would actually be very interesting. I think it would be valuable to help other people develop their technical skills and understanding of why they photograph they way they do, and what draws them to what they decide to make a photograph of.

      I find that images themselves can be interesting, but, more often than not – I find the story behind an image even more interesting an compelling.

  • Michael

    I have the same thoughts about pointlessness and relentless self-marketing, worst example is the selfi stick nowadays, in photography but I think if you can or learn to express yourself through photography, your mood, your feelings joy or melancholy then it becomes worthwhile and satisfying again. It doesn’t matter if social media disapproves or applauds or ignores (most likely). As long as you focus on your inner feelings it’s becoming worthwhile (again) no matter what you choose (family, travel, landscapes, or just moments). Not easy but who cares other than yourself.
    Cheers Michael Weick

    P.S. your MM pics suited better to your way of seeing in my opinion

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your wise words.
      You are completely right. Photography is so personal (for some of us) that the only reason to spend time on it is for ourselves, and not for other people, or especially what other people think of our work.

      I’m curios why you think my MM photographs are more suited to my way of seeing?
      I am in constant search of new ways of seeing, and also trying out new gear. Currently film (mostly B&W) has my attention, while the M240 is never used. I do miss the MM some times, and often think that it was the camera that inspired me to create rather than snap. Film does the same to some extent, but the process of developing and scanning takes so much effort and time, that there is little time left to present the images in a condition and way that I want to.

      • Michael

        Hi Borge,
        you gave the answer to your MM inclination yourself. Inspiration is the key word no matter what instrument you use. I also still like film esp. slide film but the effort it takes to get pleasing results i. e prints is not worth it any more. It takes too much time and I hate scanning. I hardly use my M6, F5 or F801 (all still working faultlessly) anymore. In order to create with colour it is more difficult than with B&W in my opinion. Thinking of Steve McCurry or Saul Leiter as some rare exceptions. That is why seeing and trying in B&W is usually more rewarding.
        Cheers
        Michael

  • There might be two powerful reasons to keep taking photographs for those of us that don’t pursue all that social media/marketing efforts (but they look for something very human also: be LIKED/LOVED).

    1. To WITNESS, to prove (to us) we are alive, that we were there.
    2. To INTERPRET what we see/experience, even if it’s only to us (and it is). Photography can help us to be more observant and present.

    Any pictures we take, we are the only ones to care about them (and in 99% of the times we don’t even care). I say just take it easy and enjoy the ride…

  • Tarry G

    I just found your site looking for MP reviews. Then I starting reading most of it including the MM review and your year with it and was (am still) seriously thinking of doing the same thing you did. But at the same time this post describes articulately where I’m at with photography right now – and I’m wondering if its a terminal issue or just a phase:)

    As this post is from Feb 2016 – have you come to any further conclusion? I’m curious.

    • Hmm. Tarry. Tarry G? Revolver Coffee in Vancouver? Or is this a totally different Tarry? 🙂

      Well, what can I say. I had to re-read my own article. And I was kind of surprised of what I read. So I guess it was a phase – but – a phase that led me to the realization that it’s ok to just enjoy something, and not take it too seriously. I think I was taking photography a bit too seriously for a while, after being influenced by some photography workshops and books and stuff, which killed some of the motivation and joy with it. You know, just having fun with cameras and film and making photos is actually OK. It doesn’t need to be any more than just that: fun.

      And not only that, but I’ve met a lot of nice people when I’ve had fun with photography. People that I wish I could stay more in touch with. If you are the Tarry from Revolver, then I met you briefly while visiting Vancouver, and seeing a friend (Glen) that I previously met at a photography workshop. I think you had a Hasselblad 500cm with you, and you held my MP briefly. And me and Glen had some great coffee at Revolver.

      So yeah. I’m sure it’s just a phase. It still happens to me. Sometimes I just get sick of pictures and the cameras in general, and I just put them in a shelf for a week or two, or more. But then I always come back to it with more inspiration and motivation to have fun with it sooner or later. Less is more, though. And currently I have about 1400 selects to edit in Lightroom…. And that…. Is (almost) never fun 🙂 Which is why I’m prefering film more and more… Less is more!

      • Tarry G

        Hi Borge,

        Ha! I looked at your photos and noticed your YVR stuff and thought that there was a chance we might have met! Yes I am the Tarry G from Revolver – lol. I’ve spent some time with Glen recently as well 🙂 LHSA was just in Vancouver and lots of people around.

        Photographically – I think I’m emerging. Just trying to decide which camera to spend a year with right now. I’ve pretended to do that 5 or so times in the last 5 years and havent lasted more than 3 months 🙂 Interestingly (for me) the most fruitful time in photography that I’ve had was when I shooting with the 503CW as my only camera and actually had a project – which at the time was 365Vancouverites. A daily film shot of a Vancouverite.

        The current contenders are the M8 – with a 28 cron and the MP with same lens – all film all the time. I’m leaning to the M8. More practical – easier to grow in my photography with it. I almost bought a monochrom just from reading your Monochrom experience. Had in my hands and then changed my mind and let it go.

        I will keep the Black Paint MP for now – so that three months from now when I’ve completed my year with the M8 (which I haven’t started yet – so I’m already forecasting failure – lol) I’ve got the next camera to move to.

        Are you planning on coming to Vancouver in the near future?

        Peace and Grace,
        Tarry G

        • Hey!

          Well that’s cool! Say hi to Glen from me next time you see him yea? 🙂
          The Hasselblad 5xx series cameras are awesome. My wife had one actually… Which she sold – to my big confusion, as the results from shooting with it and the 80/2.8 CF T* lens was awesome. I guess part of the reason was it was mostly left at home, while the smaller and much lighter Leica M film camera came along in stead… The Hassy is a very focused tool, which is used with more intention and thought, which again results in a much bigger keeper rate.

          I followed the 365Vancouverites instagram account actually 🙂 Lots of great shots there! I’ve thought about doing a 365 day project a couple of times, but I honestly don’t think it would work out. The idea of having to find something interesting to make a picture of every day doesn’t feel good!

          I’ve actually never used an M8. It supposedly makes fantastic B&W images though due to it’s IR sensitivity. But I don’t like the crop factor. The MP is simply fantastic! For me it is a lifeetime camera. I just can’t sell it 🙂 And the Monochrom is simply… Stunning! It’s like walking around with the best drumscanner in the world in your hands… Litteraly! But. And the big but, for me at least: Highlights. It’s damn tricky to shoot with. Film is sooo much more forgiving, and so much more flexible, and simply looks more natural. But shooting at 10000 ISO at night time is cool with the MM; It’ll look pretty much like HP5+ pushed to 800, which is amazing.

          What film are you shooting with on the MP?

          I would love to come to Vancouver again. So would the missus. We both have friends that live there. I don’t have any exact plans, but hopefully I’ll be able to go there in the near future.

          If you go to my “Contact” page and fill out the form there and send me your email address, we could stay in touch that way 🙂

          • Tarry G

            Things rapidly change here on my end. I did sort of reluctantly sell the Black Paint MP. I did however replace it with a 1957 DS M3 – which is my other favorite film camera 🙂 The plan is if I really grow to love it that I will send it to Kanto for the Black Paint treatment. Of course I will need to buy another M3 to use while that is happening – which can take up to three months. I’ve been shooting both TriX and 100ISO Fuji Color film. I will adjust to Portra once I’m fully back on the film wagon. Black and white will be a mixture of TriX and HP5 for me.

            The M8 is being used but I’m currently looking to replace it with an M9. I will know in the next day or two if that idea is successful. I have an MM in my sights but I think for now I will defer to the M9 before I get that. The M8 is pretty awesome – but the crop and the resulting need to buy wider lenses can be a challenge and quite frankly the difference in lens cost alone my justify the difference in cost between the two bodies.

            I miss the Hasselblad and often think of getting one. The 365Vancouverites project sits quite and very unfinished and I’m tempted to re-continue but clearly don’t have the energy to restart it quite yet. Thanks for following it. The project had a stupid amount of pressure attached to it as it was a daily “film” shot. As much as I hated the pressure most of the time – it gave me a self imposed sense of purpose with shooting that I miss.

            I will pass on your greeting to Glen.

            Hope to see you in the near future in our city.

            Peace and Grace,
            Tarry G

  • Stefan Herzberg

    I follow your site for some time now as I own Leicas myself and I can relate a lot to your observations.
    I myself have a website I started four years ago when I entered the digital age (I used to have a wet-lab in my student days). For me it was a way not only to share but also to motivate myself. I commented and shared photos for some time at the leica user forum and getdpi. I did not undertake efforts to promote my website via flickr or other social media, even though my kids encouraged me to do so.
    After three years in Japan i am now stuck in Venezuela which is not a country where you want to take your camera on the street. So I will try to develop my post process skills and will order photo books.
    I look forward to retirement in a few years to further indulge into the field. Maybe taking some courses with the right instructors. And traveling to various locations with a project idea or topic in mind. So, I see this as a hobby and I hope to leave a “legacy” to my family , a collection of books or something.
    ( My son was so suprised and overwhelmed when we presented him a book of his first year in life as he turned 18.; the young generation is not used to think in these time spans anymore).
    Above all photography for me it is enjoying the process, manually taken photographs. I do not buy new equipment besides lenses and stay with the M 9 and the MM. I cannot deny that I am happy if I receive positive comments. But feedback is not the driving factor. Learning by mistakes, developing to see with different eyes.
    (It was my second stay in Japan and I had seen all the matsuris in the 90s. Photography motivated to go out again and see the festivals with different eyes.)
    So I would encourage you to continue by looking for the aspects which personally enrich you. …
    Good luck
    Stefan Herzerg
    stefan.herzber@gmail.com
    website: shashinski.com