Who do you take pictures for?
This may seem like a relatively obtuse question at first but bear with me. I found myself wondering if people actually consider this when reading some online commentary. I don’t want to get into what I was reading, but it was the usual elitist nonsense that seems to come across a lot in the photographic community online, where one photographer feels the need to tell his or her readership how much they’re doing it wrong.
It got me thinking about how society in general, feels the need to put people into groups and hierarchy in order to elevate themselves above the crowd. You see it in all aspects of life, and across all fields. In every hobby and career, you find that some people invent sub-groups that they can feel superior to and denigrate. It’s not just about photography or even creative arts. I’m a big Anime and Manga fan, and I was recently seeing that even within that community of fans, there are subgroups that others like to make fun of, insult and complain about in order to elevate themselves above someone else. It’s both fascinating from a social psychology perspective and sad as a statement on society that we haven’t moved beyond such things.
In photography, you see it all the time. One prominent example is how some photographers online like to give out constantly about those who are only into photography for the gear with some variation of: “They’re not real photographers”. Another common thread is deciding that some people take photographs and others are only snapshots. And while of course there’s merit to the point that photography is more about the photographer and not just the gear, to me, if you keep shouting about it over and over, and writing about it repeatedly, then this is just as much “not about photography” as is the complaint about people who talk about gear. In many cases, those who go on and on about it do so because they want to differentiate themselves from the pack. In my opinion, it is because photography has become so accessible, and so widespread that some people feel the need to attack others in order to elevate themselves above the pack. Again, this isn’t limited to photography, it’s across all kinds of fields.
But it got me thinking, as I read one particularly vitriolic article, that you should elevate yourself through your images, not through your ideology. If you are taking pictures that are different or interesting, that will set you apart. They don’t have to be award winning. They just have to be interesting. You don’t have to tell everyone how much better you are than everyone else, and how everyone else is doing it wrong to stand out. If your pictures are good, interesting or different, that will be enough. Putting down others doesn’t make you better. It just makes you an ass.
Which brings me back to the original question: who do people take photographs for? It seems to me that some people take photos for other photographers. The audience of the people who like to go on about how much better than are than the commoners, seem to be targeting their audience at other photographers. I guess part of seeking elevation is also seeking validation.
Which got me thinking about the question even more. Who is your audience? Obviously, if you’re a professional, then you are shooting for you clients. But for amateurs and enthusiasts: do you take photos for family or friends? Do you take them for yourself? Do you take pictures for the general public or certain interest groups? All are valid and all are personal choices, but in a way, they will colour how you approach your work. I’m not really going anywhere with this but thinking about your audience can help focus your creativity.
I just thought that it was an interesting thing to ponder.
Originally published on Designtography Magazine.
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