On Contentedness and Complacency

It’s been a funny sort of year, 2017. A great many things have conspired to put the brakes on creative work for me. In this world of Social Media and compulsive sharing, I’m not sure I have a lot to offer at this point. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

I started Twin LensReflux as  play on words, spoofing Gear Acquisition Syndrome. And for a time, I was a victim of said social construct. For the last couple of years, I’ve had a remarkably boring camera bag with no additions or expulsions to speak of. As a consequence, I’ve found myself with little to say in this area on Social Media.

GAS tends to work in cycles in the online echo chamber. Everybody wants a Hasselblad at one point, no a Contax 645, wait, no, a Pentax 67. There’s the never-ending parade of Lee-cuh glamour shots with the requisite congratulations and back-slapping. I’ve done my own cheerleading for certain brands as well, no doubt. I’ve always enjoyed working with high-quality equipment; I take the opportunity to use better made equipment whenever possible and sometimes abstain altogether when not. Though I’m happy with my choices, it could be misconstrued that I’ve become complacent and simply don’t have any more interest in the tools of photography. I’m just content with my kit. Is the constant cycle of sharing new equipment really anything but peacocking the latest blaze of disposable income? Honestly, I’m glad you love your new stuff, but show me you know how to use it.

Likewise, the steady parade of work on Social Media is fatiguing. The rapid-fire timeline of images from people I know and respect cheapens their talent after a while. Especially when the work is basically the same week-in and week-out. Sharing everything means you’re sharing nothing. In some ways, sharing is cathartic for the artist if they have the wherewithal to seek improvement. But most people aren’t sharing for the betterment of their craft.

It’s all about the metrics. 

Since we have a way now to track and rate every tweet or post, these have become the bellwether for future success. Content Creators can hone their output to target certain demographics. Photographers now aspire to be “discovered” on Instagram (for having precisely the same style as everyone else who has been “discovered” on Instagram).

I’m not alone in having internal debate on which images to share online by how they may be received, liked or discussed. Stacking the deck so our work is received in a predictable way; if this isn’t complacency, I’m not sure what is.  Where does one draw the line between sharing everything and sharing only the slivers of work we think are appropriate for our audience? Is it best to share nothing? Is it worth having a hundred “likes” if the work doesn’t speak to me? And if the work does speak to me, why should I care who else “likes” it?

In an effort to work on Contentedness as opposed to Complacency, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on both the technical and philosophical aspects of photography. The world is so much wider than the boundaries we paint for ourselves, especially within the silos of Social Media. Why is it that I’m involved in Photography in the first place?

I’m at a spot where I’m genuinely not sure what the answer is.



5 Replies to “On Contentedness and Complacency”

  1. I agree with the gear glamor parade… like you said, show me what you do with it. Unless you are a collector, then by all means parade your collection, except I have no interest.

    About showing your work:
    Well, there are two points you mentioned there. Your second point was about complacency: measuring what photos will get the most likes, based on past performance or other people’s performance and therefore share more of that to get predictable behavior from your audience. For a business, or from a perspective of a business, that seems to be the best action. Make what people like. But, are photographers businessmen(women) or are they artists? If they are businesspeople, then it makes total sense. Wedding, portrait and what not. But if they are artists and they still engage in this behavior then that’s a problem. Artists are expected to say and do unpopular things. That’s the hallmark of the profession. So on this point, I totally agree with you. My own practice reflects what I preach (or in this case what you preach). Everyday when I share a photo on my website, I try to go with my gut feeling about which photo I like. Sometimes, quite often, I second guess. But when that happens, I take a step back (literally, from the computer) and ask myself, why I think my first choice isn’t right and why I’m looking at another. Often, there is a small voice saying, It won’t be received well, or, Will anyone like this. I know, long ago (well 4-5 yrs now), I would have given in to that temptation. But I have taught myself to pay close attention to this voice. It is very sneaky. And whenever I hear it, I take that step back. And I go through a mental routine to repel that thought. It takes more energy than it seems it should. But in the end I fight it off nevertheless and end up sharing whatever I think is good.

    This brings me to your other point, which actually came first: sharing everything, rapid fire etc. Honestly, I think your two arguments kind of are at odds with each other. Do you judge someone for sharing stuff that you don’t like? Even if it is similar to their work from the previous day or the previous week, year. Could it be that they actually like that particular style and therefore they continue to make and share it, despite the fact that others (like you, for instance) have tired of it? In that case, they are being true to themselves and not giving in to popular opinion. Also, sharing everything may be contradictory to the notion that you are picking your work based on metrics. If you are sharing everything you shoot then you are not picking, which could also mean you are bucking “popularity”. But, of course, it could simply mean they are shooting what is popular and therefore bending to popularity at an earlier stage in the process. And of course, there is the physical impossibility of sharing everything, so there is some curating going on. Which brings us back to the other point.

    Lastly, the question of why share at all. I can’t speak for others, but I have two reasons. The first, my website was very sparse and I wanted a way to fill it with content, hence my daily post. TBH, I learned this from Trey Ratcliff who started his blog this way, way back when, 8-10 years ago. His newsletter states as much, that he promises to share one photo everyday. I simply share this same photo to Google+, Instagram and Facebook through website plugins. Twitter, sometimes, and sometimes not. The second reason, and I am being upfront which a lot of people won’t be, is I want people to buy some of my photos. For that I need to show what I have. I don’t care for likes or retweets… those are cheap. I know someone likes my work when they pay money for it.

    Comment got a bit long. Hope you have the time to read it.

    1. Thanks for taking the time, Dev.

      By participating in something I don’t think is productive, I’m only perpetuating my own suffering. My issue with Social Media and Photography is more than likely the one thing I have full control over: me. Abstaining simply lays bare my remaining motivations, a sobering proposition. I’m trying my best to sort these for better or for worse.

      For what its worth, I’ve enjoyed your daily photos and always follow the link and read the quote even if I’m not adding comment.

  2. Well that was a philosophical way to start my morning! 🙂

    I wonder how many of us have been through this same cycle – starting out, excitedly sharing anything and everything, relishing the likes and favs, buying up every camera and lens, then ending up whittling back to the basics. As you ask, what is it? Complacency or contentedness? Boredom? Possibly a bit of it all. Certainly it’s easier on the wallet!

    I’ve stuck with Flickr through all its ups and downs over the past decade and still enjoy it. I did an account reboot in 2013 when I started to try developing as an artist. I have far fewer contacts and few people faving my work…but I enjoy it more that way. I also like that I can bring up my photostream, and see a coherent style presented. I find it helps me to hone my skills and continue to produce. Much of it is “more of the same,” but I’m fine with that. I’ve found the type of images I like to make and I want to keep making them whether others like them or not.

    That said, it is refreshing to have a change now and again. I never liked doing landscape/nature photography until I got my TLR…and I didn’t care much for using the TLR until trying it for landscape/nature. Now I have a new dimension to explore, and that’s fun.

    As for Twitter, which you actually turned me on to, I barely share anything but love the banter. Miss seeing you on there!

    I’m not going to bother proofreading this comment. I know it’s a mess of pre-coffee brain dumps and I’ll get all depressed and never post it if I start looking back at it, haha. Sorry for the mess.

  3. matt – I had to wonder a second if you might have been referring to me when you mentioned photographers who over share and/or for whom the stream of work is just more of the same, day in, day out. Then I realized I shouldn’t be so vain to think the song is about me.

    Whether or not it is evident to the viewer, for the most part I post pictures to get a sense of whether or not images resonate with others as much as they do me, or to get a sense of whether my experiments are yielding interesting or novel results. Even when I repost “greatest hits”, it’s not merely to gain likes or followers, but to fit the earlier work into the context of the current stuff; which oldies I like & reshare changes as my sense of my own aesthetic evolves.

    Anyway, it’s good to know you are still out there, maybe following along, and definitely thinking about this stuff. I hope you do come back to social media eventually, your presence elevated it, and you’ve been missed.

    – Andrew

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