Parr on flickr

_barb_ 1:04pm, 8 November 2008
The photographer Martin Parr on finding your own voice in photography and how that relates to passion in subject matter and photographic processes.

"On the vernacular front, thumbs up most times, the reason, because these photos have a job to do, sell something, illustrate a building, show a loved family on a beach etc. Why does this often succeed, because the authors were not trying to be great photographers.
This is the undoing of so much Flickr work, the authors, by the very nature of joining, demonstrate the fact that they want to be seen as photographers, and this dear reader, is often their downfall.
They forget that successful work is born of a passion for the subject and not a passion about being a photographer. "

"I also would say that a lot of the work on Flickr is generic. It looks quite modern, because you lot are aware of trends and the language of contemporary photography. ( This is especailly the case on this sub site) But I cannot recall seeing a set of work that would make a stunning book.
Before you all bite my head off and tell me that you are all geniuses, you have to remember that there are over 1000 books of new work published every year and most of these tend to disappear after publication.The quality of this published work is high, but it is difficult to achieve the uniqueness that will assure you of a place in photo history.
It is a tough world out there, and I think that Flickr has a great contribution to make, but still feel it is unlikely that the next big photo star will come from this source. "

"Of course I could trawl Flickr and find many outstanding images, but I am referring to the huge numbers of bland images which are in the majority. Every time I get involved in any photo competition , it is nearly always filled with tired images. Remember most people take cliches, because they believe they are connecting with good photography by replicating an image they know already.
If you go to a specialized book shop on photography and look through the recently published books, the quality will be a lot higher, but most of them will appear familiar, because these too are generic. It is very difficult to find an original voice in photography, and even you would not expect the millions of Flickr users to achieve this."

more: Parr mp3, from a talk of the “We are all Photographers Now” show put on by The Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Does this ring true? Are people on flickr infatuated with the idea of seeing themselves as photographers so much so that they forget to take an interest in their subject matter, and end up producing tired and cliched looking images?

Is it possible to take photos of subject matter that you have little interest in, but where you suspect it might make for a good shot? And will that indeed produce a meaningful photo, maybe with the help of flash gear and clever post processing?

Or maybe an image that is decorative only isn't a bad thing at all, and being expected to be individual with your photography is a pompous elitist concept?
mugley 10 years ago
Boring old fart.
ziz 10 years ago
yeah its true, but the criticism is as generic as the photography he is critiquing.

same applies to any photography, the level of pro-ness isnt really relevant.

But he is right in that much of flickr has no regard to working on collections, and even most of the people that use sets to a great extent arent thinking in terms of publishing or exhibiting a collection... but people dont need to think that way anymore, so there's a bit of ignorance about the way technology has evolved.

There's blandness everywhere, even in magnum.
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
Round about the time the Genius of Photography showed here I corresponded with him via a few emails. I found him pretty arrogant and blinkered.

That Icelandic Rebecca chick got discovered on flickr.

What about redbubble as well? That has a slightly different vibe, because some people get carried away with thinking they'll sell lots of stuff (because it has the sales options).
_barb_ Posted 10 years ago. Edited by _barb_ (admin) 10 years ago
Yeah he mentiones Rebekka in the mp3, forgetting her name, and how she snatched a contract for a Toyota advertising campaign from some big name photographer.
I think she would fall into the genre of commercial or "propaganda" photography as he calls it. (ie photography designed to promote an idealized or unrealistically beautified view on things.)

I was more interested in his thoughts about how someone can find his or her own style or language in photography. Having said that, Rebekka has definately got a style of her own, if in a kind of sentimental way.
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
"Afterall, surely everybody has the right to produce crap art."

That's a very good point.

I was rereading Barb's initial post and this quote by Parr stood out for me:

"They forget that successful work is born of a passion for the subject and not a passion about being a photographer."

I'm inclined to disagree, because 'successful work' or becoming a successful and/or recognised artist/photographer is about so much more than the work- it's about brown nosing, knowing the right people and being embedded in arts scenes, speaking the right language, thinking the right thoughts, doing the right art at the right time etc...
A recognised/successful artist is never an individual.
flyingdocphotos 10 years ago
Did somebody say "magnums" .... mmmm , icecream.
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
When I was in Egypt, going down the Nile in our eco friendly boat (with no ice cream in the freezers) we went past these massive love boat like ships with Movenpick emblazoned on the sides:

It was torture.
Archiver 10 years ago
That Rebecca does some lovely work. Thanks for the link, barb.
hospitable pan [deleted] 10 years ago
Had a look at the Moevenpick site.
They ask ...IS IT AN ART OR IS IT A SKILL..?
Could talk about that for years.
Thanks for the link Barb,generic or artistic or technically perfect, or a combination of all?Will listen to him again.
thoughtfactory Posted 10 years ago. Edited by thoughtfactory (member) 10 years ago
Presumably Parr gave a talk in association with the We are all Photographers Now exhibition put on by the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne. Switzerland

It's an exhibition exploring the way the amateur and the professional have represented distinct and often contrary approaches to photography, each battling for supremacy. It asks: Has the digital revolution tilted the field of battle irrevocably in the amateur’s favour? Or has it swept this traditional rivalry into the dustbin? Presumably Martin Parr was bought in to contribute to the debate. He speaks from the artistic professional perspective.

As blogs are changing the media, digital amateur photography (work shown on Flickr whether it is produced through film or digitally) is changing the way professional photography---both commercial and artistic---is practised. The old duality is changing and the categories of 'amateur' and 'professional' are being undermined. What lies in the middle? Most amateur work as exhibited on Flickr is pretty poor---kitsch as judged in the language of a modernist aesthetics--and I include my work in that judgement.

Roger Scruton, the conservative art critic wrote:
Kitsch therefore relies on codes and clichés that convert the higher emotions into a pre-digested and trouble-free form—the form that can be most easily pretended. Like processed food, kitsch avoids everything in the organism that asks for moral energy and so passes from junk to crap without an intervening spell of nourishment.

Conservative yes---but true nevertheless.

Though amateur digital photography is developing its own aesthetic that is different from the modernist one ---the work produced is hardly avant garde in the sense of being critical of the practices of photography or changing photographic language.

Parr is dead right. That should be the starting point of the debate of where we are trying to take photography.

We are learning how to be photographers in a new way as we develop our own language and create our projects in a post modern world where the old cliches of representing reality have been dumped. Many of us cling to the old modernist aesthetic understanding of photography as we recycle the cliches of past images, and work within old romantic and modernist understandings of the photographer artist.

Shouldn't we talking abut what we are trying to with our photography?

This is cross posted at junk for code with revisions.
ziz Posted 10 years ago. Edited by ziz (admin) 10 years ago
Shouldn't we talking abut what we are trying to with our photography?

perhaps we should be dancing about it, no we dont have to talk about it, we dont have to understand it, we dont even have to like it. It's photography

His argument comes down to the fact that there are more people shooting today than ever before, and due to other technology there are more people doing something with those shots that make it possible for you to see them. So therefore you are more likely to see crap photos today than at any other time in history.

HCB's darkroom trash can probably had a lot of stinkers in it too, probably some cat pics and maybe even a camera toss. He probably also took inspiration and tried to emulate works he saw in a gallery. what's the difference?

Flickr is no more a body of work than a phone book is literature, you cant comment on it collectively.
@fotodudenz 10 years ago
I would have to admit, most of the content on Flickr is just crap, just look at explore on any given day. Sure, I get a little excited when one of mine is up there, but, you know, I'm not a big flower, pet or baby photographer so I consider it a small victory, but you know what, you've got a better chance of seeing something good on Flickr than you do in the real world.

I have spent most of my working life in photo labs, professional, semi-professional and 1 hour and I would shudder to think how many photos I have looked at. In that time I can honestly say I have only seen a dozen or so shots that have made me go "wow" and impressed me enough to actually tell the customer that I like it and it's usually from the people who aren't trying, people who are just shooting away on holiday at everything and they just happen to be in the right place and the right time. Actually a girl I used to work with actually produced a book of photos that she had spotted and liked going through the lab she worked at, with the customer's permission of course, it was interesting to say the least but she did have peculiar taste in photography.

Which brings me onto my next paragraph.

I think with photography, like anything, after a lot of exposure (that pun was unintentional) you get immune to it's effects. If I see something I like I usually look through that person's stream, if I like I will favourite it, if I really like it I will comment on it (but I will also comment if there is an interesting dialogue going on or I want to ask the photographer something or I want to be a smart-arse) if there are a few images that I like I will add them as a contact and if there are heaps of photos that I like I will add them as a friend. None of us hit sixes all of the time and if we did that would make Flickr a (more) boring place.

Flickr, among contacts and friends is not necessarily a small community but it is a close one and really I enjoy watching everyone influence each other. We pick up one another's styles and techniques, but quite often only the best bits and adapt them to suit ourselves. We check out each other's gear and fantasise about what sort of images we could take on it but quite often the reality of the bank balance sets in. And in a community like the Melbourne group, we can scout the city for places where we want to shoot, all from the comfort of home.

And on being a photographer, I consider myself a photographer and I consider the images that I am shooting now to be an investment into my retirement. I don't necessarily think that I am going to get rich selling B&W panoramas of street scenes, but who knows, but I have often thought about one day knocking Ken Duncan off his pedestal. Traveling around Australia and beyond in a camper van taking panoramas of sunsets and landscape scenes, to me, sounds like a nice way to live. Also I noticed yesterday that he is setting up another shop up by the new Southern Star Observation Wheel, smart move Ken, follow the money.
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
You have to get a camper van you can stand on the roof with a tripod and look majestic.

Only Ken Duncan? What about Peter?
kirky101 10 years ago
I think the point Parr is making is a little odd. From that section he sounds as if he's saying all flickrers want to call themselves photographers by default. I'm not sure this is the case.

Relate it to sport. If I play soccer in the park, do i think that I am then a pro soccer player? Do I assume that everyone else thinks that i am a soccer player and will then forever say "there goes Kirky, the soccer player"? No. I'm just a girl running around the park like a loony with my mates having fun. Some of my shots might warrant watching, but on the whole my soccer skills are bland, generic and seen before.

Why then, if I'm running round the park like a loony taking photos, would someone assume that I thought i was a photographer?

I love the huge amount of crap work on flickr. It pushes me to try something different. If you're one of only 10 photographers in the world, I can almost guarantee you won't push yourself too far. When you're one of 10000000, you have to if you want to be noticed. You'll try something different (like shoving a beautiful girls head in a jet engine!). Failing that, you'll take my line and take photo's cause its fun. Post them to show my mates around the world what my little cosmos is doing.

And no, I don't take a particular interest in my subject matter, i take an interest in light and colour. I don't care what the photo is of as long as it's bright and shiny. Shoot me.

So there you go, i talked about what i am trying to do with my snaps. Am I now a photographer? Where's my dance...
mugley 10 years ago
At least on Flickr you can actually navigate between photos without too much interference from the interface, rather than battle the headache-inducing wallpaper and clunky flash on MP's site.
nutritious play [deleted] 10 years ago
"They forget that successful work is born of a passion for the subject and not a passion about being a photographer."

What rubbish, I know my own work is good and it is difficult to care about it being successful or not. Success for me is getting 'that shot' and having it on my wall for me to look at.

Half of Flickr is people basking in the appraisal of others and seeking recognition of their own work because they can't decide for themselves whether it actually any good or not.
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
I was going to say Matt- forget about all those expensive Panorama cams, you just need a Diana+ with wideangle lens.
thoughtfactory Posted 10 years ago. Edited by thoughtfactory (member) 10 years ago
The exhibition We are All photographers now has an unofficial Flickr group and a blog. There is interesting material on the latter, for those interested in commentary on what they call the new photography--photography after the digital revolution.

They say that there seems to be a hunger for an understanding of the significance of this revolution.
silvermiketrate Posted 10 years ago. Edited by silvermiketrate (member) 10 years ago
Hmmm, most people on the street these days aren't into revolutions.

Edit: they do like Che Guevera T shirts though.
thoughtfactory Posted 10 years ago. Edited by thoughtfactory (member) 10 years ago
evolution (slow change) then for those who come from the South Island of NZ?
nutritious play [deleted] 10 years ago
Nothing wrong with Zealand, eh bro?
silvermiketrate 10 years ago
True, AU is faster paced with it's shopping malls, recreational 4WDs and McMansions like it's big brother it aspires to become- the US.

But seriously, my point was the only people hungering for an understanding of the significance of this revolution are .... a very small (self) selected group of people. It's an academic hunger (that's not a compliment either).
@fotodudenz 10 years ago
_barb_ Posted 10 years ago. Edited by _barb_ (admin) 10 years ago
thanks Matt!

I put this one up not because I think Parr is proclaiming some sort of unshakable truth, this is just his own personal take on things. I was hoping it might be a good starting point for a discussion, and people could then take it any way they wished to, hopefully with some personal experience and thoughts thrown in.

ziz is right of course, it's impossible to make blanket statements about flickr. flickr is about its niche groups as much as it is about the mainstream, and there are lots of quiet photostreams that can only be found by accident.
In fact, it's impossible to survey flickr completely for any style or genre.

kirky101, I think light and colours are just as good a subject matter as any other, and there's lots of excellent abstract photography around that uses nothing else. 10 years ago
For what it's worth, really excellent kitsch is extremely difficult to do.
@fotodudenz 10 years ago
They're still going on about it on Martin Parr WE ♥ U
MxxxxM 10 years ago
Although no one can deny art is subjective, I don 's think Parr is talking about his personal taste in photography.
When you see a peice of art that is brilliant, whether you like it or not, you will know that it is brilliant.
My own personal taste in photography is very classic black and white 35mm social doc stuff. Images of architecture and fashion usually do nothing for me. But I can still look at someone like Andreas Gurskey and appreciate that he is a genius. Or look at Parr's work and know that, though I might not covet it to hang on my wall like I do other Magnum snappers, it is undeniably pretty incredible.

That being said I do object to Parr's idea of an orginal voice though. That has weakened the rest of his point as he comes across as one of the old guard who belives that all things in photography hasveall been done before and is therefore somehow cheapened by all of us simply recylcling what he and others before us have done. That defeatest sort of attitude has come with the commercialisation of all art- everyone is looking for the next big thing and as long as it's original we can ignore that it has little artistic merit. I don't buy into that at all
_barb_ Posted 10 years ago. Edited by _barb_ (admin) 10 years ago
If you look at photography in everday life, advertising, magazines, pictures on products etc, the standard is indeed incredibly low and these images become very tedious over time. It would be possible to come up with more original ideas in these areas and not rehash the old crap over and over.
All these photos have been taken by professional photographers who specialize in being glossy and boring. (Supplying their clients of course.)
I think a call for more originality is very valid in the commercial realm.

In the arty sphere I often wish for more uniqueness too. A lot of things are genre pieces with the artist trying to fit as best into that genre as possible. It often looks as if they are scared of deviating even a bit and always trying to fulfill people's expectations.
A look through a suburban bookstore of their photo books and calendars is usually full with more of the same.

I already know what the cliches look like, I'm much more interested in how an individual person sees and re-interprets something, that is so much more interesting. It doesn't matter so much if someone else somewhere has already done it, that is almost unavoidable, and it shouldn't stop someone in trying to develop their take on things. It's all a matter of degrees.
I often wish that too looking through, say the explore pages of flickr, where many people adopt that slick but bland look of professional/commercial photography. Artistic merit there really goes out of the window in favour of crowd pleasing.

As far as high end art photography is concerned, it's a tiny and specialized area and not one I'm terribly interested in, since I look at it very rarely compared to all other photography.
Shambrick 10 years ago
There's a journey the we take when we learn something:
Unconscoiously unskilled, consciously unskilled, consciously skilled, then unconsciously skilled.

If you go all the way through that you will get from "I don't know what I don't know" to "I do it without thinking"

Thatks what flickr is to me - a place where I have first been made aware of what I don't know and what I want to learn. Then it has helped me to learn the techniques I have seen. Some of those are now becoming second nature. It is an amazing resource if you are passionate about improving your photographic ability and sensibility.

Yep, some of the shots I said "wow!" to are unoriginal and kitsch in the global sense, but not the first time I saw them.and one day, when I am unconsciously skilled and all that technical background stuff is second natre, I will be able to spend my time on the message, creative intent, original thought andn I don't know, maybe hand colouring with a solution of DNA from the patagonian toothfish...
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