Jonathan pointed me, thankfully, to a couple of recent posts on the Foto8 site as a starting point for our discussion. using Poppy, my new favourite book of all time, I was able to talk through why I felt it was successful as a book, as a project and as an irreplaceable piece of outstanding photojournalism. What makes something so good? And how can you or anyone even begin to contemplate doing photojournalism of this magnitude. Easy! is the answer. You just need a notepad, a camera and an inquisitive mind… listen on and hopefully you will be equally reassured of a few things that will empower you and blow the boring, self indulged, narcissistic fauxtojournalist documentary squatters off the face of this earth for good.
In the meantine here is my 2012 list of 10 19 things they didn’t want you to know about photography but are actually true*.
[everything needs editing, that includes me]
1. There is such thing as truth and yes you can pursue, find it, photograph it and report it.
2. Photojournalism is not dead, it has just been so utterly and completely bored stiff by the crap that “documentary artists” have been spouting that its been hibernating, waiting for them and their photo-fair ilk to go back to Monaco.
3. You cannot learn photography at university, you cannot use a degree to report, record or tell someone’s story. The photographers who need an MA are the ones who want to teach other photographers to get THEIR MAs . That’s not photography.
4. You can learn photography for FREE every single day of your life by taking pictures and looking at lots of them around you. If you insist on going to university make sure you have a brilliant time, make lots of friends and pay no attention to what the lecturer says about this exciting advent of new media, they are too old to understand it anyway.
5. There is no such thing as New Media, Multi Media or Transmedia. There is only photography and words. If you choose to make your photos move like a movie or your words audible like audio then great, just don’t tell people you’ve invented a new genre or hybrid hoping they will think your project is interesting.
6. If a publisher doesn’t want to publish your book then perhaps don’t publish it. If they want to charge you for the pleasure then make sure your granny has an inheritance for you first. (Its not worth it.) Self publishing is the photo book equivalent to those guys who are building the first citizen space rocket to the moon. You will have lots of lovely days costing lots of money but getting to the moon is not going to happen.
7. By all means do make a book dummy. If your photographs are ever going to be in a book then its great to know what kind of book you may want and test who you think it’s for. But remember books are not why you take photographs in the first or last place. If that is not the case for you then I suggest you write a novel instead. Yes, that’s bloody hard isn’t it? What made you think slapping some pictures on a page and calling it a book made it good?
8. Never tell anyone that your photographs should speak for themselves. They don’t! It’s a piece of paper with ink on it! It doesn’t speak. Photographs are how you can see emotions or render action or show what things are really like. Pictures without words are like a car with no steering wheel (and no, I don’t mean 3000 word soliloquies on the meaning of life and the language of photography or miniscule thumbnails at the back of the book hidden in shame at the back).
9. There are enough stories in the world already, for this generation at least, about transvestites and for that matter one legged footballers from Sierra Leone. There are not however enough stories about that person sleeping outside in -10degress or walking 20 miles to a foodbank in your town.
10 If you can put “around the world” after your story title (like transvestites around the world, poverty around the world, great images from around the world) then your story is a failure. The only people who have been “around the world” are astronauts and you are not one of them. Besides if your story is no good in England to the people here it won’t be better if you add 10 more places where the same thing happens and hope I end up liking at least one of them.
11. Magazines and newspapers do send people on assignment. There are lots of grumpy photographers, mostly hanging around art galleries groaning about how things have changed, who also feel they should be getting paid to gallivant from story to story. If they aren’t getting paid it’s because someone else is either better or more suited. Maybe they should make a self published book or take up university teaching instead?
12. No one makes a living selling prints in galleries. We all know that “1 in 20” or 1 in anything of a photo edition is a complete fabrication. The collectors know it too but their wallets are oversized and shopping for photographs suits them. If a 17th century painting of London by a good artists fetches £600 at auction you must be either joking or cheating if you price your digitally reproduced photograph at £2000 just because you scrawled your name on the back.
13. All photographers will gladly make an extra print for their friends or for the collector who comes along with the biggest wallet. Even after “the edition” has “sold out”.
14. If you shoot pictures exclusively for galleries and have decided you are “so over” working for magazines or newspapers then good luck. But do not ever expect to put documentary or photojournalism on your work as a validation of why its made if you are that selective about who is able to view it.
15. If you mention the phrase “compassion fatigue” you have already cast a spell on yourself stronger than the one that kept Sleeping Beauty snoring for 100 years. If this is your mantra for how you feel about things then I suggest you either change your name to Hilton or Kardashian or just come out of the closet and declare that suffering is an artistic philosophical concept and caring is something you only do whilst sipping your Cosmopolitan and wondering whether the global economic crash will make cashmere more or less expensive.
16. Photographers are not terrorists. Nor are writers and nor are radio or tv reporters. If they are working for Al Jazeera or Al Aqsa or the BBC or ABC the chances are they at least don’t instagram images of themselves in war zones because they think its cool. Leave that to the guy from CNN but none the less do not suspect you are better than them or visa versa. If a drama TV series like Homeland decides that a TV van is a good story cover for a bomb ignore them but do not ever let them make you that you should not be there doing your job of reporting.
17. You cannot tell stories if you are generally a content and laid back individual who is happy at the status quo. George Osborne is not a good chancellor and Barak Obama can aways do better. If you don’t believe these things then I suggest you go into accounting instead.
18. EARNING A LIVING is not a god-given right in photography. You are not owed a living wage for taking pictures. It’s a hard graft and not everyone makes it. You are however entitled in this day and age to get a job doing something else and STILL take pictures about what matters to you. You can still publish and tell your stories, maybe even more effectively.
19. People, mainly me, spend far too much time worrying about what institutions like Magnum or The Photographers’ gallery are or aren’t doing, if they are doing it well or properly or whether Paris Photo is good this year or bad and how as photographers they can manoeuvre their careers towards these clubs where the gatekeepers of good photography supposedly reside. The truth is there is a universe of diversity and talent out there, a myriad of different organisations and individuals making amazing work, reaching audiences in unbelievably effective ways, so go do it too and make your own rules.
*Thanks for a brillaint 2012 and may all your photographic dreams come true in 2013.