*stretches* *sips beer* *cracks knuckles*
stares at blinking cursor
Yeesh, getting back into this writing thing is hard.
I haven’t posted something on this site since November, 2018. I started calculating how many days it’s been but got too embarrassed and stopped. Somehow the detail of knowing the exact number of days would make it that much worse.
What’s even sadder is that the last thing I posted wasn’t even of work completed in 2018 – it was a long-overdue series of photos I took in New Zealand in 2017! And the series prior to that was also taken in 2017…and the series prior to that was taken in early 2018. So I haven’t posted any work I’ve produced in the last year and a half.
It’s not that I’ve been shooting less than in prior years (well, there’s been a little dip since I started shooting film since each shutter click is $ spent, and that mentality seems to bleed over to digital shooting as well). I just haven’t been sharing as much.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to share less. It just kinda happened. And even now, after a year and a half of quarantining my work and lubricated by a Belgian ale, I can’t quite put my finger on why. I do have an inkling, though, a suspicion that’s been nagging at me that I’ve been – if I’m being honest with myself – deliberately ignoring.
It’s this: I don’t know if I really care about sharing my work any more.
I used to care. I used to enjoy the little boost of energy every time someone liked a photo I posted on Instagram (I even hashtagged the stuff you hashtag when you want your hashtags to drive content and make you an #influencer). I used to thrive on the rare (non-bot) comments of encouragement. I used to be pleasantly shocked when those comments appeared to be genuine and not desperate appeals for tit-for-tat dopamine hits. I used to use those little hits to fuel my next photo adventure (and subsequent photo post).
It also went deeper than that. I used to think that it was something of a duty for the artist to share their work (putting myself in the artist category still seems so presumptuous…I’m really just a guy who’s playing at being an artist), so I shared my work. I used to think that there was an outside chance that someone Out There would be moved in a positive way by a little something I said or photographed, and that would be worth all the effort that went into posting consistently.
Now I’m not so sure. I’m increasingly conscious of stories of artists and, well, workers, who produce at high levels simply by avoiding the nonsense of the public sphere (in our era, this means staying off social media). I’ve probably done more deliberate practice in the past year and a half of not posting work than I did in all the years of photography leading up to that point where I just fizzled out on the Internet. Which seems like a good thing.
Yet I’m not sure I’m actually a better photographer today than I was a couple years ago. I recently heard a story of a college photography professor who split his students up into a two groups on the first day of the semester. One group was to be graded on the quantity of the photographs they produced. Quality was irrelevant, all that mattered was the sheer number of images produced. The second group was to be graded instead on the quality of a single image. At the end of the semester, all the best photos were from the group that was essentially asked to ignore quality and instead focus on churning out any old photograph. You see, as these students shot more and more and more than they thought they could stomach, they inevitably got better and almost couldn’t help but produce better work. The other students who were so caught up in producing a single portfolio image never failed enough to succeed. They were too scared to move.
This isn’t a perfect analogy – as I mentioned earlier, I’m not shooting too much less than I did a few years ago. But the story resonated with me because it reminded me that a key part of progress is failure. When I stopped posting, I stopped critically reviewing my images because there was no risk of showing a terrible photo to the world. I stopped assessing whether I was failing as a photographer or stumbling upon progress.
So I’ve resolved to start posting again (at least, I think I have…ugh, no, I shouldn’t back out now…I’m definitely going to start posting again). But the tricky thing is that by posting again I’m going to be once again susceptible to the feedback from the Internet. If this were real people with real people feedback, this would be ok. But it’s not…it’s a mixture of bots and tit-for-tat likers (and, on occasion, a real people). So I need to find a way to share my work as a catalyst for my own self-reflection on my work (and the occasional real people feedback) without getting sucked into that dopamine spiral and start hashtagging my hashtags.
Maybe I’ll stop hashtagging anything! Maybe I’ll deliberately post bad photos every once in a while to establish a baseline for the faux-positive feedback. Maybe I can find a way to disable likes altogether. Maybe I’ll just turn off notifications and meditate instead.
However I go about it, I’ll do something. Which means I’m going to start putting some work Out There again. Let’s see what happens.