Vanity Unfair

Every time you deal with art, feelings get in the mix. Unfortunately, also does vanity. I have seen it too many times, from seasoned professionals and teachers to instagrammers with thousands of followers. Beware of “fame”. A snob nose looks up and forgets what down to earth means.

It seems that people tend to forget where they came from. That at some point, they had a camera in their hands and didn’t even know where the shutter button was. Nobody comes out of mama’s belly with a DSLR asking the OB-GYN to lower the chin a little. Not even a sweet Polaroid or smartphone is provided to babies in the maternity ward, they can barely open their eyes to the world yet. Therefore, it is safe to say that nobody was born knowing how to take images, even less make one.

I ask for more compassion, less conceit, a little bit of humbleness from my fellow photographers who may have given in to the self-importance myth. You may have learned from your mistakes and turned into a really good picture maker, storyteller and visual artist. But that doesn’t mean that you get to decide what is right and what is wrong. Or bully and laugh at the ones still starting their journey. Of course, we know stories of masters fighting via letters and friendships ending and actually causing new strings of ideas, but what about respect? Let me time travel and mix centuries a bit. Imagine Renoir telling Picasso to leave the cubes to Euclid. Or Leo da Vinci, a master of all trades, teasing Dali, “What time is it? Never mind, your watch is melting”.

Respecting people’s styles and choices is what makes art diverse and interesting. Nobody wants to be copied, yet many devalue a style different than their own. The need for a self-proclaimed elite to set rules of conduct in art goes against its very nature: freedom of expression. I was once in an expo of photographers and experienced that stuffy nose attitude first hand:

“Where is Henry? Not coming?”

“Nah, but who cares? All he shoots is flowers.”

Laughter in the room. I still regret my awkward silence.

After all, Monet did a lot of water lilies. Just saying. My point is who gets to decide that flowers, sunsets and butterflies are not meant to be photographed anymore? Overdone? Maybe, but what isn’t? Unless you photograph snowflakes and fingerprints, completely different subjects are a rare find on a limited planet. Even people can have doppelgangers. However, each photo is a unique moment, a unique look. I bet Henry is happier shooting flowers somewhere than “socializing” in a musty conference room and minimizing someone else’s work. Plus, I have news for you: everything is overdone these days, one month in social media is all it takes. So we should just get bored and move on? What happened to the Photographer’s eye? To interpretations? To creation? To giving something your own pinch of salt?

Speaking of social media, the self-proclaimed elite escalates to a sad – yet almost funny – degree. I like humor and agree that the political correctness patrol can go too far and kill a harmless good joke. But I am talking about a pattern of making fun of the inexperienced. I wanted to follow some photography humor accounts. Some are funny and relatable, but others seem to target newbies, hobbyists and specific niches as joke material. Apparently, you are wrong if you like to shoot neon lights, take a picture of your camera, shoot with a specific brand, the list goes on… Again, who gets to decide what is right and wrong? Who is better than whom? In joke, censorship. Making fun of their own peers seems to be part of the world of some (not all) “influencers” and their “influencees”. I personally dislike this term, it actually makes me cringe a little. I know it can be used in a good way like, “my uncle was a good influence during my teen years”, but in our world scenario, it is about trying to influence someone to buy or do something. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against capitalism and as someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising, I know we live in a economic market where people target people to sell products and services, but I prefer the term I practiced in college, and in my favorite Jane Austen novel: persuasion. In my lexicon, it doesn’t completely take the power of the consumer, it tries to charm him or her, instead of focusing on your own influence. Persuade reminds me that people will always have other options, so the offer needs to step up to win. It also feels more respectful, a convincing technique that allows a certain degree of free will, a chance to disagree, to rebel, to say no.

I am not anti-trend completely. I work with Stock Photography and I am well aware that trends matter. For instance, the Pantone color of the year 2020 is 19-4052 – Classic Blue. That dark blue of the sky at dusk, reminding of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. A good name to remember when the dangers of criticism is the subject.

In this sense, I love trends because it makes art dynamic and vibrant. But that doesn’t mean you are committing a sin for shooting a subject in last year’s winner color – living coral. Or that food in rustic wooden tables images is desired one day and horrible in the next. It’s all cyclic, and some even timeless. I understand that much like in design and fashion in general, trends come and go… and come back. Yeah, you won’t probably see me in a shoulder pad blouse ever again, but I was happy doing so back then and I felt pretty. I also dream about wearing a hat and long gloves in good 50s style, but I doubt I would go grocery shopping like that, instead of my less-than-glamorous yoga pants. These are the rules, and I get it why they exist – for dynamic range and evolving purposes. And that happens with visual arts also. But the degree of judgment is just too harsh.

The vanity of demeaning others is a classic study in Psychology: the perspective of lowering others to stand taller. A constant need to rise to the top, many times caused by low self-esteem or questioning of one’s own abilities. You will not see, I hope, an adult mocking or intimidating a baby because he or she can’t talk or walk yet. Adults are secure in their abilities and usually give the child kind reassurance. As a teacher, I try to be very aware that I am dealing with human beings who chose my course to learn and improve their photography. Even though my job is to point mistakes and offer choices that can lead to better outcomes, I keep in mind that I am not a goddess or a judge. Most importantly, many times I learn something from them too.

Shoot what you want. Don’t worry if you be ridiculed, if that is overdone, if it is not “in”. The only thing that needs to be “in” is your desire to translate what your eyes see through your lenses. Expressing yourself is not an experience that someone else can control. Only you. Trust me, chances are, others will recognize their own emotions in your image and will like it. Nobody owns the truth. Empathy matters more than influence. Let’s cheer each other up and celebrate the fact that Photography is a passion many people have embraced throughout history. It is something we share, a memory maker, time stopping magic that can unite us, if we only allow it.

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