Who do I take pictures for?

When I began to train in photography 30 years ago, in Buenos Aires, one of the almost obligatory steps was to belong to a photography club. In addition to technical training, attendance at workshops and group outings, competitions were also a motivation to continue growing. With each contest, through a scoring system, one was raising his category as a photographer.

After a few years and getting some degrees at the institution, I began to notice some unconscious changes in my way of taking pictures. Institutions of many years with established teachers have very strict guidelines in relation to composition and themes, where we locate the subject or where we bring the point of attention in relation to the concept of composition regardless of the theme addressed in the photography.

In each contest, there is a set of juries, the judges who decide whether the photograph is accepted or not. And knowing the jurors, one knew which photograph had a chance of winning. And there the dilemma, do we take photography for ourselves or for others? Always approaching the subject from a personal and creative point of view, since, when photography becomes work, we are bound by the demands of the client, the product or the subject.

“And there the dilemma, do we take photography for ourselves or for others?”

But at what point do we stop being creative or doing what we really like, just to win or please? At that moment, a key moment, I left the photo group, which opened my eyes to another type of photography. Obviously, I am not referring to stop studying or following the masters, I am referring to stopping orienting our creative photographic work in relation to the opinions of biased audiences.

I made an exhibition about the birth of my son, who was born with respiratory problems and led us to live very difficult moments that photography helped me overcome. The most relevant comments of the photo group were focused on colour tones, and not on the difficult moments that I wanted to show, which caused me a great disappointment since the exhibition was not technical, but rather a reflection of a very complicated moment that I spent with my family.

From that moment on, I left social activities and focused on developing my personal vision and studying hard without being influenced by institutional guidelines. And above all, take advantage of being an amateur, by not having to take photos to live, dedicating myself to the subjects that I like.

Everything was going great, until a few years ago social networks burst into the world of photography. The possibilities for learning and nourish from various photographers were endless. But a few months ago I unconsciously began to ask myself the same thing as I did some years ago: Who do I take pictures for?

My favourite subjects are portraits, motorcycles, and street photography. I only use Instagram to spread my photos. The likes were, without realizing it, the ones that were outlining my feed. It’s incredible how the same thing happened to me 25 years ago in the photographic club, but now almost without realizing it.

I stopped uploading street photos because the likes were less than in the photos of motorcycles, and even worse, a particular brand of motorcycles has more likes than another. I was modifying my way of showing photos by likes. Many photographs are relegated to the hard disk because they don’t have a prediction of good results on Instagram.

Without attempting a deep analysis of the subject, I just want to share my experience. In summary, from now on, I made the determination to only follow references and magazines with a broad vision of photography, and post photos without thinking about the result, uploading only what my mood dictates.

“From now on, I made the determination to post photos without thinking about the result, only uploading what my mood dictates.”

It’s incredible how, being free, we take care of losing the freedom to show, for having more repercussion. I cannot imagine the damage that this produces when one replicates it in the field of daily life, as a reference or stimulus for our behaviours in relation to other people.

It is difficult to find the balance between learning and letting ourselves be influenced by the way we photograph just by repercussion. Maintaining the personality of the photographs, without letting the way we edit or the fashionable tones modify our way of expressing ourselves, making us lose personality and be one more that follows a sterile mass of reference.

For my peace of mind, this not only happens in photography, but the same also happens in the world of motorcycles. Each year one sees how the owners modify their motorcycles following a fashion pattern, and makes us find variants of uniform customizations per season and depersonalized.

Fashion, belonging, liking, having in relation to someone, makes life less free and conflictive, as long as we pay attention to social networks. I am grateful for having spent my childhood and adolescence without social networks.

Marcelo

“I am grateful for having spent my childhood and adolescence without social networks”

Spanish:

¿Para quién tomo fotografías?

Cuando comencé a formarme en fotografía hace 30 años atrás, en Buenos Aires, uno de los pasos casi obligados era pertenecer a un club de fotografía. Además de la formación técnica, asistencia a talleres y salidas colectivas, también los concursos son una motivación para seguir creciendo. Cada concurso, a través de un sistema de puntaje, uno va elevando su categoría como fotógrafo. Después de algunos años y llegar a obtener algunos títulos en la institución, comencé notar algunos cambios inconscientes en mi forma de tomar fotografías. Las instituciones de muchos años con maestros consagrados tienen lineamientos muy estrictos en relación a la composición y temas, donde ubicamos al sujeto o donde llevamos el punto de atención en relación al concepto de composición independientemente del tema abordado en la fotografía. En cada concurso hay un conjunto de jurados, los jueces que juzgan si la fotografía es aceptada o no, conociendo a los jurados uno sabía que fotografía tenía posibilidades de ganar. Y ahí el dilema, ¿Hacemos fotografía para nosotros o para los demás?. Siempre abordando el tema desde el punto de vista personal y creativo, ya que cuando la fotografía es laboral, estamos ceñidos por las exigencias del cliente, el producto o el tema.

Pero ¿En qué punto dejamos de ser creativos o hacer lo que realmente nos gusta, solo para ganar o agradar? En ese momento, un momento clave, abandone el foto grupo, que me abrió los ojos a otro tipo de fotografía. Obviamente no me refiero a no estudiar o seguir a maestros, me refiero a dejar de orientar el trabajo fotográfico creativo en relación a las opiniones de públicos cesgados. Realicé una exposición sobre el nacimiento de mi hijo que nació con problemas respiratorios y nos llevó a vivir momentos muy difíciles que la fotografía me ayudó a superar, los comentarios mas relevantes de los referentes del foto grupo estaban enfocados a los tonos de color y no al momento difícil que quería mostrar, lo que me causó una decepción muy grande, ya que la exposición no era de técnica, sino era el reflejo de un momento muy complicado que pasé con mi familia.

A partir de ese momento, dejé las actividades sociales y me enfoqué a desarrollar mi visión personal y estudiar mucho sin dejarme influenciar por lineamientos de instituciones. Y sobre todo aprovechar la ventaja de ser aficionado, al no tener que tomar fotos para vivir, dedicarme a los temas que me gustan. Todo venía de maravilla, hasta que unos años atrás irrumpen las redes sociales en el mundo de la fotografía. Las posibilidades de aprender y de nutrirse de diversos fotógrafos es infinita. Pero hace unos meses inconscientemente me comencé a preguntar lo mismo que hace unos años atrás: ¿Para quién tomo fotografías?

Mis temas favoritos son los retratos, las motocicletas y la fotografía de calle. Solo uso Instagram para difundir mis fotos. Los likes fueron, sin darme cuenta, los que fueron delineando mi feed. Es increíble como me pasó lo mismo que hace 25 años atrás en el club fotográfico, pero ahora casi sin darme cuenta. Dejé de subir fotos de calle porque los likes eran menos que una foto de motocicletas, y peor aún, una marca en particular de motos tiene más likes que otra. Mal, fui modificando mi forma de mostrar fotografías por likes. Muchas fotografías quedan relegadas a el disco rígido por no tener pronóstico de buenos resultados en instagram.

Sin pretender un análisis profundo del tema, solo quiero compartir mi experiencia. En resumen, de ahora en más, tomé la determinación de seguir sólamente referentes y magazines con una visión amplia de la fotografía y postear fotografías sin pensar en el resultado, solo subir lo que mi estado de ánimo determina.

Es increíble como siendo libres, nos encargamos de perder la libertad de mostrar por tener más repercusión, no me imagino el daño que ello produce cuando uno lo replica en el ámbito de la vida diaria, como referencia o estímulo para nuestras conductas en relación a las demás personas. Es difícil encontrar el equilibrio entre aprender y dejarnos influenciar la forma de fotografiar solo por repercusión. Mantener la personalidad de las fotografías, sin dejar que la forma de editar o los tonos de moda nos modifique nuestra forma de expresarnos, haciéndonos perder personalidad y ser uno más que sigue a una masa de referencia estéril.

Para mi tranquilidad espiritual, no solo ocurre en la fotografía, lo mismo ocurre en el ambiente de las motocicletas, cada año uno ve como los dueños modifican sus motos siguiendo un patrón de moda, y hace que por temporada nos encontremos con variantes de personalizaciones uniformes y despersonalizadas. La moda, pertenecer, gustar, tener en relación a alguien, hace la vida menos libre y conflictiva, siempre que prestemos atención a las redes sociales. Agradezco haber pasado mi niñez y adolescencia sin redes sociales.

Marcelo

"Marcelo Esperon (aka Marcelo de Coghlan on social networks) Family man, dentist, motorcyclist, amateur documentary and portrait photographer. I was born in Buenos Aires City - Argentina, in 1970 and living in Coghlan, a small neighborhood. I am married to Ale, a very patient wife, and I am a very proud father of two sons. I’m a dentist, my hobby is photography, and my way of relaxing is riding motorcycles. I love the three activities, but the combination of the last two is amazing. I also love street photography, love walking with a camera in hand. I began with photography 30 years ago."

11 Comments

  1. My friend, social media are a trap, cleverly designed, down to the smallest detail. And we all fall into that trap at a certain point. The first step is to recognize that our work may be heavily conditioned by this expectation of approval, from people we don’t even know. Thank you for this wake-up call.
    All the best for you, and of course, for Oli too 🙂

  2. When I watched the documentary on Vivian Maier, the people I watched it with were shocked by how she could shoot such a large volume of work unseen until her property was acquired after her death. I sat quietly, knowing that I had a large walk in closet filled top to bottom with slides, negatives and prints, mostly unseen for decades.

    In my film days, my wife kept asking, “what are you going to do with all of these pictures?” Mostly, I’d look at them a few times, maybe build some slide show carousels, then into the closet.

    Now, I’m single and I keep wondering who will find my photos when I’m gone. Maybe they will go directly into the trash and it will be as if they never existed.

    In answer to your question of who I take pictures for? I should have answered that 50 years ago.

    1. Albert, currently I must have more than 20 undeveloped rolls inside the drawer. I know that eventually, I will end up developing those rolls and perhaps making a few prints as well. But at least, 50% of the pleasure consisted of framing, focusing, and clicking on the shutter button, knowing that I had gotten that photo. For me, not for anyone else.
      Photography is a hobby, but also a therapy, and above all something that gives us immense pleasure. Whenever I take my long walks on foggy mornings, I take the camera with me. I have a lot of fun taking a few breaks along the way to grab my camera, frame and shoot. If it didn’t have an SD card inside, I would probably have the same pleasure. Well, now I’m almost questioning the higher purpose of photography, but you get my point, don’t you?
      I love photography books and prints, and once in a while, I print some of my photos as well. This happened even before Instagram existed, and hopefully, will continue to happen even when Instagram ends. Everything ends one day, right?
      So, regarding your slide collection, I’m sure that 99% of the fun has already happened. They had a meaningful purpose. The other 1% would be to project them on the wall of your living room, either just for you to see, or with someone else watching.
      Take care, and have a great weekend!

      https://www.hugopinho.com/blog/2020/beauty-vs-memories

      1. Hugo, thanks for the comments. I agree… I shoot because I enjoy it. I love the problem solving, finding the subject within the clutter, shooting something that hundreds of people have walked by without seeing.

        While I’m out, I often have people that see me shooting ask me where they can see my work. I’m on no social media and rarely does anyone but me see what I shoot. The reaction is that I’m suddenly not really a photographer. I just never jumped on the “see me, love me, give me a like!” Thing.

        If a tree falls and nobody hears it…

  3. I loved to read your words. I hope your son is fine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your experience. Maybe this can be the good side of social. And I liked very much that you did not act as a teacher or the guy with experience and better than others. You inspired me with your pics and with your “pen”. Light for eyes and food for mind. Great job. Thanks. Lucio, from Italy

      1. Happy to read this. This is great!!! Thanks for your two kind reply messages. I hope to read soon your next suggestions and experiences here on FXP.

  4. I really appreciate your comment! Thank you for the support! And you’re right, this side of social media makes the whole experience totally worth it!
    Thanks!

  5. Wow, are you me? I’ve been struggling with this exact question for a few weeks now. It’s become painfully clear just how much of my work and uploading is done to please that invisible, fickle audience that is the social media universe.

    Somehow, we artists get trapped in thinking their validation means we’re good, even when we know better. But I think it’s also only natural to want to show our work off. Perhaps the way out of the trap is doing what you (and I) are doing: remembering that we create for ourselves. And choosing to share all of us instead of what we think people will like best.

    As a documentary photographer, I get the most “likes” from stuff that validates people’s worldview. But when I show the other side of a scene I get little to nothing…Or even anger from armchair critics who hate that side of the story! But I think we need to keep doing it; it reminds us of how fickle my audience can be. And it helps us find the folks who appreciate EVERYTHING we create!

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