I don’t think it’s good enough to be a photographer. I think you have to be a philosopher with a camera. Otherwise you’re just shooting pretty pictures no one cares about immediately after seeing them.
A brutal truth hit me as I woke up this morning. Will anyone care about all my photos and videos?
I’ve certainly thought about this before, but today it hit me harder.
I put all this time and energy into taking photos and recording home videos. Most of it is not any kind of special production, it’s just home videos or snapshots with my smartphone. Much of it completely meaningless, like the countless product photos I shoot in the stores while walking around shopping, simply because I like the packaging or find the product fascinating. Even then, I discover that most of it is meaningless to me when I find it later on in my folders of photos on my hard drives. Sometimes it’s neat, but often it’s just mud I have to wade through to get to photos that matter. Even so, I can’t bring myself to delete any photos. It’s not in my nature.
There are two kinds of photos. Those of people and those of things. Photos of people matter most to people who know those people. For example, family members want to see pictures of other family members or friends. They don’t really care about that landscape shot you took on your vacation. Especially the ninety-seventh landscape shot you took. Doesn’t matter how pretty it is. That’s not why they are going through your photos.
On the flip side, the general public doesn’t care about the people in your photographs. Usually. I for example have no interest in seeing the wedding photos of your grandparents. Unless I’m related to them. Even then, there is a certain degree of separation that comes into play where I stop caring. For example, I would love to see a photograph of my great great great grandparents. But my parent’s cousins, I could care less about. Sure there his some relation there, but I don’t know them. At a certain point they become no more important to me than the general public. Even then, people of less relation to me might be more important to me, friends of mine or even celebrities I’ve never actually met but have had more impact on my life because of my enjoyment or their films, music, artwork, books, or products. Which on some level is weird, but true.
Which leads to the fact that the general public is going to care more about your landscape photos. Photos your family might pass by. But the public is only going to care if they are good photos, and even then, how much they care is entirely based on how much those photos move them in some way. Most photos shot, even by professionals who spend their life trying to achieve technical and artistic perfection, will never get anything more than a curiously glance on the internet. An even smaller micro percentage will be used by other people as background wallpaper on their computer screens or as clipart in powerpoint presentations. How long do those last and how much do people really care about those?
An even tinier fraction will hold some kind of meaning in the public as a whole. And usually, that’s only because people are told they should care about them.
Be honest, would you care about the Mona Lisa had you not been told since childhood that you should? I wouldn’t. I’m much more interested in da Vinci’s last supper or his technical drawings if anything. Had I been told nothing about the Mona Lisa and was presented with it in a sea of millions of other pieces of artwork, it likely would be one of the last pieces I would have picked out. It has impacted me that little.
So the reality is, who will care and what I am I doing spending all this time trying to make sure this stuff lasts? When I face the facts, I am the person that will care most about my images and videos. As time goes on, others will care less and less, and that drop-off happens pretty quickly. Already I can see that my son has less interest. Granted he’s only sixteen years old right now, so I suppose that as he gets older he’ll start to care at least a little bit more. But I don’t ever assume he’ll care about these images and videos as much as me. If he is to care about anything more, it will be HIS images and videos. That’s to be expected. At which point it becomes a question of bulk. How much do you weigh down future generations with the glut of past memories? Am I to expect my son to carry terabytes of data from my life into the future with him? Along with any he gets from his mother. Right now I do. Although I can also see how that might be unfair to him. Beyond that though, am I to expect that should he have kids one day that one of them might then carry those terabytes forward, not just of my life but then also of their parent’s life and their own? And so on down the line.
In the past there wasn’t as much to carry forward. Film and prints were expensive so there weren’t as many photographs or film strips. Maybe people had some letters or certain artifacts they passed forward. I’m not actually sure if my sisters or cousins even have anything from my grandparents, let alone their great grandparents. I know I don’t. There is a certain degree of falloff that just happened naturally as things wore out or were lost as they were passed around or moved or suffered some kind of disaster.
Even if we assume that digital storage gets smaller and cheaper over time, and that most of it moves to the cloud as some kind of free option (which we can’t assume – look at Google’s recent reversal of their free photo storage plan), we would still face the problem of excess. The idea that future generations just won’t have enough time in their own lives to wade through generations of people’s digital mud. Like all the pointless photos I shoot in stores. Even I don’t have time to go through and separate out the photos of people in those stores (like a shot of my son holding up a stuffed animal or something) from the photos of bare products on shelves that I thought were neat at the time I took them.
At a certain point we end up creating oceans of digital mud.
I’m reminded of the lyric from the song Last by one of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails.
â€œThis is not meant to last, this is for right now.â€
That concept is difficult for me to grasp. Because I’m the kind of person that is trying to make things last. I have an archival mindset and persona. The idea that things fade into non-existence scares me. It assumes a certain degree of meaninglessness long term. I want to believe that the universe remembers everything or that God records everything and safely archives it. Take your pick. It’s difficult or me to operate on the premise of right here right now. I really enjoy things in hindsight. Whether those are memories viewed through rose colored glasses or through the magic of motion or still images. Which is why I shoot so many photos and videos wherever I go. Plus it gives me something productive to do while there.
That said, I do try to enjoy myself in the moment. But I also like to know I can relive those moments later in high definition. And I want to believe that others in the future will as well. But I have to accept that they won’t. That this is not meant to last. That this is at most for MY life. Not as much for those that come after. Which means that all these photos and videos I shoot today are really just for MY tomorrow. For me to look back on as I get older. Not for my son or his potential children or so on down the line.
Hopefully something will carry on. I can only imagine what. But I also can’t count on anything. As uneasy as that makes me, I guess I should take solace in the fact that I won’t be around to care. lol