Wednesday, December 18, 2013


We are novelty-seeking animals. New things stimulate us in ways that familiar things do not. Conversely, familiar things stimulate us in ways that new things do not. For reasons I do not pretend to understand, this novelty seeking is what powers the internet, the world wide web. Web sites do not remain static, providing a comfortable and familiar experience. Web sites are constantly updating, changing, replacing old content with new. It is this property, we have determined, that makes web sites "sticky".

A sticky web site keeps us coming back, and it keeps us hitting Refresh or whatever the relevant button is. This keeps us present, and allows us to look at more ads, and that is what makes the web go 'round.

I've written some stuff on how getting people to generate new content for one another on your web site is far and away the cheapest and most successful way to produce this constant stream of new content. See also social networking. There seems to me to be a bigger issue here, though.

As photography went digital, it found a natural connection to this digital network. As that network converged rapidly on a newest-first display model, with a constant stream of new content, so changed photography. This is the source of our new relationship with pictures. Our relationship with pictures is this ephemeral thing, this relationship in which we glance at new pictures briskly, seeing them largely in terms of other pictures we have seen rather than as themselves.

This is in stark contrast to the old model in which pictures were more or less permanent, they were static. Our relationship with them was centered around sameness, nostalgia, the moment of the past frozen forever on the print. Pictures used to tickle those other pathways to pleasure: the permanent, the familiar, the old. Now pictures work quite the other way around, they are yet another source of the new, the novel, but not too novel, not too new. They're familiar faces, familiar tropes, familiar arrangements of shape and light, but in a new picture. Now we want our pictures to be, always, a new version of the same old thing. Our friends at a new party. A different, new, sunset, rendered in more or less the same way.

I hate this so much.

People don't look at pictures. Try putting up pictures for critique in some online venue for critique. Pay attention. You will, quite likely, notice after a while that some people are quite literally not seeing your picture. They're seeing a bunch of similar pictures in their memory, and noticing only that yours is darker, or lighter, or greener, and softer. Then they will offer critique reading, in toto: "too dark", "too light", "too green", or "too soft". Part of this is simple inattention and laziness, but I feel sure that at least part of this is that we're training ourselves not to look. Each picture is merely a trivial point in a larger river of imagery washing over us, and is to be seen and understood only as a sample of a much larger collection of similar things.

Opt out. Make pictures and portfolios for permanence, for nostalgia.

That's what I'm doing, anyways.

1 comment:

  1. Opting out is sanity. The artists I first met in the 70's were a community of multi faceted cultural throwbacks that exuded traditional skills who produced daily their artistic lives with food, music, festival. Those are the people in National Geographic we swoon over for their colors. There is no sanity is striving to be relevant to the market unless you live a charmed life and all of it seems to fall together without neurosis.