Something very interesting happened on Reddit. No, a celeb’s nude photographs were not hacked and posted, nor was a storied institution’s emails laid bare for all the world to see. The real action was on /r/photography, under a thread entitled “Discussion: What is happening to photography? This article is ridiculous”, posted by user akamustacherides .
With no exposition provided by the original poster, the title links to an article on Vice, “Stunning Photos of Small-Town Pennsylvania“, by Tara Wray. Within, Ms. Wray conducts an interview with self-taught photographer Mike Thompson, displaying his images of cities both big and small, with an emphasis on the latter. Mike, she writes, “captures the emotional highs and lows of his blue-collar community.” With the post-Trump election media’s emphasis on the plight of middle America, the article itself seems to be pretty standard, expected stuff. A little voyeurism of misery interspersed with commentary from the artist who provides us this rare glimpse? The MSM and its followers eat this stuff up like the finger foods served at their award shows and charity banquets.What really ticked off Mr. mustacherides, however, was not the piece’s lack of originality nor its exploitation of upper-class schadenfreude disguised as “pity,” but the quality (or lack thereof) of the accompanying images. As he states later in the thread, in response to poster’s confusion as to the purpose of his post: “I think it is ridiculous they are featuring [a photographer] with so little expedience, no training, isn’t doing it as a profession and they are asking him questions that he doesn’t seem to be able to answer.” Comparing the work to another photographer’s interview, he states that the work equally “screams amateurish.” My own bias aside, another poster seems to agree, stating “He’s certainly not worthy of national recognition,” and theorizing that he must be friends with the writer. More notable than these professional’s gripes towards amateurs gaining what they see as unwarranted attention–a practice common in fields from hip-hop to philosophy–is the rebuke these professionals went on to receive from the /r/photography community. Despite being ostensibly committed to good photography, as well having a consensus that “nothing here [regarding Mr. Thompson’s work in Vice] approaches technical perfection or subtlety,” the community came out strongly in defense of the work and Vice’s decision to showcase it. In the words of user GearWacz, “Mike Thompson’s photos may not be as visually pleasing as most stuff on Instagram, but there’s something way more interesting there [emphasis mine].”
Others decided not only to defend Mr. Thompson, but to criticize the very standards that akamustacherides was employing to judge his work. “I really liked this work,” writes NoNonsenseNomad, “and I find it ridiculous that people expect a photographer to have years of experience in order to command an interview in a magazine [emphasis mine].” He continues to express contempt for the “endless circle jerk of the internet” where the “best” is declared to be an objective category available only to the most in-the-know and established amongst us. None quite encapsulate this new-school response to an old-school evaluation as well as dirtyrottenshame, who writes in response to OP’s original question, “What is happening to photography,” with the response that “Things are happening in photography.”
While standards of judgment in any field are continually shifting, it seems like the photography world is facing a rupture as its products, as well as techniques and know-how, are becoming available worldwide. The question “What makes an interesting photograph?” has never been so open ended. Discussions like this one are but a symptom of that ambiguity, and they will surely continue to rage, only becoming more venomous as opinions become entrenched. It is fascinating to see this interplay at work as a community of experts and novices, in agreement over their love of good photography, hammer out just what “good” means.
On an unrelated side note, my own reaction closely resembled that of obviously-astute media observer and ultimate burn-giver RathEmpire. “Well, I mean it is vice,” he begins, “so….Kind exactly the photos I expected to see tbh [sic].”Feature Image Courtesy CloudVisual