The biggest problem with photography is that there is too much photography. While processing a few photographs for my Unprocessed Sunday blog post series, I would like to explore the issues I have been thinking about with this medium in 2020.
The Rembrandt Research Project estimates the esteemed Dutch painter made as few as 300 original paintings. Picasso, on the other hand, may have painted as many as 13,500. The Beatles created 227 songs. Alexander Calder, famous for his sculptures and his hanging mobiles, has about 600 installations. Charles Dickens may have written as few as 15 novels, while Stephen King may have as many as 68.
I mention this, because as I look at my Lightroom catalog, I am looking at 129,000 raw files dating back 15 years. How is something considered art that is so plentiful? How can one re-calibrate so many single images into something more meaningful? The answer can’t just be to make a number of books – there has to be something more to this.
It is easy for people to quickly be condescending1 and says things like, “you shoot too much,” or, “you need to delete more images.” Some of this may be true, but even if I had just 40,000 files, that still strikes me as too much compared to our other art forms. It is easy to say, “well, you can’t compare it to other mediums.” There is some truth there, but at the same time, if I showed the 2,000 images on my website on a slideshow to an audience, I would lose their attention by about Image 70.
When A Community Becomes A Metropolis
Compounding this problem is the photographic community. It takes so much for a photograph to “wow” me, anymore. Photography is everywhere. It really feels like a chore to visit my Instagram page. I have many friends putting up quality images there. Most of them are great photographers. But how many red and orange sunsets are going to happen before the impact becomes ordinary? I see it when I critique my own work. It doesn’t feel like anything is extraordinary anymore.
Modern photography is in the middle of a gold rush. Modern DSLRs are incredibly powerful. The learning curve is vanishingly small. This has enabled millions of people to join in this art-form.
In fact, there are probably more photographers trying to sell their work than people buying it. Like Levi Strauss in 1850, the people actually making money are the people selling to photographers. Everybody goes through the phase, mainly because modern equipment makes it so easy to create “good” images right away, that they think, “I can be a professional and I will sell people my work.” But the numbers don’t work. Our hobby is, pun intended, oversaturated. If anything, these days I want to see less photography, not more.
Art thrives when a few people are making work that is patronized by a lot of people. This paradigm is completely upside-down now. Very few of the people who look at my work aren’t photographers themselves. I don’t feel I am competing with other photographers, but you can see the issue when you look at your audience.
I have had a few people insist that I am so passionate about photography that I can’t possibly consider quitting or cutting back. But the truth is, my first love was drawing, and as I got older, I really loved writing. Photography has largely come at the expense of those other hobbies. It isn’t lost on me that 4 of my last 5 blog posts were about music, not imagery. I am feeling the urge to go in a different direction.
I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I feel I am getting a lot less artful expression in doing something that everybody else seems to be doing. I am an introvert, after all. My impulses will always be to seek the field that is less crowded.
Photography can still be fun and impactful, but I am increasingly feeling more ennui when pursuing it. I can definitely see a future where I revisit my writing craft, especially my short stories and prose poetry.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a hoarder’s pile of RAW files to go through. Unprocessed Sunday could continue for years. And the pressure I put on myself for my Photo of the Month Series sometimes doesn’t feel worth it.
In this edition, I selected a single image from each year from 2010 – 2019. There were some interesting photographs that I have long ignored, but that is the point of this exercise. I will try to do another series in the next few weeks, and maybe there will be some good forgotten photographs to see the light of day.
As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the images.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.