Photography has been commoditized from its inception. As a photographer and artist choosing to work in the medium, I accept this. I understand in our contemporary and Internet societies the trading and sharing of images rarely results in the original receiving credit or the artist being paid. Walter Benjamin foretold of the day in which we inhabit in his essay published in 1936, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
“…when, multiple low-cost reproductions of a work of art…were readily available, many people could own it, and therefore, would not feel a need to visit the original. In effect, there would be no original, because the actual…would come to be understood as just another copy.” Paraphrased from, Photography: A Cultural History, 3rd Edition by Mary Warner Marien.
I’ve been increasingly interested in topics such as this. My background in advertising and marketing adds another layer to my understanding of the commodification of products and brands. In a way, anything that exists in the world can be perceived as a brand, which is really just another name for an identity. Photography can be about identity, but really there is much, much more (just look at the myriad of artist statements there are out there). Identity, the term itself merely scratches the fine topical layers that hint at an intensely rich and complex underbelly of subtle relationships and exchanges of energy, experience, stories and understandings. These intricacies are what keeps the minds of men and women working, searching, meditating, creating and evolving. There are no right or wrong answers, just these experiences and the often rich and mystifying rewards those who search in these depths will uncover.
We’re all selling ourselves in some sense these days. Whether the end result being for monetary, social or some other gain really is no importance in my world. To me, everything is about an exchange of energy. The thing about social, monetary or personal gains is that they are inherently neutral. It is only through our own belief systems that we begin to assign positive or negative qualities. So while some grudgingly protest at how much muck there is out there, I see a perfect opportunity to align with the beauty of a lotus blossom.
Things have changed, and the democratization of all things in our culture, not just photography, has made things perceptibly more challenging to navigate, to capture the attention of the masses. And yet again, I see this as perfect, divine order. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the power in just doing the work, loving the whole damn process of the work as best as we can-in it’s glory, in it’s dim glim and in its ferociously exhausting moments. Moreover, what a wonderfully less-than-subtle nudge for us to turn inward and use what we see to fish around beneath the surface of appearances.
Creating artwork of any means is an energetic process, a working from the inside out. Subtle ripples of change begin to affect the undercurrents of our society starting with the first relationship we can behold, the relationship we often overlook or dodge entirely-the relationship with the Self. Some relate to this relationship spiritually, some religiously, some with animosity-but we cannot deny its presence.
The process of working this way can often be intensely isolating. Perhaps monks in robes or yogis confined to mountainside cave dwellings with their gurus come to mind. This is where social media has presented an interesting platform. Some enjoy the self-masterbatory aspects of this forum for exchange-which the art world has never really been short on anyway, so let’s not get caught up in that trap. It’s fine; really-an artist has to overcome a lot to bring stuff no one else thinks is important to fruition. What I’m speaking to here is the ability to share in the process, to co-create with one another.
The media landscape the advertising industry has created in popular culture affects us all in subtle and profound ways. Psychologists and scientists have been studying these affects, birthing an entirely new research industry with it. Everything is so interrelated, connected, and social media makes this more apparent. I felt I have been witnessing a profound shift in the way we communicate with one another, build relationships, derive meaning and understand the world in which we both inhabit and create. Social media is of course not the only way, just one of many signposts or guides along the way.
When a company like Instagram presents their own kiss of death, via Gawker, I take notice. I understand companies have a need to make money. The Internet isn’t a free or tax-produced entity in the USA, yet. But there are going to be more than a few unhappy Instagrammers out there. I’m learning to more fully embrace the democratization of the photographic medium and environment of the blogosphere, right down to removing the copyright from my artistic images. But when a company attempts to commoditize via advertising space in an already confined, mobile platform and ‘use’ its users for their own private gains, I’m going to have to pull the plug on my use of that medium.
This is disheartening, as I’ve come to understand the online lives we conduct as interesting conduits to expression, creativity and co-creation with one another. For me to be able to use the Internet as a vehicle for sharing my often times lengthy and complex methods of image creation and connecting with others who are in the trenches of their own artistic processes, or even just wanting to exclaim how excited they were over the breakfast their sweetheart made them, this is a cool thing-a gift that should not be cluttered. Community is what makes our lives more meaningful; it’s what opens our private microcosms up to larger ways of perception. The power of photography is intrinsically part of that as we are intensely sensory creatures. Even if the “original is lost,” or perceptibly so, as Benjamin predicted in the late 30’s, nothing can ever, truly, be lost. It can only be transformed. And so, I’m sure, like artists always tend to do, we’ll find more ways to bond and communicate with one another in 2013 and beyond.
See you out there in the ether and maybe someday we’ll shake our human hand forms with one another.