The amount of images taken worldwide is staggering. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of images are uploaded to Facebook every minute. On Flickr, the most popular camera is the iPhone 5S. Take a walk outside, and you’ll come across at least one person aiming their phone either at their face or something else. Tap once and done. The image is made. It’ll more than likely get shuttled to some social network. We are inundated with images on a daily basis, and many of them never live beyond the moment you scroll past them.
Lately, I find that I’m second-guessing some of the images I make. I question their necessity. Most of what I do in between assignments is street photography. I chase light and characters, or I stand near some light and wait for some characters. Even when I’m having lived experiences – a concert, a party, a gathering and the like – my impulse is to reach for whatever camera I have on me, to capture and archive a fragment of the experience.
For me at least, I recognize that this can pose a problem, that constantly removing myself from the experience so that I can observe and capture can later affect my memory. Of course, I haven’t lived long enough to really say anything conclusive about that for myself, but as I walk around and see the endless clicking, I can’t help but wonder why.
I’m not coming at this is as a photographer saying what others are doing is wrong. That’s not my place, and that’s not the point of this. I do, however, wonder about the necessity of all of these images.
In his standup special “Oh My God,” Louis CK has a rather pointed critique of the incessant need to catalogue everything. Of course, in that clip, the joke deals with a room full of parents watching their kids’ recital, and every single one has their phones and iPads raised to take video.
“It looked like we’re all in the witness protection program,” he quips.
You’ll notice something similar wherever you go, arms outstretched or in some cases even further with selfie sticks. Hell, even Nikon’s gotten into the selfie stick game with the N-MP001. Camera companies are trying to take on phones with screens that flip up 180 degrees, and many of them tout the instant connectivity for immediate sharing. The image is online before we’ve had time to consider its merits at all. Of course, the camera isn’t always pointed at the face. Selfies are just one facet of an image-obsessed culture.
“Shoot the images you can’t help but shoot,” said portrait photographer Gregory Heisler in a video for Maine Media Workshops.
The idea is that you’ll create a body of work that is uniquely your own. Most of the photographs I make are ones I can’t help but make, and I know it seems like I’m conflating the intentions of photographers with those of non-photographers. They’re completely separate entities and should be kept separate. Yet, the physical act of pressing the shutter is the same. The results aren’t, but the act is the same.
If I find that a photograph I’m about to make isn’t necessary, I’ll let it go unmade, especially if it takes me too far out of the experience, whatever the experience is. For me, it’s important to let go of certain images, to stem the tide in an infinitesimal way.