OK, now that I have your attention, let's get something out of the way: I'm not trashing your photography. I'm sure it's all fantastic, and I sincerely hope you keep creating those amazing images.
That said, chances are good that I don't want to see any of it unless you're one of a handful of photographers I actively follow. No offense. And, lest you think otherwise, I should say that the sentiment definitely applies to my own work, too – probably more than most, actually. The fact is, the vast majority of the relatively small number of people who will ever see any of my work, simply could not care less about it. And I'm perfectly ok with it.
I wasn't always a blissful inhabitant of the land of IDGAF, however. As a younger photographer, I fell into the same trap that many do, enamored at every snap of the shutter, wide-eyed and eager to share my incredible photos with anyone and everyone. Thankfully, I started on film in the 1990s, and the worst early evidence of my naivety is lost forever. Sadly, though, it took a while for me to learn, and my photographic delusions lasted well into my transition to digital. For a while, there wasn't a forum, group, social media site or app that was safe from my incessant posts. My camera went everywhere with me, the world was my subject, and everything was photo-worthy.
Or so I thought.
I took my first college-level photography class when I was a sophomore in an unremarkable community college program in a speck of a city in Oregon. It was a photojournalism course, and I remember being excited because I'd always heard that every photo should tell a story, and I was ready for the teacher and my classmates to see what an amazing storyteller I already was. We got our first assignment, and when it came time to share for group critique, my work landed with a resounding thud. My images weren't great, everyone definitely did not love them, and it turned out I sucked at image storytelling. And the same was true for all of my classmates. Fortunately, the teacher took the opportunity to encourage us to keep going, even if we sucked and nobody cared.
As time went on, my photography began to improve, I started getting hired to do photography, and something incredible happened: people still didn't care!
I remember my first front-page photo in the local newspaper. It was coverage of a stabbing and included all the drama we're taught drives the news. I was over the moon, and of course, I went out and bought not one, but several copies of the paper that day. I got home and triumphantly plopped the papers down in front of my girlfriend at the time, announcing my arrival as a big deal photographer. She gave me a kind "cool," then asked me how else my day had gone. Arrived, indeed!
A few years ago, Fstoppers' own Lee Morris and Patrick Hall put out a fun little video where Lee played a prank that had Patrick and Mike Kelley critiquing some images, including a handful of cleverly unattributed images by Ansel Adams. They didn't absolutely trash Ansel's work, but they were pretty critical and seemed to assume the images were from an average amateur. I think it's fair to say that Ansel Adams is one of the most celebrated names in photography and quite possibly the most known name in the history of the medium. But, as Lee's experiment suggests, the work of Ansel Adams can be overshadowed by his celebrity. That is to say, when his name is removed from association, the work itself could easily get lost in the sea of images that came before and after. People stop caring.
The fact is, the world is saturated with images. Good images. Bad images. Mediocre images. Images in advertising, on social media, from our family and friends. Images are everywhere in today's world, and they're all vying for our ever-diminishing attention. We are all up to our eyeballs in images (pun intended). And honestly, very little of it matters. And of the minority that has any relevance whatsoever, an even smaller subset matters for more than a relatively brief moment. In an era when nearly every adult human on earth has a camera on them at all times, most images are ubiquitous, temporary and meaningless.
The above image is of the Norhtwestern National Life building in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was designed by the famed architect, Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the former Twin Towers buildings in New York. While not a tourist attraction per se, among architecture enthusiasts, it is considered one Minneapolis' architectural gems.
I had moved to the area in early 2020, just in time for the pandemic. Then, following the civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the city all but completely shut down. Long story short, I found myself with an abundance of time to explore the city on long walks, and on one of those walks I happened to notice the reflection of the building in its adjoining pool. I investigated a little further, seeing that the pool perfectly framed the building's reflection when viewed from a specific position and angle, and ran home to get my gear.
After I set up and got the frame I was looking for, I was blown away. I got my shot, and before I even broke down my gear, I started scouring the internet for the same shot, certain that I'd see it was popular. To my surprise, there were tons of images of the building, but none from the perspective I'd captured, framed in the way I framed the scene. Again, I was blown away and promptly began planning my new career as a famed architectural photographer. I got home, did my processing, then proceeded to upload my new magnum opus to every conceivable place I could find. And then... nothing. Crickets. No accolades, not even a smidgen of recognition among Minneapolis' surprisingly large community of cityscape photographers. Nobody cared, even among fans of Yamasaki's work. My career as an architectural photographer was over before it even started. I was devastated.
Then, a friend who is also a photographer reminded of an important lesson: it doesn't matter what others think or don't think. If we're lucky, we find something to do that we love and we just do it. Sometimes, we become part of a community of others who enjoy the same thing and that community can support us, but at the end of the day, it's the love of the craft that drives us. That's what drove Ansel Adams, not the celebrity (I think), and that's what drives meaningful work as a whole.
A couple months later, that friend and I were out shooting cityscapes again, and I made the following shot kind of just as an aside, on a whim, handheld, and with a telephoto lens – things you are taught to never do in landscape photography. It's turned out to be one of my most requested images for print, even though I don't market it and don't market myself as a landscape photographer.
For some inexplicable reason, this image found an audience. But, in the grand scheme of things, it still doesn't really matter. Yeah, it's cool, and the unconventional color grade and the way the late afternoon light and deep shadows play across the buildings are striking, but ultimately, it's just an image of some buildings that's nice to look at. And that's okay, because it doesn't have to be anything more than that.
Nobody cares about your photography. Nobody cares about my photography. People care about experiences, especially their own.
When people request a print of the Foshay Tower image above, I usually ask them what it is about the image that appeals to them. Almost everyone answers that they had some kind of special experience associated with the building, like a memorable dinner in its attached popular steakhouse, or they got engaged overlooking the city on the tower's observation deck. It's always about a feeling and memory that the image evokes, not the image itself. So, while I look at that image and just see what could have been improved, some others see it and are transported back to a meaningful part of their life.
With the other image, as striking as I may think the perspective is, as unique as it is and as proud of the technical achievement it was at the time, it's still just an image of a building. And, that building doesn't have a popular steakhouse, or an observation deck. People don't get engaged there. It's just an office building, albeit one that looks cool.
And that speaks to the true power of photography: the power to open the door to experiences both had, and to be had. The very best images either remind us or encourage us. They transport the viewers to the golden days they've already lived, or to the dreams of their future. Everything else is just noise.
Today, I work as a commercial photographer, and the bulk of the images I produce are for some form of marketing or advertising. And while conscious that we are quite literally adding to the above-mentioned noise, I and the creative professionals I work with actually work very hard to rise above the impersonal nature of advertising, and try to connect with people. We do it through cultural touchstones, through stories, through things people can relate to their own lives. It's never about, "hey here's a thing. Buy it." And it's definitely never about the photography, because nobody cares about photography.
Hey I live in Minneapolis, I know the NNL building, and that's a very nice photo of it. Not saying I "care", mind you, but... very good photo.
That one by Adams is boring. I decided that before reading the text and learning it was his. It's still boring, I don't care how perfect the tones and zones are. But it probably seemed a lot more exotic and interesting at the time.
Hey fellow Minneapolitan! Thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind words. On Adams' image of the adobe houses, I think like pretty much everything else, its value is wholly dependent on the person viewing/ evaluating it.
Honestly, it doesn’t even matter what people think about your photography. To me, I enjoy doing it and learning about new aspects I had never tried before.
I liked portraiture, but being an introvert that’s a hard specialty to be part of. This made it tough because friends and family weren’t always willing or available for shots. Since then I’ve started getting into landscape, animals, and explored the idea of night photography.
Hopefully I will always appreciate the art and ignore what others have to say.
I'm with you! Thanks for reading, and I hope 2023 presents lots of opportunities for you to get out enjoy making art that speaks to you. Cheers!
An interesting topic is: what can a photographer come up with that might make people "care"?
Today it seems like anytime someone gets emotional about a photo, it's film photography from decades ago. It's nostalgia - longing, really - for that lost past. The actual photo might be mundane, poor quality even accidental.
I think it comes down less to what a photographer can do to make people care, and more about tapping in to the things people already care about. For instance, I was recently talking with a now-retired photographer who also did a lot of diving. He merged those pursuits and eventually ended up becoming a highly sought after diving photographer. I guess my argument rests on the idea that he was sought more for his ability to capture something interesting (the underwater world), than the simple fact he knew his way around a camera.
One of my personal projects involves taking quite abstract photographs. I've no idea if anyone else will find them interesting but at least I'm attempting something different.
And that's all that really matters!
I retired 5 years ago from a 42 year career, 31 years of which I was a paid professional photographer. I did some really great work, and some really consistent work. It turned out the consistency was what paid the bills. I could detail all of this but I won't bore you with that. Most of this is now forgotten, even by me. Even the wedding photography is never reordered after those first few months. Long ago I learned to show up, do good work, and get paid. It's even stranger now to be mostly forgotten by the institution and the people. Some of the most mundane photography I ever did paid incredibly well. It turns out consistency and reliability were what was wanted.
Agreed. Style will never be more important that reliability and consistency in the professional world.
If you want people to love your photography, you have to photograph something they already love.
I took up photography as a serious hobby just before I retired in 2015. I studied the technical aspects, grew to understand the exposure triangle and the ways different apertures and focal lengths work to my advantage.
But it was when I retired and started spending five days a week at my local zoo that I was really able to put that knowledge into action.
To make a long story short, the marketing folks at the zoo found my photos to be superior to most other photos they had seen. Not because I am a better photographer but because I could afford to spend all day or even all week in front of a particular animal capturing the exact behavior I wanted to get. That, and I post process many of my images with the care that other photographers give to human portraits.
Everyone at the zoo loves my photos. From Marketing, to social media, from the volunteers to the zookeepers.
How do I know? They ask me for photos of particular animals and often particular behaviors.
Is it really my photos they love? Maybe it is just the animals they love. Similar to the way that people love photographs of their children or pets. But they say they love my photos and that is good enough for me.
Besides, the photographers who have taken my online class on the Art of Zootography tell me they benefitted by watching it. They want to take similar photos.
"If you want people to love your photography, you have to photograph something they already love."
That is so true. I'm retired to. I shoot for myself. At one point a local weather program started using a few of my shots. I figured out what they like and they used more. It was funny to hear from friends that they had seem my work. All I had to do was figure out what they wanted to see. Yes, it is a good feeling.
Liking and caring are two different things. Liking a picture is simply a matter of how well the image resonates with the other person. That can last all of about ten seconds. When you say in your title "Nobody Cares About Your Photography," that feels like part of the bigger picture which says "Nobody Cares About You." I've pretty well stopped going to social functions because I get tired of always asking the other person a question or two, and then after they talk for ten minutes straight about themselves, the conversation ends. Nobody ever cares enough to ask me anything, much as less about my photography. And that seems to be the way things are. It's becoming a lot harder to have much of a relationship with a society of "me-first" individuals. People who have a narrow view of political thought, narrow view of religion, or narrow view of art, are nearly impossible to establish a relationship with... and relationships are, indeed, based on mutual care and respect.
I think it was different at one time... as in pre-internet. Many, many years ago, my customers were usually interested in me beyond just the product or service which brought us together. They'd remember my kids' names and ages, or send a gift to mark an occasion. They genuinely cared, and more than just about my work. But that was ages ago when everything was purchased locally. Technology appears to have made people forget the human side of everything. Social media has sunk its teeth into all aspects of life, and it doesn't seem to foster care and respect, so why expect that it would be the place to find someone who cares about your photography? I think the only way to hope that someone will care about my photography on a business level (and me by extension) is to limit the scope of my contact to humans who I can build an elementary relationship with... more or less one-by-one. Reach out and call them, meet in person if possible, send a note, ask about their needs. With a little luck, maybe they'll reciprocate and buy stuff... and perceptions will change from "nobody cares" to "enough people care to make it feel worthwhile."
I guess my point is that I think it's more beneficial to separate from how others do or don't receive our work. Find satisfaction in the craft, and go out and find meaningful subject matter. Relying on others for meaning is almost always a losing proposition. People are too self-interested (not necessarily in a bad way) and unreliable. Anyway, cheers, and thank you for taking the time to read!
For those who enjoy photography solely as hobbyists, you're correct... it really doesn't matter what other people think about their images. And the love of the craft does, indeed, drive all of us (pros and amateurs alike) to create something. As a hobbyist, things like camera club competitions and Facebook likes inevitably take a toll on one's confidence. I agree that it's all a lot of noise, which can do more harm than good.
Money, work, a job, etc., changes everything, and it's important to make that distinction. Compensation for our images depends on how well our images are received by someone else. Dealing with rejection is a necessary evil of any freelance work, but we have to persist through that. Customers must either like your commercial images, or you'd be no better off than your experiences with photojournalism or architectural photography. Relying on others for meaning (and presumably for direction of style and content) is not a losing proposition... it is the only proposition for getting paid for your images. If you insist on only shooting green soda cans on red backgrounds, that's your right as a creative... but you might starve waiting to find just the right client who wants that type of image.
Ansel Adams undoubtedly loved his craft, but he and others like Edward Weston were forced to diversify their skills beyond nature pictures into areas of photography that paid the bills. Edward Steichen, in particular, drew vast criticism for selling out with his art for commercial work. In other words... trading art for something else that could help make his alimony payments. Steichen's story really intrigues me... how he evolved from painter to head photographer at Vogue/Vanity Fair magazines, where no doubt there was much clashing of minds as to what would be published. He, himself, claimed he was tired of being poor when the Conde Nast job came along.
It's the same with your commercial photography work... you succeed in giving clients what they want, what they like, what they care about, and how you service them. The messaging surrounding the images (hard sell vs soft sell) can be whatever the advertising agency wants it to be, but the salability of the images you make is quite dependent on your skill as a photographer in meeting their needs. You don't care about the entire social media universe, and they don't care about you, but there's a reciprocal care with the client paying your invoice. If not, you'd be out of a job.
Thank you, I needed this. I'm an amateur photographer, and I only post to Unsplash and sometimes Instagram. Incredibly, I've been fairly successful on Unsplash, even making it to the top 500 contributions once. But when I look at my account, I see how much more I love the photos I take now yet they perform dramatically worse than the ones that I used to take. This has often upset me but of course I continue to share because it's what I love. Your experience has encouraged me.
I'm thrilled to have been able to help! Just keep at it, and don't worry about outcomes. Cheers!
Correct, they don't.
Photographs *may* occasionally hold subjective meaning to the photographer, and to the viewer. It should also be noted that an image is simply a product to a commercial client, and they don't care either, beyond whether your image will improve their sales (unless we're talking about an NGO, and even then, they're trying to raise money). Subjective value and meaning to a subject, or family of a subject should be treated separately (weddings, family photos, etc).
But, most often photographs are just noise, one pixel in a snowstorm of trillions of images. Not only does the viewer not care, our images will register upon the viewer's cognition for no more than a couple of seconds - if you're lucky - like, scroll, like scroll, like scroll; or maybe a commuter will see an image at a bus stop or billboard, as they look up from their phone - just meaningless stimuli, experienced by viewers with saturated cognition (see: cognitive load).
To be fair, there are occasional images which make an objective difference, which matter, and which people care about - Dombrovskis' Rock Island Bend (used in the campaign against damming of the Franklin River), Nick Ut's Napalm Girl, Eddie Adams' The execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém, and Kevin Carter's The vulture and the little girl come immediately to mind as photos that people care about.
But the vast majority of images - this number being so close to 100% that it may be rounded to unity - don't matter, and no one cares in the least about them.
We put our time and effort into making images, and our need to be seen, for connection, for esteem and respect, drives us to agonise over questions about: How can we produce work that matters? Or does anybody care? Likewise, society's capitalist construct and master narrative leverages our drivers, and causes us to agonise about How can I make money out of my photography? But ultimately, nobody cares.
Photography's only value (for the sake of the broad generalisation) is its use as an instrument for the photographer to find their own meaning: it lets me go hiking and increase my time in nature; it lets me enter the flow state, as I focus on the still life; it lets me engage with people, and increase my level of connection with others; etc.
But no, nobody cares about your photography. And that's OK.
PS. I read your article after I posted. Good work. We basically said the same thing in different ways.
Indeed we did! Thanks for taking the time to read, and share your thoughts.
I agree and disagree with you. The picture you paint may very well be true on a universal scale. The world has changed a lot since I've been around, and will continue in ways that, honestly, frighten me. Social media has, in my opinion, warped our sense of relationships. Of course it seems like nobody cares since we're inundated with a gazillion images. If not from social media, one can't even walk through a grocery store without stepping on advertisements. Watching a hockey game on TV has become incredibly annoying with digital corporate logos changing constantly on the ice and side boards. Can't we just watch the damn game and let the advertisers have their moment during commercial breaks? Of course not... once marketers figure out how to use technology to get in our face in another way, it's gonna happen, simply because it can. No doubt we are overwhelmed with noise so that it appears nobody cares.
On the other hand, on what is a more personal level for me, I believe people do care about my photographs. I'm printing a dozen photographs for a local medical office as we speak. We sat for an hour and looked through my portfolio, deciding which images they liked the best. I hope they care... they're gonna be looking at them every day for as long as they work there. I'm repeating my first post, but people only care about my pictures (and by extension me) when we get to know each other and create a relationship. Social media can't do that. So my suggestion if you feel hopelessly lost in a world that doesn't care: get off social media and make human friends. If you sell photography for money, introduce yourself to some of the local businesses. If you're a hobbyist, join a local camera club and meet the people.
One other thought for changing your view of whether anyone cares... the next time you go into a gallery or museum, instead of looking for a few seconds at every last piece of art and racing through the building, which is like scrolling social media, stop and take five or ten minutes to experience just a few pieces. Think about what the artist was trying to express, what you can deduce about their technique, what you might have done differently, etc. Meet other humans who might have the same interest. It might not change the planet, but I suspect your view of it will change.
I don't feel at all lost.
I've just spent too much time studying psychology, and conducted too many interviews, to pretend.
You mistake realism for despair.
Okay... Maybe I'm going down the wrong track. Maybe we can create our photographs in a void, totally independent from what anyone else thinks. Maybe we can live happily with the fact that nobody cares. Maybe there are simply too many pictures for anyone to care about one of ours. Maybe the next generation with ChatGPT won't need to bond with another human being at all. Who knows what reality will bring in the future. But if that's realism, I'd be overwhelmed with despair.
What is reality, though? Is it what social media feeds us with? The statement "nobody cares,"sounds depressing to me, so I have to change my reality to preserve my sanity. I believe a lot of people care about my pictures, some of which I make knowing that virtually nobody else will like them (and that's okay); others I make knowing they'll sell pretty well. But either way, people do care.
I can't do much about your dissonance and cognitive skew.
Thank you! I really enjoyed it.
Glad you enjoyed it!
Your article really resonated with me. So, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
For reasons beyond my own comprehension, I have never cared whether others like my photos or not - even when I was very young. (I wish this more reliably translated to other areas of my life.) It is rare to find another photographer who shares this healthy ambivalence.
Of course, I am delighted when someone embraces my photos with unbridled enthusiasm, but if they don't, my experience is not diminished. And my sense of self-worth does not hang on their personal preferences. My photography has always been my gift to myself. The reward is in the experience.
The unexpected bonus is the overwhelming sense of gratitude I experience when I look back at my images . . . gratitude for having had so many delightful experiences and having seen so many wonderful sights.
I'm glad you were able to get something out of the article. And yeah, I think that as long as we are creating for the love of creating, everything else is just a bonus. Cheers!
As a photographer who is shooting old industrial architecture, I can relate to this (link to my portfolio in the profile, if anyone cares, haha). Thanks for the one of the best articles in the recent years.
I really like your work :)
Thank you for the kind words! I took a look at your work. Quite unique. Keep it up!