The internet has been an integral part of allowing photographers to showcase their work to the world. Yet, no one is safe from the trolls hiding behind their computer screens.
Picture this. It’s midnight. In the center of a dark, damp room is a desk littered with SD cards. There, sits Ken, a tightly wound, screw-faced photographer, staring at his computer screen. His beady eyes gaze upon a photo. This photo, with its off-axis horizon and heavily saturated colors, sends intense rage through Ken’s body. He notices the comments. The likes. The attention. “This ghastly, unprofessional, vomit-inducing photo is not real art,” he thumbs into his keyboard covered in crumbs from the avocado toast he ate days ago.
Of course, this is an exaggerated story and Ken is made up, but it’s not too far off reality for some photographers. You see it most often in the comments section, whether it be Facebook or under an article post. Interestingly, every photographer I’ve met in person has been wonderfully professional, some of which, however, have had very different personas online. It seems the safety blanket of the computer screen enables people’s inner demons to come out and play.
'Your Work Is Not Real Art!'
I’ve never really understood the mentality of people like Ken, who bash photographers' work for no other reason than it just isn’t their cup of tea. This is even more evident when the photo in question has received a lot of praise from peers. It would be so easy for Ken to keep on scrolling, yet that photo of an attractive model lit with neon lighting and super blurry bokeh is too much for him to handle. Therefore, he must scream “Uninspired! It’s not real art!” at the top of his lungs as he types away his negative comment.
This statement is a particular pet peeve of mine. Art is subjective. One of the most subjective things in the world, I’d argue. There is no clear definition of what is good or bad art, nor what constitutes real art. In my opinion, it comes down to one thing: does it resonate with people? Generally speaking, people follow artists because they admire their work. There’s often no more thought than “Cool! I like this!” and that’s okay. Unfortunately, it’s the other artists who often end up attacking people simply for wanting to showcase their artwork. In this case, it’s grumpy, patronizing photographers.
This isn’t real art! Where’s the deep meaning? The framing’s off! I’ve been a pro photographer for 20 years and… (insert insecure ramble). - Ken the Photographer
Your Insecurities Are Showing
Behavior like this often comes off as jealous projecting in the form of negative putdowns. This is evident in the boasting part of their comments. People like Ken will name drop and mention how long they’ve been in the industry in an attempt to patronize a 25-year-old Instagram photographer with five million followers. Ultimately, that comment will get lost within the thousands of other comments like coal amongst rocks. The problem, however, is when Ken spreads his hate towards the beginners in the photography community, gatekeeping and getting a rise out of his self-appointed power.
Making the Community a Better Place
Photography is this beautiful visual art form that many people connect with, not just photographers themselves. Someone may look at a photograph and allow their brain to escape into its’ visuals, getting lost into a journey despite no movement or change whatsoever. Many famous photos are admired because they make your mind do the work. They make you think, and that is one of the main intentions of art. Photography is highly relatable and identifiable too. Everybody owns a camera, and even if it’s just the camera in their smartphone, people will take photos and share them. We are so in tune with what we look like and what reality looks like through a camera. Photography is all around us; therefore, we don’t shy away from it. We embrace it.
In order for the photography community to flourish, we must create an environment that is non-toxic and accepting. We should be encouraging creativity, not inhibiting it by belittling someones' choices. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, no single person gets to be the voice of all reason. Think a photo is bad? That’s your opinion. Please present it that way, as you do not represent the entire art form. If you have a critical opinion, there are many great ways to express that critique in a constructive way. For more information on this, read the article How to Give and Receive Constructive Criticism the Right Way by Nicole York.
Not All Photographers
The majority of photographers online are not mean people. In fact, they are often very helpful and up for an interesting discussion. Unfortunately, it is the most obnoxious people that get heard the most. They leave comments that linger in innocent artists’ minds as they try to go to sleep. “My lighting wasn’t that bad, was it?” they anxiously replay in their head. So yes, it is not all photographers, but the whole community should do their part in making online public forums a pleasurable place to share work, rather than a toxic environment that discourages creativity. Call out Ken for gatekeeping and jealousy. Back up the artists you love from haters. Do so, but be careful not to bite too hard on the troll's bait. Also, flag comments if they insult anyone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
Of course, this issue doesn't just happen in the photography world. Pretty much any creative industry is full of people waiting to project their insecurities onto you. Having experienced the film industry first hand, I can say this happens with cinematographers equally as much as photographers. The most important thing is to just have fun. That’s the reason we’re interested in this art, right? So, it’s vital not to lose track of that.
Ken is a fictitious character and any resemblance he has to anyone dead or alive is simply a coincidence.