Recently, Ted Forbes over at The Art of Photography posted a rather interesting video that challenges the pervasive axiom of the artistic world that the action of making art will inevitably translate to an audience valuing and appreciating your work. Forbes asserts that our society is so saturated with creative content makers that it is nearly impossible to create photography that people care about unless you are pushing beyond the normal limits and expectations of what is already present in the world. I agree with this on the surface; however, I also feel that it doesn't tell the entire story.
Take a moment to watch the video above; it is a great video and well worth a few minutes of time. Forbes does an excellent job of presenting an interesting, albeit sinister thesis, which he then offers an unfortunately utopian solution to. Forbes suggests that by pushing forward into new realms that challenge the status quo, a photographer can transform his or her work from being unimportant to potentially culturally defining.
Forbes' analysis falls short, however, by only discussing the idea that a bridge between you, the photographer, and your audience can only be erected by creating transformative works that profoundly impact culture. While yes, this is very true, it suffers from the fundamental flaw that there is only room for a tiny handful of such photographers through the course of history, which leaves the rest of us out in the cold if taken at face value.
Realistically, the formula to creating generation-defining creative content is fairly simple, but in practice is nearly impossible to achieve. Not only does it depend on the artist's vision aligning with the unknown cravings of a global audience at a precise time, but it also depends on the ability of the artist to connect his or her work to a global audience in order to have that impact. Metaphysically, if no one had ever seen the works of an artist such as Leonardo De Vinci, would he still be a great artist? Would his work still matter?
Personally, I've always been rather allergic to the idea that forces beyond my control determine my outcome. It simply is not true. I am the captain of my fate. It is through my action (or inaction) that I will determine the destiny of my work. Thus, the burden falls upon the photographer to construct a compelling reason to make others care about his or her work.
Objectively, however, it is nearly impossible to achieve work that has an impact that rivals other creative masters if that is your only goal. Those great masters certainly weren't trying to do that at onset. However, it is possible to craft work that rivals or even exceeds those masters in quality. Thus, it becomes critical to connect with an audience and create impact on a smaller scale. In the simplest sense, how much someone cares about your work is directly tethered to how much value your work adds to their lives.
The nature of that value, however, is subjective, which places the burden on you to predict and understand what your audience places value on. Sure, creating work that is culturally defining may craft tremendous value, but more humbly, you can also build value by creating work that helps an entrepreneur expand her sales. In the moment that your work helps even the smallest businessman increase his value, you have instantly created a platform for him to care about your work on an individual scale. If repeated over time, this process will draw an audience who deeply cares about your photography, because it has improved the economic value of their own lives. Furthermore, the same can be true for the photographer who is able to capture and preserve the essence of a critical moment. Be it a wedding, sporting event, concert, or any other sort of unrepeatable circumstance, the photographer is able to make the participants of that moment (and those who wanted to but could not) inevitably care about his or her work.
The potential for devising a sense of importance in your work on a microscale is infinite and only limited by your own volition. Don't ever let anyone tell you that your work doesn't matter. That is impossible. It always matters at origin to yourself. After conception, the strategic burden falls upon your shoulders to understand why a particular group would want to care about your work. You then must take action to transform from a conceptual strategy into an entity that asserts the reason for that audience to care about that which you create.