Nobody Cares About Your Photography Until You Make Them

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.

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Travis Alex's picture

It's a double edged sword. Photography is still such a powerful tool al these years later, and it has the power to impact and move people. The problem is, the audience and those viewing photography work is always changing. In my opinion, things have changed for the good and the worse.

The good is getting your work out there is easier than ever to such wider markets. The bad is everyone is clawing to the top to do the same thing.

The good is there is a never ending supply of criticism good and bad on work to help move you along as a professional artist. The bad is a lot of really great work is overshadowed.

The good is people are happier than ever making photo work. The bad is most people have no filter, and no understanding of common critique.

I'm personally extremely jaded and cynical to it. I personally feel there a lot of Joe Shome photo takers out there who get WAY more recognition than they deserve (but again, it's all a matter of perspective), but the average audience is not attuned to Art the same way we are, so who am I to really say?

Point is, photographer just need to focus on themselves, stop comparing themselves, and placing their self worth and ego on likes and comments.

Dave McDermott's picture

That last sentence Travis. Nail on the head.

Ngaere Woodford's picture

AGREE! I have recently re-evaluated my photography business which had got to the point of self doubt and sadness of lack of 'likes' etc. Ive now said F%#K it, I love photography no more weddings Ill do they stuff I want to do. I was comparing myself so much I wanted to quit altogether!

Brandon Adam's picture

Great video. A lot of things needed to be said and were said well.

Jack Lawrence's picture

I think this is attempting to talk about that which is inherently subjective as though it is objective, and that doesn't work. What is "work that matters" when it comes to any art form? Two people will give two different answers.

Michelle Guillermin's picture

I never comment on these things, but you have articulated something that I've been trying to sort out in my mind. Yes yes yes. I am trying, not sure I'm there yet, to use my photography as a tool to educate and build awareness. I am criticized by my fellow photographers for not always having a camera in my hand and shooting every little vaguely interesting thing I see during my daily life. I am tired of good photographers posting mediocre images that have little purpose other than, I'm a photographer so I took a picture of this today with shallow DOF -- yay me.

I get it, its an enjoyable hobby and you get excited when you like a shot. But if you strive to be a professional (whatever that term means) step back and ask yourself with each shot you present to the world what you are saying about yourself or others or anything.

Call it branding, call it making people care, call it whatever you want -- but realize you have a powerful tool in your hands and can leverage it.

Brian Harwood's picture

Excellent narrative... I think you nailed it!