High and low

Are you a consumer or a connoisseur?

Do you all follow @LightStalking or visit www.lightstalking.com? I highly recommend it if you don't and you're into photography (and if you're reading this site, chances are you are a photography buff). Yesterday I read this very interesting post which described a psychological study on the emotional responses of non-photographers and professional photographers to a series of images and recorded the ratings these subjects issued the photographs on a series of criteria. We could go into the details of what made a given subject a member of which group and we could hash over the details of what photos were shown, etc, etc, but the point is that the study confirmed what those in photographic circles have long known: professional photographers (or advanced amateurs :)) process photographic information differently and, accordingly, have different preferences from the general public. Personally, I know I analyze how a photograph was produced, what challenges the photographer faced, how the image was processed, etc the instant I see an image. My emotional response is, in part, tempered by that knowledge. Non-photographers do not go through this calculus and see in the image what they see in the frame alone. Convergent lines, over-saturation, etc are no problem for the lay audience.

The Wellspring

The admin over at LightStalking noted that he/she has in the past made mental note of photo sets popular with the lay crowd and unpopular with photographers and has noted that these sets are usually selfsame. My own, most dramatic, exposure to this disparity occurred shortly after a series of my HDR photographs were published in The University of Chicago's alumni magazine. A professional architecture photographer wrote a childish and snotty letter to the editor about my "subterranean" images (who knows what this man's problem with images taken under ground is - all my images published in the magazine were taken above ground). My poking fun at his poor word choice aside, he claimed the printing of those images was a disgrace to the University. Ignoring the puerile and melodramatic character of his rant, this individual missed the point entirely. Not only was the piece initiated by the magazine, unprompted by yours truly, both before and after its publication I had and have received (including as a separate letter to the editor in that same issue in which his diatribe appeared) an incredible outpouring of support for these images by alumni. So where is the disconnect? If so many "regular" people responded in such a positive emotional way to the images, why is it that someone who is such an photography aficionado couldn't respond in the same way (or to put it another way, why was his photographic training preventing his emotional response to another's photography)?

Autumn in Eden

One needs to know who his or her audience is. Live high and low, this is critical to enjoying yours and others' photography and life in general. My brother is a professional restauranteur. He definitely still loves to chow down on some White Castle. To deny that guilty pleasures are pleasurable is a lie and it numbs us to the positive impact those guilty pleasures bestow. We (to borrow a phrase from Paul Krugman) Very Serious Photographers should learn to keep loving eye candy and all the fun things in photography that first attracted us to the craft. My response to that letter to the editor, other than to share it widely as I found its content and author an amusing topic of ridicule, was to learn what I could from it's spirit: there is an aesthetic to which the initiated, professional, avid, advanced amateur photographer responds and the photographs in the magazine didn't have it. Finding the intersection of these two tastes is my goal. I want to blend the eye-candy HDR group with the large-format film crowd.

The intersection of the consumers' and the connoisseurs' tastes - that is the area that deserves most of our attention. The Galen Rowells and Ansel Adams of the world hit this medium (and still take flak from the art crowd). I think that what the public loves about HDR photography can and will be reconciled with the aspects photographers find most displeasing. This does mean, that for you connoisseurs out there, you are not the arbiter of a photograph's impact or success, no matter how much you might like to be the last word. The value of an image for public consumption is determined in the public marketplace and according to metrics that the Very Serious Photographer might find alien.