Why are we so preoccupied with new work?
In an e-mail recently another photographer took me to task for showing work that I'd done in years past. I understand the fascination with new gear and all things digital but photography didn't just start in 2003 or whenever it was that Canon introduced the D30 and Nikon introduced the D100. Nope. Many people were taking photographs even earlier than that. And we're not anxious to relegate everything that we did before last year to the deep archives.
In fact, if you look at the work of Robert Frank in, The Americans, you'll see that people were doing great work before I was even born. And to ignore it is a form of "hyper present time" chauvinism. In fact, I'd conjecture that before people were inundated with social media, cable TV, cellphones and instantaneous news they actually had a lot more time to work on their hobbies, their passions and their core professions. It may be that the 1950's and 1960's (before my time as a photographer) gave birth to nearly all the social constructs and road marks we hold dear as a culture today because their focus was more intense and more acute. Their time less fragmented. Their anxiety less lethal. Their lack of pressing and immersive contact may have given artists of that age the space they needed to understand themselves and by extension their relationship to their vision and their art. A golden age of humanistic introspection mirrored by art?
Why else would the Beatles and the Rollingstones still be relevant? Why else would Robert Frank, Henri Cartier Bresson and Richard Avedon still be influencing each successive, educated generation of would be photographic artists? With the exception of Annie Leibovitz (who arguably straddles that generation and my generation) can you honestly name a new artist working today as a photographer who has even a small percentage of the influence and sway of so many image makers from the age before hyper cultural consumption?
I'm not saying that this snapshot I took of Ben, with a Contax G2 and a 45mm lens, on Tri-x film, is in the same league as David Bailey, Irving Penn or Victor Skrebneski but I am making the assertion that almost all of the work we see today is entirely derived from a generation that's passed and left a legacy that we've yet to match.
Argue all you want but today's carbon fiber cellos and violins don't compete with the instruments made over a century ago by Stradivarius and today's frenetic lighting geeks don't hold a candle to the work done by men of their grandfather's generation. Sure, there will be exceptions that people will put forward, but it's almost as if we're in the middle of a de-evolution of photography, which is braced up and given credence by the ease with which the masses can achieve technical proficiency.
I've said it before and I'll repeat it here, crowd sourcing art on a grand scale, with an inexhaustible feedback loop, serves to homogenize vision and rationalize a pervasive complicity wherein everyone copies everyone else to gain a universal sense of approval. That's why each day's "style of the day" goes viral by the end of the day. The quote from Dash, in the movie, The Incredibles, says it best, "When everyone is special, no one is...." (paraphrased).
If you are an Ayn Randian you've come to know that phrase as being the distillation of 1100 pages of, Atlas Shrugged.
Am I saying that nothing new can be done and that we should close the patent office? Of course not, but while I am being hyperbolic I do believe we could move the game forward by sharing less on a day to day basis while working diligently on subjects and points of review that are more organic to ourselves and less affected by the overwhelming momentum of narcissistic oversharing. Just a thought.