Filter by



How do you find meaningful photographs? (holger feroudj blog)

How do you find meaningful photographs?

As you already know, personally, I prefer a more personal and slow conversation to the blind and fast-food paced social media world of “like”s and “+1”s. On the other hand, there’s hardly a social media service that I’m not subscribed to – you see, I have a big love and hate relationship with it. And I’m sure I can’t be the only one being driven crazy by it sometimes. The question is: Does it play its role in making photographs less meaningful? Or even: Are their any meaningful photographs on social media?

Now, first of all, the biggest problem I have with social media is probably that across fields it encourages people to seek out public attention. Public attention is the fuel of the whole machinery. And the problem with that is, that with attention, people also seek for public approval. Which is fine, really, if you just want to share news of your own cat and in turn want to see how uncle Jim’s kitty is doing.

If you’re serious about creating something, though – whatever that may be, maybe a painting, music, or photography – the risk of getting distracted from your unique voice, the source of your personal creativity, is getting higher the more you are looking for that approval, or the more you bathe yourself in public attention. The more you cater into this thinking, the meaning of what you create and share becomes less and less. I’ll call this “approval paralysis”. Now, you might be one of the lucky few who are really good at not giving a d$mn, but I felt it’s often pretty easy to slip into that “public” thinking swamp in one way or another.

As one reader of my newsletter wrote to me in an e-mail (I already mentioned this topic in my last issue of THE LETTER, from which an interesting discussion came about):

In fact, I think FB is one of the principally responsible for quality decay that affects photography today….. Everyone became a “photographer” and shares everything, regardless the total lack of meaning.


Seen from another angle, how do you find meaningful photographs? And I mean this to be a real question to you: How do you find meaningful photographs these days?




I'm sure there are meaningful photographs on social media.  But I don't think the majority of the stuff you see online is looked at the same way it would be looked at if it was hanging on a wall.  You look at the photo, hit the plus one button and move on.  Or at least I do.  Once in a great while something will stick with you and you'll remember it.  Take this photo, for example…

I think it's every bit as good of a photo as anything I have ever seen in a book or museum.  But I think that given nature of social media most people saw it, +1'ed it.  And then never thought about it again which is kind of sad.

+Branko Nuss That photograph tells a nice story, I like it. And I agree: It definitely invites to linger longer, wonder, look at the details.

You're bringing it to the point beautifully by explaining how we consume photos on social media. So do you think this way of consumption is the main reason for photographs having less meaning? Or are the photos meaningless, which is why you hardly look at them for more than few seconds?

It's very interesting to imagine social media full of exhibited photographs by acclaimed photographers, and MoMA etc. full with photographs you see on social media daily – and then see if we'd consume them differently than now.

So… how do you find meaningful photographs? You just don't, other than the occasional photograph you encounter on social media that stops you in your tracks?

Its not that the photos don't have meaning as much as they are viewed differently than in if you were to look at them in a book or museum. This comment is being typed, for example, while I'm waiting for the sink to fill up so I can do the dishes. That's the nature of social media, I guess.

+Branko Nuss … and I'm commenting while rushing to the train 😉
Oh well, I guess you are right – meaningful or not, on social media it's consumed all the same.

Sometimes it reminds me of candy – if you only had a single piece you would savor it, explore the flavor for as long as it lasts. But with dozens of great shots in my stream every day it's like a big box of candy, full of scrumptious goodness "Like! Plussed! Next!"… difficult to keep the attention on one single work when there's so much more awaiting. 

I think that's one of the weaknesses of the streaming system of Gplus and the likes – everything is in a constant flow, and there's not even an easy way to keep a single post in sight (for example to "pin" or "mark as unread" notifications).

It's obviously a huge effort to do so, but putting works out into the real world through exhibitions is one way to really examine the depth of works posted here. But then again you can't print everything, and you can't hold an exhibition for everything… but still, a more workshop-based approach (get together with a tiny group of shooters, examine prints together, and give honest criticism) would probably contribute to a more healthy diet.. 

On an unrelated note, I'm more of a chocolate person, if you want to get me anything. Just saying. 😉

+Matthias I. Lambrecht "But then again you can't print everything, and you can't hold an exhibition for everything"
But isn't that an extremely good thing? You're being forced to edit your work before you put it out there – which obviously people on social media don't do as much as they should sometimes.

Which leaves us with… would you agree that social media is just a completely different playground, not the right medium, no fertile ground for "meaningful" (whatever that means, anyway… I'm thinking gallery and books here) photographs?

Either way, the "workshop-based approach" is wonderful. Was thinking for the longest time to organize such a group of people and meetings. It would really push anyone who's serious about it much farther than "just posting stuff online". Unfortunately, I didn't find the time to organize anything like this yet, already have 3-4 jobs to look after. I'll definitely keep it on my mind, though. Matthias, you'd be in, right?

P.S.: +Matthias I. Lambrecht, as for the chocolate, let's wait until White Day and see what happens 😛

A swift answer to your question could be by chance or anywhere. Also on social media, not often but sometimes it happens here too. 

I’m still learning about social media and I’m only active on G+, so forgive my axiomatic naivety if I say that the main merits lie in the interactivity and not necessarily in the shared content. Personally, I’ve never found quality happily pairing with social, especially when the latter is virtual, extended and volatile.

It also depends on what is meaningful to you, I suppose. 

What matters to me is the emotional and storytelling power of images (like +Armand Salmon's one before), structured body of works, and sometimes the technical aspects too. These qualities are most probably found in books, exhibitions (including online galleries or sites like Behance) magazines (Stark, Lens Work, Burn, to mention three among many) or even podcasts (+Ibarionex Perello's Candid Frame in particular).

The bulimic consumption of (often wobbly) standalone images on social media, perfectly described by +Matthias I. Lambrecht, rarely allows the viewer to really explore what’s / who’s behind a shot. On the other side, the do ut des dynamics of social interactions inevitably create significant distortions of the perception what / who is good. Popularity and bad (popular) teachers are constantly promoting photographic subcultures sadly diluting and suffocating meaningful imagery.

If you enjoy Justin Bieber’s songs you’ll never understand what Coltrane’s music was all about.

Yeah, I know, I sound like an old fart ranting on. Maybe because I am an old ranting  fart.  🙂

I wanted to give a detailed answer, but +mamo delpero expresses it so much better than I possibly could. For example, to a certain extent I can understand why a colorful bird on a branch might get so much more likes than the story that I might try to convey in a "gritty" (another cliche waiting) monochrome street shot.

I think the issue at hand is to what degree you allow "the masses" to become an influencing factor. Do I increase the amount of cat pictures to garner likes and adds, or do I keep doing my thing? 

So in regard to
+holger feroudj's question – would you agree that social media is just a completely different playground, not the right medium, no fertile ground for "meaningful" photographs?

I'd agree that it's indeed a different beast, but I am still very much enjoying it . Looking back at the stuff I posted back when I was only using flickr, G+ has furthered my horizon, and seeing the multitude of well- (and sometimes not-so-well) executed compositions in the stream can often be inspiring.

My circles consist mainly of other photographers, so the amount of unrelated noise is low when compared to my other networks, such as Facebook or Twitter – so it helps to put me into a creative mindset more easily.  

Also, I do like the social aspect of G+ in the way that it helped me to connect to other photographers doing the same or very different things here in Tokyo. Most of my posts here overlap with what I do on flickr, but the opportunity to go on photowalks or other events together, seeing how other people work sort of encourages me to "want do the better than the rest". 

Personally, social media is important as a "enabler" for better photographs – I am still searching for a better way to present my works (or get a presentable body of works) – the next logical step would probably be a personal online portfolio, but that's probably still a couple of months away for me. It's probably similar to the "coffeeshop effect" (← being seemingly able to work better in a public, slightly noisy space than in total silence at home), and for me that's a Good Thing (TM). 

The question is, what is next – going pro seems a bit unrealistic for me at the moment, but I would very much like to advance to a higher level of photography – gaining a better understanding of technical aspects (color composition, printing), but also being able to become better at visual storytelling (I think we mentioned the term in a different post a while back).

Workshops would fit these goals perfectly, so of course I'd be in (though in a couple of months I might have to combine it with babysitting, so keep the swear words down  🙂

Wow, you guys are really awesome. You make it hard to add anything of importance, since what you were writing is already straight to the point and I couldn't agree more with your line of thought.
+mamo delpero – I was thinking a long time about what you said about quality and social not pairing well, and in the context of making photographs, I agree… at least when social refers to social media 😛 Otherwise, being social can of course be quite stimulating, as well.
And I love this sentence so much, I want to print it out: "Popularity and bad (popular) teachers are constantly promoting photographic subcultures sadly diluting and suffocating meaningful imagery." – guess you can call me an old fart, too 😉
By the way, I don't enjoy Justin Bieber's songs, haha.

+Matthias I. Lambrecht "Do you increase the cat pictures, or do you do your thing?" – Depends on who you are taking photos for, I suppose 😉 The masses seem to like cats and Justin Bieber, a minority likes stories and Coltrane. So far I have the luxury of taking photos for myself, as you have, too, I guess… so it really depends on who is likeminded.
I also wonder about who's looking at all our photos on social media anyway – always assumed a big part (or even the majority) of it is other photographers, which opens the question what they think makes a good photograph. I can't believe that someone who takes photographs themselves wouldn't get sick of visual fast-food easily.
A possible explanation, again, is in the medium itself – as we mentioned a couple of times ago. It's just too easy to click "like" or "+1" and move on to the next shot in less than 5 seconds.
It's like a constant battle of the pulling power of a photograph against the fast flow of the medium. I have to clarify, that personally I think a good photograph is one that can capture your attention and sticks in your head, but maybe these days with these new ways of consumption even the most powerful photograph can only do so much to stop the flow.

+Matthias I. Lambrecht – Social media most definitely has its fun parts and useful sides. That's why we are all using it, I guess. As mentioned in my post, I have a strong love and hate relationship with it. It can be a strong motivation to have an audience, whoever that is, because it puts you under pressure to deliver something to show, when otherwise you could just switch your brain off and watch TV. And then you have all that easy exchange, and you can see what the rest of the world is doing, and so on and so on. I just found that at some point it just doesn't get any deeper – it's a very flat world, the "online society."
Having a person in front of you that you have to explain/show to what you were doing, instead of hiding yourself behind the computer makes a big difference in how much effort you put in – it goes a lot deeper, although in the end you will still have to focus on yourself, alone, to create something meaningful.
With that background, a workshop (I don't like this word, it sounds too much like one of those "popular teachers" +mamo delpero mentioned, slaughtering lambs and taking their money) is a wonderful thing, in the sense of having a circle of people you trust, that you interact with in a much more intense, slow and human way than online. You're automatically taking your time. And time is important.

And totally unrelated, Matthias, congratulations on the Nachwuchs 🙂

Holger. You should ditch google plus and create your own social networking site called cafephototalk.

I am not a photographer. I'm just a guy that knows mocha frap and I saw that you where friends with Giovanni. I thought about taking a photography class before just so I can learn some things for personal knowledge, but the amount of learning already on my plate bars me. I would like to know more about photography, but I am kinda like that person you speak of that just looks at a photo for 2 seconds and moves on. I saw a photo Giovanni just took, and saw that people thought it was an exceptional piece, and I recognize I lack the vision to be able to tell the difference between good art and bad art. Although it might not seem that way, due to my rusty grammar and low talk rate in person, I have been more of a man of words than photos. Maybe some day I will learn to appreciate good photography, I'll start with those pictures you linked.

I personally don't care for social media, but I have a friend that likes it. Perhaps the reason why I do not care for it is because I lack a huge friend list, or perhaps it's some other reason.

Thanks for your thoughts Holger. I appreciate knowing that a photographer actually has to be pretty smart.

+Albert DeLeon What can I say? Once cafephototalk is online you'll be the first one to be invited! 😉

second is Justin Bieber 🙂

How do you find a meaningful speaker of words? People talk to each other everyday. The same words said to everyone wouldn’t have the same effect due to circumstance. Each of us participates in the communal act of expressing our take on a particular situation by communicating. Obvious, yes. We’re expressing ourselves. Art is expression. You may agree with this idea. We want to say something; scratch a creative itch. Today there are more photographers, painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, designers, and speakers of words. To find meaning we are mindful of a desire to improve ourselves. Expression may be driven by influence – ever increasing influence. Fundamentally, observers are who we are.

I love the comparison of people talking to people making art in any form. We might just do small talk and not listen to what the other really says anyway, or we might be involved in a deep discussion. Someone might scream – definitely expressing his feelings – and people might engage in a “conversation” by reacting to it in any verbal or nonverbal way, or might choose to ignore it – in which case no conversation takes place, although self-expression certainly did. Is one more meaningful than the other? Probably yes.
The one thing I can’t get my head around is how expression may be driven by influence… the mere act of expression itself, or the way of expression? Do I scream because you scream, and is that meaningful?

All things influence, as everything is connected. I’m influenced to reply, for example. If I replied by talking about the eggs I ate for breakfast you may think I’ve lost it. Of course I could reply in that way, and sometimes I do express myself in a way that seems wholly detached from a direct connection to a previous moment, but a connection is always there. With regards to photography, we clearly influence each other. All forms of expression seem to be equally influential, though of a different discipline.

Leave a Reply