Terry Pratchett made this distinction between erotic and kinky: "It's the difference between using a feather and using a chicken."
(All right, all you nasty little boys and girls, I'm going to sit here patiently till you stop thinking those dirty thoughts. Nasty, nasty, nasty!)
Then there are those I deem fetishists—they're the ones who think all of the rest of us should be enamored of their chicken.
Photography has always had its fetishists, who not only embrace one small aspect of photographic quality and pursue it to the exclusion of all others, but are fervent in their belief that we should all follow in their feverish footsteps. Don't get me wrong; I'm just fine with erotic or kinky. But I love my own chicken, thank you very much, and I don't need you repeatedly knocking on my door waving pamphlets and inquiring if I've embraced the Love of the Great Pullet and insinuating I will burn in Hell (or at least remain wholly unsatisfied) if I don't.
Photography has always had fetishists. The good old analog days gave us Orthodox Zonies. I've got nothing against the Zone System, but these folks evaluate every photograph by how completely it utilizes the range from Zone I to Zone IX and spend more time calibrating film/developer/paper combination than making interesting photographs. The Weston Gallery always has some examples of their labors on its walls. Think of perfectly-tuned pianos playing Three Blind Mice and you'll get the idea. O.Z.'s think every medium is a nail for their hammer. They've even promoted Zone System for color negatives, and it would take a whole 'nother column to explain the ways that's wrong.
Then there are Full Framers, Filmcan Alchemists, and Manual Modeans, among others. Always it's a monomoniacal focus on one aspect of photography that's run amok in their brains.
The digital age has brought forth whole new flavors of fetishes. The DOF Diffraction Limiters. (Heaven forbid a lens should ever be stopped down below its optimum aperture...as if we didn't do that all the time with film.) The Big Sensorists. (Ohmigawd, you just can't make a decent photo with a small sensor, you just can't. As Scotty would have said, ya kenna break the laws o' physics.) The Mad Aberrationites. (Coma, chromatic aberrations, blue fringes, oh god, my eyes, how they burn, aeeeeeeiii.) The Full Histogrammerians. (Waiver in your vigilance and a gap will appear in your histogram, and demons will fly though it, and we will all be doomed. Note to apocalyptics: learn the difference between data and information.)
Why this flowering plague? DD-B suggests that in the analog days, your typical obsessive could only analyze a few aspects of a photograph. You had to have some serious experimental chops to collect much real data, and the folks with said skills tended to understand the import (or lack thereof) in what they were measuring.
Digital data and computer software let folks analyze photos six ways to Sunday without any sophisticated knowledge of what it is they're looking at. They can easily determine that Photo A has a higher Flummox Coefficient than Photo B, and there you have food for a fetish to feast upon should the hapless soul be so inclined. Photo-fetishists haven't gotten more fetishistic, they just have so many new and easier kinks they can develop fetishes about.
Do as you've always done. Argue with them politely until you're bored (I can promise you they'll never get to that point). Then slam the door in their faces and go back to making the kind of photos that you want to make. Take care of your chicken and the feathers will take care of themselves.
I made this with a 35mm point-and-shoot. Full auto mode. On-camera flash. Lens stopped down way beyond its sharpest point. By-the-book processing. Cropped the neg. I like it enough that it's part of my permanent portfolio. Go ahead; sue me.
*For those who might not know the reference, The Photo League was a quasi-Communist organization formed by Berenice Abbott and Paul Strand in New York City in 1936 to encourage the photographic documentation of worker activities and to provide pictures of strikes, protests, and boycotts to the radical press. The Photo League had a large membership that included many of the top photographers of the day, such as Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Marion Post Wolcott, and Ansel Adams. The Photo League was investigated by the House Committee for Un-American Activities in the 1940s, which resulted in Paul Strand leaving the U.S. to live as an expatriate in France. —Ed.
Featured Comment by Michel: "Let's not forget the bokeh fetishists, shan't we? ;) Ctein, you must be commended for your ability to kick in the nuts all the nuts who swear only by X, Y, or Z. My favorite demonstration of yours is the side-by-side comparison of condenser v. diffusion in Post Exposure: best proof that photographers kill each other for cherry stems."
Featured Comment by David A. Goldfarb: "Is the print of the pink flower a dye transfer? I know you don't exclusively print by dye transfer, but I don't see how someone could have the patience for dye transfer if the process didn't have some fetish value. —David A. Goldfarb, albumen fetishist (I'll take the egg, you can keep the chicken)."