Yesterday's post elicited a number of ungracious or ungentlemanly comments that I had to disallow or edit, which always makes me feel uncomfortable—as though guests have come over and the children incomprehensibly chose just that moment to particularly misbehave. I have absolutely no right to feel that way, yet I guess it's natural for the host of a website to feel a certain pride about the genius and geniality of his commenters, and to be disappointed on those (rare, I think) occasions when those qualities are found wanting.
The post in general made me feel quite strongly that I simply don't feature enough challenging photography on this site. So, for one thing, I've asked Andrew if he'd write for us in the future about what would be called on the Internet "the street photography community." Meaning, the self-identified subset of photographers who care about that genre and communicate about it online.
It used to annoy me when I encountered people who simply hadn't engaged with certain figures (or genres, or schools, etc.) who were well known to be polarizing, enough to have come to some kind of intelligent accommodation with them. Certain kneejerk reactions were themselves clichés...like saying that Picasso can't draw or Dylan can't sing. You just had to roll your eyes. It's much harder to be critical of that these days, because now there really is much less of a comprehensible tradition in photography, much less of a shared experience. It was never monolithic, but now it's positively atomized. Thirty years ago it would be tough to imagine any photographer or photography enthusiast who hadn't heard of Gene Smith (although it wasn't so tough to find Americans who hadn't heard of Eikoh Hosoe). But now you can mention Ara Güler or Paul Caponigro or Raghu Rai and get blank stares—like "what forum does he hang out on?"
Street Signs 7 by Felix Lupa
I'm aware that a lot of people just don't "get" street photography, and even that some people have decided consciously to dismiss all of it—although that seems like cutting an awful lot out of the corpus of photography, like saying you love painting but won't look at anything if it contains any blue.
So anyway, I guess a lot of people hadn't heard of Andrew. And couldn't be bothered to check out his website. Or aren't impressed with his affiliations. And don't know that he's a very accomplished and widely admired street photographer, and/or don't think that status means they should cut him an inch of slack if he casually disses their camera in passing. Or....
Maybe it's not that no one on the Internet knows if you're a dog; its that everyone assumes that everyone is a dog.
In any event, this has been instructive for me. It always helps to get a new read on the sitegeist.*
*I honestly thought I had just coined a clever new term there. Google is hard on the ego that way.
ADDENDUM: Now I'm ashamed of myself for not thinking to mention this earlier: when I privately contacted several of the people who had made less-than-gracious comments, they were very gracious about it, in several cases admitting that they'd simply had a hard day, or were dealing with other, unrelated problems. We all have bad days sometimes. I can cast no stones there.
The people who hang around here really are very nice, even when they're not being nice.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Karl: "I have a close friend and mentor who is one of the great Chicago street shooters, beginning in the late '50s and still at it today. His work is in permanent collections, he's had one man shows and representation at big time galleries, and museums including MOMA and the Art Institute have purchased his prints. Had he run the same route in NYC...but he became a father later in life and tried to instill his love of photography into his now teenaged daughter, but to no avail. He told me that the other day as he was out with his family, ready to visually pounce, he heard her say 'Why is Daddy always sneaking pictures of strangers?'"