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The Rise of the Photographer pt 7: Time | The Philosophy of Photography

In part 7, I tie ideas I have learned so far when exploring the philosophy of photography into the notion of time. See the introduction here if you haven’t yet.

A fundamental trait of a photographer is to share their images with the world, ideally being paid to do so. To become a “quality” photographer— inwhich I mean a photographer that has clear, crisp and publishable images— requires heavy time and monetary investments. The “tier; beginner, intermediate, professional” system that camera companies operate on are mostly arbitrary— that is their purpose is to separate devices to drive income— so when it comes to monetary investments, a photographer does not need to spend $10,000 on a camera set. Capitalism imposes that we require the best and newest, even when technology has stagnated and cameras operate within that system. So a monetary investment of $1000 can yield clear, crisp and publishable images. It seems that the largest investment to a photographer would be time, it is difficult to become a recognized photographer early in your career. It is not to say that it is impossible, but those who make it at a young age are the exception to the conception. As long as time is invested, progress will be made. Learning takes time—the largest learning curve in the modern digital age being editing images— proper composition takes time, story telling takes time. These are the most important qualities found in a photographer. In part 2 I talk about the Instagram paramount, which is a precursor to the respect a photographer has to give to time, rather than growth.

I say that money does not drive good photos, which is true, I personally shoot on a Nikon D5300 with 18-55 and 55-300mm lenses I purchased second hand for $450.00 (big shout-out to that man who sold me this camera). I have no desire to spend $4000 on a full-frame camera and spend $1500 on the expensive lenses to chase the dream of a professional photographer. That is simply a construct of capitalism—again the notion of needed the best and newest— and this brings me to time.

If you follow a big Instagram page such as ‘MoodyGrams’ or something, you will notice that it is a large collaboration page of images found throughout Instagram where exposure is given to the photographer that allowed them to share their image on ‘MoodyGrams’ page. Obviously a person that has 500 followers will jump at the chance to have their image posted on a page with over a million followers. It really isn’t recognized that the million-plus follower page will make money off of their image, or if it is, it is deemed acceptable because they received exposure even if it is only for a limited amount of time. I personally do this so it would be hypocritical of me to say anything negative about it. There isn’t anything bad on the surface level here, but it can have damaging consequences.

In the Instagram Paramount, I write about my experience chasing exposure, rather than learning photography. A trend I have noticed is that photographers will start to chase exposure, chasing success first. Forgetting about what made their image great to begin with, and start pumping out photo after photo, tagging more and more accounts to have that success again. What is forgotten in this rush for dopamine, is belief in your image, in your process and in yourself. “Could it be my images are no longer good?” This thought will disrupt the learning process and makes you question everything that you did to get up to that point. I am not saying that being picked up by a influential organization/media is bad, but it can be damaging. Almost forgetting why photography is so cathartic and enjoyable in the first place—forgetting the art and focusing on success.

Time is a valuable and limited resource and will always be conflicted with existential thoughts. If you don’t find success quickly, questions arise on why you have started this journey in the first place. “We all die eventually, make the time you have on Earth mean something.” This road of existential conflict is a dark one and has been examined by many great philosophers; Sartre, Neitzsche, Heidegger, Schopenhauer, etc. Humans are forever trapped in this existentialism within the theory of time. Photography is one of the few creative art forms that capture time, digital photography has advanced the longevity of this creation, and social media has advanced the shareability of photography. So why are photographers in such a rush to create? It is because humans want to be the best in their field, but we forget that to become the best, the investment of time on yourself is required, not the investment of money on your equipment. I think that capitalism expels the equation being the best = most money = best life. Schopenhauer would say that humans suffer in a forever revolving "Will to Live”. Will to Live is best explained that we [humans] are unconsciously unsatisfied with our surrounding. We [humans] will always be restlessly striving for things, and we [humans] will forever be chasing the ultimate and unachievable. A common phrase in the photography world is, “it doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you have, but how you use it.” Ironically we are all quick to showoff our equipment once we have something new— example would be the common “What is in my camera bag?” question.

Perpetuated by restlessly striving for things within the Culture Industry, we chase the dream of becoming the top photographer. The Culture Industry and Capitalism does not allow for time to develop a skill, especially later in adult-hood— most economic systems do not allow for time, because they operate on a “money now, ethics later” philosophy. The photographer will make sacrifices to their work, in order to provide quantity over quality. This quantity over quality allows the photographer to consciously believe they are increasing their growth odds, but counter-productively reducing their chances because image quality has taken a hit. I cannot take any moral high-ground because I have (and still) do this, the unconscious will forever be stronger than the conscience. All one has to do to realize this is look back into whatever archival source is used, and one can see images once deemed fantastic no longer acceptable, questioning why it was published to the public.

In summary, photography is a great tool to recognize the importance of time and learning over speed and quantity. The rush of the modern day causes us to forget that we are human, and we take time to develop. We constantly are learning throughout our existence, so why compromise that for brief period of success, followed by regression. Metaphorically, everyone has a different peak for each mountain of potential; Wherein some achieve it sooner, perhaps they had to climb less, maybe they even had a head start, but consequentially have a higher chance of it feeling unrewarding. Some achieve it later, they have to work harder for it, sometimes reach dead-end and have to backtrack, but the potential in finding the peak is there, and reaching it becomes more rewarding.

We are all human, and we are all restlessly striving.