Ralph Steiner lived from 1899 – 1986. Reference information about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Steiner. One of his films can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO_Aw02Fkj8. It’s quite beautiful, twelve minutes, and worth a look.
My main concern with Ralph Steiner today is a quote by him: “Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity; be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at-just please yourself.” (Italics mine)
Before the advent of the Internet (yes, you two-thumbing generation, there WAS a time when we couldn’t stay connected) the two main ways of getting mass attention for your photography was firstly to have a book published. Secondly, you might get into a gallery. Most likely if you did the one the other would follow. Of course, few people made it to this level, even people who did wonderful work and produced beautiful and intriguing images. It helped to be born with the wealth of your parents backing you with its influence to get you connected to those in positions to place your work in those venues of admiration. Fortune’s favorites.
But then along came the ability to post images on the WWW. Popular social sites came into being for posting your visual gems for the world to see and for many people this has become the raison d’ etre of all their photographic endeavors: To garner as many “likes” or “faves” as possible and that ultimate of all honorifics, to have one’s lens-child baptized in that River. (Let the reader understand. I once had a picture there, a fly-like insect feeding atop a gaillardia flower in New Mexico. I thought it was fairly nondescript, but it got over 20,000 views.)
A Spanish author whose name is buried in the forgetfulness of over 40 years since I read him in college once wrote an essay about how worthless the opinion of the masses really is. You who post to whatever place and agonize over how popular it is or over how many comments you get; you who grow green with envy when you look at those pictures of other more popular, apparently, contributors whose work is nowhere near as good as yours; those who research the best time of day on which day of the week to post to get attention; to you, I say, I’ve been there. I’ve also left those places having realized the utterly sick obsession involved. I have my website where people can go a view my work for free, and here. My only other social site involvement is where I play chess online.
So in keeping with the idea of the basic ignorance of the masses, don’t let the lack of praise bother you. Look at Ralph Steiner’s words again up above, “…just please yourself.” Back in the day we took pictures of events and places we visited on trips, people we loved. We kept the photos in albums and enjoyed pulling those repositories out from storage on occasions and enjoyed our pictures. We didn’t worry about or value what anybody else thought. I’ve found myself doing these things to enjoy what I create: 1. I frame and hang on the walls. 2. I put actual prints I make in albums or acid free storage boxes or in large books of blank drawing paper in between the pages and kept under the bed for whenever. 3. I make slide shows in Lightroom to look at with musical accompaniment. 4. I post to my website where they get viewed, and even purchased one time by a guy down in Georgetown, Texas. I watch slide shows of them there also, which I hope my visitors also do. 5. Maybe most importantly to me, in today’s world of easy self-publishing, I make books of my pictures with words I write accompanying. I do this on Blurb out of Lightroom and of course nothing sells; the second book I didn’t even list for sale to the public. I just get a copy to have around for me to enjoy looking through and also will give copies as gifts. 6. Lastly, I’ve gone to three art shows recently, two nearby and one way out in Alpine, Texas, the famous Alpine Artwalk. This way I get personal interaction with people who actually do buy my work. In Alpine a fellow walked into my booth area, went and looked at a framed photo of three crosses in the old Terlingua cemetery, came over to where I was sitting and asked, “Did you take all of these photographs?” I answered in the affirmative and gave him my card with link to my website on it. He got out his phone and I guess entered the link to verify these we my pictures(?) I was beginning to wonder if I had photographed the grave of a long lost ancestor and he was cooking up a way to get a lawsuit. He returned to me and said, “I WANT that picture.” I agreed to cater to his wish with the proper exchange of media with presidents pictures on them for the photo. Another buyer of a framed photograph of bare trees in fog just below Mount Emory down in Big Bend National Park (100 mile to the south) was a young woman who had on several occasions served my my meals in the lodge restaurant there. I was quite flattered she wanted to hang the picture on her wall in the park.
I know my last point involves pleasing others, and I’ll openly admit to my hypocrisy in light of the thesis of this post. However, to excuse myself, at least I was in the physical presence of the people whom I was seeking to impress. There seems to me to be a difference between that with real people and physical objects instead of faceless strangers and assorted arrangements of data into ethereal illusions of photographs.
Do find ways to make your own self happy with your photographs. You took them because you responded emotionally to something. Relive those emotions yourself through them.