I walked into town yesterday and looked at the photographs on view. I didn't see any for the first half mile or so, then got up the hill to Camden (in Bath, not London) and they were everywhere. It started with pictures of pot noodle and beer at Best One, bad food and bad drink, went on to images of a lost cat, a bottle of Moroccan Oil and houses for sale and rent, The cat poster was the highlight. It didn't get better than that.
It was like a photo-festival with images in-situ on posters, on walls, in windows, on lamposts, cars, T-shirts, packaging, everywhere. It's a photo-festival that is happening in every economically developed town in the world. You can't escape this shit. It is everywhere.
It was a street-show that had an ideology of conformity at its heart; to consumerism, commodified emotion and a shared experience of pre-chewed sentimentalised joylessness disguised with a perfect-toothed smile.
Individually, the images are what they are. Photographers have to make a living. Collectively, this spittling drizzle of photographic normality and drab betrayed the fear, dishonesty and essential conservatism that lies at the heart of so much photography, art direction and buying; every one of these pictures was a lie. Not deep down a lie, but on the surface a lie. A lie in the face, a spit in the eye, a stab in the heart. And the thing is they are not even interesting lies, they're boring lies that are scared to have an opinion or a feeling, These are photographs that are numb, with no emotion, no opinion and no value. They are empty pictures of empty food, empty drink, empty houses, empty clothes and, worst of all, empty people. Even the pictures on the music flyers are bland facsimiles of what it is to be a musician.
That's the visible photographic culture that we live in and it's terrible. It's everywhere and it has its own festivals, celebrations and manufactured happenings. Its blandness is offensive in the extreme. It's more than offensive. It has an effect on us all because it is so ubiquitous. We cannot escape it. It's Stepford photography that serves the needs of consumption. It kills emotion, opinions and social values. It's normal.
It's the dominant photographic culture. It's where you make money. The stuff I write about on this blog may be more interesting but it is extreme niche. I didn't see one piece of socially concerned photography on my walk to town, I didn't see one documentary project or a smokey meditation on a burnt studio. There were no photobooks (even in the bookshop windows). There was nothing that was angry or challenging or thoughtful.
Beyond the fact that I was deliberately stopping and thinking on my walk, there was nothing that made me stop and think. It was formless, vapid photography of people who have been photographed to look like they need a slap in the face. I'm sure they don't so it's an incitement to violence. No, I'm mistaken, it's not that good. It is visual Musak, that inadvertently lulls us into a state of thoughtless consumption.
The problem is this is how you make money in photography, as a photographer, an art director, a stylist, a whatever. I know plenty of people who make this kind of work. Most of the people who make really interesting work make this kind of work. And they are fully aware that it is 'this kind of work'. All of them expressly do 'personal projects' as a kind of antidote. Half the time you see 'personal project' on somebody's website, you can replace it with the words 'this stops me from slitting my wrists project'. Really. It is that soul destroying, it's that shite! Go on your local high street and look at the pictures of donuts from Gregs, burgers from Mickey P's, bags from Prada, or watches from Tag Heuer. It doesn't matter what the price tag is, it's all dreck.
If you are surrounded by a visual culture of an imagined normal it does get into your bones. It gets into my bones. It stops you having an opinion, or at the very least it makes you afraid to have an opinion, especially if it's a visual opinion that is going to piss people off. It might be too angry, or too sexual, but most of all it might be too true. And that's not just true of the commercial work we see on the streets, (which isn't bad because it's commercial. It's bad because it's bad) it's true of all photography. It seeps into our bones and we start making crappy typologies or empty space projects...
So please photographers or anyone involved in making photographs. Counteract this constant dreck we are constantly submitted to. Have an opinion, tell some truth, show some emotion.
(To be continued in the New Year)