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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Random Conversations #4 ; It's like Being a Brand

H: Why do I have to write it like that? Why can't I just write it the way I want to write it?

Me: The reason you have to write like that is because that's how you have to write.

H: Is that the discourse thing again?

Me: Absolutely. So if you are writing an essay, you have to use certain language and write in a certain way. It's the same if you're a photojournalist and you're writing a proposal, you have to have a certain discourse, if you are writing a grant application, you have another way of writing, a book review is different again and then there is the artist's statement which is a whole different barrel of fish and I imagine commercial photographers have their own private language too.

H: So it's like a kind of code, a language that shows you belong and can be taken seriously?

Me: I suppose so.

H: And you're not allowed to mix up all these discourses?

Me: No, absolutely not. Because if you mix them up, then you  lose your consistency and people forget what you're trying to say. You confuse them by being in two places at once.

H: Is that the same as being consistent in your work and developing the same theme and doing the same thing that you've always done, but a little bit different.

Me: I suppose so.

H: Kind of like developing yourself as a brand, so when people hear your name they know what they're getting, when they see your pictures they know they're by that photography - oh look, it's a scary looking man with scribbles on the wall and a bunch of wire, it must be Roger Ballen.

Me: Yeah, exactly like that.

H: And you think that's a good thing?

Me: Well, it's not a question of good or bad, it's simply what you have to do.

H: But you don't do it.

Me: That's because I can't do it. I'm too stupid, too indisciplined, too poor and daft and dirty to do it.

H: But if you could do it, would you do it?

Me: That's beside the point.

H: No, it's not. Would you do it if you could?

Me: Well....

H: Because if you did, then you would become a brand. Isn't that what it's really all about - becoming a brand. It might be a journalistic or an artistic or an academic brand, but it's a brand all the same. A brand where the bag and the outrage and the scarf are all part of it. And if you became a brand, isn't that the signal of your complete failure as a human being, isn't that completely contrary to what you or me or any documentary photographer or artist should want to become. Don't you think that to have that level of consistency, to have that anal obsessiveness to always talk in one particular way - even when you know it's bullshit - is alien to everything that is true and honest and good.

Me: Um...

H: And don't you think that's the problem with photography and art and all the rest of it, that people are becoming like brands, going to galleries and magazines and NGOs that are like brands run by people with money and power who completely believe in being a brand. But don't you think that only somebody who is a bit worthless could think of himself as brand, as a commercial entity?

Me: Not at all.

H: Bollocks Not at all. That's what you think isn't it?

Me: In a more polite form, perhaps.

H: Well then. And if you do think that,  you also think that everybody who is successful has to have that level of consistency of message and work that will gain them artistic or commercial success. And if you do that then you have to brand yourself. And if you have to brand yourself you have to be worthless. And so what you're saying is that all photographers are worthless. And if they are worthless, then isn't their work and everything they represent worthless.

Me: Er, no, I'm not saying that at all..

H: I think you are. You're being bitter? You should take a more charitable view.


rajiv said...

"In a more polite form, perhaps" - brilliant reply :-).

colin pantall said...

H was much less polite than that, Rajiv.

Deborah Parkin Photography said...

This really made me smile Colin, it's a breath of fresh air. I have so much to say on this but just can't seem to articulate it very well .. let's just saying reading this was perfect timing for me .. cheers :)

colin pantall said...

Thanks Deborah - I'm not sure if I agreed with H or not - she is a bit extreme, but I do think we have to recover ourselves from the idea of branding in all its form and cast it and all those who hold it close into the fiery pit where it belongs.

Hank said...

I read this again today and I think it is very true and very good. And funny.