I’ve recently come across a number of blog/forum posts complaining that new photographers (especially younger photographers) know little about the history and traditions of photography. The following quote is fairly typical:
What I believe I am seeing is a near total abandonment of photographic tradition and history among new photographers, who of course work digitally (in large part). This concerns me greatly. Without tradition and history, the future is bleak.
I have a gallery here in west Texas where from time to time, young photographer wannabes come in to show me their work, or at least talk about showing me their work. When I mention ANY historical figure in photography I get a blank stare from them. When I talk about using archivally adequate materials or presentation appropriate to fine art photography… same thing. Even the most obvious basics appear to be missing.
I also have noticed that on discussion boards they talk at great length about using materials and methods that I, and most here, would consider anathema.
My concern is this: since new photographers have no need of seeking knowledge concerning analog materials and techniques from older photographers, they are therefore no longer immersed in an atmosphere conducive to acquiring knowledge of other aspects of photography from those same people. They do not learn the history, aesthetics, the various schools or even familiarize themselves with any of the work of the past. It is as if, for these new photographers, all the greats and what they had to teach us have simply vanished from the Earth.
I am something of a “history buff” so, of course, I’m interested in the history of photography. I collect old cameras. I like to read about famous photographers etc. At times, however, I’m not at all sure that this is necessarily a good thing. While I was still working I participated in a number of workshops that attempted to establish your personality type. I was typed as analytical. This type of personality is rather introspective and likes to continually gather more and more information so as to make better informed decisions. Since you never have all the information you might need this can lead to “paralysis by analysis” where you never make the required decision. In my photography I feel that I don’t get out and take pictures enough and that sometimes I justify this by reading more. Can it be that I’m more interested in “things photographic” than I am in being a photographer. You need to get the balance right between learning from the past and getting out there and doing it in the present.
Do you really need to have a thorough knowledge of the history of photography and of great photographers in order to be a good photography? I don’t think so. It can certainly help especially if you’re not a truly creative type of person. However, I believe it’s quite possible to produce good, and even great photographs without this knowledge. In any field there are people who have a natural gift, which they then hone through practice. Now I’m certainly not that kind of person. I wish I were – maybe then it wouldn’t be such a hard slog. However, the truly gifted are very few and far between. For the rest of us it’s just keep trying.
I’m afraid that quotes such as the above show an inability to accept that there might be other ways than the “tried and true”.