Once in a while I have an email sent to me that rubs me up the wrong way. I sometimes ignore them and sometimes respond, but once in a blue moon I feel I need to vent publicly about the content. This is one of those occasions.
A couple of weeks ago I published an interview article titled, ‘A Conversation between Film Soupers Amy Berge and Jen Stamps‘. Holly, who compiled the interview, does a little bit of work for the website these days – she helps find people to contribute to the site, and has more recently been spending a lot of hours creating a book. In short, she’s part of the team, a very valuable part at that.
I have for a long time now been trying to expand the niche of 35mmc. More specifically, I have been trying to encourage content from a more diverse range of people with a more diverse set of interests within photography. I’m not very good at this alone as I tend to just gravitate to photography and cameras I’m interested in and/or people who seem to share my interests.
One of the reasons I wanted Holly to be part of the team is that she has a very different perspective on photography to me. She likes and engages with different types of photography, follows different people, and operates in different circles of the online film and alternative process photography community.
This is exactly how an article about film souping ended up on 35mmc.
Let me first be clear about my attitude toward film souping. I’ve written recently about my lack of interest in serendipity in my film photography. I take pleasure in pre-visualisation and the satisfaction when what I pre-visualise comes good in my end photos. The idea of disrupting that process by intentionally damaging the film’s emulsion to the point that I would have no idea if I am even going to get an image at the end boggles my mind. I don’t even like the results the massive majority of the time. In short, it’s not something I can currently see me ever doing.
But, does the fact that I am so against it as part of my photography mean that I don’t respect other people’s desire to take part in such activities? In short, no, not at all.
I totally respect whatever path photographers might take in their work. In fact, more than that. I almost get a vicarious joy reading about the pleasure that some people get out of partaking in photographic pursuits I don’t personally enjoy myself. I love the fact that other people enjoy different things to me, and I don’t need to enjoy those things or even understand them for me to feel that way.
I know how much pleasure photography gives me. So when I read about someone else enjoying it, I feel an empathy toward that enjoyment. I don’t need to like the photos – it’s a bonus for me personally if I do – but really who am I to judge the quality of someone else’s photography? Who am I to judge the output of someone else’s enjoyment?
This is what 35mmc is about for me. It’s a blog about personal experiences of photography. It’s not a celebration of what might most frequently be considered objectively “good” photography, instead it’s a celebration of people’s experiences of photography, and indeed the emotions it makes them feel.
So whilst I might not personally have any interest in film souping, or the results it achieves, I am interested to read about three people who do – for their own reasons – enjoy it for themselves. Which is exactly what Holly’s mini-interview with Jen and Amy was about.
Did I publish it expecting all 35mmc’s readers to enjoy the photography? No. I didn’t even expect everyone to take the time to read it. But I did – perhaps naively – publish it expecting readers to respect it for what it is. That being a reflection of the enjoyment that three photographers get out of partaking in a particular alternative photography process.
Which is why I was a little bit (a lot) annoyed off to receive this email:
Dear Mr. Gill;
I was attracted to your website by its idiosyncratic nature, but . . .
Do you vet any of the articles you allow on 35mmc? Some of the equipment articles are of interest but many of the other articles display an alarming lack of photographic talent and artistry.
The recent article “A Conversation between Film Soupers Amy Berge and Jen Stamps – By Holly Gilman” is appalling. The images attest to the complete uselessness of what is espoused in the article. I can almost hear Ansel Adams rolling over in his grave. The old comment about a million monkey’s at typewriters cranking out Shakespeare (eventually) comes to mind.
Your site could be so much better.
The above is a perfect example of the sort of gatekeeping and of arrogance and hubris toward other photographers I see online far too much. It’s bigoted, self interested, and myopic. It is the sort of opinion that boggles my mind way more than something like film souping ever could.
I might not understand why someone would want to do this sort of thing to their film photos through my own perspective. But I realise others might have a different perspective. I even respect the email writer’s entitlement to his own opinion.
What I don’t understand is why someone would want to diminish someone else’s enjoyment. I also really don’t understand how it is possible to enjoy the richness of photography whilst simultaneously not seeing how other people might enjoy it differently.
After receiving the email, I sent a message first to Sroyon (who also works for 35mmc) to see what he thought of it. We had a bit of a chat and then he remembered a passage out of Adams’ book ‘The Print’ which reads,
The reader must bear in mind that what these books are intended to accomplish is to present a concept (visualisation) and a modus operandi (craft) to achieve desired results. This is obviously directed to serious participants in photography, but it should not be interpreted as dogma; each must artist must follow his own beacons and chart his journey over the medium’s seas and deserts. I wish to dispel any thought that my approach is rigid and inflexible.
I responded to the email with the following reply:
In discussing this email with one of the team, a passage from Adams’ book ‘The Print’ was brought to my attention:
[The above passage screen grabbed]
Specifically, “it should not be interpreted as dogma; each artist must follow his own beacons and chart his journey over the medium’s seas and deserts”.
One of the most wonderful things about photography is the vast array of opportunity it provides participants with when it comes to discovering ways to express themselves creatively.
It seems you don’t agree, so perhaps you could tell me how and where I should draw a line around photography, which types of creative expression I should exclude, to which/who’s set of “rules” I should prescribe, and why…?
I am yet to receive a reply, and frankly I don’t want one. There should be no line drawn around photography as a pastime, we are all entitled to express ourselves creatively however we damned please, and 35mmc will continue to celebrate that fact!