#192. Blogging is dead. Long live blogging.

By Paul Perton | News

Jan 03
Ocean sunset at Noup

Ocean sunset at Noup

I got an e-mail from a photo buddy in Australia earlier in the week. He has stopped updating his excellent photo blog, largely because he feels that the page views and feedback he receives don’t match the work that he puts in.

I’m sad about that – I really enjoy his work; in addition to being a photographer, he has a lifelong interest (and a library of images) in motorsport. His posts often feature shots scanned from long-forgotten and recently (re)discovered transparencies, showing an intimacy and presence in the sport that rules and superstardom make impossible today.

He’s not unique; it’s all slowing down. Photo blogging that is.

Just a few short months ago, the Web was awash with sites about everything from a picture a day, to more than intimate images of photographer’s girlfriends. Today blogs are disappearing, Web sites aren’t updated and many photographers seem to have just given up.

Dry kelp

Dry kelp

Meanwhile, photography’s commoditisation continues unabated; images shot with cell phones deliver the immediacy that photography’s new consumers demand, effects are added at the press of a virtual button and in seconds, the picture is on the Web for all to see.

The anti case has been aired any and everywhere and I don’t propose to challenge any of it. We live in a must-have-it-now society and time may well prove that the fork in the road we chose was the wrong one. Still, with our collective memory so well recorded, we won’t forget too much about it.

Band three

Band three

Perhaps we’ve lost the notion that one photographer has an engaging view of the world. And so, we no longer seek his/her work to enjoy more and similar images. That’s been replaced by hundreds and thousands of views of the world’s iconic places, events and it’s people. Instead of a single image that defines a specific place, time or event, we search Google and are offered alternatives by the page full. No-one seems to care about super saturation and blown highlights any more, most simply waiting for the next generation of cell phone cameras, which will surely make such technical hurdles a thing of the past anyway.

Bringing these disparate images together in a virtual place, defined by no more than a few keywords and we’ve pretty much made style, skill, art and by extension ourselves, redundant.

So, where does that leave us – me specifically?

Vaguely irritated and disappointed.

I enjoyed the bloom that bought thousands of photographers on to the Web, each one in search of an audience, an edge and a few sales. Many fell victim to natural selection early on, most had something to say – at least visually. Almost all of them have gone now too.

What is left has probably managed to retain some credibility, but despite that, their messages remain depressingly similar; today’s image (I do this too), what I did yesterday, special deals on prints and home-brewed plug-ins, plugs for upcoming workshops and equipment reviews – often even before the camera/lens/stuff has even shipped.

Rocky shoreline, Noup

Rocky shoreline, Noup

In his defence, Pascal’s multi-part A7 review has been compiled hands-on and addresses most of the man-in-the-street things that I consider important, with little technical content to cloud the reading. Thinking back, it was his well commented use of the 25mm Zeiss Biogon that got me into a store to buy one too – a decision I’ve yet to regret.

It’s early days for me on Dear Susan. I don’t have a defined role yet – not even sure I want one. I do want to avoid the gentle slide into don’t care though.

So, that’s about it these days and as I said, I’m disappointed. Where’s the art? Surely we can do better than this state of stasis?

  • You raise a series of questions that may of us have been struggling to answer.

    For me, here is the nub of it: We _must_ decide what is important _to us as individuals_.

    Is it the feeling of joy that a “superior” piece of photographic equipment can give?

    Is it the prospect of making money from photography?

    Is it the art of a final work-product? That is, is it the image that fully expresses what you feel, or what you must say?

    We have to honest with ourselves.

    I put it this way because I see many people tend to confuse these three elements into believing in there somewhere some kind of magic will mystically appear. It won’t. Not even the world’s greatest artist ever had a style or approach drop into their laps, unbidden, without fully engaging their art. Tools, in those cases, become utterly secondary to what’s going on in the artist’s head and heart.

    What is happening right now is a redefinition of photography. It’s had a great run for the past nearly (but not quite) 200 years. The technologies that enable image making have evolved to the place where, as you note, the act has been made common and easy.

    This is the precise point of a number of blog entries where I have explored the meaning and purpose of image making ( http://photosketchpad.blogspot.fr/ – where I also do many of the things you describe bloggers on photography doing).

    Someone wrote an article that triggered a cascade of realizations in me about the present state of photography. In short, there has been a mass movement from the potential for photographic art and reportage to an instantaneous sharing of experience.

    Think about that a moment. Experience. Not art. Not informative reportage. Experience.

    When we think about what we want to say to each other (in our blogs and social media outlets) we come constantly straight against the question: Who cares? Why does what I say matter?

    The worst part if it is that even with all the effort it takes, you run the ego-deflating risk that no one will look. That no one will care. Then what? Why are we doing what we do?

    It takes a strong person to look boldly into the face of reality, doesn’t it?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Christopher,

      Agreed !

      I’m not sure the shared experience is entirely new. It’s certainly reaching new levels but my guess is that will subside when more immersive technologies reach the masses. People have used photography as a code for social conduct for decades. The picture of your kids on your desk, the picture of your loved one in your wallet. You were some sort of a freak if you didn’t follow the code.

      Today, photography is often used as a code for sharing the week-end’s drinking of for the “been there got the t-shirt” code of conduct. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s nothing particularly interesting to write about either, bar from a sociology point of view.

      So that leaves us freaks interested in photography as an art form or, at least, as a great medium for personal expression 😉

      By the way, I love your blog ! Please keep it up 🙂 I very much doubt that you risk the ego-deflating empty house. The door is always open, should you feel otherwise.

      I look forward to seeing you again.

      All the best,

  • pascaljappy says:

    Paul, brilliant post. As ever.

    Let me respond publically to some of the questions you raise :

    * Blogs are dying. Yes and no. In my day job as a content marketer, I’ve often had to ask myself whether a blog is worth it for a client or not. Yes, blogs are dying because so few people find actual pleasure in writing and sharing quality. Immediacy is easy. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t grow. People who got into blogging in the days where blogs were the new easy are now finding other outlets for easy publishing. That makes it all the more worthwhile for the others to shine, share their love, provide insight and interact.

    When I started DearSusan, I had found 3 other bloggers to start writing with me, in French and in English. It was my dream to make this a collaborative effort where photographers of different styles and points of view would spread wisdow, fun or whatever they had to bring along. The only entry barrier was to be genuinely interested in photography as a form of expression rather than a recording tool. It didn’t last. One by one, my co-authors decided it was easier to watch TV or tried it alone. But readers soon became new contributors and that’s for the better.

    I think blogs are simply evolving from web logs for teenagers to more publishing platforms for elaborate sharing. It brings up images of the ancient game LIFE, with single cells dying away and other conglomerating spontaneously to create new forms. I hope DearSusan can be one of the interesting forms.

    * About your friend, and on a related topic : he is most welcome to write for Dear Susan, when and how he feels ike it.

    That’s the thing with blogs. No one succeeds alone. The more (like minded) the merrier. The higher the quality, the better. More motivated writers means more time to hone content and more quality publication.

    Please extend the invitation if you think he’d be interested and willing.

    DS received 130 000 visits in 2012 and 140 000 in 2013. While growth for growth is not my goal, growth and more reward for your friend will inevitably follow if we continue publishing quality stuff and sharing it. I’ve never seriously marketed this blog before but will start doing so shortly. I’m not sure about going West, but we will multiply 😉

    * About your role : I sincerely hope you’re enjoying it as much as I enjoy reading you. For me that’s goal number 1. Secondly, I think you bring a *very interesting* point of view on photography and one very different from mine. We’ve talked about people I’d never even heard of. We live in different parts of the world. And your photography is often North of sublime.

    I don’t think I’d like to define a role for each contributor as much as continue steering the general orientation of the blog’s tone and center of interest. A bit of chaos in a well controled envitonment seems much more interesting than the standardised approach of newsroom editing.

    If we ever monetise this blog, which is a legitimate goal for any blog but not one I have strategised yet, I hope we can do so without changing these priorities a bit.

    I look forward to more from you and many others. Anyone reading this is welcome on board 🙂


  • philberphoto says:

    Paul, You do not mess around, you go straight for the jugular, and good on you for doing so!
    I watch what happens to photography and part of it brings back memories of what happened with audio. It used to be that audiophiles tried very, very hard to get the last bit of performance in their quest for ever better sound reproduction. That died at the hands of the iPod. Portability, ease of use, trumped quaity and performance. Similarly in photography, the camera phone is putting compact cameras out of business, and nobody knows how far that trend will extend.
    That said, there is also a singular difference. Audio is a passive performance for oneself, whereas photography is active and outward looking. What is the point of taking a tremendous picture if it carries no bragging rights? 🙂
    So sharing now takes on a new turn as social networks engulf many blogs. And, as the taking and sharing of photos becomes ever easier, almost instant, actually, any kind of self-restraint and care flies out in favor of “spray and pray”.
    Alas, I hold no copyright on the future, but what I can say is this: fast food did not kill off gourmet cooking. Actually, more people are into fine food than ever before, as the market segments itself.
    So my money is on the blog scene segmenting itself. Those that existed for a primarily social purpose and experience will fold and be transformed into Facebook-cum-Instagram or whatever. But among those huge numbers of people, some will be exposed to better photgraphy, and some will be inspired. Those will be the photographic chefs and gourmets of tomorrow.

  • paulperton says:

    Wow. In sum, these replies must have taken longer to write than the article itself.

    I feel some answers are required – you may have to decide whether I have any kind of real point to make, or I’m just stirring the pot. Often, I feel uncertain myself.

    In the ‘30s, Hitler’s rise caused massive consternation, sounded alarm bells and caused millions of people in Germany to be on their guard, hoping the worst would never happen.

    It did and history records those events for us all to learn from.

    In the early ‘90s South Africa, we lived on the edge of what without Mandela and de Klerk, might easily have been civil war. We all held our collective breath, watched and waited.

    And, without wishing to trivialise those events in any way, we as a race of people didn’t (learn) and we continue to hope this or that won’t happen. Irrespective of how obvious the outcome might be.

    Back in the ‘90s the reprographic business died. Adobe, PDF and other now more pervasive technologies came together to change the way ink on paper was delivered and an industry ceased to be, albeit slowly. If you see a repro business today, they either have extraordinarily deep pockets, or a legacy client keeping them afloat.

    Then, the retail music industry fell prey to iTunes.

    Booksellers have all but disappeared thanks to Amazon et al.

    Audio? Largely gone too, although I would say that one upside is the almost flat frequency response generated by the iPhone/iPod, which is streets ahead of anything a pre-amp can deliver, irrespective of price.

    What’s next?

    Guess away, it’s hardly relevant unless your income is dependent on what is currently being commoditised. In the main, we have no control over where this is leading other than to acknowledge most of the change for the recipient is quite useful, satisfying and fun; surely it’s intention anyway.

    I continue to listen to music for as long as I am awake – iTunes randomly works through my library of music and I find the unpredictable mixture of jazz, classics, pop and some of Steve’s music* entertaining and highly missable when it’s not playing. Incidentally, this stream plays through a 20+ year old Naim pre/power amp and a decade old pair of bookshelf Tannoys.

    I’m happy in this foot-in-either-camp situation, how about you?

    Perhaps we just need to get over ourselves. Photography is our chosen form of expression and we’ve hit a situation where our audience isn’t looking or listening. Either we accept that and continue to work, show and comment in an increasingly tight-fitting bubble, or as Pascal suggests, look for opportunities for change.

    Given that the delivery of photography will continue to become more perfect as technology deals with over and under exposure, focus and whatever else can be reduced to algorithms, it will come down to the photographer to create the new art.

    For me, nothing will replace the frisson of excitement when I look through the viewfinder, or at the rear LCD and see a scene that might just be a great shot. If I capture that image with an iPhone, so be it. To quote Chris, it’s about the art and as history shows, only some people can do that, others can likely do many, many other things that I can’t. I’m not sulking about that.

    One day, I’ll die and hopefully, my wife and children will look through thousands of my photographs and remember me kindly. That some of those images might have bought pleasure to millions of unknown others trawling the Web is a bonus. I’ll leave this world happy if that traffic generated some income along the way, but won’t mind if it didn’t – it will have been a great experience.

    Oops. I’m getting morbid. Time to go and enjoy my Saturday.

    * Great buddy Steve has a global taste in music and I listen to many of his albums to try and share that interest with him. Often, my wife looks at me questioningly as some strange song oozes from the speakers. I look back; “It’s one of “Steve’s” is usually explanation enough.

  • I witnessed something amazing yesterday. It was the power of image making as part of a shared experience.

    A friend of mine and I sat over a Chouffe de Noel. He photographed our beers, wrote a short passage, and sent it to his friend in Thailand. She looked at it and replied seconds later with her own photo of where she was and what she was doing.

    The value of the transaction was instantaneously felt between my friend and his friend. 10,000 kilometers collapsed to zero.

    Thinking on a larger scale, we all remember experiencing the huge earthquake in Japan. People on scene documented and shared the reality of the following tsunami in real-time. Yet not one image nor one video from the event has stood the test of time. That is to say, culture seems to not very often refer back to those frightening hours. People have moved on (as they say).

    I can see where the changing role of photography in culture is threatening to those who make their living from this kind of work. For those who enjoy camera collecting, there will always be a long and honored history of photo-“left overs” to paw through second hand (I’m thinking of Leica collectors), but the frantic pace of new camera production will be replaced with whatever the manufacturers can sell. Already the big three companies are reporting a 25 percent decrease in sales, year over year.

    Just as photography did not replace certain kinds painting, highly integrated social experience sharing will not replace certain kinds of photography. How that will play out remains for the future to present to us. Perhaps you’re seeing the forefront of this sea-change with fewer blogs and photographer websites?

    I feel it’ll be a much smaller pool with far fewer people talking about photography as a stand-alone hobby/craft/livelihood. But until we’re planted us in the ground, some of us will continue to enjoy sharing and talking about the great practice of photography as image maker.

  • Feegs says:

    Thank you, Paul, for sharing your insights. I too am a blogger (though I never meant to become one). Dear Susan’s quirky approach to photography hits the mark so much better than so many blogs/sites that feel too commercial or egocentric. And the fact that you discuss meaning is something that immediately resonates. So go on, push through!

    This is one of my preferred sites because:
    1. You fill an all too obvious void in the online photo realm (where most are too busy sharpening their agenda of making money out of others), and
    2. It’s refreshing to read exploratory thoughts about creativity.

    Though it may appear paradoxical in an age of adoration of fame and boasting about followers, I believe it’s not the the sheer volume of people you speak to but what you’re communicating that ultimately matters.

    Once again, thank you.

  • paulperton says:

    Looks to me as though I’m not alone. This appeared on Kirk Tuck’s excellent Visual Science Lab (http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com) this morning (7 Jan):

    “I think photography blogs have more or less run their course. For every blogger who really understands the gear, like Ming Thein or Michael Reichmann, there are legions of hobbyists who take duffle bags full of crappy images, review every camera that comes down the pike and fall madly in love with each of them. Every single one. Ming and Michael are leveraging their experience while almost everyone else is flexing their marketing muscles.”

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