“My primary photographic motivator is a fear of irrelevance.” – grEGORy simpson
Anyone who sinks a seemingly preposterous chunk of precious personal time and energy into a passion — particularly if it’s a passion void of financial reward — will inevitably encounter the same question: “Why do you do that thing you do?”
Were we a truthful species, most of us would likely answer, “because I’m not right in the head.” But few of us have the courage to proffer such an admission. So we invent plausible responses that we hope garner us admiration rather than admonishment.
Some of us tailor altruistic replies like, “to make the world a more beautiful place.” Others seek a medical explanation, professing that their obsession “reduces stress” or “provides inner peace and harmony.” Those with artistic aspirations choose the ever popular “to express myself” answer.
Since one of my many obsessions involves the avoidance of clichéd thought, I felt I needed to make up my own unique answer to those who questioned my fanatical, yet contrarian photographic tendencies. So whenever I was asked why I took photos, my stock answer became “a fear of irrelevance.”
I believed the response to be humble, honest and downright reasonable. So reasonable, that I included it among my second batch of Bartlett’s Rejects photography quotes. So reasonable, that I actually started to think it might even be true!
But recently, upon uttering my stock reply to a new inquisitor, I heard a faint voice emanating from one of my brain’s unexplored corridors. “And what exactly do you do that’s so relevant?” asked the incorporeal voice.
Relevance is, of course, relative. What’s relevant to one person might not be relevant to someone else. A father’s photos of his children may be relevant to his family, yet inconsequential to all other viewers. A landscape photographer’s shots might prove relevant in justifying a desire to travel, but they’ll likely appear totally extraneous to everyone else. Fine arts photographs might be relevant to those with the necessary clout to define public taste, but are likely immaterial to those not seeking financial gain or social status.
I’m not a father. I suffer from spontaneous narcolepsy syndrome at the mere thought of landscape photography. And I suspect my photographs are quite far removed from the current decorum of the fine arts market. So how, exactly, am I relevant?
Ay, there’s the rub.
For many years, I have defined my own relevance as “helping to keep photography from devolving to the point where a photo is regarded as nothing more than an idealized Xerox copy of whatever’s in front of the camera.” I believe that the best photography is akin to poetry — a stylized, concise, and sometimes obtuse catalyst for stimulating thoughts and emotions that may be unique to each viewer. Suggestion trumps definition. Figurative defeats literal.
One look through Flickr, Instagram, Facebook or the dwindling titles at the local newsstand will tell you I’m not exactly succeeding in my quest. Yet here I am — continuing to take photos and write articles in the face of overwhelming evidence that I am, indeed, irrelevant by my own definition. In retrospect, there was far more hubris than humility in my assumption that I could somehow change the way 7.5 billion people interact with photography. And here I thought those who desired to “express themselves” were the arrogant ones!
So the next time someone asks why I take photos, I’m just going to go ahead and give ‘em the straight dope. “Because I’m not right in the head,” I’ll answer. Sometimes honesty really is the best policy.
©2015 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: All three photos were shot with a Leica M Monochrom (Type 246), though each was rendered through a different lens. “Vacancy” employed an old, scale-focus, thread-mount Voigtlander 25mm f/4 Snapshot-Skopar lens, which I’m testing as a possible wide-angle companion for my old Leica III’s. “Truth in Advertising” was shot with a 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar lens for maximum relevance. “Hobnobbing” saw my ever-present 28mm f/2 Summicron lens mounted to the Monochrom.
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