popularity vs quality
I‚Äôm sure everyone‚Äôs been there: you arrive home from a shoot, and do the memory card emptying routine, take a first look at your shots on the monitor. You‚Äôre flicking through, click click click cli‚Ä¶ and you stop, because you arrive at a picture that steals your heart straight away. Okay, I‚Äôm being romantic about it, but you know what I mean. Sometimes you (and I really mean ‚ÄòI‚Äô but assume we all have this experience as photographers) look at a shot and think, ‚ÄúWow, I did that. It actually looks great!‚Äù. I think, possibly, that it might even be the anticipation of that reaction that keeps me shooting. I love the process of being out there with the camera but if I didn‚Äôt see any results I liked I think that would wear a little thin.
So, here you are with the shot you love, you process it however appropriate, and it‚Äôs ready to share with the world. Since flickr is my image portal, that‚Äôs where I start. Upload, title, a wee description, and it‚Äôs out there for all to see. Then ‚Äì you probably know what‚Äôs coming ‚Äì you get one or two half hearted acknowledgements. That person whose comments you aspire to attract remains mysteriously, worryingly quiet. A sliver of doubt creeps into your mind: ‚ÄúMaybe it isn‚Äôt as good as I thought. Maybe I‚Äôm missing some awful, glaring problem?‚Äù It grows a shadow and starts to take over: ‚ÄúMaybe‚Ä¶ maybe it‚Äôs, it‚Äôs, oh no – maybe it‚Äôs – really boring!‚Äù
So, how do you decide if you‚Äôre right, or if you have really misjudged it and it‚Äôs actually a mediocre effort?
Do you ascribe varying importance to the sources of those responses ‚Äì or lack of? It took me about 6 months to stop playing the flickr popularity game, trying to collect comments and views and get into the ‚Äòexplore pages‚Äô (where the ‚Äòmost interesting‚Äô pictures reside, as judged by a mysterious algorithm based on a combination of views, comments and favourites). When you figure out that usually it‚Äôs brightly coloured and iconic/simplistic images that look good in 100 pixel wide thumbnails that get you into those hallowed grounds, it starts to lose appeal. I then understood that was no real bearing on the quality of my pictures. Flickr, by its very nature, is a bombardment of thousands of pictures and there are inevitably qualities that make a certain type of shot stand out in that crowd.
I have a couple of contacts whose opinions I really value, and it would usually be because I think they are excellent photographers. The only thing that comes into play then is taste, and sometimes I might know that I have a good shot on my hands and it just isn‚Äôt going to appeal to someone in particular. As I gain more experience, and confidence, this is getting easier to realise/understand/deal with, and I think I can separate it from the times when it really isn‚Äôt as great an image as I had originally thought.
But what would happen if I had a contact who might not be a photographer, but could still be expected to give a worthwhile opinion, like a contact at a gallery (I‚Äôm stifling my laughter at the thought of that mind you, this is all completely hypothetical) or even just someone who buys a lot of pictures for any given reason? Would their opinion be any more valid or useful in judging your own work? Then you have to consider the basis of their evaluation, being more of a commercial one where they are looking to maybe appeal to the masses, or appeal to a certain niche of society. That‚Äôs where you have to decide whether it relates to quality or not.
I suppose in the process of typing this I‚Äôve come to something of an anticlimax‚Ä¶ in the realisation that in the end, you decide whose opinion matters, and if you decide the only opinion that matters is your own, you‚Äôll probably have a much easier time of it‚Ä¶