A Day In The (Photographer’s) Life, Part 1
(Well, if you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best, right?)
I thought about calling this soon-to-be-regular column, “Photographic Observations” or something similar. That would sound more important, no? Like one of Susan Sontag’s lesser known works. Or an essay by Walter Benjamin. Maybe something by Cartier-Bresson as he looks back over his career.
Sorry. Anyone hoping for such highbrow material will undoubtedly be disappointed. Not only do I possess a singular lack of intellectual credibility, but I’d be avoiding it if I did. I will, in fact, deliberately be ignoring anything of import that I might have to say about photography in favor of the trivial details of my own life.
For instance, this is where you’ll read about the difficulties I experience trying to get a just-married couple to feed me sometime during the course of an 8-hour wedding assignment. Or why there’s a perfectly inverse proportion between the amount of money that a couple pays a photographer and the amount of grief they give said photographer. Or why women don’t wear heels in Santa Fe.
But who would want to read the kvetching of a guy who has a pretty cool job, when all is said and done?
Everyone, apparently. Or so I’ve been told by the Madonna of social media, a woman whose followers run well into the 5-digits, and who I went on a date with a few days ago. A successful date.
During the course of the date, this Idol of Instagram, this Princess of Pinterest, told me the secret of social media. And what she said is this: “People don’t care about photography. Or anything intellectual. Right now, they care about me. And soon they’ll care about you. But you have to tell them. Where you go, what you do, how you think. People will get wrapped up in you. They’ll want to know about this date and the next. Let them in! Tell them everything!”
Now at first blush, this sounds crazy. And it sounds that way on second, third, and fourth blush, too. But, as Jack McCoy of Law & Order fame might say, let’s look at the evidence.
Exhibit “A” is the speaker herself. She sells makeup. She posts constantly on every social media platform you’ve ever heard of. And what does she write about? Well, sometimes gives tips and tricks for buying and applying makeup. But mostly she writes about the details of her life, some minute, some deeply personal, with a little makeup thrown in. And, to paraphrase John Lennon, she has more followers than Jesus.
I don’t understand it, but I’ve noticed this phenomenon before. When I read an interesting photography blog, I can’t help but notice that I’m one of six people following the site. Whereas the guy who rates slices of pizza—and talks mainly about himself in the process—fills the Superdome with “likes” and followers.
As I said, this was a successful date. So as I’m begging for a breather and fetching a glass of water (note the gratuitous use of personal and irrelevant details), she starts looking through my site. “Are you kidding me?” she asks. “This is fantastic! You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to let people know who you are. This isn’t some kind of secret that you share and with your 12 followers.”
Now, I’m as willing to have my ego stroked as the next guy, but my skepticism runs deep. Essentially, she’s telling me to write random bullshit about my thoughts and experiences, and that this bullshit will somehow cause a flood followers to enlist in the Paul Braverman army.
“That’s it exactly!” she says.
“But I always thought that a photographer’s work should stand on its own merit,” I say. “Nobody wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.”
She looks at me in disbelief, as if I just arrived by stagecoach. “That’s what social media is all about,” she says, gracefully leaving off “you moron” or however else she might choose to end the sentence. “Facebook and Pinterest are full of people writing about their labor pains, and millions of followers clamoring for the next installment.”
“Things have changed since the days of your precious Cartier-Bresson,” she continues. “Self-promotion isn’t just legitimate, it’s required. You don’t have to brag if that’s not who you are. But give people an honest look at you and the way you work. Why you do things this way instead of that way. Why you made this choice instead of that one. And how you feel about something completely non-photographic. Trust me, that’s what people want to know.”
Trust can be hard for me. But I’m gonna try.