It's Okay If You Don't Want to Share Your Photos Publicly
Recently, an observant reader remarked my range of documentary diversity was becoming increasingly thin, if not completely starved of originality on which to feed. I admit, my photographic appetite for adventure has settled onto a diet of comfort, as oppose to indulgence, for which I have no inclination to break. I mean, why give-in to temptation when the bland approach promotes regularity for the blog? No point then in spicing up my documentary approach, if I’m already satisfied with the current recipe.
So if not for my usual dog and pony show, then what should my ambitions be photographing instead? Maybe landscapes, or architectural photography? Or should I dabble in the very small or reach for the stars at night? Better yet, should I set up strobes and shoot in studio, or perhaps go on location with a full production team of stylists, makeup artists, and suitcases of wardrobe? Or maybe just photograph my subject suggestively in the buff or leave nothing to the imagination - all in the name of art - no less.
It’s difficult to satisfy everyone, and I have no illusions to ever reach up to such lofty expectations. When one is in the public eye, one will invariably be exposed to scrutiny. Thus, what I share in photographs can at times be greeted with lackluster enthusiasm, if not outright derision. But thankfully, my skin has always been somewhat thick, hardened by years of critiques and put downs by zealous mentors committed to passing down the sum of their knowledge and experience to the next crop of future art directors.
That said, the interpersonal dynamics out in the world wide web isn’t the same as what one would experience in the more controlled confines of work related hazing. Out in the open on the internet, beyond the reaches of constructive criticism, one is essentially a sitting duck asking to be shot upon with a barrage of unpleasantries from a disapproving mob eager to sink their claws into you. Given the prospect of encountering such a hostile environment, it makes one wonder why anyone shares online at all?
The question of sharing online is never as clear cut as what one would think. Even for me - a so-called internet personality - what I choose to share on this blog is never decided without some precaution. The masses is not always predictable, and can quickly turn on you if an error in judgment is committed. For that reason, I elected to remain as anonymous as possible when I first started this blog. To be frank, it would be utterly irresponsible for me to engage my online pursuits so recklessly without any reservation.
And it’s not because I cannot deal with the prospect of internet trolls tearing my life apart. I am a big boy. I can deal with their nasty words. But, there are those in my life who have never asked to be dragged into any public forum. As such, they are neither prepared nor impervious to the prospect of strangers sharpening their knives with eyes on them - all because of an oversight on my part. Perhaps I’m being a little too cautious. But given the uncertainty of how the herd may react, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Not surprisingly, it’s no accident that the photos on this blog lack ambition in both originality and imagination. Week after week, it’s more or less the same - being some version of my partners in crime documented on the streets of Hong Kong. But for the purpose of this blog, my adopted approach fits nicely to my particular set of needs. In addition to providing this blog with a ready source of visually appealing photographs, collaborating with my partners in crime also makes my personal life much less relevant.
From that perspective, the photos I share on this blog must therefore seem manufactured - which to be fair is true to some extent. After all, they’re not photographed from the heart. At most, they’re only a demonstration of proficiency in executing proper techniques in photo taking and treatment in post. Beyond that, there is very little of me in the photos I share on this blog with regards to personal expression - which I guess explains why the photos on this blog appear unimaginative and unoriginal.
To some, this may make the photos I share appear rather disingenuous. And again, there is some truth to that. After all, I am holding back in not expressing my true self freely. But come on, let us be serious for a moment. This is a blog that is updated with new photos on a weekly basis. Realistically, how much personal expression should anyone expect? It is one thing to come up with original and imaginative photos every once in a while. But it’s something entirely different to churn it out week after week.
The photographs I share on this blog serves a functional purpose. They are not intended to be anything more than just a means to an end. Sometimes, they are shared to demonstrate the performance and rendering of a camera or lens. Other times, they are shared to break up the monotony between the walls of texts. And most recently, much of what I’m sharing is just an excuse to shoot in film. This week specifically, I’m sharing photos taken with Fujifilm Natura 1600 - which is remarkable - albeit discontinued.
Conveniently, function often leaves little room for sharing personal photos on this blog, if not providing me an opportune excuse to be impersonal. Besides, it is not as if I am seeking constructive criticism for the photos I am sharing - especially since I am the one entertaining or doing the demonstration. And if it so happens that I am the one on the business end of receiving instruction or unnecessary insults, I won’t be personally affected by that, given the scope of what my photos actually represent.
It’s okay not to share your private photos. I understand how deeply personal it can be to do that. And to many photo enthusiasts, they may not be prepared for the full extent of public outcry - trolls and all. Frankly, it takes much less courage to share photos one step removed from you. But as soon as you expose yourself directly - by sharing personal photos you care about - you essentially become that sitting duck asking to be shot upon. Dodging barbs isn’t for everyone, which requires a certain amount of mettle to withstand.
Originally, I had not intended to post a new blog entry this week. But personal excellence got the better of me. That said, there is a reason why I’m addressing the issue of sharing one’s photos. Recently, a friend recounted how a photographer he respected branded him a fraud, because he chose not to share his work publicly. The reason why my friend doesn’t share his work is because they’re deeply private. Plus, there is also the question of privacy for those closest to him who never asked to be dragged into the public forum.
From that perspective, how is my friend a fraud? The love of photography does not demand an expectation to share one’s work. I mean, does that make Vivian Maier a fraud for not sharing her photos during her lifetime? I for one see no correlation between sharing one’s photos and proving one’s authenticity. In the end, what truly matters is what we do with our cameras. As long as it is being used to take good photos, and is not collecting dust, your claim to the pursuit of photography is genuine.
Sharing your photos has nothing to do with photography. Still, I can understand how we can be led to believe that misguided point of view. Intrinsically, it draws from the same logic of the tree falling in the forest. If no one sees the photos you take, does it still mean anything? Thing is, we all want our photos to mean something - if for no other reason than to receive affirmation from our peers. But in all seriousness, does it really matter if our peers approve of our photos? In the end, we only need to satisfy ourselves with our own efforts.
Strictly speaking, I really haven’t shared any of my photos publicly - other than the ones I’ve manufactured for this blog. And frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. So, does my unwillingness make me a fraud? If wanting to keep a private life makes me disingenuous, then I guess I must be a fraud - or at the very least - unimaginative and unoriginal as suggested by the photos I churn out week after week of my partners in crime. When rationalized in that way, you can see how ridiculous the argument to share for approval really is.
So, take it from me. It’s okay if you don’t want to share your photos publicly. If you’re satisfied with what you’re photographing, then you have no reason to look over your shoulders. In the end, that’s all that matters, and do not let anyone else tell you differently.
PS - I really love the Fuji Natura 1600. I would’ve written a review on it, except I don’t see the point, given that it has been discontinued.
Images have been tweaked in Adobe Lightroom. All images digitized on the Pakon F135 scanner. All images have been cropped in the digitization process. The film used in this blog entry expired on October 2018.