Today we are very definitely in the internet/information age. There are networking groups, informational websites, free tutorials, online classes and chat groups for almost every topic imaginable and photography is no different. There are the equivalent of free television programs available on YouTube and its various competitors about every possible aspect of photography and its technical or aesthetic aspects. With all this information readily and freely available, is there still a place for a local photography club?
In times past, people of common interest would group together and as their numbers grew, hire a venue and form some type of association. Depending on the individuals concerned this might be a formal group with a strict agenda, or perhaps a looser coalition of interested persons. The idea being that their bonding together allowed for a greater exchange of ideas, mutual help and support, but also an opportunity for social interaction, networking and the telling of tall tales. How much of this process has really changed and is this process even required anymore in a modern, computer literate, society?
We are Social Creatures
Photography is by its very nature an isolating pastime. You are placing an object (the camera) between yourself and the events you record. Think about the snaps you see of parties and other social events. Normally the one person missing from all those pictures is the photographer themselves.
To see the effects of social isolation on photographers we only have to look at the activities of some of the paparazzi in the UK and beyond. Only a person with an atrophied human conscience could pursue others to this degree in order to make a living.
Similarly, the internet while on the one hand connecting people, also reduces the opportunity for meaningful human interaction. Text is easily misunderstood, even amongst native speakers of a language. Although voice chat (VOIP) and webcams seem to offer a fuller opportunity for connection, they still reduce opportunity for the understanding of body language and the like. For these reasons online communication mediums offer a poor substitute for real life interaction.
Why is human interaction important to photographers?
Well, unless you plan on only viewing your pictures yourself, or perhaps with a very small circle of friends, you are making pictures for public consumption. This is certainly the case if you intend to enter commercial photography in any meaningful sense. (And let’s face it, earning money from photography lets us buy even more amazing gadgets!)
The commercial photographic world is bigger than iStockphoto and the other stock image agencies, so at some point you will have to deal with people in person. A better understanding of human appreciation of photographic images will definitely help any photographer be more financially successful. Well developed social skills will certainly improve and portrait work you do.
Even if financial gain is not your goal, experiencing firsthand the genuine reactions of others to your work is important. When you pressed the shutter button, you must have thought the image was worth taking, but do others think the same? If they do not agree, why don’t they? Do the reactions of experts differ from the reactions of non-experts?
Peer review and feedback is important in many activities within the arts, scientific and business worlds. An honest, informed, review process helps us to improve technique, composition and subject choice. Sadly, many internet forums do not provide much in the way of constructive criticism. Many people choose to hide behind the anonymity that the internet engenders to attack the work of others in harsh and non-constructive ways. (OMG! That image SUX! – is not very helpful.) A good local photography club by contrast, offers the chance for constructive criticism in a friendly environment.
It is perhaps this last point that is most important – being in a friendly environment. The ability to take risks and fail without fear is what stimulates creativity. We learn more from failure than from success. Harsh criticism does not engender a risk taking, creative outlook.
Suffering for Your Art is Not Compulsory!
Everyone has days in their photographic careers when things go wrong. On those days, would you honestly wish to post on a forum about your “disaster” in order to have it immortalised on a server thousands of miles away? I wouldn’t, at least I wouldn’t if it was not for this site. Far better to vent to a friend, then forget the event ever happened and go back to the telling of tall tales and the “one that got away.” Heartfelt encouragement from a friend will renew the spirit far faster than any internet chat room.
While the internet does serve a useful purpose in providing information and interaction, the local photography club is far from redundant because it offers so much more. As photographers, our activity always involves the human element, even if a human being never enters the frame. Our pictures are created for humans to enjoy and so their opinions matter intensely whether we choose to admit it or not.
Apart from our local photography clubs where else can we go to get honest opinions, along with hints and advice from a
possibly expert and perhaps interested, audience?
Legal Disclaimer: Dave Felton is a happy member of Wallasey Amateur Photographic Society. No photographers were injured in the writing of this article.