Society has evolved a lot over the last two decades. But, it seems common sense and thoughtful dialogue are slowly fading away. Instead, we’re getting deeper into a world of extremes; we’re either extremely nice or extremely rude. The photography community has also become swept up in it, and I believe it’s hurting us.
Although I was young, I remember a time when you could challenge something someone did, and it did not result in someone being offended. More so, people had the skills to challenge someone respectfully. The outcome is that a person either learned something or both parties could respectfully disagree. It’s scary how far removed we seem to be from that today.
Nowadays, people are overly nice and complementary because they’re so scared of people viewing them as anything other than a good person. Or, they’re so full of undirected rage that they want to say the worst thing possible to a person. This happens in day-to-day life but occurs predominately on the internet, where an overwhelming majority of our photography community exists.
Currently, society’s toxic way of communicating prevents photographers from truly developing their skills. Some might say this toxicity impacts far more critical issues than photography; politics, race, gender, climate, etc. I don’t disagree. However, we’re a photography publication, and even if the impact doesn’t feel as urgent to address, it doesn’t mean it’s not valid.
How Do These Extremes Show Up in the Photography Community?
I spend a lot of time viewing photographs and photographers. Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram are my primary sources of new photography. Regarding extreme niceness, I see too many comments that give the photographer and ego rub without offering any substance. Shallow compliments make the person commenting look like a good person and give the photographer a false reality of how strong their images are.
Currently, society’s toxic way of communicating prevents photographers from truly developing their skills.
Seldom do I see photographers saying why they don’t like an image or how they think a photographer can improve an image. For those of us who still have a grasp of reality, we know everything isn’t amazing, perfect, and super cool. We’re aware a photograph often has flaws and can be improved upon with slight adjustments. Most importantly, we understand explaining this to each other isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a far better thing to do than offering some shallow praise just because we’re scared of how we’ll come across to others.
Communicating Better in the Photography Community
Aside from the fake and over-exaggerated compliments, it creates another problem. Being too nice to photographers reduces their ability to process criticism. Photographers will become oversensitive and view people giving them anything other than praise as a personal attack. It’s okay to say the opposite of what people want to hear and instead say what they need to hear. Below are some alternatives to shallow praise.
Seldom do I see photographers saying why they don’t like an image or how they think a photographer can improve an image.
- Express what you like or dislike about an image in a thoughtful and constructive manner.
- Back up your critique by highlighting how the photographer can improve an image.
- Share examples from either your portfolio or another photographer’s that shows a better execution of what the photographer attempted in their image.
- Do it privately if you don’t feel comfortable doing it in public comments.
- Remember, saying something can be better isn’t bad a thing.
If you follow any photographer enjoying success, you’ll undoubtedly see toxic hatred directed towards them. Peter McKinnon gets it, Eric Kim got it for years from the street photography community. None of it is constructive or containing any merit. Instead, it’s a stream of personal attacks, anger, and hyper aggression. If that sounds like you, I’ll remind you it’s okay to comment on a photographer’s work without making it a personal attack. And I understand you may have a lot of rage inside you: rage that has nothing to do with the photographer you’re attacking. All I can say is I hope you find a way to heal and you’re able to enjoy the photography community in a healthier way.
While the likes of McKinnon and Kim are successful enough to move past the toxicity, those new to photography may be reluctant to remain in the community. Being hurtful for the sake of it can stop a photographer from ever picking up a camera again. There’s no need for it, and it would be better if you had that in mind the next time you think about communicating in such a negative and unmeaningful manner.
Can we please stop this super-sensitive, overly aggressive approach to life? Most of it is for appearance, anyway. Let’s return to speaking to each other honestly and respectfully and make that the norm. In our photo world, it will allow us to feel more authentic and enable photographers to understand their work and improve it where needed.
How do you feel about where we’re at with communication? Would the photography community benefit from being more direct, honest, and respectful? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.