Be honest here; if you are photographer who’s been around for a while, aren’t you just a little bored with it all? With those tack-sharp images on 500px, those meticulously clean nature shots, those “tick all the cool boxes” art that dominates sites like Pinterest. It’s all so nice and right and pressed perfect and so……boring.
My feeling is this; photography has gotten so over-bloated, over-polished, predictable and stale. Or, if people are interested in photography in any way, it is merely for some kind of utilitarian purpose, vis a vis wedding albums or graduation portraits or trying to make a ketchup bottle look really great.
Something, friends, needs to change. So, here and now, I propose a new rebellion, taken from the seeds of the musical rebellion of mid to late 70’s: Punk Photography
Think about the bands that punk rock was rebelling against in the 1970’s: Journey, Styx, Rush, Supertramp, Kansas, et al.
These bands represented a music industry that has become so bloated, glossy, over-produced, and sophisticated that no regular person could start a band and play basic rock n roll and have a chance of being noticed. Doesn’t that sound like our contemporary photography landscape?
More than that, the hit music of the mid-70’s could not speak to all to people who were living in the middle of sky-rocketing inflation, high unemployment, environmental disaster. To those who felt they had “No Future”, as Johnny Rotten screamed. Today, I think that much of contemporary photography, with its gloss and emphasis on surface appearance over real meaning, struggles to speak to mass audiences as well.
Now, the essence of Punk music was its DIY attitude. This was exemplified by an image consisting of of finger positions diagrams for guitar:
“Now form a band“. That was it. To make music, you didn’t need to be as good as Rush, or Journey or whoever was topping the charts at that time. You didn’t need to have their amps, their synths, their 50 piece drum kits, or their million dollar studios to make music.
So, here’s the first part of Punk Photography: gear. Let’s strip down our equipment. When I started getting serious about photography again, all I had was a Canon A1000 Point & Shoot Camera. Even now, with my Pentax K-x and just a couple of lenses, I feel like I have been doing all I can with the equipment I can afford, and trying to prove that I can take just as good a picture as someone with a kit that cost as much as my first car.
Let’s consider that maybe, just maybe, you don’t need a $3,000 full frame “prosumer” camera in order to make art.
Actually, in terms of gear, this is quite an exciting time for photography. Smaller mirrorless cameras are rivaling the image quality of many of the big, hefty DSLR’s on the market right now. I can imagine the quality will only improve on that front as well.
Also, the used market for quality camera gear is rich with opportunity. It’s like looking into that pawn shop window at that beat up electric guitar, knowing that in your hands it can still make amazing, powerful music.
Punk Rock was also about rebellion, and that is also something that needs to kick into gear. So, after the equipment, let’s start questioning the “rules”. All these things that we supposedly have bought into, the do’s and dont’s, about sharpness, gloss and composition, about all the boxes we think we need to tick to make a “good” photograph.
For me, the picture at the very top of the page is my inspiration for what I want to try to develop as Punk Photography. Because it has a whole lot of something that much, if not most, of my own photography is lacking. I believe it has soul.
It’s not a great picture, I understand that. But it speaks to me in a way that so much glossy, tick-all-the-right-boxes photography just doesn’t. And, again for emphasis, I’m talking as much about my own work as much as anybody else’s.
Punk Rock revolutionized and revitalized an entire industry, an industry that had become stale and bloated and disconnected from society.
I believe that focusing on the twin ideologies of individualism and rebellion, Punk Photography can do the same.
So, let’s start focusing more on the heart of an image rather than it’s technical flaws, have more emphasis on the message of an image rather than its sharpness. Let’s work with what we have, rather than buying (literally) into the lie that you have to have the best, most up-to-date gear that just came on the market. Stop focusing on what the market says you should shoot and start bringing to market your own artistic vision.
Let’s try to save the soul of photography.