– Sometimes I think I think too much

Torn

I was trawling through my contacts’ Flickr Photostreams the other day when I stumbled on an image that lead me on a trail of exploration, at first through other images on his stream, then to the streams of others who’d commented on his images, and finally into my own mind, to reflect on how these images and the comments they attracted made me feel.

People create art for many reasons and this seems truer of photography than of any other art form. Not everyone can draw, or paint, or sculpt, or sing, or dance, or play an instrument, or compose, or write or direct. But anyone, it seems, who has at least one hand, can pick up a camera, point, shoot and call themselves: “a photographer”.

Even those photographers who think of themselves as artists take photographs for many reasons. Some want to make a political statement; some have an axe to grind; and some simply have a compulsion to share what they have seen with others who may not have had the good fortune to see it for themselves. But for some artists, a photograph is a cry for they, themselves, to be seen; to be noticed; to be acknowledged and accepted and understood. It is a cry for approval, for justification of their being, for evidence that they are valued in society, by society. Every image they create is a portrait of themselves; their needs and fears exposed; a cry into the void that surrounds them, in a desperate hope that they are not alone; that someone else is there; not just anyone, but someone who understands, who empathises, who can read the language of their image and know and feel, in the depths of their soul, what it is saying.

But who can really know what is in this artist’s soul? Who can really know the pain of loneliness and alienation he feels; the need he has to be recognised; to be understood, to be valued? He is unique. We are all unique. And therefore, to some extent, we are all alone.

I do not wish to embarrass the photographer whose image triggered this reflection by naming him here. Besides, maybe I am the one who has got it all wrong. Maybe I have misunderstood what he was trying to say. Maybe, in the end, I was really talking about myself.

Sometimes, I think I think too much!

3 thoughts on “– Sometimes I think I think too much

  1. Interesting question: Is it a sick compulsion that makes us post our images for others to see, or is it a natural healthy desire to share? Do we look at the desire to upload our images as a compulsion that keeps our sense of alienation and loneliness at bay, or is it a viable means to conquer such?

    My guess is there are no hard answers, but the weight may shift from one spectrum to the other with each photographerl, maybe even each upload. Questioning ones motivation is never a waste. In the end I assume it will be a bit of both, the seeking of attention and the giving of oneself.

    The good thing is that nobody has to look, has to give or take, but whatever transpires is done so freely, or as free as each individual feels themselves to be.

    Meanwhile I bow in gratitude to those in my life that like you were able to give me a sense of being seen, heard and understood, be it through imagery or any other medium.

  2. Om, I agree with you that there are probably as many reasons to share as there are photographers; and by focussing on this one reason, I wasn’t trying to elevate it above the rest. But I felt a certain empathy with the (anonymous) photographer I wrote about and I wanted to share that.

    When we evaluate a piece of creative output, we invariably do so through the filter of our own life’s experiences; and since we are all unique individuals with our own stories, the probability of anyone interpreting another’s work exactly as the author intended it is infinitessimally small. When I upload a photograph or a piece that I have written, I am seeking to communicate something of myself and I am happy when people respond positively to what I have done; yet I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to articulate what I feel in a way that will cause others to feel it that way too. This was the pain that I sensed in the work of the photographer I wrote about; but then, maybe what I was really seeing in his work was the reflection of my own anquish.

  3. A lovely bit of reflection, Keith. Certainly we all want to be seen, known, and valued. I think there is no human–and perhaps no domestic animal either–who does not relish being seen and appreciated. We seem to be hard-wired for approval, for applause, for affirmation and praise. If photographers can make gifts of what they see, and in sharing their pictures, be seen and valued as seers, it all works together. I agree that many photographs that seem to be “objective” or about “found” things are really self-portraits. We see what we understand, we see what calls to us, we see what we think we know–fragments of ourselves. Or we see what we lack, what we want to call to ourselves. But the wider and wider we cast the net of our humanity, the more the boundaries between I and Thou dissolve, and like Tennyson’s Ulysses, we are part of all we have met. Sometimes a random hour or two on Flickr is in fact a deepening of our humanity, a deepening of our appreciation for what we all see, what we all are. At its best, that’s what Flickr is: a gallery of humanity. A net to catch all our lives. Reflections.

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