The Blog of Patrick C. Cook

The photography blog of Patrick C. Cook.

Photographing in Obscrurity

I have put many of my photos up on Flickr and 500px and Smugmug and Zenfolio, but my work is lost among the billions of other images online. I photograph in near perfect obscurity. And I'm okay with that.

Dade County Metropolitan Zoo, Miami Florida

Dade County Metropolitan Zoo, Miami Florida

It's so easy to feel a twinge of jealousy when you hear of photographers who are drawing the (favorable) attention of many fans. These skilled photographers seem to be driven by the attention, spurred on to travel wider and further to photograph epic vistas, seeing to it that they coax their images into formats that are spectacular and write useful blogs to help aspiring photographers travel their own paths. They can sell prints of their work for jealously high dollars. They can run sold-out workshops. They make photos that get viewed, write blogs that get read and are listened to when they speak. I, however, remain in obscurity.

My obscurity is rooted in not pursuing recognition for my photography. Rather, I am pursuing photography itself. My photography started when I was much younger because it was interesting to me. I started with no thoughts of recognition external to myself. I pursued photography not knowing that it was anything other than a personal activity that, by necessity, was a private activity. Being paid for my photos back then would be akin to being selected to go to the moon during Kennedy's moon landing challenge years. Indeed, up until just the last ten years or so there was no good method to broadcast our photographs as we now have with the public Internet, which is natively image friendly. Just like cell phones and GPS devices and MP3 players, before the public Internet existed we didn't miss the Internet.

But the Internet is here now which has fostered services to make our photography available for online viewing. Our cameras have gone digital, eliminating the grip film developers once held over us. We are now even in a position where a photo can be snapped and placed in distribution almost instantly. Despite any downsides to this instant-sharing, this is awesome power. But it doesn't fit well in workflows where you want (or feel the need) to fine tune the image before showing it around. And, it doesn't fit well when you want to distribute your photos at the highest possible quality. If you, like me, need to refine and tweak your work, time and work barriers are created that delay sharing...further perpetuating obscurity.

So what's my point? I thought you would never ask...

Simply this; it's quite alright to be an unknown photographer. Why? Because you tend to focus on the activity itself rather than the result of the activity. You photograph for you. You process when you are ready. Your workflow pace can be as slow or as fast as you want it to be. You don't try to live up to anyone's else's standard but your own, often the toughest standard of them all. And you needn't explain your photos, or apologize for them, or wonder why yet another contest submission fell into yet another black hole.

Dade County Metropolitan Zoo, Miami Florida

Dade County Metropolitan Zoo, Miami Florida

Now, if I seem to be making a case for obscurity, let me explain. All I'm saying is that it's okay to photograph in obscurity - there are advantages depending on your photography objective. If your goal is to generate an income from your photography, obscurity will work against you. If it's a personal hobby, then you are wise to ask yourself if being known is, or might become, your primary motivation for photography. I re-consider these questions periodically and have come to accept that my obscurity is in alignment with my current photography activity. This is to say that I don't want to be pushed into increasing my photography activity to keep up with a level of attention that risks derailing my photography interests, or to increase competition entries, or any number of work effort that may come of it. I would much prefer that I increase my photography activity first, as it suits me, and let being noticed increase as it may, or may not.

I think it's important to be self-reliant in terms of motivation to pursue photography, as opposed to deriving motivation from the attention we may receive. The risk is that we may be known one day and forgotten the next. If we judge our photography success by what others think, or the degree to which others pay attention to our work, we could be left without a motivational foundation when the spotlight is turned away from us. I feel it's important to be strongly self-motivated so as to sustain an interest in photography despite who pays attention to our work.

My point in all of this (finally!) is to suggest that we remain motivated in our photography pursuits, whatever they may be, without allowing any external attention become the foundation for that motivation. This empowers us to continue to create photos, increase our skill and develop our style in a self-directed manner. In this regard I am fortunate to have begun photography in the pre-Internet days when I didn't expect my photos to make it beyond $3 cardboard photo storage boxes. I am fortunate to have begun my photography interest in the film era because the development costs and physical nature of paper prints made it impracticable to pound out a thousand photos per outing. I made do with what I had and didn't miss what I didn't know I was missing (does that make sense?). Lacking the means to show and distribute my photos back then, I was self-motivated in photography. I had to be. Even though we are now in the digital age, complete with digital cameras and the Internet with its many photo publishing services, I can still say that I am self-motivated in photography because that's how I started, which is why I am surviving obscurity.