Photography should be a revolutionary act. It should be a kick in the establishment, the common, the mundane. It has to be an act of revolt against banality and conformity, a powerful explosion of new ideas. It should be as violent to the mind as a thousand thunderstorms. It should rip apart the accepted social fabric. It should denounce, point, accuse and solve. In one frame. It should be a declaration of war to everything we take for granted and accept as obvious.
It should incessantly question reality with the passion of a martyr. A constant question mark, it should make our leaders fear it, and our priest denounce it. It should know no frontiers, no borders, no cultural identity. It should have the same impact East of Bangkok and South of Lima.
Photography should be lifted high and proud by those who request to change the world as a constant demand for reform and social changes. It should beg for perfection, over and over, pointing at all the little details of injustice, abuse, destruction and greed. It should rattle every misconception until they break into a pathetic silence.
Too much of what we see today in photography (thank you, commercial stock) is a sea of banality, of repetition, of dullness. It is status quo and no more. A long straight road of boring pre-digested concepts. Like a TV dinner, please reheat and serve hot. Millions upon millions of images that rot just a few days after being exposed, so much full of artifice they are. A constant stream of annoying visual buzz that we hardly notice anymore.
Photography should shove you out of your chair, make you react, force you to rethink everything you ever took for granted. It should stop you dead in your tracks and make you want to change your whole life, and the ones of those around you. It should haunt you in your sleep, follow you all day and make you feel naked. It should empower you to make that change you had in you. It should break the heavy top that sat on top of that lava revolt you have in you. Break the ice of indifference you so conveniently ignore. It should not be a warm cosy blanket that keeps you warm in the middle of a cold winter night but rather the violent act of removing it and exposing you to the freezing winds. A window blasted open.
Some aspects of photography are dying because too many have forgotten the revolutionary roots of photography, its iconoclastic heritage. As it becomes more common it also becomes duller. Slowly, the reign of the medium is taking over. Medium quality, medium content, medium effect. Photography is becoming pretty, useful, a business. It’s an industry of expectedness, where chance and luck disappears in favour of technocrats shooting bullet points.
It should never live in a sales channel or exposed to RPI’s. It should never suffer the humiliation of being included in a compilation or a theme. It should never be treated as something you search for in an immense repository of banality. Finally, it should never suffer the assassination of being sold via a subscription.
“This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog