The Pipeline

Earlier today I checked a news site I go to when I need to find something specific about this little world of ours. It’s a “clean” site. What I mean by that is that the site has a limited number of stories and tends to be more in depth rather than “quick hit” style. At the top, “above the fold” was a small, stills gallery titled something like “Best Images of the Day.” I thought “Why not?” and merrily clicked away. There wasn’t a single good image in the lot. Not even close. In fact, most of the images were what I would call subpar, uninteresting and not particularly well composed or thought out. At first I thought, “What a mess.” But then I realized it’s not the photography at fault, or even the photographer really, it’s the information pipeline that is to blame.
salton014
(Pipeline above not to scale…….)
The information pipeline, or content pipeline as some like to refer to it, is massive and is actually getting larger minute by minute. This is partly to blame for all the rights grabbing and image stealing that happens so frequently these days, and part of the reason social media sites are so keen on having the rights to whatever you upload. They need to fill the pipeline, and slowing down to actually find the copyright owner, determine a license and then actually PAY for an image is just far too time consuming. The pipeline waits for no man, or beast or foul for that matter. It’s kinda like the Matrix but maybe not as green. But it will kick your ass, that is for sure.

The best of the day isn’t always gonna be good. We gotta fill the pipeline, sometimes more than once a day, so you fill it with what you have on hand, and if that isn’t good well who cares because the next round is rapidly approaching and nearly all of what you see is forgotten.

Really good is really difficult. Perhaps good and the pipeline don’t have much in common. I don’t know anyone who cranks out good on a daily basis. And if there is someone who does they are a machine, flesh and blood on the outside, metal on the inside and should be turned over to the proper authorities. I think there is a moral in this story. The moral is relax. Don’t worry about it. Making something great is SO RARE, but it’s RARE for anyone regardless of how long they have been doing whatever it is they are doing. Look at me. I screw up most of the things I touch photographically. I’m gifted, what can I say.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been contacted by several folks who are searching for greatness, but they have all realized that scouring the web for good photography isn’t helping them. The pipeline is putting so much content in front of them it is not possible for them to consume it all. Everything begins to look the same. Then suddenly they find themselves making pictures that are someone else’s. When left alone they think of what other people have done, not what they need to do. Several of these folks have decided on a detox of sorts, cutting themselves off in a visual prison so-to-speak.

This situation isn’t new, but it reminds me of why I really enjoyed photojournalism school. We were given assignments, we made our pictures, we printed our pictures and then…..we had to stand in front of the class and defend our pictures. Sometimes it went well and unicorns floated in the rafters, while other times the room was left in smoldering ruins.(I got mad for having to shoot “color as mood,”which I thought was beneath me, so I found a dead, bloated, rotting dog covered in maggots which I chose to frame with a nice little macro lens. When the first frame went up the class shrieked and the prof was not happy with little old Danno.) What these sessions proved was that much of what I THOUGHT was so warm and fuzzyily good really wasn’t, and that I needed to see things from a variety of angles, not just my own.

So let’s keep “best” somewhere up above the rainbow.

8 responses to “The Pipeline”

  1. lionelB says:

    Last week as an exercise I carried out a mental critique of hundreds of online images, from dozens of photographers. The link was their use of a cheap, old lens which is noted for its ‘figure’. [There are some technical explanations of this but more “you know it when you see it.”]
    Some were “Do us all a favour. Delete.” Some “Yeah, yeah. Next please.” Three photographers, each entirely different, stood out. Some pictures of a basketball game ― incidentally a million miles from my usual interests ― had the stamp of something special. ‘Sports photography’ which would just as easily pass as art photography, in a gallery. The Polish photographer tells me that he went to sports events and concerts last year with a twelve shot medium format camera. Yes, twelve. The other professionals looked on as if he was a Martian. The upshot is, there was no interest in his work, so he now does underwater portraits with a zoom compact.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      the master at that is David Burnett. He did the Olympics, in part, with a 4×5 and Type 55 Polaroid. People were jealous, angry, confused, but news photographers gave away their souls when digital landed in a big way. We’ve actually rebounded a bit. In a good way. I can remember a friend walking down the street in San Diego with two digital cameras, and a headset connected to his boss at HQ who was telling him what to shoot. Yes, true story. My friend was so defeated.

  2. holger says:

    Fantastic read, thanks so much. I’ve just about arrived at the point when I realize that scouring for good photographs doesn’t really help me… Well, means it’s probably time to go out and shoot more!

    … but first I’ll fill my information pipeline with a link to your excellent blog post here 😉

  3. The internet is entirely analogous to broadcast television. We are not the customers, we are the product. We are delivered to the actual customers, who are advertisers.

    This means that they need content that we’re going to look at. That in turn means that it needs to be new, but not too new, and it has to be interesting — sticky, is the technical term. Novel, but not incomprehensible, and sticky, that’s what gets the eyeballs on the page, and that’s what brings the ad revenue.

    By the 1970s, the word “television” was synonymous with “crud” and the web is no different, just much more rapidly evolved for a variety of reasons. The structure of the web means that you can made a great deal of money just packaging other people’s content. Shove headline on top of the first paragraph of someone else’s story, with a link to the rest, and poof you’re pulling eyeballs and makin’ money.

    Largely catalyzed by remarks you’ve made, Daniel, I’ve stopped putting my pictures on the web, I’ve stopped worrying much what other people think. I know when I’ve done something good, and that’s enough for me. I’m even taking up bookbinding for a long term project I have in mind!

    • Smogranch says:

      Andrew,
      Yes, the reposted content is keeping A LOT of people alive and accounting for a fair bit of revenue. Guess what? I’m going to once again PUT images on the web, but perhaps not for normal reasons. More later.

  4. Eli Allan says:

    I really don’t enjoy the experience of viewing photos on the internet. There are loads of great photographs out there, but sorting through the drivel and viewing them on this bright unnatural screen is not my idea of a good time. When I have the opportunity I love to look at good prints, there was a Steve McCurry exhibit that came through recently that I went back to four or five times. But for the most part I get my inspiration from cinematographers these days. Certainly filmmaking comes from a very different place than the portrait/documentary stills work that I do. I find it easier to navigate though, and when its good it really gets me excited to go out and do what I do.

    • Smogranch says:

      Eli,
      Me too. I don’t look at much work online. Even prints these days can be good or bad based on who made them and how they were made. So much is automated today, and sometimes photographers are just turning it over to someone else. But, then there are some who really use the print to make a final statement. I’ve lost a few more photographers this year, folks who went digital and are now making HDR like awfulness, and these are people I never thought would be reduced to that. It proves to me they are desperate, dont’ know what they are doing and are turning over their prints to someone else.

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