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.
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(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.