Years ago, when my infatuation with photography was still in its infancy, there was a guy I knew, call him Arnie, who was an outstanding photographer. Arnie was a co-worker and fellow engineer and one of a clutch of co-workers and spouses that my wife and I socialized extensively with at the time. When Arnie would return from vacation all of us would look forward to his slide show. I was in awe of his photography because when Arnie went on vacations he did not take snapshots, he created art.
After one of Arnie’s slideshows I couldn’t help but gush over his photographs which, that night, were mostly of flowers. He politely thanked me, but then surprised me by adding: “You know, in the end, the photographs that are remembered are those of loved ones, of family and dear friends and good times enjoyed together.”
Some years later, long after I lost track of Arnie, I heard that he had passed away. Since he was a bachelor, I wondered what befell his slide collections. I sadly concluded there was a good chance they ended up in a landfill somewhere, lost and forgotten.
Now that I’m really into ‘art photography’ I occasionally have to remind myself that it is the likely fate of my art photography, indeed of most of the world’s output of art photography, to end up in whatever is the digital equivalent of a landfill. The inescapable reality is that of the thousands upon thousands of art photographers laboring in the world today, and of the thousands more graduating from art schools each year, only a tiny, tiny fraction will attain such stature that their art will be remembered past their death. Most of today’s photographic art soon will be lost and forgotten.
Such a gloomy thought might lead one to conclude that I believe there is no point in pursuing my art, and that I believe that most other art photographers should give up as well. Of course I believe no such thing. As the photographer and author Ted Orland has pointed out, an artist creates art in order to make sense of his or her world. Should that art help someone else make sense of the world then perhaps the art may gain some following. In rare cases that following will survive the artist’s passing. However, fame and survival is something that happens to art. It is not why art is created. We artists create art for ourselves first and foremost. If others, now or in the future, find something for themselves in our art, well, so much the better.
So I take my art seriously. I give my art the best I have to offer, and I give the art of other photographers the respect that I wish for my own photography. I do this with full knowledge that my art and theirs likely will never gain much of a following and will, in all likelihood, end up in the great bit-bucket in the sky. Still, I’m happy because I’m creating art. And happier yet in the knowledge that for every ‘art’ photograph I’ve taken there are scores more that I’ve taken of loved ones—family and close friends. So in the end, Arnie’s words comfort me. For among these simple family snapshots are the photographs that will be remembered.