Work That Matters

A few months ago I did a video called NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY. In that video I expressed an importance for photographers to make work that matters.

That has quickly become the photography question I get asked the most about.


  1. says

    Hey, Ted!

    Why apologise for getting “carried away”? It’s your site, and one watches in the hope of seeing a real person with genuine reactions and attitudes.

    Re. Saul: I’d say you’re not quite accurate with regard to his being totally unkown until towards the end. Popular Photography Annual featured a story on him back in ’59 or ’60 (where I, and thousands of others across the world first met him) and he did run a twenty-or-so year connection (with by-lines) shooting fashion for ‘Bazaar and several other fashion magazines, including the short-lived but much celebrated British magazine Nova. None of those achievements comes easily and without due merit and notice! The problem, of course, is that photography as a collectible art form, which is how many think of it today – almost exclusively, perhaps – is a very recent phenomenon practically unheard of in Europe (France excepted) until, maybe, at the earliest that I can think of, the 70s. Yes, people had work published and many photography magazines existed long before that, of course, but that had nothing to do with the acceptance of photography as an art form in its own right by museums, and even less by commercial galleries. Photography was thought either a fairly low-grade job (excluding the small group of the socially annointed people doing upper-class events and fashion) or just a simple hobby. Advertising had stars too, of course, but they were all virtuallly unknown to the world at large because adverts didn’t carry by-lines, and even photo-fans had a hard time discovering who did what! If they cared: commercial photography, one of the most skilled, if not the most skilled branch of the art was deemed, by the artistic world, to be somehow ‘tainted’, an attitude still alive and sick in some areas.

    (Of course, America may have been different – but I didn’t live there so had no valid idea concerning that country; all I knew about American photography was garnered from magazines, and removing the advertising content/incentives to attitude creation takes some doing, especially for what was, at the time, a teenage mind… During most of the 50s I was a teen.)

    I think that one of the unspoken problems you were really dealing with in the episode is unreal expectations.

    I think that people simply expect too much from photography. Like many things in life, in the end it turns out to be pretty much what you make it to be. For myself, thought it took a long time to get into it professionally – I was in my early twenties – it was always the hope, and when the chance came I grabbed it. Nobody knew much about it as career in my youth, and I suspect that today not a lot has changed in that respect, but what I believe has changed is that once you do find out what it’s about today, you also find that your realistic options are far more curtailed, and that you probably need to find a lot more finance before you can afford to give it a whirl.

    I think a hug part of the angst with which your episode really dealt went undefined: desktop printing. Folks buy one of these clever printers, mortgage their future buying more inks, accumulate a heap of prints, and then suddenly find that nobody is beating a path up their driveway to take this stuff off their hands in exchange for large bundles of cash. Problem is, everybody has similar piles of junk/jewels stored in boxes. Who needs or wants to buy more?

    Agonising about whether or not one’s work is important, meaningful or anything else is madness: your work is you, nothing more and nothing less, and the sooned people realise that the answers lie within, or not at all, the happier they will become regarding photography. Comparing oneself with any other ‘name’ is crazy: one is not that person. One usually neither has that person’s possibilities, environment nor faces his challenges. In fact, in many ways, life for the non-professional is a very much more friendly place: you don’t face competition every day, you don’t have to worry about keeping people sweet; you don’t have to depend on the whims of others’ opinions to keep food on your table. And don’t imagine for a moment that it gets better with success: can anyone believe that, whether or not you have made millions, it doesn’t hurt if you get publicly dumped from a long-time magazine association or advertising contract? Your peers instantly know, and it’s their knowing that hurts even if the money loss goes unnoticed. On top of hurt there is shame.

    Rejoice in the amateur status and do it for yourself; even if your end product sucks, you have to admit that there was much happiness in the shooting: photography is about a wide, multi-part experience, not just a goddam print at the end of it. Some famous shooters eventually ended up not even bothering to process their shots: the joy, the obsession was in the making, the catching of the moment. Keep it fun. End of story.

  2. says

    Thanks Ted. I love this topic it is so very important in today’s world of an abundance of photography. I think you handled the thought of creating work that matters in a very politically correct way.

    Making images that matter to me is really two fold. Firstly, that the photographs you create matter to yourself, as photographer. Images can be a spiritual journey of self discovery and expression which benefits our lives and gives us a creative outlet. Photographs that matter to ourselves is a good thing and in many cases may be enough to sustain us. Photography needs to be firstly satisfying to ourselves.

    For those photographers requiring more from the craft, namely
    creating images that have lasting power and add to the history of the photographic discussion on the whole means reaching a different level. I feel there is a sea of mediocrity in images found on social media and a general belief that quickly taking an image means success. Creating meaningful images requires hard work and many failures. It means creating a soul of emotion and feeling in images. As you have stated it’s not about rules and equipment it is about deliberate intent and time spent. Successful and meaningful work will always rise above the sea of mediocre images if given a good venue. The problem I feel lingering is the reality that many people can’t recognize good photography because they are too busy scrolling through mediocre social media feeds. They spend too much time seeing ordinary work, and receiving teaching from ordinary photographers. Looking at the very best work from master photographers creates a better understanding of work that matters. Further, getting people to stop and linger over images allows a better appreciation for exceptional work, thus the importance of the print and exhibition. The quick paced flipping through digital feeds deters us from finding and appreciating great work.

    Thanks for bringing us a show that brings us the best images from master photographers and encourages us to linger over work that matters.


  3. says

    Thanks kindly Ted, for taking the time to share your perspectives. That I tend to agree is not a measurement of validity, but you already knew that. As an photographic and videographic educator, I must constantly deal with points that you raised; better gear makes you better, Facebook likes mean you are great, publishing for people to give me plus ones is the main reason I do whatever. UGGHH

    I shared your prior article about nobody cares about your photos with the camera club that I founded, fund and operate. Suffice to say, they needed more ambulances for some of the attendees, unsurprisingly those who would benefit from listening the most. This week I will be recommending your article work that matters with the members and I will be recommending it on the next episode of my own podcast.

    Thanks again, I am glad I found you, and wish I had done so sooner.

    With best wishes for you.