Monday, June 25, 2012

A Chico Photographer on Photo Groups

 Oh, photographer's groups. . . and why I'm pretty reluctant to be a part of one. So, the first time I joined up was in Bellingham WA, about a thousand miles from where I am now in Chico, California. I don't speak of this much but photographers, as a group, have a rather high percentage of assholes. I'm not sure why this is. Male photographers in particular: they certainly aren't all assholes, but seems like a lot of them are, compared to the general populace. So the first photographers group I joined had a couple of "pro" photographers and a couple of hobbyists and one guy who used to be a pro commercial photographer but he had quit. At first I liked all these guys well enough, but pretty soon I got tired of the guy who was sort of randomly hostile for no particular reason. He founded the group and slowly he managed to drive everyone out of it. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why he started the group to begin with. His buddy seemed nice enough, but shortly I got a little tired of his holier-than-thou attitude, not just about photography but about pretty much everything. He's one of these guys who says "Anything I can do to help, just ask me, anytime." And then you do ask him something, some simple question, once, and you're ostracized forever. For the record I'm not one of those guys who says "anything, anytime" because I really, really would not mean it. I'm also one of those guys who usually gives detailed answers to anybody who asks me for a little help, I just don't promise that, because some time or other I won't mean it. Same guy lent me his book about his trip to India looking for his guru wherein he pretty much proceeded to play the right fool. Only he'd written the book in this pompous, elevated style and he hand bound the book and signed it and then proceeded to freak out like I wasn't going to return it to him. Of course I returned it. After a while i realized that the hostile guy was always saying the thing that the holy guy wanted to say but was too holy to do so. Yuch. There were two or three other guys in the group including me and we never managed to get anybody new to show up more than once ( surprise! ) and after a while the whole thing fell apart.

Fast forward and I inadvertently got added to a Chico Area Photographer's group through the magic of Facebook. It's OK probably, for a lot of folks-- there are some 70+ members whom I don't know whatsoever. But only two or three people are ever posting anything. Yes, I could post, sure I could. One of the latest postings was some guy ranting and raving about how much other photographers should share everything they know, and bring him along personally on photo shoots as an assistant so that he can "watch and learn" and how despicable it was that these other photographers weren't doing that. Um, yeah. Well, last time I checked there was a huge amount of teaching material available for free on the internet. Then there are these things called "books" and a whole huge population of people called "teachers" who quite frequently disseminate information, often at places called "schools". As often happens on Facebook, people went "Here here! Yes you are so right, why, every other photographer is personally responsible to educate you!" and nobody suggested to Mr Ranty Pants that he might actually be responsible for his own education. I don't know. In my case my dad taught me a hell of a lot, but later on the things I didn't pick up, or things I forgot, or things I never truly understood in the first place I looked up and studied and memorized. Failing that, a lot of things have been learned through experience, trial and error, or some combination of applying book knowledge to the ever changing conditions of real life. While I am sure that there's a place for peer based learning, and I have for sure published teaching pieces about photography ( and I might do it again ) I never signed up to teach everyone in my path about photography. A big part of this has to do with the fact that a lot of people who think they want to learn photography, don't. If I do sign up to teach, I'm going to expect to be paid. This brings me to my next point about photo groups.

Unless a photo group has a really clearly stated mission, it's likely to end up populated with a hodge- podge of people with a lot of different ideas, goals, and expectations. It can get messy. In this case we've got photographers: some are pro and some are amateur, and that's a big enough rift right there. There are also models, MUA's and I don't know what else. What I see right now are a couple of strong personalities ( one in particular ) milking the rest of the group for free labor on her own photo shoots. I just received a personal complaint that she doesn't treat people very well--- but here's another thing, if your group lacks a mission statement it might also lack any kind of codes of acceptable behavior. Under those conditions, sometimes, you get a wolf, or possibly two, but really one is enough, whose mission becomes eating all the sheep as rapidly as they can consume them. Contrary to how it may seem, I'm not real big on structure or discipline. I'm also not real big on groups unless they have, or can develop at least, a reason to exist. Mostly my experience with groups is that they accomplish what an individual can accomplish with an efficiency which is inversely proportional to the number of members of the group. Back to my earlier point though: one of the bigger problems with photo groups is that pros and amateurs have distinctly different interests. The primary imbalance is that pros expect to be paid, and when they are shooting quite often they're being paid to shoot, and to edit, and indirectly to do outreach and marketing. If they aren't busy, then they aren't doing terribly well as pros. You might have trouble putting together an all pro group in a given area because too many are in direct competition with each other. If there's an all pro group there will be an agenda, or agendas amongst it's membership. An all amateur group might work better, but you run the strong risk of the blind leading the blind, of bad info being spread from member to member--- whatever, I mean if it's all about point and shoots and potlucks then it's all hunky dory. I've just never been interested in that. In an all pro group I myself am concerned about the agenda's. In the particular group I'm in, about 90% of the membership don't appear to be participating at all, less than ten percent are posting anything and one aggressive "pro" is just using the membership to exploit free labor from naive amateurs ( gobbling up the sheep ).

Come to think of it that potluck group sounds pretty good. If we can all agree to leave the cameras at home that could work out just great. We all arrive hungry and carrying food, we all leave full and happy, and in between we all had a great time.

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