Despite the democratization of cameras, now more than ever there is less understanding of photography. That's the inevitable result when people believe the output of a thing is determined by the tool rather than by the individual using that tool.
As unfortunate and mistaken as it is, I accept the general confusion about creativity. Our present culture strives for normatization in all things, not only ignoring individual traits and differences, but indeed punishing them. Individual accomplishment and skill are treated as threats these days, so the emphasis is always placed on the tools of creation rather than on the mind and eyes of the creator.
However, I find it impossible to accept that approach from an artist. Anyone who has created art has lived through the extremely individual process of inspiration, the struggle with an idea, and the labor to put a thought into a form which can be shared.
Thus my disappointment in Adele, who lectured her audience: "I want to tell that lady as well, can you stop filming me with the video camera . . . I’m really here in real-life, you can enjoy it in real-life rather than through your camera."
While Adele's comment may be appropriate to "people who take pictures," her version of "real-life" is not a photographer's version. Indeed, telling a photographer not to even consider using a camera is the same as telling Adele not to listen to the sounds in her environment as inspiration for music.
Being a photographer is not a switch that can be turned off and on any more than being a songwriter can be turned off and on. For a photographer, the image is a method of translating the emotion and thought about a moment into a form the individual finds satisfying for sharing. Likewise, Adele's songs are a method of translating her thoughts and emotions into a form she finds satisfying for sharing. I would not tell Adele to stop singing and just write her lyrics out to be projected on a screen at a concert, anymore than I would accept her telling me how to see and how to share what it is I see.
As David Alan Harvey explains, he doesn’t even have a choice about whether or not to shoot. It’s a *compulsion*:
i think every creative act involves an “edge” of one kind or another…nobody creates from a “comfort zone”….so it could be pain or ecstasy or pressure or fear that fires one up…or all of those things…that is why you can tell so much about a photographer from BurnDiary…real time essay….for sure not the only measure by any means….there are some who rarely produce, but when they do it is brilliant..consistency is rarely virtue in the land of the arts ….i just automatically shoot almost every day even when sitting on my porch…i have no idea why i do that actually….but i do…when i look at my colleagues around i have noticed very few do that…most want an actual project…i shoot with or without a project going..i am compelled to shoot…this does not mean it always “works”….it just means the process is clearly important…i don’t want to analyse it too much…
Adele’s version of the world is that the performer dictates down to the audience. That’s just not the way it works. Marcel Duchamp went so far as to create a mathematical formula he described as the “art coefficient” to explain that any artist’s work is a function *of* the spectators:
The artist doesn’t count. He does not count. Society takes what it wants . . . . [It is] the interaction with the onlooker, which makes the painting. Without that, the painting would disappear in an attic. There would be no actual existence of a work of art. It’s always based on the two poles, the onlooker and the maker, and the spark that comes from that bipolar action gives birth to something—like electricity. Don’t say that the artist is a great thinker because he produces it. The artist produces nothing until the onlooker has said, “You have produced something marvelous.” The onlooker has the last word on it.
The Afternoon Interviews at 30.
A painter has a direct relationship with an audience: the painting is the medium of communication, and when the painting is hung, the spectator can respond. Other artists do not have so direct a line. Performance artists in particular are very much dependent upon intermediaries to bring their works to the public. In Adele’s case, she is dependent upon audio outlets like radio stations, Pandora, and iTunes to transmit her music to the public. And in the case of her performances and public personae, she is wholly dependent upon photographers to both capture and translate what they see. As so eloquently put by Jean-Francois Leroy (the founder of Visa l’Pour Image):
Photojournalists for me are my eyes. They are showing me—they are witnessing the world where I live, where you live, and for that they deserve our respect.
Adele has no special gift to separate the photographers in her audience from the groupies. Instead, she chooses to lump them all together and impose her perspective upon them. To put it bluntly, Adele is not the least bit concerned with how the individuals in her audience experience the world. She is, instead, only concerned about the potential sale of an image she hasn't authorized. Packaging that misplaced concern in a wrapper that dictates how individuals choose to experience what they see is about as non-artist as it's possible to get.
And yet the march continues. While we accept a surveillance society—with cameras at restaurants, banks, stoplights, parks, inside cabs and public transportation—the restrictions on photographers increase. While the United Kingdom has a CCTV camera for every 11 people, Apple has created technology to use infrared light to interfere with photography. This is not a state of affairs in which artists should participate. Censorship and restrictions are not the ingredients of creativity.
We are sliding rapidly into a new dark ages, where we accept the oppressive observation of the surveillance state, but actively seek to prohibit being seen by not only those who appreciate us, but those who document the present for posterity. The misplaced effort of control by people like Adele not only distorts the historic record, but goes far in destroying social connection and the pursuit of individual art.
A few voices still cry in the wilderness. One of the more poetic ones is Amanda Palmer. Unlike Adele, Amanda gauges her success as an artist not on stadium ticket sales, but on the reactions of the fans she speaks to, stays with, and shares with. Unlike Adele, Amanda believes that the best way to pursue her art is to engage with her fans, instead of trying to control them. Her TED Talk is worth a listen:
Unfortunately, we happen to be living during a time when the desire by some to control others seems overwhelming. It’s a difficult environment in which to operate, much less to create. But let Duchamp, Harvey, and Palmer be your guides. In the end, those who embrace sharing will win, and those who attempt to control and dictate will lose. Embrace your special visual gifts—the naysayers be damned!