Wednesday, November 21, 2007


In golf, you know exactly how you are doing. You can't blame your opponent or the ref, you know exactly how well the club pro does, and how your drinking buddy compares to you. You'd think this would drive everyone crazy and they'd all quit the game. What really happens though is that people play themselves. They attempt to better a previous score, whether it be last weeks or their all time best. This saves them the anquish of comparing themselves to others.

Not so photography - we never really know just how good we are - there are no scores, no world rankings. If our photography isn't well accepted, we can persuade ourselves it's because they don't "get" it.

This results in photographers who can a) overestimate how good they are, or b) underestimate, or c) worry because they don't know.

Let's imagine for a minute that somehow photography became more like golf and the club standings were posted on the bulletin board and everyone knew exactly where they stood as well as everyone else.

You'd look to the scoreboard and see that you rank 37 on the club standings and that your score compared to Michael Kenna is 57% of his.

Doesn't that help a lot?

Can you imagine what you'd do with this information. Your buddy is ranked 35th and you really want to beat him by next Spring. You are bound and determined to catch up and you plan how you are going to do this - your clouds are going to be more dramatic, your images will have more snap, your sports pictures more pain.

Really, how the hell is this going to improve your photography? I can't see it doing anything good for your creativity. Perhaps you could do the equivalent of going to the driving range or working on your swing, but in the end your photographs merely represent how good you are at seeing and how creative you are about working on images and coming up with interesting ideas.

In the end, it's just as well photography isn't like golf and we can't be ranked. Sure that generates misapprehensions about our abilities and creates doubts, but it doesn't interfere with the core processes of being a photographer, seeing and creating.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

Well, golf is a very one-dimensional sport. If you'd reduce photography to "who is best at photographing a snow covered pier on a calm lake with overcast skies in b&w and square format", an objective ranking with Kenna at or near the top might be do-able. I'm sure there would even be some very motivated photographers fighting for a better rank.

Turning the analogy the other way round, a "world series ranking of photography" would be comparable to a ranking that includes ALL athletes of any sport. Now who is better? Michal Schumacher or Tiger Woods or Ronaldinho or Lance Armstrong? It's quite pointless.

On a third thought, there's actually an objective ranking, even with relevance to some people: prices paid at auctions.