When I wrote the short text initiating this thread, my basic point was not a concern about photography as such, but the fact that most of the texts (like blogging), visual products (still images on flicr, movies on YouTube etc), and audio related stuff (from pod casting to music) made today, are not only made with digital means, but also mainly distributed digitally, through internet. In many ways, this is The Age of the Amateurs, and the professionals have to distribute their work through the same channel: the world wide web. For most of us, wanting to create something valuable as writers, photographers, movie makers, musicians etc, the opportunities, compared to just a few years ago, are like being in heaven.
To create something valuable (regardless of art form, genre, audience and so on) is just as challenging today as it was ten, fifty or two hundred years ago. The big change is that it is so easy, in 2007, to distribute what you make, whatever the quality of your contribution. And every year, hundreds of books and thousands of articles and tutorials (not to speak of the advertising slogans) are published, encouraging you to be “creative”.
The message is: everybody has a talent. Everybody can create a masterpiece. Be self confident! This democratisation of writing, photography, movie making and music is a good thing, although some pros are afraid of loosing their jobs. But if you look at the big picture, the lack of editing is the curse of this age (beside the eternal, and sad fact that not everybody has a talent).
The amateurs, the professionals, the people hunting for potential talents in any field, and the public, in short: everybody would gain a lot, if half of the energy spent on encouraging people to be “creative”, and develop their not yet discovered talent, was channeled towards encouraging and learning them to select, delete, edit and present their stuff. This is a lesson that is just as important for the best photographers in the present world, as for the avarage snap shooter; for the Nobel Price writer, as well as the average blogger, with strong opinions about everything from vegetarian food or gender issues, to the geopolitic situation and Armageddon.
The problem that comes with easy distribution, is that you can publish your stuff at the same time as you make it. I write this sentence; and with a click of the mouse, it is distributed to the world. Since the only way to make somebody interested in what you are doing, seems to be delivering new stuff every day, you don´t take the time to edit what you are doing. This way, if you are really lucky (most of us are not), your fate is like the fate of any local, or even international newspaper: it may be interesting the morning it was printed, but not the next day. Hundred years from now, it might become interesting again, unintentionally (the same way as snap shots from 1907 are interesting for us today). But what about tomorrow? Next year? In ten or twenty years time?
I think the aim of the photographer, writer and composer is different from the tasks of a journalist ( “journalist” comes from the french: “jour”, meaning “day”, or “today”). Of course, editing should be everybodys business. A journalists work has to be edited to be readable, credible etc. (Even those who want somebody to be interested in their private life, must give it a form, and delete the most irrelevant, confusing and digressive parts). But I am adressing this to people who wish to make things that are readable, hearable or lookable next week, next year, or many years from now. And given the way things are distributed today, especially the disappearance of the precious interval between producing and distributing, editing is becoming more difficult.
To illustrate this, we could go back to Garry Winogrand. Long before the last years of his life (at which point, i believe, a crisis in his photograpy, or his life, which may have been inseparable entities, contributed to the increase of undeveloped films and unedited negatives), he preferred to wait for months or years before he looked at what he had done. He needed that critical distance, the distance that only time can provide. Other photographers (and writers as well) have the same habit: the patience of waiting. “Time is money.” But for Winogrand, time was much more valuable than money, if he had the means to survive and continue to shoot and edit, shoot and edit. “The photograph is a new fact, and not the thing itself”, he said, And to discover this new fact, he had to forget what he had made.
Beside the present lack of time (the luxury of time... which only the very rich and the very poor seem to know today), most of us have an other problem: in differents ways than before, we are forced to become our own editors (as mentioned in the initial post).
My personal background is literature. For several years, I was a co-editor and writer in a Norwegian literary magazine. Later I have published three books. In between, I worked as a literary advisor for a couple of Norwegian publishing houses, and as a critic. Some writers are good at editing their own stuff, some are really bad. But even the good ones gain from having another person looking at their work. This I can say, knowing something about working from both sides of that fence. The second eye, seeing things you were not able to see (everybody have their blind spots); unable to see what you thought were there when your wrote your text, took your picture (it existed only in your inspired brain, your intention, your imagination, your emotions, your "vision", not visible in what you presented). Sometimes you are lucky with that “second eye”, sometimes not. They may approve most of what you do, or they may seem brutal in their critisism. But if you recognise what they are pointing at, they may become very valuable for your development and your present work. Because they may see something that you, with your blind spots, are not able to see. If you find some talented person who can become such a “second eye”, be it an editor in a publishing house, or in a photography magazine or gallery (or a friend with an impeccable eye, who does not feel obliged to please you, confirming your way of seeing things), and if you develope a common language when you two together evaluate your texts, pictures, movies, songs, or compositions, you should consider yourself a happy person.
However, this does not solve the current problem. If you distribute your work online, and you are tempted to publish it while it is “fresh” (whether a text blog or photographs), this is very easy to do. But you have to become your own editor, responsible for everything. If you write, you will have to do the proof reading, grammar, content, as well as working on the composition and style. And if you take pictures: selection, creating connections, editing, seeing the pictures as a whole entity, or as parts, functioning within a bigger context (or, if you will, in opposition to the very concept of a body of work). And since you don`t have that “second eye”, helping you to distinguishing between the mediocre, the good and the superb stuff, finding the pictures that shows what you really want to say, you are in trouble.
You are forced to become that “second eye” yourself. To mentally transform yourself, to distance yourself from the private circumstances and personal emotions, becoming somebody else, with a different point of view. This is very hard for most people. And if you don´t spend some time, some patience, with the critical distanse that only time can provide, and if you don´t even care about this issue, you may even be in bigger trouble.
Try to forget some of the pictures you have taken, some of the words you have written. Put them in a mental wine cellar. If they still, after you have forgotten them, and then rediscovered them, have a nice taste, other people may enjoy them too.