Coalville Photographed, By Graham Ellis
A Series of Short Films By Christopher Mear
Chris is back again with his fourth video in the Coalville Photographed series and he's written a little more this time which allows us to get to know him even further. Have a read of the text below and find out about Chris' thoughts and influences before watching the new video!
It’s funny. You ask me what I do and I’ll tell you pretty confidently that ‘I’m a photographer’. You ask me what I photograph however, and I might stumble, before eventually replying with a short, simple and significantly less certain, ‘I just photograph everything really’. I don’t photograph everything. I never have and I never will. I just photograph what interests me at a particular moment. But I don’t like the idea of narrowing my options in an ocean of possibilities. I’ve never been particularly attracted to ‘pretty pictures’ though. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at a beautiful sunset as much as the next man, maybe more so. It’s just that my first inclination when confronted by this kind of universally accepted beauty isn’t to reach for my camera. I prefer, maybe a little selfishly, to simply experience it.
Walking through the village of Belton, Graham began to talk about a series of articles he’d been reading online, over the previous fortnight, that collectively posed the question ‘how far should you go with photography?’ This is an important question for every photographer to ask themselves. But I think it needs to be asked privately, by the individual to the individual, and it needs to be answered with honesty. And at the time Graham raised this question I had my own set of questions racing through my head. The foremost being, “do we (I) really need photography?”
“There are too many images, too many cameras now. We're all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It's just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn't an art anymore. Maybe it never was.”
Robert Frank, Vanity Fair magazine, 2008
I might be a little late to the whole ‘there are too many photographs now’ grumble, but we are drowning in them. And I think we’re drowning in our desire to photograph too. It’s not a unique observation to notice the rising tide of phones at the slightest hint of something noteworthy, humorous or beautiful. But what happens to the majority of these photographs? More often than not they’re destined to reside in social media, where suddenly the importance of the moment captured seems to become overshadowed by the number of views, likes and comments the photographer receives. It becomes a popularity contest. A race for affirmation. A marketing ploy. Are we even still looking at the photograph anymore?
Everyone’s a photographer now. So if my response to ‘what do you do’ is that ‘I’m a photographer’ it just feels like I might as well say ‘I’m a human being. But nothing special’. Because that would be true. I am a human being, and I am nothing special - there’s 7.5 billion of us. But as a human being I do have an incredibly privileged position in the world, in the universe, and beyond. Maybe. Whilst some may be significantly more privileged than others, the sheer existence of ourselves as human beings is a huge privilege in itself. So why do I need to be something special?
As we’re regularly reminded, ‘we are all unique’. I had a very specific upbringing, by very specific people, at a very specific time, in a very specific part of the world, with a very specific language and culture. And all of those things have quietly conspired to guide me and begin to form my opinions, beliefs and perception of the world around me. We all have a unique perspective to share. To record. Some people write. Some people sing. Some people paint. Some people talk. Some people fight. Some people fall trapped in silence and don’t share their perspective at all. But the vast majority of people, who share their perspective, share it only with a small, carefully selected group of fellow human beings, through banal conversation, humour and shared experience. What's increasingly obvious now though is that almost all of these types of people do share, or at least preserve, significant aspects of their perspective through the medium of photography.
“The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different.”
John Szarkowski, William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976
‘How far should you go with photography?’ Well I’d suggest you should go far as you need to go, to say what you want to say. But we can only, truthfully, answer that question in relation to ourselves. ‘Do we (I) really need photography?’ Well, to tell you that ‘I’m a photographer’ now I might have to acknowledge my insignificance in an ever expanding ocean. But, at the very least our photography will be a record of our subjective perspective of our time. But more than this, if you slow down, and consider it, photography has a unique ability, to teach us how to see, listen and understand. And to pursue an education from our primary senses, seems, to me, to be a more than worthwhile pastime, for any small fish.
How far should you go with photography? Coalville Photographed via YouTube.