I’ve a long, deep relationship with photography. It began 13 years ago in college, took a three year hiatus and then has been with me ever since. I began taking photos for myself with little interest to expose my photos to anyone other than friends and family. Then came Web 2.0—and my habits changed. I followed in the footsteps of many others from the internet-generation—I posted my photos on various sharing sites. At first it was just to have a place to display my photos. Then it was to see if anyone else liked them. Eventually I became equally interested in the pursuit of external validation/acknowledgement as I was with the actual process of taking photographs.
I eventually concluded that posting my photos publicly wasn’t beneficial for myself and I chose to break ties. I deleted my photos and deactivated my accounts from all photo-sharing sites I belonged to. I then set up a simple site that only a handful of people know about (no links to the site exist, so it’s private for all intents and purposes). It contains one hundred photographs which I deem my best. To add a photo, another must be removed.
Positive Sensory Deprivation
These two decisions—keeping my photos private and reserved to 100 slots—has made a profoundly positive impact on my photography. The 100-photograph limit forced me to look long and hard through all my work. That process alone provided a wonderful opportunity for reflection. It allowed me to spot patterns, tendencies and weaknesses in my photos. It also put the emphasis on improvement. The only way I can add a photo is if I’ve created a new photo that’s at least my 100th-best. This subsequently closes the door on “posting-just-to-post”—it just isn’t an option.
By keeping the gallery private, it forced me to work in a vacuum. I know many people would think that’s detrimental—I have found it immensely beneficial. I cannot rely on anyone else but myself to judge my work. We’re so used to determining the value of our photographs by the attention (or lack thereof) it receives, that it stunts the ability to critically judge our own work. I analyze, re-evaluate and think about my photographs now more than ever. I go to my site multiple times a day to look through the photos and judge if they belong there. While I used to be mainly concerned on generating more, I quickly began to focus on being better.
I cannot put into words just how fulfilling the photographic process has become for me by making this change which is why I felt driven to write about it. So much of photography is a solitary pursuit—forcing myself into solitude made photography an immeasurably richer experience.