Saturday, June 11, 2005

Some Generalisations, Part 1

Here is the moment you've all been waiting for. Maybe. What is it? Generalisations! Isn't that what everyone _really_ wants from a sociological study?*

Possibly this will be useful to a few people, maybe most of all to (myself and) the people I've interviewed, many of whom have asked me for a list like this. Because I'm writing this primarily with you all in mind, probably I should use "you" instead of the more impersonal "they" in the list below, but that doesn't seem quite right either. Please forgive, if you can, how impersonal and social scientific it sounds.

So, here it is: a long, largely un-substantiated, highly generalised list of characteristics or behaviours that the people I've interviewed (you all) have in common. They're not all going to sound revelatory; in fact, by their very nature as commonalities, they should be familar to most people. Then again, my impression from talking to people is that they are not at all sure how "typical" they are, or where their practices converge and diverge from others' practices. I guess that's the first commonality in my list. So, I present them in all their underwhelming glory.

I've interviewed about 80 people in all, over 2.5 years, with about 95% living in the UK and far more than half living in London. Pretty nearly equal numbers of men and women. Approx. 55/80 people upload their photos primarily to blogs (although many have more than one site); approx. 25/80 people upload their photos primarily to flickr.com. These 80 people are the grammatical subject of all the following clauses. Important note: I really have no idea how generalisable the following are to the population outside the 80 people I've met. Others will be better judges of that than I am. Ok, here goes, in no very significant order.

Imagine that each of the following begins with: "Out of 80 people, some relatively large number..."

-migrate over time from being interested in what photography can show to being interested in photography as an activity in and of itself

-feel as though they steadily become better (more skilled) photographers through the period of taking photos and uploading them to the internet

-start to carry their camera(s) with them all the time, wherever they go

-take a lot more photos as a (direct or indirect) consequence of posting photographs to the internet

-tend to bristle or quail at the word “photographer,” at the suggestion that this is a name that might apply to them

-shy away from portrait photography and shots of strangers

-occasionally or frequently go on journeys or walks with the sole or primary purpose of taking photographs

-begin to change their photographic practices significantly when they get their first digital camera (more photos, more interest in showing those photos, more interest in photography as such)

-like to go on long walks

-are more interested in “urban grit” than pastoral landscapes; are more interested in "gritty" landscapes than bucolic ones

-prefer to shoot alone

-have most of their conversations about photography through the internet (in comment fields and discussion forums); that is, tend not to have very many offline friends (friends who they mostly see offline or who they got to know offline) with whom they talk about photography

-have done most of their learning about photography online, by looking at other people’s photos and participating in discussions—rather than learning through offline courses. This is far more of a self-taught than an institutional form of education, but it’s not really quite either one

-see most of the photographs they encounter (other people’s photos) on the internet—not in galleries or books

-say they are selective about the photos they put online (in other words, apply some standards; but this comment is about the fact of selectiveness and not the types of standards people apply; these are more variable)

-say that their blog or website or photographs are mostly done for themselves (for their own pleasure and not an audience’s pleasure)

-(nevertheless) are conscious of having an audience comprised of some known people (friends, family) and some strangers (a group which varies in size according to one’s imaginative tendencies and the amount of comments one gets from strangers)

-have comment fields enabled and actively read them

-feel obliged to respond to most of the comments they receive

-eventually become inured to the compliments they receive for their photos

-have more than one personal website

-are skeptical about making photography into a paid activity. Two reasons: 1. because most fear that being paid or trying to get paid will fundamentally change how they feel about photography if not about the photographs themselves (most like how they feel about it as an unpaid activity) and 2. because most know that the market for photographers is stingy and closed

-(nevertheless) have ideas about how to make money with their photographs

-say that taking photographs helps them to see the world differently

[this is just a start; more to come]

*The status of generalisations is something that's in question in this project. Why? Because it's generally good practice to question the process of generalising, but more importantly, because I think the topic of my research, itself, puts that process into question (i.e. in a sense, what I've been studying is the relationship of the single photographer to the mass of photographers, the single photograph to the mass of photographs--that is an issue of generalisation, or more specifically, trying to thwart the tendencies of generalisation).
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