Photography guide

Responding to a couple posts on 1/125 and expanding on comments I made on those posts. The subject matter at hand is literary vs unliterary photography and specifically thinking how to get people to expand their photographic horizons.

This is a problem that afflicts photography a lot more than other artforms. Books, movies, music, and TV all suck people down the rabbit hole into more heady productions and there’s no problem or contradiction with people liking both brain candy and brain food. Other fine art seems to exist solely in the “I may not like this but I acknowledge its importance” sphere.

Meanwhile photography seems to be stuck in just the surface-appeal world. People put in effort to read books. People commit time to watch movies. But if a photo is not immediately appealing, we toss it and move on.

The genius in the 1/125 posts is that they try to avoid putting value judgments on photography. Anyone interested in guiding people past their immediate preferences into a greater awareness of the medium has to avoid prescribing certain things as good or bad. No one likes being told they have no taste.

The problem in photography appears to be the lack of trusted guides. It’s not necessary for guides to push people away from certain things and towards others. What we need are guides who can point out what’s worthwhile in a given body of work (any body of work). And we need guides who can help people figure out exactly what it is they find appealing about certain things.

While I’m not enough of an expert in photography to really be the first type of guide,* I definitely try to be the second type. When I accompany people to museums a lot of the conversation is about what we like and why we like it. This is actually a lot of work as we’re not used to the self-awareness required to really figure out why we respond to things the way we do.

*Although if given the opportunity, I will seize it with both hands. I’ve had to explain Cindy Sherman multiple times (to different people). I still don’t understand how a museum can get away with showing just one of her prints and not explain what she’s doing.

The fun part about museuming in this way is that it encourages people who are often intimidated by the academic art world to realize.

  1. These pieces are made to made to provoke some sort of emotional response.
  2. They don’t need to know what the intent is, that they respond emotionally is enough.
  3. Their emotional response is inherently legitimate. No matter what that response is.

The amazing thing is watching people get it and seeing them get really annoyed by the people who refuse to engage emotionally.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

3 thoughts on “Photography guide”

  1. Pingback: Editing | n j w v

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