What’s the Value of a Photograph?

Tissue on ground. Marseille, 2017

I’ve been thinking — there are so many good photos and images now in the world. What is the practical benefit, or value of a photograph?



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The change

Orange and blue. Marseille, 2017

The internet is essentially a big copying machine. All pictures, photos, videos, and content is essentially free.

You can see how the internet has revolutionized everything.

There are billions of photos on Instagram and Facebook. Every day, there are more photographers entering the professional market. Which means, more choice and variety for photography —which ultimately means less money and opportunity for photographers (in the traditional sense, for photographers who work for photo commissions like photography technicians, or photographers who go on Assignment).

Images are (now) opium for the masses

Red and blue abstract. Marseille, 2017

I was on the Magnum photos website the other day, and I was blown away by all the phenomenal projects they’ve been working on, in terms of documentary and reportage work.

But the sad reality —

Nobody really cares for human suffering, or humanitarian causes anymore.

My theory:

We are getting distracted to death with entertainment, consumerism, capitalism, and media.

What will get lots of likes?

Abstract man with arm. Marseille, 2017

For example, we all want to be happy. Consumers and people don’t like to look at “depressing” photos of starving kids in Africa. We want to look at “happy” and colorful pictures on Instagram.

Cindy and Jacob Patterson has shown me these new things popping up in Los Angeles and America —essentially colorful backdrops for Instagram users to get lots of likes, but these are marketed as “museums” or “exhibitions”. But in reality, they are just big advertisements — brands and companies will pay the exhibitors a ton of money to integrate their own backdrops into the exhibition. Imagine as a marketer — there is nothing better than having a bunch of people shoot a selfie of themselves, with Dyson vacuums in the background.

What does the masses really care about?

Blue sky, orange window. Marseille, 2017

In one sense —these marketers and exhibitors are geniuses. They know our love of Instagram, social media, and the need to get more likes and followers.

Cindy with hand on head. Marseille, 2017

In today’s world,

Likes, followers, and social media candy is more important than “meaningful” photographs.

Of course, there are still many people in the world who care about humanitarian causes. And also, photographing injustice, pain and suffering in the world is very important. But — once again, does the mass public really care for these images?

Humanitarian photography is very important

Golden hour, boy in orange jacket by water. Marseille, 2017

An aside — I think in today’s world, as individuals —we should seek to make uplifting photos which gives people hope in the world.

For example, even when photographing injustice or inequality —to not just make photos that guilt the viewer into donating or “feeling bad”—but perhaps motivating the viewer to want to help — by making photos that show that these people suffering have hope.

Spread joy and hope

Cindy, Golden hour, by the water in marseille, 2017

Also as another aside —I think that there’s a lot of pain and suffering in millions of people in developed countries. I think it is also our duty to empower people —using photography as a tool.

I see photography as one of the best tools for self-healing, and self empowerment. I know for myself, photography has given me purpose, direction, and excitement in life.

I think as photographers, we can share our joy of photography with others — by teaching others how to make better photos, using photography as a tool to organize social gatherings and meet ups, and also giving people photography a tool of artistic self-expression.

Practical takeaways on the value of a photograph

Red and white selfie. Marseille, 2017

So my first proposition:

The value of a photograph is using it as a tool to stimulate people to making social change.

The second proposition:

The value of photography is to empower people, to give them more joy in life.

Third proposition:

To succeed as a modern photographer, to depend less on selling images. Perhaps teaching photography empowerment or therapy courses, or even photographers to become VERY COMMERCIAL —I see a hopeful future for commercial, fashion, luxury, and any photography for advertising and selling stuff.

How to protect your eyes and attention

Hand abstract and blue background. Marseille, 2017

We live in an image saturated world. Our eyes are our most valuable organs in today’s world. Advertisers are constantly battling for our attention, and to stimulate our eyes.

Movies, shoes, and media constantly stimulate our eyes. We all seek to spend a lot of money on fashion, clothes, flashy cars, and other external visual markers of “success”.

Callisto, our cat. Marseille. 2017

My ultimate suggestion:

Protect your eyes and attention.

Whenever possible, be skeptical, and be aware that almost everything on social media (and even this website) is an advertisement for something.

Practical ideas:

Cindy with blue candle over face. Marseille, 2017
  1. Install Adblock plugins on your computer browser, and install advertisement blockers on your mobile devices. For iOS/iPhone devices I recommend using “Purify”, and there’s tons of free Adblock browsers on Android. “Adblock ultimate” works well on desktop.
  2. When you are using “free” social media tools (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Facebook messenger, What’s App)— realize you’re the product, trading your personal data and information to advertisers in exchange for your access to these tools.
  3. Advertising isn’t evil or good —it is just another form of communication. Don’t vilify it, just be real —and just build skepticism.

“Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.” – Euripides




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