I read a couple of things on social media recently that struck a chord with me. The first was by an amateur photographer who posted one of their images online, but was concerned it had been an inadvertant capture of another photographer’s work. The second, was by writer who was put off writing articles on photography due to the fear of a toxic backlash from some quarters of the landscape photography community.
The amateur photographer’s image was recognised instantly and had been informed that it was indeed the same as another photographer’s image. However, what emerged from the conversation was that the “original” photographer was so prolific at the same location that he had captured every square inch of the location that was humanly possible. The advice from those in the conversation was that there was simply nothing left to photograph at the same location, and if you did post images from it, you’d be asking for trouble if you didn’t credit the photographer who captured it first. Finally, the advice was to just avoid the location altogether.
I wasn’t surprised that a photographer would claim or accept credit for ownership of a location, because something similar happened to me in 2012. But what did surprise me was that a group of photographers could passively accept that another photographer could “own” a location then advise others against going there as a result. This may stem from what I learned whilst meeting photographers at exhibitions; that a competitive and cliquey culture exists in the online landscape photography community. There is also a perception that some photographer’s egos have been built up by so much sycophantic praise and attribution that it blinds them to the extent that they can’t see beyond their own opinions and needs. Look around social media for example and you will see some photographers referring to other photographers as “one of the good lads”, arrogantly implying they are superior in all things and the rest are “bad” lads (presumably).
I’ve certainly seen examples of this ownership thing for myself; trees and boulders being named after photographers for example. Then I heard that the view of the road snaking through Glen Coe from Beinn a’Chrulaiste is being attributed to a landscape photographer who’d discovered it 3 or 4 years ago. Really? Beinn a’Chrulaiste for those that don’t know, is a big mountain by the side of the road which has been walked daily for hundreds of years. Don’t these folks realise there’s a search feature on sites like Flickr and these same views were captured by walkers years before, like this one and this one?
But it’s the dark side of this ownership thing that’s the most worrying trend, and evidenced by the behaviour I witnessed online last year. Specifically, it related to the “Fogbow” images from Rannoch moor which had been taken by two separate photographers, and both had been shortlisted in a weather photography competition. To all intents and purposes both images looked the same, so it would be extremely difficult to rank one better than the other. (I should know, I have a lot of expertise in judging competitions) However, the competition ran a public vote which was just asking for trouble. Initially, the cliques backed their favourite personality, sharing and begging the public to vote. Then, experienced photographers stating why one image was superior to the other. But then it got nasty, with one side posting venomous personal attacks against the other photographers reputation. And it was whilst reflecting on this behaviour that I understood what the writer alluded to; that there are cliques who rally round to ensure one of their own, owns the view.