Central Tendency in Photography

Central tendency in photography.

During my brief interlude with statistics some years ago I met with a factor that greatly influences statistics, the idea of central tendency. That is the assumption that a population of study has a standard distribution, i.e. a standard bell curve. Now we know that much of humanity and its activities demonstrate this standard bell curve when measured. So what I hear you ask. Well recently I was reading an article on the herding instinct to be found amongst financial consultants (Jeremy Grantham, My Sister’s Pension Assets and Agency Problems. 2012). A further discussion with my daughter who is studying medicine mentioned that if a doctor makes a mistake and they are using a practise or technique that is or would be used by other doctors then that is a valid defence against prosecution. Again this is a herding instinct.

Extrapolating these thoughts and discussions to photography and looking at the popularity of certain types of photography it is pretty easy to see that the herding instinct is strongly alive and kicking. What do I mean? Well for example if I look at a landscape that has early light, water , long exposure which in itself I will admit is very pretty they generally get lots of favourites and comments. This of course puts pressure on other photographers seeking the same rewards to replicate the scene albeit at a different location. It is this pressure of acceptance by the collective that drives many to conform and generate similar photography. The herding of the artists to the central tendency of photography.

Moreover the rules of photography are often used indiscriminately to reject works from popularity stakes because they don’t fit the bell curve of acceptance regardless of what the artist may be trying to say with a photograph. No doubt many of you have experienced this rejection based on a subjective view by the audience of what is a great photo.

Here in Melbourne we have a the Monash Galley of Art, which is a major player in promoting photography as an art form. The MGA runs a competition called the Bowness Award. Last year 2011(which dates this blog) finalist and winners were not in any way shape or form like that found on many popular photography sites.  So why did a selection of photographs that would not get much attention on such sites as 500px or RedBubble win a major prize ($25,000 AU). Well it may, in my opinion, be to do with the central tendency found in photography as well as other forms of art. A rejection of herding. Indeed looking at those artists that break the mould and establish a new form of art are generally rebelling against the established. These turning points are found throughout art or music.

In photography we have millions of would be artists many of which publish their works (including me) on sites such as RB, 500px, Fine Art America,Blue Canvas etc etc. With each collective pushing by likes or favourites the submitters to the central tendency, photography is in danger of becoming a ho-hum art form, seen that before why bother looking at another one.


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