Saturday, September 6, 2008


My internal jury is still out on whether the human race is intrinsically selfish or intrinsically altruistic.

Are we generally pleased when we see another person do well for themselves, or do we actually feign goodwill, whilst secretly bemoaning that so-and-so's good luck, or talent, or both and wishing that it was us instead?

I find this question especially puzzling when I consider it in the context of a group - people who come together with a common interest or cause. I, perhaps naively, expect more from a like-minded group of people by the way of being pleased when something goes right for one of it's members - but that's not always the case.

A member of a forum run by a photographic agency that I contribute to, recently posted a message saying that a single shot of his had earned $8000 for use by a publishing company. He wasn't boasting, and was using the information (he showed us the photograph and told us exactly where it was being used and by whom - insomuch as he had been told himself) to encourage others to have high hopes of a big sale themselves.

The majority of replies to his post (so far) have been positive and encouraging. But not all. Some of the meaner spirited replies (oh, I know - they were only joking!) are:

"I thought that I had much better pic somewhere."

"Jeez, I probably wouldn't even have bothered to put that one in."

"It just goes to show harsh editing and removing the more ordinary photos does not always work."

"I am actually amazed that a client will pay &25,000 for such a picture when they could have hired a professional photographer to go out and shoot a similar picture for a fraction of the cost." (my personal favourite - partly because he got the amount wrong, partly because he didn't use the correct symbol for dollars and partly because the photographer IS professional)

"Well done Colin - really great sale. may you have many more. Straighten the walls and you might get $20000 next time!!" (I posted that one myself)

There was also the poster who told us how much he made from a single shot (about $6000) but refused to show it to us, as it was "easily repeatable" by others. Oh, heaven forfend that we might all go and photograph the same subject and make some money, too! I had better not tell everyone that I sold a shot of the Eiffel Tower recently, oh, and Times Square, oh and Big Ben oh and Stonehenge.....or they might go there too!

I doubt that you'd get the same sort of reaction from a group of painters or potters or scultors. I think the mean-spirited photographers out there let their jealousy take over because they haven't realised that there is art and talent to photography, as much as there is to painting and sculture. So, you get the sense of "oh, why didn't they use MY shot of Windsor Castle", rather than - what a good shot of Windsor Castle.

As for my puzzling question at the top - I think the short answer is: it's a bit a both, and altrusim is certainly helped by self-awarness and some internal sense of personal security.


  1. Interesting one this Stephen. I have only this week joined the said forum. I'm glad that my congratulations to the recipient of the $8,000 was both heartfelt and uncontroversial in content.
    I have only been a photographer for four years, an artist for much longer. Having made sales in both fields, attended and participated in exhibitions and generally mixed with a great many artists and photographers, I feel that there is no discernable difference between the two groups.
    I have always thought that there are two distinct groups of humans, those who are creative and those who aren't. Not rocket science that, there are those who love Marmite and those who hate it, but the main point of my belief is that people who are creative are more likely to be less aggressive, and mean-minded than the non-creative section.
    Of course there are exceptions to this thinking, but generally I think it is true. It can take a year to build a model of the San Francisco Bridge out of matchsticks, and one second to destroy it. What gives up most pleasure?. I would like to think that 99.9% of artists and photographers would say the building.
    In all of my association with all groups of artists, photographers, sculptors etc, I can honestly say that the number of people that I have found to be rude, unhelpful and obstructive to me to be extremely small. I have always felt that the overwhelming number could not be more friendly or helpful.
    Human nature being what it is, of course everyone is going to wish it was them, when they hear of someone elses' success. However, there is also an altruistic side to most of us. I certainly have one, so when I say that I'm pleased for someone elses' good fortune, I mean it.
    I have made many good friends from Art and photography. I've learned much from them, increasing my skills, and meeting forum members from time to time. I shall be meeting up again with some members from another photographic forum in The Lake District next month. We come from all over the UK, always have a great time, and part on warm and friendly terms.
    I fail to see the need for confrontation and nastiness on forums, although I have had my run-ins on occasions. I'm afraid that this was down to my being anti-war, anti-redneck and anti-US foreign policy, than any artistic differences. Be that as it may, I generally believe in the milk of human kindness, and would be dismayed in the extreme if I found that I was mistaken in believing that most photographers were mean-minded and not as altruistic as myself.

    Mick Sargent

  2. Re: your question on whether the human race is intrinsically selfish or altruistic, I have often wondered this myself and am unsure of the answer; perhaps there is no answer, but I do agree with your last statement that "altruism is certainly helped by self-awareness and some internal sense of personal security." People who are truly happy with themselves seem to find it easier to take part in others' happiness.


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