Photo Democracy

Kenneth Jarecke
6 min readSep 13, 2022

Doesn’t get my vote.

Election Day somewhere in Montana. Kenneth Jarecke/Contact Press Images

I read an article recently in a rather highbrow publication which praised a certain photographer’s work as democratic. A decade ago when intellectuals were pushing for the democratization of photography this might have been a compliment, today it is not.

To be fair, I didn’t actually read the article, but I did read the headline and I looked at the pictures. In my opinion the pictures were boring, poorly composed, and technically lacking. They are the work of a photographer mimicking the work of amateurs with the hopes of pushing his viewer’s nostalgia button. It’s what film directors do when they license a classic pop song to play over a montage. It’s a cheap trick. Sometimes it works on regular folk, but when it comes to still images, it only seems to work on intellectuals who are writing about photography.

A classic example of choosing style over substance.

None of this will come as a surprise to me, nor will it to anyone else who’s been paying attention. It’s hardly worth writing about, except I feel it’s important to push back on the democracy narrative and where it’s recently taken photography.

Like so many other movements, it sounds nice on the surface. Photography is for everyone. It needs to be democratic!

Which is a false narrative, as photography is already democratic. This has been the case since Mr. Kodak put a little black box into everyone’s hands. In doing so, he pushed photography out of the expensive studio and off of cumbersome glass plates and into the common person’s hands. His simple Brownie was welcomed in everyone’s front yard, to their birthday parties and along with them on their vacations. Everyone could use it as long as they remembered to keep the sun at their back. The vast majority could afford it as well.

It was easy, brilliant and as far as making photography available to everyone, absolutely democratic.

Still, one can argue, that didn’t make it available for everyone to see.

We still had gatekeepers keeping the vast majority of images hidden (with no doubt nefarious intent). The press only published, for the most part, the work of professional photographers. This work showed events and focused on people that they deemed important or…

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Kenneth Jarecke

I'm a husband, dad, photographer, a writer (sort of), an occasional rancher and the Founder of The Curious Society. https://www.curious-society.org