A slightly ambiguous and perhaps tedious title for a blog I grant you, but my thoughts on this matter have been building for sometime, but of course this topic is nothing new, and in my defense I felt like a bit of blog writing (Oh the paradox). I’ve been pursuing landscape photography seriously (and some including my wife might say obsessively) for about 6 years now. I guess I started in the generation of photographers with access to relatively affordable consumer digital cameras (after a very long break from my SLR Pentax film camera when I was a teenager and some low resolution digital cameras). Even in this relatively short time I’ve seen the world of photography change. Those who started a long time ago with film must have seen an even greater change.
When I started landscape photography, social media was still in it’s infancy to be honest. We had Flickr and Facebook and perhaps Twitter (Myspace was for teens and music I think – never joined that one) and a few other, perhaps more historical sites, but still active, like pbase and Deviantart. I hesitated in joining Facebook but it seemed a logical step to share my images, by setting up a ‘Fan’ page (that really sounds narcissistic doesn’t it). The urge to upload as many images as I could (daily) was strong when I started, perhaps ignorance that I thought my images were great or I was just over enthusiastic. With a (slowly growing) following each post gave me that dopamine hit, growing stronger, compelling me to upload more until I realised, to some degree, that less was more (I think I still post too many). Some readers (if there is still anyone reading this) might not relate to this post, and if so, good on them!
In social media’s, and my photographic, infancy, there seemed to be a small family of local Devon-based photographers who, on the whole interacted, commented on and were interested in each other’s photographs. As with a small community most people knew the others and their work. We all kind of knew who were the most prolific and or talented photographers and had perhaps a (sometimes secret) respect for them. There seemed to be a bit of a big stigma at that time with Facebook as who had the most page likes. This was the time where some people paid companies to gain ghost and fake likes to see their pages grow. The small world of landscape photography grew into a much larger one, where you realised you were a small fish in a big pond. This was until Facebook culled many fake accounts and also started to limit page reach and increased advertising to help their share holders. As this ‘exposure’ worsened photographers looked for other platforms to show their work like 500px, Instagram, Google + etc. With the expansion of different platforms and more people taking up photography as a hobby, perhaps also due to more and more people owning a camera phone, I think we have also become much more ‘photo-saturated’ (I remember magazines were the go to for nice pictures). I guess when many photographers start out, especially on social media, we aspire to be professionals. However most of us don’t end up becoming one. Some give up and move onto other hobbies, some keep trying and many just tick along enjoying it as a hobby.
I think there is the compulsion and / or pressure these days perhaps to upload an image that you think will be popular rather than posting an image that you like more, but has perhaps has less of the wow factor. I know I am guilty of it and whilst we as humans generally like to improve our skills, especially with a hobby, the pressure on photographers to compete for attention can be great (if you let it I hear some say). It’s a bit like Darwinian evolution. Only the images with wow factor or perhaps the individuals with the biggest following or popularity will survive. OK I am going to extremes but I think this is the direction that social media is going. With time and experience we become more confident with our imagery and possibly less bothered about topics like likes, shares, comments and reach. I know, although it’s nice to to improve peoples mood with a nice photo, get nice comments or be complimented by your peers, it should not be the reason for doing something in life. This will only lead to living your life to appease others.
More recently, perhaps to an old fart (well mentally) like me, the emphasis of photography online, and perhaps life in general, with the mass of selfies and platforms like Instagram and Snapchat etc, has been more orientated towards social media popularity and being interesting and the images perhaps being second place. It seems that providing workshops, Vlogs and live media feeds to name but a few, are now common place, certainly for up and coming professionals and also hobbyists. I guess like anything fashions come in and go out, however the down side is that I do know of many good photographers that get unnoticed (no this is not a subliminal article about me) as they are either shy, not really interested in growing their social media empire or perhaps are ignored just because they are quiet and just enjoy photography. Although this kind of reflects society through the ages, notoriety in the past was mainly through skill and achievement. The celebrity culture we live in now perhaps selects for a more narcissistic or self-centered personalities online or perhaps we are all competing for more attention. It’s very easy to get carried away with being self-centred and craving attention and popularity. Perhaps many of our friends who are not on social media do not require this (that’s another huge topic for discussion). I know I have lost opportunities to others mostly as my online presence has not been strong enough or my website hasn’t got enough hits. This then moves onto the topic of social media status. I think a lot of companies approach the more socially popular individuals to use them (often in a symbiosis) to advertise their product or service. Therefore those individuals who have the biggest following get more of the opportunities. Kind of highlights that you can actually now be a professional blogger, Vlogger or celebrity. OK nothing wrong with that, but going back to photography, it means that the most popular, prolific or outspoken individuals gain a bigger advantage over someone that maybe more skilled… Sounds like mainstream politics doesn’t it.
I think the some of the issues, with some social media platforms, like Facebook, is that you are put together with people who have similar interests but perhaps not similar views or personalities. Clashes are inevitable in life, especially in clubs, but in the real world if we don’t like a person or club for any reason on tends to limit our interaction or leave. When online, where there is a stigma to know everyone, everyone if a ‘friend’. Some platforms like Flickr perhaps are more about the image than the personality behind them. Although the landscape photography community is still expanding, work is replicated on many platforms so you see the same images several times in a day, perhaps feeling compelled to like and comment. It seems as a platform gets popular (This hasn’t really happened to Flickr I think), the images reach less visitors, adverts become the norm, share holders take profits and then people start looking for a new platform (Facebook vs Instagram scenario).
Don’t get me wrong, as in the title, social media has revolutionised how we share our work (and lives) but like everything it’s a double edged sword. Does it increase our need to be noticed or feed our narcissistic sides?
With many businesses the internet has become a great market place with many opportunities to be had. Perhaps with the flood of images online and also stock agencies the true value (commercial or not) of a good image, like any commodity, has dwindled, as there are so many; Supply and demand… So whilst many have benefited from the explosion in social media, what are the long term consequences for photography, where smart phone sales have exploded, and compact cameras have taken a nose dive for example?
Would I have sold prints, images or fund a hobby like photography without social media? Possibly not, and if I did I expect it would have required a lot more effort in the real world. I remember David Noton saying a while ago ‘how many people would still partake in photography if there was no social media’… Makes you think…
I guess I do wonder where this is all going and who really benefits, the individual or the social media platform who owns your images, shows you adverts and pays its share holders LOL… See you back on Facebook/Flickr/Twitter 😉