I must say that although social media is a huge benefit when it comes to helping a photographer get their name known, I can’t help but feel that it is also the number one culprit that encourages the modern day hunger for immediate visual gratification. Combine this with the millions of images that hit the net everyday, and the end result is that your images are probably of little value to anyone but yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done many photos for people who will forever cherish those images. And it’s always wonderful to be able to make someone smile with a nice portrait of a child, sibling, or parent. But so much of what I see online now is all based on perception. And it is a simple character flaw in all of us that allows the scheme to work.
For example, I’ll bet the average person thinks that if photographer A has more Facebook likes than photographer B, he must be a better or a more valued photographer. This clearly isn’t so. It could be that photographer B just doesn’t give a rats ass about likes or that photographer A gives away prints or sessions in exchange to get more likes. In another example, I’ll bet you that if a photographer in New York is selling a 8 by 12 print for 500 dollars, you’d probably think it must be better than the print sold by the photographer in Boise, Idaho for 90 dollars. Perceived value and marketing are everything for the modern marketeer.
And quite frankly I get a little tired of seeing photography magazines that are full of ads trying to make you believe that you’ll never amount to anything in photography unless you buy their camera or their lens. People are always trying to sell something. If it isn’t a blog with affiliate links, it’s e-books, or photoshop actions or something. Everyone wants their piece of the pie. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, because after all it’s just consumerism and it’s the way we’ve all been brought up. But my point is that so much of photography out there isn’t about photography at all! It’s about pushing a product or a service or trying to gain notoriety in some way. And most of the time the person with the best marketing skills will come out on top.
I know it seems like a rather negative point of view, but ask any artist out there and I’ll bet that at some point in their endeavors they have been totally disillusioned with social media and the whole idea of sharing their images at all. After all they have most likely been the victim of rude comments, internet trolls, or a total indifference toward their work. If only your spouse could get a degree in marketing and agree to quit their real job to help you out getting your art where it belongs…hmmm
Like I said earlier, it really pays to remember that your work will always be most valuable to you and only you. It’s the journey and the enjoyment you get out of being an artist that will always be the most important thing. If people cared about your work they’d be buying it and hanging it up on their walls before you could get your next images up on your computer screen. It’s much easier in this day of instant gratification to ignore a post, or simply like it with a click then forever forget it. All that expense, dedication, travel, patience, talent, and hard work ends with a click of a button on Facebook. Wow.
So getting back to the title of this post, I am reminded of a student I helped out this past year. She was really just starting out in photography. We had many conversations about light, colour, shadows, contrast, technique, and composition. She would ask questions and share images for critique. I watched her work progress from simple snapshots to brilliantly composed landscapes full of feeling and wonder. I watched her struggle trying to see the world at a focal length longer than 17mm. I saw the proud look in her eyes when she showed me one of her wildlife images. She was beaming. And rightfully so. That my friends, is what photography is all about. In one year, I saw the progression of someone’s work go from the beginner stage to that of an inspiring artist with vision. She has since moved to another continent, but I will always feel the most satisfaction as an artist myself to have been able to help someone do what they love to do.
Those are the photographers I think of. The ones who are trying hard no matter what level they’re at. The ones who make the effort. The ones who’s work goes largely unseen. I admire them because they’re in the trenches doing what they have a passion for. I admire them because their thoughts are consumed with learning to see again. And although they are the photographers who go unnoticed, and they are the ones who’s hard work will never likely gain any appreciable audience, they are the ones I admire the most.