It seems a lot longer but around 6 years ago I posted my first landscape image on to my relatively new Facebook account with a mixture of embarrassment, dread and curiosity. In relative terms only a very few people had seen my work, in small exhibitions and personal showings etc. Then suddenly with a few clicks of a mouse you have a whole world ready to see your latest and greatest creation and give you the coveted like or even better share and comment on it. There’s absolutely no doubt that it was an instantly positive thing for me and I embraced it and enjoyed the interaction with a growing number of friends and followers etc. I’m no ego maniac however, and never had any intention of taking kind wishes by friends and family members as a true indicator of the standard of my work, but it was nice to just show them, this is what I’m up to, this is what’s really important to me. Unintentionally it had the effect of getting me out there and creating more work, not necessarily for the ‘ likes’ but more to keep that profile as me being a photographer fulfilled , even if my real ambitions for that weren’t in real life.
Feedback was instant and affirming, albeit initially small, but as long as I retained my healthy dose of cynicism and didn’t loose the run of myself, I was happy to continue the experiment and see which images garnered different types of reactions and basically which images people thought were any good. I had been trying and failing woefully to produce a website for an embarrassing 10 years previously. Starting when I could count the number of photographers websites in Ireland on one hand, tediously trying to learn html coding, then Dreamweaver, then realising I didn’t have the ridiculous amounts that were being sought by web developers to do the job properly during the dot com boom, and so it went on and on.
Then this new idea of social media and the ease of it became something so simple with real feedback came along, which didn’t require a degree in analytics to understand, and it changed everything. Suddenly you’re out there and so is your work. To be liked, judged, ignored, copied and even stolen. I’ve had all of these and still I find myself uploading and sharing new work that these days takes a lot of thought, time and effort. The reasons for doing so were always clear, the shameless self promotion and endless feed of how great you are , all served the purpose of getting my work out there, getting it printed, getting it purchased , getting more work. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s fairly harmless so what could possibly go wrong ?
I’ve never understood it when I’ve heard other photographers say ‘ I don’t look at other photographer’s work ‘ , to me that’s like a musician saying he doesn’t buy records. I’ve always taken great pleasure in viewing other’s work, whether that’s from books, exhibitions, well produced articles or online. There’s nothing wrong in looking at someone’s work you admire and getting some inspiration , even the odd idea, as long as you’re not going out to simply recreate what you’ve seen and try to emulate what someone else was thinking in making an image. I have an ever growing library of photo books which for me has always been the best way to view work, that I turn to for inspiration a lot of the time. The unexpected issue with being so connected online, having new ‘ friends ‘ everyday and ‘ liking ‘ more pages.. is that suddenly you’re no longer in control of the amount, type and quality of photography you’re exposed to.
There’s a lot of good stuff, but there’s an endless stream of thousands of image per day in my feed that began to feel like overload. I was, for quite a while one of those people who tried to balance the input and feedback on my work with doing the same on others. It’s not called ‘ social media ‘ for nothing. But this very quickly became overwhelming, time consuming and then simply repetitive. I found myself hitting a like button on the same few photographers, ignoring others, replying to the first few comments etc. Wondering why someone would request you as a friend and then never interact in the slightest way with you, is possibly the most ridiculous waste of time and thought ever invented for humans !
It seems to reap the benefits of social media , you have to put up with a lot of the negatives and they’re just part and parcel of this new way of being a photographer, online. If you’re not online then what are you ? The answer is a photographer. It shouldn’t make a difference, but if you’re not telling everyone what you’re doing are you doing anything at all ? Of course you are and there are many great photographers out there producing work of real quality and meaning that wouldn’t know how to create a Facebook memory if you paid them. I think I’ve been secretly jealous of them for quite some time.
When I studied photography in college we worked on projects which were eventually presented as a final, finished work. I remember that great buzz in seeing what others had been up to all this time and also showing my work in finished, and always printed format. The ‘ reveal ‘. Now as I’m working on a book project that I feel is far more personal and important that my previous one, I find my self letting the pages of my book fly open online before it’s finished, before I even know where it’s going or if indeed it’s what I want people to see.
The excitement of being in full creative flow and realising you could be producing something worthwhile seems to be tinged with the expectation of sharing it. It seems absurd to be even casually looking at your phone when out working in solitude in the beautiful surroundings that would have most people jealous. And then you realise it’s become a habit and you’re not even sure if it’s a good one or why you’re doing it.
I’ve seen photographers take a break from all online activity before which I always admired and thought would be worthwhile exercise to do at some point. Now, as the gallery season is slowing down, and I’m at that crucial stage of finalising a direction for this project , this seems like a perfect time to wind it down for a while. I mean no disrespect to all those who take the time to follow my work online and who have been a great source of support and encouragement over the years and to all my fellow contected photographers but I’m curious to see what effect unplugging will have, if any at all. Seeing as how I barely know how to use it, and I enjoy photographing my set ups, I might keep the old Instagram thing going.. just so you know I’m still there
See you all in the new year.. keep it country.