Some days, as we plod through our respective news feeds, it seems as though the Internet was invented for one thing and one thing only; to share photos. Although the quality of the photos we have to wade through can sometimes be questionable, and at times our feeds can become overwhelming, the relative ease with which photos are shared is in my opinion, the greatest benefit to our seemingly photo-obsessed and Social Media saturated
Hyperbole aside, if you peruse any internet forum and/or any Facebook group, you’d be quick to find that there are pages and pages dedicated to poking fun at those photos and those photographers whose work is considered subpar by other photographers. As an outsider looking in, it can be frustrating and intimidating and it’s something that would prevent even the most confident young photographer from sharing their work. And quite honestly, could anyone blame them? Despite that initial nervousness, it’s fairly obvious that once we begin to share, we open a Pandora’s box of sharing - especially if the feedback is positive.
Before we were so connected, sharing photos was a different experience entirely. Usually, it involved setting up a slide projector, inviting a group of friends over, and talking about your life-changing trip through the Grand Canyon while Kodachrome-tinted images were projected against a blank wall. If your friends were lucky, they had an emergency and were forced to leave before you got to the slides of your family reunion.
Fortunately, that era of photo sharing is mostly in the past. What we have now is the ability to connect instantly with our fellow photographers - professional and amateur - from literally everywhere. It's inspiring to say the least. I mean, in all honesty, who can deny the motivational power of browsing through a Flickr feed of someone living on the other side of the planet? And although it might be humbling at first, one look at the work of the absurdly talented Russian photographers on 500px.com can inspire anyone to pick up a camera (seriously, how do they do it?). But aside from the work of the obvious pros, what about the normal, everyday photos that show up on a daily basis? It may be overstating a bit, but how often has the world been changed because of a photo that someone thought to share?
Looking at photos is always the highlight of my day. While I can appreciate the professional work of my peers, I have to admit, that stuff can grow to be boring and/or monotonous very quickly. Instead, what I love to see are photos with a more personal meaning to the photographer - snapshots of kids, pets, sunrises and sunsets, or photos of the places someone has been. Without trying to sound too hokey, it’s through these little moments that we’re able to connect with and relate to people who would otherwise remain strangers. They share and we relate. We share and they relate. I'm certain that some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had involve my personal work rather than any of the professional photography work I've posted.
It's probably not the most popular thing to admit, but when people start talking about the history of photography and the landmark photographers who came before us, my eyes start to glaze over. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the work - I do - but in looking at the work of the masters, I can’t help but think about the photos they took that never made it to the gallery walls and/or to the heavy pages of stuffy art books. What I love is the personal work, the private work, the work that was closest to their heart when they weren't being “the photographer.” To me, it’s in those ‘in between’ moments the hold the true beauty and the magic of photography.
This is why it's difficult not to roll my eyes when someone complains about all the “bad” photos clogging up their feed and/or pokes fun at someone whose photos lack the amount of industry standard bokeh. What should matter isn’t the quality of the photo, but the content. That someone felt their photo was meaningful enough to share with everyone (yes, even selfies fall into this category), says a lot about who they are and what they value. It’s not only a glimpse not only into their life, but into their heart as well. A voyeuristic guilty pleasure if there ever was one.
I know this may be generalizing a bit, but I've always believed that if you want to know what is truly important to someone, look at the things they photograph (when they’re not on the clock of course). Looking through my personal work I see everything that’s meaningful to me, so I can only assume it’s the same for most people. In truth, having the ability to see the things other people consider important with a few swipes of my finger is really pretty convenient. Not only does it cut down on conversation time, but it allows us to gain an understanding of one another without even having to speak the same language.
Looking back, it's easy to see that what everyone was doing then, it's exactly what we are all doing now - sharing photos. Though the medium has significantly changed, the desire to share our photos is as strong now as it was then - it's just much more easy to do so now (and admittedly, there are a lot more people doing it). Back then, we gathered around slide projectors and made hand puppets against images projected against the wall. Now, we comment, like, and share. Though to be honest, although I wasn't the best at it, I do miss making inappropriate hand puppets while my parents loaded up the next slide holder...
My point in all of this isn't to think back and relive how we shared our photography in the old days. Rather, the point I want to make is that regardless of the medium, our desire to share our work has always been there - and we should be sharing our photos. I believe that if we truly had an understanding of this, it might be easier to accept and - better yet - perhaps appreciate all those photos that pop up on our feeds, regardless of their lack of artistry and however devoid of bokeh they are.
I really do believe that we are in the glory days of photography. Everyone has a camera, everyone is a photographer, and everyone is sharing their photos. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, 500px, Reddit, or any number of the social media platforms, it’s the off-moments, the candids, and the non-professional work which continually keep me interested and over and over remind me that my favorite photographer is and will always be...everyone with a camera.