There is something to be said about social media for photography. Apps and sites like Instagram, 500px, and Flickr have way of tapping into our innate drive to create work that satisfy others. When treated right, social media can keep you motivated to produce. This week's article is about how keeping up the production rate is no measure for creating from the heart. Photography should, at least in the first place, be for you.
Having a bunch of followers can be a good motivational tool for you to drive up your production rate. After all, if you keep taking pictures and keep on editing them, you are more immersed in photography. In this way, social media can actually make you go outside with your camera more. To other people however, the whole social media game can be more of a distraction than anything else. Checking to see how your image is doing based on the amount of views, likes, and comments can really do either of two things with you: make sure the next one will do even better (which is a positive attitude to step up your game as a photographer) or just get you that quick dopamine fix while you're visiting your own photo again.
Deconstruction and Detachment
Pat Kay takes it a bit further in his recent article titled “Ego is the Enemy.” Kay proposes that social media presence, influence, and celebrity status are fake constructs that should have no real bearing on your own sense of self-worth. Because once you take them away, you are but human.
Kay is a promoter of detachment in his insightful essay. It’s something that closely resembles the notion of deconstruction but is slightly different. Where detachment is about not attributing any worth or self-worth to material or immaterial objects and constructs, deconstruction can be seen as willingly stripping away everything until the ego presents itself. In tough scenarios, like back country camping in a storm, the ego can momentarily show itself, but only in the worst possible cases we are confronted by our true selves, if, for instance, the tent rips and blows away in that same storm. Now, if you’re willingly going there to find yourself, we call that deconstruction.
So, how does this relate to photography at all? Personality traits, but also fleeting personal properties like emotion can and should influence any fine art photographer's work. It's what separates art from the act of registration. A pessimistic world view can create moody or dramatic-looking imagery. This is what I'm after anyway. You would seldom see works from me that evoke joy or happiness in an absolute sense. And even when the odd optimistic image makes its way into my portfolio, there's always some sense of personal sentiment in there.
The Push and Pull Mentalities
Then again, if you solely base your artistic insight on the quantitative feedback you get from social media, then your work isn't moving forward at all. My view on the art of photography is that artists should create new and exciting stuff instead of works that the current audience already expects to like. In other words, stop trying to satisfy your audience, because you are the creator of your own art.
The satisfaction of your followers, fans, or viewers is what I call the push mentality of creating art. It’s not exactly like force-feeding your audience. Rather, think of this approach like walking through an art gallery. As you walk along photos that the photographer or curator has chosen to expose, you are free to stop and examine any photograph if you please. In push creation, you are intrinsically motivated to create when you want to create.
A pull mentality, on the other hand, is much more focused on what your viewers already appreciate. Staying with the metaphor of the art gallery, imagine now that the entirety of that gallery is clad in prints that immediately come across as beautiful. The kind of images that you would give a thumbs up right away. Like I said before, the gallery is full of them. Are you still giving that thumbs up after seeing the 30th easy-to-like image?
Deletion of Social Media Accounts
Landscape Photographer Dave Morrow gave up a good deal of his social accounts. It seems rather contradictory that Morrow would share that in a video posted on YouTube, but if you know the man behind the camera, you would know that he isn’t that active on there, nor is he on YouTube to please his ego. Morrow is just paying the bills, and he does that by sharing most of what he has learned about photography for free through a freemium business model.
So, how does it feel to delete your social media accounts? Well, I’ve taken the plunge (into shallow waters) as well. I’m not on Vero, Instagram, Twitter, DeviantArt, Google+... Actually, I’ve just kept Facebook and 500px intentionally. All the others are (hopefully) gone. I know that some of you would ask me why I would delete accounts where I had a combined following of 100,000 people. Let’s start by saying that I have a lot more time to create. Managing time and uploading new content to all of those accounts now goes straight into photography, writing, and editing. Time spent on social media went down from a dozen hours a week to just under one weekly hour. Spare time aside, I’m really not that interested in the numbers game or gaining fame. I’m interested in photography and nature, among other irrelevant things.
The reason that I’ve kept Facebook, even after that whole Cambridge Analytica debacle, is that I like the business management tools there. But I’m not enthusiastic. My Facebook page as well as the pages of many respected photographers saw a dramatic decline in both organic and paid reach over the past months since management decided to clip the wings of businesses once again. 500px is a different story to me, since I use that for both inspiration and seeing what my photographer friends come up with next.
However, don’t let external motivation like the pictures of others, your previous award-winning images, or the ones that fared well on social media be a measure or a restriction for any next work. I sincerely hope that you’re into photography because taking pictures gives you energy. The message here is that it's good to let your heart and mind speak through your images. The moment you do is the moment that originality will flow through your work.