The new screen time facility on my phone is making me alarmingly aware of how much time I spend using my phone on a daily basis. Granted, a good chunk of this is playing music, using the satnav, making notes for my blog, emails, diary… you name it. But the great big guilty pleasure is social media. Instagram. Twitter. And a little bit of Facebook. All in the great cause of photography.
I know social media has a love-hate image. I can’t say I love it but I certainly don’t hate it. It’s simply the best tool for me and my street photography right now. Oh, I know it has it’s negatives:
It's a time hoover - one quick flirtation becomes a trawl though the latest updates and a cheeky check on how your latest masterpiece is faring.
The time spent framing finished photos for Instagram and the the whole tagging rigmarole, let alone thinking up a clever caption (I like words).
The swathes of bots and their promises to make you follower-rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
The companies that follow you because you once tagged a nearby town - you apparently need their pizzas, their gyms and their photo studios even though two continents now lie between you and them.
Followers who follow you for a follow back and then unfollow you within moments - before following you again in the next few days without realising you’ve met before.
The algorithms - I can’t begin to understand them. There are people who’s work I look forward to but don’t see their latest work for days. But then, I suppose, if I understood the algorithm then others far more savvy than me (not too difficult) would understand it too and they would have the system sewn up resulting in nothing but their adverts and beige offerings. So I think I’m glad the algorithm frustrates me.
But for all of those and more, it still feels like an amazing step forward to me.
You don’t have to travel far back in time to realise that your audience was essentially those members of the family that couldn’t escape your photo album after a hefty Sunday lunch. Gran, grandad and their cat. Today, your latest offering can reach hundreds and thousands - and more if you’re that good - in seconds. The level of exposure (no pun intended) to our photography today goes far beyond anything that earlier generations of photographers could have imagined. We take it for granted. Just imagine how difficult it would have been for our grandparents to hit the kind of viewer figures that we take for granted - even on our worst days.
The immediacy of it all is amazing, especially for those of us who grew up in the film days (some day my prints will come…).
It’s a great leveller. Everyone’s photo is presented in the same way. Okay, that may be a small screened phone, an iPad, or the latest wide screen plasma monitor - but the format that they are presented in remains consistent. That doesn’t just mean that fancy, gallery frames are irrelevant but that the quality of the photo is plain to see and it stands or falls on its own merit. I actually also like the fact that I can post a photo and it appears on my phone, on my pc or tablet - it’s as if someone else put it there (not just me), published for the world to see. It gives it a freshness and an objectivity that I hadn’t expected. It's a chance to hold my work up to the light and see how it compares to what every (and anyone) else has posted. Somehow it has the air of distance and I find it easier to be analytical, critical. And I learn from that.
I like that others will comment on my work - describing features, composition, point of view, perspective, tonal range, you name it. Often they notice things I hadn’t. I learn from these comments. And they build me up too.
It’s social media, right. Social. It’s about interacting. You can choose to walk into a party and not speak to a soul or you can compliment others on their hair, their suit, their dress, their latest book/recording/photo/whatever… Or you can choose to sit in a corner and scowl. Social media is like one big party to which everyone is invited. Sure, online followers follow for a variety of reasons - and one big one is to get followed back. That’s just the oil that greases the cogs. The oil is needed. It’s what gets your creations out there;
It’s a camera club for those who don’t like camera clubs. As Groucho Marx said “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” For those of us who are too shy, lazy or busy to commit to joining a camera club, it social media provides us with the feedback to grow; and inspiration from others whose work we admire.
It often surprises me. I like that my work gets approval. We all need stroking from time to time. We are social animals and the approval of our peers matters. I’d like to pretend that the number of likes, followers and retweets doesn’t matter, but it does. Sometimes a favourite, sure-fire shot dies an untimely, unheroic death. Sometimes a real doozy strikes a chord and scoops acclamation all over the place. Sometimes one of the followers picks you up and does something with it. I have had my first exhibition, magazine coverage and invitations to openings - all as a result of exposure on social media.
Finally, it introduces us to new ideas, new artists, new concepts. Photography is partly a science but, for me, it is primarily a creative process. Creativity is always reinventing itself and social media can often be the kindling for that creative spark. I still shoot to please myself, first and foremost. However, I learn from the responses and ideas of others. Man is a social animal - not an island.
There are those who continue to use social media but slag it off, which I don’t really understand. I know I probably spend far longer on it than I should - but that’s my problem, not the media itself.