social media

Instagram - probably the best bar in the world



Imagine a bar, a pub or a cafe that everybody wanted to go to. Somewhere for everyone. A tropical beachside venue with a roasting log fire and views of the alps and distant desert islands. The most comprehensive jukebox in the world playing the tracks that you want to hear, just when you want to hear them. Over in the corner, a group of older people huddle convivially - playing darts, cribbage, or just bemoaning the younger generation. While over on the other side beneath the flashing lights, those only just old enough (if that) to be allowed entry compare tattoos, biceps, and lengths of mini-skirts. Then there’s you. And your mates - lots of them - swapping stories and riffing off each other’s energy and world view. Every night, it’s much the same. You can choose to spend your time with your mates, or sometimes show off your tattoos with the nippers and play cribbage with the oldies. No one minds. Hey, sometimes you don’t even show up.

It’s the best bar in the world. And the more people come, the bigger it seems to get. There’s room for everyone.

This is Instagram. It’s easy to knock it - not everyone wants the beach bar or the ski-shoes at the door alps experience from a pub - but for photo sharing, its the best place we have to display our media to a wide audience. It caters for just about everyone and the keyword is “social.”

To continue the bar analogy - if you choose to spend each evening simply enjoying yourself with your friends and were happy with that then that is fine. Good luck to you. If you want to grow your friends’ network and push the boundaries of your social circle by introducing yourself to some of the cribbage players or call above the noise to the youngsters by the door, you can. Perhaps you'll wander over, pay a compliment, offer to buy a drink, heck - you may even hold eye-contact (you old romantic, you). Some evenings someone may even come across to you - compliment you on your fine new threads, pet ferret, or ask about that friend you came in with. They might ask advice or even suggest something that would help you. This is the social carousel.

It’s not that different on Instagram. If you choose to keep yourself to yourself that’s fine. You may prefer a small following of just family and friends - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or you may be happy to share your images more broadly, make your profile public and use hashtags so that others can find you. "Hey! I’m over here at the bar. Come and look at this!” That’s fine too. There’s room for us all.

Just remember, that when you venture across that crowded/empty barroom, dodging the table of pigeon-fanciers, the Star Wars crew, the vintage tea-bag collectors… that everyone in the bar is a person just like you. Be nice. Think before you speak. Pointing out that those brand new tan shoes would look better on your uncle than on them with that skirt - and he’s got better legs - is not the best way of developing that new friendship. If we are all going to get along in this shiny new retro antique bar, we need to support one another. Be nice.

Just like a bar, Instagram is a business. It wants more people to come in each night - and throughout the day. It’s obvious but it's not something that we seem to remember. I get as frustrated as anyone by changes to the algorithm or whatever it is that seems to keep the things we seek to control beyond arm’s reach. But if I could control or understand the algorithm, just imagine how much more control someone with even more ability and time could exercise. I wouldn’t want an Instagram that was ruled by a handful of huge accounts that had learned to play the system. I want my jukebox to play the tracks I want to hear with the occasional unexpected and interesting gem thrown in for good measure - not the ones that the big biker in the dark corner picked out or paid for.

Right now, Instagram is the best we have. Not perfect - but better than a lonely pint on your own at home. Unless that’s what you want!

So next time you feel like complaining about Instagram (or any other social photo-sharing platform) and the frustrations it brings (and I don’t deny frustrations exist), just imagine a time when the only people who got to see your images were your mum and great aunt, leafing through a dog-eared scrapbook that you had excitedly thrust under their noses while they tried to watch the wrestling.

Photo Rich. Time Poor.

I am lucky enough to have had a week’s holiday; not travelling but just unwinding, catching up and reeling back some of the hours lost to the day-job over the past two months. I suppose that it’s part of my own sense of worth and some deep puritan work ethic that I am seemingly unable to completely stop. I begin my time off by making lists of tasks to achieve within the week ahead - one of which is to write this blog. (So here I am with less than 24 hours holiday remaining and a slight sense of guilt for not having done it earlier - anyone else been here?)

One of my main aims this week was to spend some time looking at photo-books. I have said several times in this blog space that one of the best ways to learn is to look at the work of the greats. It’s so important. It feed us, educates us , inspires us; yet it’s so easy to put off. Why wouldn’t I want to invest a small amount of time in something which I know will help me improve in an area I feel passionate about? Yet time is precious. Finite.

How long should one sit enjoying a pile of photo-books for? Two hours? One hour? 30 minutes? Ten? Even that can feel like an indulgence when there are other people in the house going about their business. Surely, one can find ten minutes in a week.

It turns out I couldn’t.

I do know where a considerable chunk of my time has gone. Social media. Specifically, Instagram and Twitter. In recent blogs I have written a good deal about social media and largely in positive tones. I am not about to change my view. While I find that I have spent a long time on both platforms - or longer than I would’ve wished - this is purely my problem and not one that I can blame the platform for. However, while I enjoy the capacity of social media to allow me to see many, many more images in a short space of time than ever before in history (and very easily too), I find that there is such a wealth of images to enjoy and respond to that I am not spending long on any of them. It’s become a swipe, flick and like mechanism. I consume hundreds of images in a day and I dread to think how much time I spend on each one. Or rather, how little time i spend on each one. I’ve learned to quickly take in the basic elements - composition, light, framing - but it’s almost a skim reading. Sometimes I probably spend longer writing a comment than looking. So many pictures. So little time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am inspired  by what I see on social media, I learn from my peers, and it definitely feeds me - especially in encouraging me to pick up my camera, get out and start shooting. I need to learn to slow down and truly consider the images before me. In short, I need to chew my food, savour it and reflect on it, rather than always subsisting on the spaceman’s diet of a dry handful of tablets that contain just enough to sustain me.

This morning, the clocks went back. Today I have an extra hour. While I have been promising myself time spent with a pile of inspirational photo-books, the week has almost passed and I haven’t achieved it. So I hereby declare that I am going to commit to spending that hour with a fresh pot of coffee and a pile of books; a collection of paper images that I will turn slowly, savour, and force myself to look at more deeply. I come to them with the expectation that I will learn from them - both consciously and subconsciously. When I next pick up my camera I will do so with the improved knowledge and better vision that this hour and these books have brought me.


Likes, Inspiration and Social Media

My last blog garnered a good response on social media - lots of positive comments on Instagram and Twitter; if no actual direct responses on here; the website that hosted it. Maybe that’s the perfect response in itself. 

Thinking on (and I’m not the first person to think of all the things they wish they’d said after the moment had passed) I think the major omission from the blog was: inspiration.


For me, one of the greatest honours is to know that I have inspired someone else. There were a few posts on my feed this week that drew that response - I’d encouraged photographers to go out and shoot and, more specifically, to go looking for reflections. 

Basking in that initial warm fuzz, I began to think about inspiration. I have been so inspired by so many of the feeds that I follow on both Instagram and Twitter that I was surprised that I hadn’t focused on that as a major reason for swimming in the social media pool.  

Inspiration is a two way street. I can hope to inspire - but I expect to be inspired.

The work of other photographers has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, of processing, of framing...  

It has inspired me to visit new places and helped to plan my street photography when I am there. 

I have been introduced to the work of other published photographers - both living and dead - through references and comments in feeds.  Some feeds even exist to publish work of long gone greats who probably never even used the words “social” and “media” in the same sentence.

Social media really does have the capacity to inspire on a worldwide level - both looking ahead to the future as you see the work of current photographers develop, and looking back to the past.

In short, I can’t help feeling that if you don’t find inspiration in social media then you must be following the wrong people.