Social Media & The Photographer

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I have an Instagram account ! Follow me ! Like my photos !

It seems strange to be announcing this in 2014, eight years after I first joined up to Flickr. It might also seem strange to be announcing this given I am someone who considers themselves to be a professional photographer, Flickr & Instagram of course being a mythically vast visual wilderness of kittens, sunsets, food pix, selfies and all things amatuerish that “professionals” are supposed to shun. At least that was the advice I was given by some more experienced pros a few years back.

I was reluctant to give up Flickr though. My slightly defensive response to those who dismissed Flickr was that it was a reflection of the wider offline photographic world, which had its own elitism, narcissism, cliches, cult figures, popularity contests, sacred cows, and everything else in-between. The social media photography experience is what you make of it. Additionally, Flickr had become about my own personal photo community. Closing my Flickr account would also mean giving up online friendships, if you can call them that, with probably like-minded people. These were people whose images and styles I’d come to know well, and they also knew my images and style. The popularity contest of getting 300 “faves” from random strangers had ceased to mean very much to me, but one constructive comment from a long-term contact who has been following my work over years as it has evolved, that sort of input can be invaluable. And thus, I kept my Flickr account active all this time, meanwhile also getting to know a bunch more photographers outside of Flickr, and building a more professional-looking online footprint away from Flickr.

Then in the following few years, cameraphones, Hipstamatic and Instagram would explode in popularity. If it had previously been said about the DSLR “revolution” that “suddenly everyone is a photographer”, this really became the case with Instagram. Funnily enough, I saw that established professional photographers who had dismissed Flickr before were now compulsively snapping photos of their daily lives, both profound and trivial, and uploading them to Instagram for everyone to see. It’s about the community, I heard people saying. It’s about sharing. It’s about exchange and interaction, engagement with an audience. It’s about getting a view into other cultures. It’s about having a camera on you and taking a photo and just not really thinking about it too much…  Indeed. Those who were on Flickr since the mid-2000s, or who used the likes of before that know all about this. I’m glad others have found the same via cameraphones and Instagram.

Indeed the cameraphone and Instagram image “revolution” may have changed the media landscape so much that the two or three years I spent watching it happen without diving in has left me in a position where I have fallen behind. Increasingly, a large following on Instagram has become desirable for photographers looking to get hired for certain jobs, because of the ready-made audience you bring. Social media has become another means for getting the story out, reaching people, engaging with the audience. I browsed an advert yesterday for a photojournalism position at a wire agency, and it stated it right there: a strong social media presence is desirable.

I held back from joining Instagram for a long time not because I was against it for ethical or aesthetic reasons, as some were. On a more basic level, my outdated smartphone camera was rubbish, and Instagram was blocked in China. Perhaps also as an ex-Flickr-ite, the Instagram revolution felt more like an evolution than a revolution. My photos were already online, and I was already probably using social media too much. Surely Instagram was something I could live without ?

Apparently not. Last month I finally bought a decent cameraphone and signed up. I’m finding the ability to upload randomly as soon as I take a photo quite satisfying, though the 3G signal in China is inconsistent and images can take a while to load. Wifi works better. I’ve imported most of my Facebook contacts. I’m following 162 people, and I have 91 followers. I’m still a rookie. Hashtags are a mystery. I’ve yet to reach that elusive tipping point in the social media popularity game where more people follow you than you follow. I’m determined I’m not going to play the Instagram fame game though. I did all that on Flickr and got bored by it all. I’ll just do my thing.


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