The effect of social media on creative photography
Current photography trends have become stale and repetitive. It seems that every new batch of image takers want to follow what previous successful practitioners were producing in their last iteration! The problem seems to be that when something is popular, everyone wants be get onto the same bandwagon and produce similar images, almost to the point of plagiarism. This seems to be a plague brought about (perhaps unintentionally) by social media, and no one can get by without 100 ‘likes’ or so. It’s a disease that no one seems to have a cure for.
Firstly, in order to assess the damage on individual creativity, we must analyse the problem. When an artist creates something fresh and different to the everyday bland and same old, same old, its often ridiculed and difficult for contemporaries to swallow; at least in the short term (until someone copies the style). There appears to be a mind block deep in the creators subconscious, that says this work has no merit because nobody ‘likes’ it, or it ilicits a negative response.
I should say at this point that social media is not ‘evil’, and is not responsible for photographers’ insecurity. There are two strains of thought here regarding creativity. It depends on whether you want (or need) to be part of a ‘club’, or whether you value free thinking. When looking to gain recognition via an established authority (Royal Photographic Society, Fine Art Association or other esteemed collective), although you may want to be creative in your own way and define a new genre in your chosen discipline, you still need to follow certain rules or criteria in order to be accepted into that ‘club’. The same is true if you want to be liked on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Following or copying another’s style is a means to an end, but remains a creative crutch.
Alternatively, you may want to follow another path. Creative thinking often comes from time; the ability to drift into a space where no external pressures influence the flow of inspiration or creative experience. A part time professional will have other things on their mind other than the next image and is trained to concentrate on a familiar narrative which constraints thinking. There is also the need to move on to the next item on the agenda! Someone who has a lot of free time however, does not concern themselves with everyday work problems and is free to expand their thinking beyond what is ‘normal’. There is no such thing as ‘a meeting in half an hour’ or the report needs ‘to be completed over the weekend’!
So where will all the new ideas come from? There is no definitive answer, but is likely to come from someone who will break the mold and risk the condemnation of their peers. It won’t be someone who has generous ‘likes’ in their profile because their mates know them, or the automatic response is to click the thumbs up! It will most likely be from a discerning creative like themselves who will push themselves out of their comfort zone and push the envelope, irrespective of the source being phone camera or film stock.
I’m currently exploring the nostalgic look within my own photography, forsaking the modern 10 gazillion Mb chip and ultra-sharp lenses of my very expensive cameras and going retro with 6x6 TLR’s, Holga’s and pinhole derivatives. I want to return to the days of artistic prowess rather than scientific marvel. It’s great when the technology does a lot of the thinking and calculation for you, but what happens when all that is stripped away, and the element of complex control has been removed? The analogue mind has to assume command of the composition, exposure, lighting, empathy and there’s no preview to see if it’s come out the way you expected. All of a sudden there is so much that can go wrong and the ‘feel’ of photography comes back to you. Some may say that technology relieves you of that burden allowing you to concentrate on composition and creativity, however when you can take another shot seconds after checking it out on screen, we are not feeling the image - it’s now just trial and error.
I still load my analogue images to social media and they don’t always get the desired response I’m looking for, but it takes more time to do this and is not as instant as digital. As a consequence, I feel that warm, fuzzy glow when someone does appreciate it, knowing that a part of me has ‘owned’ the process of a creation from incept to print and without being conformist.