Farewell Flickr, Farewell Instagram

I deleted my accounts on Flickr and Instagram in October. It’s been a long time coming – I removed the Instagram app from my phone quite a while ago, because it is such a time sink (and I’ve been there before). Spending 10 days almost entirely without social media during our September trip certainly helped to see more clearly as well. It’s still surprising though what a relief it was to finally just let go of it. And once Instagram was gone, I realized that I was on Flickr for the same foolish reason: thinking that somehow, I should be on there, holding on to… something, when in reality, it doesn’t matter, at all.

I think as photographers, it’s only natural to think that we should have a presence on every major social site and photo sharing service. For me, the question though was not only what these services do for me, but also what they do to me.


I’m sure a lot of people have plenty of fun on Instagram (otherwise it wouldn’t be so successful) and Flickr (otherwise it wouldn’t still be around – in fact recently bought out of Yahoo’s carcass, by SmugMug). If you thoroughly enjoy using these two services, then please, don’t let my words here spoil your fun. Also, I’m well aware that there are certain photographic professions (wedding & portrait photographers, for example) who will probably benefit a lot from getting the public’s eyes on their work.

Building Meaningful Connections

Yet I’ve found that, very often, social media and photo sharing sites connect photographers with each other. It is certainly true for me, and yes, I’ve met many of the people whom I now call friends on one or the other photo sharing or social media site. That’s nice! At the same time though, I find the exchange of “social pleasantries” among peers on those sites can’t be the purpose of spending time there to build and maintain a presence. At best, it eventually culminates in a personal meeting with some of the folks but honestly… over the years, I found that I prefer “let’s just go out, have a beer and chat” over the usual “let’s go out and shoot!”

I meet other photographers to socialize, not to make photos. I hardly produce any meaningful work in the company of others – I’m only compatible with a select few photographers as company. ;-)

More importantly though – I’d like to find/build an audience of people who are not necessarily photographers. People who are interested in my photos and the stories/backgrounds and, as an extension of that, me as an artist. In the constant flux of the endless photo streams though, there’s no room, no time, to create a more lasting impression and more importantly, a more lasting connection between viewer and artist. Especially not on Instagram, where every grand scene and carefully composed photograph with intricate detail is reduced to about 3 inches across, on the tiny phone screen.

Words Matter

In addition to that, the focus on sharing and perhaps “celebrating” a single image posted on Instagram like some people do (they post a “story” with their image, announcing that they posted that very same image!), is a huge turn off for me. I could ignore and unfollow those people, sure – but what I’m after is that single images matter less to me nowadays than small groupings of photographs like I show them in my blog posts, like in my “Small Sets & Themed Galleries” (and in my portfolio galleries too, of course).

Also, I’d like to think that the words that accompany my photographs in my blog articles are (sometimes…) rather important. I know the dogma “a photograph should speak for itself” and I disagree: a photograph should be compelling enough to draw attention, to be a source of interest. So much interest that the person who sees the photograph then wants to learn more – and read the words that go along with it.

The words provide context, and more meaning to the photographs. I’d like people to “click through” to my website, and not just give their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on photo sharing sites and services. That’s why I syndicate links to my original content to social media (currently Facebook, Google+ and Twitter), instead of sharing the photos directly, and why I promote subscribing to my blog posts via email – hoping that the notification in your inbox will perhaps last a little bit longer still than the social media share that disappears quickly (or isn’t shown to you at all, thanks to their algorithms).*

This is the way I want to present my work. Everything else takes something away. People who don’t click through don’t have the time for my words – that’s okay. But I don’t need to “serve” them my images without context. I know that most of my photography isn’t capable of “wowing” people in the fraction of a second of their attention that I get on Instagram and Flickr. I know that a lot of what I show in my blog posts in particular is often very much “in the moment” and when I look at older posts I regret that I posted those photos… it’s a process, a development, and I made the decision to share it with the world.

“You will never make a photograph that everyone likes,
so make sure that you like every one of your photographs”
(Oliver Gagliani)

Realizing all that, it was easy to let go of the two services that fail to provide what I’m trying to achieve.

Icons and Sunsets

There’s another dimension to this, though (and I’ve written about it before, too: Worn Out Beauty). Peter recently called me an “anti trophy photographer” :-) because I do not photograph “trophy” locations and iconic scenes often. The beauty and the challenges of intimate landscape photography, abstracts and floral close-ups interest me much more than the 100th repetition of one and the same photo. I don’t think I can add anything to these, or say something meaningful in them. Not about the place, and not about myself.

Here are just a few – for your entertainment and to make my point, I linked them to a DuckDuckGo image search:

The Tetons reflecting in the water of the Snake River at Schwabacher’s Landing, or as a backdrop to those darn barns. Delicate Arch. Horseshoe Bend. Antelope Canyon (overcrowded so much that tripods are no longer allowed at Lower Antelope Canyon anyway). Mesa Arch and False Kiva. The Subway at Zion. Keyhole rock at Pfeiffer Beach. Yosemite’s Tunnel View (with a clearing storm, please!).

Bonus: the Point Reyes Cypress Tunnel – this one I actually photographed myself, too. And look how different my photo is from all the others! ;-) (not at all)

In case it’s beginning to sound like I’m lecturing you to photograph different things – I’m not (but do read on, please). Maybe you’re on a photographic scavenger hunt as part of your travels. Maybe it’s all that your time allows on vacation with your family – and most importantly, you are having fun doing just that. That’s totally fine! No one will stop you – certainly not me.

But please ask yourself what these photos say about you as a photographer. At most, that you’re technically proficient enough to get a sharp and well exposed image (big deal with today’s cameras), perhaps that you’re willing to get up early, stay out late or endure other physical challenges for a photo, and that you know how to develop your photos on the computer.

Again – if that satisfies you, and if that’s what you want to get out of photography: good for you! I’m not sarcastic, I really mean it. I know that I am not satisfied by that. The quest to find and define myself through photography, to find what is “mine”, is perhaps neverending for me… maybe it’s the search that keeps me going.

The Familiar Gets the Most Applause

But I’m also tempted to think that photographers are doing themselves and the entire art a disservice if all they do is to “chase trophies” (and sunsets). The audience reacts in a predictable manner when they see that now their friend Moe has “shot” the same photo that their friend Larry has also “shot”, and they see the pictures as equally good on their tiny phone screens. “We know that location, and you’ve done well!”

As Brooks Jensen put it in his Editor’s Comments to LensWork No. 129 from April 2017:

“Viewing artwork has become a matter of thumbs-up or thumbs-down – with little, if any, effort to probe or understand what escapes instant comprehension. Where art used to be a field of questions, now it is a field of opinions.”

I would add the following: In the never ending influx of photos in their streams, people don’t have time for something they don’t understand. They don’t need to spend the time – because the next repetition of a trophy photo or a beautiful sunset awaits when they just scroll down, easy to digest and understand.

If Joe stood at the exact same location as Moe and Larry, and made a photo of something entirely different that attracted his personal photographic eye more, then people don’t understand that photograph – and Joe. Perhaps it would be time to change that.

Feedback and Influences

Or perhaps it’s too late? This mechanism of “the familiar gets the most applause” was most apparent to me on Flickr and Instagram, and witnessing it is demotivating for me. I know that’s a problem that only exists in my own head of course – but I had to remove myself from it because it’s not the kind of feedback I want to get from using a photo sharing site. I’m influenced by it, and it’s time to change what influences me.

I’m looking for ways to expose myself to more diverse art – not just photographic art. Social media and photo sharing sites rarely provide that. For example, visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe (mentioned in my September wrap-up) has done much more for my own photographic vision and understanding (and in such a short time!) than years spent looking at photographs online.

All this didn’t happen overnight of course. It’s the culmination of many years of being passionate about photography, my love for the land and nature, and most recently, the addition of printing my own photos at home. Then add the September trip and Georgia O’Keeffe, and “suddenly” (not really…) I’ve reached this new level of clarity.

It took long enough. How about you? Comments are open. :-)

*) in addition to that, I’m hoping to build a more lasting presence on the web, which will hopefully be liked enough by web search engines – during our ten days of travel in September, traffic to my website coming from social media essentially stopped, simply because I stopped posting new content. Traffic from search engines remained steady though, even without adding new content to my site. It’s the search engines that matter, not social media…

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27 thoughts on “Farewell Flickr, Farewell Instagram”

  1. I am mostly with you on this. I deleted my Instagram, Reddit, and Facebook accounts about 6 months ago. And I don’t miss them even a bit. I am still on flickr (for nostalgia reasons I guess), Google+ (which will be shut down next year), and Twitter (mostly on way information flow). Being active on those networks didn’t really do anything for me. Except wasting my time. I will follow your blog via the RSS feed, which is my favorite way of following blogs.

  2. That’s a lot to absorb before coffee, but I get it. I have one photo as placeholder on IG (and won’t go back) but I still enjoy my time on Flickr where I don’t see ads or promotions of everything from manicures to lawn care. Like you I’ve found a few friends on Flickr (and once upon a time on G+) but I now prefer just reading the blogs via RSS of people whose writing I enjoy as well as the imagery. Over the last year I’ve also found YouTube to be a nice place to visit (no need to interact, just watch some excellent, thoughtful photographers at work).

    In 2014 I did a post about icons (https://www.jwsmithphoto.com/blog/2014/5/originals) where I defended, not necessarily seeking them out, but not avoiding them. I may have to do a post about how I’ve done a 180 on that opinion and now avoid them. Even if you constrain yourself to landscapes there are so, so many compositions that are totally original and personal that icons can easily be left to those who feel compelled to capture them. That, as long as you’re content to live in quieter, more contemplative area of the internet.

    And sunsets? Well, a while back someone told me they were overrated.

    Coffee’s ready now.

    • Yes, I remember that blog post from 2014, Joe. It did influence my point of view, of course. Your last paragraph in particular was true back then, and it hasn’t gotten any better since. Perhaps that’s another reason why I’m not drawn to these places, at all – simply too many people!

  3. I absolutely love this post! Beautifully expressed – especially re icons and sunsets. It’s the ability to see beauty in the subtle that makes an artist, in my opinion.

    However spending a few minutes checking in with Instagram in the morning seems to start the day off on the right note for me, the beauty there carries me through the day.

    • Thank you very much, Chloe. I wish I’d have the self-control to check Instagram only once per day, but I always get sucked in for too long. I’m the perfect prey for the way they’re making these apps addictive. :-P Glad to hear you get something good out of it!

  4. You are spot on Alex. Love to see your growth…real growth.
    The social media hype might be paramount in some business plans, but typically, I find people falling into the “I’ll like you, now you like me” paradigm. Little attention is given to the artist’s linear thinking or intent, which is paramount to understanding effort, thoughtfulness and technique. For the introvert (as I am) this approach feels so summarily shallow that it is wasted time. Not in the overall sense…these interactions are nice. What most people do not understand is that interacting socially drains the introvert. There is no fault, nor is it negative, that’s just the way it is.
    I appreciate your deviation from the usual “PHOTOGRAPH!” and prefer to uplift what is usually walked over with no regard to its natural beauty. This a difficult thing to accept when we are trained to look for what “POPS”. Many juried contest judges look just for that first, and if it doesn’t evoke a memory or an immediate WOW, it gets cast aside.
    That is where public scrutiny is at the moment.
    In 2014, there were some 1.8 billion photos uploaded every DAY! (GOOGLE)
    When will fine art tire of slot canyons, sunsets, wave curls, naked humans, homeless people etc? Probably never.
    If we deviate to make other people’s vision, we abandon our own walk, and stop (real) growth.

    Don’t get me wrong. Before I jump into building a photo, I make a static first shot that is “typical”. What else would I do if I visit Yosemite?
    That, for me, is the most boring part of the photograph building process…..and, I upload those “iconic” pieces to my site.

    • Thanks you, Mark. I wouldn’t want to blame everything on introversion and I honestly never thought about the “social” aspect of our online activities being a potential source of “introvert stress” or “getting peopled out” but maybe you’re right! Perhaps it’s another reason why I found Flickr and Instagram in particular so difficult – I’m just no good at these little social games…

  5. I understand and agree with most of what you are saying. I have my website (a sort of hub), my photo blog, and my online store. Each serves a purpose.

    To me Facebook often feels like everyone’s shouting ‘look at me, look at me’! I do like it as a way to keep in touch with old friends and do give ‘courteousy likes’ to friends. I only post on FB occasionally though, with a link to my blog. There, as you know, I enjoy writing and posting sets of images that relate to one another … since 2009.

    But, to tell the truth (don’t tell anyone) I couldn’t care less what anyone else is doing! This is where we disagree. I am not going to refrain from an iconic subject because ‘it’s been done’. If it is still something that calls to me, I want my version of it. The photographer, equipment, day & time, processing tastes & skills all have an impact on the outcome.

    Like you, I have been thinking I need more friends (possible patrons) who are not photographers. As I commented on another blog last week, other photographers aren’t going to buy my work anyway. I think there is a lot of comparison, competition and jealousy among photogs and that is certainly not what creating art should be about! My goal is just to be true to myself.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read & comment, Denise. Maybe I’m not familiar enough with Colorado but from your blog posts, I would not have guessed that you’re photographing a lot of those “icons”. :-) You’re right to not care about what others are doing (or thinking) – just keep doing your thing!

      • Hvae you ever heard of Cole Thompson and ‘visual celibacy’? It’s pretty interesting … the thinking is when you stop being influenced by other people’s work, the real self-expression begins. Google will lead you to his work and a blog post about this.

        • I haven’t heard this term before, but I am familiar with Cole Thompson’s name and work. I *did* always have the feeling that looking *less* at other people’s photos would make my own, personal vision and creative expression stronger and for that reason, always kept the number of people I’m “following” relatively small. Thanks for the hint, I shall look it up!

  6. Wow! I’m on my third Instagram account (it seems I delete them when the follower count gets close to 1000) and also cosindering it’s deletion. I deleted my Google+ account a few months ago and my Tumblr account shortly after that.

    If “a photograph should speak for itself” were true, wouldn’t graphic novles (aka comic books) just be panels of images?

    I know some blogs that post a photo a day with no text. I do not enjoy them. I know some blogs — like this one — where almost every post is a story and every story has a series of images. Like graphic novels. I love graphic novels. I love picture and text.

    Keep doing what you are doing.

    • Haha, on your third Instagram account? You’re trying to wear them out, are you? :-) Very happy to hear that you enjoy the combination of images and words together, in my blog posts. Thank you very much, Khürt!

  7. Nicely written Alex. Perhaps we will see a resurgence of self-hosted blogs instead of creating content for other networks. I never got into Flickr, I dumped 500px for a variety of reasons, but do have a small IG account. I don’t like the trends I am seeing there – where these conglomerate accounts are all jockeying for eyeballs and “featuring” others’ works.

    • Yes, that’s another aspect that I so despise on the platform – plus all the vanity and self-importance (I merely hinted at it). The interesting thing is that social/photo sharing sites come and go, and people keep moving along with them. At this point I can only shake my head. I too would hope that people begin building their own blogs and websites and take control of their content again instead of dumping it into these content silos that then either go away, change the rules, sell out or get bought…

  8. Must say I saw this one coming, and good for you on going through with it. Personally, I like the format of having text with the images. I do the same on my blog, as you know. Doesn’t mean that the photos don’t stand on their own though. Many (perhaps most) do, but that is only part of your expression. Since you have more to say, beyond the images, why should you let anything stop you? I, for one, enjoy both aspects of your posts.

    About the icons I’m not really sure. I do take the iconic shots when the opportunity presents itself, but I’m no trophy hunter. I enjoy taking those photos too, unless there’s too many people around. Photos serve me as both memoir and expression, with icons I’m sure it’s me of the former. First time I visit anywhere it’s the more obvious shots that I get to take. Things change on subsequent visits. So perhaps it’s a matter of getting them out of the system so to speak.

  9. Gosh! I will read this post a second time later but I’ve also been pondering the value of it all for a long time. I also want to write a longer comment but have previous spare time at the moment. Will write a blog post I think on this subject.

  10. I can certainly understand parting ways with any site or service that doesn’t fit you. There are so many of them out there, trying to keep up with them all seems too much. I have mostly stayed away from social media, though occasionally I’m tempted to sign up for one or another network. Mostly I stick to individual blogs, like this one.

    I don’t often get to see them, but I do enjoy iconic scenes if there are few to no other people around (and how often does that happen), but I find the more people around the less interest I have in photographing that location. I do sometimes go on walks with other photographers, but as you report I find these very unproductive photographically. I think some folks photograph to socialize so they enjoy going on photowalks with others. That’s great, but it’s not me.

    Regarding posts of a single photo versus a grouping, I’m a little more torn about this one. I tend to do some of both, sometimes telling the story of a single photo, but also sometimes presenting a grouping. And I tend to enjoy seeing both in other’s blogs. I very much enjoy your groupings and the words that accompany them. But I also enjoy posts from others with a single photograph, and usually also some small amount of words.

    I think the biggest take away I’ve gained reading this post is to seek out those things you enjoy, that have meaning to you, and pursue those, not worrying about the rest. Folks who have interest in what you’re doing will follow, those that don’t won’t, and that’s as it should be. Keep doing what you’re doing, Alex.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply, Todd, and the encouragement.

      Of course nothing is ever black and white – I do post single photos as well, but often they are additions to my online archives. I find them… hmmmm, less important perhaps, at least for me, so there may not be so much to say about them. :-)


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