Before photography became my primary creative outlet (which was around 2006/2007), I was making music on the computer. First on the Amiga, through Aegis Sonix and the countless Soundtracker clones to Octamed Sound Studio; then on the PC, with Jeskola Buzz. (the results can still be found on Aminet and Bandcamp.)
I love photography, but looking back, I do have to say that making music made me happier. Why? Because it was before the age of “social” with its like-buttons and favorites and up-votes and view counters and whatnot. All the stuff that makes you and what you create comparable,and somehow seems to imply that your creativity is measurable.
I knew that my music would never fit into the Top 100 billboard charts. Yes, looking at those charts was depressing, but I knew that my music was different, and didn’t belong there, anyway. A small group of people appreciated it, and that made me happy. Besides the creative act of writing a song itself, obviously.
I have always thought the same about my photography, but with sharing my photos on photo and social sites, I find it increasingly difficult to stick to my “doesn’t apply to me” thinking. Why is that so hard?!
With photography and photo sharing today, and being connected to so many other photographers on social networks (and with all of the fantastic photography that is out there, ready to be explored and enjoyed), one enters the “like-contest”, where it’s all about the numbers and the interaction. Social networks with their likes and favorites and view counters are like the Top 100 billboard charts of photography. And I added myself to the charts, by joining these sites.
“I think it really is about the number of followers they have and not about the quality of their images.” (Benjamin Lowy)
And what’s in the charts? 90% pop music (of one or the other kind), that’s what. Now pop comes from “popular” – it has nothing to do with soda, though what is served as pop(ular) music, just like popular photography, quite often may be just as sweet and sticky. Sometimes, real sugar is being replaced by the even sweeter and stickier (but cheaper) high fructose corn syrup, or the empty hollowness of artificial sweeteners that just make you crave for even more. And the world is addicted to it! (you may marvel at this metaphor later;-)
And just like many other photographic artists, I find myself in a personal struggle with pop photography, all the time. The dilemma is yes, I want to show my photos to the world and no, I don’t think that my photography fits in to the sweetened genre of popular photography.
And what do I define as pop-photography, anyway?
To me, it’s all the “quick fix” imagery that scrolls by and tries to get our attention as fast as possible, with recipes and formulas for images that “work”. In my first draft of this post I had a bullet list of such cliche photos and formulaic approaches, but in the end, it all boils down to images that “work”. Work in terms of popularity.
As I already said, looking at the music charts when I was making music myself could be depressing too. How could all the stupid, worn-out, formulaic pop music be successful, compared to the – obviously – most fine compositions ;-) that I had come up with myself, and what my few fellow, like-minded artists had produced? But at least I wasn’t exposed to the constant comparison and measuring that social networks so kindly “provide” today. No one would rank my music. Good!
So in the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to deal with it. By unfollowing, uncircling, unfriending, unliking – oh, how bad all these un-words make you feel! Behind every social profile is a living, breathing and feeling human being, after all. Cutting these connections is un-social and makes us feel bad. “I don’t like you anymore, I’m not your friend anymore, I don’t care about you anymore!” How terrible.
But is that really true? No. It’s more like “I’m drowning in visual and social overload, and I don’t know you too well – sorry, but I have to stay sane.”
I disabled the like- and share-buttons on my website. B-b-but how do you show your appreciation? Well, you don’t have to. I make photographs anyway.
I wish I could turn off the likes and shares and favorites on Facebook, Flickr and Google+. I just want to show my photos, and I don’t need the numbers to show me that I’m failing in the popularity contest, thanks. I don’t want to be reminded that for the most part, social networks and photo sharing are nothing but a popularity contest.
And I don’t want to see the numbers of others whom I like and follow, because I don’t want to feel it is a competition that I’m being dragged into, and get the negative feedback from it again and again.
I’m human. I don’t want to envy people for their numbers but I can’t just say “well, I won’t, then!” when they’re slapped into my face everywhere. I want to envy other photographers for the places they’ve been to, and the photos they’ve made, the ideas they’ve had, the approach they took in places where I wasn’t able to make a good photo. That’s inspiring, that’s learning. Numbers are just dumb. They do not add to the experience. They reduce it to statistics of popularity.
In the end of course, I have to learn to accept it. Learn to accept that there will always be popular stuff that doesn’t hold up to the higher ideals of fine(r) art. That’s the problem with most ideals, isn’t it? Or maybe I should leave photo and social sites alone, and find myself a lonely cabin in the woods instead… :~)