It’s a love hate kind of thing.
It would be fair to say that I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with Instagram. Yes, it has its positives but these have largely been outweighed by my growing irritation with it over the last year or so.
So recently I didn’t just decide to stop using it but I completely decided to delete my accounts altogether. Yes, gone. Kaput! But why?
OK, so it’s great to put my photography out there in front of an audience and Instagram does make it easy to do that. Yes, it’s possible to raise one’s profile and get extra exposure than maybe you would achieve by using other means. And, yes, its a very popular platform and is generally expected that if you’re a photographer you have to be on it. Or, alternatively put, you’d just have to be mad not to be on it.
But ultimately it’s a social network – and that’s where the issues start for me.
Art is more than likes and follows
The danger with Instagram is you become obsessed with likes and follows. That’s all it does become; a pixelated meat market of nepotism and sycophancy. Often it’s more about who you are than the actual images. Everyone is simply chasing their 15 megapixels of fame rather than enjoying the actual art of photographing.
It’s when you start getting obsessed with all that that you start losing sight of why you’re actually a photographer in the first place.
I was starting to find it was sucking out all my enjoyment of the art. My photos and their content were becoming secondary to simply being popular. It was becoming about me rather than my art.
Yet at the same time I was noticing my likes crashing. I was getting less followers. I was being seen by less and less followers. Instagram was making it harder for organic growth by changing its algorithms. It’s ultimately wanting photographers to start paying for adverts to get in front of viewers. It’s no longer even just a social network, it’s now primarily a business marketing network. A money making advertising platform.
All well and good if you’re a business.
But it also means you no longer have any real control. You rely on those algorithms to decide who sees your work and who doesn’t.
Not giving a shit about sycophancy
My street photography isn’t about business or making money. It’s about art. It’s about the pleasure of the content within that frame.
I don’t want to buy shallow and superficial admiration. Those kind of followers soon drift away.
I want to enjoy my street photography again. I want to cherish the pursuit of it. I want to enjoy what I’ve shot. I no longer give a shit about sycophantic likes.
I was constantly seeing some pretty average work by some of the better known street photographers getting hundreds, sometimes thousands of likes. All simply because of who they were, not because of how good the work was. It was becoming a popularity contest rather than somewhere just to exhibit work.
I once chatted with a photographer new to street photographer who was becoming obsessed with getting the more famous and better known street photographers to follow him on Instagram. He’d like everything they posted, commented on their work, sent direct messages just to get their attention. In his eyes if they followed him that meant he had arrived in the street photography community. The fact that he didn’t want to achieve that on the quality of his actual work alone was quite sad. (As a sidenote, he got so dispirited in the end that he wasn’t getting the follows I don’t think he is any longer pursuing street photography!)
No one has that many great shots!
Once you get lulled into that Instagram addiction of chasing the constant hit of likes and popularity, you keep posting and posting. As a post generally stops getting viewed after 24 hours or so there then becomes that constant need to post something else again to keep up your profile and maintain your exposure. Some photographers are even posting two or three times a day just to get the attention.
When you think about it, that’s like over a thousand photos posted per year! No street photographer has that many great shots. As Martin Parr once said, when talking about how many photos he shot a year, “If there are 10 good ones, it would be a good year.”
So Instagram simply encourages photographers to post average work to keep up the numbers. All that does, aside from diluting street photography in general terms, is also makes street photographer’s work look more average and ordinary.
Going back to basics
So I want to go back to basics. I want to put my art somewhere it’s not drowned beneath a flood of mediocrity or images that dilute the power of genuine street photography. I don’t want to litter Instagram with a stream of average work.
Instead, from now on, I’m just going to concentrate on putting work on my website and here on my blog. I may enter the odd competition. I may look to get it published in more art-centric fora. And, yes, there may even be the odd post to my Facebook.
I don’t need countless likes or follows. For me the real pleasure in street photography is the hunt in getting the photo. What happens to it afterwards, largely falls out of my control anyway. But I’d rather just put it out there on my own terms and with some kind of control.
I no longer need Instagram for that.