Publish or Perish – Social Media be Damned

We live in an explosive age of photography where prolificacy is seen as a virtuous trait. The mantra is quite clearly, ‘Publish or Perish’.

Quantity over quality is the order of the day as banal image after image is splattered across every single social media platform in a never ending tidal wave of mangled and abused pixels. Photographers (and I use that term loosely) are racing to outdo each other by producing and posting a sheer volume of work that is somewhow supposed to make them a better photographer than the next person. There is a rush to be heard (or rather seen) and an omnipotent narcissistic need for more ‘Likes’ than the next person; as if this somehow gratified the photographer and satiated the ego (or paid the bills). The truth is, it does none of these things – it just feeds the beast and fuels the fire for a continual tidal wave of mediocrity. Its a death spiral that leads only to even more mediocre imagery. How on earth did photography arrive at this situation? Social media be damned.

This age of prolificacy has risen like a dark phoenix from the ashes of the wet darkroom where it used to take skilled photographers many hours of painstaking work to create a quality ‘work of art’. Perhaps only one or two frames from a roll ever made it past the contact sheet and onto paper in the developer tray. It took significant skill and craft to create a good photograph and thus only those photographers who were willing to put the time in to truly learn the craft of photography created truly superb photographs. With the advent of digital it became easy to take, process and share photographs and as a natural result more photographs are being shared than ever before. The problem is, the pain staking work isn’t being done and the net result is an ocean of garbage. This publish or perish mentality has completely engulfed social media and created so much white noise that the task of sifting through the detritus to find those few hidden gems (they do still exist!) has become tiresome at best.

I want to be clear at this point that I understand that many people use Social media to simply share their life experiences through snapshots with family and friends and are not in any way proffering their work as high quality photography. This is really the core of what Social media was designed for – sharing experiences with family and friends. I am instead targeting the large number of images that are being offered up as quality photography (but fall well short of that mark) in the hopes of accumulating gratifying ‘likes’. Its nothing more than a ‘look at me ‘mentality’.

Or, is my assessment of the situation to harsh? Are we being subjected to all of these photographs because photographers are struggling to find an audience for their work? Is Social Media an easy audience?

Even if this is the case (and it may well be so) and photographers are using social media as a vehicle to an audience my point about an ‘ocean of garbage’ remains at the forefront of my thinking. I have given this a lot of thought over the last year and I believe the root of the problem is that a great many photographers simply do not understand what makes a good photograph and lack the insight to be truly objective about their own photography.

If your goal is to improve your photography and to be seen by your peers as a photographer who captures wonderful photographs then I encourage you to think twice before you post and share your next photograph on social media. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve by sharing your image. Are you just looking for an easy audience? What is it you are trying to say with your photograph? Try and be objective and truly neutral in the assessment of your image. Sit on it for a day or two and then look at it with fresh eyes. Is it really a good photograph? Or, is it merely the best you were able to make on the day? There is a marked and critical difference that many photographers would do well to understand. It is hard to be objective about our own photography; but we absolutely must learn this critical skill if we want to be seen as the producers of quality imagery.

I have pointed the finger of blame pretty strongly at Social media in this article (and in previous) and I firmly believe I am right in doing so. Keeping in mind of course that Social Media is merely the delivery platform for these photographs. Ultimately, it is the photographer who needs to show restraint. However, and to be objective and fair it is important to acknowledge that some people use Social media as a test platform for their photography; putting out their images for constructive criticism. There is some merit in this approach; although I would argue you are unlikely to receive objective and constructive criticism on a social media platform (there is no dislike button!). In truth, I do not believe most photographers use Social media as a test bed for their photography. The reality is thats just a convenient excuse. Most are instead simply looking for gratification of their photography through Likes and comments (although they are unlikely to admit it).

I am sure to have touched a few nerves amongst some with my analysis and thoughts on the state of the publish or perish mentality. And if a few eggs get broken in the process thats ok. What is important is that we remain objective about our own photography and that we are clear on why we share our work through social media channels. Our goal should be to produce the highest quality photography we can and to share those images amongst our peers. I cannot recall who passed on this particular pearl of wisdom with me, but it feels timely to share it. “If you post up ten images and nine of them are totally amazing and the tenth is mediocre then you might as well not have bothered at all.” We are naturally flawed to remember the worst of the series and that drags down the rest. If our goal is just to satiate our ego then we need to look inward at why we take photographs….

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