On social media and self-expression.
If a post is created and it gets no likes, was a photo taken? A corny play on an old joke, but really, what is it that compels us to share our art with the world at large? I find myself coming back to this question every now and then. Am I not so subtly seeking some type of recognition for what I perceive to be a talent? Is the positive feedback loop of sharing and praise fueling my desire to post content on a daily basis? I thought I got into this for myself. For the opportunity of artistic self-expression. Now, I'm not so sure. In fact, I wonder if photography would be my chosen art form if the internet didn't exist. To that end, I find myself now wondering exactly who it is I'm doing this for.
Before I discovered photography I fashioned myself a writer. Not a terribly good writer, but a writer non the less. I never shared my work with anyone. Not for fear of reception or rejection, but because I simply didn't want to share that part of myself. As an only child, some of my inclinations towards introversion and selfishness are too hard to shake.
Despite dealing with the indulgent self-loathing and doubt which suspends writers in an endless juggling act between narcissistic perseverance full-throated nihilism, I thought some of my stuff was o.k. I was able to maintain an interest in writing because It was an infrequent indulgence. Only practiced in the rare moments when I had the clarity and inclination to fully flesh out an idea that had been gestating in my mind. I would write about anything and everything. Short stories, op-eds, self-indulgent poetry, even summations on the state of international affairs. I didn't limit myself to one genre or the stylistic trends of the day because I simply didn't care to compete. This was mine, for me, by me. I took care to allow myself the freedom to experiment and fail my way towards something I could be proud of. I don't know if I've ever felt that same type of freedom with my photography.
Of course this disconnect could be attributed to the method I use to display my work. I share primarily on a platform predicated on mass appeal and popularity. The ubiquitous, all powerful alpha & omega of photo-sharing, Instagram. By its very design it aggregates and promotes trends, which tends to stifle true creative freedom. It has institutionalized the pull towards visual conformity. Even those who do manage to carve out a particular niche through their work begin to cater their feeds towards increasing accessibility the longer they participate on the app. Its a structure that rewards the creative, in so far as their vision is in line with a vein of popular culture. Exposure for acquiescence. The desire to be liked and gain a following dictates that I, and many like me, color within the lines.
Im now years into the curation of my social media presence. More than ever I feel as though my sense of fulfillment in photography is predicated on the opinions of others. Given that I got into the art for myself, there's something inherently subversive about that dichotomy. How do I know what I want, what I like, what I feel when Im stuck viewing my creation through he eye of potential admirers? More over, is what I'm feeling justified in this day and age or is the idea of searching for truth in art played out?
Of course, of course, there's no one to blame for my discontent but myself. Seeking admiration from others isn't particularly a bad thing. Nobody forced me to join the fray. I don't have to share. I don't have to flood every picture with hashtags. I don't have to participate all; but I would be lying to myself if I said I didn't feel compelled to play the game. These days I spend relatively little time thinking about how I actually feel about a given photo. A scene will catch my eye, I take the picture then decide if its worthy of a share. That is to say, who will like this? I would be willing to bet that every IG power user has an implicit understanding that, if they don't think their work will garner attention, they won't share it.
This begs the question: to what degree is artistry being sacrificed for popularity?