I wrote in August about my strategic shift regarding social media. Honestly, I had just had enough of Instagram and so I disabled my account. It wasn’t just that my photos weren’t getting “likes” (that whole thing is absurd, like being back in junior high attempting to win a popularity contest). I suppose it is “pop culture”. I wasn’t popular in high school, and honestly I know that hasn’t changed. I’m okay with that. Some photographers may be pursuing popularity and fame. That’s not my aim.
The idea of pop culture or perhaps “pop art” (an actual style from the 1950s and 60s) got me thinking: just what kind of photographer am I? It’s often said in photography circles “you have to find your style”. At the same time, over time one’s style does evolve. I have been increasingly deliberate about what genre or style palette within which my photography manifests.
There is a problem, however. Most of us, myself included, are often unaware of the influences that shape us. My “style” is still developing, but that isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a product of my life’s journey…my background, where I grew up, the people around me, etc.
It occurred to me on a recent photowalk that my early photographic influences were the ”Ideals” magazines my mother collected. They contained full-page color images of lovely autumn scenery or the snow-covered lane complete with covered bridge and a sleigh framed my imagination within the confines of someone’s vision of the perfect American life.
The photographs weren’t bad in and of themselves. Just like postcards, they are technically well-composed with appealing subject matter. Of course, no fine art photography to be found in its pages. The Ideals Magazine was formed as a remedy for the collective post-war shock felt by many. The magazine sought a return to a normal that never really existed, but a life to which Americans were encouraged to embrace. (And in light of recent social unrest about race, let us admit that was a white and somewhat upwardly-mobile American culture).
As I reflect on this, I see that when I first started shooting with a camera, I had that ideal in mind. It did help me compose fairly pleasing shots. Postcards really. Snapshots. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. And later, when I found myself taking photography more seriously, I still visualized images in that idealism.
But I also experimented. I attempted to do some street photography. I was exposed to other’s work. I started using different vintage lenses and tried different things to see how I can capture a scene in a new way. I have even printed a couple shots that I might define as “fine art”. Not that they would get displayed in any gallery or published. But to my eye anyway they are more artistic.
Perhaps art in our post-modern world is darker and not ideal. It taps into other emotions. Some of those emotions are unsettling. Idealism has its place, even in art. The photos I post that get more attention are the lovely scenes of nature, flowers, and woodland. I still love that. But I also want to push the boundaries a bit–to step up more imagery to the level of fine pop art :)
For as long as I have been on social media, especially Facebook but also Instagram, I have posted an insane number of images. Snapshots really. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Millions of people do the very same thing. In fact, over 1.8 billion images are posted online every day! Staggering, isn’t it?
I do feel that a few more images I have posted recently have upped my game a bit. As a developing photographer, I am putting in real effort to improve. Yet there are other times I simply post another photo. Just another photo. Nothing really awful…just uninspired…or just redundant.
I suppose I thought that posting frequently was important to social media “success” (whatever that means). The “algorithm” says you will get more engagement (aka likes) due to more followers, which more frequent posting is supposed to encourage.
This isn’t working me. In fact, it’s been going nowhere. What’s more, after participating in a live forum on YouTube (“Advancing Your Photography”), it hit me that too many of my images are essentially ones I’ve taken before.
Repetition as a form of practice is quite okay. Practice makes perfect is a legit saying. But my recent epiphany is that there is a difference between practicing and the recital (to put it in music school terminology). Using social media to post endless examples of practice shots is a shotgun approach when precision shooting would be more effective.
Quantity is vastly less effective than quality.
With all those nearly 2 billion images uploaded every day, my meager addition to the digital soup is simply diluted in the mix. It’s time for a shift in strategy.
So my new approach is less is more: I will select and post a single photo of the week. It requires that I chose the best image I shot during the week. I also think posting on the same day of the week is important. It is a deadline. And it will set expectations for those few followers I actually have to look for my photo of the week.
This shift means I will probably lose followers on Instagram. That’s of little consequence to me. Instagram is increasingly a popularity club anyway, where silly photos and videos garner far more attention than photographs that took real effort and skill.
I think Fridays will be my days to post. It will require a new way of evaluating the photos I take throughout the week. Which one is the best?
Self evaluation as a photographer is a critical skill.
So it's the photo of the week from now on for social media images. It may not change how many "likes" I get, but my goals have changed anyway.
It’s a curious thing to walk into an antique store and see an old family portrait for sale. I wonder what resale value those pictures have. Naturally, there’s the history of photography to be considered. Yet these portraits would have really only mattered to those connected to the subject in some way–a family member typically.
The photo featured above (which I scanned from the negative) is meaningful to me because that is my grandmother, Jean Martin (later Rink). She died in December 2013 at the age of 107! This photo was taken clearly when she was in her prime. If my information is accurate, the photo was taken by my grandfather (her husband), Ralph Martin.
Personally, I like the photo beyond its family connection. As an environmental portrait, it has a compelling composition and her pose connotes confidence. Her rolled up sleeves likewise tell a story that she worked hard. I love the photo for its own sake, but naturally I frame it within the memories I had of her from when she was alive. Her legacy remains in me and in my family.
Now this is another photo I scanned, but I have no idea who these children were. My mother could not identify them. They were with our family photos, but whatever was known about them appears to be lost.
Now this portrait is another from my mother’s side. I forget his name. My mother will no doubt remind me. But unless I take up an active interest in ancestry, it is a good bet that in a generation whatever was known about him will be forgotten. This is just how it is: memories we pass down via stories and photos are difficult to preserve and perpetuate. Young people seldom have a deep interest in the past, even about their own heritage.
It’s important to say that is not an indictment. When I was young, I was equally uninterested. As I journey through my 50s, the idea of legacy and reflecting on the path I have taken frequently comes to mind. I hit me that since we do not have children, there is little chance of a legacy for me. Whatever I do in life, it is a virtual certainty no one will make mention of it in 50 or 100 years.
Does a lack of a legacy make our lives meaningless?
The notion of a legacy that is decoupled from leaving behind “stuff” for the next generation (i.e. a willed estate etc.) is itself a recent innovation. The history of the word “legacy” originated in the common practice of passing down property to one’s children. Today, we tend to think of legacy as an enduring memory for one’s accomplishments. It is arguably why as a culture we are obsessed with celebrities, because widely popular people have a better chance of being remembered well past their lifetimes.
Many have written about this redefined concept of personal legacy. Just a quick search took to to a site with tips on how to leave a legacy. Of course, there have always been a handful of individuals who made the history books. Typically, we think of powerful people that changed the course of history. Yet the vast supermajority of people throughout time have passed into obscurity. What does that really mean?
As a Christian, I believe God knows every single person that ever lived. Moreover, the Bible posits eternity in the presence of Christ and those who, by faith, are in covenant with God. A biblical theology ultimately makes Christ the true legacy for humanity. I take great comfort to know God remembers me—and that beyond this life I have a great hope in Jesus.
I really will never know if any memory of me will survive for long. Beyond my immediate family and closest friends, it is unlikely something I said or did will linger. My photography and other life activities will almost certainly not be remembered—in fact, our streaming culture barely stops to take notice now. We all keep scrolling.
I will not be remembered
No one will publish a book in 100 years showcasing my photos or writings. In fact, as I get older my “fame” is already fading (LOL). Does that really matter? Not at all. Legacy as an enduring memory should not my motivation for doing photography or anything else. But perhaps in the relationships and in the cumulative impact of my influence someone’s life might be enhanced. Maybe someone close to me will go on to greater things because of a tiny impact I might have had on them. I will never know. I’m okay with that.