These days being a photographer is hard enough. We have the be so aware of all aspects of a business to just stay in the game. Let alone head of the game. In order to be a success these days, it seems social media is the main concern. If we look at people like Lara Jade, Joey L, Rebecca Litchfield, Benjimon Von Wong, Kirsty Micthell, Miss Aniela, they all have something in common. They have massive social media reach.
The rise of the super-star photographer is not a new thing at all. Photographers like Chase Jarvis & Scott Kelby were quick to use the power of social media to empower and create hype around their business, in fact, it could be said that the whole concept of Creative Live and the success of it is wrapped up in how much time creative people spend on the web. The internet has become the starting point and the end point of many artists thought process. Ideas are born online, created then given back to the internet.
The problem is the internet is the home of free speech, and my gosh, don't people know it. It seems worse than ever too. It does not matter who you are, there is someone ready, armed and primed to spring forth from behind a keyboard to attack and insult. The anonymity of the internet seems to give people the right to criticize and abuse as they seem fit in an open and public way. Over the last few years I have been dealing with one person who seems to have quite a personal vendetta. The lengths he goes to is quite amazing to be honest, but, yes.. it is upsetting and I am sure as you read this you can remember a story of your own that comes to mind.
My friend and photographer, Rebecca Litchfield has a new book, as the press machine roles into action, blogs start going up and reviews from the Huffington Post, the Guardian etc and it is shocking to read some of the comments. 'I think with social media and the ease of sharing stuff, sometimes your photography gets put into contexts that aren't really fitting and it takes away from the original meaning and then people end up being destructive and send over criticism, it only takes a few seconds to explain, but its annoying as you can never keep up with where your photos end up and what people saying about them...I just ignore any negative ones. It doesn't really have a negative impact on me because I know some people are just wired that way. Trolls, they just get enjoyment out of criticism because they are jealous, have nothing better to say or just genuinely enjoy it. Rebecca's book 'Soviet Ghosts' is a wonderful look at the former Soviet states photographed in a documentary / urban ex-style.
The internet has given direct contact between creator and viewer in a way never seen before. We have had to not only think about the content we are putting up but how and why, We have to be prepared to deal with negative comments and sometimes personal abuse. It seems that it is faster to create and share work be it is also faster to be cut down when people do not like it. Having a thick skin and understanding of how to take negative comments has always been needed, but thicker skins than ever are needed for this fast and brutal way of presenting work and being represented. Back a few years ago the creative people were hardly ever in front of the people viewing finished work. Years ago, the only time people would get critique was if the content maker actively went out looking for it. It was then given with the correct understanding that someone is looking for constructive guidance. A photographer, for example, would take work to a camera club and sit among people who would explain views and offer guidance within a context and supportive way. Telling someone they are shit on Facebook is not helpful or kind. Not only does is it offensive but sets a displeasing tone for other people that are viewing the images. These days we just have people press a like button, not so dissimilar to a simple cheap version of X-factor. We can be judge and jury from our armchairs and be a brutal as we like, I mean, it is not like we know these people or that we would ever have to actually speak to these people, most of the time when I read comments on the web, it is hard to think that humans wrote them for another human to read. These days putting work out to the masses can be a very un-fun process and something that many people do not enjoy doing.
Artists are people too, critics will be critics and people will be people. But never before has a creative person been in such a firing line from people who want to blindly fire insults. I have seen photographers attack other photographers openly and privately. This needs to stop.
Editors and publicists used to help advise and deal with negative input when it arrived and things were controlled. People have told me I do not take criticisms well, but forgive me if I do not value your view as highly as you might wish and please don't mistake this as arrogance, it's just that before I listen to advise I want to know who is giving it and why. The next time you are commenting online about something and the creator or owner is not next to you in human form, please do think about how you might come across to them. Artists do have feelings you know...
A recent example is this. I use Facebook in two ways, I have a personal account and a Photography page. I am open and welcome people to both pages and regularly engage with people. I do my best to try and keep things nice and flowing on both pages. Due to the nature of the things I shoot, many of the girls are pretty and slim. This alone causes unwanted comments such as "wow, great tits". These sorts of comments get removed and repeat offenders get blocked using the Facebook settings. I think this is fair for me to do on both pages I look after. Some see this as censoring or monitoring the comments and only letting things I like being posted on my Facebook walls, to an extent yes. After all, it is my Facebook and I can do what I want with it. I want a nice environment and want to set the tone and feeling for the images I create.
Another story I can remember was when a girl added me on my personal Facebook account, then proceeded to go through all my photos and give harsh, near nasty comments under the name of critique. Was I right to have a problem with this? When I asked the person what they were doing the response of 'You have photos, you're a photographer. Don't over edit, blur the fuck over them and not expect comments about it.' She was talking about personal snaps taken on phones and photos that other people had tagged me in by the way. She was commenting on non-work images, just snaps of family and friends, not one comment on anything related to work. A little strong I thought, regarding the 'over-edited images', she was talking about... she was talking about Instagram.
Trying to explain to my family why I can not post family snaps on my Facebook account in-case someone comments that my Mum is not up to my normal standard of a model is not nice at all. It really does seem the element of common sense and decorum is lost these days. This incident was not nice and it did upset me as much as it upset others. In this world of free speech, people can say anything, but still, they have no right to be rude or offensive. I have and always will remove rude and offensive comments where I see them in relation to my work. I do not agree with non-constructive, mean, nasty and hurtful words said over a public network. To sum up, we should all remember how worrying and daunting having work out in the open media it can be, some people can be very hurt when the right things are phrased in the wrong way. Speak to people how you would like to be spoken to and remember there are always other ways to say something and be tactful and aware that we are not all used to having critiques. But, the other side of me is quick to say that if you open yourself up to the praise you also open your self up to other things too and we should take this into account. I spoke to photographer Kirsty Mitchell about her experiences with this aspect of photography.
To be honest I seem to be a bit of a magic bubble with regards to that because I have barely ever had any negative comments or haters. I'm incredibly grateful for this because it seems everyone I know has suffered from it and it really really affects them. I don't know why it is this way, but I only seem to get very kind people contacting me. I do however have friends who get so much hate mail they really struggle with it. I have an artist friend of mine who is gay who is basically told he is a c**t pretty much 4 times a day! People really don't hold back I think the internet makes people disconnect from their actions, unlike sitting in front of the person you are tearing apart, you can't see the impact of your words or their reaction. The concept of empathy is lost and people just seem to rage in a way they would never do to someone's face. There's also the whole 'troll' thing of people who get off on that stuff. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinions, I just think people are far less polite, and tend to react with knee-jerk comments... write their outbursts and then carry on with their day, not really giving any thought to the impact of their words. Whilst the person receiving the negative energy can be destroyed by it.
Keeping confident and keeping your head up seems to be key, people will always find faults and people will always be rude when they have a keyboard to hide behind. Benjamin Von Wong has the right approach in my eyes. I asked him if he ever had to deal with negative comments about his work or about things online. “All the time! Lots of jealousy and criticism despite an overwhelming majority of positiveness. I love constructive criticism, but if it is just trolling, I don't even bother reading it. I believe that the thing to keep in mind is that most of the people that are busy criticizing and intentionally lowering people are rarely out there creating themselves. With that in mind, I rarely take the time to reply unless I feel like there is something important to defend, and when that happens I try to do so with the utmost politeness. I do not “filter” my posts so long as it aligns with my brand image, which means inspirational, positive, aspirational, epic, unique...'
A few years ago the hot topic was the 'Film or Digital' debate. It brought out many different views and many a coffee table was drank over the postivies and negatives. This then went on to the next big topic and the raised question of 'did digital kill photography as a profession'. Now we have the 'is the DSLR dead' question being thrown about in forums and chatrooms all over the web. There is never a lack of things to disagree about in the photography world. Over the years I have seem the fallout of comments and articles my friends and people have written that have then spillt over on to Facebook and became personal. Facebook brings different views clashing together like never before. Recently Martin Gillman wrote a post for inmybag.net that carried the title '5 Reasons DSLR are obsolete in today's world'. Sure, it had a title to provoke attention, even maybe click bait in nature, but, the kickback was almost quite personal against Martin. I don't have to be anti-the-future to understand that things change. Camera are changing, the way we work is changing, lets just deal with that and not start attacking people who have a view. CSC cameras like the Fuji X-Pro and X-T1 are here to stay and are game changers for many people. If you don't agree you don't have to attack the other person for having another view on it ? The article got quite a stir on DIY Photography too. These comments can be controlled from the middle to a point, the writers and editors can work to moderate the site. Hanssie Ho is the lady who is the managing editor at SLR Lounge. I asked her about the role of the blogs and how to keep free speech in check with having a nice place to build community. 'the writers and editors work together to moderate all comments. We don't allow rudeness or disrespect. I mean you've experienced it on that first article. We aren't afraid to block people. We welcome opinions but they must be constructive'. The first article Hanssie is talking about was in-fact an article about myself. It was an interview where in the comments, the validity of who I was and why I was being interviewed was questioned by a comment that turned out to be the same person posting again and again under different names to build up a negative tone. The problem was maybe a little bit of my own doing and I had learnt a good lesson that day. I had be far to free with the amount of information that was about me and my personal life on social media. I had grown up with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram being cool ways to hang out with friends. I had elements of person life that showed me at my worst. I shared the good and bad and now here I was showing another side of me that was all work. Kirsty Micthell has some good thoughts. 'this is why i would never share my personal life online. my photography is completely separate. My fb personal page is on lock down to about 300 friends, who I know and have spoken to. I have about 3000 'waiting' friend requests I just ignore. I dont have instagram or any other social media outlets that blur the lines. Never let the crazies in.... I only post my professional work on my fb business page and thats it. I know too many people who have been really upset like you...Im so glad I grew up without facebook. i love it now as an adult as i can handle it, but as a teenager, god I cant imagine the pressure and mess you could get in'.
I guess that is the thing. Making the dividing line in our own minds about which elements we are sharing and where. If we only put up a professional public side on the web, we can never risk being attacked personally. We can build a barrier to let us keep a state of mind and that 'thick skin' people talk about.
Social media channels promote a strange existence where 'busy' is glorified and everyone is 'having an amazing day'. Facebook 'likes' and comments are politically charged actions not a true reflection of thought and emotion. And if we can't completely trust the positive reinforcements, why is a waste time worrying about the negative reinforcements? Tigz Rice is correct, Social Media is a strange thing, however, it is very clear 'we' need to play the game. We need to be active on the web. We need to be bloggers, writers, video editors, workshop hosts. We need to be Wordpress wizards and SEO gods. We need to be able to use Photoshop and know every latest style and technology. Which hard drive, which camera and which battery. What bag are you using? Which memory card? Why that Eizo screen or 3 Legged Thing tripod? At some point, you being a photographer and all, you have to take photographs and get paid. The problem is the social media bubble is the one where most of us market ourselves.
I asked Jaron Schneider (features editor of F-Stoppers) what his thought about working how to get the most of being part of the social-media world yet, staying safe and keeping out of trouble.
1) Don't treat your social presence like a megaphone. Social media isn't a soapbox. It isn't a place for you to go to just yell out a message and hope someone will receive it. Social media is about engagement and interaction, so focus your content on what drives that. Engage with your followers, listen to their needs and provide the content that speaks to that.
2) Don't get into arguments. If you can learn one thing from watching celebrities fail again and again at social, it's that you should not use the mediums to engage in angry arguments with followers who may or may not be trolling. The most recent example is Adam Richmond, a Travel Channel celebrity who went on an Instagram tirade at a follower. In the wake of the incident, the premiere of his new show was indefinitely delayed. When the world is watching, quite literally everything is on the line. Don's risk your whole career with one emotionally charged incident.
3) Remember your roots. At some point, you were a nobody. Likely a large majority of your readers are where you used to be. Stay off a high horse, keep grounded and remember to talk to your followers like you want to be spoken to. Everyone appreciates humility and genuineness.
I could not agree more with each point that Jaron makes, to sum all of this is up. If your business is professional, you need to act professional online and in fact all places that you are. This is not just about being Social, this is just how things should be. In short, we ALL need the power and reach that being 'social' gives us and there is no way around this, it is the way the world is going. It is time to fully embracing being a Social Photographer, but remember having 200,000 fans on Facebook won't make you a better photographer, but, it will get you jobs if you work it correctly (maybe).
Kirsty Mitchell - http://www.kirstymitchellphotography.com/
Hanssie Ho - http://www.slrlounge.com/
Benjamin Von Wong - http://www.vonwong.com/
Jaron Schneider - http://fstoppers.com/
Rebecca Litchfield - http://www.rebeccalitchfield.com/
Tigz Rice - http://www.tigzrice.com/
Simeon quarrie - http://wearevivida.co.uk/