Lomo In-Depth: Aesthetic Consumerism in Photography – a Problem or a Trend?


It is the artistic photographer’s goal to bring out the very best of photography — either for art or science. In this age, enhanced technology and countless renovations of the camera could only make the practice of photography easier as compared to then. Moments captured by smartphone cameras and post-processed by filters create illusions of perfect but artificial realities easily.

A surplus of images: a harmless, digital-aged trend?

Credits: dyluzo

If people are to recall photography’s history, photography started out to be popular among the niche, then grew to appeal to the masses due to the steady evolution of the camera. The number of people fascinated with photography never stopped since its dawn, to the point that some have grown addiction to aggressively idealize their experiences and realities thanks to the photography’s exceptional power to ‘control’. The large, daily number of images published in social media and image-sharing platforms such as Instagram are testaments to this.

Unfortunately, it seems the surplus of photographs and images are no good news to the art of photography.

A problem of photography as an art form

The famous intellectual Susan Sontag had already foreseen this trend before the advent of the digital medium. Sontag has noticed the growing need of people to have reality affirmed by photographs. The photograph is no longer just a souvenir, but an item which confirms that a certain human experience has actualized.

How photography became an aesthetic consumerist medium is best explained through a passage lifted from Sontag’s “On Photography”:

“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.”

Credits: poepel, sirio174 & buckshot

Moreover, in the light of social media and Instagram, this aesthetic consumerist mentality on images has led to the degenerating of photography as an art. Brain Pickings author Maria Popova confirms Sontag’s beliefs on the aesthetic consumerism of photography:

“Online, thirty-some years after Sontag’s observation, this aggression precipitates a kind of social media violence of self-assertion — a forcible framing of our identity for presentation, for idealization, for currency in an economy of envy. Even in the 1970s, Sontag was able to see where visual culture was headed, noting that photography had already become ‘almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing’ and had taken on the qualities of a mass art form, meaning most who practice it don’t practice it as an art. Rather, Sontag presages, the photograph became a utility in our cultural power-dynamics: ‘It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.’”

Credits: ikeagirl

This photographic trend rampant in the landscape of social media not only diminishes the status of photography as an art form, but also injures those people who do strenuously practice art photography. An icon such as Ansel Adams and a celebrated Instagram user can share the same title of being a photographer. Elise Lévêque of Social Media Today believes that despite the photographic trend and how social media damages some artists’ feelings towards photography, art photography will not vanish.

“Photographs used to be something to cherish. A good piece of photography even more so… Now, with Instagram, photography has become the actual medium of social communication. What’s more, Joe Bloggs has convinced himself photography is easy. Just take a photo, set it in sepia, blur a few bits here and there and whack on an edgy border. 58 likes? Why, you’re a modern day Ansel Adams. You certainly are not. But let’s rein it in a bit: social media won’t destroy the art of photography. But for me, social media is damaging my attitudes towards photographs. As I’ve said, the market is saturated with crappy photographs. And photographers are in agreement that social media is encouraging lazy photography.”

Social media will definitely not kill art photography, but it does seem to harm people’s respect towards contemporary photography.

What do you think of today’s rampant aesthetic consumerism in photographs? Share it to us with a comment below.

written by Ciel Hernandez on 2016-05-14 #lifestyle #lomo-in-depth #aesthetic-consumerism #susan-sontag


  1. oriolphotography
    oriolphotography ·

    In my opinion, those who love photography take photos to preserve beauty, even if this beauty comes from a mundane object, while most photos taken today are for pure narcissism: a proof of "being there, done that", and selfies are the worst example of this. Perhaps photography is, as any form of expression, a reflexion of our society? Nevertheless there is hope, specially when we see very young photographers who embrace photography as an artistic expression.

  2. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    a benefit especially for Indonesian reseller

  3. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    @oriolphotography Todat there are too many selfies, I agree with you about this narcissistic side of photography. Few people are able to tell a story without insert a lot of selfies. But the problem is cultural: using a smartphone to take photo is so easy that people doesn't learn about photography history, technique and composition. How many copies of books like "The Americans" by Robert Frank, "The Decisive Moment" by HCB, "American Surfaces" by Stephen shore are sold compared with the huge numbers of smartphones used to take photos? Photography without culture is nothing

  4. cielsan
    cielsan ·

    @sirio174, wise words and I agree with you. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights! :)

  5. cb1
    cb1 ·

    good article! My take on this goes into a slightly different angle. While I am not a "selfie" fan myself, I do support the practice. Photography as a historical record is equally important as an art form. Depending on the personal usage, all those selfies are priceless when put into the context of family history. Oh I wish my great-grandfather took more selfies back in the 1900s/19teens. HA!.

    Between me and my friend, we have just under 2k photos of our high school experience. I have taken a about 700 photos of my experience in the Military. During the Class of 1984's 30th reunion, those school photos are the hit of the event. My Military friends love my photos as well.

    Ansel Adams - no way - but as a documentary of a small period of time, Maybe a historian (and that is a big maybe). I can appreciate the history of the camera, the development of film and the development process. I recently finished several books on film history. I also recently received a Kodak No.2 Folding Brownie (from 1919) and I have a second roll of 120 in it now, it takes wonderful photos.

    I am not a photographer, I just love taking pictures.

  6. oriolphotography
    oriolphotography ·

    @cb1 I agree that photography as historical record is important. However, the way how most people take selfies today is much more different that what used to happen some years ago. In the past, when traveling for vacation, people would enjoy a monument or a museum, and then they would take one or two photos of the highlight to preserve the moment. However, if today you go to the Louvre, in front of the Mona Lisa, you will see the crowds making selfies in front of her without even looking at the picture, or trying to understand it...

  7. cb1
    cb1 ·

    @oriolphotography totally agree!! - it is out of control today.

  8. pazlo
    pazlo ·

    I consider "Photography" as one thing and "Taking Snapshots" a different thing.
    I paint landscapes in oil and can call myself a "painter".
    My friend Lester paints houses. Hardly art, but he can call himself a "painter".
    Writing is similar, too. I write songs (music & lyrics), radio comedy scripts (spoofs), poetry and several blogs. But sometimes I write grocery lists or to-do lists. It's all writing, but not all art.
    And selfies? Let's see...two revered classics come to mind: Rembrandt's self-portrait, and Van Gogh's "Self portrait with bandaged ear". Selfies are nothing new. When photography first developed (no pun intended), portraits were the main focus. Even "death portraits". Thank goodness that trend subsided, eh? Before long, someone realized they could photograph places, landscapes and things, and folks were eager to see things they'd never seen (and would likely never see otherwise).
    Anyways, we're somewhere in the middle of this modernization. When you had to pay for film, plan each frame carefully, mail it off for developing, wait two weeks to get your pix...people were much more discriminating. Not everyone owned a camera. Too complicated and expensive.
    Now everyone has a camera at their hip all the time, and there's virtually no cost for shooting hundreds of pix. Why wouldn't we?
    Isn't it better to see the sunset, rather than listen to Bob describe the colors?
    Isn't it better to see the bass, rather than take Joe's word (lying fisherman) as to the size?
    This reminds me of the debate over Norman Rockwell, an amazing, talented artist and painter (who also did a couple of self-portraits). The debate was whether Rockwell should really be called an "artist", or should he be called an "illustrator"?
    Let the debates rage. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy Rockwell's art, Rembrandt's portraits, and all those snapshots folks share with me on the web.

    Take care and keep in touch,


    p.s.: You may view my online amateur photography gallery at: www.crescentmoonstudio.wordpress.com

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