In-Depth: Does Our Photography Need to Be Seen?


These days we take it for granted that our photography will be seen by others, but this is a relatively new phenomenon. For the majority of photography’s history hobbyists had no real means to share their images with anyone outside of a few friends and family. It’s obvious when you think about it, but also strangely hard to imagine for those of us who grew up in the age of the internet.

And it’s embarrassing to admit but I think most of us, if we’re honest, care at least a little bit about views. That doesn’t mean we’re all trying to become the next Instagram sensation, but just that we enjoy the process of sharing our photos and having them appreciated by others.

Credits: flatboardeur

But does it change the way we take photos when we know that potentially a lot of people are going to see them?

I’m sure many of us have had this experience: You take a photo you’re really proud of, upload it to social media and wait for the virtual adoration to roll in. But it turns out that other people don’t love the photo as much as you. Meanwhile another image you took and thought was mediocre is universally adored by the same hoard of online strangers.

It’s a confusing occurrence that not only makes us question our judgment but can also influence our decisions in the future. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of producing work we suspect will be popular and chasing trends instead of focusing on making art that we love and find personally rewarding. After all, in the world of analogue photography it’s not so difficult to identify and replicate the kind of images that are popular online.

Constantly engaging with an online audience can also derail our creative intentions in other ways. For one thing it seems to feed our society's obsession with competition. Viewing the work of others for inspiration is great, but comparing yourself to others can lead to the twin vices of insecurity and doubt. When these things creep into our practice suddenly photography doesn’t feel so fun.

A solution to this might be to not share our photography at all. There’s no reason that photography can’t be a completely private hobby, and I'm sure there are people out there covertly shooting and developing film for no one else to see but them. The resulting photos can act like a diary, and a personal collection of ideas and memories. If this is your approach to photography I applaud you, but I know it’s not for me. I’m too aware of potential viewers, or perhaps just too needy for approval. As a teenager I tried to keep a diary for a while, but I couldn’t help imagining a reader, and embellishing my entries with self conscious caveats and pretentious language that still makes me cringe to think about. (I hope to god all evidence has long been destroyed.)

Credits: agustinnunezc

In the annals of art history there have been rare individuals who don’t want to share their work, even when that work is extraordinary. Vivian Maier is one of the most famous examples, or outside of the world of photography, Henry Darger. We find these people fascinating and we call them “outsider artists.” Nothing it seems is so alien to us than an artist who doesn’t share their art. Perhaps it should be admirable not to share work in this age of over-sharing, but instead we often find it disturbing. Maybe because the details of their lives often seem to be troubled, or because there is simply something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of being an “outsider”. Anyway, for many people producing art is about connecting with others. To deliberately disconnect seems counterintuitive to the fundamental reasons for making art.

So not sharing our hobby is often unfulfilling, but pursuing the affection of others feels narcissistic and can lead to just as many creative struggles. What then, is the answer?

Credits: andreacompagnoni

Perhaps a perfect balance can be found in the slow craft of film photography. In many ways shooting film allows us the perfect middle ground between connection and detachment. With a limited number of shots on the roll it forces us to photograph only the things that matter most. The time that it takes to develop our images also forces us to distance ourselves from the photos we’re taking, giving us time to consider how we really feel about them.

Film photography forces us to be deliberate in all kinds of ways and this could also be the key when it comes to sharing our photos; not to stop sharing completely but instead to take a lesson from the analogue way of life and remember to be deliberate about who sees our photographs, when, and why we are sharing them.

How do you like to share your photos? Do you think social media helps or hinders your photography? Jump in the comments and let us know!

written by alexgray on 2022-07-31 #culture #in-depth #outsider-art #vivian-maier #social-media #in-depth


  1. rolfmg
    rolfmg ·

    A good article and I wonder what kind of "sharer" I am....still thinking...exactly what the article wanted?!

  2. acrom
    acrom ·

    Photography is a way of communication, interpretation. It's the makers choice whether or not to share the pictures with an audience. Yes, the internet era created in many ways an explosion of attentionseekers. Lomography homes are just like that; made by people who share with their peers. In 'the old days' when analogue photography was a craft or just for family and friends and the "just shoot, pick the best and delete the mess" digital age hadn't arrived, there were a lot of people who found their peers in photography groups and shared in exibitions for the public. To interact with the makers in person when present. The personal part is indeed missing when the quantity is so huge. Also on Lomography people who share can get a shot of endorfine ("kick") with the number of likes as I can tell from own experience. Yet I like only those pictures I really value and learn from and the sharing is also for learning which of my pictures are valued more than my others. Hence it goes both ways with sharing online on I share only analogue shot pictures on Lomography, some of the digitally shot ones I share on FB and some on Instagram. It's also my hobby to learn to work with my old fashioned collection of analogue camera's and the onliest format missing is minox. But first I want to learn more about large format while still shooting 110, 35 and 120. It also has to do something with having/doing something special that not everybody else does, I guess. And it's cheaper than owning and riding/driving a Harley or a Rolls Royce ;-). Just like with kayaking or canooing in comparison with sailing and rowing.
    The process or "ritual" of taking an analogue picture (especially with Graflex...) is somehow zen-like. It's like slow cooking, you take your time and enjoy the process. Perhaps in a later stage I will enjoy the development of negatives but for now I get them developed somewhere else that at home by myself and scan the negatives for sharing instead of printing. That saves space at home but costs serverspace and energy at Lomography. But that's another philosophical discussion.

  3. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    This is really a question, i ask me sometimes. share or not to share.
    I like the idea of a community where the members support each other with tipps and quotes.
    the community here is small in quality but big in quantity.
    most people just upload, because they found the URL on a film cannister i bet,
    most of them leave soon, but a few get fully "paid-up" members of the community.
    sharing thoughts and likes, swap film, send out postcard with the printexchange
    or even meet in real live for photowalks and works.
    that my reason why i'm sharing my shots here, to meet the people behind the photos
    and understand the story they got to tell.
    let the people dump their digital crap or snapshots,
    let them offset likes against likes.
    I don't care, i met so many amzing people here thatv the quantity doesn't count!
    Keep on shooting and sharing! And fill in the goddamn metas!

  4. alexgray
    alexgray ·

    @rolfmg thanks. Yes I think the thinking about it is what's important!

  5. alexgray
    alexgray ·

    @stereograph haha, on the last point I couldn't agree more. Please please fill in the metas people!

  6. mandenis
    mandenis ·

    Excellent article. For me personally, I'm pretty unapologetic about the desire for people to see my photos. I don't need it to be that many people, but it seems that people seeing photos is almost as fundamental to the process of photography as the taking of the photos. What is the point of a photograph if not for people to see it? And there's something about wanting people who enjoy the same kind of sights you do to see some of the sights you see.

    But yes, I agree that to let too much concern about others' opinions in can spoil the enjoyment you get from photography, and can also dilute your own creativity. Although it can perhaps also push you in new and beneficial directions, make you consider trying things you hadn't thought of. But I definitely agree analogue photography helps to provide some distance. The process is so removed from the online end results that it's hard for Instagram or whatever to exert quite the same influence it would if you were snapping the photo on your phone to upload then and there!

More Interesting Articles