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.
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.)
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?
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!