I have to confess that I am a little confused and pretty much stuck. Asking a photographer about social media, and it’s relationship to commercial and personal (art) photography is perhaps one the most loaded of questions. Aside from recommendations about camera gear (“what camera should I get”?), it’s the question I get asked the most. Nearly everyone requests links to my blog, website or flickr and instagram posts. It is an important question and I believe social media and the related digital platforms have both killed and saved photography.
In this blog, I hope to chronicle what it’s like to, live and work as a photographer in an age of consumable imagery. My experience is a little different because this is my second career, having spent the bulk of my professional life as a corporate marketing consultant. There is a quiet (or not so quiet) technological and social revolution underway and I, like many photographers, find myself disoriented by these changes. Perhaps an open discussion using social media will aid in making sense of it all.
So, to start off I’d like to talk about the most prolific photographic subject. Of course it’s the Selfie. Perfect because it connects so many aspects of social media, from image capture (and the motivating factors) and dissemination to technological innovation and corporate survival. It’s also one of the first waves of the digital age, having replaced the instamatic camera and kodachrome film. Even if you have no idea what Kodachrome is, you must have heard, this;
If you thought (as I did) the selfie was new, you are in for a surprise. The name is, but, even the pioneers of photography took selfies. Using massive, slow and fragile systems they struggled to achieve, what we now take for granted; an easy way to capture an image coupled with an even easier way to share.
At the top of this post is the first portrait by Robert Cornelius ( c. 1809-1903). Ok, so he did’nt get the wide angle view we see today (iphone), but this is a Selfie. Cornelius was at the forefront of technology. His father’s influences in chemistry and as a silversmith provided the perfect environment for technological innovation. Sadly, his equipment was massive, and unmanageable. It would take 100+ years to develop the digital point and shoot camera that now supports accessible photography.
The simplicity of iphones an androids, has resurrected photography albeit at a price. Push button photography, best illustrated by the ubiquitous Selfie, along with the “snap shot” , have emerged as symbols of consumerism. Or is, this too much of a simplification, or a lazy perspective that one often hears.
In the next installment I’d like to explore the evolution of the Selfie, and how it’s original application has evolved into fine art and photo journalism. Not surprisingly, social media platforms including and similar to, Instagram, Flickr and Tumbler play a big part.
In the meantime, here is a link to an interesting article that covers the History of the Selfie in detail, from the painters (Van Gogh) to, the infamous Kardashians and President Obama.