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How Online Photography Communities Are Suffering a Cultural Collapse | Grit Daily News

As we approach 2021, few could have predicted how the global pandemic would re-shape the world. Nations uniting against the invisible common enemy COVID-19. Like so many other media forms, photography has played an integral role in immortalising both the acts of kindness and transformation we have all witnessed this year. Photo-sharing platforms have already seen thousands of images uploaded, documenting the sacrifice, resilience and fellowship shown by people around the world; thus demonstrating the value of facilitating and supporting photographic communities, enabling them to continue to thrive and capture life through the lens.

Every day, more and more images documenting 2020 are uploaded and exhibited online. While a proportion serve to inspire and remind us of the power of art, many relevant photos will undoubtedly be lost, obscured and diluted among the one hundred million images uploaded online daily. Typically, these uploads consist of narcissistic-driven content and self-indulgent selfies, adding little value to society’s cultural fabric. As a result, a toxic culture of excessive uploading or ‘fast photography’ has emerged. So, what does this mean for professional and aspiring photographers?

We at YouPic recently conducted research to reveal the impact of Instagram, selfies, and ‘fast-photography’ on the photographic community. Surveying 2,500 photographers, on how photography as an art form and as an industry, has been affected.

Here’s what photographers really think of the brainchild of photo-sharing and its culture.

Instagram’s uneasy relationship with art and self-expression 

In October, Instagram celebrated a decade since its inception. While there is no doubt that photographers have benefited from the creation of Instagram, not everyone is convinced that the quantity over quality nature reflects their creative values, nor benefits their craft.

When it comes to photography as an art form, autonomy and self-expression are two vital components. Perhaps one of the most significant disagreements between photographers and Instagram involves the censorship of nudity and graphic content. Most notably, the ‘Free The Nipple’ campaign in 2014 brought much-needed attention to the inequality between male and female nudity, specifically supporting the free depiction of topless photography, something Instagram continues to prohibit and restrict on their platform. Earlier this year (2020), Instagram’s supervisors were once again forced to review their nudity policies following a campaign led by Nyome Nicholas-Williams. Nyome, a black plus-sized model, campaigned to have her curated semi-topless photo reinstated after it was removed from the platform. Following significant media attention, the image was finally published, however despite Instagram tweaking their policies, artistic images of female nudity still remain strictly prohibited.   

This is not the first, nor last time that Instagram has limited photographers artistic freedom and self-expression. Subsequently, over a third (34%) of photographers believe that Instagram’s nature has contributed to damaging photography as an art form.

Over time, and as it has grown in popularity, Instagram’s loyalty to the photography community has become questionable. Now, developers are increasing their focus on enhancing features to keep the idle masses entertained, such as video content, feed stories and special effects for selfies. This migration away from pure photography has led to artificial intelligence (AI) policing the photographic community and implementing blanket rules. By applying restrictions, Instagram risks marginalizing creativity, unilaterally deciding what is acceptable for public consumption. Meanwhile, this form of governance could have an irreversible effect on professional photography communities. Results show 14% of professional photographers claim to have used then quit Instagram as a platform. Indicating a feeling of discontent towards an autocratic and over-regulated platform. 

Instead, photographers are increasingly joining more bespoke online communities. These spaces offer a place where they can explore, express and share their craft with likeminded people, all-in-one place. These intimate community-driven photography platforms are vital for aspiring photographers and those looking to further their creative careers.

Please take your-selfie seriously

It’s important when considering the selfie, to appreciate that vanity is not always the motive. For example, the act of taking a selfie, has itself become a ubiquitous and commonplace practice. In 2018 we saw the selfie stick market valued at a whopping $549.13M. Meanwhile, smartphone designers and engineers have improved their front-facing cameras to accommodate and cash-in on the trend. However, the rise in selfie culture has not been entirely positive, especially for the photography community.

Like all art, photography as a profession relies on its reputation and a level of earned credibility. This respect is an amalgamation of all the creative techniques that contribute to the overall appreciation of photography. Given that a selfie’s value and success is purely based on the perceived appeal of the subject, it warrants less respect. As an image, each selfie reduces photography to a superficial level of judgement. Are they attractive or hot? Therefore, it is arguable that the pop-culture trend of selfies is devaluing photography, and detracting from meaningful artistic curation.

In light of the reputational threat posed by selfies, as many as 43% of photographers polled, consider selfies to have damaged photography as an art form. This compared with just a mere 11% of the respondents who felt selfies had a positive impact.

Another consideration is the increasingly competitive and superficial behaviour selfies cultivate. While the competitive nature brought about by selfies may motivate a photographer in the short term, ultimately striving to outdo others is an unsustainable attitude. Instead, taking pride in one’s own work is a greater motivating factor. Nonetheless, self-worth as a quality requires an unadulterated appreciation for other photographer’s work too. Anyone serious about photography will tell you that appreciating other artist’s work is an important part of developing one’s own skills.

Following the rise in paid-for filters, there is a commercial undercurrent driving the false mentality that money equals photographic genius. Consequently, anti-selfie policies are proving popular among the photography community. Statistics ratifying that 76% of respondents believe selfies should be entirely banned on photo-sharing platforms.

Blink and you’ll miss it – what is the problem with ‘fast photography’?

As the democratization of photography has become a reality, so too has the manifestation of ‘fast photography’. As digital content consumption has become insurmountable, spotting and following true photographic talent has become an arduous pastime. Now the challenge lies in reducing or, at the very least, slowing down the turnover of image uploads. Many photographers have removed themselves from the overflowing and congested platforms, instead, seeking out more dedicated and loyal followers elsewhere.

But beyond this, ‘fast photography’ has also brought with it a significant threat of copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR). Recent advances in technology, have led to and made the replicating of professionally shot images easier. As if this wasn’t bad enough, many platforms are claiming image ownership rights by adding hidden clauses into their terms and conditions, giving them the eternal power to use photos royalty-free.

Finally, as the photography world gets ever more saturated, financial remuneration for images and prints is becoming increasingly challenging and is threatening careers. Meanwhile, poor quality prints and image theft are drowning the industry. In a bid to fund their practice, photographers are now having to spend hours protecting their work from all angles, reducing the time spent honing their craft.

A revolution is brewing in the photographic community, led by a collective desire to ensure that artistic integrity and credibility is maintained, and not buried beneath trending Instagram tiles and selfies.

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