There’s More Great Photography Out There Than Ever Before. So Why Can’t We See It?
Innovations in camera technology, the democratization of technical knowledge and advancements in image processing software have all helped usher in a Golden Age of photography. No matter what the genre — landscape, street, portrait, travel, abstract — talented photographers all over the world are creating incredible art. One would assume that with the ubiquity of connected, hi-res displays that we have today, there would be a mass audience for these all these great photos. And yet there isn’t and in my view, the major social media platforms are to blame.
Before we go any further, let’s survey the current landscape of platforms that are geared specifically towards photography. For general photo sharing, the two big ones are 500px and Flickr. Both occupy a niche that is populated by pro and amateur photographers and neither has reach beyond a very small (compared to Facebook etc.) target audience. In addition, Flickr seems to be a in state of gradual decline as it continues to change hands between various owners. For visual storytelling, the two big ones I can think of are Exposure and Maptia (and perhaps even Medium). Again, their reach is fairly limited, so much so for the first two, that I doubt most people have even heard of them.
In other words, all the great photos are ending up in places where they are unable to reach a mass audience.
So what about the platforms that are? Let’s consider the Big Three — Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and start with the most obvious one: Instagram. Most people assume that IG is the obvious solution
for the problem that’s being discussed here. But it’s not — there is very little high quality photography to found on IG — and the reason is simple.
It is a mobile-only platform for smartphone photography with in-app photo processing via filters and a very heavy social element. And while there is
nothing stopping non-smartphone photographers from sharing their work on this platform, it is not the primary use-case and most serious photographers understand that and avoid it for those reasons. That, plus the fact that forcing hi-res photos targeting large displays and print sizes to be viewed on a mobile device is too big of a compromise for most photographers.
Next: Facebook. The main problem with FB is that it is an out-of-control monster created by people who had intentionally set out to ‘break things’ and now that they have succeeded fantastically in that mission, don’t really know what to do next. But I digress. For photography, FB is well behind IG because, well, it is primarily intended to be a social platform for immediate family and friends. Of course, it has veered substantially from that founding goal because it is led by people who are un-tethered from any kind of moral framework and — — sorry, I digress again. FB does that to me. Anyway, it is possible to create business/brand FB pages to showcase photography but often these pages just don’t have the reach that is desired in this scenario, since, as mentioned earlier, that is a secondary application of FB and a bit of an after-thought.
So let’s move on to the last and the most intriguing option: Twitter. People don’t usually associate Twitter with photography. It is more of a public discussion space specially for thinkers and journalists (among other — often very scary — things). But there are two features that make it uniquely positioned — with a few tweaks, perhaps — to be the best option for a serious photographer to reach a mass audience.
First is the fact that sharing content via retweets and ‘likes’ is built into the way Twitter is used. That provides unparalleled level of ease with which
content can be organically shared and quickly disseminated to the general public. Furthermore, with the number of prominent public figures with substantial following actively engaged on Twitter increasing by the day,
the possibility of content catching someone’s eye and receiving a signal-boost is very real.
Second and most important is the ability to create ‘Threads’. That is a game changer for visual storytelling. Often photographers put together very compelling visual stories with stunning photographs that don’t get the attention that deserve because the content is published as a finish product that ends up being consumed quickly and immediately. Twitter threads solve that problem by providing a way to publish incrementally, over time. For a photographer, this is a way to gradually build on their story thereby ensuring increased reader/viewer engagement. The fact that a ‘thread’ always appears in a top-down chronological order is key to this experience. Neither IG nor FB (or any of the other platforms mentioned here) has that
Finally, Twitter threads, much like other Twitter content, can be viewed publicly even by people without a Twitter account.
All of this underlines the reasons why Twitter is uniquely situated to be a compelling platform for photographers and visual storytellers. So what are some of things that would need to change for Twitter to be used in this way? The most obvious one is perception and that starts with Twitter itself. They need to recognize their strengths and capability in this area and build a marketing strategy that builds awareness and realigns the way the public sees and uses the platform. Another would be better optimization of the image processing/display engine for larger sized, better quality, more color accurate images — something that would help get the attention of content producers and consumers alike. Finally, the ability of people to subscribe to a particular ‘Thread’ so that they can get notifications when an update is posted and that content from the thread is prioritized on the timeline would make for powerful ‘living’ visual stories (and other creative content). This would also open up the possibility of users to follow content instead of people.
(I’ve had some success with this concept personally, follow the link to see a Twitter thread that I used to share photos from a recent series I put together.)
The bottom-line is that photographers work very hard to produce high quality content but often find that they have to make some serious creative compromises if they want to reach an audience beyond photography enthusiasts. Unwilling to compromise, they stay within their community. The end result is a lose-lose because not only does their work go largely unnoticed but the general public is deprived of the opportunity to appreciate it. I have no doubt that there is a gap out there that needs to be filled. For me, Twitter is a viable option and I try to make the case here as to why that is so. I welcome feedback from other photographers and others on how they think this problem is best addressed.