We talk a lot here about making pictures. The technique, the subject, the thoughts behind the image. That’s the first half of the story. I know of nobody that makes images, that doesn’t want to share them. Before the internet, even professional photographers never shared most of what they created. In fact, we shared almost none of what we created.
Besides my digital files I have about 50,000 slides/transparencies collecting dust in a cabinet in my basement. 50,000+ images doesn’t sound like much anymore. Heck, I’ve shot with digital wildlife photographers who shoot bursts of 60,000. Well, almost. Just the same, my brain, my heart, my soul, and my blood and tears are in those images. They are ruthlessly edited. Not like today when most of us might delete 10% of our worst images. The waste basket was my best friend. I learned that from Jeff Nicholas a long time ago. There are probably two hundred published images in those 50,000, and a thousand that have been shared, mostly in the early (and ugly) days of the internet. Not that much when you think of it. I likely made three-quarters of a million pictures to get that 50,000. That particular group (I have made many more) were made mostly between 1985 and 2002. They weren’t shared because there was no way to do that. I suppose you could make 500 prints and carry them around with you. I have shared around 200 while doing slide shows. I loved giving slide shows.
When I had an image published, I was usually too modest (maybe false modesty) to carry around the magazine or book, and show it to everybody. Just knowing that (in some cases) as many as a million people might see my image, was exciting. Then I realized, that unless they were photo junkies like myself, or possibly photo editors, nobody was ever going to read my photo credit to know who made the picture. It was a lonely business in many ways.
Times have changed. In a world of seven billion people, 10 billion of them make and share pictures. Well it seems that way. Every phone can make a picture and the poorest among us, have a phone. Social media has indeed changed the world. The problem is now, in a world where everyone shares pictures, does it really mean anything if 100 people “like” your picture on Facebook? Can that be meaningful when somebody else posts a bad picture of what they ate for lunch, that gets 1,000 likes. I was on Flickr Photo the other day visiting my group Earth Images. I noticed one very nice picture that had over 300 comments. It had been posted about 30 minutes before my viewing. Then I noticed first a wildlife image, and then a landscape. They were both amazing. Just ten years ago either image would have won awards worldwide. Spectacular subject, crispness, resolution, composition and light. In both cases they were top-notch. The landscape was posted the previous day. It had two faves (favorites) and zero comments. The wildlife image was posted five hours before my viewing, and had six faves, and three comments.
The truth is in this overly busy photographic world called the internet, we really have little to go on when it comes to how successful our pictures really are when we share them. Oft times, the comments, likes etc. that an image gets, has more to do with the subject than the photography, and even more often it has to do with how many comments or likes the photographer has made to others. In other words, a polite pay back. Even when you have your own website (or blog), it is difficult to tell how many people have seen an image, much less liked it.
So as photographers we’ve gone from a world where almost nobody saw what we did, by that I mean our serious, quality photography, and almost nobody ever saw what we did, to a world where every living soul is a photographer, and we can make sure that at least some people see every image we make, and still we really have no idea if our image making has an impact.
The idea I suppose, is to revel in the art of making pictures, share them at every chance, and just hope people appreciate what you do. Of course if you are a pro, you measure your success by how many images get published, or how many prints get sold. I actually (in the later times) considered my success to be how willing people were to take workshops with me, or to ask me to speak and show images.
It is funny how the easier (simpler?) the world gets, the more difficult (complicated?) it becomes. I never dreamed I would see a day when sharing my pictures would be so easy. The question is, does it mean even less than when it was difficult? I guess the answer is that you take changes as they come. In other words “it is what it is”. Create and share, and let the chips fall where they may.
A great friend of many in this area, Gary Masemore, was recently killed in an accident. Firstly I want to offer my condolences to his family, close friends and coworkers.
I know of nobody in this area, better liked than Gary. I first became acquainted with him through the Wisconsin birding network called Wisbirdn. Gary may be the only person I have ever known, who was in love with birds, nature in general, photography and auto racing just like me. We shared many political views as well and all of that adds up to a lot of camaraderie.
You were (are) a kind and gentle soul. Goodbye pal. I and everybody who ever knew you, will miss you greatly.
God Bless, Wayne