Sunday, September 25, 2011

Real value of social media to photographers #1

Street musician, France
Photographers can get their work seen by thousands of people across the world and receive instant feedback on their images. A socially popular photographer can reach a larger audience on the internet than a major printed magazine. But what is the real value in that to the individual artist?

I watched a French street musician performing (see pic), putting his heart and soul into every song. He was doing classic Edith Piaf. He stood in the street between two restaurants, moving from one terrace to the other, focusing his attention on individual tables for 15-30 seconds at a time during the song, working the largest audience possible.

Some people looked up appreciatively, nodding, while others did their best to ignore him, perhaps afraid that if they did look at him they would be morally obliged to give him money for his efforts.

It struck me that this man had to earn his living by performing so well that people were prepared to pay for his art there and then. The age old custom of people handing over their spare change to street performers provided a set of expectations between performer and audience - a social contract without obligation.

On the internet we do not have this tradition. It's very much a culture of giving everything away for free. Millions of beautiful images are uploaded for people to enjoy every minute of the day. Artists perform for the masses with no expectation of financial reward. For someone who wants to make a living from their photography that's tough competition.

Social media facilitates the culture of giving everything away for free. It's phenomenally easy to share images,  a single upload can go viral and proliferate around the world. In no time your image can appear on hundreds of websites, shared on Facebook and blogs.

While it may be flattering to the ego to have hundreds of Likes. +s, views and votes what is all that really worth to the creator of the image. It's not going to help you buy a new camera, lighting equipment, pay for your travels or put a meal on the table. If you were the street musician you'd be playing your heart out with not the slightest hope of anyone chucking a coin in your hat.

Photographers are happy to share their creativity for free. In years gone by if you wanted to see a photographer's work you had to buy a magazine or book and the publisher paid the photographer - a neat business model. That model still exists but is rather tenuous, with demand and rewards rapidly diminishing because of the ubiquitous availability of free content. Value and rarity are directly proportional and beautifully crafted images are certainly not a rarity any more.

So how do you get a return on your investment of time and effort sharing your work through social media and on the internet. I plan to explore this in my next blog.

In the meantime feel free to comment and share your ideas.

Till soon,
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