The advent of social media plunged the vast majority of us into a new era, face first. The alleged centrality of the medium to photographers meant your work is constantly under review, which isn’t without consequences.
I am admittedly jaded with social media of late. Moreover, I am jaded with Instagram and Facebook algorithms waterboarding me with sponsored posts and echos deep from within my chamber. I do, however, have a few places of solace: private photography Facebook groups is one. It’s not always easy to find the right group, but once you do, they’re usually interesting and only lightly curated, at least with the groups I choose to join. But more and more I’ve noticed a trend within these groups which has served to highlight its prevalence in comment sections of every site in the industry: “feedback”.
The commonly rowed out problem with social media, is everyone is hunting for likes and your photos are double-tapped by robots and dreary-eyed commuters. While I think that’s only partially true — though I admittedly do look like a dreary-eyed robot when I’m scrolling — it becomes more difficult to deny when there are swathes of vapid comments and emojis. The less inquisitive of us might appreciate the attention, but the majority I suspect do not. Nevertheless, the uniform positive reaction to posts from robots and supportive (albeit not necessarily helpful) friends stand in stark contrast to the reactions I see elsewhere on the web.
Every week I see a new photographer post their latest image in groups, to the raucous laughter and cutting sarcasm of a subset of members. The photos are invariably of poor quality and technical skill, as one would rightly expect of a novice with their first camera. But the militant commenters tearing it apart without regard make me squirm. I can’t imagine how I would have got out of the gates with such vicious critique. While in that foetal stage of artistic pursuit, extreme derision could really damage one’s confidence and motivation to improve.
Never before has this been soft often the case. We’re all acutely aware of keyboard warriors and the lack of true accountability with comments on the internet, but it’s easy to forget that when somebody is tearing apart your work. Typically, photographs would have been shown to friends and family in the flesh, or perhaps in photography societies you were a member of. The feedback in these scenarios is typically far more tapered than on the internet where you’re met with thousands of times the number of eyes, and little to none of the personal connections. As a result, photographers have a much greater need for thick skin, and thicker than ever before. But not just for the reasons you might think.
This occurred to me after I recently saw half a comment section on a photo by a retired lady taking pictures of her grandson. She admitted this was her first try at portraiture and the photos were lackluster, albeit not bad. The jokes and laughing reactions flooded in and I wondered if she’d ever share a photo again. Yes, there were some helpful comments, giving her some constructive feedback and direction, but most people will remember the bad. I need only think back to my early time here on Fstoppers where my articles could get 19 positive comments, but I’d remember the 20th which accused me of being an idiot. It’s human nature and one that takes time to develop a resistance to. Though, that isn’t the only resistance needed.
The other side of the coin can be equally damning. The amount of positivity towards everything you produce can be unending if you seek it out. Surround yourself with people who throw likes and enthusiastic comments on every post (the suspicious part of me thinks that’s merely to boost their own interaction rate) and before you know it, you’ve got praise in droves and on tap. The stagnation can result all the same if you don’t shrug off both with relative impunity. You need to make sure that most praise and criticism doesn’t penetrate too deeply, and instead seek feedback from trustworthy and knowledgeable sources.
Has a comment on something you’ve created ever affected you for longer than it ought to have?