Social Media style photography - A 'creative' cul-de-sac?


I've mentioned several times about some of my picture libraries embracing smartphone photography and the stylistic trappings of pictures posted on social media. They seem to encourage the retro inspired, heavily filtered and 'distressed' look of what various software packages can do to pictures. This is often, quite incorrectly, described as 'creative' photography, when it's nothing of the sort. And while I have fun doing it, I'm not sure it's actually either worth anything or has any long term commercial potential. In fact I'm convinced that those libraries who are actively cultivating this 'look' in the work of their contributors are making a serious mistake.

Because the whole idea of a social media inspired photography may well be fine for social media, but for general picture use and stock photography, it's pretty much out of line. Because where is it used? Do you see images like the filtered ones below on websites or in published material? Because I don't and I wonder who the libraries think will buy and use them. 

As you will see I created three different versions of the image above and uploaded them to three different libraries. One of those libraries, Alamy, doesn't seem to accept anything from me unless it's like the version on the far right, with heavy filtration. If you click THIS LINK you'll see the kind of image that they are populating the smartphone part of their library with currently.

Social Media, is for the most part, an entertainment. As the name implies, it's social and an exchange of short, often intentionally lightweight, 'conversations' between real and internet friends. Any notion that this will crossover into advertising and journalism strikes me as unproven and with no basis to claim, from what I can see, that it will change the look of photography in what we read in print or on the internet. Do you see examples of 'instagrammed' images in what you read away from social media? If so I'd love you to post some links to it.

Picture on the left above was taken on an iPad. Version on the right was after editing in Snapseed. A library refused the original and accepted the filtered version. Is it a better picture? I don't think so. is it something that any designer couldn't create themselves in a matter of minutes? No it isn't. But this is what some libraries think that they need to be offering. Whether or not they sell, I cannot say, but certainly I'm not selling any. Currently, I'm having a productive time, sales wise, but it's as it's always been, with my 'conventional' images. 

The very fact that it's easy to create filtered images does surely mean that's is worth less than might be imagined. There is a lot of software out there that can turn images into 'distressed art' just by clicking on a preset. And with the generally inferior quality of smartphone images, it's a way of trying to make an image look more visually 'interesting.' Now whether you think these instant software fixes achieve that, I'll leave up to you. 

I can see that a less formal, more instinctive take on lifestyle photography, that in some ways reflects how people interact on social media might have some appeal, but that's a stylistic and compositional approach and less to do with how an image is processed. And you don't need a smartphone to achieve it. There is an element of long established media outlets thinking they are missing out and failing to connect with a new younger audience, but I'm not sure that adding an Instagram filter to an image is the way to do that. 

I'm beginning to think that the media is the media and social media is social media and that most people are happy to keep the two separate. Photography is booming currently and everyone it seems wants to take pictures. And that's great, but the smartphone revolution is mostly for documenting the lives of the owners of the phones and very few of the billions of people who shoot images every day have any pretensions to be creative or artistic. And I think it may be a mistake to attempt to feed this way of communicating back to people in advertising and editorial content. Because there will surely be an element of 'Oh I can take pictures like that' when it's the job of a photographer who believes in the artistic possibilities of photography to provide something that actually involves some kind of artistic intent, rather than just reflecting some kind of lowest common denominator, 'everyman' style.

As 'serious' photographers, don't we have an obligation to attempt something more than the mundane and the ordinary? And don't the publishers of photography have the same obligation too? In the main, I think most of them do and I suspect that 'citizen photography' will have a much shorter 'shelf life' than many imagine. Maybe the 'conventional' media will eventually realise that it should be leading, rather than following, in how it chooses to use photography and the respective strands of informal smartphone photography and a more considered quality based approach will return to where they are more appropriately appreciated. And where does that leave those 'creative' filtered images that some libraries are putting on their websites in such large quantities? High and dry I suspect.