We have never had as many online outlets for photography as we have now.
As a fan I’ve had a lifelong passion for photography, but as a photographer I’m definitely still within Cartier-Bresson’s “first 10,000 photos”. Occasionally I can turn out photos that I’m quite proud of, but I’m under no illusions as to how good the other 90% of my photos are. It’s mostly time that stops me practising the craft. I say ‘mostly’; I think that chief amongst the other missing ingredients is the chance to have good, meaningful discussions with other photographers.
I travel a lot for work which makes physical membership of a camera club tricky and leaves me looking for an online substitute. For a long time I was a member of Flickr and enjoyed using it, making full use of groups and even starting my own. But groups require a lot of administration to keep them on topic. It’s not long before your long-exposure, black and white architecture group starts seeing completely off-topic shots posted by photographers whoring for views. Once that happens, groups are often left to drift and the sense of community goes.
In a way that’s a metaphor for the site itself. As an independent it thrived, but as soon as it was acquired by Yahoo! It was evident that there was little corporate interest in developing it. I remember reading a quote to the effect that “while the Internet was developing Instagram, Flickr was developing Flickrmail” and I thought that summed up the sense of missed opportunity.
As for Instagram, I’m in two minds about how useful it is. As a service for serving up bitesize fixes of photography for idle moments it’s excellent, but it’s counterintuitive to hold a continued, meaningful discussion as comments under a photo. I enjoy being part of a community around shared interests, which Instagram lacks. We’re all in the dark as to how the new algorithm works, so we’re not even sure that if we post a photo our followers will see it.
In theory Instagram’s owners, Facebook, should make a great platform for virtual camera clubs, but the sheer volume of noise makes it very difficult to find the good ones. The much-ridiculed Google+ has long focussed on photography and now that you can follow individuals, collections and communities, it’s easy to find good images. Engagement is very high, but the platform and experience itself is not great – you can’t see more than a couple of photos without their suggestions for who to follow, for example. And whatever platform you use, the problems of online trolling and the opportunities for image theft opened up by online sharing are still present.
We have never had as many online outlets for photography as we have now – but I think we have yet to see the ideal one.