Photography on Social Media. WTF is going on?

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I recently read an article on Conde Nast Traveller by David Annand called How Instagram is Ruining Travel. A total click bait title and I usually do not like negative articles complaining about things. But I do like to hear ideas in my fields of interest so I clicked. His thoughts articulate something I have been thinking about for a few years now. Photography for me has always been a way of looking out, of seeing. It helps me process. It helps me think. My very favorite thing to do is to travel with my camera and see a new place with it’s help. I LOVE to see people in their environment. To see real life happening. Photography at its best is a way to see the world. We can’t possibly see every corner of the world ourselves, but through photography we can see more of it. This helps us understand eachother. I think it makes the world a less scary place to live in. I love the beauty and humanity that photographs can express.

In the past 8 years or so, a new kind of photography has emerged. Not so much about looking out, but looking in. Many people are turning the camera around. Using it as a way to focus on themselves, to show themselves. It’s interesting. Artists like Cindy Sherman have been doing this for decades.

Annand was lamenting this, much preferring the former use of photography. I hesitate to do that, as it reminds me of how old generations always lament change and progress. The internet? A fad! Newspapers online? It’ll never last! And while we’re at it, you kids get off my lawn.

I personally love Instagram as a way to showcase imagery from all over the world from anyone and everyone. It is so exciting to be so connected to the inner depth of all of humanity! Seriously! A photographer no longer has to produce an art book or get published in a national magazine for us all to see their beautiful take on their world. I love it.

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However there is a whole other side. The world of the Influencer and the wannabe Influencer. The people who are putting together their curated lives with much precision. It’s funny when you see one of them in the wild. Out there in an impossibly hip outfit, looking away from the camera, with a perfect background. It’s a captured, candid moment! Except, someone took that photo. I am always thinking, this person is trying to look like they are alone, except someone took that photo. This is not a captured, candid moment. This took an hour. Someone else is there saying, “look to the side, flip your hair, jump up a bit, laugh.”

I recently took a trip to Morocco. In the middle of the Atlas mountains, near Berber villages and nomadic goat herders, there she was. Someone in an amazing sundress with full makeup and bouncy hair. A huge hat and designer bag. And a boyfriend with a camera. She walked in delicate shoes through the muddy village as her boyfriend snapped away, of course she pretended to be unaware of him. I literally thought, holy hell, is this what we’ve come to? Are we ridiculous yet you guys?  

These photos of people doing a yoga pose in perfect workout gear in front of a wall they have painted and laid out in their home directly for social media purposes. And the long long captions of curated vulnerability. Why would you talk about imperfection and struggle along with a photo of complete perfection?

I’m not buying it. And I don’t think I’m the only one. This too shall pass. It’s so far from real that people are going to start calling bullshit. I guess that's what I’m doing now.

I’ve spent my life in the fashion and advertising world. In New York I worked at Vogue magazine and for Annie Leibovitz. 20 years ago I had so many conversations helping people understand that yes, the photos are airbrushed. There is also a team of people lighting and styling and applying masterful makeup. I tried to help people look at all of these photos as art. A photographer is creating art, using all the tools in their kit to get the look they want, including Photoshop and everything previously mentioned. So don’t look at them as “real”, look at them as art. These days we don’t have those conversations, because finally everyone understands that advertising photos are not “real.”

Enter social media. This is the new frontier and once again, I find myself trying to help the scores of people feeling like crap about their own lives when they look at the lives of influencers. Because this is supposed to be real. These photos are put out there as candid real life. But they aren’t you guys. They are Fake AF. And that is ok, you just have to know it. These photos are advertising too. They are set up and perfected. We all know comparison is the thief of joy. It’s so important to look at these photos as advertising and not as reality. That can be really hard for most people. Even if you know it intellectually, when you are scrolling through Instagram your subconscious still has a field day saying, my house doesn’t look like that, my cupboards aren’t filled with those foods, my bathroom cabinet doesn’t have those products, I don’t walk down cobblestone streets with the perfect outfit laughing at no one, does my life suck??

There is a movement brewing and there needs to be. I have many friends who’ve gone off social media completely because it just makes them feel like crap, and I get it. There are people like @cocobordeaux who wrote a blog post called, “The magical joy of unfollowing hot people on Instagram.” Which is basically the same as doing yourself a favor and unfollowing anyone who makes you feel a twinge of self loathing. Because that is a toxic feeling and you don’t need it.  

I have a dream. That we can all speak our truth and show our truth without it having to be perfect. That is hard. That is actually vulnerable, not curatedly vulnerable. We might be headed there as the pendulum swings. Only time will tell. In the meantime, guard your energy with your life. Be aware and do what you need to do to stay sane and love yourself.

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