Zach Arias, an editorial photographer based out of Atlanta, Georgia, speaks in this video from Luminance 2012 about social media and its role in the life of a professional photographer. Through services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, artists can connect with each other and with their audience in a way that was never possible before; this has changed the very face of industry, and photography is no exception. The desire to connect with each other in this hyperactive way has become a standard in modern society, which is a phenomenon that ought not to be taken at face value – we must examine closely how this technology affects our work and our lives:
It’s easy to get caught up in the business mentality of sheer numbers – that to be successful, you must reach the largest possible audience. This may be true if you make cough drops or raincoats, but we all know that the business of photography is nothing like those things. It is art, not simply a product, and the impact of art is not measured by how many people see it, but by its significance to those who do. If we focus too much on reaching more and more people, we risk diminishing what we have already established, the way that splitting an internet connection between too many computers makes the signal weaker on all.
Candidly and with gentle, self-deprecating humour (and some dirty language – be warned) he tells his story in order to illustrate the paramount importance of the story itself to a photographer’s success, both personally and professionally. Focusing on the number of Twitter followers one has is like living in a facade, the way he describes himself doing – buying the best equipment, embellishing his background, trying to make himself out to be a giant and exaggerate the reality of his life. Most photographers who are just starting out, before they have much of a portfolio or a client list, will hear the advice, “fake it ’til you make it” – that if you can create a version of yourself who is bold, successful, confident, and professional, eventually you will become that person. In reality, though, this approach can often lead us into debt and lifestyle inflation. Buying on credit to support an imagined reality may leave us feeling like we’re living a fraudulent life, one which we feel is not our own. Zach Arias argues that anyone’s fulfillment must come from a place of realism, building organically, and that as far as social media goes, that we should focus on the “social” part more than the “media”. These are tools that allow us to earnestly connect with other human beings, not just to use our Likes to build the scaffolding on an empty reality.
“Don’t be about the numbers. How many numbers of people and what your stats are is not the goal. If it’s about the numbers, and if you’re like, “I’m trying to get more followers”, you’re, I think, looking at it the wrong way… I don’t really honestly care if I have 40,000 followers or 400,000 followers… What matters to me that, you know, if anyone listens to me, if it’s one person, if it’s 10,000 people, that I have something to share. I have something that, if you’re going to listen to me, I hope I can help you out. That whatever I’ve gone through in my life, that I can say something, and it’s going to help you in your life, and you’re going to go and help someone else.”
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