There’s a thread right now over at DPReview: “how do you accept that nobody cares about your photography?” I can’t answer that, but it got me thinking about a different one: how will we get anyone to even see our photography, when we’re losing photo bandwidth?
Back at the dawn of time, if you wanted someone to see your photos, you called them – by dialing their number on a landline – then drove to their place with your paper prints… ok, I’ll skip the prehistory. But for photographers, it was a low-bandwidth world.
At about the same time that digital photography got rolling, the public internet became a reality and we all thought wow, this will be da bomb. Everyone will be connected, everything will be available. Anyone can become a photographer without needing an agent in New York.
We created web sites, told our friends, and the next time we saw them they said we saw your photos on the computer! But then the web pages just sat there, forgotten; it was too much work to update them.
Blogs were the next big thing. But you soon realized that unless you told people about it, and updated it every day, it was just another boat in the basement. How do you promote a blog, anyway – by blogging about it? (And yet here I am today, writing a blog; the irony is not missed).
And then, Facebook arrived. This had to be it. Everyone would be on it, anyone could find you and your photos. A Facebook page wouldn’t be a lonely island like your web site; you’d post a photo, your friends would see it instantly, and their friends too, and after a few days the the whole world would be looking at it. Even better: a Facebook Artist Page. Now we’re really in the Big City, with an online identity as a photographer, and a gallery; people sign up to see everything you post. And for a while, it all worked! Photographers built big followings, got likes, even sold prints.
Up to this point, the internet had improved our connection to the world. Even if we had crappy DSL, our photo bandwidth to that world was increased. Photographers were better off than before. But before long, Facebook would start taking it all back.
The organic reach of an Artist page fell off a cliff and today, your followers probably don’t see your posts unless you pay to boost them. ( I have another post about that. )
Interaction with friends declined too. As Facebook stuffed ever more paid junk into news feeds, people lost interest. Today your friends post a photo of the kids, react to some political clickbait, watch a funny video or two, and move on. And everyone is now sharing those same “awesome”, “jaw-dropping” photos of impossibly colorful birds in Borneo and auroras in Iceland; we’re up against National Geographic’s ad budget.
Smartphones made it all soooo much worse. They were supposed to be great, because now people could see your photos anytime, not just when they were sitting at the computer in the den. But everything became hideously compromised to fit those tiny screens and shorter attention spans. To get even more ads in front of eyeballs, something had to go – like, your posts. (And also, image quality and aspect ratio.)
So now, even as our physical bandwidth is increasing (fiber and 5G) our photo bandwidth is declining. Photographers are actually less connected to other people, and the world, than we were just a couple of years ago. The signal-to-noise ratio is worse. Web shopping is still rocketing up but meaningful online activity is dropping, at least among people I know.
Oh yeah: Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, TikTok: they’re all going pay-to-play, one way or another. Or they’re aimed at kids. MeWe – a phone company that only connects to itself; everyone’s heard of it, no one uses it.
What’s the future? I don’t see Facebook ever going back to being as useful and exciting as it once was; and maybe that’s true of the whole web. Something new will come along, as it always has. But right now I think we’re at a bit of a low-bandwidth point.