Photography in the Age of Social Media

Tue Jun 11 2019

John Green's recent video on Vlogbrothers got me thinking a lot about why I take photos and the impact that social media has had on my journey in photography.

I first got into photography when I was in forth grade. I was obsessed with taking photos of anything from my toys to the breathtaking scenery of state parks. Most of the photos that I took were distorted gibberish: random fragments of trees and stuff lying around in my back yard. Back then photo quality did not matter to me, the enthralling thing was that I was preserving, capturing, and digitizing something real and breathtaking. Photography was a tool, allowing me to archive and remember the past: a way of stamping reality. John Green in his videos said "I sometimes feel like something isn't really real unless I've documented it, as if my memories and even my life will just slip past like the clouds through last night's sky".

I lost interest in photography shortly after I started middle school. The only photography that I did do was for social media. Apps like Snapchat and Instagram demand a constant stream of photos to bombard your friends with. This is how I slowly learned that photography is a "cropping of reality". I frequently found myself searching for that right moment to take a photo and turn it into a Snapchat story. This is not a huge issue; it is okay to share your experiences with people you care about. However, we need to recognize that we present a polished version of ourselves on social media.

Despite acknowledging the vast distance between photography on social media and reality, it is hard for our minds to quantify the stark differences between these worlds. I take issue with people who do anniversary posts where they share senior ball or vacation pictures with a short caption. These anniversary posts aim to artificially inflate someones appearance on social media when in reality their lives are quite normal. In response to the negative aspects of social media, there is a growing trend to ditch social media altogether. Although "comparison is the thief of joy", quitting social media is not the only solution. Only following close friends, limiting app usage, and only using messaging centered apps are all great ways to reap the benefits of social media while avoiding most of the negative consequences.

Enough of my social media tangent, lets get back to photography. I recently got back into photography as an artistic hobby rather than a means of archiving events or creating content for social media. As a programmer, it is exhausting to write code for forty hours at work and then program even more as a hobby -- this is a perfect recipe for burnout. I find that photography is a great hobby since it is intellectually simulating, yet not super rigorous and tiring. Photography encourages you to explore new places and meet new people. In photography you are always learning, growing, and improving. I really enjoy watching movies; however, I don't believe that it's a great hobby since there is no personal growth.

I am obsessed with photography for the same reason I love programming: there is a constant creative drive to make and share something new with the world. In Mr. Robot Elliot said "In a world where everything is a virtual copy of itself, where there's nothing but image, where publicist have publicists and celebrity is bleakly industrial, it's inevitable that 'image' starts to collapse on itself...". You have probably heard that there is no more original content being created anymore, everything is simply an image of an image of an image. With the sheer quantity of content being created, it is close to impossible to be the first person to do something. When I start working on a programming project or go to a park to take some pictures, I am frequently asked, "why are you doing that when others have already done it". It is now impossible to be the first person to create a social media app or photograph a waterfall; but, that does not make it pointless to go out and create. Art is something that needs to be constantly shaped, customized, tweaked and perfected. I am confident that the best picture of a waterfall has not been taken yet. We are still a long way away from creating the perfect social media app. Despite everything being an image of an image, learning from other will help us grow as creators and develop our own unique style.

Pixley Falls
Pixley Falls