Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has become one of the most influential cultural forces around. Ushering in the age of the influencer, Instagram has the ability to propel any ordinary photographer from relative obscurity to a full time, well-paid career. Of course, while Instagram may have helped to pave the way, it's not the only social media site that offers this power.
Sites such as YouTube, Twitter, YouTube and (more recently) TikTok have all proved how powerful they can be when utilized correctly. Many photographers have seen incredible success with these platforms, but social media isn't necessary for success… at the moment.
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There are countless modern photographers that enjoy fantastic careers without ever feeling the need to create an Instagram account. However, as our hyper-connected culture progresses, will social media anonymity for photographers become a luxury, rather than a right?
One of the fundamental pillars of social media is that it can level the playing field between privileged, well-connected photographers and those who have plenty of talent, but don't have many (or any) contacts within the industry. Building an Instagram or TikTok account can help propel these less well-connected photographers into the career that they deserve. However, this potentially golden opportunity can come at a cost.
The dark side of social media has been well documented, with many users having to deal with daily trolling and bullying in order to build their own profile. Even photographers that usually have a kind, understanding following can experience shocking actions. One photographer I follow recently posted a house tour. One of the followers recognized the house and thought that it was acceptable to post her full address in the comments – a reprehensible act that could have put her in danger of being stalked or worse.
However, there is a less obvious individual cost to social media, beyond hate comments and doxxing dangers, that's far more insidious. With exacting algorithms that will penalize users for taking time away from the platform, photographers can be unwittingly drawn into a punishing upload schedule that ends up sucking the fun and creativity out of their work.
At this point, it's clear that social media isn't going anywhere. Yes, there's a chance that Instagram might eventually fail as a platform, but it will only be replaced by something else.
I feel that there is a danger that those that aren't born into wealth, or who don't already have industry connections, will struggle to succeed as a photographer without building an impressive social media following. There will likely be some genres of photography that will partially escape this, such as reportage photographers or those with brick and mortar studios. However, when it comes to industries such as weddings, portrait and fashion, will the 'meritocracy' of social media weed out those who aren't savvy with the platforms – and those who simply don't want to play that game?
However, there will be a group of people who won't have to roll the social media dice if they don't want to – those who are already privileged with wealth or industry connections will continue to have the choice of social anonymity. These individuals will have access to the equipment, situations and people that can elevate their career – even if they don't have 10k followers on Instagram.
Don't get me wrong, I use both Instagram and TikTok and I enjoy them as a hobby. I love chatting to readers and fellow photographers – plus, it gives me a reason to get out into nature and stretch my artistic muscles. However, I'm privileged enough to already have a full time job working in a creative industry and uploading to Instagram is a choice, not a marketing decision.
I am by no means saying that social media isn't a powerful force for good. I'm certain that there are many photographers who are incredibly thankful to live in a time where they can build a loyal following online. However, will the photographic industry as a whole remember that there are plenty of photographers out there who are just as skilled as those with a large following?
Social media anonymity was once so commonplace that it wasn't even thought of as a right. However, it's now started to become a luxury that some creatives just can't afford. Let's make sure that no matter how the photographic industry morphs and changes over the coming decades, there are still opportunities for photographers of all backgrounds, wealth and social media following.