I can see both the positive and negative aspects of social media. For me the positives include community and communication, both of which provide support and an audience to photographers. However, we also know that there are many negatives based on how social media platforms are used and understood or perhaps I should say misunderstood. The culture of social media can be toxic if you become consumed by a need to ‘out do’ the exaggerated boasts of others.
I can remember being at primary school and being considered ‘good at art’ in fact I was considered to be one of the best in the school. When I moved to a larger high school, I was one of the best but not in my opinion the best in a more competitive environment. I am still friends with the person that I considered to be the best. I then moved onto the local art school to do a foundation course and met all of the ‘best’ in schools from the local area. It was more competitive and I needed to raise my game. I then went on to St.Martin’s School of Art, at the time and perhaps still today considered to be one of the best art school’s in the world. Again I had to raise my game. What that meant was working hard to produce work that felt true to me and have relevance to the creative environment around me. That was not a global environment, it was one formed of my peers.
Today I hear young and not so young musicians, writers, artists and photographers state that they want to make work to make a difference. That they want to inspire others and influence agendas. Noble intentions but high expectations.
When people suggest to me that they are going to make work that is different I always ask “different to what? To who?” I am rarely met with any answer. The reason is that to know what is different, you need to know what has come before and what is being created today. Without that knowledge, a state of stasis is created. The desire to make a difference requires the same level of understanding. However, in the hyperbolic rush to stand out on social media such basic foundations are ignored.
I have been aware of this for some time but the recent launch of Threads by Meta and its tsunami of blue ticked accounts landing in my timeline has alerted me to the extreme nature of such hyperbole. The shouts of ‘look at me’ are louder and more vacuous than I had ever realised.
It appears that everyone is desperate to not only appear different but also to receive validation from others that they truly are different and special. It appears that many posting photographs and describing themselves as photographers have drunk the same Kool Aid. I have no issue with positivity, energy and ambition but when the work has all of the weight as a stick of candy floss, the exaggerated claims being made about the work are as valid and worthy as claiming that candy flos is one of the main food groups.
It is boring and obvious to state that building a photographic practice takes time, research and commitment, but it does. It is far more exciting to state that you are going to change the world with your images, despite having no understanding of the words you are using or how you will make them come true. The problem of course is that every high comes with a low, and every sugar high comes with a crash. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and your photography will inevitably lead to a sense of anxiety and depression when those expectations are not met.
The issue at this point is that you will either blame yourself or photography and not the hyper real, non-realistic environment that you are attempting to compete in or see how that environment led you to believe that you really could change the world and inspire others just by wanting to.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
Scott’s next book Condé Nast Have Left The Building: Six Decades of Vogue House will be published by Orphans Publishing in the Spring of 2024.
© Grant Scott 2023